Ma'alim fi al-Tariq, also Ma'alim fi'l-tareeq, (Arabic: معالم في الطريق) or Milestones, first published in 1964, is a short (12 chapters, 160 pages) book by EgyptianIslamist author Sayyid Qutb in which he lays out a plan and makes a call to action to re-create the Muslim world on strictly Quranic grounds, casting off what Qutb calls Jahiliyyah.
Ma'alim fi al-Tariq has been called "one of the most influential works in Arabic of the last half century". It is probably Qutb's most famous and influential work and one of the most influential Islamist tracts written. It has also become a manifesto for the ideology of "Qutbism". Commentators have both praised Milestones as a ground-breaking, inspirational work by a hero and a martyr, and reviled it as a prime example of unreasoning entitlement, self-pity, paranoia, and hatred that has been a major influence on Islamist terrorism.
English translations of the book are usually entitled simply "Milestones", the book is also sometimes referred to as "Signposts". The title Ma'alim fi al-Tariq translates into English as "Milestones Along the Way", "Signposts on the Road", or different combinations thereof.
Ma'alim fi al-Tariq marked the culmination of Qutb's evolution from modernist author and critic, to Islamist activist and writer, and finally to Islamist revolutionary and theoretician. It was written in prison, where Qutb spent 10 years under charges of political conspiracy against Egypt's Nasser regime, and first published in 1964. Four of its thirteen chapters were originally written for Qutb's voluminous Quranic commentary, Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (In the shades of the Qur'an).
Less than a year after its publication, Qutb was again arrested and brought to trial in Egypt under charges of conspiring against the state. Excerpts from the book were used to incriminate Qutb and he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging in 1966. His death elevated his status to Shaheed or martyr in the eyes of many Muslims. Milestones became a bestseller and widely distributed across the Arab speaking world. To date, close to 2,000 editions of the work are said to have been published.
In his book, Qutb seeks to set out "milestones" or guiding markers along a road that will lead to the revival of Islam from its current "extinction."
According to Qutb, the Muslim community has been "extinct for a few centuries" and reverted to Jahiliyyah ("The state of ignorance of the guidance from God") because those who call themselves Muslims have failed to follow "the laws of God" or Sharia (also shariah, Shari'a, or Shari'ah), traditional Islamic law. Following the sharia is not just important but a defining attribute of Muslims, more necessary than belief itself, because "according to the Shari'ah, 'to obey' is 'to worship'." This means Muslims must not only refrain from worshipping anything other than God, they must not obey anything other than God: "anyone who serves someone other than God"—be that someone (or something) a priest, president, a parliament, or a legal statute of a secular state— is "outside God's religion", although he may "claim to profess this religion".
Qutb sees sharia as much more than a code of religious or public laws. It is a "complete" way of life based on "submission to God alone," crowding out anything non-Islamic. Its rules range from "belief" to "administration and justice" to "principles of art and science." Being God's law, sharia is "as accurate and true as any of the laws known as the 'laws of nature,'" such as gravity or electricity, and part of the universal law "which governs the entire universe".
The modern Muslim world has errored by approaching the Qur'an for the sake of "discussion, learning and information" or "to solve some scientific or legal problem." In fact it should be approached as a source of "instruction for obedience and action" to remove man from the servitude of other men and to the servitude of God.
When of God's law is established on earth, it will lead to blessings falling on all mankind. Sharia is "the only guarantee" against "any kind of discord" in life. and will "automatically" bring "peace and cooperation" among individuals. Knowledge of the "secrets of nature, its hidden forces and the treasures concealed in the expanses of the universe," will be revealed "in an easy manner." The "harmony between human life and the universe" of sharia law will approach the perfection of heaven itself.
Just as sharia is—in Qutb's view—all encompassing and all wonderful, whatever is non-Muslim (or Jahiliyyah) is "evil and corrupt," and its existence anywhere intolerable to true Muslims. "Islam cannot accept or agree to a situation which is half-Islam and half-Jahiliyyah ... The mixing and co-existence of the truth and falsehood is impossible." "We will not change our own values and concepts either more or less to make a bargain with this jahili society. Never!" In preaching and promoting Islam, for example, it is very important not to demean Islam by "searching for resemblances" between Islam and the "filth" and "the rubbish heap of the West."
According to Qutb, to ignore this fact and attempt to introduce elements of socialism or nationalism into Islam or the Muslim community (as Egypt's Arab Socialist Union government was doing at the time), is against Islam. Qutb stresses that in the early days of Islam, Muhammad did not make appeals to ethnic or class loyalty. Though these crowd-pleasing appeals would have undoubtedly shortened the thirteen years of hardship Muhammad had to endure while calling unresponsive Arabs to Islam, "God did not lead His Prophet on this course. ... This was not the way," and so must not be the way now.
To restore Islam on earth and free Muslims from "jahili society, jahili concepts, jahili traditions and jahili leadership," Qutb preaches that a vanguard (tali'a) be formed modeling itself after the original Muslims, the companions (Sahaba) of Muhammad. Qutb believes these Muslims successfully vanquished Jahiliyyah principally in two ways:
Following these principles the vanguard will fight Jahiliyyah with a twofold approach: preaching, and "the movement" (jama'at). Preaching will persuade people to become true Muslims, while the movement will abolish "the organizations and authorities of the Jahili system" by "physical power and Jihaad". Foremost amongst these organizations and people to be removed is the "political power" which rests on a complex, "interrelated ideological, racial, class, social and economic support," but ultimately includes "the whole human environment." Force is necessary, Qutb explains, because it is naive to expect "those who have usurped the authority of God" to give up their power without a fight.
Remaining aloof from Jahiliyyah and its values and culture, but preaching and forcibly abolishing authority within it, the vanguard will travel the road, gradually growing from a cell of "three individuals" to ten, from ten to a hundred, until there are thousands, and blossom into a truly Islamic community. The community may start in the homeland of Islam but this is by no means "the ultimate objective of the Islamic movement of Jihad." Jihad must not merely be defensive, it must be offensive, and its objective must be to carry Islam "throughout the earth to the whole of mankind."
True Muslims should maintain a "sense of supremacy" and "superiority," on the road of renewal, but it is important that they also prepare themselves for a "life until death in poverty, difficulty, frustration, torment and sacrifice", and even to brace themselves for possibility of death by torture at the hands of Jahiliyyah's sadistic, arrogant, mischievous, criminal and degraded people. Qutb ends his book by an example of persecution against Muslims from the Quran's "surat Al-Burooj", enjoining modern-day Muslims to endure the same or worse tortures for the sake of carrying out God's will. After all, "this world is not a place of reward"; the believer's reward is in heaven.
Two of Qutb's major influences were the medieval Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiya, and contemporary Pakistani Islamist writer Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. Both used the historical term jahiliyya to describe contemporary events in the Muslim world.
Two other concepts popularized by Qutb in Milestones also came from Maududi:
Qutb's precept—that sharia law is essential to Islam. and that any self-described "Muslim" ruler who ignores it in favor of man-made laws is actually a non-Muslim who should be fought and overthrown—came from a fatwa of Ibn Taymiya.
although it differs from that ideology in being based on religion and not on race or ethnicity. Fascism having made some impact among anti-British Arab Muslims before, during, and after World War II. The influence of particular fascist thinkers (particularly French fascist Alexis Carrel) in Qutb's work is disputed. Though these claims can be dis-proven, Qutb believed in the Social Justice and redistributive economics of Islam and wished to see this equality prevail once again hence his adhering to the Islamic Society, also his dislike of the Jews was not about race as was the case with the Nazis, rather a feeling that they were indeed plotting from the minute of Islam's conception to destroy the Muslim Ummah and finally Qutb does state that neither democracy nor dictatorship work as he believes in a society freed from the authority of man whether it be through democratic or undemocratic processes .
The centrality of an Islamic 'vanguard' (Arabic: tali'a) in Qutb's political program also suggests influence from Leninist thinking.
Qutb's book was originally a bestseller and became more popular as the Islamic revival strengthened. Islamists have hailed him as "a matchless writer, ... one of the greatest thinkers of contemporary Islamic thought," and compared to Western political philosopher John Locke. Egyptian intellectual Tariq al-Bishri has compared the influence of Milestones to Vladimir Lenin's pamphlet What Is To Be Done?, where the founder of modern Communism outlined his theories of how Communism would be different from socialism. Author Gilles Kepel credits Milestones with "unmasking" the socialist and "nominally" Islamic "faces" of the Egyptian regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser Qutb lived under.
Outside the Islamist context, however, Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq has been criticized by Muslims for the takfir of "jahili" Muslims, and by non-Muslims for its accusations against same, particularly following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The claim that the entire world was jahiliyya meant that mainstream Muslims were not actually Muslims, which meant they were potentially guilty of apostasy, a capital crime in traditional sharia. Critics allege that Qutb's Milestones helped to open up a Pandora's box of takfir (declaring a Muslim to be an infidel) that has brought serious internal strife, in particular terrorism, to the Muslim world in recent decades.
Qutb repeatedly proclaims that "serving human lords" is intolerable and is a practice Islam "has come to annihilate." Christians and Jews are guilty of it since, according to Qutb, they give priests and rabbis "the authority to make laws" and "it is clear that obedience to laws and judgments is a sort of worship." Because of this, Qutb says, these religions are actually polytheist, not monotheist. According to at least one source, Qutb helped reverse the historical trend towards tolerance and equality for minority `people of the book` in the Muslim world.
Qutb asserted that "World Jewry" was and is engaged in conspiracies whose "purpose" is:
to eliminate all limitations, especially the limitations imposed by faith and religion, so that Jews may penetrate into body politics of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs. At the top of the list of these activities is usury, the aim of which is that all the wealth of mankind end up in the hands of Jewish financial institutions which run on interest.
He also alleged that the West had a centuries-long "enmity toward Islam" which led it to create a "well-thought-out scheme ... to demolish the structure of Muslim society." At the same time, "the Western world realizes that Western civilization is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind," and "the American people blush" with shame when confronted with the "immoralities" and "vulgarity" of their own country in comparison with the superiority of Islam's "logic, beauty, humanity and happiness".
Olivier Roy has described Qutb's attitude as one of "radical contempt and hatred" for the West, and complains that the propensity of Muslims like Qutb to blame problems on outside conspiracies "is currently paralyzing Muslim political thought. For to say that every failure is the devil's work is the same as asking God, or the devil himself (which is to say these days the Americans), to solve one's problems."
Other questions involve Qutb's ideas of sharia and freedom.
Qutb's ideology is premised upon sharia law and its application to every aspect of life. He does not explain or illustrate how any specific statutes are better or different from man-made law — evidence to support assertions in Ma'alim fi al-Tariq is limited to scriptural quotations — but does assure readers sharia is "without doubt ... perfect in the highest degree", and will free humanity from servitude to other men.
Some, such as scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl, have questioned Qutb's understanding of sharia, and his assumptions that sharia is not only perfect but accessible to mortals in its completeness. While Islamic scholars of sharia traditionally have two decade-long training from schools such as Al Azhar, all Qutb's formal post-secondary schooling was secular.
Qutb's assertion that the Qur'an should be approached as a source of "instruction for obedience and action" (following the fundamentalist prescription that "the Quran is our law,") comes under modernist criticism that of 6000 verses in the Quran only 245 concern legislation, and only 90 of those concern constitutional, civil, financial or economic matters. Qutb's general assertion that the sharia is all-encompassing — a "complete way of life" with rules on everything from "administration and justice" to "principles of art and science" — is challenged by the Modernist claim that sharia law (as revealed to man) is notably short on solutions to modern problems such as traffic control, price stability, or health care.
Qutb explains that sharia law needs no human authorities for citizens to obey and thus frees humanity from "servitude" because
This uniquely free socioeconomic system not only frees Muslims to be true Muslims, but explains why offensive jihad to "establish the sovereignty of God", i.e. true Islam, "throughout the world" would not constitute aggression towards non-Muslims but rather "a movement to wipe out tyranny" and to introduce "true freedom" to mankind, since even the most contented and patriotic non-Muslim living in a non-Muslim state is still obeying a human authority. These non-Muslims must be freed by Islamic jihad, just as the non-Muslims of Persia or Byzantium were freed by invading Muslim armies in the 7th Century AD.
The problem alleged here is that while true Muslims who believe in sharia law might in theory obey it without any state or police to enforce it, non-Muslims would have no such incentive, since by definition they do not consider Islamic law to be divine. However, if obedience were not voluntary, offensive jihad would lose its rationale as a movement to wipe out tyranny.
Qutb's political philosophy has been described as an attempt to instantiate a complex and multilayer eschatological vision, partly grounded in the counter-hegemonic re-articulation of the traditional ideal of academic jargon.