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Sayyid Quṭb and the Decline of the Islamic Humanistic Tafsïr Traditions
Abstract by Nadia Duvall On Session IV-29  (Ritual and Faith)

On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am

2023 Annual Meeting

Given the apparent eclipse of the humanistic traditions of the classical age of Islamic piety in modern times, I deem it necessary to elucidate the role of the radical Islamist ideologue, Sayyid Quṭb (1906-1966), in departing from the classical Islamic tafsïr traditions as he grappled with modern-day thought. Centring the discussion primarily on the classical exegetical methods applied to key Qur’ānic suras such as the opening sura of the Qur’ān, al-Fātiḥa, the disruption caused by Quṭb, especially in his essentialist and dehumanising views of the Christian and Jewish outsider/other, becomes plainly apparent. In developing my argument, I adopted an interdisciplinary approach, relying primarily in my theoretical assumptions on the insights provided by both Wilfred Cantwell Smith in the comparative study of religion, and those provided by Erik H. Erikson in human development theory on culture, identity and social order. In his work The Meaning and End of Religion(1964), Smith invites us to ponder on his key concept of ‘the cumulative tradition’. As he puts it, the ‘cumulative tradition’ is ‘the mundane result of the faith of men in the past and the mundane cause of the faith of men in the present’. Every religious person, he explains, ‘is the locus of an interaction between the transcendent which is presumably the same for every man, and the cumulative tradition which is different for every man.’ Put differently, Smith argues that ‘each person is presented with a cumulative tradition, and grows up among other persons to whom that tradition is meaningful’. It is noteworthy that Smith’s ‘cumulative tradition’ theory converges with Erikson’s theory which he developed in Identity, Youth and Crisis (1968) in which he emphasises the importance of establishing an ‘average expectable continuity with the past’ in delineating outside-inside divisions. He observes that the matter of establishing an ‘outer world’ is both a necessity and a peculiarity of human societies whereby humans create an outside-inside division which is based on a number of ideological connotations. In conclusion, I find that Quṭb’s thought marks him out as a main contributor to a modern-day trend of thought which I consider to be an almost complete rupture with classical pre-modern Islamic thought. It is particularly discernible that Quṭb fails to identify with any meaningful Islamic ‘cumulative traditions’, thus, falling short of establishing an ‘average expectable continuity with the [Islamic] past’.
Religious Studies/Theology
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Sub Area