A Brief Sketch of the Life of Sayyid Qutb

We begin with the Name of Allaah


Sayyid Qutb, despite an early Islamic upbringing spent around 15 or so years influenced by Marxist Socialism. He was a member of the secular Hizb ul-Wafd party for 15 years during which time he was in great confusion, even doubting about about the existence of Allaah. He had also studied Western philosophy and European and American culture, and he himself admits to all of these details, as well as his friends who wrote biographies for him – as indicated by Shaykh Rabee’ bin Haadee. Refer to the book of Salaah al-Khaalidee “Min al-Meelaad ilaa al-Istish.haad” a biography of Qutb (p.213-245). Prior to his Islamist days, Qutb was a member of the liberal western-oriented Egyptian intellectual elite, who later worked for the Ministry of Education of Egypt.

He was sent by the Egyptian government to the United States to learn Western styles and methods of education. He spent approximately two years in America 1948-1950), and he spent college life in Washington DC (Wilson Teacher’s College), Colorado, and California, as well as remaining in Denver, Colorado, Greely and other places. He also joined some church clubs and attended their services frequently, as he notes himself in his account of his experiences in America, in “al-Islaam wa Mushkilaat al-Hadaarah”. During his visit to America he was repulsed somewhat by the degradation in the society, and this was amongst the factors that made him proceed upon an Islamist course upon his return to Egypt.

After spending some time in Europe for about a year, he returned to Egypt, and then began writing as a journalist, turning down promotion in the Ministry of Education. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood at a time when they were working with “the Free Officers” to plot an overthrow against King Farooq and his monarchy. The Free Officers were top army officials, and included colonel Jamaal Abd an-Nasser, and colonel Anwar Sadat (both were also friends of Hassan al-Bannaa who was assassinated in 1949). Anwar Sadat, in his own account, explained that Sayyid Qutb was the main theoretician behind the Free Officers revolution against the monarchy, and had the coup failed Qutb would have been killed. Nasser also attended some of Qutb’s lectures, and Qutb served as an ideologist, and there was consultation between Qutb and the Free Officers.

When Nasser took power in an overthrow during these years – with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, he proceeded along a national socialist line and within two years took full control of the state. The Brotherhood and Qutb had wanted to proceed along pan-Islamist lines (continuing in the tradition of Jamaal ad-Deen al-Afghaanee, Mohammad Abduh and Rasheed Ridaa). This saw the fallout in 1954 between the Free Officers (amongst them Jamaal Abd an-Nasser and Anwar Sadat) who had seized power from the monarchy, and the Brotherhood and Sayyid Qutb, because neither party was willing to share power with each other. Thus, the split occurred and Nasser being in power saw Qutb and the Brotherhood to be a threat. This saw the subsequent clamping down on the Brotherhood, and imprisonment of Qutb. Many attempts were made upon Nasser’s life during these turbulent years, and he too repressed and oppressed the Brotherhood, causing many of its members to flee to other lands in the 60s, often after failed assassination attempts on Nasser.

This was also the period in which the ideology of Sayyid Qutb emerged and developed, that of jaahiliyyah, takfeer and haakimiyyah, and calls for revolutions and rebellions. This was embodied in the book Milestones, which was written after Qutb was released from prison in 1964, after a decade of imprisonment. This led to his re-arrest and subsequent assassination by public hanging in 1966. Qutb borrowed his ideas from Leninist Marxism, and his terminology in his reformtive discourse was identical to that found in the Leninist discourse. Qutb was very well versed in the Marxist and Fascist criticisms of capitalism and democracy, and this influenced the formulation of his own ideologies.

Ladan and Roya Boroumand observe, “Like Mawdudi and various Western totalitarians, he [Qutb] identified his own society (in his case, contemporary Muslim polities) as among the enemies that a virtuous, ideologically self-conscious, vanguard minority would have to fight by any means necessary, including violent revolution, so that a new and perfectly just society might arise. His ideal society was a classless one where the “selfish individual” of liberal democracies would be banished and the “exploitation of man by man” would be abolished. God alone would govern it through the implementation of Islamic law (shari’a). This was Leninism in Islamist dress.” (“Terror, Islam, and Democracy”).

The ideology of Qutb was nothing unique in his time, with Martin Heidegger (German Philosopher), JP Sartre (French Philosopher), Franz Fanon (Algerian Revolutionary), Ali Shariati (Iranian Philosopher Activist) and the Dog, al-Khomeini, all sharing in the violent revolutionary resolve propounded by Qutb.

How Marx Turned [A Qutbi] Muslim

John Gray, writing for the Independent observes, “In A Fury for God, Malise Ruthven shows that Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian executed after imprisonment in 1966 and arguably the most influential ideologue of radical Islam, incorporated many elements derived from European ideology into his thinking. For example, the idea of a revolutionary vanguard of militant believers does not have an Islamic pedigree. It is “a concept imported from Europe, through a lineage that stretches back to the Jacobins, through the Bolsheviks and latter-day Marxist guerrillas such as the Baader-Meinhof gang”. In a brilliantly illuminating and arrestingly readable analysis, Ruthven demonstrates the close affinities between radical Islamist thought and the vanguard of modernist and postmodern thinking in the West. The inspiration for Qutb’s thought is not so much the Koran, but the current of western philosophy embodied in thinkers such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Heidegger. Qutb’s thought – the blueprint for all subsequent radical Islamist political theology – is as much a response to 20th-century Europe’s experience of “the death of God” as to anything in the Islamic tradition. Qutbism is in no way traditional. Like all fundamentalist ideology, it is unmistakeably modern. Political Islam emerged partly from an encounter with western thought, but also from revulsion against the regimes founded in Egypt and elsewhere in the aftermath of European colonialism.” (“How Marx Turned Muslim: Not ancient, but modern: Islamist militants have Western roots”, The Independent [a British daily], July 27, 2002)

Shaykh Al-Albaani – Confirming The Case That Qutbism is Derived From Leninist-Marxism and Other 19-20th Century Philosophies of the Disbelievers That Gave Rise to Socialist-Revolutionary Movements

Shaykh al-Albaani was asked, “What is called in the current times as a military overthrow (coup) against the ruler, is this from the religion or is it an innovation?” The Shaykh replied, “These actions have no basis in Islaam, and it is in opposition to the Islamic manhaj in laying down the foundations of the da’wah, and bringing about a righteous land for it. For this is one of the innovations of the disbelievers by which some of the Muslims have been affected by, and this is what I mentioned in commenting and explaining al-Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah” (al-Asaalah vol. 10, 1414H).


Part 1 : Alexis Carrel: French Medical Doctor, Christian Social Philosopher

In his PhD Thesis, “Man, Society, And Knowledge In The Islamist Discourse Of Sayyid Qutb” by Ahmed Bouzid (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, April 1998), Bouzid states the following:


A sustained target of his criticism in this “modern jaahiliyyah”, and, in Qutb’s eyes, one of its most articulate and intelligent spokesperson, is the French scientist and philosopher, Alexis Carrel (1873-1944) (p.70-71)


To make the same point, Qutb often quotes, and at great length, the French scientist Alexis Carrel. (p.219)

Added to and reinforcing the concept of Jaahiliyyah (rooted in Carrel’s barbarism) would be Mawdudi’s concepts of “jaahiliyyah” and “hukoomut ilaahiyyah” (divine government). This would direct Qutb towards his own understanding of “haakimiyyah”. Again all of this being in the absence of any knowledge or understanding of the Book and the Sunnah. This would also unleash a more aggressive ideology of takfeer, centred this time, around notions of government (in addition to notions of social barbarism). The ideology of takfeer based around haakimiyyah grew out of the historical separation, disagreement and mutual opposition between Qutb and Nasser (Qutb’s former friend and partner in the military coup in 1954). Nasser became the great despot indirectly hinted at in Qutb’s writings, and Qutb’s ideology of Haakimiyyah, essentially grew around Nasserite Egypt, then extended to other Muslim societies.


For example, the author Qutb quotes most extensively is the French Alexis Carrel, with whose ideas and observations Qutb seems to have been greatly impressed. (p.240)


[Youssef] Choueiri also explicates one of those seemingly minor points that actually is very revealing (pp. 142-49). This is the extent to which Sayyid Qutb was influenced by Alexis Carrel (1873-1944). Carrel, a medical doctor, received the Nobel Prize in 1912, but his importance here was his later book, Man, the Unknown(a best-seller in the 1930s and 1940s) and his easily fitting as an official in the government of Vichy France. Carrel put himself forward as a social philosopher (if not, indeed, a prophet) deploring the presumed dehumanizing impact of modern Western materialism (especially capitalism). A social Darwinist elitist, he went all the way into advocating eugenics and euthanasia to breed the best and weed out the unfit. Qutb, Choueri argues, adapted Carrel’s ideas (not, in fairness, eugenics and euthanasia) to come up with “a Third World version of fascism.” Choueiri shrewdly suggests that what Carrel called modern Western “barbarism” could be transposed into Qutb’s jahiliyya. An excellent insight, which also demonstrates that even Islamists most intent on rejecting the “other” in favor of a postulated cultural authenticity often rely on theories and ideologies advanced by outsiders.

Ibrahim Abu Rabi’ (a professor of Islamic Studies at Hartford Seminary – not that this makes him upon the Salafee aqeedah or Manhaj, but the Qutbiyyah might mind the quotation of non-Muslim authors, hence quoting a Muslim author to support the points being made), also said, in an interview that took place with Religioscope on 8th November 2001, when asked, “Qutb was also an avid reader as you observed. It seems however that you think the influence of other authors was not as strong as a number of scholars claim. You consider that the main influences upon him were his reading of the Quran and the historic situation in Egypt”, replied:


Yes. After the 1940s. But before that he had been influenced by a great number of authors. Even after the 1940s, this French medical doctor, Alexis Carrel, influenced him.

Comments: The roots of Qutb’s concept of “Jaahiliyyah” lies in the influence of Carrel’s parallel concept of “barbarism”. Alexis Carrel was a Christian and a social philosopher who wrote on the subject of the decline in the socials and morals of Christian society and offered solutions to the prevailing trends he saw. Qutb concurred with many of Carrel’s ideas, observations and reflections. This heavy exposure to Carrel, pre-1940s, would set the stage for Qutb’s later ideological development, when he would visit the United States for a Masters degree in education, as then Minister of Education for the Egyptian government, where he would witness for himself the nature of American permissive society. This pushed him in the direction of developing his theme of “Jaahiliyyah”. The influence of the revolutionary philosophy of Mawdudi would also play a role in the evolution of Qutb’s manhaj, as we shall see later (inshaa’allaah). However, the point to note here is that the origins of Qutb’s later doctrines lie in his earlier pre-Islamist days, before the late 1940s. The origins of his doctrines DO NOT lie in an authentic understanding of the Book and the Sunnah, since Qutb’s pre-Islamist days were secularist in nature. Rather, the literary influences upon Sayyid Qutb, combined with his experiences, are the primary origins of his doctrines, rendering him to be amongst Ahl ul-Kalaam and Ahl ur-Ra’i.

Qutb’s analysis of the Muslim world drew out of the influence of Carrel’s analysis of Western society, and this determined the nature of the ideology of Sayyid Qutb, later in his life. The themes of barbarism (i.e. Jaahiliyyah) are touched upon often by Carrel. Some references are included below:


Alexis Carrel, “We are unhappy. We degenerate morally and mentally. The groups and the nations in which industrial civilisation has attained its highest development are precisely those which are becoming weaker, and whose return to barbarism is the most rapid.” (Man, the Unknown, p. 27 and 28)


Alexis Carrel, “It is to these vices that the great nations partly owe their decline. In the years before the war they were the greatest consumers of alcoholic drink in the world. Alcoholism, nicotine poisoning, sexual excesses, the drug habit, mental dissipation and low morals all constitute extremely dangerous breaches of the law of self-preservation. These vices weaken the individual and mark him with a special stamp. The young Frenchman of the defeat: rude, slovenly, unshaven, slouching about with his hands in his pockets and a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, was all too representative of the anemic barbarism on which the France of those years prided herself.” (Reflections On Life, p.103)


Alexis Carrel, “Civilization is first and foremost a discipline; a discipline which is physiological, moral and scientific. Barbarism, on the contrary, is essentially undisciplined. But whereas primitive barbarism was subject to the harsh authority of nature, our anemic modern barbarism is completely unrestrained.” (Reflections On Life, p.195)

Qutb has many statements that are similar in nature, and his reaction to Western influence in the Muslim lands takes a similar course.


Sayyid Qutb, “Today we are in Jaahiliyyah, like that which was prevalent at the dawn of Islaam, in fact more oppressive (i.e. severe). Everything around us is Jaahiliyyah…” (Milestones p.210)

Being ignorant, and speaking about Islam from his opinion and intellect, and being influenced by his own experiences, he continued down the line of ignorance and excess, by making takfeer of all contemporary Muslim societies, based upon this “barbarism”:


Sayyid Qutb, “Entering into the realm of the Society of Ignorance (al-Mujtama’ al-Jaahiliyy) are all those societies which claim that they are Muslim societies… ” (Milestones p.103)


Sayyid Qutb, “The position of Islaam towards all these societies of Jaahiliyyah can be defined in a single expression: It rejects any acknowledgement of the Islaam of all of these societies.” (Milestones p.103).



Stated Sayyid Qutb, “Indeed this Jaahili Society that we live in is not a Muslim Society” (Dhilaal 4/2009)


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