Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Sayed Qutb: not impressed

Read an essay on social justice by Qutb, one of the leading lights of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the otherwise very good collection "Islam: Its Meaning and Message", put out by the Islamic Foundation of Great Britain. Compared to the other authors, Qutb appears conceptually to be very superficial. Perhaps this is because he decided to go against centuries of Islamic jurisprudence, turning his back on ideas that were influenced by the critical method of Greek philosophy. He appears to have advocated a purified, idealized, concept of Islam that thought that it could vault backwards in time over a thousand years of history in order to reconstruct what Islam 'really meant'. Life is not so simple, and attempts like that often end in distortions as big as those that the people involved are opposing. In any case, his essay added banality to the superficiality as well. The idea of social justice in Islam that Qutb puts forward, is very similar to the free market system, with the proviso that economic activity be done with God in mind, and that the poor get helped out as well. That's pretty much moderate pro-market conservatism phrased in an Islamic voice as opposed to an Anglo-Christian one. I'm sure that this is not the only conception of social justice in Islam that is out there.

But, getting back to the book in general, the various essays, all produced by different authors, make some very interesting points. One of the primary ones coming up over and over again is that Islam is a religion oriented towards adults and to adults living in the world. Sometimes Christianity, especially its Protestant forms, and of those especially American fundamentalist ones, can come off as being a stern parent imposing rules on an adolescent that have little to do with the actual living of life. Islam appears to be much more practical in recognizing that a lot of the parts of life that are condemned by varieties of Christianity, such as enjoyment in the world and sex, are not bad in and of themselves, are normal in fact....with the proviso that they have to be enjoyed in a lawful way. But the lawful way itself appears to be much less stringent than that believed in by Christian extremists. Building character is another good feature that is focused on a lot in the book, going beyond "Love thy neighbor" into suggestions on how to actually act and fulfill ideas about conduct and compassion in real life.

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