Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen: The Muslim Brotherhood

By Aboul-Enein, Youssef H. | Military Review, July-August 2003 | Go to article overview

Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen: The Muslim Brotherhood


Aboul-Enein, Youssef H., Military Review


WITHOUT CLOSELY examining Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (the Muslim Brotherhood) founded in Egypt in 1928, it is impossible to try to understand modern Islamic radicalism. Al-Ikhwan was the first of its kind to politicize Islam within the context of the colonial age and the first to put into practice the theories of Salafist thinkers such as Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh. These two Muslim revivalists, who wrote and preached during the beginning of the 20th-century, espoused that Islam and modernity are compatible and that Muslims lack control over their destinies because they have fallen into fatalism, abandoning the quest for understanding. According to Al-Afghani and Abduh, falling away from their true faith has made Muslim lands vulnerable to Western colonialism.

From the Muslim Brotherhood ranks came Sayed Qutb, who wrote the jihadist pamphlet Ma'alim (Guideposts), and many members of the more militant Gammaa al-Islamiya (The Islamic Group) and Al-Jihad as well as Al-Takfir wal-Hijra (Excommunication and Migration). Most leaders of these militant organizations and their members were once members of the Brotherhood. The history of the Brotherhood is intertwined with the events surrounding Egypt's 1952 founding as a Republic.

Al-Ikhwan members once included the late Mohammed Atef, Osama bin-Laden's military commander, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's political ideologue. The question for those studying Islamic terrorism is, "To what extent did the Muslim Brotherhood influence the suicide bomber Muhammad Atta and the blind cleric Shiekh Omar Abd-al-Rahman?"

Understanding Hasasan-Al-Banna's Egypt

Hassan-Al-Banna, born in 1906 in the delta town of Mahmudiya, saw an Egypt completely dominated by England. By 1919 he was participating in nationalist protests. He and his family witnessed nationalist leader Saad Zaghloul calling for the withdrawal of the British and the granting of independence to Egypt. British high commissioners in Cairo, including the distinguished commissioner Lord Horatio Kitchener, had governed the country since 1882. Despite being granted independence in 1922, Egypt retained a de facto British high commissioner, who continued to dictate policy to King Fouad and his son King Farouk. England continued to treat Egyptians with contempt, using such racial epithets as "gyppos" and "camel jockey," words that originated with British and Australian troops serving touts of duty in Egypt. Egyptians have typically been weaned on stories of English domination, some real, others exaggerated. One such story is about an English hunter shooting pigeons on an Egyptian farmer's property. The farmer, seeing the birds he raised for food being killed, tried to persuade the hunter to stop. The hunter refused to acknowledge the farmer, so the farmer struck the Englishman, killing him. In relaliation, British troops razed the village, causing many deaths and casualties. Today, this town is called Damanhour (Flowing Blood) in commemoration.

Al-Banna's childhood education consisted of an Islamic elementary education and learning watch repair, his father's craft. His father, a graduate of Al-Azhar University, was the village's Islamic leader. At the age of 12, Al-Banna was enrolled in primary school and began his association with Islamic groups. He also became a member of the Society for Islamic Morality, whose members were to adhere to a strict code of Muslim behavior, with frees imposed on those who cursed, drank, or smoked. This evangelism expanded to include a membership in the Society for Preventing the Forbidden. At 16, Al-Banna attended Dar-al-Ulum, an Islamic teacher's training college in Cairo where he focused his studies on Tawheed (theology), Fiqh (jurisprudence), Arabic literature, and Kalam (modem Islamic ideology or theosophy). The Hasafiya Order of Sufism also attracted Al-Banna because of its strict observance of scripture, rituals, and ceremonies. He found a sense of cause and importance in joining the order, and he became its secretary, handling charitable social needs. …

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