The Malady of Islam

The Malady of Islam
by Abelwahab Meddeb
Translated from the French by Pierre Joris and Ann Reid, Basic Books, 2003

Intro - What Is This?

"If fantacism was the sickness in Catholicism, if Nazism was the sicnness in Germany, then surely fundametnalism is the sickness in Islam. ...

"Contemporary Islam is infected with a sickness that is cutting it off form the richness of its won tradition and history. In this impassioned, erudite and deeply moving book, A Meddeb traces the genealogy of this malady and at the same time powerfully demonstrates the pluralist tradition at the heart of Islam. In so doing, he dismantles the common misconceptions of both western scholars of Islam and Islamic fundamentalists and offers new paths for engagement between Islam and the West." (cover jacket)

A Meddeb "is a prolific novelist, poet, translator and essayist and the editor of the journal Dedale. The author of ten books, he is professor Comparative Literature at the University of Paris X-Nanterre. He lives in Paris." (cover jacket)

COMMENT: At its best an irreudite Arab Francophone scholar adding to understanding of Islam and its ... differences with the West. At it's worst and Euro-esthete windbag name-dropper, taking advantage of the Western publishers' thirst for Muslim anti-fundamentalist thinkers to hold forth on his favorite obscure theories of Islamic and European history.
... I'm reading it because it has stuff on Qutb and no index so you have to at least browse the thing to find comments on Qutb.

Terrorist Mindset

"Who are these terrorists but the children of the Americanization of the world (as I have said and as I will repeat)? Children who suffer from the open wound the Muslim subject feels from having been turned from a ruler into someone ruled. Chldren who refuse the state of submission in which they believe themselves to be, and who dream restoring the hegemony of the entity to which they belong; of making Friday the universally adopted weekly holiday (rather than Sunday); of substituing the year of the hegira from the year of the Common Era (whose Christian origin they keep stressing). This is not a caricature. I draw my conclusions from what I have read of the ineptitudes they publish. But let us first see what specific historical process produced these people ..." (p.9-10)

COMMENT: Note the translation. "what I have read of the ineptitudes they publish ..." Probably more literal than readable. The translation also includes a fare number of big words not noramally used in English.

Generous Islam in Glory v. Islam in "Ressentiment" Today

"Nietzsche himself thought that the Muslim (or more precisely, the Arab) was someone who belonged to a people who, throughout the ages, had acted more in comformity with aristocratic morality, the morality of affirmation - some who illuminates, one who gives without trying to receive. The situation of the person of ressentiment, on the other hand, is to be in the position of the one who recieves but who does not have the means to give; the person of ressentiment cannot affirm. Thus the Muslim is no longer the individual of the `yes` that illuminates the world and creates a naturally hegemonic being. From soveriegn being, the Muslim has slowly become the person of the `no`, the one who refuses, who is no longer active but only reactive, the one who accumulates hatred and waits only for the hour of revenge. This sentiment, initially unknown to the Islamic subject, will imperceptibly grow and take over the person's center. I believe that the fundamentalist actions whose agent is the Muslim subject can be explained by the growth of the subject's ressentiment, a condition that had historically been unknown to the Muslim since his first appearance on the stage of history as an individual." (p.12)

Islamic History - When did it decline?

"It is essential to detach ourselves from the stereotypical notion that Islamic civilization lost its fertility at the end of the 12th century, in synchronicity with the end of Averroism and the theological reaction this philosophic oeuvre gave rise to. At most we could say that from the 15th century onward, a kind of entropy took hold of minds and set them on a slow yet inexorable curve toward decline. And yet, what was built and invented in the princely Timurid environment (in the region of Samarkand, Bokhara, Taskent and Herat) is in no way inferior to the contemporary brilliance of the quattrocento in the Florence of the Medicis and in the Burgundy of the Limbourgs. ..." (p.26)


Averro believed that is is foolish to waste time reinventing for oneself what has already been invented by others. The accumulation of knowledge is universal. Anybody can draw on it, whatever his ethnic, language or religious background. By calling for the utilizaton of the method of the Ancients (the ancient Greeks, that is), Averroes overwhelmed the dogma of the Jahiliyya, ... Not only did he believe that new nations have to take advantage of the memory stores of previous peoples, he further set up a welcoming formula for his borrowings: We should rejoice and thank the ancient thinkers for everything they invented that comforms to the truth, while warning the public of the excusable errors of the ancients. ..." (p.31)

Mawdudi and God's Sovereignty

"Mawdudi constructed a coherent political system, which follows wholly from a manipulation. `Hukm is God's alone,` says the Quran. The noun hukm ... derives from the verbal root hukm, which means to exercise power as governing, to pronounce a sentence, to judge between to parties, to be knowlegable (in medicine, in in philophy), to be wise, prudent, of a considered judgement.` Thus, hukm signifies power, empire, authority, judgement, order, commandment, wisdom, knowledge, science, strength, rigor, law, rule. Most translators of the Qur'an, in French as well as in English, translate hukm as `judgement` or `power`; others seek the sense of `commandment` or `decision.` Exegetic tradition does not linger over this phrase, which is situated in a verse whose context is an address to idolaters: (p.101-2)

Those who you adore outside of Him are nothing but names that you and your fathers have given them. God has granted them no authority. Hukm is God's alone. He has commanded that you adore none but Him. Such is the right religon, but most people do not know. [12:40]
COMMENT: From the context of the verse, Hukm would seem to mean any kind of power that god has, stuff like answering the prayers of devout worshippers, not ruling lands, or even necessarily laying down laws to obey.

Commentators never forget to remind us that this verse is devoted to the powerlessness of the companion deities (pardras) that idolaters raise up next to God. The idols worshipped by pagans are considered as names that do not refer to any reality. In sum it is a matter of antinominalist [refering to the christian sect that hods that faith alone is necessary to salvation] critique. And in such a context (which associates a theological question with it linguistic and aesthetic consequences), the word hukm is likened to other words that have to do with divine order (amr) or with the responsiblity its application implies (Taklif). But here we see that Mawdudi is the only one to associate hukm with sovereignty: `Sovereignty belong to none but Allah.` By this interpretative move, Mawdudi, by attributing sovereignty to God, makes the entire political field change into the divine. Starting from this scriptural justification, he wages was against all political systems." (p.102)

... Democracy, secularization, the nation-state, all the contriubtions of the modern West turn out to be absolutely illegitimate. Such is the program. Should we add that Mawdudi insisted that this revolution take place through peaceful means, through persuations, through respectful dialogue with the believers of the two other revealed religions? The point is superflous when we measure the violence with which those who claim to follow this ideology act." (p.103-4)

If Mawdudi reproaches the West with the death of God, we can accuse him of having inaugurated the death of humanity. His outrageous system invents an unreal totalitarianism, which excites disciples and incites them to spread death and destruction over all continents. That is the kind of negation of life, the nihilism to which theorectical reasoning leads when it is not subject to the control of practical reasoning. And the judgment I pass on such a work is in the same vein as the ciriticism made of Mawdudi (eight yeras after his death) by his closet disciple, Mariam Jameelah, an American Jew he had converted." (p.104)

Qutb and God's Sovereignty

Starting with hukm, Syyid Qutb, the Egyptian disciple of Mawdudi, forged a neologism constructed on the morphology [study of the form and structure of living organisms] of abstract ideas, so that the word is consonant with the dignity of the concept: Hakamiyya, `sovereignty,` becomes one of the divine attributes." (p.103)

This part appies to both Mawdudi and Qutb:
"Can one find the truth of the world and be confronted with the heterogeneity and diversity that color its rough relief when one limits a religion to such an exclusive and self-sufficient way of life? Can one still keep the givers of emotion and feeling alive so that one can love and respond to the beauties handed down by the many peoples of Islam through the variety of their historic contribution? How can one benefit from the past and the present if one come to the conclusion that the only Islam that conforms to the sovereignty of God is that of Medina the first four caliphs? In this insane, absolute theocentrism, never before in the tradition of Islam so radically developed, the world is transformed into a cemetery." (p.104)

.... This radical and terrifying vision establishes a tabula rasa and transforms the world into a postnuclear place in which we find desolate landscapes wherever we look, on pages blackened by Sayyid Qutb. Everything is at fault in the history of humanity as well as in its present; all thought, all representation is also insufficient that it merits annihiliation. Everything must disappear, except the world of God as it is reported in his Qur'an. Through the word incarnate as a book, the word will know `the liberation of man,` and even more `his true birth.` After having submitted himself to the subjugation that the sovereignty of God requires, after having placed himself in the service of His Lordship, man will be freed from all the other servitudes of the century, that of the machine as well as whatever man seeks to excercise over man. This is the summary of the conclusion of one of the books by Sayyid Qutb, whose work is read by thousands of fascinated people, dreaming of that promised liberation that would transform man into one of the living dead, on a scorched land." (p.105)

Conspiracy Theories

" ... we propose to ourselves the theoretical and abstract foreigner as a scapegoat we overload with falsehoods. Almost unanimously, Egyptian opinion was that the Luxor attack (November 1997) was the result of a conspiracy hatched by the U.S. CIA and its Mossad hirelings. In vain I explained to my interlocutors that beyond the obvious fundamentalist inplication, such a massacre of innocent tourists could be perceived as the implementation of the discourse spread in the name of official Islam by the organs controlled by the state." (p.114) COMMENT: wha????

Hatred of U.S.

Meddeb talks about his guests in Abu Dhabi telling thm not to buy a certain type fo belt because the zionists had infested it with a disease carrying flea "that propagated an incurable disease: one more Zionist tick to weaken Arab bodies ... Those are the fantasies in which the symptons of the sickness of Islam can be seen, the receptive compost in which the crime fo September 11 could be welcomed joyfully. Didn't the press report that, in a Cairo bus, when the radio revealed the first estimates fo the number of vicimts pulverized in New York, the passengers had spontaneou8sly appaluaded and congratulated each other as if they had just received the the happiest news?" (p.115) (no source for the radio report.)

Shahads and Jihad and the guarantee of paradise - What's the origin?

"Fakhr ad-Din Razi (1149-1209), taking up the exegetic tradition, recalls first that this verse concerns the martyrs (he uses the word shuhada`) of the two battles led during the time of the Prophet against the Qoraishites, the battles of Badr (March 624) and of Uhud (November 625). He then says that the prepositional phrase `next to` (`inda) in the sentence, `they are living next to their Lord,` is the same one that places the angels in their divine proximity, which gives those who die as martyrs of the jihad the bliss of angels during the celestial stay in the divine dwelling. [source: Fakhr ad-Din Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 9:72-77. note: Q9:72-77 talks about the rewards of jannaat but doesn't have anything close to "living next to their lord". ]
That is the scriptural basis that legitimizes the holy war and clarifies the reward awaiting the martyr. This basis has been submitted to all sorts of manipulations to construct the mythology of martyrdom. It has been used over and over in our time, notably during the wars of national liberation against colonialism ..." (p.156)