The classic manifesto of political Islamism

Submitted by martin on 20 February, 2011 - 7:14

The classic manifesto of political Islamism - of Sunni political Islamism, anyway - is the book Milestones, published in 1964 by Sayyid Qutb, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood still reveres Qutb, though, day to day, the "ultra-Islamist" groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir are closer to Qutb's writings than is the cautious and accommodationist Brotherhood.

Qutb condemns equally all existing societies - Stalinist (so-called "communist"), capitalist, and the nominally Muslim ones.

All these, he says, exemplify humankind in "servitude to human beings" because they have laws made by human beings (whether democratically or undemocratically is irrelevant to him). Islam must "release mankind from servitude to human beings so that they may serve God alone".

This is not just a process of inner enlightenment. Islam, in his view, is not about individual religious belief. It is a collective way of life ruled by "God alone". It "takes practical steps to organise a movement for freeing man. Other societies do not give it any opportunity to organise its followers according to its own method, and hence it is the duty of Islam to annihilate all such systems..."

Even if a society gives full freedom of individual worship to Muslims - even if it "may permit people to observe their devotions in mosques, churches and synagogues" - if it obstructs the collective organisation of life on Islamic principles, it must be annihilated.

"Jihad in Islam is simply a name for striving to make this system of life dominant in the world".

Milestones exalts freedom, and many passages in it read almost like anarchism. But it is clear that "jihad" involves military action, and not just "defensive" military action.

Qutb insists that the Islamic state will not be "theocracy". "The way to establish God's rule on earth is not... that some spokesmen of God become rulers, as is the case in a 'theocracy'. To establish God's rule means that His laws be enforced and that the final decision in all affairs be according to these laws".

"There is no 'Church' in Islam [in Qutb's Sunni Islam, that is; Shia Islam has a clerical hierarchy]; no one can speak in the name of God except His Messenger [i.e. Muhammad]".

Who says what God's laws are, if not clerics? Qutb is vague: "If there is a clear text available from the Qur'an or from [Muhammad], then that will be decisive... If no such clear judgement is available, then the time comes for Ijtihad [interpretation] - and that according to well-defined principles which are consistent with God's religion and not merely following opinions or desires".

Although he is vague about who will define the rules, and although he often repeats that in an Islamic state people can believe in other religions so long they follow the rules of society, Qutb is very clear about the total control he expects the rules to have, exceeding that of any "secular government".

"As soon as a command is given, the heads are bowed, and nothing more is required for its implementation except to hear it. In this manner [in the days of the prophet Muhammad], drinking was forbidden, usury was prohibited, and gambling was proscribed, and all the habits of the Days of Ignorance were abolished - abolished by a few verses of the Qur'an or by a few words from the lips of the Prophet...

"Compare this with the efforts of secular governments. At every stage they have to rely on legislation, administrative institutions, police and military power, propaganda and the press, and yet they can at most control what is done publicly, and society remains full of illegal and forbidden things".

Qutb considers "private property" an essential means of "the freedom to express individuality"; but he censures the "individual freedom" he observed in the USA, "devoid of human sympathy and responsibility for relatives except under the force of law".

He condemns individual freedom especially in sexual matters. "In... modern jahili [un-Islamic] societies... illegitimate sexual relationships, even homosexuality, are not considered immoral... Writers, journalists, and editors advise both married and unmarried people that free sexual relationships are not immoral... Such societies are not civilised..."

He also censures a woman "spending her ability for material productivity" rather than adhering to "the division of labour between husband and wife" in the family.

Those pages are the only part of Milestones which says anything specific about how the Islamic state might improve day-to-day life. The book has nothing about ending poverty, exploitation, overwork, or inequality - nothing to suggest that Qutb, on those questions, goes beyond the traditional religious appeal to the rich to be charitable to the poor.

Qutb accuses other Muslim writers of being "defeated" and "defensive", and of eclectically mixing Islam with other doctrines. He concedes that Muslims can legitimately learn from non-Muslims about "abstract sciences such as chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, medicine..."; but he excepts Darwinian biology, and generally does not consider those areas of knowledge very important.

All important knowledge comes from God. "Progressive Islam", "Muslim societies [which] openly declare their 'secularism'", "Islamic democracy", "Islamic socialism" - Qutb rejects them all. He also condemns all nationalism.

Generally, in Milestones, all social systems, doctrines, and groupings other than Qutb's wished-for Islamic "vanguard", which will over time become a Muslim community and then an Islamic society, are rejected equally and without differentiation. In one passage, however, he identifies one particular grouping as specially to be combatted.

"The statement that 'culture is the human heritage'... is one of the tricks played by world Jewry, whose purpose is to eliminate all limitations, especially the limitations imposed by faith and religion, so that the Jews may penetrate into body politic of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs. At the top of the list of these activities is usury, the aim of which is that all the wealth of mankind end up in the hands of Jewish financial institutions which run on interest".

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