Having identified when, where, and how the world went wrong (in ancient Jewish history; see the previous post), the Egyptian intellectual and widely-read Islamist activist Sayyid Qutb believed he had found the religious and historical starting point for what he considered history’s God-less trajectory. The life and times of Jesus in ancient Palestine was the next stop is his radical view of history.
Qutb believed that the ancient Jews had reduced God’s rule over all of life to the religious and moral aspects, and that Jesus, like Moses and the Jewish prophets, was a true messenger of God sent to restore Jewish life and practice back under God’s total rule. In Islam: The Religion of the Future (IRF), Qutb wrote that “Jesus (peace be upon him) … was sent by God as a prophet to the Jews, confirming and corroborating the Law of Moses.” But the Jews “reacted unfavourably to the message of Jesus” and in the end “resisted Jesus and his message” and “induced Pontius Pilate … to attempt the murder of Jesus by crucifixion.” (Of Christ’s death itself, Qutb was ambiguous because, as he said in IRF, “there is no definite injunction in our Qur’an or Traditions regarding” Jesus’ death. The Qur’an, not the Bible, was his ultimate authority.)
Judaism, per Qutb, had rejected Christ’s restoration message, but Christianity did not fair any better. Due to the persecution and scattering of Jesus’ disciples, Christianity, at least not in any systematic sense, never recovered the original unitary vision of the Mosiac Law concerning God’s rule over all aspects of human life.
And then came another historical disaster: the official conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity in the fourth century. Noting that many people of the era called it “the triumph of Christianity,” Qutb called its Christianity’s “greatest calamity” (IRF). In the books of his that I have read, Qutb ranges through the domestic life, social policies, and foreign relations of the Holy Roman Empire, lambasting much of it, including Church councils. Along the way, he interprets hundreds of passages in the Qur’an as supporting his conclusions. The Christianity of the Holy Roman Empire, like Judaism before it, became hopelessly lost to other gods. In IRF he writes:
“The Christian community …could not crush or eradicate idolatry. Christianity’s principles became muddled and transmuted as a result of a new synthetic religion displaying conspicuously equal elements of both Christianity and paganism. In this respect, Islam differs from Christianity. It completely exterminated its rival (idolatry) and propagated its principles pure and without opacity.”
Yet at times Qutb shows sympathy for those faithful Christians who were horrified by Roman immorality, imperialist debaucheries, and pagan influences but who could do little about them. He had no patience, however, for the monasticism that arose to counter those tendencies or for the Roman Catholic church’s priestly monopoly on biblical interpretation.
To conclude his march through history through another series of critical moves (which I omit discussing here), Qutb arrives at twentieth century Marxism, which gets his severest attack. E.g.: Marxism “cannot survive without its abominable police machinery, its bloodbaths, its liquidation purges and its concentration camps.” “Marxist doctrine is nothing more than incomprehensible ‘scientific’ fallacy.” “Marxism is completely ignorant of the human soul” (IFR). What Qutb called “the hideous schizophrenia” – the segregation of religious life from practical life in the world – which “the whole modern world” suffered from – made its appearance in Marxism as the world’s worst social disease to date.
But there was fix. Constantly relying on his doctrine of the sovereignty of God over all of life and history, Qutb believed that the solution to the hideous schizophrenia – to what he at times called the sacred vs. secular dichotomy – was “the religion of God.” And he was absolutely clear that by this he meant “the Islamic way of life” (IRF). That was where Qutb stood. It is where ISIS and al Qaeda stand: us vs. everyone else.
We will pick up the story to consider “Why Islam?” in the next post.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer