The Meaning of Liberation

In Qutb's view, the cornerstone of Islamic social justice is the complete liberation of the human soul from all that dominates its true nature. This liberation stems from the relationship that Islam sets up between humans and God (Shepard 1996: 41-56). God is the essence of religious experience, and in the confession of Islamic faith, the shahada, Muslims witness that there is no God but God. The name of God, Allah, simply means "The God." This statement in its brevity is at once an affirmation and a negation. It affirms the presence of God, who should occupy a central position in a human being's conscience, thought, and action. It negates the servitude of humans to anything other than God (Al-Faruqi 1992). This negation, Qutb argues, is the liberation of humans from all forms of submission and domination. Servitude to God alone frees the soul from being a slave to itself or to other human beings, from its desires and fears, and from external considerations and social pressures. Qutb asserts:

Islam, thus, seeks to rouse the greatest desires and the highest powers in human nature and through them to push for the clear and complete liberation of the soul, since without liberation it cannot resist the factors making for weakness, submis-siveness and servility and will not demand its share in social justice. Nor will it endure the burdens of justice when justice is given to it. (Shepard 1996: 56)

Qutb maintains the view that there should be no intermediary between God and humans in any form, neither priesthood nor sacred hierarchy. Qutb's theological arguments about the freedom of human spirit appear utopian, particularly in the face of abuse of religion by the powerful who use it as a tool to justify their oppression. Muslim religious scholars, the 'ulama', have exploited religion for their worldly interests and helped the exploitation of the poor by the wealthy and powerful throughout history and in modern Muslim countries. Though Qutb admitted that such exploitation occurred, he condemned the attitudes of scholars because "the true spirit of this religion rejects such behaviour." He added that there had also existed another type of religious scholar who encouraged the underprivileged to demand their rights and criticized the oppressive rulers and the persecutors for their injustices (Shepard 1996: 15). He asserted that the "spiritual" liberation does not stand on its own but must be a foundation for political, legal, and economic justice, because Islam "recognises both the practical side of life and the power of the soul" (p. 56). In other words, liberation must be both spiritual and material.

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