Muslim Brotherhood

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MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD . Founded in 1928 by asan al-Bannāʾ (19061949), the Society of Muslim Brothers (al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn) was created to bring Egyptian Muslims back to an awareness of the objectives of religion within a society that had, in the view of al-Bannāʾ, been corrupted by alien ideologies and a materialist philosophy imported from the West.

Historical Background

The British occupation of Egypt in 1882 had fueled a nationalist movement seeking independence from British rule; these aspirations culminated in the revolt of 1919 under the leadership of the aging politician Saʿd Zaghlūl and the newly formed Wafd ("delegation") party. The decade of the 1920s offered the Egyptians constitutional government and hopes of an impending settlement between Britain and Egypt through a negotiated treaty. When Zaghlūl died in 1927, these hopes were eroded, and a number of movements appeared as alternatives to the liberal notions of government that had not been successful, partly through interference on the part of the king and the British authorities in Egypt and partly through ineptness on the part of the parliamentarians. In addition to the fascists and the communists, these movements included the Society of Muslim Brothers, who believed that the path of reforming the country's social and political problems lay in the islamization of institutions.

asan al-Bannāʾ, a primary school teacher who was the son of a small-town religious teacher, was early attracted to Sufism, which, along with classical Islamic studies, formed his major intellectual foundations and became the linchpins of his group. He described the Muslim Brotherhood as a "Salafīyah movement [espousing return to the early principles of Islam], a Sunnī [orthodox] way, a ūfī [mystical] truth, a political organization, an athletic group, a cultural and educational union, an economic company, and a social idea." The movement spread rapidly, representing every segment of society from newly urbanized rural immigrants to high government officials. In its heyday in the 1940s, the Muslim Brotherhood claimed to represent one million members; later estimates are difficult to establish.

The structure of the organization was spelled out in the Fundamental Law of the Organization of the Muslim Brothers, promulgated in 1945 and later amended. Leading the organization was the general guide, who chaired the General Guidance Council (the policy-making body) and the Consultative or General Assembly, both of which were elective bodies. A secretary general was in charge of a secretariat linking the council and the rest of the organization. Two further subdivisions dealt with various committees (press, peasants, students, etc.) and with an administrative body supervising branches outside the capital. A chain of command was thus established over the entire membership.

Spread of the Movement

Weekly lectures, preaching in mosques, and periodic conferences allowed for popular participation, and the establishment of a press soon spread the message of the Society of Muslim Brothers further. Unconcerned with doctrinal differences, the participants concentrated on growth, action, and organization, and by 1939 they were ready for political activity. The war years were to provide them with a forum.

Nationalist agitation against the British continued with labor strikes and student demonstrations until, in 1942, the British threatened King Fārūq (Farouk) with deposition and forced him to appoint a Wafd government under Muafā al-Naās. This incident generated further support for the Muslim Brotherhood, by then the only other grouping with a mass base to rival the Wafd. Even among the Wafd leadership there were many who approved of the society as a bulwark against the spread of communism among the working class. For the next few years the society established links with disaffected officers within the army (who were later to carry out the revolution of 1952), and, unknown to even his closest colleagues, al-Bannāʾ stockpiled weapons and created a secret apparatus trained in the use of armed violence for tactical operations.

With the end of the war, agitation for the evacuation of British forces from Egypt started once again, with frequent student demonstrations and acts of violence until the British garrison was finally withdrawn to the Canal Zone. The situation in Palestine and the war against Israel in 1948 provided the Muslim Brotherhood with an opportunity to collect more arms as members volunteered during the war and remained in the forefront of the fighting until their organization was dissolved in December 1948. The immediate cause for the government's action against the society was the death of the Egyptian chief of police, Salīm Zakī, who was killed by a bomb thrown at him during student demonstrations protesting the armistice with Israel. Mass arrests followed as the government, fearing the society's growing influence, sought to proscribe it. Three weeks later, the prime minister, Maūmud Fahmī al-Nuqrāshī, was assassinated by a Muslim Brother. In February 1949 asan al-Bannāʾ was himself assassinated, probably with the complicity, if not the actual participation, of the government of the day.

After the Muslim Brotherhood was proscribed, its property confiscated, and its members put on trial, many of its remaining members fled to other Arab countries, where they founded autonomous branches of the society. In 1951 a Wafd government, seeking a buffer against rising leftist movements, allowed the society to reconvene. A judge with palace connections, asan Ismāʿil al-Huaybī, was chosen as new leader. That same year the Wafd government unilaterally abrogated the treaty of 1936 with England, and Egyptian youth, including the Muslim Brothers, were encouraged to harass British camps in the Canal Zone. In January 1952 British forces attacked the Ismailia police station, and forty Egyptian policemen were killed. On the following day Cairo was set on fire in a monstrous riot that gutted the heart of the city. The Muslim Brothers were suspected of planning the riot, which they had not, although some of them were among the many participants. From then on the country was virtually without effective government until July 23, 1952, when the Free Officers movement, which included future Egyptian presidents Jamāl ʿAbd al-Nāir (Gamal Abdel Nasser) and Anwar al-Sādāt, seized power and three days later sent the king into exile.

There had been strong links between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free OfficersNasser and Sadat had both been members of the society. Once all political parties had been disbanded, the only focus for mass support lay with the society. Nasser knew that it represented the lone challenge to his authority and that its leaders expected to share power with the officers; a power struggle was inevitable. In 1954 a member of the Muslim Brotherhood allegedly attempted to shoot Nasser during a public rally, and once again the society was proscribed and its members arrested.

The society remained underground throughout the Nasser era. When Sadat came to power in 1970 all prisoners were released, including the Muslim Brothers, and, to combat the Nasserite current, Sadat allowed the society to reestablish itself under the leadership of an ʿālim (religious scholar), Shaykh al-Tilimsānī, and to publish its own newspapers. Meanwhile newer associations patterned after the society, the Islamic jamāʿāt ("groups"), had appeared. Some of these were extensions of the Muslim Brotherhood; others regarded the society as retrograde and beholden to the government. It was a member of one of the latter, more extremist groups who assassinated Sadat in 1981.

Doctrines and Impact

According to the program of al-Bannāʾ, the Society of Muslim Brothers was given a mission to restore the rule of the sharīʿah (Islamic law) to Egypt, and to all other Muslim countries where their missionary activities had set up affiliates. Rule of the sharīʿah rendered inadmissible the separation of church and state, for the state, they believed, existed in order to serve religion and to facilitate the fulfillment of Islamic religious duties. The Islamic state had the Qurʾān as its constitution; its government operated through shūrā, or consultation, and the executive branch, guided by the will of the people, ruled through Islamic principles. The ruler, chosen by the people, was responsible to them and not above the law, with no special privileges. Should he fail in his duties he was to be ousted. Freedom of thought, of worship, and of expression were vital, as was freedom of education. Finally, freedom of possessions was to be maintained within the limits set by Islamic law, which frowns upon the excessive accumulation of wealth and enjoins zākāt ("alms") as a basic religious duty. Social justice was to be the guiding principle of government.

The significance of the Society of Muslim Brothers and of its modern offshoots, the jamāʿāt, is that they represent a protest movement couched in a traditional Islamic idiom that expresses the ethos of a people. The society arose in protest against a foreign occupation that threatened the identity of a people and the dissolution of its culture and religion. It spoke to people in the language they understood and appreciated, that of Islam and its historical past, and it did not posit newfangled notions derived from a Western idiom, although the society did use Western techniques of mass communications and of assembly, even ideas of government, which were garbed in Muslim idiom. As such it was comprehensible to the masses who suffered political discrimination and economic exploitation by a government that was largely indifferent to their welfare, especially during periods of economic recession. Those who were disillusioned with Western ideologies and their ability to solve Egypt's problems, or indeed the problems of any Muslim country, turned to the precepts of the society, or to similar movements that they identified with their roots and cultural authenticity (aā-lah ), for guidance and spiritual consolation. The same phenomenon was reproduced during the Sadat regime (19701981) when the "Open Door" (infitā ) policy disrupted society and led to rampant consumerism, which, exacerbated by the influx of oil money, raised fears of becoming engulfed by westernization.

Organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the jamāʿāt are regarded by some Muslim regimes as dangerous foci of opposition and have thus met with violent repression. In 1982, under the regime of president āfi al-Asad, the Syrian army shelled the city of Hama, a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold; portions of the city were leveled and casualties were variously estimated at ten thousand to twenty thousand. Similar attacks were repeated in Aleppo, Homs, and Latakia. In Iraq the regime of adām usayn waged a relentless campaign against the Shīʿī group al-Daʿwah al-Islāmīyah. In Saudi Arabia Muslim militants seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca for several days in 1979. In Sudan the Muslim Brotherhood forced the regime of Muammad Jaʿfar al-Numayrī (Numeiri) to adopt Islamic policies in 1977. Comparable militant groups have spread to most Muslim countries irrespective of their forms of government.


Enayat, Hamid. Modern Islamic Political Thought. Austin, 1982. A thoughtful interpretation of political ideas from major Muslim countries.

Harris, Christina Phelps. Nationalism and Revolution in Egypt. The Hague, 1964. An early study of the Muslim Brotherhood, written before much interesting material had been uncovered but useful nonetheless.

Husaini, Ishak Musa. The Moslem Brethren: The Greatest of Modern Islamic Movements. Translated by John F. Brown and John Racy. Beirut, 1956. The first account of the society, written by an uncritical admirer but containing many quotes from al-Bannāʾ.

Ibrahim, Saad Eddin. The New Arab Social Order. Boulder, 1982. A study of the effect of oil riches on Middle East society, with an excellent discussion of militant movements.

Kotb, Sayed (Qub, Sayyid). Social Justice in Islam. Translated by John B. Hardie. Washington, D. C., 1953. A major work written by a leading Muslim intellectual.

Mitchell, Richard P. The Society of the Muslim Brothers. Oxford, 1969. The definitive work on the society. The author died before he could bring his work up to date, but it remains the only critical account of the movement.

Wendell, Charles, trans. and ed. Five Tracts of Hasan al-Banna (19061949 ). Berkeley, 1978. Basic source documents with annotations.

Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyud Marsot (1987)

Muslim Brotherhood

views updated May 08 2018


religious political organization that started in egypt in 1928 and subsequently spread throughout most muslim countries.

The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (Jamʿiyyat al-ikhwan al-muslimin, or the Society of Muslim Brothers) was Hasan al-Banna (19061949), the son of a modest but learned religious teacher, who received traditional as well as modern training at Dar al-Ulum in Cairo, where he was exposed to the prevailing Salafiyya ideology of Islamic revivalism preached in Egypt by Muhammad Abduh. It was in Ismaʿiliyya, a showcase of Egyptian poverty and European colonialist wealth and power where he was posted to teach Arabic in a primary school, that he founded the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1934 Banna moved back to Cairo, where his organization merged with the Society for Islamic Culture, which was headed by his brother, and the combined organization quickly became the largest grass-roots movement in Egypt. With more than half a million members drawn from the middle class as well as from labor groups, peasants, and the student population, and with an efficient structure, hundreds of mosques and clubs throughout the country, and a printing press, in the 1940s the Brotherhood became a powerful organization intent on affecting the govern-ment's social policies and ridding Egypt of British occupation. Partly because of its mass power, and partly in order to play it against the other political parties, the Egyptian government in turn compromised with and fought the organization, jailing Banna intermittently on various charges and releasing him for fear of mass insurrection.

From the start, the Muslim Brotherhood exhibited the dual characteristics of an internal reform movement operating within the context of foreign occupation. Banna's early and primary concern, which molded the movement and provided it with its lasting method and policy, had been to bring about a return to the pristine sources of the faith and away from the distortions of popular religion. In that, it was the continuation of the powerful reform movement that spread throughout the Muslim world in the eighteenth century and became known in Egypt as the Salafiyya movement, although unlike the latter (but similar to earlier reform movements), the Muslim Brotherhood showed Banna's strong attachment to Sufi spirituality. Consistent with the pattern of Islamic reform movements in history, its ideology was translated into a praxis that sought to establish shariʿa and to use Islam to combat corruption, moral laxity, economic exploitation, and oppression through the creation of a strong civil network centered around the mosque and providing for employment, education, welfare, clubs, health clinics, and other social services. In harmony with earlier reform movements and with orthodox Islamic doctrine, it advocated dialogue, preaching, and gradual reform rather than revolt.

But the Muslim Brotherhood was also operating in the context of Egypt's occupation by the British, who dictated government policy. Moving away from the Salafiyya, which had become concerned solely with a strict interpretation of the faith, the Brotherhood looked to fulfill popular aspirations such as Egyptian independence, and it used anti-imperialist rhetoric from the start. In order to keep its legal status and remain operational, the Brotherhood maintained a policy of nonconfrontation, but this was challenged by its followers. A major turning point came in 1936 with the eruption of riots in Palestine against the Zionist implantation. The Brotherhood, which already had offices in Palestine, helped to raise funds for the insurrection. In 1938 a meeting with the Palestinian mufti Muhammad Amin al-Husayni produced the decision that a military wing was needed to push back the territorial ambitions of the Zionists, and a secret order was created within the Brotherhood to repel Western colonialism. Thus, as part of the organization remained focused on reform and dialogue with a Muslim government, the other part took on jihad against the foreigners, and preachers and organizers were sent to Palestine to help in the Palestinian insurrection.

In 1939 Brotherhood members defected from the organization, claiming that its lack of action against British occupation was inconsistent with its stated ideology, and they started Shabab Sayyiduna Muhammad, the first of a number of radical Muslim political movements that advocated the use of force against a government that cooperates with Western occupation or with policies against the interests of the Muslim community. Banna had always opposed engaging in jihad against fellow Muslims. But to the military wing, largely formed in response to the defection of the disgruntled members, fighting the British occupation of Palestine was the same as fighting the occupation of Egypt. The partition of Palestine in 1948 led to uncontrollable riots and acts of violence against British and Jewish interests. The Muslim Brotherhood organized on the issue of partition, a major conference that was attended by foreign dignitaries and heads of state. This show of force led the Egyptian government to outlaw the Brotherhood, and to a wave of repression against its members. Although Banna tried to rein in his followers, some of them carried out assassinations of public figures, and as a result, Banna was assassinated by government officials in February 1949.

The Brotherhood after Banna

Under a new murshid amm ("supreme guide") and with the promise not to get involved in political activity, the Brotherhood was allowed to operate again in 1951. It had a large number of followers in the army, and it had even supplied arms to the stranded Egyptian soldiers in Palestine during the 1948 ArabIsraeli War. A liaison was established between the Brotherhood and the movement of the Free Officers who, in 1952, seized power in a coup that benefited from the mass support provided by the Brotherhood. As a result, the Brotherhood was the only organization not dissolved by the new regime dominated by Gamal Abdel Nasser, which quickly became a secular nationalist-socialist autocracy that banned any opposition to the state. An assassination attempt on Nasser in 1956 led to the dissolution of the movement, the jailing of hundreds of its members, and the execution of many of its leaders, including its chief ideologue, Sayyid Qutb.

Anwar al-Sadat became Egypt's president in 1970. Hoping to defuse the power of the followers of Nasser who opposed his policies of reconciliation with Israel, Sadat released from jail Umar al-Tilimsani, the leader of the Brotherhood, and allowed the Brotherhood to operate again (though without a legal status). The loss of the charismatic leadership of Nasser and the failure of the government's socialist policies helped the Brotherhood to regain its membership. Sadat promised to restore legal status to the Brotherhood if it supported his policy toward Israel, but it refused, and the leadership and hundreds of members were again thrown in jail. After the assassination of Sadat in 1981 by a member of one of the radical Muslim movements, the new president, Husni Mubarak, granted more freedom to the Brotherhood, which saw its membership soar. Because it had no legal status, it could not participate in political elections, so its members ran for parliamentary election by forming an alliance with the Wafd Party in 1984, and they won the majority of opposition seats. The same success was achieved in 1987, when the Brotherhood allied itself with the Socialist Labor Party and the Liberal Party, and included Coptic representatives. The Brotherhood's victories led to a massive crackdown by the government of Mubarak during the 1990s and an attempt to counter its ideology with strong government propaganda. But the Brotherhood retained its power, and in the parliamentary elections of November 2000, a majority of members of the Brotherhood were independently elected to parliament, thus making the Brotherhood, though officially banned, the largest holder of opposition seats in the parliament. The sixth leader of the Brotherhood, Maʾmun al-Hudaybi, who had assumed the leadership in 2002, died in January 2004, and Muhammad Mahdi Akif was elected the new guide-general for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood has offices throughout the Arab world, and a number of organizations emulating it have emerged in almost all Muslim countries. Its membership tends to be middle-class professionals and university graduates for whom the main goals are to oppose Western policies in the Muslim world in general and in Palestine in particular, and to bring about a social, economic, and political order in line with Islamic ideals. By avoiding theological discussion on the nature of law and state that could lead to divisiveness, taking a progressive stand on the rights of women (as demonstrated in the writings of Muhammad al-Ghazali), focusing on eliminating Western secular influences and ideologies (though accepting Western advances in technology, science, and education), and providing badly needed civic institutions, the Brotherhood has become the most important representative of the Egyptian masses.

see also banna, hasan al-; free officers, egypt; ghazali, muhammad al-; mubarak, husni; nasser, gamal abdel; qutb, sayyid; sadat, anwar al-; salafiyya movement.


Lia, Brynjar. The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. Reading, PA: Ithaca Press, 1998.

Mitchell, Robert P. The Society of the Muslim Street Brothers. London: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Wickham, Carrie R. Mobilizing Islam; Religion, Activism, and Political Change in Egypt. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

maysam j. al faruqi

Muslim Brotherhood

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Sunni fundamentalist movement (Jamaʾat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) created on 11 April 1928, in Ismailia, Egypt, by a young teacher, Hassan al-Banna, who had been influenced by the ideas of the reformer Rashid Rida. The doctrine of this brotherhood stressed the refusal of cultural, political, or economic subservience of the Muslim community toward foreign powers; the establishment of an Islamic political, economic, and social order; the restoration of the shariʿa (Islamic law) in the juridical domain; and the rejection of all nationalism. In the middle of the 1930s, the Muslim Brotherhood started focusing on political action, to the detriment of social action, in opposing the Wafd Party.

Between 1945 and 1948, the radical wing of the party orchestrated a number of attacks on highly placed Egyptian political leaders, notably against the prime ministers Ahmad Mahir and al-Nuqrashi Pasha. Reacting to the Arab defeat at the hands of Israel in 1948, the brotherhood, allied with the communists, became a threat to the Egyptian regime. On 12 February 1949, Hassan al-Banna was executed by the police. In the early 1950s, the movement became more radical, under the direction of Sayyid Qutb, who introduced a political doctrine based on the theory of an Islamic and socialist state. He recruited many officers in the Egyptian army, and in so doing, participated in the coup d'état of July 1952. Relations were tense between the Muslim Brotherhood and the new Egyptian regime, which led to its banning by Gamal Abdel Nasser, in January 1954. The following 26 October, a member of the Brotherhood, firing several shots with a revolver, tried to assassinate President Nasser.

The failed attempt led to massive repression of the movement, which nevertheless succeeded in establishing itself in the Egyptian political picture. Fearing a new attempt on his life, Nasser had nearly 20,000 Muslim Brothers arrested in 1957. Seven years later, they benefited from a general amnesty, which was annulled in August 1965, after another plot against the state was uncovered. Sayyid Qutb, theoretician of the movement, was hanged by Egyptian authorities. According to the indictment, the accused had received financial help from Saudi Arabia via Sudan. Between 1970 and 1981, the policy of openness promulgated by President Anwar al-Sadat allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to reconstitute itself and to become very active, particularly in the universities and among the middle classes. The movement benefited from the religious revival that surfaced after the Arab defeat in the June 1967 war. In spite of their opposition to his policy of reconciliation toward Israel, their activities were tolerated by Sadat as a counterweight to the Nasserists and the extreme left. Brothers were allowed to return to al-Azhar University, from which they had been forced out. Although Sadat would not legalize the Brotherhood as a political party, they ran candidates in the elections of 1976, supported by a popular base and a significant financial network, either as independents or as members of the Arab Socialist Union (ASU), the ruling party in which Sadat allowed factions of left, center, and right to organize and run separate lists. Nine Muslim Brothers were elected deputies as independents and six as ASU members, including one who became the leader of the center faction. Branches of the Muslim Brotherhood were formed in the Palestinian territories, in Jordan, Syria, Sudan, Kuwait, Yemen, and Algeria. In 1979, the installation of an Islamic regime in Iran and the signature of an Israeli-Egyptian peace accord strengthened their position, particularly in the Palestinian territories, Syria, and Jordan.

The assassination of President Sadat, on 6 October 1981, by a conspiracy of Islamist officers, resulted in new repression of the Brotherhood. In Syria, threatened by a revolt spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian president, Hafiz al-Asad, undertook a very harsh campaign of repression. In Aleppo and Hama in early 1980 general strikes were broken up by the security forces with mass arrests and summary executions. After an unsuccessful attempt on Asad's life in June 1980, membership in the Brotherhood was made a capital offense, and the regime attacked again, putting an end to the rebellion. (Two years later there was an Islamist uprising in Hama that was put down even more brutally by the army, resulting in the death of as many as 10,000 people.) In the Egyptian legislative elections of 1987, the Muslim Brotherhood was present on the lists of the Socialist Workers Party, which won fifty-six deputy seats. In December 1987, when the first Intifada began in the Palestinian territories, members of the Muslim Brotherhood formed HAMAS, an armed resistance organization.

In the 1990s, implicated in terrorist actions that were becoming more common in Egypt, the Brotherhood found itself marginalized from Egyptian political life, especially after the vain attempts of one of its moderate currents to form a political party in conjunction with the Copts. Although banned, the movement has been tolerated by the Egyptian regime. In 1990, when it held thirty-seven deputy seats, the movement decided to boycott the legislative elections, and to withdraw provisionally from parliament. At the time of the Gulf War of 1991, the Brotherhood denounced the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, but opposed a foreign presence in the region. In 1995, when the Muslim Brotherhood accounted for sixteen of the twenty-four seats among the Egyptian Attorneys Union, the government passed a law allowing it to exercise control over the principal union organizations. The Brotherhood won no seats at the legislative elections of the same year. In the spring of 2000, the government suspended the activities of the Socialist Labor Party, which had welcomed into its ranks numerous Islamists. As a result of the legislative elections of the following November, while the party of President Husni Mubarak, the National Democratic Party, had won the majority of the 454 seats of the Assembly, the Muslim Brotherhood gained 17 seats, thereby becoming the largest opposition bloc. As of 2004, the Muslim Brotherhood is headed by Mustafa Mashur, seconded by its spokesperson, Maamun al-Hodibi.

SEE ALSO Arab-Israel War (1967);Asad, Hafiz al-;Azhar, al-;Banna, Hassan al-;Gulf War (1991);Intifada (1987–1993);HAMAS;Nasser, Gamal Abdel;Sadat, Anwar al-;Wafd.

Muslim Brotherhood

views updated Jun 11 2018

Muslim Brotherhood

The Society of the Muslim Brotherhood is an international Islamic political and social welfare organization that was founded by Hasan al-Banna' (1906–1949) in 1928 as a means of resisting British imperial influence in Egypt. Al-Banna' was a schoolteacher in Ismailia, where there was a large British presence due to the city's location on the strategically important Suez Canal.

Al-Banna' became convinced that the way to throw off imperial rule was through renewed adherence to Islamic principles expressed in the Sharia, the Islamic legal tradition. The Brotherhood thus helped Muslims establish social welfare programs for the poor, the creation of medical clinics, food distribution centers, and primary schools. In addition, it encouraged land redistribution, unemployment payments, unionization, and the replacement of foreign investment with local. They promoted Islam as an alternative to Western materialism, claiming that it offered spiritual comfort and social justice.

In the 1930s the group branched out into Syria and, in 1939, became a recognized political party in Egypt. In the 1940s, as economic conditions worsened and the masses became increasingly alienated from Egypt's rulers, the Brotherhood's membership swelled to 500,000. The Brotherhood's activities came to include violence against foreigners, their businesses, and their supporters. The government responded by suppressing them.

In 1948 members of the Brotherhood were implicated in the assassination of Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi (1888–1948). In 1949 the Brotherhood issued pamphlets that called for "Muslim rule"; shortly after they were distributed, an unidentified man shot al-Banna'. Many Egyptians believe that the government workers who took al-Banna' to the hospital were instructed not to treat him; they consider his murder to be politically motivated. In 1952 members of the Brotherhood helped to overthrow the pro-British monarchy and establish a republic.

Collusion with the new government ended with an attempted assassination of President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970) in 1954. Thousands in the Brotherhood were imprisoned as a result, including the editor of the Brotherhood's journal—Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966). Qutb's ideas had a profound influence on the Brotherhood's ideology and attitude toward the West. The West's adoption of the secularist separation of church and state, he argued, had caused "spiritual schizophrenia." Westerners segregated spirituality from their daily lives and, in his view, alienated themselves from life's real meaning. Most troubling to him, however, was the West's attempt to impose their beliefs on Muslims through imperialism.

Qutb wanted to bring spirituality back into daily life by creating a government and social structure based on Sharia. He believed that Muslims were obligated to fight those who prevented the establishment of this government, that their mission was religiously legitimate as jihad, and that those who died in this fight were not truly dead, for their influence lived on.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Brotherhood produced several splinter groups that embraced Qutb's radical call for action. One of these assassinated President Anwar al-Sadat (1918–1981) in 1981; another became the Palestinian group known as Hamas in 1988. The mainstream Brotherhood has become more moderate since the 1990s; members seek to influence government policy through democratic processes. In Egypt, several members have held office as independents, while the Brotherhood now functions as an opposition party in Jordan.

see also Egypt; Islamic Modernism.


Berman, Paul. "The Philosopher of Islamic Terror." The New York Times Magazine 23 (March 2003).

Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East, 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000.

Mitchell, Richard P. The Society of the Muslim Brothers. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Muslim Brotherhood

views updated May 14 2018

Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimum, was founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928 in Egypt and quickly spread to surrounding Arab countries such as Syria, Sudan, Jordan, Kuwait, and countries in North Africa. It arose as one particular response to continued European imperialism and hegemony in Arab cultures. Al-Banna and his successors saw that influential Muslims adopted, then affirmed and promoted "Western" (i.e., secular) ideas over Islamic values as resources for confronting societal issues. The primary purpose was to return these Arab cultures to Islamic guidance. One could describe the Islamic Brotherhood as an Islamic cultural affirmation, a philosophical position, a social concept, and a political stance all rolled into one organization. Western societal foci on materialism, consumerism, and "individual autonomy without responsibility" were expeditiously labeled the core of Western values and what Muslim communities should avoid.

One early member and architect of the Muslim Brotherhood's philosophical stance was Sayyid Qutb (1906–1928). A portion of his text Ma'alim fi al-tariq (Signposts Along the Way) was circulated in the United States in the late 1960s as Milestones. This text alerted and engaged U.S. Muslims in a dialogue about the seductiveness of capitalism and consumerism/materialism. Muslims are to be discerning and moderate in their lifestyles, protecting themselves against jahiliyyah (the state of ignorance from the guidance of God).

Many Muslims interpreted the prescriptions of Milestones in their living to mean moderation in all things. Some Muslims interpreted the text literally and isolated themselves (as much as any American community could) from the larger society. The larger society is viewed as one with great potential, though lost in an ocean of arrogant ignorance. The general focus in many Muslim communities was and continues to be on perfecting their Islamic lives while in a jahili society. Communitywide adherence to the Islamic ideals, especially in a jahili society, has led Muslims to create their own financial institutions, for example. Muslim credit unions, investment corporations, leasing companies, and lending agencies follow Islamic injunctions against usury and are the preferred financial institutions among U.S. Muslims.

Negative American media on Islam and Muslims have served to further affirm, in the minds of individual Muslims and communities who follow the Muslim Brotherhood's precepts, that the West in general and America in particular are indeed in jahiliyyah. The Muslim Brotherhood's philosophical core has remained the same, though its manifestations in U.S. society have ebbed and flowed as America either focuses on or neglects its Muslims' existence. There is no distinct branch organization as such of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States. The Muslim Brotherhood is alive in the minds and hearts of the majority of U.S. Muslims, though there is little interest among them in returning to the Muslim world, as it is seen to be steeped in a postcolonial maze.

See alsoBelonging, Religious; Islam; Religious Communities; Secularization; Spirituality.


Mitchell, Richard P. The Society of the Muslim Brothers. 1969.

Aminah Beverly McCloud

Muslim Brotherhood

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