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Hasan al-Banna

(photo: al-Majalla) 

Hasan al-Banna  (1906-1949)Motivated by his hatred of the British Protectorate over Egypt, which only partially ended (subject to "reserved points") in 1922 when he was at the impressionable age of sixteen, Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, in 1928, one year after and along the same lines as the Syrian Young Man's Muslim Association (YMMA).  Both organizations aimed to resist foreign domination, sought to stem the spread of Western culture (particularly loose morals and Christian missionary activity), and campaigned to restore the Islamic caliphate, which Ataturk had abolished just a few years earlier (in 1924). Al-Banna followed Afghani and Abduh in believing that Europeans had been able to dominate the Muslim world because Muslims had strayed from following the true path of Islam. The Brotherhood offered young men a variety of services:  religious training, of course, but also fellowship and physical training through activities that included camping trips and other such outings. 

Al-Banna, more of an organizer than an ideologue, was not clear about the particular mechanics of government he thought Islam stipulated.  But, he did have three general rules:  First, the ruler must be responsible to God and the people, and must indeed be the servant of the people.  Second, the Muslim nation must act in a united, purposeful manner since unity among believers was a central Islamic principle.  Third, the Muslim nation had the responsibility to monitor the ruler's behavior, give him advice, and see that its will was respected.  Constitutional parliamentary democracy was theoretically a possibility, but since the long term goal was the restoration of the caliphate, democracy was never very high on the Brothers' list of possible political structures (more) . Their slogan was "The Qur'an is our constitution."  In the latter half of the twentieth century, a number of extremist movements grew out of the Brotherhood (see Models of Islamic Revivalism). 

The aura of violence that hung over the Muslim Brothers stemmed from their assassination of the Egyptian Prime Minister in January, 1949. This led to al-Banna's own assassination at the hands of the Egyptian secret police one month later. Then in 1954, the Brothers made an attempt on the life of Gamal Abd al-Nasser which led to the arrest and torture of many of them, including Sayyid Qutb.  One of the ways al-Banna himself contributed to the Brothers'  reputation for violence was by teaching a more activist version of  jihad, giving primacy to the minor jihad (fighting) over the major jihad (the inner spiritual struggle against evil).  He collapsed the Quranic definitions of fighting (qital) and the inner spiritual struggle against evil (jihad) into a single call to engage in holy war against not only infidels but also People of the Book (Christians and Jews). In his tract, "On Jihad" (in Five Tracts of Hasan al-Banna, trans. by Charles Wendell (Berkeley, 1978), pp. 142, 150, 154, al-Banna wrote:

"In this Tradition, there is a clear indication of the obligation to fight the People of the Book, and of the fact that God doubles the reward of those who fight them. Jihad is not against polytheists alone, but against all who do not embrace Islam...Today the Muslims, as you know, are compelled to humble themselves before non-Muslims, and are ruled by unbelievers. Their lands have been trampled over, and their honor besmirched. Their adversaries are in charge of their affairs, and the rites of their religion have fallen into abeyance within their own domains, to say nothing of their impotence to broadcast the summons [to embrace Islam]. Hence it has become an individual obligation, which there is no evading, on every Muslim to prepare his equipment, to make up his mind to engage in jihad, and to get ready for it until the opportunity is ripe and God decrees a matter which is sure to be accomplished...Know then that death is inevitable, and that it can only happen once. If you suffer it in the way of God, it will be your profit in this world, and your reward in the next."

Al-Banna sought to create what some called "shock troops for Islam" (Ali Rahnema (ed.), Pioneers of Islamic Revival (Atlantic Highlands, NJ:  Zed Books, 1994), 146): men who dedicated themselves to preparing physically and spiritually to carry out  jihad.  They trained in law, first aid, and weaponry, and took an oath of allegiance in a darkened room swearing secrecy on a copy of the Qur'an and a pistol. 

Ironically, one of those in the forefront of dissent from the views of al-Banna was his own brother Gamal who (in 2006 at the age of 85) was strongly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic fundamentalist movements (see Michael Slackman, "A Liberal Brother at Odds With the Muslim Brotherhood," New York Times, Oct. 21, 2006.)

(Click here for more on the Muslim Brotherhood)

Hasan al-Banna on Women


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Last Revised: July 21, 2007