Sayed Qotb After 40 Years: Questions Which Have Never Perished
I couldn’t forget the occasion in which I knew that Sayed Qotb was executed in late September 1966 although many years passed since then. This burning recall isn’t because I was sympathetic with the Muslim Brotherhood; but because I never believed that Sayed Qotb was a leader of an underground organization that sought to topple the Egyptian regime, and due to the severe police campaign that was renewed in Egypt after his execution.
I was at that time a student in Al-Azhar, in the Faculty of Theology, living in the university hostel of Al-Azhar, which was called the Missions city, because nearly all its residents were foreigners: from Arab countries, the East Asia, and Africa. There were even US students who were black Muslims, who were said to have been sent by Malcolm X to Al-Azhar to know Islam correctly like him!
We prayed the noon prayers in the hostel’s mosque, and I returned to my room and heard in the Egyptian radio the news of applying the death sentence on Sayed Qotb. I didn’t dare to go out to speak with others around the incident; but the elder Africans and Asians were less afraid than us the Arabs ( they were calling us the Shamians because most of us were from Palestine, Jordan and Syria and Lebanon ) and they took to the university hostel streets not to demonstrate; but to speak with each other in small whispering and indignant gatherings. During that night and the following days, rumors spread about arresting hundreds and deporting them to their countries, and their academic grants were canceled. As for us- the Shamian- we were summoned to the socialist union ( the department of Arab relations ) and started lecturing us about evils of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their black conspiracies. The persuasion wasn’t difficult or coercive. We have been brought up in the religious institute in Beirut on hating sectarianism in the name of Islam, and the image president Gamal Abd An-Nasir was so admired by us; also, the Muslim Brotherhood – most of their leaders not from Al-Azhar- seemed to us strangers in an arena a traditional Sunni and reformist education . it is a secret organization, and they believe in adopting violence against the regime, and they want to apply Allah’s legislation on earth so as to establish the faith and Islam of people, as if they believe in nothing but the the Islamic state that applies Sharia according to their method!
The young generations in the Missions city students didn’t know so much about the Muslim Brotherhood, because their writings were banned – perhaps except the Lebanese and Jordanians .
In Lebanon, we knew well the writings of the Muslim Brotherhood and its figures in Egypt and Syria, because the Muslim Brotherhood’s books ; and specially Sayed Qotb’s writings were printed in Beirut; also a number of their figures stayed in Lebanon or came to it in summer to hold meetings and consultations, especially after organization was banned and was hunted in Syria also after 1963 coup. As for Jordan, it was almost the only Arab country where the Muslim Brotherhood had a legitimate organization and was a friend to the regime; therefore, their books have been circulated; also Sayed Qotb’s execution increased the Muslim Brotherhood’s public campaigns against the Egyptian regime, according to reports of our Jordanian colleagues returning to Al-Azhar after the summer holiday. I knew later also from the mufti sheikh Hassan Khaled that president Abd Al-Salam Arif, King Faisal and some Islamic states officials, intervened at president Gamal Abd An-Nasir to block executing Sayed Qotb and his colleagues, but in vain .
As for me, I had no negative or positive incidents with the Muslim Brotherhood, neither before Sayed Qotb’s execution nor after it. But I had a story with Sayed Qotb or his writings in particular. Actually, I didn’t know the writings the new Islamists at that time except some books of Mohammad Al-Ghazzali and Sayed Qotb’s “In the shadows of the Qur’an ” and “Limestones”.
I read ” In the shadows of the Qur’an” with its eight volumes twice in the village summer in Mount Lebanon. I was fascinated by that wonderful rhetoric; also, I was fascinated by considering the Quran a political book to farther limits. In autumn 1965- as I remember- a Syrian colleague lent me the booklet of ” Limestones” (Sayed Qotb returned to prison at that time) I read it in one single night, and I read it again in the next day ( I still remember that it was a Sunday) and returned it to its owner on Monday when I descended again from the Mount to Beirut.
My friend was tense and wanted to know my opinion, although he didn’t call on me frankly to join the Muslim Brotherhood (anyway I didn’t know then that Lebanese Islamists established a Muslim Brotherhood Islamic organization in 1962 or 1963 after defecting from Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman and they called it that day or later: the Islamic Group). I started with him an academic discussion with which he was impatient. I told him that I discovered that most chapters of the booklet (except the introduction ) are extracted from ” In the Shadows of the Qur’an”.
Then I started to mention the numbers of pages in both books- I wrote them in a note which I took out of my pocket. My friend got angry and said this isn’t correct, then he changed his tactics, saying: I didn’t ask you about this, I ask you about your opinion about the book! I said told him: I was admired by the issue of a comprehensive view, or that Islam has a comprehensive view towards existence, the world, human beings and the country, Sayed Qotb called it: Hakimiya (rule). But he considers that this view requires an awareness according to which ” the young men who believed in their Lord ” move out of the general societies that fell in the abyss of Jahiliya (pre Islam beliefs) for their feeling of alienation, then they prepare and get ready to return to storm into this century’s world of Jahiliya (pre Islam beliefs) to achieve Hakimiya (rule) or apply Sharia. The friend said quickly:” this is right, what disturbs you in this concept, is it sectarianism? ! any idea without a sect to support it will die out. Any idea won’t be taken seriously in this world unless there is a party to apply it, from capitalists to Marxists and nationalists, doesn’t Islam deserve to have a party?!; I got confused and couldn’t answer; specially that Al Ghazali’s books and ” In the shadows of the Qur’an ” convinced me that Islam does not have only a view, but it has also a political doctrine or a political project. Then I said hesitatingly: the problem is that the party according to Sayed Qotb is a split from the public which are stray or subordinate to pre Islam beliefs or unconscious; or in other words, to put the Sharia face to face with the public; according to the Sunnis and I belong to them: Religion and the world end and the Day of Judgement comes if the Society of Muslims ends! This because religion, Quran and Sharia are all based on ” the Society of Muslims “, and I can not imagine a Quran or a Sharia returning now to rescue the society of Muslims from pre Islam beliefs; otherwise, what is the meaning of all this historic process; also, what is the meaning of the Mohammedan message if the pre Islam beliefs flooded with its darknesses, not only the world, but Islamic societies as well. My friend seemed desperate from what I said; this wasn’t due to bad or insufficient understanding; but it was due to the controlling cowardliness to the extent that I can’t imagine myself rebelling against what is accustomed; lest I get afflicted with what afflicted the Muslim Brotherhood heroes by the Egyptian monarchy and the Nasserist regime and now ( in 1965 / 1966 ) by the Syrian Baathist regime! I didn’t speak in this issue again with this friend or with others during the period of my study in Egypt (until 1971), I didn’t think after it to join to the Muslim Brotherhood or any other party. But I remained convinced that Sayed Qotb was tried unjustly; he shouldn’t have been imprisoned or executed. The man who wrote ” In the shadows of the Qur’an”, is a great intellectual, and a great and committed writer; this is the message of the intellectual and preacher: to express his opinions with the utmost degrees of persuasion. As long as he doesn’t raise arms against the regime, no one has the right to fight his freedom to estimate and express opinions.
The Arab Muslim Brotherhood had many great scientists, professors, preachers and speakers in its lines. But its only great writer is Sayed Qotb. The thesis of Hakimiyah (rule) is not his; it is Aboul Ala Al Mawdoudi’s, the leader of ” the Islamic Group” in Pakistan. But he had a great contribution in the new Islamic movement with the thesis: the comprehensive view, that was a necessary condition of the belief of the Islamic state that exceeded adhering to the traditional theory of the historic Islamic caliphate that ” Al-Tahrir “Liberation” Party ” is still adhering to. We know from the book ” Preachers not judges” that the top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood hesitated in accepting Qotb’s revivalism, thinking that this assimilation between the religion and the state according to Sayed Qotb harms Islam, and leads to dividing Muslims, and getting involved in endless battles with all political systems. This is well understood. Qotb’s view is revolutionary in the full sense of the word, because ” the young men who believed in their Lord ” ( according to Surat Al-kahf “the Cave”), the few men who believe in Hakimiyah “rule”, are entrusted with achieving the divine ordains, of rushing after preparation to topple the rule of pre Islam beliefs, and establish Allah’s rule on earth. This ensues a third result after the view and the revolutionary assignment, which is: the use of violence ( against the regime or against all pre Islam beliefs. ( This theoretical concept of Sayed Qotb is derived only from the Quran and nothing else. His violent text, as well as his execution, had an impact wide sections of young men who have little religious culture, and who were fascinated by his discourse as well. An Egyptian friend described the effect of Sayed Qotb’s style on him as if it were a beating of drums that arouses all parts of the body, stirring you to the extent that you can’t rest in peace or leave the book. Then you feel that he is addressing you in particular, and that you must accept, or you will have no special mission in this world. His effect was focused on middle-aged Islamists outside Egypt. Therefore, his main ideas continued to be argued about among Arabs and some Egyptians till mid 1980s, to fade gradually without leaving any effect .
Sayed Qotb’s revolutionism was a funmentalist reviving one. It had two sources, the first is the new graphic and ideological reading of the Qur’anic text. The second is hating the West and westernization in violent motives. Therefore, his text clashed with the submissive or meek Sunni traditionalism and clashed with the new Islamic reformism. His dislike of reformists was clearly attributed to their contamination by the corrupt Western culture.
As for traditionalism, he hated it because it is stagnate and subjected to traditions, habits and authorities. But this initial revolutionary effect did not establish itself and didn’t continue for three reasons: First, is related to the Muslim Brotherhood leaders who considered Qotb’s revolutionism a threat to their relations with the public, and a continuous clash with the authorities. They, affected by Abdul Qader Awda and Sayed Qotb and others, developed a revolutionary political project that had two sides: argumentative, against the West, the reformists and the current authorities .
And the other side was constructive, related to participating in the existing political systems to establish an Islamic state. They used Sayed Qotb’s ideology a little in the first side, on which they had many writings with which they don’t need to read old or selected writings. Concerning the constructive side, they couldn’t use Qotb’s texts to form a political project; since they must raze the current edifice, as what ” the boys who believed in their Lord ” should do after toppling regime, Sayyed didn’t have an answer; to the extent that he was refusing it and saying when asked about the program: where are the programs of those who assumed power? ! When the Islamists reach power, you will see wonder! the second reason for the weakness of Qotb’s effect after the 1970s passed is that the violent regimes crushed any movement affiliated to Sayed Qotb, for fear of renewing his ideology and from the spread of the ideology of Takfir against the state and the society. The third reason is that Sayyed wasn’t well acquainted with Islamic jurisprudence or Hadith. Salafi juristic trends were wide spread within the groups of Islamic violence in Egypt. Since, except for Saleh Sariya ( from the Liberation Party) all other rebels had Salafi tendencies. It was clear that Sayyed didn’t think so much about the results ensuing from his claimed pre Islam beliefs, and whether that meant a takfir to society and country in the Islamic world? as for the Salafi who joined the Muslim Brotherhood through the juristic way since the 1970s, they have resorted to Ibn Taimiyya and Ibn Kathir in the Takfir issues and changing the ideology, and Sayed Qotb was useless in this side .
Sayed Qotb “statement” was a violent explosion that brought in many young men from outside Egypt, and we can say any Islamic movement passed Qotb’s stage . Then bypassed the first theorist of Hakimiyah ” rule ” in the Arab field. The nationalists took the initiative and developed their project of the state in preparation reaching power or to be partners with the current authorities . The Salafi whom the Jihad Movement rebels joined, turned to fighting the international atheism with military and security means, forgetting Sayed Qotb as well. Other Islamists bet on keeping his literary criticism which came to existence before his revivalism ; while Bernard Louis thinks that Sayyed will remain in the history of fundamentalism as being the top theorist for violence in the name of Islam.
The above article was translated to English by Ikhwanweb. All rights reserved
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