Milestones (book)

Last updated
Author Sayyid Qutb
Original titleMa'alim fi al-Tariq
Language Arabic
PublisherKazi Publications
Publication date
Media type Paperback
ISBN 1-56744-494-6
OCLC 55100829

Ma'alim fi al-Tariq, also Ma'alim fi'l-tareeq, (Arabic : معالم في الطريق, romanized: maālim fī t-tarīq) or Milestones, first published in 1964, is a short book by Egyptian Islamist author Sayyid Qutb in which he lays out a plan and makes a call to action to re-create the Muslim world on strictly Quranic grounds, casting off what Qutb calls Jahiliyyah .

The romanization of Arabic writes written and spoken Arabic in the Latin script in one of various systematic ways. Romanized Arabic is used for a number of different purposes, among them transcription of names and titles, cataloging Arabic language works, language education when used in lieu of or alongside the Arabic script, and representation of the language in scientific publications by linguists. These formal systems, which often make use of diacritics and non-standard Latin characters and are used in academic settings or for the benefit of non-speakers, contrast with informal means of written communication used by speakers such as the Latin-based Arabic chat alphabet.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

Islamism set of ideologies holding that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life

Islamism is a concept whose meaning has been debated in both public and academic contexts. The term can refer to diverse forms of social and political activism advocating that public and political life should be guided by Islamic principles or more specifically to movements which call for full implementation of sharia. It is commonly used interchangeably with the terms political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism. In academic usage, the term Islamism does not specify what vision of "Islamic order" or sharia are being advocated, or how their advocates intend to bring them about. In Western mass media it tends to refer to groups whose aim is to establish a sharia-based Islamic state, often with implication of violent tactics and human rights violations, and has acquired connotations of political extremism. In the Muslim world, the term has positive connotations among its proponents.


Ma'alim fi al-Tariq has been called "one of the most influential works in Arabic of the last half century". [1] It is probably Qutb's most famous and influential work and one of the most influential Islamist tracts written. It has also become a manifesto for the ideology of "Qutbism". Commentators have both praised Milestones as a ground-breaking, inspirational work by a hero and a martyr, [2] and reviled it as a prime example of unreasoning entitlement, self-pity, paranoia, and hatred that has been a major influence on Islamist terrorism. [3]

Qutbism is an Islamist ideology developed by Sayyid Qutb, the figurehead of the Muslim Brotherhood. It has been described as advancing the extremist jihadist ideology of propagating "offensive jihad" – waging jihad in conquest – or "armed jihad in the advance of Islam"

English translations of the book are usually entitled simply "Milestones" (the book is also sometimes referred to in English as "Signposts"). The title Ma'alim fi al-Tariq translates into English as "Milestones Along the Way", "Signposts on the Road", or different combinations thereof.


Ma'alim fi al-Tariq marked the culmination of Qutb's evolution from modernist author and critic, to Islamist activist and writer, and finally to Islamist revolutionary and theoretician. It was written in prison, where Qutb spent 10 years under charges of political conspiracy against Egypt's Nasser regime, and first published in 1964. Four of its thirteen chapters were originally written for Qutb's voluminous Quranic commentary, Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (In the shades of the Qur'an). [4]

Less than a year after its publication, Qutb was again arrested and brought to trial in Egypt under charges of conspiring against the state. Excerpts from the book were used to incriminate Qutb and he was found guilty, sentenced to death and executed by hanging in 1966. [Note 1] His death elevated his status to Shaheed or martyr in the eyes of many Muslims. Milestones became a bestseller and widely distributed across the Arab speaking world. To date, close to 2,000 editions of the work are said to have been published. [7]

Martyr person who suffers persecution and death for advocating, refusing to renounce, and/or refusing to advocate a belief or cause, usually a religious one

A martyr is someone who suffers persecution and death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce, or refusing to advocate a belief or cause as demanded by an external party. In the martyrdom narrative of the remembering community, this refusal to comply with the presented demands results in the punishment or execution of an actor by an alledged oppressor. Accordingly, the status of the 'martyr' can be considered a posthumous title as a reward for those who are considered worthy of the concept of martyrdom by the living, regardless of any attempts by the deceased to control how they will be remembered in advance. Originally applied only to those who suffered for their religious beliefs, the term has come to be used in connection with people killed for a political cause.


In his book, Qutb seeks to set out "milestones" or guiding markers along a road that will lead to the revival of Islam from its current "extinction."


According to Qutb, the Muslim community has been "extinct for a few centuries" and reverted to Jahiliyyah ("The state of ignorance of the guidance from God" [8] ) because those who call themselves Muslims have failed to follow "the laws of God" or Sharia (also shariah, Shari'a, or Shari'ah), traditional Islamic law. [9] Following the sharia is not just important but a defining attribute of Muslims, more necessary than belief itself, [10] because "according to the Shari'ah, 'to obey' is 'to worship'." This means Muslims must not only refrain from worshiping anything other than God, they must not obey anything other than God: "anyone who serves someone other than God"be that someone (or something) a priest, president, a parliament, or a legal statute of a secular state is "outside God's religion", although he may "claim to profess this religion". [11]

Jahiliyyah is an Islamic concept referring to the period of time and state of affairs in Arabia before the advent of Islam in 610 CE. It is often translated as the "Age of Ignorance". The term jahiliyyah is derived from the verbal root jahala "to be ignorant or stupid, to act stupidly". In modern times various Islamic thinkers have used the term to criticize what they saw as un-Islamic nature of public and private life in the Muslim world. In current use, Jahiliyyah refers to secular modernity, as in the work of Abul A'la Maududi, who viewed modernity as the “new jahiliyyah.” Sayyid Qutb viewed jahiliyyah as a state of domination of humans over humans, as opposed to their submission to God. Radical groups have justified armed struggle against secular regimes as a jihad against jahiliyyah.

Sharia, Islamic law or Sharia law is a religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith. In Arabic, the term sharīʿah refers to God's immutable divine law and is contrasted with fiqh, which refers to its human scholarly interpretations. The manner of its application in modern times has been a subject of dispute between Muslim fundamentalists and modernists.

Qutb sees sharia as much more than a code of religious or public laws. It is a "complete" way of life based on "submission to God alone," [12] crowding out anything non-Islamic. Its rules range from "belief" to "administration and justice" to "principles of art and science." [13] Being God's law, sharia is "as accurate and true as any of the laws known as the 'laws of nature,'" such as gravity or electricity, and part of the universal law "which governs the entire universe". [14]

The modern Muslim world has erred by approaching the Qur'an for the sake of "discussion, learning and information" or "to solve some scientific or legal problem." In fact it should be approached as a source of "instruction for obedience and action" [15] to remove man from the servitude of other men and to the servitude of God. [16]

When of God's law is established on earth, it will lead to blessings falling on all mankind. [17] Sharia is "the only guarantee" against "any kind of discord" in life. [10] and will "automatically" bring "peace and cooperation" among individuals. Knowledge of the "secrets of nature, its hidden forces and the treasures concealed in the expanses of the universe," [17] will be revealed "in an easy manner." The "harmony between human life and the universe" of sharia law will approach the perfection of heaven itself. [Note 2]

Just as sharia is—in Qutb's view—all encompassing and all wonderful, whatever is non-Muslim (or Jahiliyyah) is "evil and corrupt," and its existence anywhere intolerable to true Muslims. [Note 3] In preaching and promoting Islam, for example, it is very important not to demean Islam by "searching for resemblances" between Islam and the "filth" and "the rubbish heap of the West." [20]

According to Qutb, to ignore this fact and attempt to introduce elements of socialism or nationalism into Islam or the Muslim community (as Egypt's Arab Socialist Union government was doing at the time), is against Islam. Qutb stresses that in the early days of Islam, Muhammad did not make appeals to ethnic or class loyalty. Though these crowd-pleasing appeals would have undoubtedly shortened the thirteen years of hardship Muhammad had to endure while calling unresponsive Arabs to Islam, "God did not lead His Prophet on this course. ... This was not the way," [21] and so must not be the way now.

Islamic vanguard

To restore Islam on earth and free Muslims from "jahili society, jahili concepts, jahili traditions and jahili leadership," [15] Qutb preaches that a vanguard (tali'a) be formed modeling itself after the original Muslims, the companions ( Sahaba ) of Muhammad. Qutb believes these Muslims successfully vanquished Jahiliyyah principally in two ways:

Following these principles the vanguard will fight Jahiliyyah with a twofold approach: preaching, and "the movement" (jama'at). Preaching will persuade people to become true Muslims, while the movement will abolish "the organizations and authorities of the Jahili system" [24] by "physical power and Jihaad". [24] Foremost amongst these organizations and people to be removed is the "political power" which rests on a complex, "interrelated ideological, racial, class, social and economic support," [25] but ultimately includes "the whole human environment." [26] Force is necessary, Qutb explains, because it is naive to expect "those who have usurped the authority of God" to give up their power without a fight. [27]

Remaining aloof from Jahiliyyah and its values and culture, but preaching and forcibly abolishing authority within it, the vanguard will travel the road, gradually growing from a cell of "three individuals" to ten, from ten to a hundred, until there are thousands, and blossom into a truly Islamic community. The community may start in the homeland of Islam but this is by no means "the ultimate objective of the Islamic movement of Jihad." [26] Jihad must not merely be defensive, it must be offensive, [28] and its objective must be to carry Islam "throughout the earth to the whole of mankind." [26]

True Muslims should maintain a "sense of supremacy" and "superiority," [29] on the road of renewal, but it is important that they also prepare themselves for a "life until death in poverty, difficulty, frustration, torment and sacrifice", [30] and even to brace themselves for possibility of death by torture at the hands of Jahiliyyah's sadistic, arrogant, mischievous, criminal and degraded people. [31] Qutb ends his book by an example of persecution against Muslims from the Quran's "surat Al-Burooj ", enjoining modern-day Muslims to endure the same or worse tortures for the sake of carrying out God's will. After all, "this world is not a place of reward"; the believer's reward is in heaven. [32]


Sayyid Qutb on trial in 1966 under the Gamal Abdel Nasser regime Sayyid Qutb.jpg
Sayyid Qutb on trial in 1966 under the Gamal Abdel Nasser regime


Two of Qutb's major influences were the medieval Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiya, and contemporary British Indian (later Pakistani) Islamist writer Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. Both used the historical term jahiliyya to describe contemporary events in the Muslim world. [34]

Two other concepts popularized by Qutb in Milestones also came from Maududi:

Qutb's precept—that sharia law is essential to Islam. and that any self-described "Muslim" ruler who ignores it in favor of man-made laws is actually a non-Muslim who should be fought and overthrown—came from a fatwa of Ibn Taymiya. [36] According to Quran, whoever judge by any law other than the law of Allah is kafir.


Qutb's intense dislike of the West notwithstanding, some of his ideas have been compared to European fascism: [37] [Note 4] [39] [40]

although it differs from that ideology in being based on religion and not on race or ethnicity. Fascism having made some impact among anti-British Arab Muslims before, during, and after World War II. [42] The influence of particular fascist thinkers (particularly French fascist Alexis Carrel) in Qutb's work is disputed. [43]

The centrality of an Islamic 'vanguard' (Arabic: tali'a) in Qutb's political program also suggests influence from Leninist thinking. [Note 5]


Qutb's book was originally a bestseller and became more popular as the Islamic revival strengthened. Islamists have hailed him as "a matchless writer, ... one of the greatest thinkers of contemporary Islamic thought," [45] and compared to Western political philosopher John Locke. [46] Egyptian intellectual Tariq al-Bishri has compared the influence of Milestones to Vladimir Lenin's pamphlet What Is To Be Done? , where the founder of modern Communism outlined his theories of how Communism would be different from socialism. [4]


Critics allege that Qutb's Milestones helped to open up a Pandora's box of takfir (by declaring that the Muslim world was actually non-Muslim and so many Muslims not actually Muslims, and potentially guilty of apostasy) that has brought serious internal strife, in particular terrorism, to the Muslim world in recent decades. [47] [48]

Christians and Jews as Polytheists

Qutb repeatedly proclaims that "serving human lords" is intolerable and is a practice Islam "has come to annihilate." [11] Christians and Jews are guilty of it since, according to Qutb, they give priests and rabbis "the authority to make laws" and "it is clear that obedience to laws and judgments is a sort of worship." [11] Because of this, Qutb says, these religions are actually polytheist, not monotheist.Qutb says this from chapter number 9 and verse number 31 from the Quran. [49]

They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah (by obeying them in things which they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires without being ordered by Allah), and (they also took as their Lord) Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary), while they (Jews and Christians) were commanded [in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)) to worship none but One Ilah (God - Allah) La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He). Praise and glory be to Him, (far above is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him)

Western and Jewish Conspiracies

Qutb asserted that "World Jewry" was and is engaged in conspiracies 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. [50]

He also alleged that the West had a centuries-long "enmity toward Islam" which led it to create a "well-thought-out scheme ... to demolish the structure of Muslim society." [51] At the same time, "the Western world realizes that Western civilization is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind," [16] and "the American people blush" with shame when confronted with the "immoralities" and "vulgarity" of their own country in comparison with the superiority of Islam's "logic, beauty, humanity and happiness". [20]

Olivier Roy has described Qutb's attitude as one of "radical contempt and hatred" for the West, [52] and complains that the propensity of Muslims like Qutb to blame problems on outside conspiracies "is currently paralyzing Muslim political thought. For to say that every failure is the devil's work is the same as asking God, or the devil himself (which is to say these days the Americans), to solve one's problems." [53]

Milestones and Islam

Other questions involve Qutb's ideas of sharia and freedom.


Qutb's ideology is premised upon sharia law and its application to every aspect of life. He does not explain or illustrate how any specific statutes are better or different from man-made law — evidence to support assertions in Ma'alim fi al-Tariq is limited to scriptural quotations — but does assure readers sharia is "without doubt ... perfect in the highest degree", [54] and will free humanity from servitude to other men.

Some, such as scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl, have questioned Qutb's understanding of sharia, and his assumptions that sharia is not only perfect but accessible to mortals in its completeness. [55]

Qutb's assertion that the Qur'an should be approached as a source of "instruction for obedience and action" (following the fundamentalist prescription that "the Quran is our law," [56] [57]


Qutb explains that sharia law needs no human authorities for citizens to obey and thus frees humanity from "servitude" because

  • God's law has "no vagueness or looseness" [58] which would necessitate judges to settle disputes over interpretation, and
  • no need for enforcement authorities because "as soon as a command is given, the heads are bowed, and nothing more is required for implementation (of sharia) except to hear it." [59]

This uniquely free socioeconomic system not only frees Muslims to be true Muslims, but explains why offensive jihad to "establish the sovereignty of God", i.e. true Islam, "throughout the world" [28] would not constitute aggression towards non-Muslims but rather "a movement to wipe out tyranny" and to introduce "true freedom" to mankind, [28] since even the most contented and patriotic non-Muslim living in a non-Muslim state is still obeying a human authority. These non-Muslims must be freed by Islamic jihad, just as the non-Muslims of Persia or Byzantium were freed by invading Muslim armies in the 7th Century AD.

Qutb's political philosophy has been described as an attempt to instantiate a complex and multilayer eschatological vision, partly grounded in the counter-hegemonic re-articulation of the traditional ideal of academic jargon. [60]


  1. Qutb was executed despite the fact that he was not the instigator or leader of the plot to assassinate the President and other Egyptian officials and personalities, only the leader of the group planning it. [5] [6]
  2. "This obedience to the Shari`ah becomes a necessity for human beings so that their lives may become harmonious and in tune with the rest of the universe .... when harmony between human life and the universe ensues, its results are not postponed for the next life but are operative even in this world. However, they will reach their perfection in the Hereafter." [18]
  3. "Islam cannot accept or agree to a situation which is half-Islam and half-Jahiliyyah ... The mixing and co-existence of the truth and falsehood is impossible." [19] "We will not change our own values and concepts either more or less to make a bargain with this jahili society. Never!" [15]
  4. "In Milestones he [Qutb] attempted to offer a description of the genuine Islamic society and the true Islamic faith, but in reality, Qutb's book did nothing more than attempt to add an Islamic veneer to a thoroughly fascist ideological construct.... Qutb provided a more detailed vision of the idealistic and utopian Islamic state. In this regard, Qutb, unlike Abd al-Wahhab, was influenced by Western thinkers, particularly the German fascist philosopher Carl Schmitt. Although Qutb does not once mention Schmidt in his works, a careful reading of Milestones on the Road reveals that many of Qutb's ideas, constructs and phrases are clearly adapted from the works of Schmidt." [38]
  5. "Although for obvious reason jihadi ideologues do not cite Lenin as an inspiration, their concepts and logic, especially Sayyid Qutb's betray this influence. Having been educated in Egypt in the 1940s, Qutb would certainly have been exposed to Lenin's writings. To key concepts from Qutb come straight from Lenin: jama'a (vanguard) and manhaj (program)." [44]

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  1. The Age of Sacred Terror by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, New York : Random House, c2002, p.63
  2. Moussalli, Radical Islamic Fundamentalism, 1992, 14-15
  3. What has been the impact of Milestones?
  4. 1 2 Kepel, Prophet, (1986), p.43
  5. Sivan, Emmanuel, Radical Islam : Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, Yale University, 1985, p.93.
  6. (Fouad Ajami, "In the Pharaoh's Shadow: Religion and Authority in Egypt," Islam in the Political Process, editor James P. Piscatori, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 25-26.)
  7. Lisbeth Lindeborg, Dagens Nyheter, (Stockholm, Sweden), Oct. 25, 2001.
  8. Qutb 1981, p. 11, 19.
  9. Qutb 1981, p. 9.
  10. 1 2 Qutb 1981, p. 89.
  11. 1 2 3 Qutb 1981, p. 60.
  12. Qutb 1981, p. 82.
  13. Qutb 1981, p. 107.
  14. Qutb 1981, p. 88, 45-6.
  15. 1 2 3 Qutb 1981, p. 21.
  16. 1 2 Qutb 1981, p. 7.
  17. 1 2 Qutb 1981, p. 90.
  18. Qutb 1981, p. 91.
  19. Qutb 1981, p. 130.
  20. 1 2 Qutb 1981, p. 139.
  21. Qutb 1981, p. 25-7.
  22. Qutb 1981, p. 16, 20.
  23. Qutb 1981, p. 17-18.
  24. 1 2 Qutb 1981, p. 55.
  25. Qutb 1981, p. 59.
  26. 1 2 3 Qutb 1981, p. 72.
  27. Qutb 1981, p. 58-9.
  28. 1 2 3 Qutb 1981, p. 62.
  29. Qutb 1981, p. 141.
  30. Qutb 1981, p. 157.
  31. Qutb 1981, p. 150.
  32. Qutb 1981, p. 150, 157.
  33. Although the photo is from other sources, it is identified on the BBC Documentary The Power of Nightmares as being the only known photo of Qutb at his trial immediately preceding his execution.
  34. Sivan, Radical Islam, p.65, 128; Kepel, Muslim, p.194
  35. Two terms Qutb uses: al-'ubudiyya, or `worship` and al-hakimiyya (also al-`uluhiya), `sovereignty,` appear in The Four Key Concepts of the Qur'an by Abul-a'la Mawdudi. (Kepel, Prophèt p. 48.)
  36. Sivan, Radical Islam, p.97-8.
  37. Qutbism: An Ideology of Islamic-Fascism
  38. Abou El Fadl, Khaled (2005). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. Harper San Francisco. pp. 82–3.
  39. (quoted in The Great Theft) Euben, Roxanne L. (1999). Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 199.
  40. (quoted in The Great Theft) Al-Azmeh, Aziz (1996). Islam and Modernites. London: Verso Press. pp. 77–101.
  41. Berman, Terror and Liberalism (2003) p.60+
  42. example: Opinion piece by Jack Bloom in The Sowetan (Johannesburg), October 2, 2001,
  43. See Discussion section.
    Aziz Al-Azmeh, Islam and Modernites, London, Verso Press, 1996 p. 77-101.)
    Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Verso, 2002, p.274
  44. edited by John Arquilla, Douglas A. Borer (2007). Information Strategy and Warfare: A Guide to Theory and Practice. Routledge. ISBN   9781135984151.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  45. Ahmad S. Moussalli, Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: the Ideological and Political Discourse of Sayyid Qutb, by American University of Beirut, 1992, p.14-15
  46. "Syed Qutb - John Locke of the Islamic World," Muqtedar Khan, The Globalist, July 28, 2003
  47. Kepel, Prophet, (1986), p.65, 74-5, Cook, David, Understanding Jihad, University of California Press, 2005, p.139
  48. Toth, James (2013). Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780199790968. ... the intolerance of Qutb's followers in takfiring the slightest deviation from piety irritated many Egyptians.
  49. Qutb 1981, p. 110-1.
  50. Qutb 1981, p. 116.
  51. Roy, Olivier, Globalized Islam : the Search for a New Ummah, Columbia University Press, 2004, p. 250.
  52. Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam, translated by Carol Volk, Harvard University Press, 1994, p.19-20
  53. Qutb 1981, p. 11.
  54. Abou El Fadl, Khaled, The Great Theft, Harper San Francisco, 2005, p.82
  55. Muslim Brotherhood
  56. Constitution of Saudi Arabia
  57. Qutb 1981, p. 85.
  58. Qutb 1981, p. 32.
  59. Mura, Andrea (2014). "The Inclusive Dynamics of Islamic Universalism: From the Vantage Point of Sayyid Qutb's Critical Philosophy". Comparative Philosophy. Retrieved 2015-05-12.