Milestones: The Islamist Manifesto
By Rebecca Bynum
The mushrooming rise of political Islam today has roots in a slender
volume called Milestones, written by an Egyptian member of the
Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb, which first appeared in 1964.
The book was immediately banned and all known copies were
confiscated and burned by military order of the
government. Qutb himself was
arrested and hanged as a traitor in 1966.
Unfortunately however, the book was surreptitiously copied and
translated, spreading first through Arab Universities and eventually
influencing the entire Muslim world.
Milestones is revered by radical Muslims the world over as
exposition of their program.”
Clearly, in Islamic countries there exists some sort of elusive line
between what is viewed as religious free speech and what is undeniably
political agitation. For
, the publication of Milestones definitely crossed that line,
although in it, Qutb never overtly advocates violence.
He does open the door for others to use “any means necessary”
to establish and purify Islam in the same way the Communist Manifesto
opened the door to revolution. As
we Americans set our feet in the continuing struggle for democracy in
Iraq and Afghanistan, and as Europeans, with their own burgeoning Muslim
populations, begin making policy decisions concerning what kind of
speech is protected and what is not, it would behoove us to understand
just how elusive the line between religion and politics really is in
Islam, or if there is even a line there at all.
Sayyid Qutb was not so
much a philosopher as an advocate and articulator of Islam.
He was a man who explained Islam in modern language and so made
it relevant for young Muslims. Milestones
is a call for nothing more nor less than the revival of Islam and for
the faithful to imitate the first generation of Muslims.
That first generation, for Qutb, portrays an idealized, indeed
perfect, society which can only be re-attained by the forceful and
absolute rejection of western thought and influence, or jahiliyyah,
which, in the 1950s and 60s was running rampant through Muslim lands.
What the west viewed placidly as “modernization,” spelled
nothing less than disastrous defeatism for Qutb and others like him.
In the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, these people were
Muslim in name only, for their societies were awash in corrupt, jahili
culture. Qutb explains that
Islam considers these Muslim societies “un-Islamic and illegal.”
That is why radical Muslims throughout the Islamic world are
seeking to overthrow their moderate Muslim governments even though the
general trend there has been toward conservative Islam.
Muslims worldwide feel they are under siege from decadent
The western world is viewed as decaying inwardly, and according to
Qutb, “Even Western scholars realize that their civilization is unable
to present healthy values for the guidance of mankind and does not
possess anything to satisfy its own conscience or justify its
He had studied English literature and written extensively on the
subject in the years before World War II, but by the 1960’s, his view
of western culture and values was dim indeed.
In Milestones, Qutb quotes nothing but the Qur’an, and
relies totally on Islamic scholarship.
Islam: The “System”
Qutb presents Islam as the clear alternative to a world divided
between communism and capitalism. When
he uses the term religion he often presents it in quotes, preferring to
use the term “system” rather than religion.
Islam is an entire system of life, or din.
It cannot be divorced from its governmental and judicial
functions and confined to a mere system of belief, in the manner we
understand religion in the west.
“By its very nature, this concept is different from all other
concepts known to man.”
Islam is a religion that requires territorial sovereignty in
order to fully function as intended by the Prophet and by God.
One might go so far as to say, the religion and the state are one
and the same under Islam. He
even makes the case that obedience to the State is the equivalent of
For Qutb, another essential aspect of Islamic doctrine is that men
are grouped on the basis of faith alone rather than being grouped on the
basis of class, race or national identity, as is the case under western
political and economic systems. All
Muslims are equal because they are equally God’s subjects under
God’s law. Muslims and
non-Muslims are not equal, as we shall see later.
Islam is a system requiring sovereignty over all aspects of life in
order that it may bring mankind into harmony with God’s universal law;
and just as all the rest of creation naturally obeys God’s universal
law, mankind must not deviate from “the truth imbedded in the depths
of his innate nature.”
Deviation from Islam accomplishes nothing but strife.
According to Qutb, “all man-made theories, both individualistic
and collectivist, have proved to be failures.”
The west has failed because of its growing moral bankruptcy and
the communist east because of its failure to provide materially.
Islam, says he, is the only alternative.
Qutb’s concept of natural law is obviously derived from western,
scientific thought. He
argues that a Muslim may learn science from a non-Muslim without danger
that this will “falsify his belief or return to jahiliyyah,”
so long as the godless philosophy of science is avoided.
He writes, “For example, Darwinist biology goes beyond the
scope of its observations, without any rhyme or reason, and only for the
sake of expressing an opinion, in making the assumption that to explain
the beginning of life and its evolution, there is no need to assume a
power outside the physical world.”
So, Muslims may study the hard sciences like physics or
engineering for the sake of human progress without endangering their
The study of other religions, however, seems to be quite universally
avoided by Muslims for fear of jahili contamination of the mind.
The rejection of Christianity is accomplished on two fronts.
One concerns the Trinity doctrine, the “One” functioning as
“Three,” which violates the Muslim insistence on “One God”
unified and indissoluble. The other concerns the person of Jesus
portrayed as “God and man” combined in one personality.
To Muslims, this idea cannot include the concept of God reaching
down to man, but rather consists solely of one man elevating himself to
God’s level. Those who
worship anyone or anything other than God alone are idolaters.
Thus the dismissal of Christianity by Islam is total and Muslims
may assert their superiority without the painful process of trying to
understand what it is they are superior to.
Indeed, the superiority of Islam as a religion is one of the
essential aspects of Islamic doctrine, a doctrine in which simple
assertions are routinely accepted as fact without question.
The fact that Muslims as a whole have very little knowledge of
Christianity should be taken into consideration when trying to fathom
the dim view Muslims have of the western world.
Democracy = Idolatry
Perhaps Qutb’s most startling assertion is: “Legislation is a
divine attribute. Any
person who concedes this right to any human claimant, whether he
considers him Divine or not, in reality accepts him as Divine”
and thereby becomes an idolater. No
law should be followed, but God’s law as it has been revealed in the
Qur’an and gleaned from the Traditions emanating from the life of the
Prophet Muhammad. Human
beings who set up systems of governance for themselves are committing a
grave sin by usurping Divine authority and causing men to obey other
men. This is not simply a
point of theory for radical Muslims.
for example, “In
late January,  came the killing of Abdul-Latif al-Mayah, a
middle-aged political science professor at Mustansiriya. Dr. Mayah had
been interviewed the night before he was killed on the Arabic-language
satellite television station Al Jazeera. A human rights advocate and
longtime pro-democracy activist, he spoke in favor of holding elections
by June 30, the date set for
's planned handover of political power to Iraqis. Less than 24 hours
later, he was gunned down on his way to the university.”
ibid. pgs. 61-62 (italics mine)
Christian Science Monitor April 30, 2004