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SHARIATI? Frank Emmanuel Muhereza Essay 2 for Contemporary Social and Political Thought 30 March 2013 Introduction: Qutb, Sayyid, who authored Milestones: Maalim Fil-Tareeq, was born in 1906 in the Egyptian province of Asyut South of Cairo in 1906, while Shariati, Ali, who authored What is to be done: The Enlightened thinkers and an Islamic Renaissance, was born in 1933 in Northeastern Iran. After their foundational education in Egypt and Iran respectively, Qutb proceeded to Northern Colorado, America where he studied American educational administration from 1949 to 1950, while Shariati went to Paris, France, where he did his Masters and PhD in sociology in the 1960s. Qutbs short stay in America, and Shariati in France changed the perspectives of both intellectuals, especially towards American and western modernity and civilization. For Qutb, when he returned to Egypt in 1951, he had developed a penchant hatred for America, not only for the support it extended to the new State of Israel in 1948, but also for their anthropocentrism and cultural modernity which he was strongly convinced had spiritually destroyed the West and threatened to destroy the world of Islam as well. Immediately Qutb returned to Egypt from America, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and became one its leaders. As for Shariati, his time in France brought him into contact with not only radical anti-imperialist doctrines but also the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), for which he was incarcerated upon return to Iran in 1964. Shariati read 1

Frantz Fanon and translated into Persian a compilation of Fanons writings. While Shariati may have been influenced highly by anti-colonialism discourses by African intellectuals whom he encountered in Paris during his student-days, Qutb was probably influenced by Black civil rights movement in the US. Both were unequivocal in their opposition to the imperial ambition of the West, which they viewed as a colonizer. They were both disillusioned with the enlightenment and Western civilization and its modernities delivered via colonialism to the Islamic society (Egypt and Iran). Qutb and Shariati were disillusioned with western civilization and the progress achieved in science for failure to provide society with new sets of values to guide mankind, and both were therefore seeking alternatives to European political and economic systems from the West (i.e. capitalism and Marxism) and the East (communism and socialism). Qutb argued, for example, that the capitalism of the West, and its liberal democracy had become so infertile to the extent that it had started borrowing ideas from the East in the name of socialism. Marxism had been defeated on the plane of thought, and the world over, there was no single government which was Marxist. Communism, as in Russia, had been incapable of ensuring people have enough food. Both Qutb and Shariati were therefore searching for alternatives to European ideas, systems and practices that were permissible and justifiable under Islam. Both were great Muslim intellectuals and thinkers of the twentieth century who openly rejected western secular culture for its corruption, barbarism and immorality. Both were attracted to revolutionary ideas against class exploitation (although not so much racial oppression) by capitalism. They also detested secularism and the degeneration that had beset Islam in their own backyards, which they attributed to selling-out of their leaders to American and European imperialism. 2

Revolutionary armed violence I would like to argue that the Islamic writings of Qutb and Shariati strongly justified revolutionary armed violence. In order to located the prominence they awarded to armed violence, one has to understand the alternatives to the decadence of the present Islamic society that Qutb and Shariati proposed. To do so, one has to understand how both conceived the problem of the contemporary Muslim society. Qutb argued that basing on what is embedded in modern ways of living; the whole world was steeped in Jahiliyyah (Qutb, p.26). Jahiliyyah is an Islamic concept which means ignorance of divine guidance from Allah (Qutb, p.11, 19). This ignorance, according to Qutb, had not been diminished by all the marvelous material comforts and high level inventions (Qutb, p.26-7). For Qutb, there is, the world over, including in Islamic societies, rebellion against Allahs sovereignty on earth caused by Jahiliyyah. The result of this rebellion was the oppression of his creatures (Qutb, p.27). For Qutb, the common man Islamic society has been humiliated under communist systems, and exploited by the greed for wealth under the capitalist systems, both of which deny the dignity of man given to him by Allah (Qutb, p.27). For Qutb, it is only in Islamic way of life that all men can become free from servitude of some men to others, and once free, can devote themselves only worship Allah (Qutb, p.27). Shariati, on the other hand, viewed the West as evil for corrupting and dominating the Islamic world, noting that there were two types of leaders that had emerged as a result of western influence; namely: pseudo-intellectuals and pseudo-religious leaders. These had split Islamic society into two groups one preoccupied with nonchalance and the other with fanaticism. This dualism, which Shariati considered as a fraud, and which had permeated deep into 3

the society had caused the two arms of the same body and the two wings of the same bird to fight one another instead of uniting to face their common enemy, whom Shariati described as aggressive, deceitful and powerful (Shariati, p.47). Shariati was not only unhappy with the internal divisions among Muslim brothers (with the religious fighting the nonreligious), but more saddened with religious fanaticism, where the ignorant pseudo religious fanatics were fighting the more ignorant anti-religious fanatics, saying this was a ploy by the West to keep them busy, while they appropriated their natural resource wealth, to satisfy their colonial ambition. Shariati was particularly unhappy that the West had successfully made Muslims fight ridiculous wars of modernity versus traditionalism when, according to him, the real war was between the Islamic society and Europe, between colonized and colonizer. Both Qutb and Shariati were agreed on the imaginations of future Islam. For Qutb, the pervasiveness of Jahiliyyah in the present of the present was due to the lack of Shariah law, without which Islam cannot exist (Qutb, p.9, 82); and true Islam is a complete system with no room for any element of Jahiliyyah (Qutb, p.32, 47); that all aspects of Jahiliyyah (manners, ideas and concepts, rules and regulations, values and criteria) are evil and corrupt (Qutb, p.9, 132). According to Qutb, Muhammad who was Gods reluctant messenger, proclaimed that Christians, Jews, and pagans were living in a state of ignorance, or Jahiliyyah, because they had distorted Gods original message in the scriptures. Shariati said Islam built one of the greatest civilization of the World, in Europe itself, Andalusia (modern-day Spain). For Shariati, Europeans desecrated and destroyed the Islamic faith and its traditions, either by using pseudoreligious leaders (shibh-e mull) to remove Islam altogether or keeping Muslims preoccupied with imaginary things (Shariati, p.45). According to Shariati, Western colonizers 4

entered Islamic lands, penetrated the heart of its society, and as a result of which, disturbed the life of its followers and their traditional organizations, plundered their resources, turned their cities into markets, made Muslims hollow, absurd, worthless and inhumane imitators (Shariati, p.45). This corrupted Islamic society was described by Shariati as a Tragedy (Shariati, p.46), and nihilistic, absurd, hollow, spiritually empty, from which the lost generation needed to be rescued (Shariati, p.47). In their imaginations of the future Islamic society, Qutb and Shariati are not at odds on what needs to be done. For Qutb, it was a return to Islam, while for Shariati, it was a return to the sources. Qutb called for the need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival (referring to the Muslim Brotherhood) in some Muslim country (implying Egypt), and only a revivalist movement will eventually attain the status of world leadership (Qutb, p.27). Shariatis called for a return to the source (Shariati, p.68-9, footnote 22). Acknowledging the influence of third world intellectuals such as Frantz Fanon and Aim Csaire, and others in the Islamic world before them (Shariati, p.52), Shariati called for a return to self as the only hope which could enable the wandering generation of lost souls to stand tall against the intimidating monster of the West which both butts and bewitches, and had placed the Islamic society under an intense and total cultural, intellectual, aesthetic and moral bombardment (Shariati, p.47, 52). After the Islamic society has fallen spiritually (following the conquest of its spiritual and mental abilities and emptying it of its human qualities, after incapacitating the power of its logical resistance as well as its ability to criticize, understand, judge, evaluate, test, choose, and invent), the West could easily conquer the Islamic societies economically and politically (Shariati, p.48). Like most third world anti-colonial intellectuals and nationalists, from Frantz Fanon to Aim Csaire Csaire, Amilcar Cabral to Che Guevara, the response to western 5

colonialism was cultural. It is Cabral (1993:40) who said, after everything else is taken, the colonized remained with himself; and the one thing colonialists could not take away, culture. This reminds me of Gramsci (1971: 149), who pointed out that when a dictatorship proscribes all forms of political organization culture becomes key to resistance against oppression. The nature of this cultural response varied. While it was clear in Qutbism what a return to Islam meant, having been at the forefront of militant activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, especially in its campaign against secularism and what the Muslim Brotherhood perceived as outright betrayal by the Egyptian government for its co-operation with imperialists in support of an AntiArab state of Israel, there were tensions apparent in Shariatis call for a return to the source. The writings of Qutb and Shariati were also at variance on how to go about what needs to be done, either in returning to Islam (Qutb) or returning to the source (Shariati); and the role of revolutionary armed violence. The Qutbian response to the contemporary Jahiliyyah has been associated with calls for radical Islamic response to overthrow the secular state and replace it with the true Islam of strict Shariah law. Non-Muslim societies are termed jahili. For Shariati for example, which source would lost souls return to? A return to tradition seems out of the question because it had itself been corrupted. For Shariati, the return to source, as a response, was as cultural as it was religious. Shariati called for an intellectual and spiritual revolution entailing a religious renaissance because, half of the population in the Islamic society knew nothing about religion and the other half knew it only in a distorted manner. Shariati called for the need to revitalize the dead, rotten, disfigured skeleton of Islamic culture so as to generate progressive characteristics and dynamics and guiding and enlightening elements (Shariati, p.45). Shariati described 6

the religion that was being preached, in terms similar to Marxian description of religion as the opium of the masses 1, saying it is an agent that paralyses reason, congests the mind, degenerates the will, causes social pessimism and despair, justifies and asks for absolute submission to and tolerance of status quo, encourages superstition, makes irrational repetitions acceptable, demands performance of unintelligible actions and rituals, raises baseless fears and hesitations, advocates fruitless loves and hatred, busies people with non-existent or unknown friends and enemies (Shariati, p.48). Shariati called for the elimination of this narcotizing religion the religion of ignorance, poverty and absolute submission (Shariati, p.48). Shariati calls for a return to the true, life-giving and primordial (or traditional) Islam (Shariati, p.48), saying what is needed is: an intellectual revolution and Islamic renaissance, a cultural and ideological movement based on the deepest foundation of our beliefs, equipped with the richest resources that we possess. In a word, we need Islam (Shariati, p.49). Shariati wanted a religious renaissance (revival), and he appealed to spiritualism of Islam for answers, calling upon the life-giving and creative spirit of Islam, the spirit which built a civilization full of wealth and power, and a spirit which gave birth to a culture brimming with new and amazing thoughts and genius (Shariati, p.46). For Shariati, Islam is what we must return to, not only because it is the religion of our society, the shaper of our history, the spirit of our culture, the powerful conscience and the strong binder of our people, and the foundation of our morality and spirituality, but also because it is the human self of our people (Shariati, p.53). Shariati called for taking refugee in Islam, if only because it is a religion that transcends history and nationality (Shariati, p.53). It is only in Islam that cultureremoving techniques of colonizers can be confronted (Shariati, p.53). Shariati was sympathetic to all those who

. See Marx, Karl. 1976. Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right, in Marx, Karl and Friedrick Engels, Collected Works March 1843-August 1844, Volume 3. New York.

called for the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam (Shariati, p.64). Return to Islam, meant for Shariati, opening doors to rational thinking, what he termed as Ijtihd (Shariati, p.113). Shariatis doors to rational thinking had been closed in 13 th and 14th century. By going back to the foundation, it enabled the Muslim world to think about the present. For Qutb, a return to Islam could never be achieved without an Islamic Revivalist movement, for which there should be a vanguard (the Muslim Brotherhood) which sets out with this determination and then keeps walking on the path, marching through the vast ocean of Jahiliyyah which has encompassed the entire world (Qutb, p.27-8). A return to Islam seeks total submission to Allah and the elimination of lordship of man (Qutb, p.55). Islam is not merely theory, because Jahiliyyah controls the practical world, and for its support there is a living and active organization, and therefore cannot be fought with theoretical efforts. The new system that seeks to replace the existing jahili system should come into the battlefield as an organized movement, with a strategy and social organization much firmer and more powerful than the existing jahili system (Qutb, p.55). Qutb neatly gave an Islamic justification to revolution, and this revolution was jihad, but he didn't mean it simply in a violent manner. Like Prophet Muhammad taught, Islamic Jihad had stages, starting with preaching and persuasion, followed by compulsion, which culminates in violence (Qutb, p.65). While Islam does not force people to accept its belief, and aims to provide a free environment in which they have the choice of belief; it strives to abolish those oppressive political systems under which people are prevented from expressing their freedom to choose whatever beliefs they want, and after that it gives them complete freedom to decide whether they will accept Islam or not (Qutb, p.65-6). It is the duty of Islam to fight any political system, material power or individual that puts hindrances in the way of 8

preaching Islam until whoever it is is killed or declares its submission (Qutb, p.66). There are two ways in which the writings of Shariati made reference to a discourse of revolution. The first sense is that which appealed to the revolutionary spirit of Islam, that radical aspect of Islam with a potential to create a new being in spirit (Shariati, p.64-5). The second aspect is that which related to revolutionary armed violence, which in the writings of Shariati was almost always implicit. In calling for a return to self, Shariati cautioned against reactionary movements, that fanatically reject everything new and anxiously return to the past (Shariati, p.62), which many times has been associated with violence. In reference to the past spirit that fomented powerful revolutions based on constant struggle (jihd) and martyrdom (shahdat) (Shariati, p.46), is implied the possibility of armed revolution. Shariati said Islam, as had been admitted by political and military leaders of European colonization, is the greatest of anticolonialist factors in that it not only resists colonization but revolts against it and seeks independence from it (Shariati, p.54). There were tensions in Qutbs writings. How could the Islam he advocated for bring back to Allah the whole world without a proclamation of war against especially the Jews and Christians, who disobeyed Allah (p.69). How could Islam, through merely preaching strike hard at all those political powers which force people to bow before them and which prevent people from listening to the preaching and accepting the belief if they wish to do so (p.70). How will Islam through preaching alone, annihilate the tyrannical force, whether it be political or racial on in the form of class distinctions within the same race (p.70). If Islam strives from the very beginning to abolish all those systems and governments which are based on the rule of man over men, and the servitude of one human being to another, how can it do this without armed violence: (Qutb, p.70).

Despite Qutbs attempt to distance Islamic Jihad from modern warfare, either in its causes or in the way it was conducted (Qutb, p.66, 70), his writings are said to have influenced radical Islamic movements which have waged armed struggled in the name of Islamic Jihad. First, even when he was still alive, his writings are said to have influenced not only the October 1954 attempted assassination of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, after he renewed a treaty with Britain permitting British troops to return to Egypt if Turkey or any Arab state were attacked; but also the 1981 assassination of the former Egyptian President the late Anwar Sadat. Qutb, who was the main ideology of the Muslin Brotherhood was suspected of participation in the plot, and was arrested, brutally tortured, and sentenced to twenty-five years at hard labor, later reduced to fifteen because of his poor health. Nassers colonels used extreme measures against state opponents, whom they tortured and killed. Qutb became convinced that the guards and the torturers, like their bosses in power, were not true Muslims. And Nassers state was a Muslim state only in name. It was during his ten years in prison that Qutb write Milestones, and it was published in 1964, after it was smuggled out of prison in form of private letters to his brothers and sisters. Through the intervention of President Abd al-Salaam Arif of Iraq, Qutb was released from prison toward the end of 1964 but not for long. On August 30, 1965, Nasser announced that a new Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy had been uncovered Considered the ringleader, Qutb was once again arrested, tortured, tried with two other Muslim Brothers, and hung on August 29, 1966. Qutb was hanged to death on 29 August 1966, following a sentence by a court, to which he is said to have proclaimed, Alhamdullilah (all praise is for Allah) I performed Jihad for fifteen years until I earned this Shahadah (martyrdom) (Qutb, 2006). Although Qutb thought his writings did not 10

constitute a clarion call for armed struggle, those who confronted Qutbism thought otherwise. At least the Egyptian state that sentenced him to death by hanging thought he did. His last words vindicated those who associated him with Islamic armed revolution. Shariati on the other hand died of a fatal heart attack under 'mysterious circumstances' in a Southampton hospital in England in 1997, three weeks after he had been allowed to leave Iran, following several run-ins with authorities. As the date of his execution approached, Nasser realized that Qutb was more dangerous dead than alive. He dispatched Anwar Sadat to the prison to promise Qutb that if he appealed his sentence, Nasser would show mercy and would even offer him the post of Minister of Education, a post he had already been offered and turned down at the beginning of the regime. His sister, also a prisoner, pleaded with him to save himself for the sake of the Islamic movement. Qutb responded, Write the words. My words will be stronger if they kill me. Like the English word martyr, which is of Greek derivation, the Arabic word shaheed means witness in the sense of bearing witness to ones beliefs even at the cost of ones life. Sayyid Qutb understood that there could be no stronger evidence of his religious and moral seriousness than his willingness to sacrifice his life for his beliefs. Whatever one may think of Sayyid Qutbs views, there can be no doubt concerning the sincerity with which he held them or his personal incorruptibility. Qutb understood that his jihad consisted in setting forth his vision in his writings and leadership in the Muslim Brotherhood. His refusal to be bought off by Nasser and Sadat, left no doubt of his uncompromising seriousness. It should also have left no doubt concerning how dangerous his ideas and his personal example could be. Of all proponents of the ideology of jihad, the most prominent of them all was Qutb. Qutb propagated offensive 11

Islamic jihad, whether armed or not, to wipe out tyranny and to introduce true freedom to mankind - all in defense of Islam (Qutb, p.71). The calls for Islamic renaissance, revival, or resurgence are usually associated with the commission of acts of terror in the name defending Islam. The primary objective of Islamic Jihad was to eliminate Jahiliyyah which limit mans freedom, and take the form of beliefs, concepts and political systems (based on economic, racial or class distinctions), not only from the Islamic world, but also from the rest of the world (Qutb, p.71). For Qutb, any state that governed without the guidance of Allah was jahiliyyah, whether or not in the Islamic world. Divine guidance necessitated the adoption of Shariah, the scared law accessible to humans, as the guiding principle of the statecraft, without which Islam and Islamic society cannot exist (Qutb, p.71). For Qutb, armed offense was only permissible if it was done as Allah directed, and against those who fight Muslims (Qutb, p.73). Since Qutb declared Western liberal democracies as well as Soviet Communism as jahiliyyah because they constituted a most profound rebellion against Islam and the rule of Allah (Qutb, p27), it became very difficult to separate Qutb from armed attacks against them. Qutb reminded believers about the messengers directive that they should fight those who do not believe in Allah or those who do not consider unlawful what Allah and his messenger have made unlawful (Qutb, p.74). Qutbism has been the basis for Muslim extremism or radical Islam especially in preaching to convert all non-believers and going to the extent of undertaking jihad to forcibly eliminate all form of structures that promotes Jahiliyya. Eradication of Jahiliyya comes with strict implementation of Shariah as a complete way of life, for which is expected not only justice, but complete freedom from servitude, peace, personal serenity, scientific discovery and other benefits. In Qutbism, waging of offensive Jihad is permissible if it is intended for


elimination of Jahiliyya from not only the Islamic societies but also from the rest of the world. Unlike Qutb who openly advocated for Islamic Jihad in defense of Islam, Shariati did not, although the option of armed violence was not completely closed. Shariati warned of the possibility of a violent backlash from Islam. He observed that Islam is a force which raises the mind and invites the oppressed to revolt and bestows upon the battlefield a spirit of faith, hope and bravery (Shariati, p.45). For Shariati, western colonialism had not only destroyed Islamic faith and its traditions, it had also plundered the resources from the Islamic world with impunity. For Shariati, the Europeans did this without any serious consideration of the danger of Islam (Shariati, p.45), implying that they operated as if they were unaware of the serious danger posed to their action from Islam. Shariati noted that the West could push Muslims into a reactionary stage. He warned that the possibility of violence could not be ruled out, He provided a possibility for reactionary response (Shariati, p.68 footnote 22). Conclusion: References: Qutb, Sayyid. 200?. Milestones: Maalim Fil-Tareeq Shariati, Ali. 1986. What is to be done: The Enlightened thinkers and an Islamic Renaissance . New Jersey: Islamic Publications International. Cabral, Amilcar. 1993 National Liberation and Culture, in Return to Source, Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral . London: Monthly Review Press. Gramsci, Antonio, 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers.