Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Ramadan / Shawwal 1423 H
December 2002
Volume 15-12 No : 192
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Legacy of Sayyid Qutb
Sir Syed's Approach to Islam


Legacy of Sayyid Qutb

Millions of Muslims across the world begin their day reading, In the Shade of the Qur'an, by Sayyid Qutb. But how well do we know this prolific writer who memorised the Qur'an at the age of 10 and was smiling when he was executed!

Sayyed QutbSayyid Qutb, the doyen of the Ikhwan -al-Muslimun, had a very profound impact on the Muslim Arab youth coming of age since late 60s. Western writers in recent years have focused on him as one of the two most influential Muslim thinkers of this century, the other being Sayyid Maududi. Qutb’s writings prior to 1951 are more of a ‘moralist’. It was after he was introduced to Maududi’s ideas, especially his emphasis on Islam being a complete way of life, and establishment of Allah’s order on earth as every Muslim’s primary responsibility, that Qutb changed into a revolutionary. His two years sojourn (1948-1950) in the US opened his eyes to the malice of the western culture and non-Islamic ideologies.

After his return to Egypt, he resigned his job in the Education Directorate and devoted himself to the idea of bringing a total change in the political system. Ikhwan gained ideological vitality when Sayyid Qutb in his jail cell wrote a book in which he revised Hassan al-Banna Shahid’s dream of establishing an Islamic state in Egypt after the nation was thoroughly Islamised. Sayyid Qutb recommended that a revlutionary vanguard should first establish an Islamic state and then, from above impose Islamisation on Egyptian society that had deviated to Arab nationalistic ideologies.

His subsequent 11 years behind prison walls gave him an opportunity to confirm what Maududi’s writing made him aware, and that is what convinced the secular Nasserites to condemn him to death on false accusations. “Dirasat Islamiyya” (Studies in Islam, or Lessons in Islam) and “Aladalah Alijtima’eyyah Fil-Islam “(Social Justice in Islam), are both by Sayyid Qutb. His great commentary on the Qur’an, Fithilal-el-Qur’an (in the Shade of the Qur’an), and other books are today read by millions across the globe.

Sayyid Qutb was born on October 8, 1906, in a village called “Musha” in the township of Qaha in the province of Assyout in Egypt. He entered the elementary and primary school of Musha in 1912 and finished his primary education in 1918. He dropped out of school for two years because of the revolution of 1919. His father was Haj Qutb, son of Ibrahi, and a well-known religious person in his village, and his mother was also a religious lady from a well-known family who cared about him and his two younger sisters, Hamida and Amina, and a younger brother, Muhammad. After completing his primary education in Musha, Sayyid Qutb moved to Cairo for further education where he lived with his uncle, Ahmad Hussain Osman. This was in 1920, when he was 14 years old. It should be noted that he memorised the Qur’an when he was about 10 years old in his village. He lost his father while he was in Cairo, so he convinced his mother to move with him to Cairo, where she died in 1940. After the death of his mother, he expressed his loneliness in several articles (Ummah, My Mother) published in the book, “Atatiaf Alarbaa” (The Four Lights), which his sisters, brother and he wrote together. In Cairo, he completed his high school education and enrolled in the teachers college, Darul Uloom, in 1929. In 1939, he qualified as an Arabic-Language teacher and received a Bachelor of Arts degree, then joined the ministry of education. Very soon (about six years), he left his ministry job as a teacher and devoted his time to freelance writing. A factor leading to his resignation from the teaching job was his disagreement with the ministry of education and many colleagues regarding his philosophy of education and his attitude towards the literary arts.

From 1939 to 1951, an obvious switch in his writing towards the Islamic ideology was noted. He wrote several articles on the artistic expression of the Qur’an, as well as two books titled “Expression of the Qur’an” and “Scenes from the Day of Judgement.” In 1948, his book “Social Justice in Islam” was published. In this, he made it clear that true social justice can only be realised in Islam. In November 1948, he went to the United States to study educational curricula. He spent two and one half years moving between Washington DC., and California, where he realised the materialistic attitude of the literary arts and its lack of spirituality. He interrupted his stay in the United States and returned to Egypt in August 1950. Sayyid Qutb resumed his job as a teacher and inspector in the ministry of education before he resigned in October 1952 (again because of his repeated philosophical disagreements with the minister of education and many of his colleagues).

The period from 1951 to 1965 included his joining the Ikhwan (The Muslim Brotherhood). His ideas were quite clear about the fallacy of many of the prevailing social and political/economic injustices and the need for Islamic reform, and he became the chief editor of the newspaper of Ikhwan. During his period, several of his books appeared on Islamic ideology and Islam as a complete way of life. He was arrested when the Ikhwan was accused of attempting to overthrow the government in 1954 and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour. He remained in Jarah prison near Cairo for about 10 years after which due to his health condition, he was released when the Iraqi President, Abdul Salam Arif, intervened.

In 1965, he published his famous book, Ma’aallim Fittareek (Milestones), which led to his re-arrest with the accusation of conspiracy against the Egyptian President, Abdul Nasser. He was tried and rapidly sentenced to death based upon many excerpts of his book, Milestones. There was quite an international uproar and protest in various Muslim countries with appeals to President Abdul Nasser to pardon Sayyid Qutb. In spite of several demonstrations and many objections in various Muslim countries, Sayyid Qutb was executed by hanging on August 29, 1966. He left behind a total of 24 books, including several novels, several books on literary arts’ critique, on the education of adults and children, and several religious books, including the 30 volume Commentary of the Qur’an.

Sayyid Qutb will always be remembered for his legacy of clearly defining the basic ideas of the Oneness and sovereignty of Allah, the clear distinction between pure faith and the association of partners with Allah (Shirk) overt and hidden. Sayyid Qutb was smiling when he was executed, showing his conviction of the beautiful life to come in paradise - a life he definitely and rightfully deserved.

(Courtesy-www.islamvision.org)

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Sir Syed's Approach to Islam

The sincerity of Sir Syed's contribution to the survival of the Urdu language cannot be minimised

By Dr. Fatima Shahnaz

 

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan To judge a character and his contribution to his time, one has to place the individual in his or her historic context. But historic distancing also gives us a perspective on the events shaping this personality. This dual approach heightens the charismatic dimension of figures who have been perceived as controversial or dichotomized personalities, such as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the renowned educator, jurist, writer and reformist who pioneered a Muslim renaissance movement in the late 19th century. In 1876, after his retirement, Sir Syed was the founder of the Anglo-Mohammedan Oriental College of Aligarh, as it was then known. Aligarh was an expansion of an earlier concept of a “Muslim Cambridge” through a journal Sir Syed had launched from 1869 to 1870, Tahdib al-Akhlaq or “social Reform” “for the uplift and reform of Muslims.” Through these venues, Sir Syed strove to achieve his dual mission: To establish a modernist approach to Islam by coordinating the Islamic faith with the contemporary scientific and politically progressive ideas of his time; and to assert an integral ‘Muslim identity’ based on separatism from an increasingly predominant Hinduized India. This objective allegedly laid the groundwork for the two-nation theory that established a future Pakistan.

However, these very ideals have been both eulogised by those adhering to Sir Syed’s school of thought, or disparaged by his detractors by whom he was seen as a ‘sellout’ to the British colonisers, and for the ‘appeasement policies’ through which he was perceived as submitting to ‘cultural imperialism’ under the British. He was further accused of diluting the Urdu language or diverse commentaries he undertook on the Quran or Islamic scriptures, to adapt them to Western thinking. Besides this, his role on the British side during the Mutiny of 1857, when he wrote a pamphlet titled Causes of the Indian Revolt, and his influence on British policymaking on the subcontinent, made him something of a ‘dark horse’ in politics, even a responsible party for forging a ‘fifth columnist’ movement of Muslims in India. He had also held a clerk’s job at the infamous East India Company, a British implant.

These facets only add to the cultural dilemma Sir Syed lived under in his social context, which was also clear in the ‘identity crisis’ and dichotomized identity Indian Muslims were experiencing after the dismantling of the Mughal Empire by the British colonisers. Sir Syed was perceived by his supporters as a major motivating force behind the revival of Indian Islam in the twilight of the Mughal Empire when the disempowerment and demoralisation of Muslims arose from the political vacuum and lack of leadership after the exile of Emperor Bahadur Shah II to Burma by the British. But the dichotomy in Sir Syed’s messianic mission to uplift Muslims from the abysmal aftermath of British reprisals following the Mutiny made him, in the view of his critics, instrumental in subverting the very ‘mughlai’ culture of which he aspired to be the saviour! And while these facts show him to be trapped in a cultural paradox, a bind, what were indeed the alternatives in his socio-historic context? And were there alternatives to the exclusive path he chose as an educator, virtually marginalising Muslims from taking a pro-active political role in shaping India? In fact, Sir Syed had not totally alienated Muslims from politics: In 1886, he formed the All India Muhammedan Conference as a common platform for Muslims and as a principal national center for Islam in India; but this was later superceded by the Muslim League.

Sir Syed’s mission to make Urdu the ‘lingua franca’ in India was subverted when the British spawned other languages, like Hindi, encouraging universities to counter the Aligarh project, thus intensifying the linguistic and cultural barriers to foster deeper Hindu-Muslim separatism. Perhaps Sir Syed Ahmed Khan predicted he was fighting a lost cause against the colonizers and opted for the only alternative for free expression, not in the political arena, but through the educator’s task of institutional reform.And whichever angle one takes in judging him, the sincerity of his contribution to the survival of the Urdu language cannot be minimised. Urdu is still alive today.

The writer can be reached at
fashahnaz@yahoo.com

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