Document Type : Research Article


Assistant professor of Philosophy, Bogazici University


In the first half of this paper I examine the importance of peace as an ideal in the liberal tradition. I begin by tracing the evolution of this ideal through the works of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant, showing how the idea that relations between human beings should not be based upon force lies at the heart of the liberal tradition. Amongst some contemporary liberals, however, especially those influenced by John Rawls, there is a suggestion that liberal peace is only possible between individuals who are willing to make a radical separation between the religious and political domains, assigning religion exclusively to the private domain. In the second half of this paper I question this claim and argue that liberal peace does not necessarily involve the privatization of religion. I believe that such question are better discussed in concrete rather than abstract terms and I so focus on a particular thinker who is clearly against the privatization of religion: Sayyid Qutb. On the surface it might seem that long term peace between secularist liberals and a thinker like Qutb would be impossible, because he seems to be an implacable enemy of liberal democracy. His most radical and influential work, Milestones, was, in part, written as a polemic against those Muslims who believed that the Koran only sanctions defensive Jihad and not offensive Jihad. Qutb argues that Islam offers a universal message and at the heart of this universal faith is a hatred of tyranny. Therefore, Muslims must not just struggle to defend Islamic lands from attack but must fight against tyranny wherever it occurs. And Qutb identifies tyranny with any society where human beings have usurped the God’s sovereignty. Now, in so far as western liberal societies are based on the idea of popular sovereignty and self-determination this might seem to suggest that Qutb is arguing for the legitimacy of Muslims waging violent jihad against western liberal democracies, and this is how he is often read, both by many western liberals and by contemporary Islamic jihadists. I argue, however, that this is a hasty conclusion to draw, for it is clear that Qutb’s primary target was oppressive authoritarian regimes in the Arab world and his views towards western liberal democratic society were far more ambiguous. Firstly, it is not clear that the liberal tradition is really based upon the idea of human sovereignty in the way Qutb rejects it, for this tradition is seeped in the natural law tradition, and there is a strong agreement amongst liberals that a legitimate society is one ruled by law and not the arbitrary will of human beings. Secondly, although Qutb is opposed to the idea of popular sovereignty, he himself seems to offer an analogue of the social contract, for he believes that although all law ultimately comes from God, Islamic law cannot be imposed by force and so that before one can have a society governed by divine law there needs to be an Islamic community, and which can only come into existence through the free submission of its members to the law. Finally, Qutb’s views on hermeneutics also suggest a far more liberal position that is usually attributed to him.


  1. Books & Articles:

    1. Aquinas, Thomas (2002). Political Writings, Cambridge University Press.
    2. Gerges, Fawaz (2007). Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy, Oregon: Harvest Books
    3. Gerges, Fawaz (2007). Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy, Philadelphia: Harvest Books.
    4. Husain, Ed (2007). The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left, London: Penguin Books.
    5. Knut (2005). Vikǿr Between God and the Sultan: A History of Islamic Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    6. Mitchell, Richard P. (1993). The Society of Muslim Brothers, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    7. Qutb, Sayyid (1964). Milestones, Egypt: Kazi Publications.
    8. Qutb, Sayyid (1980). Social Justice in Islam, John B. Hardie, New York: New York Octagon books.
    9. Qutb, Sayyid (2006). Basic Principles of the Islamic Worldview, New Jersey: Islamic Publications International.
    10. Shepard, William (1992). “The Development of the Thought of Sayyid Qutb as Reflected in Earlier and Later editions of Social Justice in Islam”, Die Welt des Islams, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp.196-236.