Sayyid Qutb

William Shepard

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online February 2010 | | DOI:
Sayyid Qutb

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Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966) (sometimes spelled Sayed and Qutub or Kotb) was one of the leading Islamist ideologues of the 20th century. For the first half of his adult life he was part of the secular literary movement in Egypt as a poet, literary critic, and social critic. He also worked in the Ministry of Education. In 1948 he adopted an Islamist position, reflected especially in his book Social Justice in Islam (Qutb 1949, cited under Early Islamist Period [1948–1954]). Two years spent studying in the United States (1948–1950) confirmed and strengthened his view of America as technologically great but morally bankrupt. Some time after his return Qutb joined the Muslim Brothers, the leading Islamist movement in Egypt, and became one of its spokespeople. In 1954 he was imprisoned along with other members of the Muslim Brothers and remained in prison for ten years. Qutb was allowed to write, however, and his writings from prison became increasingly radical and even revolutionary, claiming that all so-called Muslim societies were anti-Islamic (jahili). It is generally held that the harsh treatment he and others suffered in prison was a major factor in this development. Qutb was released in 1964 but rearrested the following year and accused of conspiring against the government. He was convicted and executed in 1966, becoming a martyr in the eyes of many. Probably his most important and long-lasting work is his multivolume Qurʿan commentary, begun in 1952, In the Shade of the Qurʿan (Qutb 1952–1959, cited under Radical Islamist Period [c. 1957–1966]), parts of which reflect his radical views. His most influential radical work, published in 1964, was Milestones—sometimes translated as Signposts (Qutb 1964, cited under Radical Islamist Period [c. 1957–1966]). His later works have been widely read and have helped inspire several violent radical groups in Egypt and elsewhere, including al-Qaeda and other “jihadis,” though whether al-Qaeda’s sort of violence was his intent is a matter of debate. Many of the details of Qutb’s life and writing, such as when he joined the Muslim Brothers, are uncertain and also subject to debate.

Article.  4158 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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