Sayyid’s sixth grandfather was from India. He arrived in this region for pilgrimage, then traveled to Egypt and settled there. Sayyid’s father sent two of his sons to study in Al Azhar in Cairo. He subscribed to al-Liwa' newspaper and people of the village thronged to his house to listen to him reading it. Sometimes, Sayyid read it for them. A few of Sayyid’s family members were writers and poets, and a few died of tortures in imprisonment when the Brotherhood faced the ordeals. To produce scholarly works and to be imprisoned was family Sunnah.
Sayyid Qutb memorized the Qur'an at the age of 10. He showed talent in school and became a collector of books in childhood. By the time he was 13, his father’s house had become the headquarters of revolutionary movements, in the proceedings of which the teenager also participated. When the revolution subsided, he was sent to Cairo for higher studies in 1920. By 1933 he was a graduate degree holder in Arabic language and literature. In one of college debates he criticized the famous poet Ahmad Shawqi which incensed many including his own father. While a student, he submitted to the principal written suggestions to modify and improve the educational syllabi.
After graduation, Sayyid found employment with the education ministry. After several years of teaching he was transferred to the administration, working as an editor. He provoked the ire of the minister in 1944 with his literary and political activism, and was transferred to become a primary school inspector but was later returned to his work. In 1948, a trip to America was arranged for Sayyid to specialize in education and basics of syllabi. He returned in 1950.
Sayyid Qutb finally resigned from the ministry in 1952 due to some provocations. His premature resignation deprived him of any benefit of retirement. His contributions to the ministry were well recognized, although most of his brilliant suggestions were never implemented.
Sayyid had joined the Wafd party early in life, but when the British colonizers drove tanks into the Palace and ordered the setting up of a government within 24 hours and the Wafd obliged, many left the Wafd, and so did Sayyid and `Aqqad. He continued with stints in politics, writing articles, demanding reforms. His house in Halawan area became a political forum frequented by youth who were desirous of political reforms and who wished to learn from his political analysis and reform-oriented points of view. He also wrote, especially on educational methods and reforms, in newspapers and magazines, enough articles to make several volumes over the years. He was the chief editor of a few magazines like The Arab World, which was started in 1947, and was financed by a Christian called Yosef Shahatah. Four monthly issues were published under Sayyid who invited a number of writers, literati and intellectuals from Egypt and the Arab world to write in it. By the fifth issue he left the magazine.
Then came the eventful break in 1948 when he became the editor of the weekly magazine the New Intellect. It had a huge impact as it presented a revolutionary social reformation ideology, where the causes of poverty, injustice and capitalism were discussed. The government lost patience with this magazine sooner than expected and closed it three months after its inauguration. Several articles were quite provocative: ‘You the affluent are the ones who sow the seeds of Communism,’ ‘Thighs and breasts,’ ‘Sons and daughters of the affluent are the stench of the earth and curse of the heaven,’ ‘Emancipate yourselves, O slaves of the Americans, Russians and British,’ ‘The nation is not a bunch of beggars, return their rights and save your charity.’ It was thought that perhaps Sayyid was a communist.
In 1945 Sayyid brought out a book called, 'Artistic Depiction in the Qur'an,’ which was commended by many like, Najeeb Mahfouz, Ali Ahmed Ba Katheer and Tawfeeq El Hakeem in different magazines.
Sayyid had contacts and relations hot and cold with the leading literary figures of the time: `Abbas Mahmood al `Aqqad, Ahmed Hassan El Zayyat, Dr. Taha Hussain, Tawfeeq El Hakeem, Ahmed Ameen, `Abdul Qadir Hamza, `Ali El Tantawi, `Abbas Kheder and others; though the contacts remained intellectual and not personal. He appreciated their good works, but criticized other parts. When Taha Hussain published his dangerous book " The future of culture," Sayyid criticized him at length in offensive language. Earlier, while in USA, Sayyid had criticized Tawfiq El Hakeem's drama and fictional works and sent him a comprehensive plan to get rid of psychological and ideological subordination to the West and the return to Islamic concepts. In 1938, when `Aqqad was criticized by the students of Al-Rafe`i, Sayyid strongly defended `Aqqad. In fact, Sayyid was especially indebted to `Aqqad who had many students among the then poets, literati and men of letters but Sayyid was the most prominent, intelligent, and active among them. Though most of these students melted in `Aqqad’s character even after they had made their own names in the world of literature, Sayyid had a strong character which did not allow him to be another replica of his teacher.
In spite of this tutelage, he criticized `Aqqad in some of his viewpoints on literature and got them published in newspapers too such as al-Ahram. As he started to contemplate the Qur'an in late 1940s, his tastes began to change, and he started to break away from `Aqqad’s influence.
Al Aqqad was taken aback by Sayyid’s resolve to leave his camp and by his independent definition and understanding of poetry, literature and art, and therefore shunned and criticized him saying how sorry he felt for him in his new direction, calling it that of heedlessness and naivety. He decided to ignore him, and so made no comments at all on Sayyid’s books, which left Sayyid feeling hurt.
Sayyid Qutb displayed his interest in the Qur'an in the beginning of the forties, which coincided with the weakening of his literary interests and the growth of his political, social and reformative enthusiasm. He used the printed media to publish his violent and extremely reproachful articles where he demanded reforming the state of affairs in the society according to Islam, using a technique that was clear, candid, intense and undaunted. The government and the Palace felt uneasy with that but found no legal pretext to book him as Sayyid took care to coin his sentences in a way that left no possibility of legal action against him.
Since Sayyid was an old friend of Mahmood Fahmi, the prime minister in 1948, as both were members of the break-away Sa`adi party, Mahmood Fahmi planned and arranged for him to leave Egypt for some time to avoid being harassed by the palace men, and get relieved of his annoying articles. The planners and administrators in the ministry of education appreciated Sayyid's talents in education, culture, training and planning and wanted him to specialize in this field but from Western sources and particularly from the American experience in order to implement American methods in Egypt. Sayyid was nominated and despatched to America with the following mission: “Posted on a scientific scholarship to America from the education ministry to specialize in education and syllabus techniques.”
Sayyid boarded a ship to America in 1948 and an incident led him to decide then and there that Islam would be his new path. One night a semi-naked, tall, beautiful, white woman knocked at his cabin in the ship offering to spend the night with him. He begged excuse but she persisted. Finally he banged the door against her. He was shocked at her audacity and immorality. She was drunk.
As he chose Islam to be his new path, he became a preacher too, even on the ship, and called his fellow Muslim travelers to perform the Friday prayers in a congregation. There were six Muslims among 120 travelers on board and their resolve to perform the Friday prayer was not so much for the prayer itself but religious zeal against a Christian missionary who attempted preaching on board. Sayyid led the prayer and delivered the sermon while the rest of the travelers watched. After it was over, many came congratulating them on the success of the “mass.” That was the maximum they could comprehend of the prayer!
Several attempts were made to seduce him, both sexually as well as intellectually, to win the intelligent man to Western causes. But they failed by miles. Sayyid wrote: '….America is good to be a workshop for the world. But if the whole world becomes like America, it would be a human disaster.'
He wrote to Tawfeeq Al Hakeem: 'Are you awaiting my return to that old position in literary criticism? I am afraid this may not happen! It's more probable you’ll have to depend on yourself ... I will devote the rest of my life and efforts to a comprehensive social program that would last generations.'
During his two years, Sayyid made contribution to the International Centre for Teaching Languages, by teaching them how to teach languages. He thought that they were good at teaching science, but quite lacking in other disciplines.
Two important incidents that drew Sayyid nearer to the Ikhwan took place in America: the first was the joy and ecstasy displayed by the Americans at the news of Al-Banna's assassination and the reports published in newspapers describing him as the most dangerous man in the Middle East. The second was the efforts of the British intelligence man, John Heyworth Den warning him about the Ikhwan. Returning in 1950 he was appointed as an assistant supervisor in the office of the minister of education.
Sayyid resented the monarchy and the existing state of affairs in the country and his first Islamic book 'Social Justice in Islam', written during his stay in the U.S., was greatly admired by the people for the brave reform ideas in it. He began writing strong, brave, intense and radical articles on reforms in various magazines after his return from the U.S. He attacked those who were the cause of political, economic and social corruption without naming any, so the hand of the law was kept at a distance from him. Most prominent among the aggressive reformatory magazines that published his articles were, Al-Da`wah of the Ikhwan, al-Liwa’ al-Jadeed, and others. His articles extended attacks to include the retinue of King Farooq, leaders of the political parties, feudal lords, capitalists, and British and American agents. These articles created a lot of complications for him as well as for the publishers as the censoring prevented the distribution of the magazines. Sayyid was summoned to police stations or taken to court in some instances. However, the masses admired his work and he captured their hearts. Those nationalistic army officers who were desirous of reforms were in the foremost ranks of his admirers and the leadership of the Free Officers, headed by Gamal Abdul Nasser, issued a clandestine order to its members to read every of Sayyid's articles.
He was in the forefront of the supporters of the revolution by Gamal Abdul Nasser and colleagues with his inflammatory and fervent articles. Sometimes he attended their meetings. They frequented his house. Once they wanted him to run the education ministry but he apologized. Then they offered him the radio, and this time too he expressed his unwillingness. At last he accepted to be the secretary general of the editorial committee. Here started the rift between him and Abdul Nasser and his coterie.
A month after the revolution, a function was held by the revolutionary party to honor Sayyid where leading figures, including Taha Hussain, heaped praises on Sayyid before an audience consisting of dignitaries, local and foreign, Arabs and others, giants in the literary world and professors from universities and colleges. Sayyid’s topic was: ‘Spiritual and Ideological Freedom in Islam.’ Sayyid said in the talk that while he was fearful of King Farooq sending him to jail, his fear had not left him with Farooq having left - sent to exile. In the post-monarchy times, he has the same fear: “I am ready for that, now, more than at any other time.' Gamal Abdul Nasser stood up and said in effect, swearing by Allah, that such a thing will not happen except “over our dead bodies.”
As things would go, Sayyid resigned from the editorial committee after one month of assuming the office as he wanted to make it more Islamic but the revolutionary council would not approve it. It was then that Abdul Nasser started to destabilize the Muslim Brotherhood. Sayyid intervened trying to mediate between the two camps as both were his friends, and he was not yet a member of the Brotherhood; but to no effect. He formally joined the Brotherhood in 1953.
He had already produced a few books, Artistic Depiction in the Qur'an (1945); Scenes of the judgment Day in the Qur'an; The battle between Islam and Capitalism (1951), and International peace and Islam. The work on In the shade of the Qur'an was begun in 1952, and here onwards he earnestly applied himself to the Qur'an.
Sayyid was ideologically closer to the Brotherhood after his return from America but that did not work in favor of joining them then as he was occupied with reforms, guidance, writing and research in his field in the education ministry and with his contacts with the Free Officers of the army in preparation for the revolution, which occupied most of his time.
He was close to Abdul Nasser before joining the group and could have used that for posts, money and influence. He, however, left them and joined the Ikhwan, well aware of the ordeals he and the group would undergo at the hands of this man. Within the Ikhwan, he began to edit their mouthpiece Ikhwan al-Muslimoon.
Only twelve issues of the newspaper saw the light of day. Before the end of 1954 Sayyid decided to close it due to the Government’s continuous interference with it by way of expunging some of its articles and confiscating some of its issues. He continued to hold the Tuesday lecture-classes which were attended by thousands of the Brothers.
He was delegated by the group to participate in the Damascus conference where he lectured on moral education as a means to achieve social cohesiveness. He met the leadership of Ikhwan in Syria after the conference and gave a lecture on the inimitability of the Qur'an, its phrasing and influence. He attempted to enter Jordan but was prevented by the Jordanian authorities upon orders from the British. The Brothers deputed him to participate in the Islamic conference in Jerusalem organized by the Brotherhood in December 1953.
In January 1954, the revolutionary council announced an order disbanding Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon group, defining it as a political party, accusing it of plotting dangerous activities that threatened national security and conspiring with the British – of all people! - against the nation. Sayyid Qutb along with other leaders of the Ikhwan were arrested the following day. President Mohammed Najeeb was deposed in February the same year and the events went into quick succession: Ikhwan organized a massive demonstration forcing Abdul Nasser restore Mohammed Najeeb to the Presidency and to release all the arrested members of the group.
In October the same year, a fabricated assassination attempt on Abdul Nasser’s life was taken as a pretext to arrest thousands of the group, and Sayyid was among those arrested. Martial courts were arranged for them and Sayyid was called to testify against the guide-general, Hassan Al Hudhaibi. The officer heading the court noticed how exhausted Sayyid was and asked him if he was alright. At this, Sayyid removed his shirt to show the effects of the inhuman torture he had been subjected to. The hearing was adjourned.
This showed his courage as he had been aware of what would follow his disclosure about the torture when he returned back to jail. His trial was delayed due to his bad health which was aggravated by conditions in the jail, and in July 1955 he was sentenced to 15 years jail term.
In Torra jail, which was the worst among the jails in Egypt, Sayyid spent his jail term along with another 400 members of the group. In the 1957 massacre plotted by the government, the detainees in the jail were shot by orders from the government itself. Twenty-one members of Ikhwan died and 23 others were wounded. It is estimated that at one time or the other, there were 80,000 Ikhwanis in prisons of Egypt.
Sayyid was the centre of respect in the jail due to his strong character, good behavior and captivating personality. The administrator of the jail himself used to call Sayyid the real administrator. He was so generous that whenever his family visited him and brought food, he always shared it with his fellow prisoners.
Sayyid was afflicted with bad health since his childhood but that deteriorated further after five years in the jail and the facilities in the health center there were inadequate. This necessitated shifting him to Al Manyal hospital in Cairo where he spent a year before returning to the jail. President Arif Abdul Salam of Iraq who admired Sayyid, mediated with the Egyptian government to release him, after 10 years which he had spent in the jail.
It was during this period that his nephew Rif`at Bakr was tortured with lashes until he received a heart attack and died in front of him. Sayyid loved Rif`at greatly. He himself was tied to a chair and deprived of food and water. He was whipped from the rear to walk faster while taken from place to place and dragged around in the cell by dogs. When Dr. Zafar Ishaq Ansari (Director, Da`wah Department – Int. Islamic Univ. Islamabad) visited Sayyid Qutb in Egypt after his long imprisonment, he showed him the wounds in his legs inflicted by the dogs.
Sayyid’s stay in the Torra jail allowed him to review the chain of events that befell him and the Brotherhood. He saw that it had all been the handiwork of the international powers that fought Islam and the movement and that they had succeeded in disbanding the group and in inflicting the severest inhuman torture on them. He also saw that halting the activities of the group would allow corruption to pervade the society further. He deliberated upon the matter for sometime and this led him to a number of facts and realities on faith, preaching, education and the mission itself.
Outside the jail, he was offered leadership of a group, which was accepted despite bad health. He worked with six principles in view:
• The necessity to start with the Muslim youth to explain faith and the meanings of Islam, Iman, and slavery to Allah.
• Educating them in Islamic mannerisms and enlightening them on whatever was happening around them in inimical camps locally and abroad.
• Not to accord membership to individuals except after their attaining a high degree of awareness and understanding in faith, behavior and knowledge of contemporary events.
• The starting point was not the establishment of an Islamic system but influence the society and the effective sectors in it with Islam.
• Establishing an Islamic system was to be not by revolting against current regimes, from the top, but by starting from the bottom and influencing the society first.
• Protecting the Islamic movement as it goes out in this path, defending it if attacked only, and if the means are available.
Sayyid Qutb was once again arrested and subjected to solitary confinement in 1965. After futile interrogations he was produced in court where Fuad al Dajawi presided. He was a stone hearted, ignorant and proud man. He was a coward too, who had been captured by the Jews and spoke from the radio there insulting Egypt and Abdul Nasser. The trial began in 1966 while the defense was by an old agent of the state intelligence. Many Arab lawyers from different countries volunteered to defend Sayyid's case but the government did not permit them to enter the country. Amnesty International too wanted to send one of its members as an observer but the government declined. Kamaluddin Hussain who was a member of the revolutionary council, an ex-minister of education and an ex-vice president resigned his post in protest against Abdul Nasser’s actions against the Brothers. He wrote him a letter protesting against Sayyid's second arrest for which he too was arrested along with his relatives and family members.
In August 1966, the court pronounced the sentences against 43 members of the group, seven to be executed, and others with 10 to 25 year jail terms. The sentences were scathing, unjust and fierce, and had been suggested by Abdul Nasser who, in turn, received them as orders from the enemies of Islam, the Western powers. Out of the seven sentenced to be executed, three had their sentences reduced to life imprisonment.
The faces of those condemned to death shone with happiness. When the word ‘execution’ was used by someone, Sayyid remarked: “Don’t say ‘execution’ but say ‘Shahadah,’ let them hear what they hate.” They offered Sayyid to give up his ideology and beg for forgiveness to be released and assume whatever he wanted of posts, offices and money. But he declined. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia sent a telegram mediating against the execution of Sayyid. When the carrier of that telegram reached Abdul Nasser, he ordered that Sayyid be executed in the early morning and that he himself be shown the telegram only after that.
Sayyid had a firm character. Once he called Ahmed `Attar and asked him to come with 10 pounds as he needed to purchase medicines. He said: ‘I went to his house immediately with that amount of money to see a strange scene in his sitting room. A diplomat from a petroleum exporting Arab country was sitting with Sayyid, with a brief case stashed with currency notes, requesting him earnestly to accept it as a gift from his Government in appreciation of his literary, ideological and social contributions and to finance his literary and ideological projects. Sayyid was reclining on his chair feeling too weak with his disease but firmly refusing to accept the gift. He then looked at me and asked whether I brought what he wanted.’
Abdul Salam Arif, the President of Iraq who mediated for Sayyid’s release invited him to settle in Iraq and work as an advisor to the President in educational affairs, but he declined and sent him his books with a costly binding as a gift.
The following are some of his 26 literary books:
1- The mission of a poet in life: Published in 1933 dealing with the influence of a poet with budding poets; severely criticizing Ahmad Shawqi.
2- The unknown shore collection of poems: This is the only published collection of poems by Sayyid released in 1935. The book took 9 years to compose from 1925 to 1934 and contained 62 poems. The book, however, was not printed again after his martyrdom and two copies only were found, one in London university and the other in the American university library in Cairo.
3- Critical work on Dr. Taha Hussain's book The future of culture in Egypt of 1938, which evoked a furor in various Islamic, literary and ideological forums. Some scholars, including Sayyid, accepted the good in it and rejected the wrong and presented his ideas in this book.
4- The four shadows: This book was published in 1945 and was a combined effort of Ameena, Hameeda and Muhammad along with Sayyid Qutb. The book was an emotional literary work symbolizing the feeling and contemplations of the four.
5- A child from the village: It is a 220-page book which speaks of his upbringing in the village, his family, an image of his father, prayers congregations, his interest in books and role in the 1919 revolution.
6- The Bewitched City: A legendary fiction he wrote in 1946 with an inspiration derived from the "Arabian Nights" stories. It's an exquisite legendary fiction art in which he exhibited his narrative, analytical and fictional talent and was based on sorcery, love, marriage, revenge and spite.
7- Books and Personalities: In this he analyzed some works of literary giants like Taha Hussain, `Aqqad, al-Hakeem and many others.
8- The Thorns: This is a fictional story based on his only real life love experience which he underwent when he proposed to marry a girl but whom he dropped after coming to know that she once loved another person before him. (Subsequent jail-terms did not give him an opportunity to get married).
9- The Kindergarten: This was a combined work of Sayyid, Ameena Al-Saeed, and Yosef Murad who worked in the forties in authoring entertaining stories for children.
In addition to above literary works, Sayyid wrote some course books for the Ministry of Education. He also authored 13 Islamic ideological books: Scenes of the Judgment Day in the Qur'an; Social Justice in Islam; The Battle of Islam and Capitalism; International Peace and Islam; Islamic Studies.; This Religion; The Artistic Depiction in the Qur'an; The future of this Religion; Islam and the Problems of this Civilization; Fundamentals of the Islamic Concepts (this was published 20 years after his execution); Characteristics of the Islamic Creed; The Milestones, and of course, In the Shade of the Qur'an.
Late in Sayyid’s life, a controversy arose within the Ikhwan over Sayyid’s tough stance towards those who were not fully committed to Islam. Those who disagreed with him felt that the opinion that seemed to emerge from his uncompromising attitude was that the week Muslims were out of Islamic boundary. Meetings took place within the prison and in the hospital and Sayyid decided to address this issue with a new book that proved to be his last: Ma`alim fi al-Tareeq. He finished work before his release in May 1964 and gave the drafts to the Guide-General for approval. The Guide-general read the book and admired Sayyid’s ideas and allowed its publication.
This is a pioneering book in the understanding of the Da`wah and a Muslim’s mission, and it contains no aspersions against the Muslims as individuals nor the Islamic society as a whole, which was the complaint about his writings in general. He had intentions of writing other parts of the book to present further milestones and landmarks on the path of Da`wah and Jihad and it is believed that he had written the second part but that was destroyed in the jail. This book remained accepted by the brotherhood till a very recent time when new understandings contrary to what Sayyid wrote in the Milestones appeared and there appeared people who started criticizing Sayyid, his books and ideology, and it was done away with.
Drawing heavily from the introductions to the chapters in (Fi Zilal), he said in the book that humanity stands at an abyss as a result of the leadership of the Jahiliyyah and that Islam is the only rescue. He saw no alternative but resurrecting the Islamic society to lead the world though a long distance exists between attempts at revival of society and its assumption of leadership. The characteristics of this society that qualify it to lead the world are not in material advancement but in its Islamic beliefs, values, systems, truths, and principles which organize human life. This process of revival begins with a core group that resolves to effect a change and proceeds working assiduously, adhering to Islam and calling towards it to rescue the society. This core group requires milestones to identify the nature of its role, the truth of its duty, the core of its objective, and the starting point of its long journey. Such milestones are to be derived from the Qur'an as the main source and benefit from its basic directions.
He emphasized that Islam should not be confined to a cold and lifeless scientific understanding but converted into an entity that is alive, vibrant, active and influential and is competent to interact with the Jahiliyyah around it and confront it.
He then replied to some of the wrong understandings of Jihad of some contemporary Muslims who search for justifications of Jihad and limit it to defense alone. Jihad in Islam is a universal declaration towards the liberation of humankind from slavery of man to that of none but Allah. It is also a declaration of Allah’s divinity, complete subservience to Him, and the derivation of legislations and orders from Him only.
Sayyid had long cherished a desire to write an aesthetical interpretation of the Qur'an based on his artistic depiction. He first began to write a series of articles that were published every 2nd month and were hugely popular. When imprisoned, he was banned from writing. The publishing company filed a case against the Government demanding huge sums as compensation. There were outside pressures also, especially from Pakistani scholars. Since the government could not afford the amount, and did not have any reason to prevent Sayyid from writing, it had to allow him resumption.
Sayyid completed authoring Fi-Zilal by the end of the 50s but the experience in the jail matured his ideology and he perceived the need to re-interpret the Qur'an and rewrite which he started in 1960. The best that represent his educative, cultivating and missionary understanding are the first 10 chapters of the revised edition where he dwelt upon the basic foundations of the creed, Da`wah and Jihad and dwelt upon cultural issues, concentrating on certain expressions such as dominion, Jahiliyyah, jurisprudence of the mission, path of Da`wah, and others. His interpretation of Surah al-An`am was the most focused on these Jihad-related missionary issues. He completed the 13th chapter of the revised edition before his final imprisonment in 1965 and execution in 1966.
Sayyid’s approach in the revised edition differed in that it was transformed from theoretical and explanatory approach to an educative, cultivating and missionary approach in the revised one. He wrote in his revised edition:
“ …and I lived within the shade of the Qur'an, watching down the waves of Jahiliyyah on earth and observing those little and petty interests of its inhabitants. I lived there, scrutinizing that complete, comprehensive, exalted and pure vision of existence, and comparing it with the visions of the Jahiliyyah, the humanity is living through. I lived there, appreciating how bigger existence is compared to what is externally identifiable, bigger in the multiplicity of its aspects; and death not as the end of the journey but the movement from one stage to another. My life within the shade of the Qur'an infused me with a firm belief that there can be no goodness in this earth, comfort for humanity, tranquility for man, dignity, benediction, purity, harmony, without conformation with the norms of the universe and the codes of this life.”
Man acquired leadership by the Qur'an, wrote Sayyid, by the new creed that came with it, and by the Shari`ah derived from it. This proved a new birth for man, greater in its reality than his physical birth. The Qur'an constructed a new perception for man about existence, life, values, and systems, it also affected a unique social presence that was too far for him to imagine before it was brought out by the Qur'an.
He thought that those who remained at a distance from the Qur'an and its particular approach, from living within its shades, and embodying the circumstances whose environment resemble that which coincided with those of the Messenger, missed the true benefits of the Qur'an. Embodying these circumstances and breathing a whiff of its atmosphere alone, makes the Qur'an comprehensible and inspirational. In such an atmosphere alone, with attempts at resuming the Islamic life afresh, the Qur'an opens up its treasures to the hearts, discloses its secrets and exudes its fragrance.
It is not just understanding the Qur'anand its inspiration nor comprehending the meanings of its words and expressions. It is more of equipping oneself with a set of feelings, perceptions and experiences that resemble those that were prevalent at the time of its revelation and accompanied the life of those Muslims who received and grasped it in the midst of the campaigns of Jihad. This preparedness to understand the Qur'an leads one to “live in a Qur’anic environment.”
Fi Zilal al-Qur’an is definitely a masterpiece Qur’anic commentary the like of which does not exist. Although there seems to be overemphasis of certain aspects of its message, there is almost nothing in it – barring a few slips - that contradicts the Qur'an, Sunnah and the expressions of the Salaf. The emphasis, especially on two aspects: complete commitment to its call, and, secondly, Jihad, is quite justified by the situation Islam and Muslims were facing in his time, and which has worsened since him. Those who criticized him and his writings, have not been able to say anything more appealing, more reasonable, and more in line with the understanding of the Salaf, towards solutions for the present-day humiliations suffered by the Muslims from one end of the world to the other, at the hands of their enemies who add salt to wounds, by openly calling its leaders eunuchs. The right to Jihad has been taken away by the enemies of Islam, the right to peaceful Da`wah has been taken away, the right to expend Zakah has been taken away, and the right to question any regime is taken away, even if that regime sells the interests of the country to the enemy, and allows it to penetrate any part of the Islamic world murdering and raping in any numbers. The question that is rightly asked by those who suffer is: what are the contributions of those who criticize him and his writings, what have they done more than helping the authorities ban his books? Is it possible that Sayyid drew a true picture of some classes of men?
Admittedly, if some of the traditional scholars – unless of free countries – have nothing to offer beyond rhetoric, it does not turn Fi Zilal or Ma`alim fi al-Tareeq beyond criticism, nor proves validity of thoughts expressed therein. It is the Qur'an, Sunnah and practices of the Salaf which remain the criterion of judgment. Would those who are not tired of referring to the Salaf, compare Sayyid’s attitudes with those of Abu Bakr who, with 1% of the Arabs with him, declared war on the 99%, and saved the day for Islam? How does Sayyid turn into a criminal for recommending to follow the bold example of the tallest of the Salaf?
It is true that Sayyid’s earliest journalistic writings were the hardest on the privileged and intellectual class, as well as the dormant `Ulama; and with mere cursory browsing of Fi Zilal it is assumed that he must have been after political power. But his refusal to be in the top hierarchy of a political party that had just assumed power, with all avenues open for presidentship, places the critic in an awkward position, made more awkward if he read a few pages from Scenes of the Judgment Day in the Qur'an; and The Artistic Depiction in the Qur'an.
It was a man of character who said no to the overtures of Gamal Abdul Nasser, walked into the prison smiling, and to the gallows cheerful. To be able to sit dowm Fi Zilal in the evening, after being lashed in the corridors and dragged by dogs in the cells during the day, requires a noble mind and a noble soul; and not to appreciate this immense sacrifice, is treachery.
Fi Zilal is one of those works that saved a large number of Arab intellectuals from atheism, materialism, hedonism and nihilism. It took away cheap literature from their hands, and gave them a new meaning to life through the Qur'an. The credit for the immense impact of Islam on the West, which gives its thinkers insomnia, goes in a large measure to men and women who graduated from Fi Zilal. Those who have been deeply affected by this commentary are rarely found holding fanatical opinions. It is outstanding in chasteness of language, accuracy of meaning, artful of innuendoes, vast of scope, subtlety of thought, penetrating in criticism, and profound in effects on the mind and soul.