Who is Sayyid Qutb?


wiseGEEK Writing Contest

Sayyid Qutb is viewed as the Father of Modern Islamism, otherwise known as radical Islam. He is viewed as a martyr and often quoted by such prominent Islamist figures as Al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman Zawahiri, and Imam Samudra, the mastermind of the Bali bombings.

Born and educated in Egypt, Qutb was sent to the United States by the Egyptian Ministry of Education in 1948, at the age of 42, to obtain his masters degree in education. While attending Colorado State Teacher's College in Greeley, Colorado, Qutb quickly became offended by what he considered the irreligious, wanton behavior of Americans. In Milestones, Qutb's primary philosophical work, he expresses his disgust with American culture by presenting himself as having been a hero, valiantly existing within the enemy camp(138).

Offended by American culture, and angered by the American condemnation of the recently deceased leader of The Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, Qutb returned to Egypt and began to actively participate in the Islamist movement. As a member of The Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb took part in actions against the Egyptian, pan-Arabic government. For Qutb, the pan-Arabic movement was a Westernized abomination of what could be a truly Islamic government that embraced God's law. Qutb, along with a large number of other Brotherhood members, was arrested for the attempted assassination of the Egyptian leader, President Nasser. After being pardoned several years later, Qutb was later re-arrested for treason and executed August 29, 1966.

Qutb was distinctive from his Islamist ideologue predecessors because he promoted the idea that the Islamist war was not a matter of spiritualism, as in Christianity versus Islam. Rather, he believed that the Islamist war was philosophical. For Qutb, the philosophical war was between Islamic fundamentalism and Western Modernity.

Western Modernity, according to Qutb, is represented by the anti-religious notions of reason, individualism, and democratic political systems. Standing as Qutb's opposition to Western Modernity, is Islamism based on Shari'ah, or God's law as revealed in the Koran. Shari'ah is a fusion of religion and politics that embraces a strong, top-down leadership, collectivism, and fundamentalistic laws derived verbatim from the Koran. Qutb viewed Islamism as the only righteous socio-political system.

Another distinctive feature to Qutb's theories is his acceptance of modern technology. Instead of rejecting modern technology as his predecessors had, Qutb believed that modern technology should be usurped by Islamism, then used as a weapon in the battle against Western Modernity. He encouraged Islamists to become educated in the ways of Western science and technology, thereby using the West's knowledge against it.

By establishing a philosophical battleground between Islamism and the West, Qutb gave Islamism credence. This credence and a strong devotion to revolutionary fervor made Qutb, even in death, a hero to the modern Islamist movement.

submitted by Virginia Murr