26 December 2018

Sayyid Qutb:

the Spiritual Father of Radical Movements in Muslim World


Gholam Ahya Hoseini

Sayyid Qutb is the most influential figure within the contemporary fundamentalist movements. He is known as one of the prominent figures and theorists of Muslim Brotherhood movement who spread his ideologies and views among the Muslim youths through writing books such as the Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (commentary of the Quran) or Ma'alim fi al-Tariq.

By the help of a special writing style which enjoyed fluency and smoothness, Sayyid Qutb posits that all governments are illegal – Taghut- and so promotes his own point of views. Meanwhile, he outlines issues such as social justice in Islam, ignorance of people in today’s world, and dividing the whole world into Dar al Islam and Dar al Kufr,. 

Sayyid Qutb introduced Jihad and Islamic migration as solutions to these problems within the books that were written during the last years of his life. The principles that are now seen very highlighted in radical groups such as ISIL.

The works of Sayyid Qutb, has brought three important functions for the radical Islamist movements: first, they provided the intellectual justifications for the anti-western inclinations both from cultural and political standpoints. Second, they presented the proofs for establishing an Islamic state based on Sharia rulings. The third function of Sayyid Qutb's works was to organize the issues related to the legitimacy of overthrowing all governments around the world including Islamic states, through the application of jihad.

In fact, Sayyid Qutb has had the biggest impact on the violent doctrine developed in contemporary Muslim World. His works have spread significantly among the Egyptian Islamist groups. The most famous ones are Takfir va al hijrah, that were responsible for assassination of Egyptian Agriculture Minister in 1977.  Shukri Mustafa who led the Takfir group and was arrested in 1975, described Sayyed Qutb as an intellectual leader. The other group was called Islamic Jihad of Egypt that carried out the assassination of Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat in 1981. The third group is Jamaat-e-Islami that caused chaos during 1990s. Qutb is a prominent figure among the radical groups in Palestine who presents a real example of Islamic revolution. Hamas is the most famous Palestinian organization in terms of challenging the concept of ignorance- Jahiliyyah –.   Its spiritual father, Ahmad Yasin, was arrested in 1965 along with Sayyed Qutb.[1]

Sayyed Qutb's Biography

Sayyed Qutb was born in Asyut, Egypt in 1906 and graduated from Al-Azhar University. Hs is considered as one of the most influential figures in Islamic fundamentalism. It is important to note that, Sayyed Qutb has adopted four types of attitudes during the last four decades of his life. We will elaborate his special standpoints and different levels of his thoughts through the following part.

First Stage: Atheism (1925-1935)

This period of Sayyed Qutb’s life is coincident with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently, governmental structures of the countries under the Empire’s domination were changed. In addition, various social and political ideas that had arisen from social conditions of that era were emerged. Influenced by the atheist currents of the time, Qutb believed in the elimination of religion from different spheres of life.

Most of the Qutb’s works through this period is related to literature and art. According to one of his views expressed at time, the poets enjoy a higher level of spirituality than the divine messengers do, and it is better that religion not to be involved in people’s lives.

Second Stage: Challenging Religion (1935-1945)

Through this period, Sayyed Qutb tended to have a favorable attitude to the thoughts of Taha Hosein and Ahmad Amin. Adopting a critical approach towards religion, underscoring the preference of spirituality expressed throughout East over the materialistic inclinations of West, and highlighting Arab Nationalism are among the distinguished features of this time.

Third Stage: Observing the Moderate Islam (1945-1955)

Sayyed Qutb lived and studied in the United States from 1948 to 1951. We do not know much about these three years, but evidently, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and became editor of the Muslim Brotherhood newspaper after returning to Egypt. He authored several books during this period, some of which are Ma'rakat al-Islam wa'l-Ra's Maliyya (The Battle between Islam and Capitalism), Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Qur'an) and Al-Salam al-'Alami wa'l-Islam (World Peace and Islam).

Fourth Stage: Radical Islam (1955-1965)

Due to the disagreements between Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein- the president of Egypt at time- and the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb spent most of this time in prison (about 8 years). This period saw the composition of his works including a multi-volume commentary of the Holy Quran. In these writings, he emphasized the need for using force when necessary in order to overthrow the existing regimes. The massacre of the Muslim Brotherhood prisoners in 1965 reinforced his view that only a radical force would eliminate the old system and create an ideal society based on divine laws. During this period, we see a strong tendency to radical ideas within Qutb’s views that later on inspired many Islamic radical movements throughout the Muslim world.[2]

Some of his works in this time are as follows:

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

Hadha'l-Din (This Religion is Islam)

Khasais al-Tasawwur al-Islami wa Muqawamatuhu (The Characteristics and Values of Islamic Conduct)


Fundamentals of Qutb’s View

Ma'alim fi'l-Tariq encompasses the most important ideas of Sayyed Qutb with respect to Jihad. This influential manifesto has distinctive features some of which are the text cohesion, turning the ideologies into practices as well as providing legal references from Quran, Sunnah, and practical behavior of Prophet’s companions. With that said, the Arabs would be able to simply perceive and affected by the Jihadi ideologies of Qutb.[3]

Jahiliyyah (Ignorance)

Ibn Taymiyyah was the first one to use the term Jahiliyyah, who called his fellow Muslims at time the Jahils- ignorant. In addition, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab believed that Muslims today, even those who are living in Saudi Arabia, are in a Jahiliyyah status similar to that of Muslims in the first days of Islam. In early 20th century, the contemporary reformists Muḥammad 'Abduh and Rashid Reza,  compared their societies with the Age of Ignorance and pointed out that nowadays there is more corruption within some of Muslim nations in terms of religious and ethical standpoints. Nonetheless, Syed Abul A'la Maududi and his student Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadwi (1903-1979) ascribed the term Jahiliyyah to modern world for the first time. They identified western and communist countries as Jahil (which means to be deviated from the Islamic standards) but never did so with respect to the Muslim nations.[4] It was Qutb who divided the Muslim societies into the Islamic and Jahil one.[5] According to this view, all of today’s nations are included in the category of being Jahil and since all Muslim countries one way or another deviated from the accepted standards of Islam, therefore they all counted as Jahil – we have seen this view in the emergence of Khawarij movement in the first days of Islam. Clearly, this type of ideology is threatening.


Since all communities and countries are considered to be Jahil and there is no Islamic society available right now, therefore a third concept would arise:


We must form a community in order to be able to build the Islamic society. A congregation is composed of three believers, but normally, when a congregation is formed, the discussion of authority and ruler ship occurs.


Sovereignty over people belongs only to Allah (the same was stated by Khawarij)




Also Qutb took issue with the coexistence of religion and new civilization and since he believed that the governments do not conform to Shari’a of Islam, therefore they were regarded as being Dar al-Harb.( Territory of war).

Sayyed Qutb's Views and the Formation of ISIL

Qutb’s ideas inspired many groups throughout the Muslim world especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are demonstrating the possibility of applying the Prophet’s lifestyle in contemporary times. In addition, they assume that we must strive for building an Islamic society and fight with corrupt governments. This idea has given rise to many underground organizations, such as al-Jihad, al-Tahrir al-Islam, al-Takfir va al-Hijra, al-Qaeda, and also the al-Qaeda-based group that is called ISIL, which is menacing the Islamic world.

The official magazine of ISIL, known as the "Dabiq"[6], seeks to shape the future of the Islamic caliphate. Interestingly, the terms used in this journal are very similar to those used by Sayyed Qutb. Through this magazine, ISIL describes how Islamic caliphate would form its global strategy.[7] According to one of the articles published in Dabiq , Zarqawi's[8] plan as one of the main founders of the ISIL for the establishment of the caliphate includes five steps: migration, congregation(community) , destabilizing the tyrants, and founding the caliphate.[9] A plan that is very close to the literature used by Sayyed Qutb and his ideas.



[1] [1] - بخشی شیخ احمد، مهدی، سید قطب و اسلام‌گرایی معاصر، علوم سیاسی - دانشگاه باقرالعلوم (ع)، بهار 1385 شماره 33، ص 184.


[2] Ibid. 173.

[3] فاطمی نژاد، مجید، برداشت‌های القاعده از افکار جهادی سید قطب، سراج منیر، زمستان 1392، سال سوم، شماره 12، ص 31 تا 51.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See:

Sayed Khatab, Hakimiyyan and Johiliyyah in the thought of Sayyid Qutb, Middle East Studies, Vol.38, No.3, pp.145-170. (July 2002)

William Shepard, Sayyid Qutb's Doctrine of Jahiliyya, International Journal of Middle East Studies, No.35, pp.521-545



[6] Dabiq was an online magazine used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for Islamic radicalization and recruitment. It was first published in July 2014 in a number of different languages including English.

[7] Gambhir, Harleen K, "DABIQ: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State", ISW: Institute for the Study of War, august 15: 8, 2014. p 10.


[8] Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian jihadist who ran a paramilitary training camp in Afghanistan. He became known after going to Iraq and being responsible for a series of bombings, beheadings, and attacks during the Iraq War, reportedly "turning an insurgency against US troops" in Iraq "into a Shia-Sunni civil war". He was sometimes known as "Sheikh of the slaughterers".

[9] اشرف نظری، علی؛ السیمری، عبدالعظیم، بازخوانی هویت دولت اسلامی در عراق و شام (داعش): فهم زمینه‌های فکری و سیاسی اجتماعی، نشریه علوم سیاسی - دانشگاه باقرالعلوم (ع)، زمستان، 1393، شماره 68، ص 80.

26 December 2018

 The Meeting

"From Religion to Religions, Explaining the Concept of World Religion” was held by the Research Institute of Mashhad.

Introduction by Dr Morvarid; Former Director of Research Institute of Mashhad.  

Today it is our pleasure to host Dr. Bashir Sa'ada. He is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Sterling and an expert on Farabi’s Works. Today's talk is a comparison between two concepts of religion that are addressed by al-Farabi through his works and philosophical views of Islam, and the notion of religion in the West. The Interfaith Dialogue Group of Mashhad Research Institute has invited Dr. Sa'ada to express his scholarly opinions in this regard. In addition, questions and comments are welcomed at the end of the meeting.

Dr. Sa'ada:

In the Name of Allah.

 I am very glad to be invited to Iran and the holy city of Mashhad. I hope I can present my research findings within the specified time. I would also apologize to the attendees since probably most of you are educated and more knowledgeable than me.

The topic of my presentation is World Religion. First, I want to inform you about the lexical root and historical evolution of this concept. When this term has been created? What does necessitate discussing such issues? What functions we may assume for this talk in today's world?

The concept of World Religion was formed in Europe in 17th century. Before that, there were terms such as Islam, Christianity, and so on, but there was no such thing as the world of religion. Religion or Din derives from the Latin word "Religio", a person who observes specific practical traditions and thus has adopted a particular way of life; for example, a Christian’s  life style and the way of living are the embodiment of the ideology of Christianity.

At first, the Europeans did not recognize followers of Islamic doctrine as Muslims; instead, they used different names like immigrants and Mohammadans to identify them. This did not mean that various Muslim groups who were residing in different places represented a single religion. In the 19th century and with the onset of the colonial era, the concept of religion moved towards globalization.

Therefore, the Europeans did not create the concept of universal religion, but rather formed this issue in a specific manner. After this concept had been generalized from individuals and small groups to all Muslims, it reached other groups as well. With the advent of modernity and the rise of communication technology, this question raised that what are the functions and necessity of the concept of religion. In other words, what is the difference between Muslims and Christians?



With the outbreak of World War II and Jews came into power, the concept of world religion became more highlighted as the ruling power supported a religion and the concept of religion was transmitted from individuals to nation. Since this brought everyone under the banner of one country, therefore heated and intense debate over this concept was provoked, so that through defining the matter of world religion the national integrity would be preserved.

Accordingly, it seems that two factors have contributed to the formation of World Religion:

  1. 1. The colonialists, in the face of colonialized countries, were forced to create such concepts in order to make things easier for themselves. As an example, they call all Indian people Hindu so that they would be able to correspond them all to one category of rites and customs.
  2. Changing of the concept of inner confrontation between religions and schools of thoughts, which occurred because ruling power favored and supported a particular type of religion.

With this introduction, we may begin to address the Farabi's work regarding world religion. Farabi is a philosopher, mystic and one of the great scholars. What makes him unique is the definitions he has provided of terms such as nation, religion, school of thought, and tradition. In addition to defining these concepts, he also uses these words in special meanings; however, these concepts are not properly used in modern society. His two books are called Al Millah and Ahl al-Madinah al-Fadhilah. In the following, we would outline the semantic differences between the application of these words during Farabi era and today.

Al-Farabi's book Al Millah is translated into English by the title of “The book of religion”. Has the word –Millah- used in the same sense as the one used by al-Farabi?

It seems that there is a difference between the intended meaning of the word ­AlMillah used by Farabi and the word religion, in that religion is much more general. ­AlMillah means traditions and followers. Within this definition, two notions of individual or social group in addition to religious teachings of the community are integrated.

Although today religion is deeply integrated with the concept of faith, but al-Farabi did not use much words such as faith or religion in this book. On the contrary, he employed the concept of rulership; therefore, we should discover the relationship between leadership and faith /religion.

One of the commentaries of book AlMillah claims that Farabi's books are related to political science and hence the issue of rulership has been used in different parts of the book. Nevertheless, we will prove that Farabi's political science is the same as the one we discuss i.e. religion; since in Farabi's writings the notion of rulership does not merely hint at political authority, but guardianship and governance are also included. Al Farabi does not limit the matter of rulership to a particular social relationship, but even extends it to the relationship between father and son or a servant and his owner. It should be noted that these authorities do not enjoy absolute authority, but have the skills and experiences that make them well qualified to run and control the affairs of others. Prophets and Messengers of God are at the peak of the Pyramid of Guardianship –Velayat.


However, why the concept of Guardianship has played a pivotal role through the Book of AlMillah? In response, we should say that Velayah is the objective, and faith is a practical behavior through which one can reach the various levels of Guardianship. One of the most interesting sentences of this book is: " AlMillah is similar to the philosophy” meaning that AlMillah which refers to the social sciences is similar to philosophy." In the past, philosophy had been considered as a way of life, and has since experienced categorization so that today it is limited to pure intellectual sciences. In addition, philosophy here does not imply mere intellectual sciences, but also constitutes ethics, which on the one hand address the ruler, and on the other, all people of the community.

The result is that the word AlMillah in the book is not a specific and contemporary word; rather, it has the connotation of Velayah that is counted as an end and destination for ethics and one should implement that through his relationships.

Al-Farabi in his book posits different meanings for the word AlMillah such as people, city, nations, and even the super-nation. Likewise, in Ahl al-Madinah al-Fadhilah he adds another meaning - that is family- since he deals with the smallest instant of AlMillah as well as its greatest one. The most complete example of AlMillah is the “city”. In this, each city has its own ruler while all the rulers or Guardians are related to each other.


The other word that needs consideration is Nation-State, that includes the word city as a subset. Although the city has its own laws, but it is under the control of the nation-state. In spite of the fact that this concept is not used directly in Farabi's works, but we see that, today many people are identified by the titles, such as being an Iranian, a French, etc. Yet, in the past people used to differentiate themselves according to their professional backgrounds.

Accordingly, through the works of Farabi, the concept of religion is utilized with the word AlMillah which emphasizes accepting Guardianship. Meanwhile, the Arabic root for the word “Medina” which means “city” is very close to the notion of accepting Guardianship since it is intertwined with obedience and compliance.

Given these interpretations, we realize that concepts such as the AlMillah and Ummah have had more precise meanings in the past. Now if one asks whether the empires like Iran, Rome, have been a considered Millah or not, we may give a negative response; because their authority or Velayah was limited to receiving tax and protecting the country against the enemies. However, we implement the notion of Millah in all levels and spheres. For example, in the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were called Millah  of Kurds so that all of them would be considered a single body, regardless of their religion and faith.


So far it became clear how we can move from a single Millah  (Millah of Abraham) toward the concept of World Religion. At first, everyone accepted other cultures and nations! But gradually the differences resulted in customs of each Millah  being disguised as the identity of individuals. Hence, a Muslim would say to himself, "As a Muslim, the customs and rites that I observe should be different from the Christian practices and customs." Eventually, this difference led to religious pluralism, and each Millah   found an independent entity.

Finally, I would like to thank the attendees. Now, I am eager to hear your views and questions.

Questions & Answers

 Dr. Sheibani: you have stated that religion is derived from the root “ Religio”  and includes all religions that were divided later and reached pluralism. Can we say that World Religion is as the same as “way of living”? The other question is that does such a universal religion exist?

Dr. Bashir Sa'ada: Yes, in fact, lifestyle is a proper meaning for World Religion. But with respect to the existence of such concept in the real world; although there are individuals who believe so, but still they do not have a specific identity.

Again, I would like to thank the attendees and especially Dr. Morvarid for giving me such an opportunity.


28 November 2018

Imam Reza Research Institute, 1st Floor, Almustafa International University, No.4, Imam Khomeini Str. Mashhad, Iran

28 November 2018

Address: Imam Reza Research Institute, 1st Floor, Almustafa International University, No.4, Imam Khomeini Str. Mashhad, Iran

21 November 2018


The Imam Reza Research Institute of Mashhad started his mission 2012/11/06 following the announcement of the head of the Al-Mustafa International University Ayatollah A’arafi. The works of this center focuses on four academic & research groups:

  • Culture and Teachings of Imam Reza (A.S.)
  • Studies of Intellectual & Epistemological Currents of Muslim World
  • Interfaith Dialogue
  • Islamic Studies & Futurology

Supporting research projects as well as Iranian and non-Iranian researchers, providing sabbatical opportunities, holding meetings and specialized workshops, launching the Institute's website at (http://rim.miu.ac.ir) and the Virtual Research Portal (http://rim.miu.ac.ir/crm) are among the activities carried out at this center. The officials of the center due to qualitative works and adjacency to the Holy shrine of Imam Reza (as) called for the promotion of the center to The Research Institute of Imam Reza (as) during the visit of Al-Mustafa head of al-Mustafa of Mashhad; consequently, Ayatollah A’arafi and board of trustees accepted this request.  

19 November 2018


Address: Imam Reza Research Institute, 1st Floor, Almustafa International University, No.4, Imam Khomeini Str. Mashhad, Iran

Phone Number: 051-32233227-9 Ext. 230- 206 Postal Code: 9133714844 


 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.