Qutb, Sayyid (sĪˈyĭd kŭˈtəb) [key], 1906–66, Egyptian Islamist whose critique of modern civilization and Islam provides the theoretical underpinnings for many contemporary Islamic militants. Educated in both traditional Muslim schools and the university, Qutb became a respected writer and literary critic. A conservative Muslim, he spent somewhat more than a year (1948–50) in the United States, where he reacted strongly against a society he perceived as decadent and morally degraded. Becoming increasingly radicalized in the subsequent years, he advocated the reestablishment of the caliphate and a pan-Islamic nation based on the sharia (Islamic law). Qutb objected to any secular modern society, even a Muslim one, and joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1952. The Egyptian government imprisoned him, except for two short periods, from 1954 until his execution.
Qutb's In the Shade of the Qur'an, his major work and a commentary on the Qur'an, attacks modern society for its separation of church and state and its removal of religion from much of daily life. This condition, which he asserts is an outgrowth of limitations and distortions inherent in Judaism and Christianity, threatens Islam from both without and within, and reduces human life to a dark state similar to that before Muhammad received the Qur'an. To restore "true" Islam and revive world civilization Qutb calls for a jihad by a vanguard of Muslims who are willing to suffer martyrdom, as he did when he remained in Nasser's Egypt and attacked its Pan-Arabist secularism (see Pan-Arabism). His other works include Social Justice and Islam (1949, rev. tr. 2000) and Milestones (1964, rev. tr. 1991). Qutb's works have been extremely influential on militant Islamic radicals in the succeeding decades, who have found in them justification for violence against both the West and those Muslim governments they denounce as un-Islamic.
See his memoir (tr. 2004); biographical studies by H, Calvert (2010) and J. Toth (2013); studies by A. S. Moussalli (1993, 1999), O. Carré et al. (2003), and J. Calvert (2010).