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Man Society and Knowledge in Islamist Discourse of Qutb

Man Society and Knowledge in Islamist Discourse of Qutb

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05/04/2012

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MAN, SOCIETY, AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE ISLAMISTDISCOURSE OF SAYYID QUTB
byAhmed BouzidDissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and StateUniversity in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHYINSCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY STUDIESAPPROVED:_________________Joseph C. Pitt, Chair____________________________Ellsworth FuhrmanAnn La Berge_________________________Charles Kennedy Timothy LukeApril, 1998Blacksburg, VirginiaKey words: Sayyid Qutb, Islamism, epistemology, science, political theory, reformism,modernization, modernity, Egypt.
 
Man, Society, And Knowledge In The Islamist Discourse Of Sayyid Qutb
Ahmed Bouzid
(ABSTRACT)
Sayyid Qutb’s conceptions of man and society inform and arethemselves informed by his theory of human and divine knowledge.Our aim in this dissertation is, first, to highlight the intricaterelationships between Qutb’s ontology and his epistemology, and,second, to point to the active context of Qutb’s discourse: howdid his theory of man, society, and knowledge relate to hislanguage of political dissent and his strategy for change andrevolution? Qutb remains an enduring influence on young Muslimsand has left a deep mark on the discourse of politically activistIslamism. An underlying concern that runs through our analysiswill be to address the question: why is Qutb still relevant? Theanswer we provide highlights the inseparability between Qutb’sconception of human nature, his paradigm for the just and idealsociety, his theories on mundane and revealed epistemology, andhis strategy for social and political reform. We shall argue thatthe Qutbian discourse endures because Qutb offers his co-religionists a powerfully integrated conception of the "Islamicsolution" that achieves a unique blending between the values of"authenticity" and those of "modernity". Qutb’s writingsarticulate an unapologetic "life-conception" of Islam thatinsisted on standing on par with other "life-conceptions"; Muslimscould take pride in knowing that Islam exhorted development, butwith an eye towards maintaining a "balance" between the "material"and the "spiritual", unlike communism and capitalism, whichneglected "spirituality" in favor of "animal materialism"; the"Islamic conception" outlined by Qutb provided the reader with aconceptual framework within which a sophisticated critique ofcolonialism could be carried out. Moreover, Qutb also providedthe modern Islamist with a vocabulary that gives voice to theeconomic and social concerns of an emerging lower middle classaspiring to fulfill its mundane dreams in modern, mid-20thcenturyEgypt. The language Qutb used in his works was not the languageof the elite intellectuals, whether Westernized modernists ortraditional ’
ulema
. Qutb consciously articulated his thoughts ina language easily accessible to a readership literate enough toread his works, but not necessarily trained to actively penetratethe arcane corpus of the ’
ulema
. Upon reading Qutb andcontrasting his language with that of his predecessors, it becomesclear that Qutb, more than any other thinker in the Egypt of hisdays, articulated a conception of Islam that consciously attemptedto lay the foundations for an Islamic epistemology on the basis ofa putatively Islamic ontology, denied the authority of "foreignlife conceptions", claimed for Islam universal validity, assertedthe active character of the "truly Muslim", decried the economicinjustices which the masses were enduring, and rejected thetraditional conception of the state as intrinsically benevolent.In short, his was a powerful call to merge the values ofauthenticity
— unapologetic anti-imperialism, anti-elitism, andthe insistence on the centrality of Islam with the values ofmodernity — the impulse for asserting a comprehensive world-view,
 
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the pretension to universal validity, and the positive valuationof action and change in the context of welfare liberalism beholdento the will of the people.

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