By Abu Mazeedatilkhayr Bn Sa’eed
At around 3:30am, I was awakened to a short reminder from Professor Najimdeen Abubakr, a distinguished teacher of Global Socio Politics at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, informing me of the 54 years of the death of Sayyid Qutb. I therefore felt the urge to celebrate the author of Fi Dhilaal.
To me, and perhaps, to many others, Sayyid is not just an enigma, he is also a legend of the contemporary Islamic thoughts. Arguably, the most misunderstood Muslim doctrinaire of the recent time. Persecuted in his lifetime, vilified after his death.
Sayyid Qutb was a distinguished, prolific Egyptian essayist, literary critic and educationist who, around the age of forty, turned from secularism towards Islam and the study of the Qur’an. Of course, his political and religious essays were, by far, sufficiently radical to disturb the Palace.
According to one account, one of his superiors in the Ministry of Education had suggested that his mental outlook might moderate if he was encouraged to embark on a study tour in the United States. However, Qutb’s American experience did not have the desired effect.
He was rather appalled by the racism, sexual permissiveness and the voluptuous materialism he encountered in the States, which he later documented in his book, Amaarika Lati Rahaitu. In the early 1950s, on his return to Egypt however, Qutb ‘”gravitated” into the orbit of the Muslim Brotherhood.
By this time, the monarchy had been overthrown in what was known as the Free Officer’s Revolution. Initially, Qutb enjoyed his close relationship with the coup leader, Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser. But these relations quickly broke down when things fell apart.
Following an assassination attempt on the President in October 1954, Qutb was arrested along with a thousand members of the Brotherhood. In July 1955 he received a fifteen year sentence. But on account of ill-health, he spent the better part of his life in the infirmary of Turah, a Cairo prison.
By the time Qutb entered the prison, he had begun what most critics regard as his masterwork, Fî Dhilaalil Qur’an. According to his Western biographer, Qutb’s “daily immersion” in the holy Qur’an brought him “inner happiness” – the spiritual ecstasy and ecstatic delight that grew his foresight.
In the early 1960s, Qutb composed his masterpiece, Ma’alim Fi Tariq. In 1964 the text of the book was completed; and before it was banned, within six months, the work had gone through five editions. In part, because of his agitation for Islamic reform – following his release from prison, and in part because of Ma’alim, Qutb was re-arrested.
In August 1966, he was condemned to death. A story circulated, which Calvert thinks possibly apocryphal, that on the scaffold Qutb received “from a high ranking officer” a Presidential offer of clemency in return for “an admission of guilt, which he humbly declined.
Sayyid was said to have looked up with his clear eyes. A smile, which one cannot describe, appeared on his face. He told the officer in a surprisingly calm tone: ‘Never! I would rather exchange this temporary life for a life that will never come to an end.”
With the hangman’s noose around the neck of Qutb, the movement of Tagyeer had its first and still perhaps most important martyr in the pharonic land of Egypt. His death has only inflamed the spirit of activism in the subsequent generation – which is erroneously interpreted as jihadist tendency!
The argument of Qutb’s Ma’alim Fî Tariq is framed by two concepts – Jahiliyya and Hakimiyya. The term jahilliya has three rather different meanings and implications. In its simplest and most common meaning, jahiliyya represents an historical era, the pagan period in the Arabian Peninsula prior to the advent of Islam.
Jahiliyya, however, has a secondary cultural meaning, roughly equivalent to the English word “barbarism.” But in Qutb’s usage, jahiliyya absorbs but goes beyond both ignorance and barbarism. With him jahiliyya is the terrible condition of a world in the state of spiritual darkness, unenlightened by humankind’s submission to Allah.
In this way, the idea of jahiliyya is linked, in Qutb’s thought, to Hakimiyya. Hakimiyya has a straightforward meaning – namely, sovereignty. It is used by Qutb to suggest that in the present world, there are only two possibilities: either the sovereignty of Allah or that of Man.
In those times or places where Allah’s sovereignty is denied, the condition of spiritual darkness, jahiliyyah, reigns and overwhelms the earth. In Qutb’s view the entire world had thus fallen into the condition of this jahiliyya. This is indeed a terrifying thought.
But as terrifying as this thought-system seems to the bewildered, Qutb had clearly suggested a requisite direction to the believers in the modern world, if patiently studied. He had offered his reader a tour of the contemporary world to demonstrate that “all societies existing in the world today are (Indeed) jahili,” except if ruled by Islamic norms.
The atheistic communist societies, for example, deny man his “spiritual needs,” reducing him “to the level of an animal or even a machine.” “Idolatrous societies” – like that of India or Japan, or what Qutb called “Africa” – worship many gods, and not Allah.
The Jewish and Christian societies too deny the Oneness of God and also repudiated the sovereignty of Allah. Of course, this doesn’t legitimize an outright rejection of the entire populace, if there were faithful Muslims in the societies.
Like every other writer, Sayyid was imperfect. He had his glory and pitfalls, but he was no doubt positively an impactive scholar. His works were greatly misunderstood by both its critics and its dogged adherents. But the good news is that, for a Muslim, there is a judgement day when all doubts shall be cleared.
Great scholars before him, such as Al-Baihaqi, Imam Nawawi and Ibn Hajar also had their own share of imperfect interpretation of the Godhead, also critiqued by other scholars, but no one could ever justifiably propose an outright repudiation of their contributions to the growth of Islamic thought.
May Allah be pleased with Sayyid Qutb
Abu Mazeedatilkhayr Bn Sa’eed writes from Abuja, Nigeria
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