How Did Sayyid Qutb Influence Osama bin Laden?

Elmer Swenson
Last Updated: 11-7-2006

Sayyid Qutb is famous post-9-11 as "the Man Who Inspired Bin Laden," [1] so what ideas of Qutb's can be found in OBL's messages - i.e. his communiqués, fatawa, declarations, and videos? [2] Below are a few concepts from Sayyid Qutb's Milestones that I've found in OBL messages:

  • the Quranic story of the Pit of Fire,
  • usury as tool for Jewish world domination,
  • Crusades as centuries-long struggle
  • obsession with plots
  • enemy as decadent
  • modern day Jahiliyyah
  • democracy as un-Islamic
  • obediance as slavery
  • obedience is worship
  • Christians are polytheists,
  • some book recommendations.

    Needless to say there existence isn't proof Qutb was the one that gave bin Laden the idea(s). They could have both gotten the same ideas independently reading the Qur'an or ahadith, or reading/studying someone like ibn Taymiya, or just from the Arab Muslim zeitgeist and conspiracy theory rumour mill.

    On the other hand Bin Laden could have picked them up not only from reading Milestones, from college classes in Saudi Arabia he took taught by Qutb's brother Muhammad, or indirectly through Ayman al-Zawahiri, an admirer of Qutb. [2a]

    Why does it matter? Writing strictly for Muslims, Qutb talks about issues -- such as "offensive jihad" (see "Qutb and Peaceful Co-existance with Non-Muslims") -- bin Laden never mentions. If Qutb did inspire bin Laden, then the world's most famous jihadi may have more on his mind then his scripted message of defensive jihad against (what he alleges is) American persecution of Islam -- things he knows would be extremely impolitic to tell some of his audience, particularly non-Muslims. (See also a discussion of Muhammad Qutb's book and al Qaeda at "Muhammad Qutb's Islam : the Misunderstood Religion, What Does It All Mean?" )

    Some of the similarities:

  • Both Sayyid Qutb and Bin Laden comment on the Story of the "Pit of Fire" (from surat al-buruj 85:4-8 in the Qur'an) about the persecution of believers by unnamed murderous evil doers, from surah al-Buruuj in the Quran)
    Consider ... Him who witnesses [all]
    and [of] that unto which witness is borne [by Him]!
    They destroy but themselves, they who would ready a pit
    of fire fiercely burning [for all who have attained to faith]!
    Lo! [with glee do] they contemplate that [fire],
    fully conscious of what they are doing to the believers,
    who they hate for no other reason that than they believe in God, the Almighty, the One to whom all praise is due,
    [and] to whom the dominion of the heavens and that earth belongs. But God is witness unto everything!
    Verily, as for those who persecute believing men and believing women and thereafter do not repent, hell's suffering awaits them: yea suffering through fire awaits them!

    [85:3-10 as translated by]

    .... though they don't make exactly the same point.


    ... arrogant, mischievous, criminal and degraded people ... sat by the pit of fire, watching how the Believers suffered and writhed in pain. They sat there to enjoy the sight of how fire consumes living beings and how the bodies of these noble souls were reduced to cinders and ashes ... shouts of mad joy would escape their lips at the sight of blood and pieces of flesh. [Milestones, p.150]

    Bin Laden:

    God mentioned the people of the trench and immortalized their memory by praising them for being resolute in their faith. They were given a choice between faith and being thrown into the fire. They refused not to believe in God, and so they were thrown into hell [he means "the fire" presumably]. At the end of the story of the boy, when the tyrant king ordered that the believers should be thrown in the pit, a poor mother came carrying her son .... as the Prophet relates, her son told her: `be patient, mother, for you are in the right.`

    No Muslim would ever possibly ask: what did they benefit? ... They were victorious, with the blessings of God Almighty, and with the immortal heavens that God promised them. [Dec. 2001] [3]

  • Usury as not only a sin, but also the way Jews will takeover (or have taken over) the world (or U.S.) economy

    Qutb talks about the world takeover of the economy in the future tense in Milestones. In Chapter 8 he warns that

    explaining the purpose of man and his historical role in philosophical terms ... is one of the tricks played by world Jewry, whose purpose is to eliminate all limitations, especially the limitations imposed by faith and religion, so that Jews may penetrate into body politics of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs. At the top of the list of these activities is usury, the aim of which is that all the wealth of mankind end up in the hands of Jewish financial institutions which run on interest. [italics added] [Milestones, p.110-111]

    Bin Laden talks generally about the evil designs of Jews in a Feb. 14, 2003 audiotape:

    These Jews are masters of usury and leaders in treachery. They will leave you nothing, either in this world or the next. Of them God said: `Do they have any share of what He possesses? If they did they would not give away so much as the groove of the date stone.` [Q4:53] These Jews believe as part of their religion that people are their slaves, and whoever denies their religion deserves to be killed. Of them God said: `[That is] because they say "We are under not obligation toward the gentiles" - they tell a lie against God and they know it.` [Q3:75]

    These are some of the characteristics of the Jews, so beware of them. These, too, are some of the features of the Crusader plan, so resist it. [Feb. 14, 2003] [4])

    and specifically about using usury to control the economy in "Letter to the Americans" of Oct. 6, 2002
    ... You are the nation that permits usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions ... as a result of this ... the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspect of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense; precisely what Benjamin Franklin warned you against [italics added] [[5]

  • The idea that Western conflict with Muslims in the Middle East is a continuation of the Crusades, i.e. when Westerners end up fighting Muslims it is not to stop terrorism, or help a small, limited homeland for a terribly persecuted minority group (Jews), or protect a steady flow of export oil -- but because they want to destroy Islam. The fact that the last Crusaders of the Levant were run out of Palestine 700+ years ago not withstanding,[6] Qutb maintains the idea of fighting imperialism is a deception of Islam's enemies:


    Enemies of the Believers may wish to change this struggle into an economic or political ... struggle so that the Believers become confused concerning the true nature of the struggle and the flame of belief in their hearts becomes extinguished ... We see an example of this today in the attempts of Christendom to try to deceive us by distorting history and saying that the Crusades were a form of imperialism. The truth of the matter is that the latter-day imperialism is but a mask for the crusading spirit, since it is not possible for it to appear in its true form, as it was possible in the Middle Ages. [Milestones, p.159-160]

    Bin Laden continually uses the word "crusader" but "the word `imperialism` does not occur once in any of the messages he has sent out," according to Messages to the World, the Statements of Osama bin Laden editor Bruce Lawrence (Messages, p.xx).

  • Frequent talk of "plots" by the enemy
  • Qutb on the Western plot, or "well-thought-out scheme," against Islam

    The Western ways of thought ... [have] an enmity toward all religion, and in particular with greater hostility toward Islam. This enmity toward Islam is especially pronounced and many times is the result of a well-thought-out scheme the object of which is first to shake the foundations of Islamic beliefs and then gradually to demolish the structure of Muslim society. [Milestones, p.116]

    Bin Laden on plots: Regarding the invasion of Afghanistan and partition of East Timor:

    We ... see events not as isolated incidents, but as part of a long chain of conspiracies, a war of annihilation ... In southern Sudan hundreds of thousand were killed," [italics added] [Nov. 3, 2001][7]
    To Iraqi jihadis:
    My message to you concerns inciting and continuing to urge for jihad to repulse the grand plots that have been hatched against our nation, some of which have been made particularly evident, such as the occupation of the Crusaders, with the help of the apostates, of Baghdad. [italics added] [Jan. 4, 2004] [8](
    To Europeans:
    So I present to them this peace proposal, which is essentially a commitment to cease operations against any state that pledges not to attack Muslims or intervene in their affairs, including that American conspiracy against the great Islamic world. [italics added] [April 15, 2004][9]

  • The enemy is decadent

    Qutb on the "infertility" of Western democracy

    Democracy in the West has become infertile to such an extent that it is borrowing from the systems of the Eastern bloc, especially in the economic system, under the name of socialism.[Milestones, p.7]

    On how America is aware of its inferiority

    Look at this capitalism ... at this individual freedom, ... at this materialistic attitude ... at this ... `free mixing of the sexes;` at this `emancipation of women;` at these unfair and cumbersome laws of marriage and divorce, ... these facts, when seen in the light of Islam made the American people blush.[Milestones, p.139]

    and how the Western world in general knows its civilization is worthless

    ... the Western world realizes that Western civilization is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind. It knows that it does not possess anything which will satisfy its own conscience and justify its existence. [Milestones, p.7]

    Bin Laden being directly at war with the biggest Western power America emphasises (or alleges) more his enemy's fighting weakness. Just as Qutb alleges the Western world's awareness of its worthlessness, bin Laden (implausably) alleges American "troops are utterly convinced of their government's tyranny." America
    depends on intense air strikes, which hide its most conspicuous weak points: fear, cowardice and lack of fighting spirit among its troops. These troops are utterly convinced of their government's tyranny and lies, and they know the cause they are defending is not just. They merely fight for capitalists, takers of usury, and arms and oil merchants, including the criminal gang in the White House. Add to that Bush Senior's personal grudges and Crusader hatred. (Feb.11, 2003) [9.1]

    And again: Americans

    "are the most cowardly people in battle"
    "huge propaganda machine and intense aerial bombardment",
    hides their
    "cowardice, and lack of fighting spirit" (Feb. 14, 2003) [9.2]
    We can conclude that America [has] enormous military strength and vast economic power, but that all this is built on foundations of straw. So it is possible to target those foundations and focus on their weakest points which, even if you strike only 1/10 of them, then the whole edifice will totter and sway, and relinquish its unjust leadership of the world. ... (Feb. 14, 2003) [9.3]
    Don't let their numbers frighten you, for their hearts are empty and they are falling into military and economic disarray, especially after the blessed day in New York, by the grace of God. (October 19, 2003) [9.4]

  • Pre-Islamic ignorance, or Jahiliyyah, Exists in the Modern World

    Qutb is famous for his using this word, which the Qur'an uses to mean ignorance of God's guidance before the revelation of the Qur'an, to describe the modern day Muslim world.

    Our whole environment, people's beliefs and ideas, habits and art, rules and laws -- is Jahiliyyah, even to the extent that what we consider to be Islamic culture, Islamic sources, Islamic philosophy and Islamic thought are also constructs of Jahiliyyah! [Milestones p.20]

    The editor of Messages notes Bin Laden's use of the word and tells readers it's been translated as "pagan" and "paganism" (Messages p.16)

  • Democratic, elected legislatures are unIslamic because human beings are forbidden to legislate laws

    This is perhaps the most significant of the connections between the two evil doers. Qutb informs his readers that not only are "Indian, Japan, the Philippines and Africa ... idolatrous societies,"

    All Jewish and Christian societies today are also jahili societies. They have distorted the original beliefs ... They are also jahili societies because their institutions and their laws are not based on submission to God alone ... they have established assemblies of men which have absolute power to legislate laws, thus usurping the right which belongs to God alone. [italics added] [Milestones, p.81-2]

    Bin Laden also condemns democratically elected governments as against Islam in a screed against the post-Saddam government elections in Iraq.

    How can these men enter the council of polytheism, the legislative council of representatives, which Islam has destroyed? Such an action destroys the head of faith, and what else do they have? And then they even claim that they are in the right. They are making a big mistake, and God knows that Islam has nothing to do with them."

    Islam is the religion of God, and the legislative councils of representatives are the religion of ignorance. Those who have obeyed the commanders and scholars in making permissible what is forbidden -- like entering the legislative councils -- or making forbidden what is permissible (like jihad for His sake) has taken gods other than God and there is no strength or power save in God). [italics added] [October 19, 2003] [10]

    "Religion of ignorance" is almost certainly a translation of jahiliyyah. The index heading of jahiliyyah in Messages gives the page where this quote comes from.
    Strangely, bin Laden also endorses "accountable" governments of the West pointing out the strong economy of Spain,
    .... all Arab countries currently suffer from great deterioration in all walks of life, in both religious and worldly matters. It is enough to know that the economy of all Arab countries is weaker than the economy of one country that had once been part of our [Islamic] world when we used to truly adhere to Islam. That country is the lost al-Andalus. Spain is an infidel country, but its economy is stronger than ours because the ruler there is accountable. In our countries, there is no accountability or punishment, but only obedience to the rulers and prayers of long life for them. [Jan. 4, 2004][11]
    How you could have an accountable government that doesn't also have allegedly polytheist elected "legislative councils of representatives" is not explained.

  • Obeying human rulers in general is slavery


    any system, in which the final decisions are referred to human beings, and in which the source of all authority are human,
    is doomed to failure because it ....
    deifies human beings by designating others than God as lords over men. This declaration means that the usurped authority of God be returned to Him and the usurpers be thrown out -- those who by themselves devise laws for other to follow, thus elevating themselves to the status of lords and reducing others to the status of slaves. [italics added] [Milestones, p.58]

    Bin Laden also talks about obedience deifying rulers and enslaving subjects. The problem with Muslim rulers is

    Obedience became due to the ruler and not to the religion of God. This means that slavery is imposed by the ruler and not by Almighty God. ... Therefore, the ruler became an idol to be worshipped instead of God. [italics added] [January 4, 2004][12]

  • Not only that, Obedience is Worship, so only God can be obeyed

    In the same vein Qutb explains that obeying non-Islamic governments is a form of polytheism:

    The Prophet - peace be on him - clearly stated that, according to the Shari'ah, 'to obey' is 'to worship'. ... Anyone who serves someone other than God in this sense is outside God's religion, although he may claim to profess this religion. [italics added] [Milestones, p.60]

    Bin Laden: as noted above ObL complains about how the Saudi government has "absolute supremacy and obedience ... Therefore, the ruler became an idol to be worshipped instead of God" (Jan. 4, 2004)

    `Praise and glory to Him: He is far above whatever they set up as partners with Him;` he then says `But they were commanded to serve only One God; There is no God but Him. [Q9:31] This shows that issuing legislation concerning what is allowed and what is banned is a type of worship. This is one of the most important traits of God and one of the most important prerequisites for testifying that there is no god but God, ... [italics added] [Jan. 4, 2004][13]

  • Christians are polytheists because they "take their rabbis and their monks as lords"

    Qutb quotes Tirmidhi having the Prophet say:

    `They [the People of the Book] have taken their rabbis and priests as lords other than God` Adi reports: "I said, `They do not worship their priests.` God's Messenger replied, `Whatever their priests and rabbis call permissible, they accept as permissible; whatever they declare as forbidden, they consider as forbidden, and thus they worship them.` [Since] the Prophet -- peace be on him -- clearly stated that, according to the Shari'ah, `to obey` is `to worship`. Taking this meaning of worship, when the Jews and Christians `disobeyed` God, they became like those who `associate others with God` [Milestones, p.60]

    Bin Laden quotes Uday bin-Hatim who

    thought, as do many people, that following the leaders and ulema in allowing what has been forbidden by God, and banning what has been allowed by God, is not worship of these leaders.... However, when bin-Hatim came to the Messenger of God, while he was reading this Qur'anic verse: `They take their rabbis and their monks as lords.` [Q9:31] He said that he told the Prophet: `They did not worship them.` The Prophet answered: `Yes but they forbade what is allowed and allowed what has been forbidden, and followed them. Therefore, this is what they worship.` [from the hadith collection of al-Tirmidhi] [Jan. 4, 2004] [14]

  • Book recommendations. The one message where Bin Laden recommends some kind of literature to his followers is a October 19, 2003 videotape where he suggests three books, one of them by Sayyid's brother Muhammad Qutb. (Muhammad was a publisher and promoter of Sayyid's work.)
    One of the beneficial books that explained the previous Qur'anic verse is The Book of Faith by Sheikh ibn Taymiyya, may God have mercy on his soul; and also the book titled Fath al-Mujid by Sheikh Abd-al-Rahman bin-Hasan al-Shaykh, may God have mercy on his soul; and the book entitled Concepts that Should be Corrected by Sheikh Muhammad Qutb. [15]


    [1] Actually the quote is from an article asking the question "Is this the man who inspired bin Laden?", Robert Irwin, Guardian, November 1, 2001

    [2] (specifically Messages to the World, the Statements of Osama bin Laden, Verso, 2005),

    [2a] "... College classes taught by Qutb's brother Muhammad ..."

    Muhammad Qutb "settled in Saudi Arabia after his release from an Egyptian jail in 1972" ... `edited and published`" his brother "Sayyid's books in Saudi Arabia, and taught at either Mecca's Umm al-Qura University, and/or King Abdel-Aziz University in Jeddah where bin Laden was a student and M. Qutb's course was compulsory.
    (from )

    ".... Ayman al-Zawahiri, an admirer of Qutb."

    "Zawahiri has been called `jihad's main ideologist`" Although an Egyptian al-Zawahiri studied in Saudi Arabia and is also thought to have been a student "and ardent follower" of M. Qutb. ( ) After returning to Egypt Zawahiri went on to join the terrorist group al-Jihaad al-Islami. Follow a crackdown "he and other jihaadis went into exile in Afghanistan where he met bin Laden and became his `mentor.` Zawahiri emerged as the new head of al-Jihaad al-Islami and merged his group into al Qaeda. Al-Zawahiri, "paid homage to Qutb in his book Knights under the Prophet's Banner.
    "The leadership of his al-Jihaad al-Islami organization `comprises the majority of al Qaeda's ruling council (shura).`"
    (from )

    [3] Messages, p.153-4, from video message given to Al-Jazeer in Dec. 2001

    [4] Messages, 2006, p.190, from 53-minute audiotape that "was circulated on various websites." dated Feb. 14, 2003. "Among a Band of Knights."

    [5]Messages p.167, Editor Lawrence's comment: "attributed to Franklin in a `Chit Chat Around the Table During Intermission` at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 - long known to be a fabrication by an American Nazi sympathizer, William Dudley Pelley, in 1934."

    [6]The last Crusader city (Acre) was conquered and the Crusaders vanquished in 1291. Few if any Christians even talk about how nice it would be to have another Crusade.

    [7] from a letter to al-Jazeera's Kabul Bureau, Nov. 3, 2001.

    [8] Audiotape delivered to Al Jazeer and broadcast Jan. 4, 2004, quoted in Messages p.214.

    [9] Message "To the Peoples of Europe," a video statement broadcast on Al Jazeera, one month after Madrid bombing, April 15, 2004, quoted in Messages, p.235

    [9.1]"To the People of Iraq," audio tape delivered to al-Jazeera, Feb.11, 2003, (p.181, Messages, 2006

    [9.2] from 53-minute audiotape that "was circulated on various websites." dated Feb. 14, 2003. "Among a Band of Knights." quoted in Messages p.191.

    [9.3]from 53-minute audiotape that "was circulated on various websites." dated Feb. 14, 2003. "Among a Band of Knights." quoted in Messages, p.195.

    [9.4] Messages, 2006, "Quagmires of the Tigris and Euphrates," October 19, 2003, videotape delivered to al-Jazeera. quoted in Messages, p.210.

    [10] Messages, 2005, p.208-9, "Quagmires of the Tigris and Euphrates," October 19, 2003, videotape delivered to al-Jazeera.)

    [11]p.227, Messages, 2005

    [12]Messages, 2005, p.227, "Resist the New Rome," January 4, 2004, videotape delivered to al-Jazeera.

    [13] ibid. p.228

    [14]Messages, 2005, p.228, "Resist the New Rome," January 4, 2004, videotape delivered to al-Jazeera.

    [15]Messages, 2005, p.229,"Resist the New Rome," January 4, 2004, videotape delivered to al-Jazeera.