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Qutbism (Arabic: ٱلْقُطْبِيَّةِ, romanizedal-Quṭbīyah) is an exonym that refers to the beliefs and ideology of Sayyid Qutb,[1] a leading Islamist revolutionary of the Muslim Brotherhood who was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966.[2] Influenced by the doctrines of earlier Islamists like Hasan al-Banna and Maududi, Qutbism advocates armed Jihad to establish Islamic government, in addition to promoting offensive Jihad.

Sayyid Qutb's treatises deeply influenced numerous Jihadist movements across the world.[1][3][4] Qutbism has gained prominence due to its influence on notable Jihadist figures of contemporary era such as Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Saif al-Adel, etc.[3][4][5][6] Its ideas have also been adopted by the Salafi-jihadist Islamic State organization.[7] It inspired Ruhollah Khomeini to create a variety of Qutbism, Khomeinism.[8]

Qutbist literature has been a major source of influence on numerous Jihadist organisations that have emerged since the 1970s. These include the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Jama'ah al-Islamiyya, al-Takfir wal Hijra, Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA), LIFG, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front, Islamic State, etc. that have sought to implement their strategy of waging armed Jihad.[9][10][11]


While adherents of Qutbism are referred to as Qutbists or Qutbiyyun (singular: Qutbi), they rarely refer to themselves with these names (i.e. the word is not an endonym); the name was first and still is used by the sect's opponents (i.e. it is an exonym).[12]


Sayyid Qutb

The main tenet of the Qutbist ideology is that the Muslim community doesn't follow the "true Islam",[3][4][7] which "has been extinct for a few centuries".[13] Contemporary Muslims having reverted to Godless ignorance (jahiliyya) Islam must be re-established by Qutb's followers.[14]

Qutb outlined his religious and political ideas in his book Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (aka Milestones).[3][4][7] Important principles of Qutbism include:[citation needed]


The most controversial aspect of Qutbism is takfir, whereby Qutb has declared Islam "extinct," so that those who call themselves Muslims — with the exception of Qutb's Islamic vanguard — are not actually Muslim. Takfir was intended to shock Muslims into religious re-armament. When taken literally, takfir also had the effect of causing non-Qutbists who claimed to be Muslim to be in violation of Sharia law. Violating this law could potentially be considered apostasy from Islam: a crime punishable by death according to Islamic law.[18]

Because of these serious consequences, Muslims have traditionally been reluctant to practice takfir, that is, to pronounce professed Muslims as unbelievers (even Muslims in violation of Islamic law).[19] This prospect of fitna, or internal strife, between Qutbists and "takfir-ed" mainstream Muslims, was put to Qutb by prosecutors in the trial that led to his execution,[20] and is still made by his Muslim detractors.[21][22]

Qutb died before he could clear up the issue of whether jahiliyyah referred to the whole "Muslim world," or to only Muslim governments[23] but a serious campaign of terror – or "physical power and jihad" against "the organizations and authorities" of "jahili" Egypt – was promulgated in the 1980s and 1990s by insurgents that observers believed to be influenced by Qutb.[24] Victims included Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, head of the counter-terrorism police Major General Raouf Khayrat, parliamentary speaker Rifaat el-Mahgoub, dozens of European tourists and Egyptian bystanders, and over one hundred Egyptian police officers.[25] Other factors (such as economic dislocation/stagnation and rage over President Sadat's policy of reconciliation with Israel) played a part in instigating the violence,[26] but Qutb's takfir against jahiliyyah (or jahili) society, and his passionate belief that jahiliyyah government was irredeemably evil, played a key role.[27]


Spread of Qutb's ideas

Qutb's message was spread through his writing, his followers and especially through his brother, Muhammad Qutb, who moved to Saudi Arabia following his release from prison in Egypt and became a professor of Islamic Studies and edited, published and promoted his brother Sayyid's work.[28][29]

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who went on to become a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, was one of Muhammad Qutb's students[30] and later a mentor of Osama bin Laden and a leading member of al-Qaeda.[31] He had been first introduced to Sayyad Qutb by his uncle, Mafouz Azzam, who had been very close to Sayyad Qutb throughout his life and impressed on al-Zawahiri "the purity of Qutb's character and the torment he had endured in prison."[32] Zawahiri paid homage to Qutb in his work Knights under the Prophet's Banner.[33]

Qutbism was considered propagated by Abdullah Azzam during the war between the Soviet and Afghan mujahideens. As the Muslim jihad volunteers from around the world exchanged religious ideas, Qutbism merged with Salafism and Wahhabism, culminating in the formation of Salafi jihadism.[34] Abdullah Azzam was a mentor of bin Laden as well.

Osama bin Laden is reported to have regularly attended weekly public lectures by Muhammad Qutb at King Abdulaziz University, and to have read and been deeply influenced by Sayyid Qutb.[35]

The late Yemeni Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki has also spoken of Qutb's great influence and of being "so immersed with the author I would feel Sayyid was with me... speaking to me directly.”[36]

Based on interviews which he conducted with "Islamic terrorists in several countries", Fawaz A. Gerges states,[37] “Qutb showed them the way forward and . . . they referred to [him] as a shadhid, or martyr. ... jihadis look up to Qutb as a founding spiritual father, if not the mufti, or theoretician of their contemporary movement.”[38] Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda since June 2011, asserts the execution of Qutb lit "the jihadist fire",[37] and his writings "dramatically altered the direction of the Islamist movement by forcefully driving the idea of 'the urgent need to attack the near enemy' (rulers and secular governments in Muslim countries)".[38]


Following Qutb's death Qutbist ideas spread throughout Egypt and other parts of the Arab and Muslim world, prompting a backlash by more traditionalist and conservative Muslims, such as the book Du'ah, la Qudah (Preachers, not Judges) (1969). The book, written by MB Supreme Guide Hassan al-Hudaybi, attacked the idea of Takfir of other Muslims (but was ostensibly targeted not at Qutb but at Mawdudi, as al-Hudaybi had been a friend and supporter of Qutb).[39]


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Science and learning

On the importance of science and learning, the key to the power of his bête noire, western civilization, Qutb was ambivalent. He wrote that

Muslims have drifted away from their religion and their way of life, and have forgotten that Islam appointed them as representatives of God and made them responsible for learning all the sciences and developing various capabilities to fulfill this high position which God has granted them.[40]

... and encouraged Muslims to seek knowledge.

A Muslim can go to a Muslim or to a non-Muslim to learn abstract sciences such as chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, medicine, industry, agriculture, administration (limited to its technical aspects), technology, military arts and similar sciences and arts; although the fundamental principle is that when the Muslim community comes into existence it should provide experts in all these fields in abundance, as all these sciences and arts are a sufficient obligation (Fard al-Kifayah) on Muslims (that is to say, there ought to be a sufficient number of people who specialize in these various sciences and arts to satisfy the needs of the community).[41]

On the other hand, Qutb believed that Muslims were not allowed to study some subjects, including:

the principles of economics and political affairs and the interpretation of historical processes... the origin of the universe, the origin of the life of man... philosophy, comparative religion... sociology (excluding statistics and observations)... Darwinist biology ([which] goes beyond the scope of its observations, without any rhyme or reason and only exists for the sake of expressing an opinion...).[42]

and he also believed that the era of scientific discovery (that non-Muslim Westerners were so famous for) was now over:

The period of the resurgence of science has also come to an end. This period, which began with the Renaissance in the sixteenth century after Christ and reached its zenith in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, does not possess a reviving spirit.[43]

However important scientific discovery was, or is, an important tool to achieve it (and do everything else) is to follow Sharia law under which

blessings fall on all mankind, [and] leads in an easy manner to the knowledge of the secrets of nature, its hidden forces and the treasures concealed in the expanses of the universe.[44]

On Philosophy and Kalam

See also: Falsafa and Kalam

Sayyid Qutb also strongly opposed Falsafa and 'Ilm al-Kalam (speculative theology) which he denounced as deviations which undermined the pristine Islamic creed of the early generations because they were based on Aristotelian logic. He denounced these disciplines as alien to Islamic traditions; and he also called for the abandonment of them in favor of a literalist interpretation of Islamic Scriptures.[45]

Sharia and governance

Qutbism advocates the belief that in a sharia-based society, wonders of justice, prosperity, peace and harmony—both individually and societally—are "not postponed for the next life [i.e. heaven] but are operative even in this world".[46]

The harmony and perfection is such that the use of offensive jihad to spread sharia-Islam throughout the non-Muslim world will not be aggression but "a movement... to introduce true freedom to mankind." Mankind is freed from servitude to other men because the divine nature of Sharia means no human authorities are necessary to judge or enforce its law.[44] But in other works Qutb does describe the ruler of the Islamic state, as a man (never a woman) who "derives his legitimacy from his being elected by the community and from his submission to God. He has no privileges over other Muslims, and is only obeyed as long as he himself adheres to the shari‘a".[47]

Conspiracy theories

Qutbism emphasizes what it sees as the evil designs of Westerners and Jews against Islam, and it also emphasizes the importance of Muslims not trusting or imitating them.


Other elements of Qutbism deal with non-Muslims, particularly with Westerners, and they have drawn attention and controversy from their subjects, particularly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. But their terminology, their issues and their arguments are different from those of Islamic traditionalists, Westerners are also critical of Qutbism.

One scholar (A. B. Soage) quotes Qutb expressing his "extremely negative image" of non-Muslims:

"The people of the Book [Christians and Jews] were hostile to Muslims at the time of the prophet – Peace be Upon Him – and they are also hostile to the vanguard of the Islamic renaissance [jihadi movement Qutb hoped to inspire] now simply because they are Muslims who believe in God[48] [and] in what was revealed to them in the Qur’an. […] They oppose the Muslims simply for being Muslims,[49] and [also] because they are depraved and have falsified [the books] that God revealed to them.[50]

Qutb believed (like medieval author Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya) the realm outside of Muslim lands was "Dar al-Harb (the Abode of War)", and had to be subjugated by Muslims. Subjugation would actually be "liberation" however,[51] because it "would free men from all authority except that of God",[52] but at the same time, the liberated non-Muslim would "not be free to ‘deify their caprices’ (hawa-hum) or choose to be the servants of [other] servants’,[53] i.e. in the words of A.B. Soage, "they would not be allowed to legislate for themselves or choose representatives to do it for them. Obeying the social, moral, economic and international norms of the Islamist state would be non-negotiable."[54] (How/why non-Muslims would obey the laws of a religion they do not believe in without authorities to compel them is not explained.)

The West

In Qutb's view, for example, Western Imperialism is not, as Western anti-imperialists or anti-racists would have Muslims believe, only an economic or only a racial exploitation of weak peoples by the strong and the greedy.[55] Nor were the medieval Crusades, as some historians claim, merely an attempt by Christians to reconquer the formerly Christian-ruled, Christian holy land. These are deceptions created "so that the Believers become confused concerning the true nature of the struggle", and their faith weakens.[56]

Both forms of exploitation were different expressions of the West's "pronounced... enmity" towards Islam, including plans to "demolish the structure of Muslim society."[57] Imperialism is "a mask for the crusading spirit."[56]

Qutb spent two years in the U.S. in the late 1940s and he disliked it immensely.[58] Examples of Western malevolence Qutb personally experienced and related to his readers include an attempt by a "drunken, semi-naked... American agent" to seduce him on his voyage to America, and the (alleged) celebration of American hospital employees upon hearing of the assassination of Egyptian Ikhwan Supreme Guide Hassan al-Banna.[59]

Qutb's Western critics do not believe that he would have aroused the interest of American intelligence agents (because he was not a member of the Egyptian government nor was he a member of any political organization which existed at that time), additionally, many Americans, including hospital employees, did not know who Hassan al-Banna or the Muslim Brotherhood were in 1948.[60]

Western corruption

Further information: Sex segregation and Islam

Qutbism emphasizes a claimed Islamic moral superiority over the West, according to Islamist values. One example of "the filth" and "rubbish heap of the West" [61] was the "animal-like" "mixing of the sexes." The "primitive" Jazz music "that the Negroes invented to satisfy their primitive inclinations".[62] Qutb states that while he was in America a young woman told him

The issue of sexual relations is purely a biological matter. You ... complicate this matter by imposing the ethical element on it. The horse and mare, the bull and the cow ... do not think about this ethical matter ... and, therefore, live a comfortable, simple, and easy life.[63]

Critics (such as Maajid Nawaz) protest by arguing that Qutb's complaint about both American racism and the "primitive inclinations" of the "Negro" are contradictory and hypocritical.[62] There is also doubt as to whether the sentiment that "sexual relations" have no "ethical element" would have been representative of American public opinion at the height of the sexual revolution 30 years later, let alone at the time of Qutb's visit to America in the late 1940s.[Note 1] The place Qutb spent most of his time in was the small city of Greeley, Colorado, dominated by cattle feedlots and an "unpretentious university", originally founded as "a sober, godly, cooperative community".[65]


Further information: Antisemitic trope, Antisemitism in Islam, Economic antisemitism, List of conspiracy theories § Antisemitism, and Stereotypes of Jews

The other anti-Islamic conspiratorial group, according to Qutb, is "World Jewry," because (he believes) that it is engaging in tricks in order to eliminate "faith and religion", and (he also believes) it is trying to divert "the wealth of mankind" into "Jewish financial institutions" by charging interest on loans.[66] Jewish designs are so pernicious, according to Qutb's logic, that "anyone who leads this [Islamic] community away from its religion and its Quran can only be [a] Jewish agent", causing one critic to claim that the statement apparently means that "any source of division, anyone who undermines the relationship between Muslims and their faith is by definition a Jew".[67]


By Muslims

While Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq [Arabic: معالم في الطريق] (Milestones) was Qutb's manifesto, other elements of Qutbism are found in his works Al-'adala al-Ijtima'iyya fi-l-Islam [Arabic: العدالة الاجتماعية في الاسلام] (Social Justice in Islam), and his Quranic commentary Fi Zilal al-Qur'an [Arabic: في ظلال القرآن] (In the shade of the Qur'an). Ideas in (or alleged to be in) those works also have come under attack from (at least some) traditionalist/conservative Muslims. They include:

Qutb may now be facing criticism representing his idea's success or Qutbism's logical conclusion as much as his idea's failure to persuade some critics. Writing before the Islamic revival was in full bloom, Qutb sought Islamically correct alternatives to European ideas like Marxism and socialism and proposed Islamic means to achieve the ends of social justice and equality, redistribution of private property and political revolution. But according to Olivier Roy, contemporary "neofundamentalists refuse to express their views in modern terms borrowed from the West. They consider indulging in politics, even for a good cause, will by definition lead to bid'a and shirk (the giving of priority to worldly considerations over religious values.)"[81]

There are, however, some commentators who display an ambivalence towards him, and Roy notes that "his books are found everywhere and mentioned on most neo-fundamentalist websites, and arguing his "mystical approach", "radical contempt and hatred for the West", and "pessimistic views on the modern world" have resonated with these Muslims.[82]

Criticism by Americans

James Hess, an analyst at the American Military University (AMU), labelled Qutbism as "Islamic-based terrorism".[83] In his essay criticizing the doctrines of Qutbist ideology, US Army colonel Dale C. Eikmeier described Qutbism as "a fusion of puritanical and intolerant Islamic orientations that include elements from both the Sunni and Shia sects".[84]

Relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood

The controversy over Qutbism is partially caused by two opposing factions which exist within the Islamic revival: the politically quiet Salafi Muslims, and the politically active Muslim groups which are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood,[85] the group Qutb was a member of for about the last decade and a half of his life.

Although Sayyid Qutb was never the head (or the "Supreme Guide") of the Muslim Brotherhood,[86] he was the Brotherhood's "leading intellectual," [87] the editor of its weekly periodical, and a member of the highest branch in the Brotherhood, the Working Committee and the Guidance Council.[88]

Hassan al-Hudaybi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, argued against takfir and adopted a tolerant attitude. In response, some Qutbists concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood had "abandoned the ideas of Sayyid Qutb".[89] Ayman al-Zawahiri, a prominent Qutbist, also attacked the Muslim Brotherhood.[89]

After the publication of Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones), opinion in the Brotherhood split over his ideas, though many in Egypt (including extremists outside the Brotherhood) and most of the Muslim Brotherhood's members in other countries are said to have shared his analysis "to one degree or another."[90] However, the leadership of the Brotherhood, headed by Hassan al-Hudaybi, remained moderate and interested in political negotiation and activism. By the 1970s, the Brotherhood had renounced violence as a means of achieving its goals.[91] In recent years, his ideas have been embraced by Islamic extremist groups,[92] while the Muslim Brotherhood has tended to serve as the official voice of Moderate Islamism.

Influence on Jihadist movements

In 2005, the British author and religion academic Karen Armstrong declared, regarding the ideological framework of al-Qaeda, that "Bin Laden was not inspired by Wahhabism but by the writings of the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by President Nasser in 1966. Almost every fundamentalist movement in Sunni Islam has been strongly influenced by Qutb, so there is a good case for calling the violence that some of his followers commit "Qutbian terrorism"."[93] Some of the prominent figures of Global Jihadism who adopted the tenets of Qutbism include 'Abd al-Salam al-Faraj, Shukri Mustafa, 'Usama Bin Laden, Muhammad Surur, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, Abubakr al-Baghdadi, etc.[94][95][96]

According to The Guardian journalist Robert Manne, "there exists a more or less general consensus that the ideology of the Islamic State was founded upon the principles which were set forth by Qutb", particularly based on some sections of his treatises Milestones and In the Shade of the Qur'an.[97]

However, the self-declared "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria which was headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been described by various analysts as being more violent than al-Qaeda and closely aligned with Wahhabism,[98][99][100] alongside Salafism and Salafi jihadism.[101][102] In 2014, regarding the ideology of IS, Karen Armstrong remarked that "IS is certainly an Islamic movement [...] because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century".[98]

Nabil Na'eem, a former associate of Ayman al-Zawahiri and an ex-Islamic Jihad leader, argued that Qutb's writings were the main factor that led to the rise of Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and various Jihadist groups.[103][104]Will Mccants, a senior fellow at the American think-tank Brookings Institution, wrote that contemporary Jihadists "cite Sayyid Qutb repeatedly and... consider themselves his intellectual descendants."[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ sex out of wedlock, let alone "animal-like" promiscuity, was rare, with the overwhelming number of Americans married as virgins or that only had premarital sex with their future spouse. For example, over 80% of the women surveyed who were born between 1933 and 1942 either had no premarital intercourse or premarital intercourse only with their future husband, according to the National Health and Social Life Survey.[64][original research?]
  2. ^ An example of the conflict between government-approved orthodox Islamic clerics in agreement with Qutb that slavery "is now illegal under Islam", and traditionalists who disagree, was a report of a televised "ceremony" of contemporary “melk al-yameen” [slavery] marriage in July 2012, where "a Muslim cleric, who gave his name as 'Abdul Raouf Aun'", married a woman who "voluntarily gave ownership of herself to" Aun, who also conducted the "marriage." Aun explained that "this form of marriage [does] not requiring witnesses or official confirmation". The marriage was condemned by the al-Azhar Islamic Research Centre as an example of “apostasy and a return to jahiliyyah", and by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Dr. Ali Gomaa as religiously impermissible and akin to “adultery.” [68]


  1. ^ a b Polk, William R. (2018). "The Philosopher of the Muslim Revolt, Sayyid Qutb". Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year War Between the Muslim World and the Global North. The Henry L. Stimson Lectures Series. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 370–380. doi:10.2307/j.ctv1bvnfdq.40. ISBN 978-0-300-22290-6. JSTOR j.ctv1bvnfdq.40. LCCN 2017942543.
  2. ^ Qutbism Archived 2021-08-01 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c d Moussalli, Ahmad S. (2012). "Sayyid Qutb: Founder of Radical Islamic Political Ideology". In Akbarzadeh, Shahram (ed.). Routledge Handbook of Political Islam (1st ed.). London and New York: Routledge. pp. 24–26. ISBN 9781138577824. LCCN 2011025970.
  4. ^ a b c d Cook, David (2015) [2005]. "Radical Islam and Contemporary Jihad Theory". Understanding Jihad (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 102–110. ISBN 9780520287327. JSTOR 10.1525/j.ctv1xxt55.10. LCCN 2015010201.
  5. ^ Aydınlı, Ersel (2018) [2016]. "The Jihadists pre-9/11". Violent Non-State Actors: From Anarchists to Jihadists. Routledge Studies on Challenges, Crises, and Dissent in World Politics (1st ed.). London and New York: Routledge. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-315-56139-4. LCCN 2015050373.
  6. ^ Gallagher, Eugene V.; Willsky-Ciollo, Lydia, eds. (2021). "Al-Qaeda". New Religions: Emerging Faiths and Religious Cultures in the Modern World. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 13–15. ISBN 978-1-4408-6235-9.
  7. ^ a b c Baele, Stephane J. (October 2019). Giles, Howard (ed.). "Conspiratorial Narratives in Violent Political Actors' Language" (PDF). Journal of Language and Social Psychology. SAGE Publications. 38 (5–6): 706–734. doi:10.1177/0261927X19868494. hdl:10871/37355. ISSN 1552-6526. S2CID 195448888. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
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  9. ^ Roy, Olivier (1994). The Failure of Political Islam. Translated by Volk, Carol. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 113. ISBN 0-674-29140-9.
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  12. ^ Pioneers of Islamic revival by ʻAlī Rāhnamā, p. 175
  13. ^ Qutb, Sayyid, Milestones, The Mother Mosque Foundation, 1981, p. 9
  14. ^ Muslim extremism in Egypt: the prophet and pharaoh by Gilles Kepel, p. 46
  15. ^ Kepel, Gilles; Kepel, Professor Gilles (January 1985). Muslim Extremism in Egypt. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520056879. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
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  18. ^ Eikmeier, DC (Spring 2007). Qutbism: An Ideology of Islamic-Fascism. Vol. 37. Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly. p. 89. In addition to offensive jihad Sayyid Qutb used the Islamic concept of "takfir" or excommunication of apostates. Declaring someone takfir provided a legal loophole around the prohibition of killing another Muslim and in fact made it a religious obligation to execute the apostate. The obvious use of this concept was to declare secular rulers, officials or organizations, or any Muslims that opposed the Islamist agenda a takfir thereby justifying assassinations and attacks against them. Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was later convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center attack, invoked Qutb's takfirist writings during his trial for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The takfir concept along with "offensive jihad" became a blank check for any Islamic extremist to justify attacks against anyone.
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    Ruthven, Malise, Islam in the World, Penguin Books, 1984, pp. 314–15
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  39. ^ Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism by John Calvert, p. 274
  40. ^ Qutb, Milestones p. 112
  41. ^ (Qutb, Milestones p. 109)
  42. ^ (Qutb, Milestones pp. 108–10)
  43. ^ [Qutb, Milestones p. 8]
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Further reading

Berman devotes several chapters of this work to discussing Qutb as the foundation of a unique strain of Islamist thought.