Donald Trump is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS

the White HouseMost people had forgotten all about it, but Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump recently revived a comment he had made in January, stating that President Obama was the founder of ISIS. “President Obama. He’s the founder of ISIS,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Florida on August 10. Apparently he did not want anyone to mistake his point, for he immediately added: “He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS.” Then he added: “I would say that the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”

Asked about his comment in interviews the next day, Trump did not back down. To conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who seemed to be fishing around with Trump to try to find a way to soften Trump’s language, Trump said, “No. I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. I don’t care. He was the founder.” It seems a ridiculous waste of time to have to state the obvious: President Obama did not found ISIS (see below). But Trump’s handle on foreign policy lends itself to the ridiculous.

Now I hold no brief for the CIA, but you really should read this New York Times op-ed by Mike Morell, the acting director and deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013. No matter what you think of the CIA, it’s clear that one thing they do well is to identify vulnerabilities in people and exploit them. With that in mind, keep in mind that for months Trump has been singing various praises of Russian President Vladimir Putin (see this link also).
In his op-ed., Morell explains why.

He reminds us that Putin was a career intelligence officer, skilled at identifying people’s vulnerabilities and exploiting them. Noting Trump’s “obvious need for self-aggrandizement,” Morel writes that “[t]his is exactly what [Putin] did in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.”

Egyptian lamp and jug (Matt Create)In his op-ed, Morrell also argues persuasively why Trump is not only unqualified to be President but that he has already posed a threat to U.S. national security. A few days later, Morell was on the Charlie Rose television show for a major interview, in which he explained in great detail why he wrote the op-ed. You owe it to yourself to listen closely to that interview.

But to return to Trump’s ignorance about the founding of ISIS… I wrote a series of articles for this blog two years ago that traced a large and important branch of the roots of ISIS back through al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to the militant vision of Sayyid Qutb, a radicalized Egyptian intellectual in 1950’s Egypt. Never heard of Sayyid Qutb? Apparently neither has Donald Trump.

So, having suggested that you take time to read the above links and listen to Mike Morell on Charlie Rose, now I’m going to give you some more homework. For a crash course on what Trump doesn’t know about the religious-political roots of ISIS, set aside time to read this series of articles. It will take you about an hour, but it will be time well spent.

Here’s the first one in the series. They are all linked, so you can read through them at your own pace, or skip through them to find those that interest you. And lets talk about this along the way. The Comments area for those articles is open. I hope this helps you. If it does, do forward this post to your friends. This issue is too important to let an outrageous falsehood hang in the air unaddressed, as if it were true.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Adam_Inglis (top) and Matt Create (lower) from Creative Commons.

For other posts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Up [Jun 11]; A Christian View of Not Voting for Donald Trump of Hillary Clinton [Aug 25]; Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”? [Sept 16]; Predicting Presidential Debates [Sept 23]; Who Lost the First Presidential Debate? [Sept 26].

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

The ISIS horror show: what you now need to know

higher learningSpeaking recently at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama called ISIS a “brutal, vicious death cult.” As the atrocities and inhumanity of the ISIS horror show spread and worsen, as air strikes continue, and as more combat troops are inserted, even people who have remained largely uninformed now know that they need at least some understanding of ISIS that goes beyond CNN or Fox News. So I thought it would be useful to gather in one place, for easy access, a number of short but informative articles on this.

Last year, over the space of two or three months on this blog, I posted several threads of well researched background articles that readers found helpful for learning what ISIS is on about. These non-sensationalistic but necessary pieces delve well beyond typical news coverage, talk radio punditry, political newspeak, and the religious hyper-ventilating that leaves far too many important questions untouched. Interested? If so, I have listed the first post of each of those threads here, just below, in the order that they were published, beginning with the first post. (At the end of each of those posts is a link taking you to the next piece in that thread.)

We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity. You can probably get through the complete fabric in an hour or two and take away a good “reader’s digest” version of where ISIS/ISIL is coming from and what its religious, political, and social goals are. This will also help you see what leaders of more than sixty nations understand about ISIS/ISIL and why they recently gathered in Washington for an unprecedented three-day summit on countering ISIS.

This is the only place on the Web, at least that I know of, where you can avail yourself of a detailed collection like this in one place. It may not scratch all of your itches, but you will come away pretty well informed.

Here is the list of threads, in order, beginning with the first one. But they have been written in such a way that you could jump in anywhere. I don’t have all the answers (no one does), but such as I have I give to you. If you find this list useful, send it to a friend or two.








©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Brian Donovan (permission via Creative Commons)


red light of warIslam, like Judaism and Christianity, is not monolithic. As there different kinds of faithful Jews and Christians, there are Muslims, and many are opposed to what ISIS is doing and regard it as un-Islamic. Many of these are Muslim reformers who see Islam as a flexible, nondogmatic religion adaptable to the modern world. They might call themselves moderates, liberals, or progressives, or even secularists. They would consider themselves devout Muslims even though they typically hold to nonfundamentalist approaches to the Qur’an and sharia. I have talked with some and read others. (See: Change Agents.)

But in this series of posts, begun here, the focus has been on key religious beliefs of the militant Sunni groups of al Qaeda and ISIS (the self-styled Islamic state), and they consider the reformers as enemies of true Islam. To understand what drives their extremist religious-political ideology we have been considering the writings of the Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb, whose views spread widely in the Middle East after his death in 1966. We have also looked at the various roles of jihad in Islam in contrast to Qutb’s unorthodox view of jihad. Here I want to finish this series on the Sunni militants by considering Qutb’s stunning view of war, or military jihad.

In his militant-sounding book Milestones, Qutb does not see preaching as particularly effective in changing people’s behavior to conform to Islamic law. It may. But if not, force will have to be sanctioned whenever preaching fails:

“The establishing of the dominion of God on earth … and the bringing about of the enforcement of the Divine Law (Shari‘ah) and the abolition of man-made laws cannot be achieved only through preaching. Those who are oppressing God’s creatures are not going to give up their power merely through preaching.”

Here is his rationale for that, worth quoting at length from his book Social Justice in Islam:

“Islam reckons itself to be a worldwide religion and a universal religion; therefore it could not confine itself to the limits of Arabia, but naturally desired to spread over the whole world in every direction. However, it found itself opposed by political forces in the Persian and Roman Empires, which were its neighbors; these stood in the way of Islam…. Therefore it followed that these political forces had to be destroyed…. The Islamic conquests, then, were not wars of aggression…. They were simply a means of getting rid of the material and political opposition that stood between the nations and the new concept that Islam brought with it. They were an ‘intellectual war’ with respect to the people and a physical war with respect to the powers that held these people [captive to idolatries], and which denied them access to the new religion through the exercise of power and coercion…. Three possibilities are placed before the people of a conquered country, one of which everyone must choose – Islam, the poll tax, or war…. For to refuse both Islam and the poll tax indicates clear insistence on maintaining the material forces that intervene between Islam and the minds of men. Hence this insistence must be removed by physical force, which is ultimately the only way.”

It’s a clever sleight-of-mind way of reasoning with subtle nuances, not the least of which is his euphemistic way objectifying the actual people who are on the receiving end of Islamic wars (“They were simply a means of ….”) But what I want to call attention to is that Qutb turns his new breed of Muslims – those he often calls his vanguard or Muslim warriors – into the non-aggressors; thus the peoples they conquer are not victims of aggression. Qutb’s attitude toward war, here, is not in the same moral universe as just war tradition. But, then, Qutb’s way of reasoning is not Western. It is a radical Islamic way that has reversed the roles of aggressors and their victims.

In Milestones Qutb is quite clear about this: “The Islamic Jihaad has no relationship to modern warfare, either in its causes or in the way in which it is conducted. The causes of Islamic Jihaad should be sought in the very nature of Islam and in its role in the world.” Thus the “reasons for Jihaad” are: “to establish God’s authority on earth; to arrange human affairs according to the true guidance provided by God; to abolish all Satanic forces and Satanic systems of life; to end the lordship of one man over others.”

woman and childrenIn all of this Qutb’s warriors are let off the hook. They are not to think of themselves as the aggressors because Qutb sees jihad as a “defensive war,” by which he seems to mean the right of his vanguard, if necessary, if preaching fails, to attack those who resist their efforts to implement God’s authority in their lands. In other words, a people’s resistance to having their country overrun and ruled by Islamic militants is viewed by Qutb as an attack on Muslims who are simply trying to implement God’s rule. This stunning example of doublethink – turning the victims of an attack into the aggressors and the aggressors into those transgressed against – would have made the rulers of the Oceania superstate proud.

In Milestones Qutb discusses reasons for conducting jihad, and he includes these lines, which clearly show the radical difference he posits between his view of jihadist war theory and that of just war theory:

“If [early Muslim warriors] had been asked the question, ‘Why are you fighting?’ none would have answered, ‘My country is in danger; I am fighting for its defense’ or ‘The Persians and the Romans have come upon us,’ or, ‘We want to extend our dominion and want more spoils.’ They would have answered … ‘God has sent us to bring anyone who wishes from servitude to men into the service of God alone, from the narrowness of this world into the vastness of this world and the Hereafter, and from the tyranny of religions into the justice of Islam.’”

I have been greatly encouraged during this series by everyone who, each in their own way, whether via email, social media, or in-person has explained why these posts were important to them. One of the most frequent was the comment “I now understand why they think and act like they do.” I get that, because these things are not discussed by our politicians and the media. Another omission is the underbelly of U.S. – Iran relations, which is another key area of discovery that must be made by anyone seeking to make sense of the role of religion in the Middle East. This may be the subject of the next series of posts.

Meantime, as I was pondering how to end this series, I happened to read this recently:

“There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached. Let me explain. If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive of an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price is too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used – if necessary terror, slaughter.”

That timely piece of wisdom comes from a short speech by the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in 1994, recently printed in the New York Review of Books. I would just add this. Any and all attempts to rule over the world by oppression, violence, or war are inevitably doomed to failure, no matter how long they have been at it, for their ultimate defeat has been guaranteed by the One who rules from the throne of the universe: the Lamb of God. By rejecting, not accepting, the devil’s offer of rulership over all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus Christ, on his way to Calvary not a caliphate, demonstrated that God’s kingdom does not come via the sword.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Images by sokhar and The Iglesia’s respectively (permission via Creative Commons)


Continued from the previous post.

justice statueOn one level in his writings Sayyid Qutb is reacting to what he sees as the West’s moral decadence. No doubt many Christians, and others as well, who see the West as morally decadent would sympathize both with that assessment and with a political program that seeks to redress it. A Christian way of redress, however, would not square with Qutb’s program in his book Social Justice in Islam.

We can’t take time here to go into a Christian program for social justice, but to those who are interested I highly recommend the decades-long work in public policy of the Center for Public Justice, which, like Qutb, opposes the idea of a sacred/secular dichotomy that would confine religions to a private sphere, but, unlike Qutb, opposes the public establishment of any religion.

Further, although Qutb would agree with CPJ that “Religions are ways of life and not merely ways of worship,” he would contest a central CPJ tenet, that we can “do justice to diverse religions and points of view while keeping the public square open to people of all faiths and points of view. This is the challenge that the Center believes can best be met from a Christian-democratic starting point.” See this article on the CPJ site. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a visiting research fellow with CPJ.) And for a Christian idea of social justice, see this piece of wisdom from James Skillen, about what he calls symphonic justice.

Qutb’s theory of social justice, discussed here, creates a religious-political soil for propagating radical Islamist programs, such the Taliban’s in Afghanistan (1996-2001) and the one that ISIS (the Islamic state) is implementing in parts of Iraq and Syria. And Qutb is not the only go-to Sunni Islamist ideologue. Hasan al-Banna, discussed here, is another.

Other prominent figures include the Palestinian Qutbist Abdullah Azzam, an influential representative of the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s and 1970s, who later became Osama bin Laden’s ideological mentor. In his book Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, Gilles Kepel writes that bin Laden was one of Azzam’s university students in Saudi Arabia and the two later became partnership leaders in Afghanistan as they fought the Soviets.

Another key figure is the Pakistani intellectual Mawlana Mawdudi (sometimes “Maududi”). Kepel writes that “Mawdudi and Qutb thought along similar lines and exercised influence among Sunni Muslims.” Further, when bin Laden lived and traveled in Pakistan among the jihadi-salafists around Peshawar in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he would have been with followers of Mawdudi, whose extremist writings, in which “religion was turned into an ideology of political struggle,” were well established throughout the region.

It should also be noted that many fighters have apparently joined groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS not so much for ideological reasons but because of deep resentments they hold toward America and European nations. As well, many devout Muslims around the world are opposed to Qutb’s views and regard them as a distortion of Islam.

What I have been focusing on in this series of posts, however, is the extremist religious roots of Qutb’s worldview and the direct or indirect debt that militant Sunni groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda owe to Qutb’s religious-political writings. I don’t mean that you would find his books calling for suicide bombings, beheadings, and similar other horrors. But it’s clear that “the religion Islam vs. the world” is an organizing principle of his worldview, that its overall ideology lends itself to the starting of military jihads, and that jihadist organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda can be understood withing Qutb’s worldview.

The most troubling aspect of all of this, it seems to me, is that Qutb’s religious-political ideology supports a view of jihad as inevitable war. This will be the topic of the next post.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Vvillamon (permission via Creative Commons)


sword of justice statueAs we have seen in recent posts, for Sayyid Qutb the core problem of the world’s many and diverse societies is their secular / scared dichotomy, or the hideous schizophrenia. He sees this as a deep spiritual disorder within the trajectory of human history. It has prevented all societies, with rare and short-lived exceptions, from implementing God’s rule over all of life. The solution, as Qutb writes in Islam: The Religion of the Future, is to implement “the religion of God,” by which he means “the Islamic way of life.” “Only then will the hideous schizophrenia come to an end…. The religion of Islam is the Savior.”

As we saw here, Qutb wrote prolifically in 1940s-1960s Egypt and called for a new breed of Muslim leadership – a purified, or cleansed, vanguard movement – that would implement the religion of God. In a major work titled Social Justice in Islam (SJI), first published in 1949, Qutb expounded the “features and properties” of what his view of the Islamic way of life would look like in a society. The book, which expounds his theory of social justice and the public policies of that theory, is much too densely detailed to discuss in a short blog post, so all I want to do here is summarize its basic idea.

Qutb writes that his theory of social justice is based on “the general lines of Islamic theory on the subject of the universe, life, and mankind,” and that the authoritative source for this is “the Qur’an and the Traditions,” which provide a “general scheme” that must be grasped before one can begin to implement social justice (of the kind that Qutb promotes). Early in the book he lays out this general scheme, which I summarize here in six points:

1.    Allah (God) is, a priori, an absolute unity.
2.    “The Active Will” of Allah, from which “all creation” is “issuing,” or “emanating,” and is sustained and ordered, implies an “all-embracing unity” in nature and in the world of man.
3.    The Creator gives “direct care and constant attention” to nature and the world of man, and because of that all “aspects [of life] are interconnected [politics, economics, faith, history, conduct, work, jurisprudence, etc.] so that one cannot possibly be separated from another.”
4.    Mankind, however, had “lived through long ages without arriving at any comprehensive theory” by which to unite himself and the aspects of life to the essential unity, having developed and followed human creeds that militate against life’s “fundamental solidarity.”
5.    This produced a perennial struggle in which individuals and societies have differentiated between “spiritual and material powers” and either “denied one of these in order to strengthen the other, or … admitted the existence of both in a state of opposition and antagonism”; thus “the struggle between the two types of power continued, with men continually uncertain and perplexed and without any definite assurance as to the true solution.”
6.    Then “came Islam, bringing with it a new, comprehensive, and coherent theory in which there was neither this tension nor this opposition, neither hostility nor antagonism. Islam gave a unity to all powers and abilities, it integrated all desires and inclinations and leanings, it gave a coherence to men’s efforts. In all these Islam saw one embracing unity which took in the universe, the soul, and all human life. Its aim was to unite earth and Heaven into one world; to join the present world and the world to come in one faith; to link spirit and body in one humanity; to correlate worship and work in one life. It sought to bring all these into one path – the path which leads to Allah.”

Legislating justice. Having set out this theoretical backdrop, which Qutb invariably calls “this universal theory, or “Islamic philosophy,” or simply “the Islamic concept,” he then states three principles that “are the foundations on which Islam establishes justice”:

1.    “Absolute freedom of conscience” [he means conscience in submission to Allah alone].
2.    “The complete equality of all men” [women are equal to men not in a liberal Western sense but in a qualified sense he develops called “difference in responsibility”].
3.    “The firm mutual responsibility of society” [everyone, but everyone, is responsible for the welfare, or lack of it, of a community].

In the remainder of the book, beginning with chapter three, Qutb articulates his policies for legislating social justice in Islam. These policies are not possible without the public establishment of Islam in a society. And he ties the policies to long discussions about political theory and economic theory in Islam, while throughout the book interpreting many dozens of surahs in ways that he believes lend support to his views.

SJI covers many areas of legislating justice, including specific public policies for human rights, taxation, banking, debt, inheritance, charity, hunger prevention, theft, murder, property ownership, and courtroom testimony. And some of his policy prescriptions intrude into areas of overt moral conduct – places where Western jurisprudence dares not go publicly – such as adultery, fornication, mocking, flogging, drinking alcohol, hoarding, frivolous spending, overindulgence, and wastefulness.

Continued in the next post.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


Continued from the previous post.

wave curlAccording to Sayyid Qutb, as we saw here, Islam spread widely geographically during its earliest decades because Muslims implemented God’s totality rule over all of life, but when they became idolaters, or impure, Muslims lost God’s favor and were no longer able to implement God’s totality rule. In Milestones, Qutb is quite clear that the solution is first and foremost individual renewal, by which he meant the rise of a new breed of Muslim leadership – purified and  cleansed of idolatry. The “vanguard” (his word) movement would then have God’s favor to fight the flood of idolatry, both in Islam and in the wider world, and implement “the religion of God,” by with he meant “the Islamic way of life,” as he wrote in Islam: The Religion of the Future.

In Milestones, Qutb writes: “It is necessary to revive that Muslim community which is buried under the debris of man-made traditions…, and which is crushed under the weight of those false laws and customs which are not even remotely related to the Islamic teachings.”

For this revival to occur, the vanguard must not simply strap on the ammo and rush into battle. It must be held back to be cleansed by studying the Qur’an, and only the Qur’an, for guidance. Only afterward will it be ready to prevail. Spiritual purity first; the geographic spread of Islam seconds (by war if necessary); social justice third. That was Qutb’s perceived pattern of the original vision of Islam. He insisted that the vanguard follow it.

“Only such a revivalist movement will eventually attain the status of world leadership,” he writes in Milestones. “It is essential for mankind to have new leadership…. Without doubt, we possess this new thing which is perfect to the highest degree, a thing which mankind does not know about and is not capable of ‘producing.’”

A purified vanguard would then first set things right by taking concrete form in a nation: “If Islam is again to play the role of the leader of mankind, then it is necessary that the Muslim community be restored to its original form…. In order to bring this about, we need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Muslim country. Only such a revival will eventually attain to the status of world leadership. How is it possible to start the task of reviving Islam? It is necessary that there should be a vanguard which sets out with this determination and then keeps walking on the path, marching through the vast ocean of [idolatry] which has encompassed the entire world…. I have written ‘Milestones’ for this vanguard.”

Until the Taliban and al Qaeda were driven from power in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, the signs seemed pretty clear that they had been steadily implementing Qutb’s unusual view of Islamic revival in that Muslim country. Apparently the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria, which now claims itself to be an Islamic state, albeit illegitimately, has similar designs.

In Milestones, Qutb frequently reminds his readers of the practical nature of his vision “to wipe out tyranny, and to introduce true freedom to mankind,” and he is quite clear that this may need to occur militarily:

“The method of this religion is very practical…. [It] uses the methods of preaching and persuasion for reforming ideas and beliefs; and it uses physical power and Jihaad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili [idolatrous] system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs but forces them to obey their erroneous ways and make them serve human lords instead of the Almighty Lord…. [It] is a practical movement which progresses stage by stage, and at every stage it provides resources according to the practical needs of the situation and prepares the ground for the next one.”

Also in Milestones, Qutb describes his unusual view of jihad as moving inevitably from individual renewal, to transforming Muslim societies, to surging into nations, to eventually conforming peoples everywhere to Islamic law. Olivier Roy, a scholar of political Islam, writes in Globalized Islam that radicals since Qutb “explicitly consider jihad a permanent and individual duty…. This is probably the best criterion with which to draw a line between conservative neofundamentalists and radical ones…. Among the few writings of Osama bin Laden, the definition of jihad as a permanent and personal duty holds a central place.”

For Qutb, then, it seems that there is no pick-and-choose jihad. Jihad is one; it is a continuum. It begins with the struggle to personal purity, then goes to its next phase, of taking over a Muslim country, whether by persuasion or by war, in order to implement social justice. In the next post we will look at what Qutb meant by social justice.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Sunova Surfboard (permission via Creative Commons)


Back to the future I sometimes joke that only novelists know the future. Apparently some gifted few also know it in the theater of the real as well. I just tracked down a note to myself in the margin of my copy of Greenmantle (1916). In the opening scene, Sir Walter Bullivant, of the Foreign Office, is explaining to Major Richard Hannay about Turkey and the Ottoman side of the Great War and religious power. Some will say, Hannay, that Islam is becoming a back number.

“Yet – I don’t know,” Bullivant continues. “I don’t quite believe that Islam is becoming a back number…. There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spark…. There is a Jehad preparing. The question is, How?” John Buchan’s great tale of derring-do fictionalizes an answer, as Hannay and his band of merry men face off against the Germans who are trying to use Islam to help them win the war.

Today, as everyone knows, many people are dying in the Middle East from very real jihads plotted and executed by militant organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda. Hundreds of thousands (Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others) have fled Iraq and Syria for safety. But the role of jihad can be puzzling to non-Muslims. Here is my short take on it as non-Muslim.

“Jihad” means “struggle” in Arabic, and there seems to be three types. One is military and is known by Muslims as the “lesser jihad.” It is a call to war by a legitimate Islamic nation against an enemy nation. It can be authorized only by an Islamic state and declared only by the legitimately recognized religious authority of that state. Another type of jihad is practiced by individual Muslims. Known as the “greater jihad,” it is the daily inner struggle against whatever seeks to prevent one from becoming a better Muslim. It is practiced in submission to Allah. It seems to me that the desire is not unlike that of a Christian’s inner struggle against sin in order to become more like Jesus and live the faith as well as possible.

The greater jihad, however, is also practiced as a nonviolent collective struggle against social, political, and economic injustices for the good of a community or nation, to build a better Muslim society (again, in submission to Allah). In What’s Right with Islam, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose mosque was just blocks from the World Trade Center, calls it a group jihad. It has also been called social jihad. The concept seems similar in principle to nonviolent Christian social and political activism.

Sayyid Qutb, whose radical religious-political views are the subject of this series of posts, developed what we could call a fourth view of jihad. It is based on his view of Islamic history and does not seem to me to fit the criteria of any of the three forms of jihad just noted. Qutb’s idea of jihad certainly hasn’t made jihad a back number. His view is well developed in his book Milestones, and it seems to be the theological backdrop used to justify the militant jihad practiced by ISIS, which has been considered illegitimate by many Muslim scholars.

We’ll pick that up in detail the next post.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


fall in black & white (ciro@tokyo)In the previous post we looked at the rise of Islam during its beginning years, in Mecca and Medina, especially the difference in Muhammad’s religious-political methodologies in the two cities. In this post we will look at Sayyid Qutb’s curious interpretation of Islam’s history, especially what he seems to have indicated was the fall of Islam. In the next post we will look at Qutb’s radical solution to that fall and how it influences ISIS and al Qaeda.

The Fall of Islam. According to Sayyid Qutb, the arrival of Islam in the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century was God’s solution to “the secular vs. the sacred dichotomy,” (“the hideous schizophrenia”), that had spread throughout the world. Implementing that solution would end the sacred vs. secular dichotomy by making the religion of Islam the rule for all of life, including political life. Qutb wrote in Islam: The Religion of the Future (IRF), that “the secular vs. sacred dichotomy has never been postulated in Islamic history, nor can it ever be.” The problem, however, as Qutb saw it, was that totality of what he often called “true Islam” “true religion,” that is, God’s total rule, was only implemented for a short while before Muslims themselves caught secular vs. sacred virus.

In other words, according to Qutb, after the widespread Muslim conquests during Islam’s first century – in and around the Arabian peninsula across north Africa and into Spain – Islam was able to spread only so far, geographically, because Muslims no longer adhered to the unitary Islamic vision of Muhammad and his companions. Instead, the Muslim community and its leaders, with few historical exceptions, continually fell prey to idolatry. They allowed false gods to rule many aspects their public lives, just as Jews and Christians before them had done, by not complying with what Qutb thought was God’s vision for all of life.

For Qutb, the solution for Muslims was to return to the original unitary vision. And the secret for achieving this lay in following Qutb’s interpretation of the Mecca and Medina period. “For thirteen years after the beginning of his Messengership,” Qutb wrote in Milestones, “[Muhammad] called people to God through preaching, without fighting … and was commanded to restrain himself and to practice patience and forbearance. Then he was commanded to migrate [from Mecca to Medina], and later permission was given to fight.” The is a key tenet to understanding Qutb’s thought as well as that of militant organizations such as al Qaeda and ISIS.

In Muhammad’s journey from religious prophet to political ruler to military conqueror, Qutb saw two essential attitudes or phases. (1) During the Meccan period, Muhammad held his warriors in check under intensive study of the Qur’an only. This was a time when Allah cleansed them inwardly and they received “initial stages of training” from “that one source of guidance” (the Qur’an). (2) Only after having achieved spiritual purity through such cleansing would victory be granted when the warriors went out to conquer and subdue (Milestones, chapter one). Qutb was insistent on this, and it lead him to a third non-negotiable point: Every failure to establish Islam’s totalitarian rule was the result of premature fighting, that is, of military jihad before sanctification.

This interpretation of Islam fit neatly within Qutb’s general view of world history as manifestations of the sacred vs. the secular dichotomy. According to Qutb, Muslim history, for the most part, had picked up the bug, for which the only solution was an injection of Muhammad’s (lost) original vision for implementing God’s totality rule over all of life. And the only way to get that injection was through a return to the purity of what Qutb believed was Islam’s original vision.

But Qutb did not stop with theory. As we saw here, he recognized the connection between theory and practice, ideas and actions, belief and behavior. So he challenged the Muslims of his generation to get with it. Writing voluminously from his prison cell in Egypt during the 1950s and 60s, Qutb called for a new breed of Muslim leadership – a purified, cleansed vanguard that would fight the flood of idolatry and implement “the religion of God,” by which he meant “the Islamic way of life” (IRF). “Only then with the hideous schizophrenia come to an end” (IRF). “The religion of Islam is the Savior” (IRF).

In the next post we will look at the role that “jihad” plays in Qutb’s vanguard movement.   Osama bin Laden, who, like Qutb, had no formal religious training from any Islamic seminary, is the most infamous jihadist pioneer to date. Bin Laden’s revolutionary al Qaeda movement is the most battle-hardened, and ISIS is an offshoot.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by ciro@toyko (permission via Creative Commons)