A Note for the WSJ: Sayyid Qutb Is Mainstream

Andrew G. Bostom
Eric Trager, in his July 17, 2013 Wall Street Journal book review of Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual, by James Toth, is to be commended for insisting that Qutb's views not be whitewashed.

Although I shared Trager's sentiments in this regard, it was plain that Trager had a fundamental misconception of the mainstream, traditionalist Islamic rootedness of Qutb's ideas

The following are some examples of Trager's criticisms (in italics) of Toth, followed by my own correctives (as bullets):

"Mr. Toth mistakes the internal logic of Qutb's writings for reason and fails to note that they rest on a series of bigoted premises."

"He [Toth] insists that Qutb's vision constitutes 'a viable alternative to a Western-derived modernity.'"

  • Qutb's Weltanschauung is in fact a traditionalist Islamic alternative worldview.

"Mr. Toth concedes that Qutb was an 'unabashed adherent of patriarchy' and had a profound hatred of Christians and Jews, against whom Qutb declared jihad because they 'distorted God's word and deviated from God's path.' Qutb also raged against 'errant Muslims,' who, he said, should likewise be targeted for violence because they are 'domestic enemies.' Qutb's ultimate goal was imposing a very controlling interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic law, which he said can be applied to 'all aspects of life.'"

  • Again, these are traditionalist Islamic views, based upon repeated Koranic statements (such as Koran 1:7 & 2:75, 2:79, 3:78, 4:46; re: Jews and Christians), and the fact that sharia is totalitarian and does apply to "all aspects of life." (See my copiously documented "Sharia Versus Freedom" on the intrinsic totalitarian nature of the sharia)

Let me illustrate my contention with a very concrete comparison between Qutb's ideas and those of a mainstream Egyptian legist who was a contemporary of Qutb.

Muhammad Abu Zahra (d. 1974), was a prominent, mainstream member of Al Azhar University's Academy of Islamic Research, a professor of Islamic law at Cairo University, and a prolific author.  The validity of both the dhimmi status and aggressive jihad to overcome "obstacles" to the propagation of Islam (i.e., including within non-Muslim societies) during modern times was acknowledged at the Fourth Conference of the Academy for Islamic Research, held in September 1968 at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, when Sheikh Abu Zahra stated:        

It may be said that they (the unbelievers) are non-Muslim subjects, living in our midst, and therefore we have to take care of them. Within this group are cited the Jews, residing in certain Muslim states, the head of which, together with men in authority, favor them with amity and shield them from the masses of Muslims. But we say to those who patronize the Jews that the latter are 'dhimmis,' people of obligation, who have betrayed the covenant in conformity with which they have been accorded protection....These people have broken their covenant and violated their pledges: how, then, are we going to retain our obligation to protect them?

Authorities opposing the propagation of Islam, restraining their peoples from being informed about and impressed by Islamic guidance, have to be resisted, since they oppress their peoples...Thus, the first attack against the Faith [i.e., Islam] has taken place by hindering its free propagation...Peace...should not be made a hindrance to the free propagation of the Faith. But there would be no peace with those who strive against the Call to Islam.

Muhammad Abu Zahra's presentation, "The Jihad," was made under the aegis of the Nasser-led Egyptian government, which fully-supported the September, 1968 Conference (extracts from pp. 59, 77: "Proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research," September 1968 [1970 English translation, General Organization for Government Printing Office, Cairo]).

Two years earlier (in 1966), the same Nasser government had executed Qutb for (understandable, if purely) political reasons because he dared to direct his jihadist energies at them.  But Qutb's view of the jihad, and the imposition of dhimmitude, differs not one iota from the mainstream views espoused by Abu Zahra two years later at a conference the same Nasser government endorsed and supported, eventually publishing, translating, and disseminating the proceedings in an enormous 935-page tome.  Here is Qutb from Milestones, Chapter 4, "Jihad in the cause of God."

Dhimmis refers to the non-Muslim peoples residing in a Muslim state for whose protection and rights the Muslim government was responsible.] It was commanded that as long as the non-believers with whom he had a peace treaty met their obligations, he should fulfill the articles of the treaty, but if they broke this treaty, then they should be given notice of having broken it; until then, no war should be declared. If they persisted, then he should fight with them... It was also explained that war should be declared against those from among the "People of the Book" [Christians and Jews] who declare open enmity, until they agree to pay Jizyah or accept Islam.

Islam - that is, submission to God-is a universal Message which the whole of mankind should accept or make peace with. No political system or material power should put hindrances in the way of preaching Islam. It should leave every individual free to accept or reject it, and if someone wants to accept it, it should not prevent him or fight against him. If someone does this, then it is the duty of Islam to fight him until either he is killed or until he declares his submission.

In leveling appropriate criticisms at James Toth for romanticizing Sayyid Qutb, Eric Trager errs by drawing an inappropriate -- and romanticized -- distinction between Qutb's traditionalist Islamic worldview and that espoused by the avatars of mainstream, institutional Islam.

Eric Trager, in his July 17, 2013 Wall Street Journal book review of Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual, by James Toth, is to be commended for insisting that Qutb's views not be whitewashed.

Although I shared Trager's sentiments in this regard, it was plain that Trager had a fundamental misconception of the mainstream, traditionalist Islamic rootedness of Qutb's ideas

The following are some examples of Trager's criticisms (in italics) of Toth, followed by my own correctives (as bullets):

"Mr. Toth mistakes the internal logic of Qutb's writings for reason and fails to note that they rest on a series of bigoted premises."

"He [Toth] insists that Qutb's vision constitutes 'a viable alternative to a Western-derived modernity.'"

  • Qutb's Weltanschauung is in fact a traditionalist Islamic alternative worldview.

"Mr. Toth concedes that Qutb was an 'unabashed adherent of patriarchy' and had a profound hatred of Christians and Jews, against whom Qutb declared jihad because they 'distorted God's word and deviated from God's path.' Qutb also raged against 'errant Muslims,' who, he said, should likewise be targeted for violence because they are 'domestic enemies.' Qutb's ultimate goal was imposing a very controlling interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic law, which he said can be applied to 'all aspects of life.'"

  • Again, these are traditionalist Islamic views, based upon repeated Koranic statements (such as Koran 1:7 & 2:75, 2:79, 3:78, 4:46; re: Jews and Christians), and the fact that sharia is totalitarian and does apply to "all aspects of life." (See my copiously documented "Sharia Versus Freedom" on the intrinsic totalitarian nature of the sharia)

Let me illustrate my contention with a very concrete comparison between Qutb's ideas and those of a mainstream Egyptian legist who was a contemporary of Qutb.

Muhammad Abu Zahra (d. 1974), was a prominent, mainstream member of Al Azhar University's Academy of Islamic Research, a professor of Islamic law at Cairo University, and a prolific author.  The validity of both the dhimmi status and aggressive jihad to overcome "obstacles" to the propagation of Islam (i.e., including within non-Muslim societies) during modern times was acknowledged at the Fourth Conference of the Academy for Islamic Research, held in September 1968 at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, when Sheikh Abu Zahra stated:        

It may be said that they (the unbelievers) are non-Muslim subjects, living in our midst, and therefore we have to take care of them. Within this group are cited the Jews, residing in certain Muslim states, the head of which, together with men in authority, favor them with amity and shield them from the masses of Muslims. But we say to those who patronize the Jews that the latter are 'dhimmis,' people of obligation, who have betrayed the covenant in conformity with which they have been accorded protection....These people have broken their covenant and violated their pledges: how, then, are we going to retain our obligation to protect them?

Authorities opposing the propagation of Islam, restraining their peoples from being informed about and impressed by Islamic guidance, have to be resisted, since they oppress their peoples...Thus, the first attack against the Faith [i.e., Islam] has taken place by hindering its free propagation...Peace...should not be made a hindrance to the free propagation of the Faith. But there would be no peace with those who strive against the Call to Islam.

Muhammad Abu Zahra's presentation, "The Jihad," was made under the aegis of the Nasser-led Egyptian government, which fully-supported the September, 1968 Conference (extracts from pp. 59, 77: "Proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research," September 1968 [1970 English translation, General Organization for Government Printing Office, Cairo]).

Two years earlier (in 1966), the same Nasser government had executed Qutb for (understandable, if purely) political reasons because he dared to direct his jihadist energies at them.  But Qutb's view of the jihad, and the imposition of dhimmitude, differs not one iota from the mainstream views espoused by Abu Zahra two years later at a conference the same Nasser government endorsed and supported, eventually publishing, translating, and disseminating the proceedings in an enormous 935-page tome.  Here is Qutb from Milestones, Chapter 4, "Jihad in the cause of God."

Dhimmis refers to the non-Muslim peoples residing in a Muslim state for whose protection and rights the Muslim government was responsible.] It was commanded that as long as the non-believers with whom he had a peace treaty met their obligations, he should fulfill the articles of the treaty, but if they broke this treaty, then they should be given notice of having broken it; until then, no war should be declared. If they persisted, then he should fight with them... It was also explained that war should be declared against those from among the "People of the Book" [Christians and Jews] who declare open enmity, until they agree to pay Jizyah or accept Islam.

Islam - that is, submission to God-is a universal Message which the whole of mankind should accept or make peace with. No political system or material power should put hindrances in the way of preaching Islam. It should leave every individual free to accept or reject it, and if someone wants to accept it, it should not prevent him or fight against him. If someone does this, then it is the duty of Islam to fight him until either he is killed or until he declares his submission.

In leveling appropriate criticisms at James Toth for romanticizing Sayyid Qutb, Eric Trager errs by drawing an inappropriate -- and romanticized -- distinction between Qutb's traditionalist Islamic worldview and that espoused by the avatars of mainstream, institutional Islam.