Sayyid Qutb’s book Milestones: an initial review

The very first paragraph (see below) of Milestones by Egyptian Islamist author Sayyid Qutb contains two rather extreme (even outrageous) claims, namely, that the Western world has no healthy values at all, and possess nothing at all to satisfy its own conscience and justify its existence. The truth of course is that the West is a highly complex and multifaceted civilisation containing considerable good and also much evil. Such simplistic dismissals are surely unacceptable. The book however is of such seminal importance to understanding the development of radical Islamist thought, I will persevere to the end of the work.

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Categories: Extremism, Islam, USA

15 replies

  1. I’m not sure if this’s the right approach for readings Sayyed’s books.
    I think in that statement he was making a point that the kind of culture and values that the west exports and sometime enforces them on others, which by most are secular liberalism, are not healthy values. That’s it!
    BTW, Sayyed Qutb was sufi.

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    • Reading him I encounter a binary world view which lacks nuance and tends to cast “the West” as the enemy. His work has been a source of inspiration for terrorists.

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      • Yes, binary view that has been inspiration for terrorists.

        Terrorists like to think in very binary ways.

        That is why we need to be careful to not think in stark binary ways.

        Of course there is goodness and evilness but we are not God and thus we are not the ones who
        can judge others and account for all influences on that person and we cannot measure the amount of sincerity in a person in the depths of his heart at such a level that even the person himself/herself does not know.

        Liked by 1 person

      • To give further nuance to my above reply…

        Having said this, does not mean that we compromise good and evil.

        We must strive to be the best we can so we can attain the highest heaven in paradise to be there eternally.

        And we must not make excuses for those who are truly evil.

        But we do not know who is truly evil and we cannot measure the amount of evil that they are.

        Only Allah knows who is evil and to what extent since only Allah knows everyone’s unique set of circumstances that have influenced them and how they would have lived if they were in a different set of circumstances.

        Thus we need to realize that not having clear boundaries of good and evil can make us make excuses for ourselves to dip if not fall into submitting to our desires instead of submitted to Allah.

        So let us not do that. Let us remind ourselves and all others of paradise and hell but let us not make final judgements on others, and most especially we must not make generalizations on members of entire group of people.

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  2. He says that the west is incapable of ‘any healthy values’ nothing to do with exporting to other countries which apparently can’t provide any guidance for mankind. Surely this is an overly simplistic statement

    Liked by 1 person

    • But his writings were not meant to be detailed or academic in the first place!
      He was drawing bold lines, signs, indications(i.e. milestones) for what it’s the best for humanity. I realize that his writings have controversial dimension, but I think his writings still can be read objectively.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Do you not know that they have been an inspiration for a generation of terrorists?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Okay, bold lines, signs, and indications (i.e. milestones) but they’re all wrong! While I’m by no means going to attempt to say what ‘is’ best for humanity since I barely know what’s best for myself but I’m confident enough to say that creating a false dichotomy between the West and the Islamic world as the author seems to oversimplifies both the positives and negatives that are contained within them. By not framing the subject correctly from the start he has poisoned whatever comes afterward.

        There are better resources for people (Muslim and non-Muslim) to consult on this important topic such as scholars like Charles Gai Eaton, Martin Lings, and Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad or dare I say the everyday Muslims that we all interact with on a daily basis who just get on with life, look after their family, community, and like a nice cup of tea and a biscuit after work 🙂

        BTW him being a Sufi is an odd bit of trivia although I suppose it does add to the argument against it, too much twirling can make you dizzy! 😉

        Liked by 2 people

      • Paul Williams,
        I know that terrorists have exploited many Islamic literatures and taken them to the wrong direction. Sayed was not writing for those people.

        Patrobin,
        I think what you wrote is just oversimplifying 🙂
        Sayyed was writing in a time when the Islam was seen as a stigma. At that time, Islam was seen as retrograde idea which cannot be adopted for life! You may watch Jamal, the president of Egypt at that time, mock the idea of adopting Islam as principles for life. There was a huge load against Islam at that time. People started adopting notions form the west and the east. At that time, you could easily be a subject for mockery and harassment once you are seen praying in University’s campus, and that’s in case you are allowed.
        Sayyed was not a jurisprudent, and it’s very wrong to see his writings from this perspective.
        His writings was an expression for what he felt abut the superiority of Islam. His writings have a poetic them even. I can say that his writings are similar to the writings of C.S Lewis in some aspects.
        As Muslims, we know that Islam is the divine guidelines for this life. Islam is the light and other side , whatever it is, is the darkness. This basic idea is mentioned in Qur’an very clearly. We know that Qur’an has divided people to believers and disbelievers. However, when we want to translate these basic guidelines on earth practically, we need the scholars of Islam. For example, there are types of disbelievers and each type has its position in the Islamic law, but that doesn’t negate the earlier basic ideas.
        Imagine if you were told that Islam is something very wrong, and It’s just a retrograde culture! And you should dissolve in the western modern ideas even in clothes because they are superior than yours! What would’ve you done at that time?

        //I’m by no means going to attempt to say what ‘is’ best for humanity since I barely know what’s best for myself //
        Yes, you may sit at home until you discover that you have indeed the divine guidelines for humanity! In fact, many sufis have done that and still. They try to find their purpose in life as if the Quran has not revealed to us yet!, but sometimes the circumstances around you do not allow for this “luxury!”
        Imagine a poor Palestinian guy whose home was being destroyed, and he’s told that you should leave Islam, yet some people like Sayyid decided to revive the idea that Islam is the most superior idea you could have, and you can take the next step as such, that guy would probably thank Sayyed because he refreshed his morale.
        On other hand, you may sit chanting a sufi chant till the savior comes to deliver you!

        You cannot take the next step till you are confident that what you have is really something which needs to be exported. The west are moving based on this idea, the East do the same, the Jews do the same, Christians do the same, and even Shīʿah do the same.
        It’s very ironic, isn’t it? Because jews, christians, Shīʿah all have the idea of (waiting) for a savior to come and deliver them, yet they don’t stick to this idea although it’s found clearly in their religious literatures. The only people who have stuck to this idea are muslims although the concept of (waiting) is not found in our religion! It’s very odd!

        In sum, what I find in Sayyed’s writings is general ideas for Muslims to revive the idea of Islam superiority and to revive the Muslim’s identity, especially that he was writings in a time that identity started to get dissolved. His writings should not be taken as Islamic jurisprudence or anything similar.
        some aspects of his writings are right , yet others are wrong. In fact, he had not enough time to revise many of his writings as he did with first half of his book “In the Shade of the Qur’an.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Okay I agree its important to understand what he’s saying in light of the political/social context of his time but it can also contribute to its irrelevance as well since that is neither the reality of other places nor is it the case in our time.

        Its also exactly because it was a reaction against the extreme views of people like Jamal and others that colours the authors perspective on the issue of the Islamic world and west (something that undoubtedly people in the west do/have done in the past) but should we retaliate in kind? Whats more important: to be confident or truth? I would suggest that the anxiety of it is more credible and practical than the confidence of falsehood as the Qur’an itself attests with the story of Abraham’s rejection of the false gods of his forefathers.

        In summary Sayyid Qutb may have been right to criticise but his answer is no less wrong and equally as dangerous as it is simply flipping the prevalence of ideas while maintaining the same extreme narrative of superiority that has certainly led to violence. This work is valuable in that respect but certainly not as a guidance.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Dear Abdullah1234,

        It is not sufficient to say “controversial dimension” when someone’s writings have been inspiration for terrorism that has resulted in deaths of large numbers of people.

        Those people killed are now 6 feet underground.

        I know that you are strongly against terrorism that but still stop the euphemism for such writings.

        I don’t know in detail about his other writings dealing with tafsir, etc. but any specific writings that inspire terrorism are against Islam and should be condemned without euphemism.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I think It is not sufficient to claim that you follow the prophet while you dismiss his teachings to satisfy your desires.
        The language of “is not sufficient” is the language of western media who wants from muslims to dismiss all Islam just because terrorists have done a horrible things in the name of Islam while the west has done the same for many countries’ civilians. How dare you ?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, better for Muslims and non-Muslims to read from scholars like “Charles Gai Eaton, Martin Lings, and Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad or dare I say the everyday Muslims that we all interact with on a daily basis who just get on with life, look after their family, community, and like a nice cup of tea and a biscuit after work” than this book from Sayyid Qutb

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Maybe this helps in context. “Discourse on Colonialism” by Aimé Césaire, 1955.

    http://abahlali.org/files/_Discourse_on_Colonialism.pdf

    “What is serious is that “Europe” is morally, spiritually indefensible.”

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    • Yes, colonialism is an unjust system of dominance of one group over another and it is tempting for spiritually weak members of the oppressed group to develop hate in general for all members of the other group.

      This is what Allah tells us….

      “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah , witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.” Surah 5, verse 8

      Having said this, does not mean that we compromise good and evil.

      We must strive to be the best we can so we can attain the highest heaven in paradise to be there eternally.

      And we must not make excuses for those who are truly evil.

      But we do not know who is truly evil and we cannot measure the amount of evil that they are.

      Only Allah knows who is evil and to what extent since only Allah knows everyone’s unique set of circumstances that have influenced them and how they would have lived if they were in a different set of circumstances.

      Like

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