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On the Modalities of Ignorance: Muhammad and Sayyid Qutb on Contrasting Conceptions of Jāhiliya
For the Egyptian Islamist thinker turned nascent revolutionary, Sayyid Qutb (1909-1966), jāhilīyah was much more than an episodic period of the Islamic past. Rather, as he conceptualized, this modern conception of jāhilīyah was far reaching and extended well beyond an ignorance of religion, and well into the realm of western modernity, specifically: accepting the material comforts of the decadent west, asserting subjective rationality over the God’s ḥākimiyya (sovereignty of God over man), and generally existing in an era of cultural, social, political and artistic ignorance that is so far removed from religion that it is more akin to the Hobbesian state of nature, jāhilīyah. Like a hammer, Sayyid Qutb leveraged this assertion of jāhilīyah as a potent tool for othering, and with the Qur’anic precedent that the polytheists, the people of ignorance ‘are to be killed wherever you find them’, there was a canonical precedent for the validation, if not encouragement of violence. Therefore, in a contemporary context, there exists a degree of academic consensus from western scholars as to the nature of jāhilīyah as conceived by Sayyid Qutb, and how for him this conceptual tool of perceptual ignorance (be that of a time period, despairing actions of others, or a tool for assertive othering) is utilized as a way of casting the other in the veil of pre-Islamic ignorance. However, it is the intention of this paper to question this consensus by way of discursive Qur’anic commentary to analyze the uniformity of Qutbian thought on jāhilīyah against that of Sayyid’s younger brother, Muhammad Qutb (1919-2014). By reading Muhammad’s work Jāhilīya al-Qarn al-‘Ishrīn against Sayyid’s existing work on jāhilīyah, it is my intention to shed light on Muhammad’s conception of modern ignorance, a perception that is nuanced within the diction of subjective dispositions, psychological states, and as an essence or moods of jāhilīyah. These findings will be placed in a discursive conversation with Sayyid’s initial assertions. In short, the goal of this work is to refocus the conversation of the Qutbian conception of jāhilīyah as a coin with two sides, two views of asserting the power of othering through the imagined past, and in the present.
Religious Studies/Theology
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All Middle East
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