Article written by 2008 DPDF Muslim Modernities fellow Dunya D. Cakir, featured in a special issue of The Muslim World titled Muslim Modernities: Interdisciplinary Insights Across Time and Space, edited by 2008 DPDF Muslim Modernities fellows Daren E. Ray and Joshua Gedacht, based on a culmination of their DPDF cohort work and DPDF Alumni Initiative workshop.
In the past two decades, scholars have shown increasing interest in unpacking the ideational content of Islamic revivalism. Amidst modern Islamist ideologues, Sayyid Qutb received special attention from regional experts, historians and most recently political theorists who have produced critical exegeses of his political thought. Most notably, some read Qutb’s writings through a comparative theoretic lens, juxtaposing his work to Western and Islamic traditions of political thought. By contrast, in this paper I outline the lived hermeneutics of Qutb’s thought among contemporary Islamist activist-intellectuals affiliated with Özgür-Der, an Islamist civil society organization that has been a principal agent of Islamic revivalism in Turkey since its establishment in 1999. To that end, I examine three instances of commemorating Qutb at public events organized by Özgür-Der in 2001, 2009 and 2013 in Istanbul. Through these events, one can trace the continuities and novelties in how Islamist activists read Qutb in light of changing historical circumstances.
The paper argues that the Arab Spring uprising provides a rough turning point in occasioning different interpretations of Qutb’s primary relevance to Islamist struggle in Turkey. What has been constant in Islamist readings of Qutb has been the emphasis upon the merging of faith and deed, working toward the rebuilding of a Qur’anic generation, the first followers of the Prophet. What changed in light of the Arab Spring have been the specific forms in which the integration of piety and praxis took shape. This analysis seeks to further our understanding of Qutb and Islamist politics in two ways: reading Qutb through the discursive practices of Qutbians helps recuperate the living and dynamic imprint of Qutb’s political thought and flesh out the ways in which his intellectual legacy implicates Islamic activism in specific localities. Secondly, a micro-analysis of the specific politics that are inspired by influential Islamist texts helps us refine the more formulaic descriptions of the political project of Islamism—such as rejecting secularism or submitting to sharī‘a. Attending to that lived and living hermeneutics is necessary for a more nuanced, contextualized understanding of contemporary Islamist thought and practice.