Sayyid Qutb on the meaning and purpose of jihad
Andy Bostom’s remarkable collection of writings by authorities and scholars of Islam, The Legacy of Jihad, is not the kind of thing you just pick up and read from cover to cover. It is a 750-page collection, after all, but so full of riches that you can start anywhere in it and read to great profit. Today I opened it by chance to “Jihad in the Cause of God,” by Sayyid Qutb (pronounced KUTtub), the leading theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al Qaeda movement, and, Dr. Bostom believes, possibly the most important Sunni Islamic scholar of the twentieth century. Were it not for the fact that the religious movement Qutb is articulating and promoting is wicked and evil (a characterization that can now send you to prison in Britain), he would be my kind of guy, as he lays out his principles in an clear and consistent way and tells you exactly where he’s going with them.
It’s the principles and where he’s going with them that are, of course, the problem: global jihad aimed at bringing the entire world under the political power of Islam. As I was reading the chapter, I wondered, how can Daniel Pipes tell us that the modern “Islamist” movement, including the Muslim Brotherhood, is not true Islam but rather a modern totalitarian distortion of Islam? Qutb’s reasoning has nothing to do with modern totalitarian ideologies; it is based completely on the Koran. He does not refer to any sources other than the Koran and scholarship which is itself derived from the Koran.
Qutb blows apart the Islam apologists, or “orientalists” as he calls them, who want to make Islam seem peaceful and safe. He thus serves as an unintentional ally of the critics of Islam who believe that Islam is inherently dangerous. For example, responding to the apologist argument that Allah only commands Muslims to engage in defensive war to protect the borders of Islamic lands, Qutb shows that Muslims are commanded to initiate aggressive war against non-Muslims, the purpose being to free mankind from all human rulers so that they come under the sole rulership of Allah. Against Qutb’s argument, what would Daniel Pipes and the “moderate” Muslims he champions have to say? In a debate between Pipes, who pathetically and vainly declares that “Islam can be whatever Muslims want it to be,” and Qutb, whose jihadist case proceeds with logical rigor from the Koran, there would be no contest.
It’s also interesting how much stress Qutb lays on the idea that war is not waged to force people to become Muslims, but rather to bring them under Islamic rule and thereby to free them to choose Islam freely. He seems to be saying that people are only truly free to choose Islam if they are under an Islamic ruler.
In the below excerpt Qutb shows how the Koranic command not to initiate hostilities with non-Muslims only applied during an earlier stage in the development of Islam. Step by step he shows how the command to wage jihad keeps expanding until it becomes a mandate to wage war against all non-Muslims in the world:
These are the logical positions consonant with the character and purposes of this religion, and not what is understood by the people who are defeated by present conditions and by the attacks of the treacherous orientalists.
Now, it might be argued that Qutb’s interpretation of jihad as aggression merely shows that Qutb is a 20th century, “ideological” Islamist, unrepresentative of the true, traditional Islam. But here, quoted by Andrew Bostom in a symposium at FrontPage Magazine, are the words of Molla Khosrew, described by Bostom as “a celebrated writer and Hanafi jurist, who was appointed the Ottoman Shaykh-al-Islam, the leading clerical authority, by Sultan Mehmed II (the 1453 conqueror of Constantinople) in 1469. He wrote authoritative, widely cited legal works, which reiterated these classical views on jihad.”
Bostom then quotes Khosrew:
…jihad is a fard al-kifaya, that is, that one must begin the fight against the enemy, even when he [the enemy] may not have taken the initiative to fight, because the Prophet…early on…allowed believers to defend themselves, later, however, he ordered them to take the initiative at certain times of the year, that is, at the end of the haram months, saying, “Kill the idolaters wherever you find them…” (Q9:5).Thus the leading clerical authority of the Ottoman empire in the 15th century (and you can’t get more “traditional” than that) explicates jihad in a manner identical to that of the modern, “political,” “Islamic fascist” writer Sayyid Qutb.