Distant Lights


The origin of this booklet is a message sent by Sayyed Qutb to his sister, Amina Qutb. It was published in Tunisian magazine, in its sixth volume, forth year, March, 1959, and was titled as “Distant Lights”.


In the name of Allah

Dear sister,

I present these ideas to you.

Once you contemplate the concept of death, you then see it everywhere and behind everything. You think of it as a prevailing force that casts its shadow over all of life. You see how it makes life trivial, inconsiderable and trembling in fear.

However, at the moment, I see it as a small and powerless force compared to the super abundant, overwhelming force of life. It can hardly snatch the crumbs falling off the table of life to feed on. The huge proliferation of life is swarming all around me. Everything is heading to growth, flowage and prosperity. Mothers conceive and give birth, in humans as well as in animals. Birds, fish and insects all lay eggs, which hatch into life. Soil bursts out with plants that bloom with flowers and fruits. Sky pours out with rain and seas swarm with waves. Everything on earth is growing and increasing.

Once in a while, death rushes in to snap a bite and leaves. On the other hand, it may wait in silence till it can pick up the crumbs falling off the table of life to feed on, while life is going on in its way, vivid and flowing out. It hardly feels the existence of death or even sees it. It may scream out of pain when death rushes to snap a bite of its body. However, its wound heals in no time and the scream of pain soon becomes mirth. In addition, people and animals, birds and fish, worms and insects, grass and trees spring to overwhelm the face of earth with vivid colors of life, while death is waiting there to snap a bite and leave or just pick up the crumbs falling off the table of life to feed on.

The sun rises and the sun sets; the earth goes around it, and life originates from here and there. Everything is heading to growth; growth in number and in kind, qualitatively and quantitatively. If death could alter this, then it would have long ago stopped the growth of life. Thus, it is but a small and powerless force compared to the super abundant, overwhelming force of life. It is the power of The Everlasting God from which life originates and continues.


When we live only for ourselves, life appears to us as short and insignificant. In this case, our life starts when we start to perceive the outside world surrounding us and it ends with the end of our limited lifespan… However, when we live for others, that is when we live for an idea, life then appears to be long, deep and meaningful. In this case, our life starts with the beginning of humanity on Earth and continues after we pass away.

In such case, we gain a hundredfold of our own lifespan, and we gain it as reality and not illusion. Regarding life in such a way redoubles our feeling of our days, hours and moments, as life can not be measured by the number of years we live, but the amount of feelings we experience. Moreover, what the (realists) call (illusion) in this case is actually “fact”; a fact that is more valid than any of their (facts). That is because life is nothing else but our feeling (experience) of life. If you divest any human of his appreciation of life, it means divesting him of life itself in its real meaning. Moreover, when a human feels multiplied feeling of his life, it means he actually lives a redoubled life. I do see this matter is too intuitive to be argued about.

We live a multiplied life for our own selves when we live for others. Moreover, the more we multiply our care for others, the more we multiply our appreciation of our own life and the more we multiply this life itself at the end.


The seed of evil stirs up, but the seed of good bears fruit. The first rises fast towards the sky, but its roots are near to the surface; they are not deeply rooted in earth. It blocks light and air from reaching the tree of good, which in its turn grows slowly and steadfastly as its deep roots compensate for the lack of light and warmness.

However, when we go past the counterfeit glittering appearance of the tree of evil and examine whether it is truly strong, it appears to us as weak, fragile, puffed up, not having real solidity. While on the other hand, the tree of good endures in the face of affliction, keeps firm against storms and continues growing calmly and slowly, not caring about thorns and dust thrown on it by the tree of evil!


When we touch the good side in people, we discover that there is much goodness that our eyes may not be able to see at first glance!!

I have tried this myself with many, even with those who appear at first as wicked or having little compassion.

If you show some sympathy to their faults and foolishness; show some true cordiality to them, show some genuine care- not artificial- to their interests and their concerns, then the spring of goodness in their souls will be revealed to you. That is when they give you their love, cordiality and trust in return for the little things you provide them from your own self whenever you give them in loyalty, sincerity and purity.

Evil is not deeply rooted in the human soul to the extent we may sometimes imagine. It is only in that hard outer shell by which humans face the struggle of life to survive. Whenever they feel safe, this hard shell reveals sweet and pleasant fruit. It only uncovers to those who can make people feel they have peaceful intentions, and can give them true cordiality and real sympathy in their struggle, pains, errors and foolishness as well. Showing some generosity at the very beginning can achieve all this sooner than many would expect. I have tried all of this, tried it myself. I do not raise it as just some winged words resulting from dreams and illusion.


When seeds of love, compassion and good grow in our souls, we then release ourselves from a lot of burdens and troubles. We then do not need to falsely flatter people because we will be truthful and sincere when praising them. We will be able to unveil treasures of goodness hidden inside their souls; we will find good qualities which we can truthfully praise. No human is completely bereft of a good side or a good merit that makes him deserve a kind word. However, we are not able to detect or see this good side of a human unless the seed of love grows inside our own selves.

Moreover, in such case we no longer need to bear the burden of getting upset with them or even enduring their faults and foolishness. Instead we will sympathize with their weaknesses and their imperfections and not hunting for them; that is when the seed of love grows inside our own selves. Naturally, we will not bear any grudge against them, or be frightened of them. That is because we only bear grudge against others when the seed of love is not growing enough inside us. Moreover, we fear and guard against them because we lack the confidence of good.

How much tranquility, ease and happiness we grant ourselves, when we grant others our compassion, love and confidence. That is when the seed of love, compassion and good grows in our own selves.


When we isolate ourselves from people thinking that we are purer, more kindhearted or more intelligent than them, then we have not done something important. We only choose the easiest way and the least effort.

The real accomplishment is to associate with those people while being filled with tolerance, kindness, sympathy in their weaknesses, faults and imperfections and having the true desire to purify, educate and raise them to our level as much as we can.

This does not mean to abandon our high principles or to falsely flatter those people by praising their vices, or showing them that we are higher than them. It is the accommodation to all these contradictions, and having the tolerance required to achieve that accommodation, that is the real grandeur.


When we reach a certain level of ability (potency), we find nothing wrong with asking for help from other people, even from those who are less powerful than we are. It does not derogate us that the support we have got from other people helped us reach our high position. We try to do everything by ourselves and we disdain to ask for others’ support or to join their efforts to ours. Moreover, we feel embarrassed when people know that other peoples’ support helped us reach a special position. We do all this when we lack self confidence; that is when we actually have some weakness in any side of our personality. When we are really strong, we then do not feel any of that. It is the child who tries to keep your hand off when you hold him up while trying to walk.

When we reach a certain level of power and ability, we will receive other people’s support with gratitude and joy. We will be thankful to their help and happy that there are people who share us the same beliefs and principles as well as effort and responsibility. It is the joy with the emotional response is the sacred freed joy.


When we (monopolize) our ideas and beliefs, and get angry when other people arrogate them for themselves, and when we strive to assure ascribing them to ourselves, we only do all this when our faith in those ideas and beliefs is not big enough. That is when those ideas and beliefs are not emanating wholeheartedly from the depth of our hearts that is when our ideas and beliefs are not more beloved to us than our own selves!

The pure joy is the natural fruit of seeing our ideas and beliefs are adopted and embraced by others while we are still alive. When we only imagine that our ideas and beliefs will be strongly embraced by others after we pass away, this will be enough to fill us with happiness, satisfaction and tranquility!

Only merchants stick to trademarks of their goods in order not to be exploited by others who deprive them from gaining profits. On the other hand, intellectuals and ideologists find their happiness in people embracing their ideas and beliefs to the extent they ascribe them to themselves, not to their original creators!

They do not really think they are the original creators of these ideas and beliefs, but just (modest) people who convey and interpret them. They feel that the real source from which they derive their beliefs and ideas is not of their own creation, and all their sacred joy is the fruit of their confidence that they are always connected to that original source!…


There is huge difference between understanding facts and realizing facts. The first is related to science, while the second means knowledge!

In the first (understanding facts) we deal with no more than terms and mere conceptions, or experiments and partial results. However, in the second (realizing facts), we deal with live responses and whole concepts.

In the first, information comes to us through external stimuli.

Then it remains in our minds aligned and distinct.

In the second, facts emanate from the depth of our own essences supplied with the same blood running in our veins and harmonizing with our own pulse.

In the first, there are items and headings….an item for science and under it there are its various subheadings, an item for religion and under it there are its headings, chapters and sections, an item for art and its headings, method and attitudes!.

And in the second, there is the one power that is connected to the biggest cosmic power, and there is the flowing stream that is connected to the original source!


We are in pressing need of specialists in every domain of human knowledge who take their laboratories and offices as monasteries and cells! Those who sacrifice their lives to serve their fields of specialization (specialties) feeling great enjoyment! Their feeling is like that of a devoted worshipper sacrificing happily his own soul for the sake of his Deity!

However, we should realize that it is not those scientists who guide for life, or choose the right way for humanity.

Pioneers are and always will be those who have exceeding spiritual powers. Those are the ones who hold up the sacred flame, with its heat all atoms of knowledge melt. Its light guides humanity in their way in life, supplied with all kinds of knowledge which strengthen it while pushing the procession towards the distant noble aim!

Those pioneers are the ones who realize by their insights the comprehensive unity that has diverse shapes in: science, art, creed and work. That is why they do not despise any of them or elevate it over its level.

Only humble-minded think there is contradiction among those diverse powers, so they fight science for the sake of religion, or fight religion for the sake of science. They despise art for the sake of work, or despise powerful liveliness under the name of the Sufi creed! That is because they only realize each power of those powers isolated from a group of other powers emanating from one source that is the Almighty power controlling over the whole universe. However, the great pioneers realize that unity because they are attached to that genuine source and take from it.

Those pioneers are few in the history of mankind; actually they are rare! However, there are enough of them. It is the Power overseeing the entire universe that fashions them and sends them in a specific time when there is urgent need of them.


The absolute submission to believing in supernatural phenomena and unknown powers is dangerous. That is because it leads to superstition and causes life to turn to a big illusion!

However, absolute denial of this belief is no less dangerous as it closes all ports of the unseen and denies every invisible power simply because it may be bigger than our human perception in a period of human life on earth. Therefore, this diminishes the existence—in space, energy and value as well. That is because it bounds the universe to the limits of the (known) only which is very little when compared to the greatness of the existence!

The human life on Earth is a series of inabilities to recognize the universal powers, or a series of capacities to recognize those powers. The more man develops and takes a step forward in his long way; his perception of the universal powers gets deeper.

The ability of man now and then to recognize one of the universal powers that was unknown to him or was beyond his perception at a point of time is supposed to waken his insight to an important fact. That there should be other powers not known to him yet because he is still in trial stage!

It is our respect of human mind that should lead us to attach importance to the unseen power in our life. That is not to consign all our affairs to it, but rather to feel the real greatness of this universe and how very limited our abilities are when compared to the vast universe.

This is very worthy to provide human soul with many powers of gaining knowledge. Moreover, it enhances our feeling of the close ties that connect us internally to the universe. Undoubtedly those ties are greater and deeper than what we could ever perceive with our minds till now; that is because we still discover new things everyday and life is still going on.


Some people think that admitting Allah’s absolute grandeur undermines man’s value and standing in the existence. They take it as if Allah and man were peers competing on the grandeur and power of the universe!!

I think that the more we appreciate the absolute greatness of Allah, the more our own greatness increases as we are created by a great God. 

Those who think that they promote themselves when they diminish their God or deny His existence are very narrow-minded. They can not see but the near horizon.

They think that man resorted to Allah only when he was weak and helpless, but now he is too powerful to be in need of a God! It is as if being weak and helpless awakened the insight while being powerful effaced it!!

The more man’s power increases, the more he should appreciate the absolute power of Allah. That is because man is worthy to perceive the source of his own power (that is Allah) the more his power of perception develops.

Those who believe in the absolute power of Allah never feel any inferiority or weakness within themselves. On the contrary, they feel honor and strength within themselves by leaning on the greatest power dominating the whole existence. They know that the domain of their greatness is here on this Earth and among those people. It never conflicts with Allah’s absolute grandeur in the whole existence. They find their real greatness and honor in their deep faith, which can never be found by those who puffed themselves up out of conceit. The swelling of their ego is so blown up, covering their eyes, that they cannot see all the horizons of the vast existence.


Sometimes slavery (thralldom) disguises itself in the garment of freedom. It then appears as breaking away from all restrictions, traditions and customs. It appears as removal from all human responsibilities in this life..

There is an essential difference between breaking the shackles of humiliation, pressure and weakness, and breaking those of humanity and its related responsibilities. The first means real freedom, while the second means giving up basic factors of humanity that release man from heavy animalism.

It is a false freedom because it is nothing but submissiveness and thralldom to ruffian desires and animalism. Humanity spent centuries on Earth struggling against those bestial desires to get rid of their choking shackles and move into human liberty…

Why does humanity feel ashamed of showing its physical needs? That is because it feels by nature that man’s elevation, despite his urgent needs, is the fundamental definition of humanity. Moreover, breaking away from the shackles of those needs is true freedom. That is because overcoming urges of flesh and blood, and defeating fears of weakness and humiliation, assert the true meaning of humanity!

Sayyed Qutb

Distant Lights

Translated by: Amany Elmorshidy

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