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Qutb, Sayyid

Source:
The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Qutb, Sayyid

    1906 – 1966

    Writer,

    critic, and

    activist

    Sayyid Qutb Ibrahim Husayn Shadhili was born in 1906 in the village of Musha in Egypt. At the time of his birth, the family was in economic decline. Owing to his father's reputation as an educated man and prominent nationalist, the family's prestige remained intact. Qutb was a sickly child, which may have influenced his tendency toward deep spirituality. He reportedly had memorized the entire Qur'an by age ten. After completing his primary education at a local religious school, he transferred to a government school and later attended a teacher's training college in Cairo, graduating in 1928 . In 1933 , Qutb received a degree in arts education from Dar al-Ulum University. He went to work at the Ministry of Education, where he served as an inspector and as a writer.

    In 1948 , while still working for the ministry, Qutb traveled to the United States to study Western methods of education. His two years in the United States marked a turning point in this thinking. He acknowledged the scientific and economic achievements of the country, but found American society to be racist, decadent, and pro-Israeli. Appalled by what he saw, Qutb rejected Western ideologies as spiritually bankrupt. On returning to Egypt, he abandoned his educational career to concentrate on religious writings. Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1953 and soon became the organization's leading thinker.

    Profoundly influenced by Islamic revivalist Sayyid Mawdudi , Qutb came to view Islam as a complete way of life. He believed that Islam provided timeless solutions to every human situation and saw no need to reinterpret the Qur'an to fit with modern realities. Instead, he urged Muslims to withdraw from mainstream society and establish a model ummah (community of believers) based on God's law. According to Qutb, this Islamic society would promote social justice and meet the material and spiritual needs of everyone. His writings, which have been translated into Persian, Urdu, Turkish, English, and other languages, show his uncompromising commitment to the sacred text.

    For a time, Qutb served as liaison between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Officers, who had overthrown the Egyptian monarchy in 1952 . In 1954 Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser (one of the Free Officers) turned against the brotherhood, which had criticized him for failing to rule in accordance with Islamic law. He had several of the organization's leaders, including Qutb, arrested. Despite his poor health, Qutb was brutally tortured and spent much of his 15-year sentence in the prison hospital. While in prison, Qutb set in motion his ideas for a secret disciplined group of devoted followers. Although his original purpose for the group was self-defense, he soon came to believe that using violence against the government was justifiable. He strongly opposed the secularism of Nasser and other leaders and believed that Muslims who accepted such rulers lived in un-Islamic ignorance. He wrote that the faithful had a duty to overthrow rulers who ignored God's law. After the assassination of a government official, reportedly by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Nasser had Qutb and two of his colleagues executed in 1966 . Since that time, Qutb has become a martyr to his supporters.

    One of the most influential Muslim thinkers of the 20th century, Sayyid Qutb is regarded by many as the founder of militant Islamic politics. His writings have inspired a host of movements, including the movement to overthrow the shah in 1979 (Iran), al-Jihad (Egypt), Hamas (West Bank and Gaza), Hizbullah (Lebanon), and the Taliban (Afghanistan). Many Muslims today still embrace Qutb's revolutionary call to create a pure Islamic order. Others find in his work justification for killing people who are considered enemies of Islam.

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