At the core of Sayyid Qutb’s theology (he was in many ways the father of fundamentalist Islam, from which al Qaeda and ISIS have arisen) is a fundamental analysis of the human condition, particularly as illustrated by the secular West. According to Qutb, the human race has completely lost its way. It has lost touch with God. Especially in the western world, human beings are consumed with money, sex and power. As a result they have become miserable, anxious and skeptical. He argued that the richer the country, the more unhappy the people are. The proof of his thesis he found in the fact that the West is tormented by drugs, alcohol and rampant sexuality, which can consume one’s focus but will never satisfy. Wealth is no answer to the human condition. Science has proven no answer to the human condition. The core problem with modern life is that it alienates people from their true selves. As messed up as the West is, how is it possible that Christianity has had so little impact on Western culture? What is wrong with Christianity and the West that this sad condition has developed and continues?
At this point Sayyid Qutb offered an explanation of this condition grounded in the history of Western civilization. For him, the foundation of Western civilization was in Judaism as revealed by God. God gave the Jews a wholistic approach to life (unity of body, soul and spirit). Israel was a theocracy (a politic entity ruled directly by God through inspired judges or prophets) with clear laws of life laid out by God. But instead of heart obedience to God, Israel allowed its religion to degenerated into lifeless rituals.
According to Sayyid Qutb, Jesus came along to reform Judaism and restore it to what it had been before. But instead of buying in fully to the Jesus program, the followers of Jesus (the Christians) rejected Judaism and broke away from God’s intention. They replaced the wholism of Judaism with a divided human nature based on Greek philosophy. For these degenerate Christians the body no longer mattered, and daily secular life became separated from the relationship with God, which the Greeks felt occurred at a spiritual, non-bodily level. This resulted in two Christian extremes. Constantinian Christianity often led to debauchery. If the body did not truly matter then what you did with it didn’t matter either as long as your soul was connected to God and the church. A second Christian extreme, monasticism, was in full reaction to this. If the body didn’t matter to ones’ spirituality, the godly person should ignore it, starve it, beat it, keep it under complete subjection. By denying the unity of body and soul, Europe continued to profess Christianity but the secular and the sacred were no longer united and everyday life was increasingly divorced from religion.
Sayyid Qutb believed that God sent an answer to the problems of the West and its challenge to faith through the revelations received by the prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was not called to start a new religion but to reform the Judaism and the Christianity that already existed in western Arabia. He was called to restore what was lost when Christianity abandoned the Jewish teachings of Jesus. Muhammad restored the unified human nature that was so central to the biblical world view. In Sharia he restored God’s rules for life. He restored respect for the physical world, weaving faith into every aspect of business, war and pleasure. This movement not only restored faith, it led to the discovery of scientific method and vast developments for the improvement of everyday life. This led to what many call the Islamic Golden Age, from about 750-1250 AD. The Islamic Empire became the world’s leading civilization, during the very centuries when Europe was languishing in the Dark Ages.
But this islamic Golden Age did not last. Islam also lost its way. A combination of the Crusades, the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and Muslim unfaithfulness led to the decline of the Islamic Empire (and the Ottoman Empire that replaced it). As islamic civilization declined, muslim science was exported to Europe. Europe soon came to dominate the world, but that dominance in the context of a divided human nature also brought in secularism, with all of its alientation. Islam was humiliated and alienated, with the result (in the early Twentieth Century) that the heartlands of the Middle East and most of the Muslim world (including the Indian sub-continent and Indonesia) were divided up by European colonial powers. In essence, through colonialism, the Christian powers in the world had declared war on Islam.
What fascinates me is the similarity between Qutb’s analysis of Christian history and that of Ellen White in the book Great Controversy. The root analysis of history behind the jihadist vision is not crazy. It offers a sober analysis of the weaknesses of modernity and suggests that the only solution to the problems of the modern world can be found in faith. But there is a fundamental flaw in the jihadist logic that we will discuss in future blogs. In the next blog we will explore how Qutb, al Qaeda and ISIS respectively have sought to solve the human crisis, with particular focus on the present situation in the Middle East.