Continuing an in-depth look at Sayyid Qutb’s seminal work, Milestones, which gives us tremendous insight into the mind of radical Islam.
Jahiliyyah is one of the central themes of Qutb’s work. Originally Jahiliyyah was the name given to the world in the time before the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad, a time of polytheism and ignorance of divine guidance, the world Islam initially struggled with and soon replaced. Qutb is quite innovative in that he applies the concept to every system in the world that does not live according to Islam, and really stirs things up in his own context by applying it to the present state of Muslim countries. In fact, he asserts that true Islam has not existed in the world for centuries, being replaced by man made systems and traditions. Later in the book Qutb offers a simple, straightforward definition of a jahili society as any society “which does not dedicate itself to submission to God alone, in its beliefs and ideas, in its observances of worship, and in its legal regulations. According to this definition, all the societies existing in the world today are jahili.” (80)
The first milestone on the journey to restoring Islam is the first pillar of Islam, the confession that there is just one God, who has revealed his law in the Qur’an. The Qur’an, then, is to be the primary source of authority, with the example of the Prophet serving as secondary authority. True believers must look only to God and to the Qur’an for their instruction and guidance in all things. Such focus on God flies in the face of Jahiliyyah, and so Qutb says the first step in the movement he proposes is “that in the early stages of our training and education we should remove ourselves from all in the influences of the Jahiliyyah in which we live and from which we derive benefits. We must return to the pure source.” (20) It seems safe to say that Qutb is calling for a complete and total change in worldview. The goal is “first to change ourselves so that we may later change the society. Our foremost objective is to change the practices of this society… which is fundamentally at variance with Islam and which, with the help of force and oppression, is keeping us from living the sort of life which is demanded by our Creator.” (21)