Taking People as They Are: Islam as a 'Realistic Utopia' in the Political Theory of Sayyid Qutb
American Political Science Review, Vol. 104, No. 1, pp. 189-207, February 2010
19 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 5 Apr 2011
Date Written: 2009
This paper presents an interpretation of Sayyid Qutb’s political theory based on a prominent feature of his thought: the claim that Islamic law and human nature (fitra) are in perfect harmony, and that the demands of Islamic law are easy and painless for ordinary human moral capacities. I argue that Qutb is not only defending Islamic law as true and obligatory, but also as a coherent “realistic utopia” – a normative theory which also contains a psychological account of that theory’s feasibility. Qutb’s well-known fascination with the earliest generation of Muslims (the salaf) is an integral part of this account which serves two functions: first as a model of the feasibility and realism of an ideal Islamic political order, and second as a genealogy of the political origins of moral vice in society. Qutb’s project is thus an account of exactly why and how Islam requires politics and how modern humans can be both free and governed.
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