Islam the Real Civilization

Posted: March 29, 2011 in 08) The Real Civilization, Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb (MB)


Islam knows only two kinds of societies, the Islamic and the jahili. The Islamic society is that which follows Islam in belief and ways of worship, in law and organization, in morals and manners. The jahili society is that which does not follow Islam and in which neither the Islamic belief and concepts, nor Islamic values or standards, Islamic laws and regulations, or Islamic morals and manners are cared for.

The Islamic society is not one in which people call themselves ‘Muslims’ but in which the Islamic law has no status, even though prayer, fasting and Hajj are regularly observed; and the Islamic society is not one in which people invent their own version of Islam, other than what God and His Messenger-peace be on him-have prescribed and explained, and call it, for example, ‘progressive Islam’.

Jahili society appears in various forms, all of them ignorant of the Divine guidance.

Sometimes it takes the form of a society in which belief in God is denied and human history is explained in terms of intellectual materialism, and ‘scientific socialism’ becomes its system.

Sometimes it appears in the form of a society in which God’s existence is not denied, but His domain is restricted to the heavens and His rule on earth is suspended. Neither the Shari’ah nor the values prescribed by God and ordained by Him as eternal and invariable find any place in this scheme of life. In this society, people are permitted to go to mosques, churches and synagogues; yet it does not tolerate people’s demanding that the Shari’ah of God be applied in their daily affairs. Thus, such a society denies or suspends God’s sovereignty on earth, while God says plainly:

“It is He Who is Sovereign in the heavens and Sovereign in the earth.” (43:84)

Because of this behavior, such a society does not follow the religion of God as defined by Him:

“The command belongs to God alone. He commands you not to worship anyone except Him. This is the right way of life.” (12:40)

Because of this, such a society is to be counted among jahili societies, although it may proclaim belief in God and permit people to observe their devotions in mosques, churches and synagogues.

The Islamic society is, by its very nature, the only civilized society, and the jahili societies, in all their various forms, are backward societies. It is necessary to elucidate this great truth.

Once I announced as the title of a book of mine which was in press, The Civilized Society of Islam; but in my next announcement I dropped the word ‘civilized’ from it. At this change, an Algerian author (who writes in French) commented that the reason for this change is that psychology which operates in a person’s mind while defending Islam. The author expressed regret that this was an expression of immaturity which was preventing me from facing reality!

I excused this Algerian author because at one time I myself was of the same opinion. At that time, my thought processes were similar to his thought processes of today. I encountered the same difficulty which he is encountering today; that is, to understand the meaning of ‘civilization’.

Until then, I had not gotten rid of the cultural influences which had penetrated my mind in spite of my Islamic attitude and inclination. The source of these influences was foreign -alien to my Islamic consciousness, -yet these influences had clouded by intuition and concepts. The Western concept of civilization was my standard; it had prevented me from seeing with clear and penetrating vision.

However, later I saw very clearly that the Muslim society was the civilized society. Hence the word ‘civilized’ in the title of my book was redundant and did not add anything new; rather it would have obscured the thinking of the reader in the same way as my own ideas had been obscured.

Now the question is, what is the meaning of ‘civilization?’ Let us try to explain it.

When, in a society, the sovereignty belongs to God alone, expressed in its obedience to the Divine Law, only then is every person in that society free from servitude to others, and only then does he taste true freedom. This alone is ‘human civilization’, as the basis of a human civilization is the complete and true freedom of every person and the full dignity of every individual of the society. On the other hand, in a society in which some people are lords who legislate and some others are slaves who obey them, then there is no freedom in the real sense, nor dignity for each and every individual.

It is necessary that we clarify the point that legislation is not limited only to legal matters, as some people assign this narrow meaning to the Shari’ah. The fact is that attitudes, the way of living, the values, criteria, habits and traditions, are all legislated and affect people. If a particular group of people forges all these chains and imprisons others in them, this will not be a free society. I n such a society some people have the position of authority, while others are subservient to them; hence this society will be backward, and in Islamic terminology is called a ‘jahili’ society.

Only Islamic society is unique in this respect, in that the authority belongs to God alone; and man, cutting off his chains of servitude to other human beings, enters into the service of God and thus attains that real and complete freedom which is the focus of human civilization. In this society, the dignity and honor of man are respected according to what God has prescribed. He becomes the representative of God on earth, and his position becomes even higher than that of the angels.

In a society which bases its foundation on the concept, belief and way of life which all originate from the One God, man’s dignity is respected to the highest degree and no one is a slave to another, as they are in societies in which the concepts, beliefs and way of life originate from human masters. In the former society, man’s highest characteristics – those of the spirit and mind -are reflected, while in a society in which human relationships are based on color, race or nation, or similar criteria, these relationships become a chain for human thought and prevent man’s noble characteristics from coming to the fore. A person remains human regardless of what color, race or nation he belongs to, but he cannot be called human if he is devoid of spirit and reason. Furthermore, he is able to change his beliefs, concepts and attitudes toward life, but he is incapable of changing his color and race, nor can he decide in what place or nation to be born. Thus it is clear that only such a society is civilized in which human associations are based on free choice, and that society is backward in which the basis of association is something other than free choice; in Islamic terminology, it is a ‘jahili society’.

Only Islam has the distinction of basing the fundamental binding relationship in its society on belief; and on the basis of this belief, black and white and red and yellow, Arabs and Greeks, Persians and Africans, and all nations which inhabit the earth become one community. In this society God is the Lord and only He is worshipped, the most honorable is the one who is noblest in character, and all individuals are equally subject to a law which is not man-made but made by their Creator.

A society which places the highest value on the ‘humanity’ of man and honors the noble ‘human’ characteristics is truly civilized. If materialism, no matter in what form, is given the highest value, whether it be in the form of a ‘theory’, such as in the Marxist interpretation of history, or in the form of material production, as is the case with the United States and European countries, and all other human values are sacrificed at its altar, then such a society is a backward one, or, in Islamic terminology, is a ‘jahili society’.

The civilized society-that is, the Islamic society-does not downgrade matter, either in theory or in the form of material production, as it considers the universe in which we live, by which we are influenced, and which we influence, to be made of matter, and it considers material production to be the backbone of the vicegerency of God on earth. However, in the Islamic society material comforts are not made into the highest value at the expense of ‘human’ characteristics-freedom and honor, family and its obligations, morals and values, and so on – as is the case in jahili societies.

If a society is based on ‘human values’ and ‘human morals’ and these remain dominant in it, then that society will be civilized. Human values and human morals are not something mysterious and undefinable, nor are they ‘progressive’ and changeable, having no roots and stability, as is claimed by the exponents of the materialistic interpretation of history or of ‘scientific socialism.’ They are the values and the morals which develop those characteristics in a human being which distinguish him from the animals and which emphasize those aspects of his personality which raise him above the animals; these are not such values and morals which develop and emphasize those characteristics in man which are common with the animals.

When the question is viewed in this manner, a fixed and well-defined line of separation is obtained which cannot be erased by the incessant attempt of the ‘progressives’ and the scientific societies to erase it. According to this view, moral standards are not determined by the environment and changing conditions; rather they are fixed criteria above and beyond the difference in environments. One cannot say that some moral values are ‘agricultural’ and others ‘industrial’, some are ‘capitalistic’ and some others ‘socialistic’, some are ‘bourgeoise’ and others ‘proletarian’. Here, the standards of morality are independent of the environment, the economic status, and the stage of development of a society; these are nothing but superficial variations. Beyond all these, we arrive at ‘human’ values and morals and at ‘animalistic’ values and morals, this being the correct separation or, in Islamic terminology, ‘Islamic values and morals and ‘jahili’ values and morals.

Indeed, Islam establishes the values and morals which are ‘human’ – those which develop characteristics in a human being which distinguish him from the animals. In whatever society Islam is dominant, whether it is an agricultural or industrial society, nomadic and pastoral or urban and settled, poor or rich, it implants these human values and morals, nurtures them and strengthens them; it develops human characteristics progressively and guards against degeneration toward animalism. The direction of the line which separates human values from animal-like characteristics is upward; but if this direction is reversed, then in spite of all material progress the civilization will be ‘backward’, ‘degenerative’, and ‘jahili’!

If the family is the basis of the society, and the basis of the family is the division of labor between husband and wife, and the upbringing of children is the most important function of the family, then such a society is indeed civilized. In the Islamic system of life, this kind of a family provides the environment under which human values and morals develop and grow in the new generation; these values and morals cannot exist apart from the family unit. If, on the other hand, 97 free sexual relationships and illegitimate children become the basis of a society, and if the relationship between man and woman is based on lust, passion and impulse, and the division of work is not based on family responsibility and natural gifts; if woman’s role is merely to be attractive, sexy and flirtatious, and if woman is freed from her basic responsibility of bringing up children; and if, on her own or under social demand, she prefers to become a hostess or a stewardess in a hotel or ship or air company, thus spending her ability for material productivity rather than in the training of human beings, because material production is considered to be more important, more valuable and more honorable than the development of human character, then such a civilization is ‘backward’ from the human point of view, or ‘jahili’ in the Islamic terminology.

The family system and the relationship between the sexes determine the whole character of a society and whether it is backward or civilized, jahili or Islamic. Those societies which give ascendance to physical desires and animalistic morals cannot be considered civilized, no matter how much progress they may make in industry or science. This is the only measure which does not err in gauging true human progress.

In all modern jahili societies, the meaning of ‘morality’ is limited to such an extent that all those aspects which distinguish man from animal are considered beyond its sphere. In these Societies, illegitimate sexual relationships, even homosexuality, are not considered immoral. The meaning of ethics is limited to economic affairs or sometimes to political affairs which fall into the category of ‘government interests’. For example, the scandal of Christine Keeler and the British minister Profumo was not considered serious to British society because of its sexual aspect; it was condemnable because Christine Keeler was also involved with a naval attache of the Russian Embassy, and thus her association with a cabinet minister lied before the British Parliament! Similar scandals come to light in the American Senate. Englishmen and Americans who get involved in such spying scandals usually take refuge in Russia. These affairs are not considered immoral because of sexual deviations, but because of the danger to state secrets!

Among jahili societies, writers, journalists and editors advise both married and unmarried people that free sexual relationships are not immoral. However, it is immoral if a boy uses his partner, or a girl uses her partner, for sex, while feeling no love in his or her heart. It is bad if a wife continues to guard her chastity while her love for her husband has vanished; it is admirable if she finds another lover. Dozens of stories are written about this theme; many newspaper editorials, articles, cartoons, serious and light columns all invite to this way of life.

From the point of view of ‘human’ progress, all such societies are not civilized but are backward.

The line of human progress goes upward from animal desires toward higher values. To control the animal desires, a progressive society lays down the foundation of a family system in which human desires find satisfaction, as well as providing for the future generation to be brought up in such a manner that it will continue the human civilization, in which human characteristics flower to their full bloom. Obviously a society which intends to control the animal characteristics, while providing full opportunities for the development and perfection of human characteristics, requires strong safeguards for the peace and stability of the family, so that it may perform its basic task free from the influences of impulsive passions. On the other hand, if in a society immoral teachings and poisonous suggestions are rampant, and sexual activity is considered outside the sphere of morality, then in that society the humanity of man can hardly find a place to develop.

Thus, only Islamic values and morals, Islamic teachings and safeguards, are worthy of mankind, and from this unchanging and true measure of human progress, Islam is the real civilization and Islamic society is truly civilized.

Lastly, when man establishes the representation of God on earth in all respects, by dedicating himself to the service of God and freeing himself from servitude to others, by establishing the system of life prescribed by God and rejecting all other systems, by arranging his life according to the Shari’ah of God and giving up all other laws, by adopting the values and standards of morality which are pleasing to God and rejecting all other standards and, after this, when he investigates the laws governing the universe and uses them for the benefit of all mankind, applies them to resources hidden in the earth in accordance with the obligation imposed on him by God as His vicegerent on earth, unearths the treasures and resources of food and raw materials for industries, and uses his technical and professional knowledge for the development of various kinds of industries, doing all these things as a God-fearing person and as a representative of God; and when his attitude toward the material and moral aspects of life is infused with this spirit, only then does man become completely civilized and the society reach the height of civilization. In Islam, mere material inventions are not considered as civilization, as a jahili society can also have material prosperity. In many places in the Qur’an, God has described societies of this kind, which have attained material prosperity while remaining jahili.

(Hud said to his people): “What is the matter with you that you make a memorial at every high place and build palaces as if you are immortal? When you deal with others, you are tyrants. Then fear God, and obey me. Fear Him Who gave you whatever you know. He gave you animals, children, gardens and rivers. I fear for you the day of a severe chastisement.” (26: 128-135)

(Salih said to his people): “Will you remain secure here among these things – among gardens and fountains, the farmland and palm trees with juicy fruit? You build houses skillfully out of the mountains. So fear God and obey me, and do not obey the advice of the wasteful, those who make corruption in the earth and do not set things right.” (26: 146-152)

“So when they forgot what they were reminded of, We opened to them the gates of everything until, when they rejoiced in what they were given, We seized them suddenly, and behold! they were greatly confounded. So the last remnant of the people who did evil was cut off. Praise belongs to God, the Sustainer of the Worlds.” (6: 43-44)

“When the earth has taken on its glitter and has adorned itself fair, and its inhabitants think they have power over it, Our command comes upon it by night or by day, and We make it as stubble, as if yesterday it had not flourished.” (10:24)

But as we have said earlier, Islam does not look with contempt on material progress and material inventions; in fact, it considers them when used under the Divine system of life, as God’s gifts. In the Qur’an we find that God promises His bounty to people when they are obedient to Him.

(Noah said): “I said to my people, ‘Ask forgiveness from your Sustainer; indeed, He accepts repentance. He will send upon you rain from the sky continuously and will make you powerful through wealth and children, and He will raise for you gardens and make streams for you.” (71:10-12)

“Had the people of those towns believed and feared God, We would have opened blessings upon them from the sky and the earth, but they rejected the truth, so for their evil deeds We took them to account.” (7:96)

But the important thing is that foundation on which the industrial structure is built, and those values which bind a society, and through which a society acquires the characteristics of the ‘human civilization’.

Since the basis of the Islamic society and the nature of its growth, which give rise to its community, have a unique character, one cannot apply to it those theories which can explain the establishment and growth of jahili societies. The Islamic society is born out of a movement, and this movement continues within it; it determines the places and positions of individuals in the community and then assigns them roles and responsibilities.

The origin of this movement, from which this community is born, is outside the human sphere and outside this world. Its source is a belief which has come from God to mankind, and which gives them a particular concept of the universe, of life of human history, of values and purposes, and which defines for them a way of life reflecting this concept. Thus the initial impetus for the movement does not come from human minds, nor from the physical world, but, as we have stated before, it comes from outside the earth and outside the human sphere; and this is the first distinctive feature of the Islamic society and its organization.

Indeed, the origin of this movement is an element outside the sphere of man and outside the physical world. This element, which comes into existence from God’s will, is not something expected by any human being or taken into consideration by anyone, and in the beginning, no human endeavor enters into it. This Divine element sows the seed of the Islamic movement and at the same time prepares the human being for action -prepares the one who believes in the faith which reaches to him from the Divine source. As soon as this single individual believes in this faith, the Islamic community comes into existence (potentially) This individual does not remain satisfied at having this faith, but stands up to give its message. It is the nature of this faith that it is a virile and dynamic movement; the power which lights up this faith in this heart knows that it will not remain concealed but will come out into the open and will spread to others.

When the number of Believers reaches three, then this faith tells them; “Now you are a community, a distinct Islamic community, distinct from that jahili society which does not live according to this belief or accept its basic premise.” Now the Islamic society has come into existence (actually).

These three individuals increase to ten, the ten to a hundred, the hundred to a thousand, and the thousand increase to twelve thousand-and the Islamic society grows and becomes established .

During the progress of this movement, a struggle would already have started within the jahili society. On the one side is this new born society, which in its belief and concepts, values and standards, existence and organization has separated itself from the jahili society, from which the Islamic society absorbs individuals. This movement, from the moment of its inception until the growth and permanent existence of its society comes about, tests every individual and assigns him a position of responsibility according to his capacity, as measured by the Islamic balance and standards. The society automatically recognizes his capabilities, and he does not need to come forward and announce his candidacy; in fact, his belief and the values to which he and his society subscribe compel him to keep himself concealed from the eyes of those who want to give him a responsible position.

But the movement which is a natural outgrowth of the Islamic belief and which is the essence of the Islamic society does not let any individual hide himself. Every individual of this society must move! There should be a movement in his belief, a movement in his blood, a movement in his community, and in the structure of this organic society, and as the Jahiliyyah is all around him, and its residual influences in his mind and in the minds of those around him, the struggle goes on and the Jihaad continues until the Day of Resurrection.

The ups and downs through which the movement passes determine the position and activity of every individual in the movement, and the organic body of this society is completed through the harmony between its individuals and their activities.

This kind of beginning and this method of organization are two of the characteristics of the Islamic society which distinguish it from other societies in respect to its existence and its structure, its nature and its form, its system and the method of regulating this system, and make it a unique and separate entity. It cannot be understood by social theories alien to it, nor can it be taught by methods foreign to its nature, nor can it be brought into existence by ways borrowed from other systems.

According to our unvarying definition of civilization, the Islamic society is not just an entity of the past, to be studied in history, but it is a demand of the present and a hope of the future. Mankind can be dignified, today or tomorrow, by striving toward this noble civilization, by pulling itself out of the abyss of Jahiliyyah into which it is falling. This is true not only for the industrially and economically developed nations but also for the backward nations.

The values to which we referred above as human values were never attained by mankind except in the period of Islamic civilization. We also ought to remember that by the term ‘Islamic Civilization’ we mean that civilization in which these values are found to the highest degree, and not a civilization which may make progress in industry, economics and science but in which human values are suppressed.

These values are not idealistic but are practical values which can be attained through human effort, by applying the teachings of Islam correctly. These values can be attained in any environment, whatever the level of industrial and scientific progress may be, as there is no contradiction; in fact, material prosperity and scientific progress are encouraged by the teachings of Islam, as they pretain to man’s role as the representative of God on earth.

Similarly, in countries which are industrially and scientifically backward, these values teach people not to remain just silent spectators but to strive for industrial and scientific progress. A civilization with these values can develop anywhere and in any environment; however, the actual form it takes is not one, but depends on the conditions and environment existing in the society in which these values develop.

The Islamic society, in its form and extent and its way of living, is not a fixed historic entity; but its existence and its civilization are based on values which are fixed historical realities. The word ‘historical’ used in this context only means that these values took concrete form in a particular period of human history. In fact, these values, by their nature, do not belong to any particular period; they are the truth which has come to man from the Divine source-beyond the sphere of mankind and beyond the sphere of the physical universe.

The Islamic civilization can take various forms in its material and organizational structure, but the principles and values on which it is based are eternal and unchangeable. These are: the worship of God alone, the foundation of human relationships on the belief in the Oneness of God, the supremacy of the humanity of man over material things, the development of human values and the control of animalistic desires, respect for the family, the assumption of being the representative of God on earth according to His guidance and instruction, and in all affairs of this vicegerency the rule of God’s law (al-Shari’ah) and the way of life prescribed by Him.

The forms of the Islamic civilization, constructed on these fixed principles, depend on actual conditions and are influenced by and change according to the stage of industrial, economic or scientific progress. These forms are necessarily different and are a consequence of the fact that Islam possesses sufficient flexibility to enter into any system and mold that system according to its purposes; but this flexibility in the outward forms of Islamic civilization does not mean any flexibility in the Islamic belief, which is the fountainhead of this civilization, nor is it to be considered as borrowed from outside, for it is the character of this religion. However, flexibility is not to be confused with fluidity. There is a great difference between these two.

When Islam entered the central part of Africa, it clothed naked human beings, socialized them, brought them out of the deep recesses of isolation, and taught them the joy of work for exploring material resources. It brought them out of the narrow circles of tribe and clan into the vast circle of the Islamic community, and out of the worship of pagan gods into the worship of the Creator of the worlds. If this is not civilization, then what is it? This civilization was for this environment, and it used the actual resources which were available. If Islam enters into some other environment, then its civilization will also take another form-but with values which are eternal,-based on the existing resources of that particular environment.

Thus, the development of the civilization, according to the method and manner of Islam, does not depend on any particular level of industrial, economic or scientific progress. Wherever this civilization is established, it will use all the resources, will develop them, and if in a certain place these resources are non-existent, then it will supply them and will provide the means for their growth and progress. But in all situations it will be based on its immutable and eternal principles, and wherever such an Islamic society comes into existence, its particular character and its particular movement will also come into existence, and will make it distinguished and distinct from all jahili societies.

“The baptism of God -and who can baptize better than God?” (2: 138)

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