As I mentioned before, I’m beginning a series of posts on Milestones, by Sayyid Qutb, a foundational thinker in fundamentalist Islam. See the earlier posts for more background.
The premise of Milestones is that true Islam is not being implemented anywhere in the world. The Islamic worldview alone provides a total system that frees man to live as he was meant to live – under the rule of God alone, not in service to other men or to man-made systems. Qutb states in his preface that “all man-made individual or collective theories have proved to be failures.” (8) The capitalism of the West and the communism of the East (he was writing in the 1960’s) are alike in their failure, and only Islam offers the hope of new leadership and a new way. He introduces a key concept next: “Islam cannot fulfill its role except by taking concrete form in a society, rather, in a nation; for man does not listen… to an abstract theory which is not seen materialized in a living society.” (9) Islam, so enacted, offers the world a firm sense of purpose and faith under the rule of God, a society in which all people are equal and share in God’s blessings and in the resultant human progress. It is not merely enough to preach Islam; it must be materialized in the very core of a particular society. Qutb is prone to repeat key points and phrases, as he does two pages later in writing, “the beauty of this new system cannot be appreciated unless it takes a concrete form. Hence it is essential that a community arrange its affairs according to it and show it to the world. In order to bring this about, we need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Muslim country.” (11)
As an aside, let us pause to note an interesting parallel. On the one hand one sees Qutb’s call to bring about Islamic revival and a pure Islamic society in some country in order to display the beauty of Islam to the world. On the other hand, one notes the apparent goal of American foreign policy under George W Bush, which seeks to set Iraq up as a model of freedom and democracy so that others in the region will see the beauty of that system. Many in the West will no doubt find it ironic that Qutb claims that the Islamist ideal actually brings about freedom for mankind: “Only in the Islamic way of life do all men become free from the servitude of some men to others and devote themselves to the worship of God alone.” (11)
In Milestones, Qutb seeks to chart the path through which this kind of Islamic revival can take place, leading to the establishment of a true Muslim society which will change the world. He attempts to base his approach on the model of the early band of Muslims, followers of the Prophet, who, in a short period of time, changed their own society and established a Muslim state. In this sense, Qutb is something of a restorationist, wanting to turn from an Islam that has been polluted over time and centuries back to its original, pristine form. Of course, this kind of thinking is quite prevalent in Christianity as well in appeals to get back to the kind of life and witness exhibited by the early church. Qutb’s appeal to the first generation of Muslims is similar to many a Christian’s appeal to Luke’s description of the early church at the end of Acts 2. For Qutb, the way to reestablish pure Islam is to follow Muhammad’s pattern, which is to begin with a small band of true believers that represent a vanguard. Milestones is written for this vanguard, to help them chart their course.