Monday, March 14, 2011

Sayyid Qutb and Bangladesh

Sayyid Qutb has been described as the father of Islamic fundamentalism, but that's inaccurate. Islamic fundamentalism has several progenitors, but he was unique in his advocacy of violence. He was also innovative in his use of the term 'jahiliya'. Jahiliya was the period before Islam, a period of unknowing and iniquity.

Qutb felt that the contemporary Muslim world had ceased to be Muslim, and he described this as jahiliya. Clearly, this was an emotionally powerful slogan. Here I am concerned with how the term (as used by Qutb) would apply to Bangladesh.

Clearly, between 1971 and 1975, Bangladesh belonged to the period of jahiliya (Jahiliya 1). Over these years, we were concerned with what Arnold Toynbee has called "the worship of our collective selves", that is, nationalism. Nationalism, for a Muslim, is idolatry.

After the killing of Sheikh Mujib, Islam was reestablished in our constitution and in practice. Jahiliya had been overcome: not by fundamentalists, mind you, but by military officers, especially General Zia. This was the reverse of the experience of Egypt, Qutb's homeland, under Nasser.

General Ershad carried on this post-jahiliya period over nine years.

However, after the election of December 2008, jahiliya has returned with a vengeance (Jahiliya 2). Islam has again been disestablished: the democratic government hasn't dared to wipe Islam from the constitution, but it clearly would have loved to do so. The clause expressing our solidarity with the umma has been erased. The country is now a vassal of India. Language-worship and Mujib-worship are back.

Who will take us out of the present jahiliya - military officers or fundamentalists? Let's wait and see.

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