Sayyid Qutb: The beacon of Islamic political thought

Sayyid Qutb was the author of the groundbreaking book of contemporary Islamic politics Milestones.

Sayyid Qutb: The beacon of Islamic political thought

Fatma Ozyagli

Humanity will see no tranquility or accord, nor can peace, progress or material and spiritual advances be made, without total recourse to God.  

                                                                                            Sayyid Qutb, 1959

Sayyid Qutb was born in October 8, 1906 and raised in a conservative family, receiving much of his Islamic education in the early years of his life. After his graduation, he worked in the Ministry of Education, but his conservative views were not favoured in the government. Soon afterwards he was sent to the United States to gain more perspective and study the education system of the west. Yet Qutb developed much of his radical views during his stay in America. He later published his famous book, The America I Have Seen, where he expressed western civilization as barbaric and materialistic, concluding that Americans were “numb to faith in art, faith in religion, and faith in spiritual values altogether.” Much of his views on the west were critical and antagonistic.

After his return to Egypt, Qutb resigned from the government and joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1951. He started as an editor of the Brotherhood’s weekly paper and soon after became the primary voice in the organization. Qutb was arrested along with many other members of Brotherhood after the alleged assassination attempt of Nasser in 1954. He was constantly tortured for the first three years in prison, through later years he was allowed more mobility and even wrote books, including his vastly famous book, Milestones. Qutb was released in 1964, and was re-arrested after only 8 months later in August 1965. He was again accused of plotting to overthrow the government. After the trial, he was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Nasser and executed in 1966 along with the other members of the organization.

Having never met Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, Qutb’s ideas were vastly different from the original ideologies of the Brotherhood. Banna strived for a peaceful and gradual change within the society that will eventually lead to a radical transformation in the government. Qutb however, believed in “against the external, for the sake of internal” which was an adaptation of Mawdudi’s The Moral Foundation of the Islamic Movement. A society should be changed from the outside to fight the battle within, and he stressed the idea of jihad to create the perfect society. Qutb was greatly influenced by Mawdudi’s work. He also emphasized that western influence was too great to overlook, thus a radical transformation was needed in order to cleanse the society from 'jahiliyyah', or ignorance. He has been criticized by many Muslim scholars on various grounds. Most scholars disagree with the notion of overthrowing a Muslim government and authorities by force. Qutb also failed to ally himself with any schools of Islamic law including Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali. He argued that none of the schools have a proper understanding of Sharia and a pure Islamic notion was ground in following the Quran directly.

Qutb’s emphasis was on the revival of Ummah (Muslim world). He regarded the West as being in the state of Jahiliyyah and argued that Muslims have already passed that phase, so why go back to it? Instead, believers should establish a united community to revive the purist stage of Islam, the time of the Prophet. The unity of the believers was the only notion that could save the future of the believers from falling into the hands of Western civilization, where there was an evident degeneration of spiritual and moral beliefs. He argued that in order to create the perfect Muslim society, jihad should be carried out in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries. In addition, whereas Nasser strived to bring the Arab nations together under the notion of Arabism, the Muslim Brotherhood and Qutb placed a great emphasis on religious unity. Qutb had understood that today’s world was already growing towards a global, multicultural community and thus making it impossible to sustain a national hierarchy. The notion of the Ummah, thus, already included the ideology of multicultural unity rather than the concept of ethnicity, making it the greatest threat to Nasser’s pan-Arab policy.

Last Mod: 11 Ocak 2014, 10:15
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