John Calvert specializes in the field of social protest and political opposition. He explains that Qutb set the theoretical foundation for radical Islamism in the Sunni Muslim community. Unlike any other Islamist thinker, Sayyid was able to exert considerable influence on the development of Islamism of his own time and of the subsequent generations. Unfortunately, many tend to sully his reputation. As a rule, not only the popular media frequently portrays Sayyid as a terrorist, it illustrates him as an Islamo-Fascist and endorser of murder; it tries to persuade everyone that his moral purpose resembles the objectives and intentions of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The reason for this slander could be the unclear comprehension of Qutb’s life and work. Amidst the initiators of twentieth-century Islamism, Sayyid Qutb is delineated as the wicked mastermind who gave rise to modern global jihad (CU College of Arts & Sciences, 2011).
As a youngster, Sayyid moved from rural Egypt to Cairo in order to become a part of the new municipal educated class (the effendiyya). Being full of enthusiasm, he found a job as a civil servant. Whenever he had free time, he wrote poetry and fiction, devoting some of the time to literary criticism. During that period, he joined the essentially irreligious nationalism, the primary focus of which concentrated on obtaining independence from Britain and opposition of Zionist colonization on the territory of Palestine. The nationalist parties disappointed Sayyid with their failings; that is why, by the late 1940s, he had turned into an Islamist of originality and authority. From 1940, Sayyid worked in the ministry of education, at first as supervisor of education and later as an inspector. In 1945, he was appointed to become the Directorate General of Culture.
After completing the manuscript, Qutb had went to America and stayed in the country for almost two years. The trip had a great impact on him. Although he was impressed by the nation’s material achievements, he experienced constant contempt to the materialism, ethnocentrism, and carnal promiscuity of what he viewed as a debased Western culture.
Sayyid was not an Islamo-Fascist or an endorser of indiscriminate violence. In fact, Qutb disapproved killing innocent people. He manifested militant tendencies prior to his visit to America. Once, Qutb excoriated almost every naked sunbather that attended the Egyptian beaches.
Sayyid, similar to other Islamic militants, turned to the Quran in order to find support for his jihadi views. He ordered to fight and kill the infidels everywhere. He asserted that kufr could not be trusted because they are ignorant infidels that lie against Allah. Qutb stated that Muslims are obliged to warn kufr to abstain from unbelief. If they refused, the believer had to battle them until there would not be any commotion or oppression, making justice and faith in Allah prevail everywhere. Deeming such Quranic texts as an explicit approval for jihad, Qutb asserted that taking the initiative into their hands in such matters corresponds to the true nature of Islam. He encouraged his co-religionists by ensuring them that Allah is their protector.
When Sayyid returned home, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, which was Egypt’s principal Islamist movement. Two years after that, nationalist army officers, under command of Gamal Abdel Nasser, seized power, overturning the British rule. Qutb, as well as the Brotherhood, acclaimed the coup and cooperated with its leaders. Despite this, in 1954, following a murder attempt against Sayyid, Abdel Nasser eliminated the Brotherhood and detained Qutb.
While in prison, he began to envision Islam and infidelity as mutually incompatible things. Imprisonment and excruciation transformed him into an ardent and embittered revolutionary. The book “Milestones,” written by Sayyid in prison, became an internationally puissant platform of the Islamic revolution. Abd al-Nasser’s regime sentenced Qutb to execution. He was hanged for treason, thus becoming a martyr.
CU College of Arts & Sciences. (2011, February 15). John Calvert “Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Cj_Qj3xMtY