Arab Identity: The views of Sayyid Qutb, Sati al-Husri and Taha Hussein
The first text in question is Milestones by Sayyid Qutb. One of the pioneers of the idea of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, his martyrdom for his cause has enhanced his standing in contemporary Islamic revivalist movements. Qutb is a passion advocate of his beliefs about nationality in the Islamic context. He begins his essay emphatically by stating
“The day Islam gave a new concept of values and standards to mankind and showed the way to learn these values and standards, it also provided it with a new concept of human relationships. Islam came to return man to his Sustainer and to make is guidance the only source from which values and standards are to be obtained, as He is the Provider and Originator. All relationships ought to be based through Him, as we came into being through His will and shall return to Him…Islam came to establish only one relationship which binds men together in the sight of God, and if this relationship is firmly established, then all other relationships based on blood or other considerations become eliminated”. (Qutb, 1981, p.117)
It is quite obvious from the above passage that Sayyid Qutb’s views on national identity are quite
Even when it comes to family relationships, Qutb places the Creator ahead of mother, father, brother, wife and other human relations. He qualifies his views by adding that the strong affinity to the Divine need not impel a Muslim from treating his parents with kindness and consideration. However, if they (human relatives) “openly declare their alliance with the enemies of Islam, then all the filial relationships of a Muslim are cut off and he is not bound to be kind and considerate to them.” (Qutb, 1981, p.118) Thus Sayyid Qutb offers a nuanced interpretation of the holy texts in laying out divinely mandated codes for the Islamic community. In the example of Abu Lahab and Abu Jahl, we see two brothers united by faith than by blood. Their relationship created a new brotherhood of Muslims that included both Arabs and non-Arabs. “Suhaib from Rome and Bilal from Abyssinia and Selman from Persia were all brothers. There was no tribal partisanship among them. The pride of lineage was ended, the voice of nationalism was silenced, and the Messenger of God addressed them: “Get rid of these partisanships; these are foul things. He is not one of us who calls toward partisanship, who fights for partisanship and dies for partisanship.”” (Qutb, 1981, p.123) Hence, it is amply clear what Sayyid Qutb’s stance on nationalism and sectarianism is in the context of Islam in Arabia.
The article by Sati al-Husri presents a slightly different perspective on contemporary Islamic affairs. His article titled Muslim Unity and Arab Unity concerns itself with identifying which of these two concepts of community should take precedence. Other questions relating to the issue are: “Is Muslim unity a reasonable hope capable of realization? Or is it a utopia dream incapable of realization? And assuming the first alternative, is its realization easier or more difficult than the realization of Arab unity?”, etc. (al-Husri, p.148) Sati al-Husri goes on to answer these questions by taking a historical and cultural take on factions within Islam. He observes that major religions of the world have not been able to unite peoles speaking different languages. This is most clearly evident from the attempts made by the Christian Church across its history. This is equally applicable to the Muslim world, where “the political unity which existed at the beginning of its life was not able to withstand the changes of circumstance for any length of time”. (al-Husri, p.150) Even the most powerful Abbasid caliphate could not hold together the lands ruled by it for long. At times, it could not preven the secession of provinces into smaler politically coherent units.
Hence, political unity was never fully accomplished in the past, at a time when society was organized in a simple fashion and religion assumed a greater importance in all affairs of life. That makes the task of pan Arab unity in the contemporary socio-political context even more improbable. In the word of al-Husri, “it will not be possible to realize political unity in this century, when social life has become complicated, political problems have become intractable, and science and technology have liberated themselves from the control of tradition and religious beliefs.” (al-Husri, p.151) In this context, modern proponents of Islamic political unity across Arabia will have to pay attention to historical evidence as well as geographic constraints. Also, the author prudently warns, “whoever opposes Arab unity, on the pretext of Muslim unity, contradicts the simplest requirements of reason and logic, and I unhesitatingly say that to contradict logic to this extent can be the result only of deceit or of deception.” Hence, in al-Husri’s view, aspiring for Islamic Brotherhood (a notional construct) is a more feasible and practicable goal than Islamic unity across Arab and beyond.
In The Future of Culture in Egypt, author Taha Hussein looks into the particular case of Egypt. Hussein’s approach is slightly different from the other two authors, in that, he sees culture as a powerful characteristic that unifies a group. To this extent he regards it to be as important as religion (if not overlapping with it). In trying to figure where Egyptian culture starts to deviate from the contrasting Western culture, Hussein notes “the essence and source of Islam are the essence and source of Christianity. The connection of Islam with Greek philosophy is identical to that of Christianity. Whence, then, comes the difference ni the effect of these two faiths on the creation of the mind that mankind inherited from the peoples of the Near East and Greece?” (Hussein, p.8) This sort of deep inquiry has implications for the question of nationality in Arab geopolitics. The analysis offered by Tara Hussein also brings a measure of balance to the study of religion in Arabic countries, as he analyzes its founding and function as a necessity within the historical realm.
In conclusion, the three authors whose texts were analyzed for this exercise – Sayyid Qutb, Sati al-Husri and Taha Hussein, all offer interesting perspectives on the role and relevance of nationality, religion and culture in the contemporary Arab scene. They all espouse erudite interpretation of the current problems facing the region and offer liberal resolutions. These solutions have at their core a philosophy of tolerance, cooperation and compassion toward the larger Islamic Brotherhood, which transcends the confines of Arabia and includes the global Muslim Diaspora.
Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, Unity Publishing Co, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1981
Sati al-Husri, Muslim Unity and Arab Unity, Arab Nationality: An Anthology, p. 147-153.
Taha Husein, translated by Sidney Glazer, The Future of Culture in Egypt, p.1-9.