Leaving Islam



Milestones: The Islamist Manifesto

By Rebecca Bynum

Islamic Revival

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 Nasser 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 asa comprehensive exposition of their program.”[1]

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 Nasser , 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.”[2]   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 American culture.

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 existence.”[3]   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.”[4]   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 worshipping God. 

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.”[5]  Deviation from Islam accomplishes nothing but strife.  According to Qutb, “all man-made theories, both individualistic and collectivist, have proved to be failures.”[6]  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,”[7] 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.”[8]   So, Muslims may study the hard sciences like physics or engineering for the sake of human progress without endangering their souls. 

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”[9] 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.  In Iraq for example, “In late January, [2004] 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 in Iraq by June 30, the date set for America 's planned handover of political power to Iraqis. Less than 24 hours later, he was gunned down on his way to the university.”[10]

 page 2 

[1] Spencer, Robert  “Money Can’t Buy My Mosque” Front Page Magazine August 4, 2004

[2] Qutb, Sayyid, Milestones  (American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, IN. 1990) pg. 69

[3] ibid.  pg. 5  

[4] ibid. pg. 77  

[5] ibid. pg. 77  

[6] ibid. pg. 6  

[7] ibid. pg. 93  

[8] ibid. pg. 94  

[9] ibid. pgs. 61-62 (italics mine)  

[10] Christian Science Monitor April 30, 2004





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