Magazine article The Christian Century

Muslim Brotherhood Figure Disdained U.S. Morality

Magazine article The Christian Century

Muslim Brotherhood Figure Disdained U.S. Morality

Article excerpt

Is the pop standard "Baby It's Cold Outside" a heartwarming ode to winter romance or the worst example of American hedonism? After hearing the song at a Colorado church dance in the late 1940s, Egyptian exchange student Sayyid Qutb viewed the song as a moral indictment of the West--a view that some say could now shape the future of Egypt.

After returning to Egypt, Qutb emerged as the intellectual godfather of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that appears poised to assume a larger role in Egyptian society, possibly becoming part of whatever government takes root after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

The massive demonstrations across Egypt have revived interest--and debate --over Qutb's impact on the brotherhood and raised the question of whether his anti-Western views, which were shaped by his 1948-1950 stay in America, will find renewed favor in the country.

Qutb was executed in 1966 at the hands of Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser, but his political legacy lives on--even as scholars disagree on whether today's modern Muslim Brotherhood and Qutb would recognize each other.

Born in 1906, Qutb received both a Western and an Islamic education, and in the 1930s he became a civil servant in Egypt's education ministry. He made his name as a writer, specializing in social and religious issues. In 1948, Qutb was sent to study the U.S. educational system. Some scholars say Qutb already viewed America negatively because of its ties with Great Britain, Egypt's former colonial master, and later because of its support for Israel.

"There was a sort of utopian quality to his vision. He thought that if society reached a certain level of education, then this ideal Islamic society will come into being," said Ellen Amster, an associate history professor at the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee.

Qutb began his U.S. studies in Washington, D.C., at Wilson Teaching College and then moved to Greeley, Colorado, home to Colorado State College of Education, where he spent the bulk of his stay. It was a religiously conservative town; consistent with Muslim beliefs, alcohol was prohibited. Still, Qutb disdained what he saw. "Nobody goes to church as often as Americans do. …

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