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  • 8/13/2019 Book Reviews- Recent Books on the Interpretation of Islam


    Recent Books on the Interpretation of IslamReview by: Nicola A. ZiadehMiddle East Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Autumn, 1951), pp. 505-510Published by: Middle East InstituteStable URL:

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  • 8/13/2019 Book Reviews- Recent Books on the Interpretation of Islam


    BOOK REVIEWSRecent Bookson the Interpretation f Islam

    Nicola A. ZiadehALMOST A QUARTERof a centuryago11 two books were published in Egyptwhich caused a sensation. The first was Al-islam wa-usil al-hukm [Islam and the Prin-ciples of Government], by Shaykh 'Ali 'Abdal-Raziq (now Pasha). The second was Fial-shi'r al-jdhili [Of Pre-Islamic ArabicPoetry], by Dr. Taha Husayn (now Pasha).The first dealt with the basic factors andpillars of the state and concluded that thecaliphate was not an essential part of Islam;that it grew out of expediency; and that theabolition of the caliphate did not constitutean act of apostacy. Shaykh 'Abd al-Raziq wastried by the Society of the Learned of al-Azhar, of which he was a member, and wasexpelled from the group. His book was con-fiscated. Taha Husayn's book did not dealdirectly with Islam, but it contained somecasual remarkswhich were considered irreli-gious. In discussingArabic poetry of the pre-Islamic period, he argued that most of thispoetry was produced later but attributed tothe earlier age for linguistic, political, andsocial purposes.This predating of the poetrywas essential for the supportof many linguisticproblems appearing later, and especially inconnection with the Qur'an. It was in thisslippery field that Taha Husayn skidded andmade remarks which conservative Muslimscould not accept. He was tried and convicted,and his book was confiscatedand destroyed.A numberof books and articles were writ-ten in refutation of the argumentsforwardedby each in his own field. Seven books ap-peared analyzing Taha Husayn's theory andattacking his attitude toward Islam. Some,like Al-naqd al-tahlili [Analytical Criticism]

    by al-Ghamrawi, and Al-shahdb al-rdsid[The Watching Meteor] by M. L. Guma',were balanced books which threw some lighton the subject and argued calmly. Otherswere just vehement attacks on the author. Sofar as I am aware, 'Abd al-Raziq was lessfortunatethan Taha Husayn in his opponents.They came mainly from conservative or re-actionary circles, probably supported by in-terested parties.These two bookswere neither the first northe last to cause a stir in the learned circlesof the Muslim world. Nevertheless,they werea landmarkin its intellectual history, coming,as they did, shortly after World War I, whenthe Arab and the Muslim world as a wholewas facing new problems. Atatiirk had justabolishedthe caliphateand was being attackedright and left for the seriousstep he had taken.Since then numerous books have appearedinArabic dealing with a variety of topics relat-ing to Muslim life and thought. In somecases a balanced re-examinationand reinter-pretation has been put forward. Of such isthe work of the late ShakibArslan, Limddhata'akhkharaal-muslimuzn? [Why Did Mus-lims Degenerate?]. A more sober work isthat of al-Qusaymi,Hadhihi al-aghll [TheseFetters], publishedn I937. Only this yearappeared wo large volumes refuting his argu-ments on the basis of an extremely conserva-tive approach.The Ikhwan al-Muslimun (MuslimBrotherhood), both in Cairo and Damascus,has published many pamphlets dealing withsimilar questions. The trend in these discus-sions may be summed up along the followinglines: Muslims at present are degenerating

    4-+NICOLA A. ZIADEH is a member of the Department of Arabic Studies at the American University ofBeirut.505

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  • 8/13/2019 Book Reviews- Recent Books on the Interpretation of Islam


    5o6 THE MIDDLE EAST JOURNALbecause they have forsaken Islam; the solu-tion for the numerousproblemsof the Muslimworld lies in understanding Islam properlyand following its teachingsto the letter; Islamis the only means and way to bring peace intothe troubledworld at large.Although there is some agreement amongthese discussions, here are many points of dif-ference. Thinkers differ as to how Islamshould be understood, reinterpreted,and de-veloped.Thus, while a few wish Islam to growto meet new needsof a changingworld, others,probablymore numerous,would rather see theworld stand still to have its problems solvedthrough Islam. Again, a few recognize somegood in the experiences, piritualand material,of other creeds and civilizations, while othersinsist on the self-sufficiency f Islam and its all-containing ability to lead to happiness andgoodwill. There are also a small number ofthinkerswho are inclined to believe that Islamshould abandon politics and be satisfied witha deep spiritual leadershipand with becominga personalreligion, while a much larger groupthink that Islam should keep up its traditionaland historical role of being a religion andpolitical system as well. Such differences arefar from being matters of minor importance.This was made especially clear when theSyrian Constituent Assembly was discussingthe Syrian Constitution of I950. The inclu-sion, in the Constitution, of a provision thatIslam must be the religion of the Presidentof the Republic and that Muslim jurispru-dence was to be the guiding principleof statelegislation was a victory for the more con-servative elements.

    IIIt is within this general framework thattwo bookspublishedin Egypt in I950 shouldbe discussed.These two books are Min hunanabda' [From Here We Start], by KhalidMuhammadKhalid, and l-'addlaal-i'tima'yafil-islam [Social Justice in Islam], by Sayyid

    Qutb.Khalid's book was consideredby the Fatwa(Opinion) Committee of al-Azhar as a ve-hement attack on Islam, undermining itsspiritual,cultural, and political structure.Theauthor, in addition, was accused of commu-

    nistic leanings. The book was confiscatedbythe authoritiesand the author was prosecutedand tried. It is to the credit of the judge thathe saw the bookin its real meaningand under-stood its spirit, so that Khalid was acquitted(May 27, I950), and the bookhassincebeenallowed to circulate. It has already run intothree printings,plus one which appearedwith-out the author's permission and is full oferrata and twisted sentences.1Sayyid Qutb'sbook may be considered,although the authordoes not say so, an answer to Khalid's argu-ments.What are, after all, Khalid's opinions andsuggestions? He has divided From Here WeStart into four chapters:Religion, Not Witch-craft; Bread Is Peace; The National State;and The Unused Lung. In his brief introduc-tion, Khalid states that Egypt, as well as othercountries of the Arab world, is trying tocatch up with the progressof civilization be-hind which it now lags. This makes it im-perative that those whose weight counts inthese matters realize that openings into thenew world are needed, and that the peoplemust be freed from fear before they can ad-vance. (pp. 4I-42.) The author believes thata social change is badly needed; that the onlysolution for the problems of Egypt is a justsocialism; that there is a definite need for aspiritual consciousnessbased on a sound un-derstanding of the spirit of religion, so thatwitchcraft will be discarded by a peopleaware of its needs. These things will all pro-duce peacewithin the country and thus allowfor the developmentof the people.Khalid is convinced that what has been sofar the guiding force in Egypt and other Mus-lim countriesis not religion but a set of teach-ings and practicescreatedby witches fakereligiousheads andguardedby them in theirown interest. For while religion grows as theneeds of men grow, keepingits intrinsicchar-acter and aiming at securing happiness forhumanity (p. 46), the witchcraft which pre-vails today defends continued poverty, theinterestsof the rich, and almsgiving.It opposesany social change because this may open theeyes of the people and thus lead to the de-

    1 The 4th printing is the one to which the refer-ences in this article apply.

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  • 8/13/2019 Book Reviews- Recent Books on the Interpretation of Islam


    BOOK REVIEWS 507structionof witchcraftand its supporters.Khalid deals fully with these matters (pp.48-58) andcriticizes speciallyhe traditionalinterpretation of sadaqdt (almsgiving) ac-cepted by many Muslims. This view considersalmsgiving an economicsystem which aims atgranting the poor the riches of the wealthy.While Khalid accepts almsgiving as an occa-sional relief, his view is that it could be turnedinto begging and thus cause more injustice tomen than benefit. Khalid strongly believesthat the realization of a healthy spiritual lifecan be achieved only through a sound eco-nomic systemwhich will grant each individuala minimum of decent living. This should bebackedby a sound system of educationwhichwill provide for the nation a thorough andfree understandingof its needs and problems.(PP. 59-68.)Summingup his arguments,the authorsaysthat religion is essentially democratic and hu-mane, a supporterof the freedom of the mind,whereas witchcraft opposesdemocracy,is sel-fish, and denies the mind its freedom. (pp.77-82). It seeks to control literary, intellec-tual, and social life, and thus kills society anddivides and poisonsthe nation.Khalid proceedsnext to deal with the eco-nomic-social aspect of life. Discontent is thetone of Egyptian society, as well as of othersocieties. This discontent is essentially due tothe existence of two greatly different groupsof people living side by side. One, a smallminority,has more wealth than it can manageand enjoys all the luxuries of life, while theother, by far the larger, lacks even the barenecessities for decent living. This state ofaffairs is producing bitter feeling -a hatredof the needy for those who have plenty, whoin turn are contemptuousof the poor. This isclass struggle, pure and simple. It is dormantnow but may burst out at any minute. (pp.104-14.) The rich own the land largestretches of land -and the poor toil for theowners. Of the people of Egypt, almost 17million own no land at all, while I2% ofthe land is owned by I98 individuals. (pp.II5-I6.) Not only that, but the farmerhasto pay high rent for the land which is sup-posed to supporthim. In addition, the workerand the small employee, whether in govern-ment service or otherwise, are in no better

    position han the farmer.They all earn fartoo little to cover the necessary xpensesofmere existence,let alone provide for theamenitiesof life.The meansof solving this complicatedprob-lem lies, accordingto the author, only in so-cialism. Only through socialismcan socialjustice the sole guarantee f security, ree-dom, and prosperity be realized. (pp. I28-29.) The various methods adopted by thepresent government,such as allowances, com-batting the rise of prices, etc., may ameliorateconditions. But the situation cannot be fun-damentally improvedthrough such half-meas-ures and patching. What is needed is some-thing totally different. The changes recom-mended by Khalid are radical. There shouldbe a levelling in wealth. This can best beachieved through the raising of taxes, redis-tribution of land ownership, limiting of rentson land, and nationalizationof the big indus-tries. (pp. I33-46.) Anybody acquaintedwith the economic and social structure ofEgypt and otherArab countries can appreciatehow extreme are these changes suggested byKhalid. He asks, besides, for strict measuresof contraception, so that the population ofEgypt may cease to increase as rapidly as ithas during the last few decades.Startling as Khalid's social suggestions, asso far given, may be, his views on government,presented in the chapter entitled The Na-tional Government, are still more shockingto many Muslims. He says: An idea whichenjoys popularity in our society nowadays isthat of clamoringfor a theocratic state whichwill see that God's orders are carriedout andpunishments (huduid) imposed by Islam areenforced. This view includes among its sup-porters a group of our finest men. . . . Butas we believe that theocratic states proved tobe a failure and a revival of such an institu-tion [would establish] an autocracy and bedetrimental to religion itself . . . we feel itour boundenduty to argue such views down.(p. I58.) Khalid proceeds o demonstrate hatthe theocratic state relies on an ambiguoussource of authority and lacks constitutionalgrounds. Thus its responsibilities and dutiestoward the public areneither definednor bind-ing. (p. I84.) It is omnipotent, with neitheroppositionnor checkon its behavior. (p. igo.)

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  • 8/13/2019 Book Reviews- Recent Books on the Interpretation of Islam


    508 THE MIDDLE EAST JOURNALIt has no confidence n man or his intelligence,and therefore allows no scope for free expres-sion of anykind. (p. 176.)The argumentsof those who cry for a theo-cratic state are that (a) such a state is by itsnature capable of destroying all vices; and(b) it aims at enforcing all punishments.Khalid's refutation, which in the opinion ofthe present writer is one of the best parts ofhis book, is marshalled with sagacity andwisdom, supportedby historical incidents andquotations from the most sacred religioussources.As for point (a), he thinks that thisis the paramount aim of religion when ittouches the heart and purifies it. Man's con-science, when aroused, is capable of oustingevil and becominga holy of holies for virtue.Religion without the support of the state cando this. But when religion tries to force itsway into men's hearts supportedby the swordand whip of the state, it ceases to be a moralforce. As for point (b), Islam has legislatedfor the punishment of many moral crimes.Adultery, theft, andwine-drinkingarethe mostobvious. Yet the legislation itself contains somany restrictions,such as witnesses (4 in thecase of adultery) or confession, that the as-signed punishmentscannot be easily applied.Theft itself was not punished by 'Umar, thesecond caliph, when it was committedin timeof famine. Wine-drinking is as difficult toprove as adultery. It is thus clear that the sup-posed justification of a theocratic state alongthis line is unfounded.(pp. I70-73.) Theauthor then cites numerousexamplesof mod-ern Muslim theocraticstates and discussesthelamentable conditionsunder which the peoplelive. (pp. I 82-89.)The conclusion Khalid reaches is that reli-gion should be left to perform its duty aloneand along moral, spiritual, and social lines(pp. 195-96), while the state should be com-pletely secular, leaving religion aside andlooking after its own duties and obligationsof securingto the nation at large its needs.In his last chapter, Khalid deals with theposition of women in Egypt. His cry here isfor the granting of full civil and politicalrights. Khalid repeats the usual argumentsforthe need of cooperationbetween the two sec-tions of the nation (men and women), andfor the betterment of family life, social con-

    ditions, and morality. This chapter is a loudcry - probablythe loudest written by a Mus-lim for some time past.Khalid concludeshis book with the follow-ing points:(I) Our intellectual world is in need of a change,an education and a training so that it may allowevery concept to pass through it.(2) We have to throw aside our fears . . . wehave to infuse into the conscience of the individual,the state, and society the courage necessary forfacing our problems and solving them.(3) We need tolerance, feeling, and steadiness.(4) We must begin, even if we encounter failure.. . .We must take the first step.The road Khalid trod was thorny. Heplodded through a conservative society pos-sessed of a strong reactionary element. Hisstyle is harsh because of the nature of histheme. His remarks are pungent because hetouches the most painful spots in the life ofhis people. The importance of his views maynot be immediately apparent to people livingin the West, but when they are viewed in theperspectiveof the situationin which they werewritten their real value becomesclear.The Fatwa Committeeof al-Azhar accusedKhalid of publicly attacking and insultingIslam when he denouncedthe theocraticstate,defended the stoppage of religious punish-ments, supportedthe restriction of the workof religion to the realm of spiritual guidance,and consideredalmsgiving a limited function.This reading of the al-Azhar Committee is,in my opinion, far-fetched. Khalid exhibitedgreat respect for Islam and in no way can beconsidered to have trespassedor insulted it.He attackedorgans and peoplewho have mis-interpreted and abused Islam in their owninterest. It is significant to recall again thatthe judge who tried the author could findnothing to support the accusations: Khalidmight have committed minor mistakes, butthere was no ill-intention in his book.

    IIISayyid Qutb, author of Social Justice inIslam, takes a fundamentally different atti-tude. His viewpoint is best presented in hisown words (pp. 89-90):

    Islam presents humanity with a perfect institu-tion the like of which the world has never known,

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    BOOK REVIEWS 509neither before nor since. Islam neither attempts,nor has it attempted, to imitate any other institu-tion, or effect with it any connection or resemblance.It chose its unique and singular path, and presentedhumanity with a complete solution for all and everyone of its problems.

    It might have happened through the process oftheir development that human institutions came nearto Islam or differed from it. It is, however, anindependent and perfect institution, which has norelation whatever with such [human] institutions,neither when they meet it nor when they separatefrom it. Such meeting or separation is purely acci-dental, and only partial....A Muslim scholar, when discussing Islam as aninstitution, has no business trying to discover simi-larities or otherwise between it and other systemsand ways. . . . The proper method to be followed

    by them [Muslims] is to expound the grounds oftheir religion, with the unshaken belief that theyare perfect, irrespective of whether they agree ordisagree with other institutions or systems....The very attempt at gaining support to Islamicinstitutions from similarities with other systems isin itself a feeling of defeat.It is in this belief that Islam is self-sufficientand capableof solving any problemthat Qutbwrote his book. The first part (pp. I-I36) dis-cusses theories and principles which help ex-

    plain social justice in Islam. The second part(pp. I37-267) is a pageant of events inwhich Isam has been the force behind variouskinds of development.Qutb gives, in his first pages (pp. 5-2I), anaccount of the historical development ofChristianity and Islam in relation to society.His argument is that Christianity was bornin an empire, it adapted itself to its new en-vironment, and later when the church and theempire contested authority, there grew up astruggle which eventuallyled to the separationof state and religion. Islam, on the otherhand,came into a world which had no fully-devel-oped empire. It grew up with an empireof itsown. It legislated for life in almost every as-pect. It was the force, spiritual as well as ma-terial, which pushed Muslims to great andexalted deeds. There is not one single argu-ment which may support the separation ofIslam from society. (p. i8.)Here Qutb exaggerates, consciously orotherwise, the separationof state and religionin Western civilization, for in the WestChristianity has not ceased to be a force insociety. On the contrary, since its separation

    from the state, religion has become more in-fluential. No one among the Muslim writerswho advocated a similar separation in Islamhas suggested an isolation of Islam. Whatthey suggested is a national state in place ofthe theocratic state.In Islam, according to Qutb, the universalidea found its first expression.God is the solecreator of the world; He keeps a watch overthe world; it is His will that cooperationshould be enforced. In all this complete andfull unity in realized (pp. 22-26); withinthis all-embracing framework social justicefalls. Its purposesare clear: the freeing of theconscience, full equality in every sphere, espe-cially equality between man and woman, andfull social cooperation.The means are fullyexpressed,too: they are the human conscienceand the Law. (p. 73.) The former is a vagueand ambiguous term, which may mean any-thing. The second, the legal pillar of socialjustice, includes zaka (almsgiving) ; the pro-hibition of interest, of wine-drinking, and ofgambling; and the good and wise administra-tion. Qutb proceeds then to describe state-craft (pp. 88-ioo) and financial policy inIslam. (pp. IOI-36.) Here the author ispolemic and marshals the facts in the tradi-tional way.In more than one place Qutb is keen toinform his readers that looking at the Westor trying to adopt systems and institutionswhich were experienced by other nations isthe result of ignorance on the part of thosewho cry for such a step. Only Muslims witha defeatist spirit call for such procedure.

    IVThe two books under considerationrepre-sent, as has becomeclear from this brief sur-vey, two totally different schools of thought.The one wishes for the world of Islam agrowth basedon the experiencesof the humanrace at large, while the other thinks thatIslam, and Islam alone, can solve the race'sworries and troubles. The one sees that thehistorical development of the Muslim theo-cratic state ended in failure and the experi-ment shouldnot be repeated.It recognizesthatsuch a state succeeded once only under the

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    5IO THE MIDDLE EAST JOURNALProphet and his immediate successors. Theother school believes strongly that becausethe experiment was successful fourteen cen-turies ago there is no reason why the samething may not succeed at any time in history,

    when the rightpeoplebecomemastersof thenation.The most hatQutbsuggests he Mus-lim world may take from the West is itssciencesand techniques but nothing of itsphilosophy,iterature,or legislation.

    The Middle East Journal will order on behalf of its subscribers any book Nreviewed or listed in the following pages of the Book Review section. Bookspublishedin the United States: Suppliedat list price at time of purchase,post-paid. Mail check with order or request invoice. Books published abroad: Sup-plied at list price at time of purchase at current rate of exchange, plus costof handling. Payment due upon receipt of invoice; all payments to be made indollars. Service guaranteed on books published in the United States only.Address all orders to Book Service, The Middle East Institute, i830 NineteenthStreet, N.W., Washington 9, D. C.GENERAL

    Both Sides of the Curtain, by Sir MauricePeterson.London: Constable,I951. 305pages, 7 illustrations.$4.00.In a suave and readable style, one moreBritish diplomat narrates a distinguishedca-reer in the British Foreign Service coveringthirty-six years of momentous world history

    (I9I3-49). He skips hrought all with Scotsbrevity, for in some 300 pages he takes us toWashington, Prague, Tokyo, Cairo, Spain(twice), Sofia, Baghdad, Ankara, and Mos-cow, with intervals at the Foreign Office inLondon. It has not been British practice toleave diplomats ong in one countryor even inone region of the world, but need this be re-flected in a book?The link that joins these chapters is theauthor's personality, and while this is agree-able and able, it naturally does not fascinatelike a Churchillor a Schweitzer.We are givenglimpses of many countries, but in most ofthem Sir Maurice gives us no chanceto settledown. The chapteron Spain is an exception,and its very length makesit the most interest-ing and valuable in the book. Petersonwas thefirst British Ambassadoraccreditedto FrancoSpain, and in spite of his desire to be helpfulhe makes it clear that his position at Madridin those critical months of February 1939 toJune I940 was not an easy one. The chapterwhich narrateshis final threeyears ( 946-49)as Ambassador o Moscow containsshrewdob-servations of Russian ways, but is insufficientto justify the title of the book.

    Petersonwas First Secretaryto Lord Lloydin Egypt between I927 and I929 and head ofthe EgyptianDepartmentof the ForeignOfficein London from I93I to I936, including fourmonthsin Egypt in I934 as Acting High Com-missioner. These were the years of fruitlesstreatynegotiations;they must havebeentryingyears but Peterson presents them in goodhumor, with some entertaining anecdotes.There are personalrecollectionsof Lloyd anda fair estimate of the man, but too little aboutEgyptiansalthoughhe loved their country. Onone important ssue the author'spolitical judg-ment may be questioned. He writes that inI936 he did not favor the negotiation of anAnglo-Egyptian Treaty because in any caseEgyptwould haveheld to us against the Axis.. . .After the Abyssinianwar at the very leastand latest it was, for me, impossible o believethat the Egyptianscould fail, despitea certainentrenchingof the Italian influence in Cairo,to be on the side of the lesser evil they hadknown so long - the British - against the in-comparablygreater evil, now revealed withequalclarity, which Mussolini'sideasof Italiancolonization held for them. (p. 75). Further,an independentEgypt seemedto him then bothunnecessaryand shackling to the military inthe war which was approaching.These judg-ments surely underestimatedboth the latentstrength of Egyptiannationalsentiment,whichmight not always pull the same way as a far-sighted estimate of national interests, and thevalueof friendlyEgyptiancooperationwith theAllied armed forces which would be based onEgyptian territory.

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