Speaking in Shades

LUBNA KHALID’s interesting analysis of Umej Bhatia’s article – ‘The Shade of Death: A critical reading of Sayyid Qutb’ – which was published in the December 2008 issue of YMD, and for which reader comment was invited for publication in YMD.

Umej Bhatia’s well-written article discusses a blanket of issues. The article is likely to be refreshingly informative to the average Muslim reader. It is natural for any article to contain opinions, in addition to facts. Also, the opinions may be of the author or of the authority who remunerates the writer. This is true for Umej Bhatia and Sayyid Qutb.

However, the subtle use of certain words in the article, especially with reference to opinions (as divorced from facts) – intentionally or unknowingly or subconsciously – shades the personality of Sayyid Qutb with a dark brush.

As a critique of these one-sided opinions, we shall quote the passages verbatim (with added emphasis) to expose their subtleness and efficiency in shading Sayyid Qutb in bad light. And pen some thoughts in retrospection.

1. “He is best known in the Muslim world for his work on the social and political role of Islamic fundamentalism, particularly in his books Social Justice in Islam and Ma’alim fi-al-Tariq (Milestones).”

Why ‘Islamic fundamentalism,’ and not Islam? Is it because the word ‘fundamentalism,’ like ‘terrorism,’ has many hues, and conveys different meaning to different people?

We might as well ask, are human beings who strive to practice the ‘fundamentals’ of Islam (Salat, Zakat, Fasting, Hajj, and striving to follow Allah’s commands and Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) example in all aspects of their lives) – ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ or ‘Muslims’?

2. “Qutb began composing his magnum opus in 1951, soon after his conversion to Islamism, but before his hardening into a radical.”

‘Islam’/ ‘Islamism.’ ‘Muslim’/ ‘Radical.’ The usage of these almost similar terms that carry different connotations, depends to a large extent on the personal beliefs of the writer too. The ‘Muslim’ according to the definitions and descriptions given in the Qur’an and ahadeeth may be a ‘Radical’ according to the criteria of liberals, capitalists, communists, etc.

3. “Qutb completed his Qur’anic commentary during more than a decade of imprisonment for involvement in the notorious secret cell of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

‘Notorious’ according to?? Gemal Abdul Naser? U.S. Imperialists? The Holy Qur’an? Muslims? Hypocrites amongst Muslims?

4. “He had been implicated in an assassination plot against the populist radical Egyptian President, Gemal Abdul Naser.”

Implicated? How about being convicted by a fair court?

5. “I will examine his exegetical language and tone, how it establishes its authority as the text of a doomed martyr, as an ideological document and the effectiveness of its arguments.”

How can a martyr ever be doomed?! Any Muslim will be entertained by the adjective. However, to those who deny the message of Muhammad (pbuh) and God’s ability to create and resurrect a second time –martyrdom is, indeed, a doomed end. A wasted life.

6. “Qutb’s dichotomous worldview between modern Jahiliyy values and true Islam is a classic example of what logicians call the black-and-white fallacy.”

This is one view. Another view is: Sayyid Qutb simply dusted the grey areas where the black and white met, in order to simply awaken the sleeping Muslim Ummah, living in those ‘grey areas.’ And reminded all that, beneath all the grey, a line may well exist. A line buried in grayness, yet demarcating the white and black. The good and bad. Eternal success and eternal failure.


There are still a few other places where a subtle angle and shade has been imparted to an otherwise well-written article. We are no authority to comment whether this angle was intentional or unintentional. But they are, indeed, indicators that are subconsciously picked up by the human mind.

As for the title – ‘The Shade of death: A critical Reading of Sayyid Qutb’ – it is strikingly similar to the magnum opus of Sayyid Qutb which was ‘In the Shade of the Qur’an.’ Should Muslims take this subtle equation of Qur’an and death, positively or negatively?

About YMD

Past Issues