Continued from the previous post.
On 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)