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Author Sayyid Qutb
Original title Ma'alim fi al-Tariq
Country Egypt
Language Arabic
Publisher Kazi Publications
Publication date 1964
Media type Paperback
ISBN 1-56744-494-6
OCLC Number 55100829
Sayyid Qutb

Ma'alim fi al-Tariq, also Ma'alim fi'l-tareeq, (Arabic: معالم في الطريق) or Milestones, first published in 1964, is a short (12 chapters, 160 pages) 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 Qur'anic grounds, casting off what Qutb calls Jahiliyyah, the pre-Islamic ignorance that the world has lapsed into.

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 is also 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]

English translations of the book are usually entitled simply "Milestones," the book is also sometimes referred to 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 and sentenced to death by hanging in 1966.[5] 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.[6]


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" (p.11, 19)) 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. (p.9)[7] Following the Sharia is not just important but a defining attribute of Muslims, more necessary than belief itself (p.89), because "according to the Shari'ah, 'to obey' is 'to worship'." This means Muslims must not only refrain from worshipping 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." (p.60)

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," (p.82) crowding out anything non-Islamic. Its rules range from "belief" to "administration and justice" to "principles of art and science." (p.107) Being God's law, Sharia is as much a part "of that universal law which governs the entire universe, ... as accurate and true as any of the laws known as the 'laws of nature,'" like gravity or electricity. (p.88, also p.45-46)

"The establishment of God's law on earth" will lead to "blessings" falling "on all mankind." (p.90) Sharia is "the only guarantee against any kind of discord in life. " (p.89) 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," (p.90) will be revealed "in an easy manner." Its "harmony between human life and the universe" will approach the perfection of heaven itself. (p.91)

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. "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." (p.130) "We will not change our own values and concepts either more or less to make a bargain with this jahili society. Never!" (p.21) 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." (p.139)

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 "tortures" Muhammad had to endure while calling unresponsive Arabs to Islam, "God did not lead His Prophet on this course. ... This was not the way," (p.25-27) 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," (p.21) Qutb preaches that a vanguard (tali'a) be formed modeling itself after the original Muslims, the "companions" of Muhammad (Sahaba). These Muslims successfully vanquished Jahiliyyah (Qutb believes) principally for two reasons:

  • They cut themselves off from the Jahiliyyah -- i.e. they ignored the learning and culture of non-Muslim groups (Greeks, Romans, Persians, Christians or Jews), and separated themselves from their old non-Muslim friends and family. (p.16, 20)
  • They looked to the Qur'an for orders to obey, not as "learning and information" or solutions to problems. (p.17-18)

Following these principles the vanguard will fight Jahiliyyah with a two-fold approach: preaching, and "the movement" (jama'at). Preaching will persuade people to become true Muslims, while the movement will remove by "physical power and Jihaad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili system." (p.55) Foremost amongst these organizations and people to be removed is the "political power which rests on a complex yet interrelated ideological, racial, class, social and economic support," (p.59) but ultimately includes "the whole human environment." (p.72) 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. (p.58-9)

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, the ten to a hundred, the hundred to a thousand, and the thousand ... to twelve thousand," 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." (p.72) Jihad must not merely be defensive, it must be offensive, (p.62) and its objective must be to carry Islam "throughout the earth to the whole of mankind." (p.72)

True Muslims should maintain a "sense of supremacy" and "superiority," (p.141) 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" (p.157), and even to brace themselves for possibility of death by torture at the hands of Jahiliyyah's sadistic, "arrogant, mischievous, criminal and degraded people." (p.150) Qutb ends his book by an example of persecution against Muslims from the Quran's "surat al-buruj," enjoining modern-day Muslims to tolerate 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. (p.150, 157)



Two of Qutb's major influences were the medieval Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiya, and contemporary Pakistani/Indian Islamist writer Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. Both used the historical term jahiliyya to describe contemporary events in the Muslim world. [8]

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

  • al-'ubudiyya, or worship, (which is performed not only by praying and adoring but by obeying); and
  • al-hakimiyya, or sovereignty, (which is God's over all the earth and violated when His law, the Sharia, is not obeyed).[9]

Qutb's precept that Sharia law is essential to Islam and 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 come from a fatwa of Ibn Taymiya.[10]


Qutb's intense dislike of the West not withstanding, some of his ideas are strongly reminiscent of European fascism:

  • the decline of contemporary Western civilization and "infertility" of democracy,
  • inspiration from an earlier golden age and desire to restore its glory with an all-encompassing (totalitarian) social, political, economic system,
  • victimhood from malicious foreign and Jewish conspiracies, and
  • violent revolution to expel alien influences and reestablish the power and international domination of the nation/community, [11]

Fascism having made some impact among anti-British Arab Muslims before, during, and after World War II.[12] The influence of particular fascist thinkers (particularly French fascist Alexis Carrel) in Qutb's work is disputed.[13]

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


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,"[14] and compared to Western political philosopher John Locke.[15] 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 than socialism.[4 ] Author Gilles Kepel credits Milestones with "unmasking" the socialist and "nominally" Islamic "faces" of the Egyptian regime Qutb lived under.[16]

Outside the Islamist context, however Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq has been criticized by Muslims for the takfir of "jahili" Muslims, and by non-Muslims for its accusations against same, particularly following the terrorist attacks of September 11th.


The claim that the entire world was jahiliyya meant that mainstream Muslims were not actually Muslims, which meant they were potentially guilty of apostasy, a capital crime in traditional Sharia (though rarely enforced). Critics allege that Qutb's Milestones helped to open up a Pandora’s box of takfir (declaring a Muslim to be an infidel) that has brought serious internal strife, in particular terrorism, to the Muslim world in recent decades. [17]

Christians and Jews as Polytheists

Qutb repeatedly proclaims that "serving human lords" is intolerable and is a practice Islam "has come to annihilate." (p.60) 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." [p.60] Because of this, Qutb says, these religions are actually polytheist, not monotheist.

Yet for the last decade and a half of his life (1953-1966) Qutb himself belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization founded on almost military-like structure where "obedience to laws and judgments" of its founder was at least as severe as nearly any Christian or Jewish congregation or denomination. Before his assassination, "Supreme Guide" Sheikh Hassan al Banna, had the power to overrule any decisions by local Brotherhood branches not to his liking. [18] [19 ]

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. (p.110-111)
  • 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," (p.116) At the same time, "the Western world realizes that Western civilization is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind," (p.7) 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" (p.139)

Olivier Roy has described Qutb's attitude towards the west is one of "radical contempt and hatred" for the West,[20] rather than reasoned criticism, 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." [21]

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 than 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" (p.11), 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.[22] While Islamic scholars of Sharia traditionally have two decade-long training from schools such as Al Azhar, all Qutb's formal post-secondary schooling was secular.[23]

Insofar as Qutb's book follows the fundamentalist prescription that "the Quran is our law,"[24] [25] [26] it comes under modernist criticism of Islamism and Islamic fundamentalism which points out, for example, that of 6000 verses in the Quran only 245 concern legislation, and only 90 of those concern constitutional, civil, financial or economic matters.[27] Sharia law is based on Sunna as well the Quran of course, but even this legislation is notably short on help dealing with modern problems such as traffic control, price stability, or health care. [28]


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" (p.85) 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 Shariah) except to hear it." (p.32)

This uniquely free socio-economic 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" (p.62) would not constitute aggression towards non-Muslims but rather "a movement to wipe out tyranny and to introduce true freedom to mankind," (p.62) 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.

The alleged problem here [19 ] is that conquered non-Muslims would have no incentive to obey un-enforced Sharia law since non-Muslims by definition do not consider Islamic law to be divine. However, if obedience were not voluntary, offensive jihad would lose its rationale as a movement to wipe out tyranny.


  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. ^ a b Kepel, Prophet, (1986), p.43
  5. ^ 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. (Sivan, Emmanuel, Radical Islam : Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, Yale University, 1985, p.93.;
    (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.)
  6. ^ Lisbeth Lindeborg, Dagens Nyheter, (Stockholm, Sweden), Oct. 25, 2001.
  7. ^ All page numbers given refer to the English language edition of Milestones published by The Mother Mosque Foundation, 1981
  8. ^ Sivan, Radical Islam, p.65, 128; Kepel, Muslim, p.194
  9. ^ 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.)
  10. ^ Sivan, Radical Islam, p.97-8.
  11. ^ Berman, Terror and Liberalism (2003) p.60+
  12. ^ example: Opinion piece by Jack Bloom in The Sowetan (Johannesburg), October 2, 2001,
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ Ahmad S. Moussalli, Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: the Ideological and Political Discourse of Sayyid Qutb, by American University of Beirut, 1992, p.14-15
  15. ^ "Syed Qutb - John Locke of the Islamic World," Muqtedar Khan, The Globalist, July 28, 2003
  16. ^ Kepel, Prophet, (1986), p.52
  17. ^ Kepel, Prophet, (1986), p.65, 74-5, Cook, David, Understanding Jihad, University of California Press, 2005, p.139
  18. ^ Jameelah, Maryam Shaikh Hassan al Banna and Al Ikhwan al Muslimun, Mohammad Yusuf Khan, Lahore Pakistan, 1980, p.16-17.
  19. ^ a b Sayyid Qutb's Milestones and equality
  20. ^ Roy, Olivier, Globalized Islam : the Search for a New Ummah, Columbia University Press, 2004, p. 250.
  21. ^ Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam, translated by Carol Volk, Harvard University Press, 1994, p.19-20
  22. ^ Abou El Fadl, Khaled, The Great Theft, Harper San Francisco, 2005, p.82
  23. ^ Gilles Kepel, Le Prophète et Pharaon : aux sources des mouvements islamistes Seuil, 1993, p. 58.
  24. ^ Muslim Brotherhood
  25. ^ Constitution of Saudi Arabia "The Quran is supposed to be the supreme law of the land ..."
  26. ^ King Faisal of Saudi Arabia speaking in 1966 about whether the KSA would adopt a constitution: "Constitution? What for? The Koran is the oldest and most efficient constitution in the world." from: Political Power and the Saudi State by Ghassane Salameh footnote page 7, which in turn is from Le Monde, June 24, 1966
  27. ^ "Islam - Society and Change" by al-Sadiq al-Mahdi from Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. John L. Esposito, (1983), p.233
  28. ^ Schirazi, Asghar, Constitution of Iran, I. B. Tauris, 1998


  • Berman, Paul (2003). Terror and Liberalism. W.W. Norton.  
  • Haddad, Yvonne Y. (1983). "Sayyid Qutb: ideologue of Islamic revival". in Esposito, J.. Voices of the Islamic Revolution.  
  • Hasan, S. Badrul (1982). Syed Qutb Shaheed. International Islamic Publishers.  
  • Kepel, Gilles (2002). Jihad : the trail of political Islam. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-1860642531.  
  • Kepel, Gilles (1985). The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim Extremism in Egypt. Al Saqi. ISBN 0-86356-118-7.  
  • Moussalli, Ahmad S. (1992). Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: the Ideological and Political Discourse of Sayyid Qutb. American University of Beirut.  
  • Qutb, Sayyid (2007). Milestones. Maktabah Publishers.  
  • Sivan, Emmanuel (1985). Radical Islam : Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. Yale University Press.  

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