Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Hassan Al-Banna and the state

The nation state had no place in the system advanced by the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, writes Hazem Mahfouz

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the late 1920s the movement envisaged by Hassan Al-Banna took concrete form with the founding of an Islamist group in Ismailiya. Described as a religious association dedicated to “the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice”, its activities focused on proselytising, promoting the construction of mosques, building schools and campaigning against what it regarded as moral degeneration.

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed to have an “Islamic solution” to all the country’s social and economic problems. It joined with the Misr Al-Fatah (Young Egypt) Party in opposing the constitution and parliamentary system. The Quran, they argued, was the only constitution an Islamic nation needed. Islamic nationalism was promoted as an alternative to Egyptian nationalism.
At that time, there were three general trends in religious-political thought: traditionalists, epitomised by Al-Azhar; modernist reformists whose chief exponents were disciples of Mohamed Abduh, and conservative reformists who were followers of Rashid Rida.
Rida had broken away from the modernists to go in a Salafist direction on the grounds that the modernists had taken shelter beneath a Western umbrella. Al-Banna, who was inspired by Rida, argued that the key to salvation lay in bringing Egypt back to Islamic teachings.
Al-Banna’s definition of his association’s mission makes it clear that the Muslim Brotherhood was always a reactionary organization. It emerged not as a proactive, forward-looking movement but as a reaction to existing circumstances. It was both the product and exemplar of crisis: the crisis of acting after a disaster.
In keeping with his Salafist leanings and opposition to Western values, Al-Banna was a staunch opponent of modern education. In his first speech at the Muslim Brotherhood’s mosque in Ismailiya, he claimed that Western-style schools were bid’a, a heretical innovation. They produced people whose minds were poisoned by malignant, atheistic and licentious ideas. Modern education instilled in students Western values. These were secularist and, therefore, sinful.

Al-Banna’s chief concern was to promote an Islamic state. Although he had yet to form a fully-fledged concept of the structure or shape of this state, his vision was always connected to the demand for the revival of the caliphate, the “Leader of the Faithful”, as the symbol of Islamic unity. He was aware that this demand was impossible to realise in the short term. It was necessary to wait until such time as God decreed it possible for the Islamic nation to take the practical measures to revive the caliphate.
Al-Banna rejected Egypt’s system of government. He opposed parliamentary institutions, political parties and other bodies of democratic government. “Islam is obedience and rule, the Quran and the sword. The two are inseparable,” he declared. To paraphrase, Islam is a creed of faith and Sharia law. But Al-Banna added another dimension to the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine: jihad became an integral part of the organisation’s ideology.

Beneath the headline “Our second step, Brothers. Prepare yourselves,” Al-Banna wrote in the first edition of the Muslim Brotherhood magazine Al-Nazir (The Herald): “God restrains through power what he does not restrain with the Quran. He will issue his call to leaders. If they respond He will support them. If they resort to evasion and equivocation we will declare war against every leader, head of a political party or body that does not work for the victory of Islam.”

This leaves no doubt that warfare was considered legitimate in Hassan Al-Banna’s system. He explicitly espoused the use of violence against the state. He reiterated the same position in his address to the fifth Muslim Brotherhood convention, where he stressed that Muslim Brothers would use force to settle matters when other means had not served their ends.
Al-Banna’s views fly in the face of an entire corpus of political thought, not least the ideas of Locke and Kant who argued that recourse to force to settle disputes would ultimately lead to universal destruction. Disputes, they concluded, must be settled through recourse to the law, to a set of fixed and objective criteria.
The Islam to which the Muslim Brotherhood subscribes accords a central place to the form of government but also emphasises action and guidance in how to act.
“Do you think that the Muslim who is content with our life today and who devotes himself to prayer while leaving the world and politics to the elderly, sinners, intruders and colonisers should be called a Muslim? No, he is not a Muslim,” wrote El Banna. “The essence of Islam is jihad, work, religion and the state.”
But against whom should the jihad be fought? To what end should work be performed? How is religion to be a state? What lines separate the two?
The logical extension of Al-Banna’s thought is easy to surmise: Jihad is to be fought against all those who differ. But is this about establishing identity or igniting strife?
Al-Banna had no time for political party plurality or the peaceful rotation of authority. Egypt’s only salvation was to dissolve all political parties and create a body that would steer the country in accordance with Quranic strictures. Al-Banna maintained that Muslims had no need to imitate or cling to a Western import such as the political party plurality.
But this begs a crucial question. Is the one-party state the answer, regardless of how noble and pure that party and its leaders are? History has given its reply. The one-party state is authoritarian and tyrannical.
To Al-Banna. religious affiliation was everything. It surpassed bonds of geography, ethnicity, language and the shared characteristics of people living on the same land. The universality of Islam and the brotherhood between Muslims was greater than any national or ethnic/regional affiliation.
As he wrote: “Every Muslim believes that every inch of land on which resides a brother who believes in the faith of the Holy Quran is part of the general Islamic territory all the inhabitants of which are obliged by Islam to work to protect it.”

One conclusion that can be drawn is that the Muslim Brother has no objection to relinquishing a portion of his country’s territory to benefit brother Muslims who do not belong to the same nation! After all, Al-Banna’s perception of nationhood superseded all natural and legal components of the state and swept away any notion of national boundaries.

The writer is a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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