The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought

By Gerhard Bowering | Go to book overview


al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya

Al- Gama’a al- Islamiyya, or The Islamic Group (hereafter, Gama’a), appeared in Egypt as a distinct organization in the early 1980s, but its core membership, ideology, and tactics emerged in the mid1970s, primarily on university campuses, when a changing political climate favored appeals to religious ideals. After demonstrating a capacity for successful mobilization by repeatedly winning elections that gave it control over the General Union of Egyptian Students, the Gama’a launched multiple initiatives aimed at gaining wider exposure and advancing its agenda, which drew inspiration from a radical interpretation of the social and political vision of the Muslim Brothers.

Beginning by sponsoring religious conferences, organizing daily prayers, distributing literature, appropriating bulletin boards, and offering classes, the group soon progressed to providing occasional services, such as inexpensive meals and low- cost copying, and selling articles of clothing identified with the movement. At the same time, it urged strict compliance with its view of proper Islamic morals, which often resulted in attempts to police gender relations, prevent the sale of alcohol, impose a dress code, and censor the presentation of films and theatrical performances. Such unauthorized vigilante assertions inevitably led to conflicts that were not always easily contained, as they threatened to stir up latent friction between political rivals, clan groups, social classes, and sectarian communities.

With its strength initially concentrated in the urban centers of Upper Egypt (e.g., Asyut, Minya, and Sohag), the attitudes and behaviors characteristic of the organization tended to reflect features of a regional subculture emphasizing traditional rural values such as honor, strength, and loyalty. These qualities surfaced with increasing force and frequency after the organization’s leaders sought out and designated the blind Shaykh ‘Umar ‘Abd al- Rahman as their spiritual guide. At their request, evoking the Qur’anic verse that became the group’s motto (“Fight against them till all opposition ends, and obedience is wholly God’s” [Q. 8:39]), this Azhar- trained jurist- scholar (mufti) issued legal opinions consistent with the extremist doctrine of takfīr— that is, the legitimating of violence against people deemed to have become infidels.

Uncompromising opposition to President Anwar Sadat’s peace initiative toward Israel served to increase the militancy of the Gama’a, as their protests moved from the campus onto the streets. A series of confrontations, arrests, incarcerations, and escapes into a clandestine underground followed, reaching a climax in the mass crackdown on Islamist activists in September 1981 and shortly thereafter the assassination of Sadat by assailants who belonged to a different but allied organization known as Jihad.

Throughout the 1980s, the Gama’a remained active although contained by extensive government surveillance, while some members managed to flee to Afghanistan to join the struggle against the Soviet invasion. But in the early 1990s, the Gama’a once again staged an aggressive campaign to challenge the regime of Husni Mubarak both by promoting popular opposition and by targeting prominent secular intellectuals, foreign tourists, or state officials. Then, in the late 1990s, Karam Zuhdi and several other Gama’a leaders announced from prison their renunciation of violence and a revision of their religious thinking, leading to their release in 2003 and an apparent moderate direction for the movement.

See also Egypt; fundamentalism; jihad; terrorism

Further Reading

Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trial of Political Islam, 2002; Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism, and Political Change in Egypt, 2002.



In English usage, “genealogy” refers to (1) a blood relationship in the form of a lineage, pedigree, or family stock; (2) an account or representation of a blood relationship; and (3) a discipline for the study of blood relationships. The Arabic term nasab relates to the first and second senses. ‘Ilm al- nasab (or ‘ilm al- ansāb) refers to genealogy in the third sense, as a discipline, or simply the knowledge of blood relationships. The term nasab has passed into several other languages used by Muslims, where it carries similar meanings.

In Muslim societies, an individual’s genealogy is almost always traced through male ancestors with a man named as his father’s son (ibn, written here as b.) and a woman named as her father’s daughter


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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Alphabetical List of Entries xxi
  • Topical List of Entries xxv
  • Contributors xxix
  • A 1
  • B 60
  • C 80
  • D 125
  • E 141
  • F 164
  • G 189
  • H 211
  • I 230
  • J 268
  • K 292
  • L 313
  • M 320
  • N 385
  • O 401
  • P 404
  • Q 440
  • R 457
  • S 480
  • T 539
  • U 573
  • V 587
  • W 592
  • Y 600
  • Z 603
  • Index 607


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