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The Thought of Sayyid Qutb - Luke Loboda

The Thought of Sayyid Qutb - Luke Loboda

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Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2004 Charles E. Parton Award 
1
T
HE
T
HOUGHT OF
S
AYYID
Q
UTB
 
Luke Loboda
INTRODUCTION
Sayyid Qutb: The Man, His Life, and  His Significance
Sayyid Qutb was born in 1906 in theprovince of Asyut, which is located insouthern Egypt. His parents were bothdeeply religious people who were well-known in the area. From his years as ayoung child until the age of 27, heexperienced a rigorous education. Qutb’sevident desire for knowledge continuedthroughout his life. He began his elementaryeducation in a religious school located in hishometown village. By the age of 10, he hadalready committed the entire text of theQur’an to memory.
1
After transferring to amore modern government-sponsored school,Qutb graduated primary school in 1918. Dueto his interests in education and teaching,Qutb enrolled into a teacher’s college andgraduated in 1928. Next, he was admittedinto Dar al-Ulum, a Western-style universitywhich was also attended by Hasan al-Banna,an Arab-Islamic leader who Qutb wouldlater join in the Muslim Brotherhood.
2
 After his graduation from Dar al-Ulum in 1933, Qutb began his teaching
 Luke Loboda, of Hudson, Ohio, is a 2004graduate of the Ashbrook Scholar program,having majored in Integrated Social Studies Education.
1
Berman, Paul. “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror”.
 New York Times
, March 23, 2003.
2
Husain, Mir Zahair.
Global Islamic Politics
(New York,2003), pg.74.
career and eventually became involved inEgypt’s Ministry of Education. The Ministrysent him abroad to the United States toresearch Western methods of teaching. Hespent a total of two years in the UnitedStates from 1948 to 1950. During that time,Qutb studied at Wilson’s Teachers’ Collegeon the east coast before moving west andearning a M.A. in education at theUniversity of Northern Colorado.
3
Qutb’sstrong conviction that Islam was superior toall other systems was made clear in his work 
Social Justice in Islam
, which was writtenprior to his trip. Nevertheless, many scholarsbelieve that it was during his trip to theUnited States that Qutb became convincedof the West’s spiritual and moralbankruptcy. In “The America I Have Seen”,a personal account of his experiences inUnited States, Qutb expresses his admirationfor the great economic and scientificachievements of America, yet he is deeplydismayed that such prosperity could exist ina society that remained “abysmally primitivein the world of the senses, feelings, andbehavior.”
4
 Qutb’s rejection of the West wouldlead him towards a more radical agenda inEgypt that affirmed his Islamic beliefs.Upon return to Egypt in 1950, he joined theMuslim Brotherhood. The cause of theMuslim Brotherhood, which was founded in1928 by Hasan al-Banna, had much incommon with Sayyid Qutb’s anti-West
3
Abdel-Malek, Kamal ed.
 America in an Arab Mirro
 (New York, 2000), pg.10.
4
Qutb, Sayyid. “The America I Have Seen”
 
(NewYork, 2000), pg.11.
 
The Thought of Sayyid Qutb
2
attitude. The Brotherhood was established inreaction to the Western dominance overEgypt at the time. Al-Banna and theBrotherhood believed that the solution to theWestern problem lay in a return to Islam.The Brotherhood posed a serious threat tothe secular Egyptian monarchy. As a result,the monarchy banned the organization andeventually assassinated al-Banna in 1949.Due to al-Banna’s death, Qutb becameeditor of the Brotherhood’s weekly paperand he soon emerged as the foremost voicefor their cause. At the same time, AbdulNasser’s nationalist movement was apopular alternative to the monarchy.Nasser’s opposition to the monarchy wasbased on pan-Arab nationalist grounds;however, the Brotherhood found an ally inNasser despite their different views on thesignificance of Islam. As a result, Qutbbegan to work as a liaison between theBrotherhood and Nasser’s Free OfficersMovement. With the help of the MuslimBrotherhood, Nasser successfully overthrewthe monarchy in 1952. Some Muslimsexpected Nasser to assign Qutb the job of reorganizing the education system, butNasser was quick to turn on his formerIslamic allies.
5
In 1954, Nasser arrestedQutb and other leaders of the Brotherhoodfor plotting against him.
6
 Qutb was released soon after his firstarrest, but was rearrested and spent 10 yearsin prison. It was during this time that Qutbcompleted
 In the Shade of the Qur’an
, hisextensive and comprehensive commentaryon Islam’s holy book.
7
Today,
 In the Shade
 is the most commonly read commentary onthe Qur’an.
8
Qutb’s deepest and most
5
Berman, Paul. “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror”.
 New York Times
, March 23, 2003.
6
Husain, Mir Zahair.
Global Islamic Politics
, pg.74.
7
Due to an incomplete translation process, this studyof Qutb is limited to using
 In the Shade’s
commentaryon Surahs 1-7.
8
Qutb, Sayyid.
Social Justice in Islam
(New York, 2000),pg.7.
profound writings are contained in thiswork. Although he had completed half of 
 Inthe Shade
prior to his imprisonment, hespent all 10 years adding and revising it witha more penetrating approach. The emotionof his writing reflects the physical torture heexperienced and the psychological torturethat resulted from the murder of fellowBrotherhood members. Meanwhile, the toneof 
 In the Shade
reflects his disappointmentthat a military government could mistreatthousands of members of the MuslimBrotherhood without fear of popularrecourse. After considering what had takenplace, Qutb concluded that the commonMuslim had adopted a Western conceptionof faith as abstract theory that is not alwaysrelevant to practical conduct.
9
He waseventually released in 1964, soon after thecirculation began of another book called
 Milestones
. Four sections of 
 Milestones
aretaken from
 In the Shade,
and the rest isdrawn from letters that Qutb sent fromprison. Although it was written for a select‘vanguard’ of Islamic activists,
 Milestones
isQutb’s most popular work. It outlinesQutb’s political philosophy, which is basedupon the concept that all earthly sovereigntybelongs to God alone. Because the book directly threatened the legitimacy of Nasser’s government, Qutb was rearrested inAugust 1965 and sentenced to death.
10
Afterhe was hanged in 1966, Qutb wasconsidered a martyr by many Muslimsbecause he died at the hands of the samegovernment whose legitimacy he denied.The symbolic nature of Qutb’s deathcaused an explosion of interest in his work.Students, aware of the government’scondemnation of Qutb, were known to havesecretly copied
 Milestones
by hand.
11
At thetime, Qutb’s ideas were assimilated into the
9
Qutb, Sayyid.
 In the Shade of the Qur’an
(The IslamicFoundation, 2003),vol.1,pg.xiii.
10
Husain, Mir Zahair.
Global Islamic Politics
, pg.74.
11
Qutb, Sayyid.
 Milestones
(Indianapolis, 1990), pp.i-iii.
 
Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2004 Charles E. Parton Award 
3
decisions of many Muslim leaders in Syria,Lebanon, Tunisia, and the Sudan who weresympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.
12
 Although Qutb was a Sunni Muslim, hismessage of a politicized Islam wasinfluential to Ayatollah Khomeini and theShiite revolution in Iran.
13
Qutb’s politicalmessage was so potent 30 years ago in partbecause he voiced a deep philosophicalcriticism of the two superpowers at thattime, the United States of America and theSoviet Union. The Soviet Union has sincedissolved, yet Qutb’s critique of Americaand Europe, which he collectively refers toas the “West”, remains extremely powerfultoday.Consequently, Sayyid Qutb remainsa significant and influential thinker in theMuslim world to this day. ProfessorMuhammad Qutb, Sayyid’s brother, was ateacher and mentor to the young Osama BinLaden, who has grown to lead the radicalIslamic terrorist movement. Today’s radicalIslamic groups, such as al-Qaeda andIslamic Jihad, have borrowed much from thethought of Qutb in justifying their vision forthe world and the violence they promote. Inhis introductory chapter to
 Milestones
, Qutbwrote with urgency and warned that“Mankind today is on the brink of aprecipice…because humanity is devoid of those vital values for its healthydevelopment and real progress”.
14
Thisfailure he attributed to the prevalent theoriesof both the East and West which the Muslimpeople had allowed to go unchallenged.Similarly, many of today’s Muslims resentthe power of the West and view it not onlyas a physical enemy, but also as aphilosophical and ideological one. They feelthat the West, the United States in particular,still controls their civilization; as a result,
12
 
Social Justice in Islam
, pg.11.
13
Kramer, Martin. “Fundamentalist Islam at Large”.
 Middle East Quarterly
, June, 1996.
14
 
 Milestones
, pg.5.
they yearn for what they view as liberationfrom the West and its values. These desiresare undeniable and manifest throughout theMiddle East.The recent terrorist attacks in theUnited States have called attention to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups which seek to destroy the West by any means necessary.The writings of Sayyid Qutb have providedMuslim leaders like Osama bin Laden andAyman al-Zawahiri with a foundation forthe philosophical defense of a staunch andintense dislike of the West and its ultimateconsequence, terrorism. The United Statesand other European powers are presentlycapable of militarily defeating belligerentIslamic regimes and groups. However,unless the West has a deeper understandingof the ideas which bring about support forterrorist activity, those ideas will continue toresonate within the hearts of certainMuslims and continue to perpetuateviolence. Unless the West can respond to thephilosophical arguments of men like SayyidQutb, its victory over groups like al-Qaedacan never be total and final. Therefore, thisthesis is written to be a fair and concisepresentation of the thought of Sayyid Qutbas it is relevant to today’s political world. Itis up to the people of the West and theirleaders to fire back the next philosophicalshot.

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