Qutb was born in Egypt to strictly religious parents and had memorised the Qur’an by the age of ten. He received a secular education, continuing his tertiary studies in education. It was not until in 1948 when he spent two years studying in America that he began to develop his attitudes towards the west, shocked by what he perceived as a lack of morals and values evident in the behaviour of the younger generations. Upon returning to Egypt he and his brother joined the Muslim Brotherhood and following the assassination of its leader became the group’s main mouthpiece. Upon uniting with Nasser’s Free Officers Movement (FOM) they successfully overthrew the monarchy and secured the independence of Egypt. Nasser however disagreed with the Brotherhood’s aim of establishing a Muslim state and Qutb was imprisoned for his writings on two occasions, culminating in his execution in 1966.
Qutb’s main criticism of the West was that it was a jahilli society. He challenged the accepted reading of jahilli, defining it as all those who didn’t follow Divine Guidance, God’s Law, or Sharia Law, including Muslim-majority nations in which Sharia Law was not in place. He accused the West of attempting to fix Jahilli problems with jahilli solutions and called for a “new leadership”. According to Qutb the West had developed a “hideous schizophrenia” as a result of the separation of religion from the social order, initially beginning with the misinterpretation of Jesus. The family unit was also another major issue for contention, especially the sexualisation of women. He saw illegitimate children and divorce as degrading the importance of the family unit, a major aspect of Islam responsibility. In ‘Milestones’ he writes that by examining “the family and treatment of exes” in other countries he could gain the best understanding of the state of that society. In the case of America and the West this proved to be resoundingly negative. These criticisms were not exclusive to the West however, he included many Muslim-majority nations, especially those with secular governments and legal systems, as examples of jahilli societies. These negative interpretations of the West were not his only lasting influences however, his treatment of Jihad was a cornerstone amongst fundamentalist interpretation, notably that of Osama bin Laden.
Greater and Lesser jihad have traditionally been divided into the more noble internal struggle of which the Five Pillars of Islam form the basis, and external struggle respectfully. Qutb bleived that lesser jihad was the vehicle with which to overthrow these jahilli societies, a challenge to traditional interpretations of the Qur’an for which he was rejected by many. Lesser jihad is today the most well understood interpretation of Jihad in the West, despite its comparative unimportance in the Qur’an. The Qur’an states that Muslims may fight but only in defence for “Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.” (2:180). Strict guidelines were outlined in the Qur’an for the implementation of Lesser Jihad and under no circumstances was this to be used as a means of conversion, as called for by Qutb in his establishment of an Ideal Islamic Society. Here sharia law was in place for all and any alternate religions were to be practiced exclusively in private. This idea of lesser jihad as one of the most important duties of a Muslim was perhaps his most lasting influence to modern Islamic interpretation, specifically amongst fundamentalists and the West.
In Qutb’s ideal Islamic society he aimed to not only overcome the issues of the West but