Sayyed Qutb سيد قطب is the ideological father of modern militant movements in the Arab and Islamic world.
His first name could be transliterated in English as Syed, Sayyid, Sayed.
Born in 1906, he was not a radical ideologue at first, but rather someone with a social reform agenda. He visited Colorado, USA on a government program in 1949, and wrote a book titled: The America I Have Seen. Upon his return to Egypt he joined the Muslim Brotherhood before the 1952 overthrow of the monarchy in a coup d'etat by the Free Officers.
His writing focused on social reform from an Islamic perspective, as well as a literary analysis of the Artistic Representation in the Quran. It is ironic to see that modern Salafis do not approve of this latest work.
Qutb was detained and sentenced for prison for 15 years in 1954, after an attempt to assissinate President Gamal Abdel Nasser was blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood. This was part of a general government sweep of that group. He, and many others, were severly tortured by their jailers. This torture led him to be radicalized.
He was freed in 1964 on health grounds, but jailed and sentenced to death in 1965 after protesting the detention of his brother Muhammad. He was executed in August 1966.
His radicalization shows in his two main works that were written during his ordeal in prison:
- Milestones (or Signposts on the Road: Ma'alim 'ala Al Tariq معالم على الطريق), which you can read here. Here is an article on Milestones that does not necessarily cast it in a militant view.
- In the Shades of the Quran (Fi Thilal Al Quran في ظلال الفرآن)
In Milestones, he likens the then current situation of Muslims to Jahiliyya (Age of Ignorance, commonly referring to the Pre-Islamic situation in Arabia). He advocates the use of all means to oppose the dictators. Those dictators, in the eyes of the imprisoned and tortured Qutb, could not be true Muslims after all the atrocities they have committed. Hence they must be opposed by force if necessary.
Like any ideological writings, Qutb's late works could be interpreted to mean many things. Some realized that he was writing this after being tortured and insulted severly, and he had to be angry. Some went further and decided to put those ideas into actions against the dictators.
At the very extreme, many militant or terrorist organizations have adopted Qutb's views, and extended the concept of attributing apostacy or infidelity it to the general populace in Muslim countries, hence the Takfir التكفير movement was born, with leaders like Shukri Mustafa شكري مصطفى, whose group kidnapped and killed Sheikh Al Dhahabi الشيخ الذهبي minister of endowments in the late 1960s.
Much later, and more important to our world today, militants like Ayman El Zawahri took that ideology against USA as a neo-colonial power that meddles in the Middle East affairs (e.g. support for Israel, indirect cause of Palestinian plight, stands between the people and the dictators, ...etc.)
- Wikipedia biography on Sayyed Qutb. Also, an Arabic version.
- Arabic biography at Islam Online.
- PWHCE Middle East History Project profile of Sayyed Qutb by Trevor Stanley.
- History of the Middle East Database: biography of Sayyed Qutb by Ted Thornton.
- ICNA Greatest Muslims of the 20th Century biography of Sayyed Qutb.
- Encyclopedia of the Orient biography of Sayyed Qutb.
- Paul Berman New York Times on Sayyed Qutb : Philosopher of Islamic Terror.
- Robert Irwin on Sayyed Qutb in the Guardian.
- Sayyed Qutb's America about his visit to Colorado, USA in 1949. From NPR.
- An overview from The Wahhabi Myth, quoting Wahhabi Scholars' opinion of Qutb's.