El-Takfir wa el-Hijra’s seminal concept was as a survivalist-style band in the 1960s that withdrew to the Egyptian desert to try to recreate conditions during the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. It later took on a political character under the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that opposed the nationalist government of Gamal Abdul Nasser.

Takfir’s followers drew strength from the writings of Sayyid Qutb, a passionately anti-Western reactionary. Qutb’s 1964 book “Milestones” became a rallying cry for militants and redefined the word “jihad” – a broad concept for work or striving – into a holy struggle required of all Muslims.

One overriding element was his belief that the world was repeating the “ignorance” and barbarism present before Muhammad’s birth and pious Muslims should avoid – or even eliminate – infidels and other foes.

The Takfir ideas veered in different directions after Qutb was hanged in 1966, scholars say.

One extreme branch grew more militant under the influence of texts using Quranic language to condone violence. Osama Bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, the Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, reportedly led a discussion group about Qutb’s writings in the 1970s.

Takfir’s conservatism also worked its way into the Wahhabi sect, which dominates bin Laden’s native Saudi Arabia. Qutb’s influence also is seen on the Pakistani militant intellectual Abu Al-A’la Al-Mawdudi, who died in 1979.

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