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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

Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 09-77

19 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 5 Apr 2011

Andrew F. March

Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University

Date Written: 2009

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

March, Andrew F., Taking People as They Are: Islam as a 'Realistic Utopia' in the Political Theory of Sayyid Qutb (2009). American Political Science Review, Vol. 104, No. 1, pp. 189-207, February 2010; Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 09-77. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1448967

Andrew F. March (Contact Author)

Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University ( email )

124 Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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