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Sayyid Qutb: A Child From the Village

Sayyid Qutb: A Child From the Village

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Published by Pete Willows
This is an old review. It ran in the Sharm News (as in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, the resort on the Red Sea where the current version fo the Palestine-Israeli peace talks are underway). The translation is 2005. This ran in the October 21, 2010 print edition of the Egyptian Gazette.
This is an old review. It ran in the Sharm News (as in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, the resort on the Red Sea where the current version fo the Palestine-Israeli peace talks are underway). The translation is 2005. This ran in the October 21, 2010 print edition of the Egyptian Gazette.

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Published by: Pete Willows on Sep 19, 2010
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08/19/2013

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Sayyid Qutb.
 A Child From the Village
. American University in Cairo Press. 2005. Pp. 150. 70£E. Dar el Kutub No. 8652/05. ISBN 977 424 954 2. Translation by John Calvert and WilliamSheppard.Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) was hanged by the Egyptian government for his radical Islamicwritings, and influence as a theoretician in the Muslim Brotherhood. Followingthe assassinationattempt on president Gamal Abdel Nasser in October of 1954, several leaders of the MuslimBrotherhood were rounded-up. Nasser rent the organization illegal. Some were summarilyexecuted. Others, like Qutb, jailed.Qutb, after having been incarcerated for a decade, published his best known work,
, in 1964 (
Ma'alim fi'l Tariq
: an alternate translation is
Signposts
). His Islamistwritings still today inspire some of the more visible and nefarious leaders in militant Islamicmovements – putatively includingAyman ZawahiriandOsama bin Laden. Qutb did not start out an Islamic extremist. He was, until later in life, a man of letters, aneducator, poet and literary critic. He was a contemporary of Egyptian literary greats TahaHussein and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. As a functionary in the Ministry of Education,Qutb pursued graduate studies in the United States (1948-50). But emersion in Western culturedid little other than offend Qutb, and it was this unpleasant cross-cultural experience that permanently soured him on Western values and lifestyles. Qutb was shocked by the overt racismhe both saw and experienced. And the openness between genders was simply too much for him – a church-sponsored Sunday night sock hop, to which he was invited, involved short-skirtedsingle women dancing with bachelors to decadent jazz music.
 
2
 A Child From the Village
was written previous to Qutb’s studies in America – a fewyears before he turned his energies exclusively to Islamist ideology. But this book is no preambleto such. Instead, the reader finds gentle and often saccharine reflections of a boy’s village life inthe Asyut Province of Upper Egypt. The book is Qutb’s coming of age memoir. Qutb describes,in fluid prose, rural Egyptian life around the time of the 1919 revolution.He leaves behind, by way of enlightenment, an intense trepidation of the supernatural,which haunts the villagers to the point of blaming sickness and unexplained phenomena on thedeeds of disgruntled
 jinns
and ‘
arafit 
(demons or sprites). Stillborn children, sudden deaths,abrupt madness, impotence and the likes thereof, are all attributed to the mischievous andmalevolent little demons of the night.We learn of Qutb’s keen childhood interest in reading. Qutb describes the avuncular  bookseller who comes to the village once a year; and how the young Qutb spends all his pocketmoney on books normally unavailable in rural communities – books on numerology,enchantment, history, Sherlock Holmes, explorations of rhetoric in the Qur’an,
The OneThousand and One Nights
and medicine… books that at that time were only available to thevenerable scholars at the far-off al-Azhar in Cairo.The boy Qutb is acknowledged by the villagers as a nascent effendi (a well-educated, andrespected man who moves upward in society). And too, Qutb’s father spends money he doesn’thave, in order to provide education and amenities for his intellectually gifted son. Their congé atthe end is rather moving. Qutb leaves his village a proud young man, ready to pursue higher education in the far away and revered Cairo.

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