It is reported by Abu Darda in Sunan al-Tirmidhi (1931) that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Whoever defends the reputation of his brother, Allah will defend his face from the Hellfire on the Day of Resurrection.’
As we may solemnly commemorate the martyrdom of the great thinker, author and theoretician of Islamic Revival, Sayyid Qutb, some may read or write about the lofty feats or brave deeds Qutb undertook during his life. However, I desire in this piece to dedicate some time to briefly addressing the multitude of egregious accusations levied against Ustadh Sayyid. One may seldom be able to look up the name, ‘Sayyid Qutb’ without a barrage of seemingly horrific accusations directed towards him. The attacks may come from a variety of corners, those purporting to be ‘Traditional Sunnis’ to ‘Western Conservatives’ to those who claim to follow the ‘Salafi’ methodology. Sadly, in the English language, responses to such claims about Ustadh Sayyid are rare at best. Thus, I wish to briefly address some of these accusations in a succinct but, insha’Allah, decisive manner. In order to do this, I hope that we can engage with Ustadh Sayyid, not as lovers of his work or opponents to his ideas – regardless of our position vis-à-vis Qutb, but in a methodical, fair and academic fashion.
The first claim by which people, perhaps, most commonly condemn Ustadh Sayyid is by asserting that he was an ‘Extremist’ guilty of mass excommunication (takfir). In, hopefully, our commitment to an academic and historical methodology, let us analyse first the context in which Ustadh Sayyid was writing. It is important not to under-estimate the fact that since 1924, our Ummah has existed in a state that is truly unprecedented. Our Islamic Nation has gone through ebbs and flows, periods of great difficulty and decline before. Such examples include the Great Fitnah and killing of the Sahaba , Crusader occupation of the Holy Land and al-Quds, the sacking of Baghdad and the fall of Al-Andalus. However, despite these challenges never before was the Caliphate abolished. The Caliph had varying levels of strength and influence, perhaps one could say at times he was reduced to being a pawn or prisoner to other political factions dominating during a given period.
However, this legitimising thread which connected the Islamic polity to the Prophet ﷺ as a successor regime existed. In the wake of 1924 and the abolishment of the Ottoman Caliphate an occupation of Muslim lands was in its totality complete, and this occupation had begun much earlier through a colonisation of the minds, due in part, to what Algerian thinker, Malek Bennabi, described as the ‘colonisability’ of this Ummah. Therefore, when Ustadh Sayyid is writing in an innovative and unprecedented fashion, it was merited because he was living in a truly unique period in our Islamic history.
What Ustadh Sayyid correctly identified was a successful colonisation of the Muslim mind reflected and sustained by the introduction of corrupt cultural, political and economic practices. This is hardly something with which most people can contest, indeed the Salafi Dawah arose to set this exact issue aright. And whilst this phenomenon had possibly reached an apex during the period of the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms such moral corruption could perhaps be traced back to as early as the Ummayd period.
I do not believe I will do as sufficient a defence of Ustadh Sayyid in relation to his theory of ‘Jahiliyyah’ as Adil Salahi (may Allah preserve him) did in his introduction to his masterful translation of ‘Fī Ẓilāl al-Qur’ān’. However, I wish to summarise Ustadh Adil’s point that Ustadh Sayyid essentially uses the term ‘Jahiliyyah’ to mean that ignorance which is not only ‘pre-Islam’ or ‘pre-the sending down of revelation to the Prophet ﷺ’ but all of what is ‘anti-Islam’. If we observe the verses relating to this concept of Jahiliyyah, they are as follows:
‘Then after distress, He sent down upon you security [in the form of] drowsiness, overcoming a faction of you, while another faction worried about themselves, thinking of Allah other than the truth – the thought of ignorance…’ [3:154]
‘Then is it the judgement of [the time of] ignorance they desire? But who is better than Allah in judgement for a people who are certain [in faith].’ [5:50]
‘And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the former times of ignorance.’ [33:33]
‘When those who disbelieved had put into their hearts chauvinism – the chauvinism of the time of ignorance…’ [48:26]
All the contexts in which Jahiliyyah is used in these verses whether it be doubt in Allah’s ability, ruling by other than what Allah has revealed or in contradiction to it, immodesty and immoral behaviour or zealotry, are all things which, whilst present and manifest in Pagan Arabian society, are not exclusive to a particular period but consistent features of societies which Islam has come to challenge. Therefore, by understanding that the opposite of Islam was ignorance, a state of Jahiliyyah, Ustadh Sayyid was able to categorise societies which had been wrought with the plagues of materialism, nationalism, atheism, individualism and other diseases and which had become manifest in oppressive cultural traditions, innovations in religious practice and in legal and financial systems such as with Secularism or a interest-based economic order.
Ustadh Sayyid’s condemnation was that society and state were un-Islamic and against Islam, not the people residing within these societies who needed education and who were often held captive by colonial powers or oppressive dictatorial regimes which did not allow for Islamic reform. If anyone claims Ustadh Sayyid was guilty of mass takfīr then let them bring one clear quote from the work of Ustadh Sayyid which proves this. Nowhere in my reading of Ustadh Sayyid have I encountered him making takfīr of the whole Muslim Ummah rather the Ustadh is desperately eager to guide the Muslim Community as to how they can come back to the Straight Way which Allah has elucidated in His Book as a Comprehensive Way of Life and Order. It is not only myself who holds this view but even Shaykh Al-Albānī defended Ustadh Sayyid from the allegation of mass takfīr. And Ustadh Adil Salahi thinks likewise and mentions someone’s anecdotal experience with Ustadh Sayyid where he explicitly counters the notion of making takfīr of average Muslims.
It is also worth remembering that those who knew Ustadh Sayyid and who were in prison with him, the vast majority of these when they left prison did not harbour any takfīrī tendencies. Many members of the Muslim Brotherhood who perhaps read and knew Ustadh Sayyid went on to play a positive, peaceful and reformist role in Egyptian society. Those extremist currents that appeared in the 1980s, 90s and thereafter were carried by those who did not know Ustadh Sayyid nor adhered to his organisation. This organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, was under the leadership of Al-Murshid Hassan al-Hudaybi (may Allah have mercy on him) who published a work entitled ‘Callers not Judges’ thus perfectly describing our duty; to call people to Islam not to judge what their status is with Allah. In the words of the martyred President Muhammad Morsi (may Allah have mercy on him):
Perhaps even clearer than this is how fallible the idea is that Ustadh Sayyid is somehow the theoretician of Islamic terrorism. In Fī Ẓilāl al-Qur’ān , Ustadh Sayyid says:
‘Having defined the objective, the verses also define the limits of war: “… but do not commit aggression. Indeed, God does not love aggressors.” (Verse 190) ‘Aggression’ implies attacks on non-combatants and peaceful, unarmed civilians who pose no threat to Muslims or to their community as a whole. This includes women, children, the elderly, and those devoted to religious activity, such as priests and monks, of all religious and ideological persuasions. Aggression also entails exceeding the moral and ethical limits set by Islam for fighting a just war. These limits outlaw the atrocities perpetrated in wars outside Islam, past and present. Such atrocities are totally repugnant to Muslims and can never be sanctioned or committed by people who honour and fear God.’
And in his famous work, ‘Milestones’, Ustadh Sayyid tries to refute the notion purported by Orientalists that Islam was a ‘violent movement which imposed its belief upon people by the sword’. This is even attested to by the Canadian academic, John Calvert, who states:
Regarding accusations levelled against Ustadh Sayyid with respect to his earlier works there is some context that we may benefit from considering. Dr Wasfi Abu Zaid has recently outlined some guidelines to reading Ustadh Sayyid, amongst these is to accurately understand the two periods in Ustadh Sayyid’s life and writings and analyse them accordingly. Ustadh Sayyid was from a religious background and was a ḥāfiẓ from a young age, however his background was as a literary figure and he was a student of famous Egyptian litterateur , Abbas Mahmoud al-Aqqad. During this period in Egyptian history there was what could be characterised as cultural strife between secular nationalism and Islamic apologism and this was reflected in the literary world at the time. On one hand you had Taha Hussain, a proponent of Pharaonic Egyptian Nationalism and on the other you had the likes of al-Aqqad, Mustafa Sadiq al Rafa’i and Abdul Wahab al-Azzam. The latter group was writing favourably in relation to Islam, but the effects of Westernisation were not necessarily totally absent from them. And in an academic environment of orientalism and cultural colonialism and given the fact that they were not necessarily traditionally trained in Islamic sciences to a scholarly level, they began to defend Islam in a way that differed from perhaps more orthodox approaches in the past.
Thus, possibly in this context you can observe the great work of al-Aqqad ‘The Genius of Muhammad ﷺ’. Arguably the description of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as a ‘genius’ was not a traditional approach as we believe that it was wahī (divine revelation and guidance) which formed the basis for all actions the Prophet ﷺ undertook. It was not that Al-Aqqad did not also believe this, but it demonstrates possibly a new form of discourse which sought to present a positive but ‘modernised’ portrayal of religion to the background of a greater Islamic reformist movement spearheaded by the likes of al-Afghani, Abdu and Rida. Initially, Ustadh Sayyid arguably also was part of this tradition and in this environment in 1945 he penned his work ‘Al-Taswīr al-Fannī fī al-Qur’ān’.
It is this work which has stirred some controversy. But before we deal with what it is that is controversial about this work, let us first understand how we are to deal with the works from this first period of Qutb’s life, those works from either before his trip to America or during the early period of his return. It was said by Ustadh Muhammad Qutb, his brother, that Ustadh Sayyid did not recommend reading ‘Social Justice in Islam’ (which was published after ‘Al-Taswīr al-Fannī) but rather to read ‘Fī Ẓilāl al-Qur’ān ’ especially the first twelv parts (ajzā’) which he was able to revise.
With that considered, the allegation is that Ustadh Sayyid in ‘Al-Taswīr al-Fannī’ insults Musa (peace be upon him). Even before looking at what Ustadh Sayyid says, can we consider it logical that a man who authors a work in admiration of the Quran would insult one of the Prophets of the Islamic Religion and the most frequently mentioned Prophet in that book? Certainly, this defies all rationality for a Muslim author. What Ustadh Sayyid says is that Musa (peace be upon him) was of an ‘excitable nature’. There is no need to blindly defend any individual as we all make mistakes except the Beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Therefore, Ustadh Sayyid’s choice of words is regrettable. However, let us first consider three things.
Firstly, we may still benefit from a work even if there is a mistake present within it, let us consider the mighty work ‘Iḥyā `Ulūm al-Dīn’ one of the most magnificent works in Islamic history, it features many weak, even fabricated hadiths but this does not mean that we cannot read and benefit from it whilst taking necessary precautions.
Second, what Ustadh Sayyid says here is not totally unprecedented as Ibn Kathir (may Allah have mercy upon him) mentions Musa (peace be upon him)’s ‘anger’ and being in a ‘state of anger’. Likewise, Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy upon him) also makes reference to Musa’s ‘anger’. This is not a defence of Ustadh Sayyid’s description, but rather to try to understand on what basis perhaps he has built this description which possibly attempts to understand the psychology of Musa (peace be upon him) in a more humanising way which is not befitting with regards to a Prophet but possibly once again harkens back to this tradition of a modernist defence of Islam a-la Al-Aqqad’s ‘Genius of Muhammad’.
Finally, in understanding the statement of Ustadh Muhammad Qutb (May Allah have mercy upon him), let us observe the evolution of Ustadh Sayyid’s analysis of Musa (peace be upon him) and his character in ‘Fī Ẓilāl al-Qur’ān’. Here he describes Musa (peace be upon him)’s ‘patient approach’ and ‘[h]is gentle, polite response’. He further celebrates Musa (peace be upon him) as a ‘Prophet, leader, and saviour’ endowed with a mixture of ‘good manners and self assurance’ who represented the confrontation between ‘the divine faith’ and ‘jahiliyyah’. We certainly see here a more clear, beautiful and correct representation of Musa (peace be upon him) and a demonstration of Ustadh Sayyid’s evolution in his writing and approach which firmly places ‘Fī Ẓilāl al-Qur’ān’ as one of the exceptional texts of the Islamic tradition and one which should be appreciated not shunned regardless of what was written prior to it.
In a similar vein if we return to that book Ustadh Sayyid apparently specifically asked not to be read, ‘Social Justice in Islam’, which was written in 1949 as his first text detailing political and economic structure of Islam, we observe a similar evolution. Fundamentally, it perhaps could be said that in the wake of such defeat and decline, Muslims were asking a question along the lines of ‘Where did it all go wrong?’, and those characterised by the term ‘Islamist’ suggested that it was due to Muslims being distant from the implementation of a pure Islam in their lives and on their lands which was responsible for this. In light of this, another controversy emerges with regards to Ustadh Sayyid’s comments regarding Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him).
Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) has wrongly been accused of nepotism and perhaps his reign is seen as the declining precursor to what fitnah would be unleashed after his assassination and martyrdom. The reign of Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) could possibly be described as more laissez-faire than the governance of his predecessor Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), this attitude was reflected in the intellectual disagreement between Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) and Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him). Whilst the aestheticism of Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) and his position regarding wealth may have been enticing for the poor of the Muslims and perhaps closer to the governance and policies of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), it was from Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him)’s genius, not ‘deviation’, that he understood that if pious Muslims wanted to live a life of zuhd they may do so but to enforce such a thing on the Ummah would be unwise. Whilst Ustadh Sayyid may seem sympathetic to the opposition to Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) it is important that even in this early stage, he rejected the notion of a;
Part of the reason for Ustadh Sayyid’s misunderstanding of this period in history can be seen in his sources. He references contemporary others such as Dr Taha Hussain and Dr Mohammed Hussein Heikal, once again perhaps indicative of his more contemporary educational background and place in the modern academic literary world. Furthermore, we see one of the fallacious claims about Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him)’s extensive wealth to be narrated from ‘al-Masudi’ which Ustadh Sayyid cites. Ustadh Sayyid perhaps fails to realise and mention that ‘al-Masudi’ is a Shia scholar who appears to be prejudiced towards Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him). It can therefore be said that Ustadh Sayyid was misinformed.
Whilst this article is not a defence of Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) or his period in power, I do feel it necessary to briefly mention that the accusation of nepotism some may levy against Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) is an inaccurate reading of early Islamic history. In reality, Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) had appointed a vast number of individuals from outside of Banu Ummayd and those who were governors (only three of whom remained after his death) from his clan included Mu’awiyah (may Allah be pleased with himRA), whose place as a righteous companion of the Prophet (SAW) is logical. The allegation also fails to understand perhaps the context within which these decisions were made. After the period of the Ridda Wars (wars of against the apostates) under Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) inheriting control after the assassination of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) there was a need to appoint a close circle of people one could trust and rely on. This could have been to try to mitigate the possibility of those governors rebelling and attempting to ensure their loyalty to the fragile and relatively new Caliphate and demonstrates the rational politics on the behalf of Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), not nepotism.
To return to Ustadh Sayyid, if we consider that earlier point we made as to his ideological evolution and development in writing-style, we again see a shift in the presentation of Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), in ‘Fī Ẓilāl al-Qur’ān . But even in ‘Social Justice in Islam’, we must not grossly over-estimate the criticism of Ustadh Sayyid, he makes an ‘excuse’ for Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) noting the ‘caliphate came to him too late’ and remarks that the revolt against him was a ‘plot’ of ‘Ibn Saba’ who he describes as a Jew. By the time of ‘Fī Ẓilāl’ he refers to Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) as a ‘rightly guided Caliph’ and he provides narrations presenting Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him)’s generosity and philanthropy as well as the Prophet ﷺ’s invocation for him and pleasure with him. He further describes him being a victim of an unjust ‘conspiracy’ which Ustadh Sayyid makes a link to with contemporary Zionism.
The reality is that Ustadh Sayyid is free of those allegations made against him and even scholars of the Salafi movement have defended him. Ibn Jibrīn likens the flaws of Ustadh Sayyid to other scholars before him such as ‘Al-Suyūtī, Ibn al-Jawzī, Ibn ‘Atiyah…’ etc. He also claims that Sheikh Rabī’ al-Madkhalī has ‘placed statements’ of Ustadh Sayyid ‘where they do not exist’. Additionally, Shaykh Bakr Abu Zayd (former President of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy) also defended Ustadh Sayyid from Madkhalī criticism. It may also be worth noting that Shaykh Ibn Bāz attempted to intercede on behalf of Ustadh Sayyid with President Nasser. Ustadh Muhammad Qutb was also residing in Saudi Arabia and there certainly appears to be a politicised reasoning as to the recent criticism of Ustadh Sayyid especially from the Arabian Gulf.
This then brings us to the final part of this article, insha’Allah, which asks the question as to why Ustadh Sayyid Qutb is the victim of such allegations and harsh attacks? Ustadh Sayyid struggled with his life to revive Islam in a way that was comprehensive and absolute. He refused to be pawn to tyranny and worked to undermine and criticise all forms of corruption that was prevalent in Egyptian, Arab and World custom and culture. By attempting to present a pure Islam Ustadh Sayyid has become immortal through his works. Shaheed al-Islam Sayyid Qutb sought a truly liberated society as mandated by Islam. Not an authoritarian system that forces its belief on others but rather one that affords total freedom of belief:
‘The Islamic view of freedom of belief assigns it a great status as a social and human value, and stems from the Islamic view of the ultimate purpose of life and of the whole of human existence: the worship of God in its widest sense which encompasses all constructive human activity. Freedom of belief is man’s most precious right in this world, and ought to be cherished and protected. Any infringement of this right, direct or indirect, must be fought even if one has to kill for [it]’
More than even Western liberal society, Ustadh Sayyid sought that Islamic Order which liberates man from the slavery of man, the slavery of the idol of the dollar, the slavery of the tyrant military general or cultural norms by putting all into the servitude of Allah thus freeing mankind from all other forms of slavery which oppresses and subjugates humanity in this Age. As Shaheed al Islam says:
‘Only in the Islamic way of life do all men become free from the servitude of some men to others and devote themselves to the worship of Allah alone, deriving guidance from Him alone, and bowing before Him alone’
This idea frightens, angers, and challenges every despotic king, greedy capitalist, communist party official and all those who wish to see mankind in servitude to other than Allah and in tyrannical bondage to those idols and systems of Jahiliyyah, which have cast a shadow over humanity, preventing the establishment of true liberty, justice and progress as mandated by Islam.
May Allah have mercy on Sayyid Qutb and accept him amongst the righteous and martyrs.
‘‘They were angered with the Believers only because they believed in Allah, the All-Powerful, the All-Praiseworthy.’ Almighty Allah spoke the truth, and these treacherous deceivers are liars!’ [Milestones]
 https://ia803207.us.archive.org/33/items/QuranTafsirInTheShadeOfTheQuranSayyidQutbEngAllVolIn1Pdf/Quran%20Tafsir-In%20the%20Shade%20of%20the%20Quran-Sayyid%20Qutb-Eng-All%20Vol%20in%201%20pdf.pdf, p.228, v.1
 Qutb, Sayyid, Milestones,p.86, MAKTABAH BOOKSELLERS AND PUBLISHERS, (2006)
Calvert, John, Sayyid Qutb and the origins of radical Islamism, p.291-2, Columbia University Press, 2010
 https://mubasher.aljazeera.net/opinions/2022/7/26/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%83%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1%D8%A9-%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%A8 (28/08/2022)
 https://mubasher.aljazeera.net/opinions/2022/7/26/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%83%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1%D8%A9-%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%A8 (accessed 28/08/22)
 https://www.islamguiden.com/arkiv/stories_of_the_prophets.pdf (accessed 28/08/22) p.135, Ibn Kathir, Stories of the Prophets
 https://www.honafaa.com/ar/ar-blog/%D9%87%D9%84-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%A8-%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%AF%D9%86%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%89-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%9F.html (accessed 28/08/22)
 https://ia803207.us.archive.org/33/items/QuranTafsirInTheShadeOfTheQuranSayyidQutbEngAllVolIn1Pdf/Quran%20Tafsir-In%20the%20Shade%20of%20the%20Quran-Sayyid%20Qutb-Eng-All%20Vol%20in%201%20pdf.pdf (accessed 28/08/22), p.82, V.1
 Ibid, p.82, V.1
 Ibid, p.314, V.2
 Ibid, p.12, V.6
 Shepard, William, Sayyid Quṭb and Islamic Activism: A Translation and Critical Analysis of Social Justice in Islam, p.108, Brill, 1996
 Ibid, p.234
 Ibid, p.234
 https://ia803207.us.archive.org/33/items/QuranTafsirInTheShadeOfTheQuranSayyidQutbEngAllVolIn1Pdf/Quran%20Tafsir-In%20the%20Shade%20of%20the%20Quran-Sayyid%20Qutb-Eng-All%20Vol%20in%201%20pdf.pdf (accessed 28/08/22), p.223, Vol.8
 Ibid, p.185, Vol.4
 https://www.kalamullah.com/Books/Milestones%20Special%20Edition.pdf (accessed 28/08/22), p.213
 Ibid, p.213
 Ibid, p.208
 Ibid, p.213
 https://ia803207.us.archive.org/33/items/QuranTafsirInTheShadeOfTheQuranSayyidQutbEngAllVolIn1Pdf/Quran%20Tafsir-In%20the%20Shade%20of%20the%20Quran-Sayyid%20Qutb-Eng-All%20Vol%20in%201%20pdf.pdf (accessed 28/08/22), p.230-1, 1V.1
 https://www.kalamullah.com/Books/Milestones%20Special%20Edition.pdf (accessed 28/08/22), p.27