Sayyid Qutb, The Root Of Fundamental Islam

Adam Fitzgerald
5 min readSep 1, 2019

The seed of Islamic extremism grew exponentially from the many self authored works and teachings of Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was an Egyptian author, educator, Islamic theorist, poet, and a leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. His staunch views regarding traditional Islam in both the societal and political fields in the Arab and secular world is still felt even today. Even though most of his observations and criticism were leveled at the Muslim world, Qutb is also known for his intense disapproval of the society and culture of the United States.

Qutb traveled to the United States to further his education in Educational Administration. Over a two year period he worked in several different institutions including what was then Wilson Teachers’ College in Washington, D.C. and Colorado State College for Education in Greeley, as well as Stanford University. Qutb, eve thou he was “conservative” is his religion and politics, was still regarded by close associates as “Westernized” due to his love for Hollywood film and it’s classical music.

However when he returned back to his native Egypt, his entire view regarding the United States, changed dramatically for the worse. Qutb published “The America that I Have Seen”, where he became explicitly critical of things he had observed in the United States, eventually encapsulating the West more generally: its materialism, individual freedoms, economic system, racism, along with it’s brutal boxing matches. He critiqued the freedoms of the American women and how they dressed in such flashy dress. He also admonished their wastefulness in basic elements which included water, suggesting that the American citizen is entirely encapsulated with “materialism” from caring more about their lawns than the basic needs and decency towards people of color.

The Muslim Brotherhood, began taking notice of change in it’s government. In July 1952, Egypt’s pro-Western government was overthrown by the nationalist Free Officers Movement headed by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood welcomed the coup d’état against the monarchist government — which they saw as un-Islamic and subservient to British imperialism. However, Nasser had secretly set up an organization that would sufficiently oppose the Muslim Brotherhood once he came to power. Qutb was outraged by Nasser’s plans to implement a secular regime rather than an Islamic one. It was at this time Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood plotted to assassinate Nasser in 1954.

The attempt was foiled and Qutb was jailed soon afterwards. Qutb was tortured routinely by jail guards and the Egyptian police during his first three years there. This period saw the composition of his two most important works: a commentary of the Qur’an Fi Zilal al-Qur’an (In the Shade of the Qur’an), and a manifesto of political Islam called Ma’alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones). These works represent the final form of Qutb’s thought, encompassing his radically anti-secular and anti-Western claims based on his interpretations of the Qur’an, Islamic history, and the social and political problems of Egypt.

In 1964 Sayyid Qutb was let out of prison after numerous invocations to Nasser’s government which were pleaded by Iraqi Prime Minister, Abdul Salam Arif. However, after 8 months of freedom, Qutb was arrested and jailed again. He was accused of plotting to overthrow the state and subjected to a “phony trial”. The trial culminated in a death sentence for Qutb and six other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was sentenced to death for his part in the conspiracy to assassinate the President. Sayyid Qutb was once heard saying he was not afraid of death. Qutb was immediately regarded as a “shahid” or “martyr” (which means a Muslim who is killed defending his or her property is considered a martyr to Muslims worldwide) and his works began taking root in the Sunni populations. Years later, his ideas and teachings began planting seeds and began bearing treacherous fruit. One of those “trees” was Osama Bin Laden.

Much like Qutb was n his early formative years, Bin Laden was not necessarily “religious”. That changed when Bin Laden began taking courses for engineering King Fahd university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. His began reading Qutb’s books, as the young Bin Laden began searching for a close meaning to his life. Then came the exact moment he would begin his life long journey of becoming more in line with Qutb’s teachings…..the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which took place in 1979. Newfound vigor in his course for a purifying way of life thru the traditional teachings of Islam, or commonly known as Wahhabi Islam, Bin Laden met with one of Sayyid Qutb’s most loyal students Egyptian born Ayman al-Zawahiri who was also a medical student.

Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri then met with another religious firebrand, the man who would introduce to the world a new “jihad” which would not become a figurative meaning but rather a poignant and realistic way of life which showcased one to fight for the faith….that man was Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. Azzam would be noted as the founder of modern day Global Jihad, which meant that the secular world was constantly a threat to the Islamic world where in which Muslims must join as an “Ummah” or as one nation to war against its oppressors. Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri decided to take the offer years later to the United States soon after the defeat of the Soviet Union.

The attack of September 11th 2001 cannot be understood fully without an understanding of the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, who is widely acknowledged as the intellectual godfather for the various modern radical Islamic movements, including Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf and the Islamic State. Influential Muslims scholars worldwide had even acknowledged Qutb's writings as far back as to the time of his death which suggested that with his “martyrdom” a new wave of fundamental Islam would take hold and grow within the secular entities on a global scale.

These ideas and thoughts would have a reverberating ripple effect which can still be seen today with Sayyid Qutb’s influence having no inclinations of ceasing for so long as nations such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan and Iraq having the opportunities and nefarious ideas for spreading their doctrines which would force the world into an Orthodox way of life. And as long as the United States and Israel continue to have a detrimental influence in debasing the Arab populations in the embittered region which deploys military force against the Muslim civilian populations, the ideas of Sayyid Qutb will continue to be “problematic” and employed by the raving “nihilist’s” of groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

“Islam knows only two kinds of societies, the Islamic and the Jahili. The Islamic society is that which follows Islam in belief and ways of worship, in law and organization, in morals and manners. The Jahili society is that which does not follow Islam and in which neither the Islamic belief and concepts, nor Islamic values and standards, Islamic laws and regulations, or Islamic morals and manners are cared for. ” (Ch. 7, Islam is the Real Civilization, p. 106)

Ma’alim fi’l-Tariq (Signposts on the Road, or Milestones) (1964)



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.