- May 13, 2008
HASAN AL-BANNA AND HIS POLITICAL THOUGHT OF ISLAMIC BROTHERHOOD
Perhaps the most sophisticated approach to the ideology of Pan-Islam, in the new situation of Nationalism-bound Egypt of the 920s and 1930s, was developed by Hassan al-Banna, The founder, in 1929 and general guide of The Muslim Brethren (Jami’ah Ikhwan Muslimin). Al-Banna was chiefly responsible for formulating the policies of this association. Although these were largely concerned with domestic affairs of Egypt, and subsequently of the other countries, in which branches were established, the idea of universal muslim state was constantly implied due to the association’s focus on Islam. While strongly disapproving of local brands of Nationalism, particularly if they were Western-inspired and secularly-minded, Banna developed his vision of Pan-Islamic Nationalism, insisting that Islam and Nationalism were complementary, especially when the latter operated within the parameter of the Islamic truth, since, for the Muslim Brethren, Islam was of course both religion and state.
Here we need to analyze what was the basic concept from which Hassan al-Banna initiated to establish such Islamic organization. Then we would also explore his thought of the causes of descend of Islamic society particularly in Egypt. However, his effort and works deserved great consideration of Islamic society in the revolution to the revival of Islamic state (Caliphate).
HASAN AL-BANNA’S EARLY LIFE
Like many of the Islamic leaders who followed in his footsteps, Al-Banna enjoyed the benefits of a modern education, but had been raised in a traditional Islamic environment. Banna was born in 1906 in Mahmudiyya, Egypt (north-west of Cairo). His father, Shaykh Ahmad al-Banna, was a respected local imam (prayer leader) and mosque teacher, educated at Al-Azhar University, who wrote and collaborated on books on Muslim traditions, and also had a shop where he repaired watches and sold gramophones. Though Sheykh Ahmad al-Banna and his wife owned some property, they were not wealthy. When Hassan al-Banna was twelve years old, he became involved in a Sufi order, and became a fully initiated member in 1922. When he was thirteen, Banna participated in demonstrations during the revolution of 1919 against British rule. In 1923 he entered Dar al “Ulum, a teacher training school in Cairo.
Since then, life in the capital offered him a greater range of activities than the village and the opportunity to meet prominent Islamic scholars, but he was deeply disturbed by effects of Westernisation he saw there, particularly the rise of secularism and the breakdown of traditional morals. He was equally disappointed with what he saw as the failure of the Islamic scholars of al-Azhar University to voice their opposition to the rise of atheism and to the influence of Christian missionaries. In his last year at Dar al-“Ulum, he had dedicated himself to becoming “a counsellor and a teacher” of adults and children, in order to teach them “the objectives of religion and the sources of their well-being and happiness in life”. He graduated in 1927 and was given a position as an Arabic language teacher in a state primary school in Isma”iliyya, a provincial town located in the Suez Canal Zone.
In Isma”iliyya, in addition to his day classes, he carried out his intention of giving night classes to his pupils” parents. He also preached in the mosque, and even in coffee-houses, which were then a novelty and were generally viewed as morally suspect. At first, some of his views on relatively minor points of Islamic practice led to strong disagreements with the local religious élite, and he adopted the policy of avoiding religious controversies. Between 1948 and 1949, shortly after the society sent volunteers to fight in the war in Palestine, the conflict between the monarchy and the society reached its climax. Concerned with the increasing assertiveness and popularity of the brotherhood, as well as with rumors that it was plotting a coup, Prime Minister Nuqrashi Pasha disbanded it in December 1948. The organization”s assets were impounded and scores of its members sent to jail. Less than three weeks later, the prime minister was assassinated by a member of the brotherhood. This in turn prompted the murder of Al-Banna, presumably by a government agent, in February 1949, when Al-Banna was still only 43 and at the height of his career.
HIS CONCERN ON THE DECLINE OF ISLAM
The four years that Al-Banna spent in Cairo exposed him to the political ferment of the Egyptian capital in the early 1920s, and enhanced his awareness of the extent to which secular and Western ways had penetrated the very fabric of society. It was then that Al-Banna became particularly preoccupied with what he saw as the young generation”s drift away from Islam. He believed that the battle for the hearts and minds of the youth would prove critical to the survival of a religion besieged by a Western onslaught. While studying in Cairo, he immersed himself in the writings of the founders of Islamic reformism (the Salafiyya movement), including the Egyptian Muhammad “Abduh (1849-1905), under whom his father had studied while at Al-Azhar. But it was “Abduh”s disciple, the Syrian Rashid Rida (1865-1935), who most influenced Al-Banna.
Al-Banna was a dedicated reader of Al-Manar, the magazine that Rida published in Cairo from 1898 until his death in 1935. He shared Rida”s central concern with the decline of Islamic civilization relative to the West. He too believed that this trend could be reversed only by returning to an unadulterated form of Islam, free from all the accretions that had diluted the strength of its original message. Like Rida at the end of his life — but unlike “Abduh and other Islamic modernists — Al-Banna felt that the main danger to Islam”s survival in the modern age stemmed less from the conservatism of Al-Azhar and the ulama (which he nevertheless criticized) than from the ascendancy of Western secular ideas.
Banna stated: ” Islam does not recognize geographical boundaries, not does if acknowledge racial and blood differences, considering all Muslims as one Umma. The Muslim Brethren consider this unity as holy and believe in this union, striving for the joint action of all Muslims and the strengthening of the brotherhood of Islam, declaring that every inch of land inhabited by Muslims is their fatherland…The Muslim Brethren do not oppose every one’s working for one’s own fatherland. They believe that the caliphate is a symbol of Islamic Union and an indication of the bonds between the nations of Islam. They see the caliphate and its re-establishment as a top priority, subsequently; an association of Muslims people should be set up, which would elect the imam”.
Created in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood was an organization destined by its very nature to provoke polarized reaction towards western ideology became the first mass-based, overtly political movement to oppose the ascendancy of secular and Western ideas in the Middle East representing to some a diligent group effort in puritanical self-abnegation. The brotherhood saw in these ideas the root of the decay of Islamic societies in the modern world, and advocated a return to Islam as a solution to the ills that had befallen Muslim societies. Al-Banna tried to stop the flood of the Western cultural invasion. The modern Egyptian had lived and moved for a long time within a composite of Islamic- and Western-inspired laws and he felt it necessary to remold Egyptian society in their own image, under their conviction that Islam alone could provide the pattern of the right living. Al-Banna”s leadership was critical to the spectacular growth of the brotherhood during the 1930s and 1940s. By the early 1950s, branches had been established in Syria, Sudan, and Jordan. Soon, the movement”s influence would be felt in places as far away as the Gulf and non-Arab countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Driving this expansion was the appeal of the organizational model embodied in the original, Egypt-based section of the brotherhood, and the success of al-Banna”s writings.
From the beginning, Ikhwan’s goals were both social and political, promoting the causes of benevolence, charity and development on the one hand, and nationalist independence and Islamism on the other. Through of Ikhwan history, Islamism meant the reform of the society. This goal has been expanded to include the full establishment of shari’ah. From an early age, al-Banna was alarmed by the deteriorating conditions of the Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere throughout the world. He attributed the backwardness of Egyptian society in particular, and Muslim societies in general, to the spiritual and moral decline of the Muslim individual. While the idea of political Pan-Islam was less central to his thinking than that of religious Pan-Islam, Banna recommend the union of Islamic nations around the precept of Qur’an and he held in high esteem political organization, propaganda and active involvement. The Muslim Brethren was the best organized and politically the most important Muslim organization outside the official Islamic establishment in Egypt. Muslim Brethren aimed at overcoming doctrinal differences and increasing co-operation between Muslims the entire world at all levels by strengthening the bounds among them. Other Muslims groups are active and connected to Muslim Brethren such as Jami’ah Subhan Muslimin, Jamiat Alhidayat Al-Islamiyya, Jama’a Ukhuwa Islamiyya.
Al-Banna, the chief ideologue of the Ikhwan, declared that the mission of his organization was to accomplish two objectives: the independence of the Muslim land from foreign domination, and the establishment of an Islamic sociopolitical system (unitiy of ummah). He believed that reviving and resurrecting the ummah must inevitably begin with the individual, stressing that those able to rebuild the Muslim community must have three qualities: spiritual strength manifested through the determination of the individual and his integrity and self-sacrifice, knowledge of the principles of Islam, and the ability to relate the Islamic principles to real life and apply them effectively to practical circumstances. There was no room in their thinking for compromise with other manners or customs, Islam had presented to them a unified and perfect system and the introduction of foreign elements on a large scale into Muslim society should be avoided.
In less than twenty years, the Ikhwan organization grew from a small association, in the city of Isma’iliyah, to a major political power with numerous branches scattered throughout Egypt. Al-Banna employed an elaborate structure to organize the Ikhwan. The various Ikhwan branches in each province were headed by an Administrative Board (maktab idari) composed of the members of the Executive Council (majlis idari) of the central branch in a province, as well as representatives of all branches in that province. Administration Boards were in turn connected together through the Ikhwan headquarters (al-markaz al-‘amm), located in Cairo. The headquarters was divided into a number of specialized committees and departments: General Committee, Education Committee, Department of Labor, Department of Scouting, Department of Propaganda, Department of Phalanxes, Department of Families, Department of Social Services, Department of Communication with the Muslim World, and Department of Muslim Sisters.
The leadership of the Ikhwan was divided among three bodies: the Founding Assembly (al-hay”a/i al-ta”sisiyah) composed of one hundred members representing the various provinces and branches, (the Assembly was the policy-making body which set the general policy, of the movement); the executive power was assigned to the Executive Office (al-maktab al-tanfidhi), which was composed of twelve members and headed by the Supreme Guide (al-murshid al‘amm); the members of the Executive Office were selected by a special committee, which was known as the Membership Committee (maktab ‘udwiyah). The committee was also responsible for investigating all charges made against the members of the Founding Assembly, and if need be disciplining them.
To achieve the Ikhwan’s goals, al-Banna called for a gradualistic approach in which the desired reform could be attained through three stages. First is the stage of communication and propagation, aimed at exposing the Egyptian society to the true Islamic principles. Second is the stage of mobilization and organization in which the movement would select and train its active members. Finally comes the stage of executing and implementing the Islamic rules and principles in which a society is completely transformed into an Islamic one. Although al-Banna did not explicitly spell out the characteristics of each of these stages, or when and how each of them begins and ends, he stressed time and again that the Ikhwan had a long way to go before they could achieve Islamic reform, and that they were not interested in any revolutionary tactics. He also warned those among the Ikhwan who were looking for fast results that they would either have to learn to be patient and persevering or leave the movement.
His approach aimed at neutralizing local nationalism by considering all are inhabited by Muslims to be one Islamic fatherland (wathan). If not in one Islamic state, then in an association of Muslim nations (Hayatu Ummam Islamiyya). This attitude was paralleled by Banna’s striving to play down the significance of differences among Islamic groups and schools. He even devised a prayer for the use of his follower, combining the sentiment of Egyptian-Nationalism and Islamic solidarity.
Indeed, during its early years, the Ikhwan movement, rejecting violence, adopted a peaceful approach aimed at the gradual reform of society through two types of measures. First, by propagating the Islamic message, and raising the consciousness of the people about current social and public issues; and by offering better solutions and alternatives. The Ikhwan therefore placed a great deal of importance on publication and issued a number of newspapers, magazines, and periodicals. The second type of measures employed by the Ikhwan for achieving reform included sponsoring social welfare projects, such as hospitals, schools, charities, clubs, and the like. But within one decade the reformist tone of the Ikhwan was gradually replaced by a militant one. This was reflected in the statements of al-Banna and in the establishment of a paramilitary wing as well.
Generally speaking, although the Ikhwan’s approach appeared to be for the most part peaceful and gradualistic, it was potentially violent. While Article IV, section 2 of the Ikhwan’s 1945 basic regulations stated that: “the Brethren will always prefer gradual advancement and development …” several statements by the Ikhwan’s leadership showed that they were inclined to resort to violence in such circumstances as those which transpired under al-Nuqrashi Pasha’s government. Al-Banna, for example, clearly asserted that he would not hesitate to use violence if he were forced to do so, or when the Ikhwan were ready to seize power:”The Brethren will use practical force whenever there is no other way and whenever they are sure the implement of faith and unity is ready.”HYPERLINK “http://lsinsight.org/articles/1998_Before/Reform.htm” l “_edn32#_edn32”
The ambivalent stance of the Ikhwan leadership gave confusing signals to the rank and file, leading some to take it upon themselves to carry out a series of violent attacks against the ruling regime, and perhaps believing that the monarchists’ crackdown on their organization had left them with no other choice but to literally fight back. Despite the Ikhwan’s active involvement in Egyptian politics, al-Banna did not see his organization as a political party, but as a prototype of an Islamic society. Nor did he consider the Ikhwan’s political participation within the context of sharing power with other parties. Rather, he believed that it was imperative that the Ikhwan movement grew until it encompassed the entire Egyptian society. In this sense, al-Banna regarded his political activities as a struggle against those forces which were working to hinder the growth and development of the Islamic movement.
In fact, al-Banna looked with contempt and disdain on all political parties in Egypt, accusing them of corrupting social and political life. He repeatedly condemned political parties, charging them with being interested only in increasing the wealth and power of their members, failing thereby to offer any meaningful platforms or programs geared toward promoting the wellbeing of Egyptian society. In a speech delivered before the Ikhwan Fifth Conference, al-Banna called upon the king to dissolve all political parties, arguing that a representative system could survive without parties.
Al-Banna strongly believed that political parties had become a real menace, hindering the development of Egyptian society. He was thus convinced that by dissolving these parties, Egypt would stand a better chance to grow and advance. What al-Banna, and other Ikhwan leaders, failed to see was that by giving the state the right to prohibit party activities, he would enable it to use the same right against any other groups actively involved in public affairs, including the Ikhwan themselves. Indeed, when Nasser came to power in 1952, he immediately dissolved all political parties, sparing the Ikhwan organization. Nasser’s measure against political parties was hailed by the Ikhwan leadership, who thought that Nasser was going to grant the Ikhwan a greater role in running the country. But in less that two years, the Ikhwan themselves were added to the list, after Nasser consolidated his power and purged the army of all officers who were sympathetic to the Ikhwan, or unreceptive to his views.
The death of al-Banna was tragic for the Ikhwan movement, for he was the central figure in the movement, and a respected Egyptian leader who was able through his charisma and leadership skills to elicit the sympathy and support of many influential people. The Muslim Brotherhood has since the martyrdom of Hassan al-Banna survived all attempts to stifle it. Not only did it grow even stronger in Egypt, but it created branches in all the Arab countries. The Islamic resurgence manifest today in the Arab world today owes its origin directly or indirectly to the Muslim Brotherhood Organization.
Amara, Muhammad. Al-Islam Wa-l-Uruba Wa-l-Almaniyya, Beirut, 1981.
Esposito, John. L. The Oxford Encyclopedia of The Modern Islamic World, Volume 3, Oxford University Press, 1995.
Landan, Jacob. M, The Politics of Pan-Islam, Ideology and Organization, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1999.
Rosenthal, Heyworth. Dunne, Religious and Political Trends, Modern Egypt.
Carl, L. Brown. The Society of Muslim Brothers, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Institute of Technology and the Editors of the Journal of Interdisciplinary, published by MIT Press, the Massachusetts, 1972.
Puryear. J. Vernon. Nationalism and Revolution in Egypt, The Role of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Journal of Modern History, the University of Chicago Press, 1965.
http://lsinsight.org/articles/1998_Before/Reform.htm. ( 08/04/2006, 13.26 pm)
http://www.americanmuslim.org/1biography1.html. ( 19/04/2006, 17.26 pm)
http://www.glue.umd.edu/~kareem/rasayil/teaching.htm. ( 19/04/2006, 17.13 pm)
http://www.jannah.org/articles/hassan.html. ( 19/04/2006, 17.02 pm)
http://www.salambazar.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1414. ( 19/04/2006, 18.02 pm)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan_al_Banna. ( 08/04/2006, 14.32 pm)
. http://www.americanmuslim.org/1biography1.html. Op.Cit.
. Presented in the fifth general meeting of associations in Cairo, dated October 11, 1938, of his lecture on ” The stand of Muslim Brethren towards union. See ‘Amara. Muhammad, al-Islam wa-l-Urubba wa-l-almaniyya (Beirut.1981), p. 171.
. L. Carl Brown, The Society of Muslim Brother, Journal of Interdiscplinary History, Institute of Technology and the Editor of the Journal of Interdisciplinary, MIT Press, Massachusetts.
. http://www.americanmuslim.org/(biography).html. Op.Cit
. John L Esposito. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Volume 3, Oxford Univesity Press, 1995. p. 183
. Jacob M Landan. The Politics of Pan-Islam, Ideology and Organization, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990. p. 223-5.
See also http://www.jannah.org/Articles/Hassan.html.
As it was one of The Ten Principles of Hassan al-Banna: The Unity of the Ummah. The Agreement on Principal Matters, Assume First that You, Not Your Muslim Brother, May be Wrong. And see how you find the truth impartially, The Manners for Disagreement, Avoiding Arguing, Self-Righteousness and Belittling of Others, The Possibility of Mulitiple Correct Answers, The Group Participation in Agreed Upon Matters and to Excuse One Another in What is Disagreed Upon, Thinking of the Danger of the Common Adversary, Opening the Avenues for Work and Productivity, Sympathy for Those Who Do Not See the Light.
. Vernon J Purvear, Nationalism and Revolutions in Egypt, The role of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Journal of the Modern History, the University of Chicago Press.
. http://lsinsight.org/articles/1998_Before/Reform.htm. Op.Cit.
. Rosenthal. Heyworth Dunne, Religious and Political trends in Modern Egypt, 1964. p. 116.
. http://Isinsight/Articles/1998_Before/Reform.htm. Op.Cit.
. Http://Isinsight.org/Articles/1998_Before/Reform/htm. Ibid.
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