The influential Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) is credited with establishing the theoretical basis for radical Islamism in the post-colonial Sunni Muslim world. Lacking understanding of Qutb’s life and work, the popular media has often conflated his aims with those of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, portraying him as a terrorist, ‘Islamo-Fascist’ and advocate of murder.
John Calvert, an expert on Middle Eastern dissent in general and Egyptian nationalism in particular, rescues Qutb from these misrepresentations. He recounts Qutb’s life, from his small childhood village to his execution by the regime, via the harrowing incarceration that injected religion into his Islamism. Most importantly, Calvert traces the evolution of Qutb’s thought in its context—one of the most eventful periods in Egyptian history. In these years of British tutelage, rising nationalism and Free Officer hegemony, Qutb rubbed shoulders with other great Egyptian thinkers, from Naguib Mahfouz to political giants like Taha Husayn and Nasser himself.
This is a sensitive exploration of the cultural, political, social and economic circumstances that shaped Qutb’s thought, leading him to repackage the Islamic heritage as a challenge to authority—including ‘infidel’ authorities that he did not see as truly Muslim.