A most inspiring book for the Sunni youth
Sayyid Qutb was a leading figure of the 60's and 70's in Egypt and soon in all of the Muslim world. He was born in a village in Egypt in 1906. He worked as a teacher from 1924 until 1952 when he resigned. In 1948 he was sent to the United States for further study and came back in 1950. He is a strong writer in the field of Arabic literature and heritage. His works were very attractive especially the most significant one, Ma'alim Fi Ttarigh (signs of the path) which is the most influential and inspiring book in recent history of Sunni world. What he called signs of the path, were to free Muslims from man-made ideologies like Marxism and nationalism.
But contrary to the author's intention, this book mostly served to inspire extremists who mainly targeted the Muslim world. Without knowing this book well, one cannot comprehend the theological, ideological and political basis of the Islamist movements in the realm of Sunni world today. Interestingly those revolutionists who don’t think like Qutb are somehow influenced by his book. They also start from the place he started and have the same method. The difference is only in the sources they refer to. He believed that what had made the exploiters predominant over Muslims was not their technology or weapons, but it was so-called western-oriented intellectuals that like termites destroyed the channels of Islamic culture and science from the inside. The method he used, the way he analyzed issues, the meaning delivered for Islam, the goals and the spirit of the book, all were different from the of Sunni theological heritage and their religious experiences.
Why he became so influential is not due to his unique personality, knowledge or a high spiritual level. Mostly his influence was due to the lack of a proper ideology suitable for the Egyptian society and other Arab or Muslim countries. He wrote at a juncture when Egypt experienced the thoughts and ideas of thinkers and reformists especially that of the Muslim Brotherhood, without any tangible fruit to be harvested. It must be noticed that Qutb's views are not result of the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood; instead they are reactions to the conditions of the society at that time. Thus it was a time that society had many deficiencies and provoked the quest for alternatives which led towards the views of Qutb.
Therefore it is of vital importance to know the society of his time. To answer the critiques of Marxists, Socialists or Communists, Islamists struggled to show Islam as progressive as the views of the critics.
In the first pages of his book, Qutb criticizes the scholars who were asking what validity he was giving to Islam by making it to look like modern civilization? In fact by doing so, they argued, Qutb was proving the validity and genuineness of modern civilization, not Islam.
It must also be noticed that his theory about Islamic government has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood. Primarily the Brotherhood did not have any specific theory about governance. Qutb believes that Islam doesn’t recognize more than two societies: Islamic society and the ignorant one. Islamic society is where all commands of Islam are expressed in different aspects of jurisprudence, ethics, and faith. Ignorant society is the one that doesn’t practice Islam, and its beliefs are not Islamic. So a society that doesn’t practice Islam and its regulations aren't based on Islam, is not Islamic, even if its people pray or fast or go to Hajj pilgrimage. This is one of the places he went wrong.
The third point is that according to the Sunni view about a ruler, along with this is a matter of heart i.e., when a Muslim ruler commits a sin people must only be displeased with that action in their hearts and at most express this verbally. Thus there is no call for armed uprising and fighting against the Muslim ruler.
But Qutb had his own view here saying: "our duty isn't to compromise with this ignorant society and to accept its friendship. We first need to have a revolution inside in the heart and then to change the society".
It was at a very specific juncture in Egypt's history when youth were coming from villages to Cairo and other big cities and they studied different schools like Marxism, Maoism and other revolutionist or liberal schools in the universities. Thus to keep the faith of this generation it wasn't enough to propagate Islam in a traditional way. So there was a need for something more. One of the reasons the views of Qutb were welcomed by the youth was their being abnormal and suit the demands of that excited society.
Another point that made this book so inspiring lays in Qutb's being executed by Abdel Nasser. If he wasn't killed that book wouldn't be as influential and inspiring. He didn’t request for forgiveness and revision by saying: "I am greater than asking forgiveness from you".
At the time of agony this book could strongly provoke the youth and it did so. Therefore different elements of the time and the demands of Muslim world beside epic literature used by Qutb were more involved in bringing the book to attentions than the content of the book.