Saturday, October 28, 2006

Religion of Peace

[posted by Callimachus]

Talking about "Islamic fundamentalism" is a dangerous business for one outside the religion. Many Islamic things that to us look alike on the surface (and have the same effect on our lives as non-Muslims) come from different sources.

Is Bin Laden a Wahhabist? How would you know whether he is or is not? Is he a disciple of Sayyid Qutb? Often they write alike. But that is not the same thing. Again, how would you know that?

Something that ought to have been obvious all along struck me while reading "Basic Principles of the Islamic Worldview" by Sayyid Qutb.

Even the furiously defensive preface by Hamid Algar (who is of the Israel=Nazi Germany school) notes the "curious and paradoxical" quality of Qutb's writing, that while he announces his intention to expound on Islam, he spends most of his time condemning and refuting everyone else's beliefs and systems -- Christians, Buddhists, Jews, philosophers, Marxists, secularists. "In some cases," Algar writes, "they receive greater analytical attention than the characteristics of Islam that form the subject matter of each chapter."

Of course, Algar goes on to excuse this by blaming it on the West -- specifically on the "censorious Westerner peering over the shoulder of the writer." But invoking that fictional specter, which many Islamic writers beside Qutb seem to fear, begs a question. After all, apologists for Western liberalism don't seem to feel a censorious Qutb peering over their shoulders.

Likely the fixation with rejecting and refuting Western/Christian ideas reflects a silent acknowledgment of their powerful lure to the people in the Islamic world (and elsewhere) as well as an awareness of the poor performance turned in by Islamic societies in most of the measured achievements of modernity.

[Whether we ought to measure human achievement by the standards of Islam or modernity, of course, is the essential question between Qutb and us.]

That the Wahhabis, Qutb, Bin Laden, and to a certain degree Hamas, Hezbollah, and others tend to look the same to us is perhaps less a matter of "this begat that" or "this evolved from that" as it is an outcome of the nature of fundamentalism in religion, which is an attempt to turn back the clock as far as possible toward the zero-point of revelation. It seeks to purify the faith of the compromises and borrowings, the rust and "debris" (in Qutb's word) that accrue to it once it passes from divine hands into himan ones.

In Christian history, you have Christ preaching a way to live, and then 300 years later you have Constantine marching into battle under the banner of Christ. The gap between the two experiences is disturbing to many Christians, and attempts to turn Christianity back to its dynamic wellsprings generally bypass Constantine.

In Islam, Muhammad is both Christ and Constantine. Struggle -- jihad -- is integral to the roots of the faith. Islamic fundamentalism embraces the struggle for purity within the community and the aggressive engagement with outside powers, because both are prescribed in the revealed text.

As Algar puts it in his introduction, the "Islamic concept" is "dependent on engagement in struggle and effort to create the society mandated by revelation." Qutb's "urgent concern" was to "reconstitute, after a more than millennial lapse, the environment of struggle in which the revelation had first been received and to achieve thereby a new, exemplary era, mirroring the first."

And that struggle will naturally follow the path laid down in the original revelation: a call to establish a world founded on the justice of the faith, with other creeds tolerated, restricted, taxed, and protected under the virtuous rule of Islamic leaders.

Here Qutb shares his vision, rebuking those who deny the accusation Islam is the religion of the sword by the equally (to him) false assertion that it is a religion of peace:

Some Crusaders and Zionists, for example, doggedly accuse Islam of being the religion of the sword, claiming that it was spread by the edge of the sword. Consequently, some of us defend Islam and refute this accusation by invoking the idea of "defence." Thereby they lessen the value of jihad in Islam, narrow the scope, and apologise for each of its instances, claiming that they were undertaken only for the purpose of "defence," in its present shallow meaning.

These people forget that Islam, being the last divine path for humanity, has an essential right to establish its own system on earth so that all humanity can enjoy its blessing, while every individual enjoys the liberty to follow his chosen creed, for "there is no compulsion in religion." Establishing the "Islamic system" to have beneficial sway over all humanity, those who embrace Islam and those who do not, does indeed require Jihad as does the liberty of men to follow their own beliefs. This goal can only be accomplished with the establishment of a virtuous authority, a virtuous law and a virtuous system that calls to account whoever attempts to attack freedom of worship and belief.

[emphasis added]