Continuing a series on Islamic fundamentalism and the foundational thought of Sayyid Qutb…
Any discussion of radical Islam must eventually tackle the issue of Jihaad, which Qutb does in his fourth chapter. The term Jihaad literally means “struggle,” and while many argue that the term emphasizes one’s inner struggle to submit to God, Qutb goes beyond that to describe the Muslim community’s struggle against Jahiliyyah in terms of Jihaad. He opposes theories of Jihaad that describe it as primarily a defensive struggle in the face of attacks on Islam, describing these as “defeatist” revisionary theories concocted by weak Muslims.
Qutb identifies the two vehicles of Jihaad as preaching and fighting. He writes, “This movement uses the methods of preaching and persuasion for reforming ideas and beliefs; and it uses physical power and Jihaad for abolishing the organizations and authroities of the Jahili system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs… and make them serve human lords instead of the Almighty Lord.” (55) Preaching is useful in changing the minds of people, but it cannot be divorced from a movement whose aim is “to strike hard” at the political powers that be in order to establish the authority of God and arrange human affairs according to His will.
What is interesting is that Qutb is just as firm in stating that Muslims cannot force people to change their personal beliefs. Faith is not compulsory: “Islam does not force people to accept its belief, but it wants to provide a free environment in which they will have the choice of beliefs.” (56) Here again many in the West will find it ironic that Qutb describes the conquest of society and the implementation of Shari’ah as bringing freedom. But, for him, freedom means that man no longer is subject to other men but to God alone. When the Jahiliyyah system, which actively opposes Islam, is removed men and women will finally be free to choose Islam. He reminds readers that “Islam is not merely ‘belief,” but must take on practical, concrete form in the world. (61) Those living under Shari’ah (or under a treaty with the Muslim society) who do not believe are required to pay Jizyah, a religious tax which assures respect for and subordination to the Islamic community, and guarantees that there are no obstacles to Islam.
Thus it could be said that Islam works from the outside-in. Abolish the exterior structures of Jahiliyyah society, enforce conformity to Shari’ah, and then, in this view, people will probably convert. They certainly will be more open to receive the teachings of Islam. Most Christians would state that Christianity, conversely, works from the inside-out. Once people convert to faith in Christ, their behavior and worldview will be changed, and eventually the broader society will be changed.
For Qutb and his followers, the purpose of political struggle and of attaining political dominance is to bring people into the service of God rather than man. We might say that they are jealous for God to receive the honor He is due, and this happens when His creation lives in obedience to His decrees. He writes, “To proclaim the authority and sovereignty of God means to eliminate all human kingship and to announce the rule of the Sustainer of the universe over the entire earth… To establish God’s rule means that His laws be enforced and that the final decision in all affairs be according to these laws.” (58)
One cannot help but see at least faint parallels between Qutb’s thought and what seems to be the presuppositions of many Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian political activists. Many of these activists similarly seem to think that public acknowledgment of God’s laws through such things as public displays of the Ten Commandments, and public policy that seeks to enact God’s laws is the key to societal transformation. I would not equate the two, but believe it is worth pointing out at least a similar trajectory in their thought processes. Perhaps the Christian activists would not make such explicit statements regarding their goals and, indeed, they might not really be more than latent presuppositions. Nonetheless, there are interesting similarities.
Qutb is adamant that the struggle to establish Islam is not a national or Arab struggle. He writes, “There is also a great difference in the idea that Islam is a Divinely-ordained way of life and in the idea that it is a geographically bounded system… Islam is not a heritage of any particular race or country; this is God’s religion and it is for the whole world.” (74-5) Islam transcends racial and national barriers, and the true people of God are those who submit to Him in word (confession) and deed (obedience). Because Islam is for all people and because all people should submit to God’s rule (rather than be enslaved in Jahiliyyah), Muslims have the responsibility to take whatever action is necessary to see Islamic rule established in the whole world. Muslims have “a God-given right to step forward and take control of the political authority so that it may establish the Divine system on earth, while it leaves the matter of belief to individual conscience.” (76)