Sayyid Qotb, Radical Muslim Brother

Sayyid Qotb, Radical Muslim Brother

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Sayyid Qotb (or Qutb) represents the radical fringe of Muslim Brotherhood of the 1950s-1960s. He has influenced most of the current Islamist movements through his writings, especially the most radical and violent. For Olivier Carré, however, Qotb is more complex and asserts itself as both a continuity and a break with the Salafist reformists. Because if Al-Banna is in part a disciple of Rida, Qotb frankly distances himself from it, by his desire for an Islamic state and a thought that does not hesitate to throw the takfir on "false" Muslims ...

Sayyid Qotb, a Muslim Brother who is radicalizing

Sayyid Qotb was born in 1906 (like Hassan al-Banna) in Middle Egypt near Aswan. He is trained as a teacher and is not a im alim (also like Al-Banna); nor is he a zealous believer, and his friends include writers such as Taha Hussein and Tawfiq al-Hakim. After joining a dissident branch of the Wafd party, between 1949 and 1951 he made a trip to the United States which was to be decisive for his thinking. The wonder in fact gives way to a violent rejection of all of American culture marked by consumerism, individualism, sexual diversity, etc. He says that is where his "conversion to Islam" dates from! On his return to Egypt, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he quickly became a member of the committee of the da’wa, without going through the traditional stages.

After the 1952 coup d'etat that the Brothers supported, the Free Officers proposed in 1953 to Qotb to chair their party, the Rally of the Liberation, a single party with a patriotic line. Qotb refuses and is swept away by the repression following the failed attack on Nasser in 1954; he is arrested and tortured. It was in prison between 1954 and 1966 that he wrote most of his work: an exegesis of the Koran, and above all "Landmarks on the way", which served as a pretext for his hanging in 1966, the text being judged as an incentive. to the murder of Nasser on which Qotb throws the takfir (anathema). But this work, regularly republished (and sometimes truncated or "adapted") is the "What to do" (according to Kepel) of the Islamists of today ...

A new jahiliyya

The term jahiliyya indicates in Islam, and in the Koran, the pre-Islamic period: an ignorance of the revealed Truth. It is therefore a pejorative and negative notion. Qotb takes it up again, taking inspiration from the Pakistani Mawdudi, and in this way rejects Christianity, capitalism, diversity, ... Any society that is not Islamic (in the service of God) is jahilite, and he makes a classification: communist, polytheist, Jewish and Christian societies and above all "supposedly Muslim" societies. Qotb catalogs these societies in a "new jahiliyya" and by incorporating Muslim societies into it he goes a long way. He designates these by the term taghut (tyranny), like any form of idolatry which by definition distracts from the service of God; above all, he throws the takfir on "false" Muslims and opens the door to generalized anathema, vector of fitna (discord), fear of Muslims!

Qotb has a literalist and fundamentalist view of the Qur'an, influenced by Abrahamism; he therefore rejects the comments of European orientalists, because they are Jews or Christians, but also those of reformists like Abduh and in particular rationalism. For him, we should not try to understand the Koranic message: it should move and educate. He also makes a distinction between the Medinan and Meccan Koran, with a very important place in the second, more spiritual, unlike many Muslims; it is a faithful reading of the Koran, contrary to theology and rationalization.

From "fight for God" to hakimiyya

His tafsir (commentary) is marked by the fight: there are two possible parties, that of God (Hizb Allah, which gave Hezbollah) and that of Satan. The combat has different levels: spiritual, moral, proselyte and military; the latter is minor jihad, defensive but capable of becoming offensive, sometimes used with great caution by the ulama and whose "concept" marked medieval Islam, and permeates current radical Islamism. But Qotb, contrary to tradition, believes that it is not only defensive jihad that must be individual (and therefore mandatory) but also offensive jihad! We must free the whole of humanity, non-Muslims, "lost" Muslims or "traitors"; the whole world must therefore fall under Islamic domination ...

Qotb points to specific enemies: the Jews, accused of having undermined the foundations of the West by Marx, Freud or Durkheim (sic!) But also by the existence of Israel; schismatic and hypocritical pseudo-Muslims. He wants to create a vanguard with a party of God (Hizb Allah) which is a single party (like Al-Banna).

The goal is the advent of hakimiyya, or sovereignty of God. The concept is also from Mawdudi and tends to a government where God is the only sovereign, and not the umma as in the Banna branch of the FM ...

Qotb's Thought: The Importance of Context and Legacy

It is obvious that Qotb's mind is marked by his imprisonment and the fact that he was tortured. His text is above all a charge against Nasserism, relayed even during his imprisonment by the Muslim Sister Zeinab al-Ghazali. He was briefly released from prison in 1964, but his words having been widely disseminated he was accused by the power of conspiring against Nasser, because of his appeal to takfir and returned to prison before being hanged in 1966. He became the second martyr of Islamism after Al-Banna.

His thought remains unfinished: he wants the reign of Sharia and God, but does not say how to get there. Olivier Carré speaks thus for Qotb of "Islamic utopia". However, his texts will have a considerable impact among Islamists, including Shiites since Hezbollah or Khomeini will not deny admiring him! But it will also be used to justify the recourse to violence (and therefore to terrorism) without ever having itself theorized precisely this recourse to violence ... As for the Muslim Brotherhood, they turned away from it for a time on Hudaybi's decision ( the Guide who succeeded Al-Banna) who, for his part, rejects violence and radicalism (the takfir especially) from Qotb.


- O. Carré, M. Seurat, The Muslim Brotherhood (1928-1982), L’Harmattan, 2005.

- O. Roy, The failure of political Islam, Esprit / Seuil, 1992.

- N. Picaudou, Islam between religion and ideology (Essay on Muslim modernity), Gallimard, 2010.

- G. Kepel, The Prophet and the Pharaoh, The Discovery, 1984.

- Olivier Carré, Mystical and political. Revolutionary reading of the Quran by Sayyid Qutb, radical Muslim brother, Éditions du Cerf, 1984.

Video: Sayyid Qutb: The America He Hated


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