Qutbism is an Islamist ideology that advocates violent jihad to establish governance according to sharia (Islamic law). It is believed to be the foundational ideology of today’s most dangerous violent Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda and ISIS. Qutbism synthesizes the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, Hassan al-Banna, and Abul Ala Maududi, among other Islamic theologians. (Sources: West Point: Combating Terrorism Center, Parameters: The U.S. Army War College Quarterly, p. 86)
The late Muslim Brotherhood theologian Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) propagated the tenets of Qutbism in his many books on Islamism and sharia. Qutb wrote his most popular work, Milestones, while incarcerated in Egyptian prison. In Milestones, Qutb outlined the key elements of his movement, which, according to author Paul Berman, has become a “classic manifesto of…Islamic fundamentalism.” Qutb was hanged by the government two years after its publication, making him a martyr in the eyes of many. According to Egyptian political commentator Aly Salem, “It is not an exaggeration to say that Qutb is to Islamism what Karl Marx is to communism.” (Sources: New York Times, Economist, Wall Street Journal)
Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have each built their respective terrorist organizations on the pillars of Qutbism.
Qutbism forms the ideological backbone of today’s most violent Islamist groups. According al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Sayyid Qutub’s call for loyalty to God’s oneness and to acknowledge God’s sole authority and sovereignty was the spark that ignited the Islamic revolution against the enemies of Islam at home and abroad. The bloody chapters of this revolution continue to unfold day after day.” Indeed, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have each built their respective terrorist organizations on the pillars of Qutbism. (Sources: His Own Words: A Translation of the Writings of Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, p. 48, Parameters: The U.S. Army War College Quarterly, p. 86)
Qutbists believe that Muslims live in ignorance of divine guidance, or jahiliyyah. According to Qutb, jahiliyyah arises from man-made political systems that disregard “what God has prescribed.” Therefore, Qutbism aims to return Muslim society to sharia, an all-encompassing Islamic law governing penal, civil, and personal affairs that “governs the entire universe,” according to Qutb. Only when man lives under sharia will his life be “harmonious and in tune with the rest of the universe.” (Sources: Milestones, Sayyid Qutb, p. 88-89, Andrea Mura (Comparative Philosophy), p. 43)
Qutbists believe sharia should govern not only Muslim lands but the entire globe. Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna—a contemporary of Qutb’s—declared: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations, and to extend its power to the entire planet.” Qutb wrote that war should be fought against the Jews and Christians until they converted to Islam or paid jizya, a tax for non-Muslims living under sharia. (Sources: Milestones, Sayyid Qutb, p. 54, The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright, p. 29)
Qutbists liken the current lack of sharia to what they describe as the ancient, or original jahiliyyah—the state in which Arabs lived before Muhammad introduced Islam to Arabia in the early seventh century CE. Qutb declared in Milestones, “jahiliyyah is evil and corrupt, whether it be of the ancient or modern variety.” (Sources: Milestones, Sayyid Qutb, p. 11, Andrea Mura (Comparative Philosophy), p. 43)
In order to fight against jahiliyyah, Qutb called for an Islamic uprising or “vanguard” to lead the ummah (global Muslim community) into battle against jahili states (ones afflicted by jahiliyyah). Qutb urged the vanguard to direct violence toward secular, Westernized Arab governments, which Qutb considered jahili “not because they believe in other deities besides God or because they worship anyone other than God, but because their way of life is not based on submission to God alone.” (Sources: Andrea Mura (Comparative Philosophy), p. 48, Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p. 82)
According to Qutbists, religiously sanctioned violence toward jahili governments takes the form of jihad and takfir in order to bring about sharia. Jihad—the violent struggle to “establish God’s authority in the earth” and “make Islam dominant,” according to Qutb—is the responsibility of all Muslims. According to Qutbist theorist Abul Ala Maududi, jihad is a “militant struggle and utmost exertion.” (Sources: Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, p. 70, Dale C. Eikmeier (Parameters: The U.S. Army War College Quarterly), p. 87-89)
[Sharia should] govern... the entire universe.
Takfir is the excommunication of Muslims who do not abide by sharia and are thus considered apostates. While Islam prohibits killing fellow Muslims, takfir renders the target an apostate and thereby religiously sanctions his execution. (Sources: Shahrough Akhavi (International Journal of Middle East Studies), p. 388), Dale C. Eikmeier (Parameters: The U.S. Army War College Quarterly), p. 89)
Qutbists’ theories on modern jahiliyya flow cohesively into the assertion that Muslims are obligated to carry out jihad in order to implement sharia.
According to pundit William McCants, Muslims who subscribe to Qutbist ideology reject the label “Qutbist” or “Qutbism,” because it implies that they worship a person rather than God, and thus deviate from Islamic dogma. The term “Qutbist” was thus created and used by the ideology’s critics and opponents. (Sources: William McCants (West Point: Combating Terrorism Center), p. 10-11))