On the Origins of the Muslim Brotherhood

I’ve brought up the Muslim Brotherhood quite a few times on Ricochet. As I’ve written before, I find it unfathomable, a true national security emergency, that the words “Muslim Brotherhood” mean so little to most Americans. I’ve been blaming the media, but I am the media, so perhaps it would behoove me just to do something about it.

This week I’ll write a multi-part series about the Brotherhood, after which I expect all of America to understand the history and evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, to be able to write a short essay about the key aspects of its ideology, to recognize the names of prominent figures in the Brotherhood and the names of Brotherhood-linked or inspired movements and groups (particularly those in America, and particularly those whose spokesmen keep showing up on the nightly news), to appreciate the reach of the Brotherhood today, to understand contemporary policy debates about the Brotherhood, and to be able to state succinctly why all of this matters to you. There will be a test at the end.  All of America is expected to take it. 

The Society of the Muslim Brotherhood–the Jamaat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, or the Ikhwan, for short–was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al Banna. A decade later, it had a million active followers and sympathizers in Egypt alone. 

The first thing you must grasp about Brotherhood is its ideology: Its goal is the establishment everywhere of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. In al Banna’s own words, it seeks “to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” Its motto: “God is our purpose, the Prophet our leader, the Qur’an our constitution, Jihad our way and dying for God’s cause our supreme objective.” Clear enough?

The Brotherhood’s essence is immoderate: It is at its core unremittingly anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and anti-Western. It has fractured; there are divisions within it; like all movements it is comprised of individuals, some of whom are pleasant–but basically it has not changed. It was not moderate then and it is not moderate now. To the extent that al Banna rejected violence as a strategy, he did so only because he viewed it as an ineffective strategy so long as the movement was outranked by superior force–a strategy apt to result in the movement being crushed, which would be counter-productive.

Here is al-Banna in his own words on the concept of jihad. He rejects every verse or interpretation of the Koran that could be interpreted as “moderate” in favor of the most extreme verses and interpretations: 

Many Muslims today mistakenly believe that fighting the enemy is jihad asghar (a lesser jihad) and that fighting one’s ego is jihad akbar (a greater jihad). The following narration [athar] is quoted as proof: “We have returned from the lesser jihad to embark on the greater jihad.” They said: “What is the greater jihad?” He said: “The jihad of the heart, or the jihad against one’s ego.”

This narration is used by some to lessen the importance of fighting, to discourage any preparation for combat, and to deter any offering of jihad in Allah’s way. This narration is not a saheeh (sound) tradition: The prominent muhaddith Al Hafiz ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said in the Tasdid al-Qaws:

‘It is well known and often repeated, and was a saying of Ibrahim ibn ‘Abla.’

Al Hafiz Al Iraqi said in the Takhrij Ahadith al-Ahya’:

‘Al Bayhaqi transmitted it with a weak chain of narrators on the authority of Jabir, and Al Khatib transmitted it in his history on the authority of Jabir.’

Nevertheless, even if it were a sound tradition, it would never warrant abandoning jihad or preparing for it in order to rescue the territories of the Muslims and repel the attacks of the disbelievers. Let it be known that this narration simply emphasises the importance of struggling against one’s ego so that Allah will be the sole purpose of everyone of our actions.

Other associated matters concerning jihad include commanding the good and forbidding the evil. It is said in the Hadeeth: “One of the greatest forms of jihad is to utter a word of truth in the presence of a tyrannical ruler.” But nothing compares to the honour of shahadah kubra (the supreme martyrdom) or the reward that is waiting for the Mujahideen.

It’s all like this, with al Banna. (No, it is not like this with all Muslims, unless you agree with him that those Muslims who believe fighting one’s ego to be the greater jihad are “mistaken.” Note that he himself believes that “many Muslims today” believe this.) But al Banna is the echt item–a radical who seeks to impose upon the world a religious tyranny by any means necessary:   

we will not stop at this point [i.e., freeing Egypt from secularism and modernity], but will pursue this evil force to its own lands, invade its Western heartland, and struggle to overcome it until all the world shouts by the name of the Prophet and the teachings of Islam spread throughout the world. Only then will Muslims achieve their fundamental goal and all religion will be exclusively for Allah. 

The second thing you must grasp is the approach al Banna advocated: to work slowly and patiently to politicize religion from the bottom up. The Brotherhood is sometimes described as “non-violent,” which is nonsense, it’s plenty violent, but this idea comes from al Banna’s observation that violence was only one tool in the toolkit, and shouldn’t be used when other tools would work more effectively. 

The Brotherhood is vastly more sophisticated, in this sense, than al Qaeda. In Egypt, the Brotherhood created what has effectively been a shadow government, a state within a state, to redress local social grievances and channel economic and political discontent into Islamism. The Brotherhood built (and builds) schools, sports clubs, factories, medical clinics, an entire welfare service network. It had (and still has) specific branches charged with targeting specific segments of society–a bureau for peasants, a bureau for workers. It had (and has) dedicated units for domestic propaganda, for liaison with the wider Islamic world, for press relations. Al Banna created what was and remains an extremely sophisticated political organization, analogous in many ways to the Comintern. 

He also created a paramilitary organization–one that stole weapons, trained fighters, formed assassination squads, created sleeper cells in the army and police, and waited for the order to begin an outright campaign of terror, assassination, and suicide missions. Then, as now, idiot Westerners looked at the Brotherhood, nodded sagely, and said, “Well, the people love them because they build soup kitchens. Surely that’s very admirable.” 

The third essential thing you must grasp is that the Brotherhood formed an active alliance with the Nazis. There was a natural ideological affinity, obviously–Jew hatred, authoritarianism, an enthrallment with violence and a common hatred of the British. But the transformation of affinity to alliance had very distinct historic consequences; it is precisely why we keep seeing a form of anti-Semitism that reminds us of the Third Reich in the Islamic world today: It comes directly from the Third Reich. The Nazis and the Muslim Brotherhood worked together to create Arab translations of Mein Kampf (translated as My Jihad), to translate anti-Semitic cartoons from Der Sturmer, and to adapt images of the Jew from “Enemy of the Volk” to “Enemy of Allah.”

No, this kind of anti-Semitism is not simply the ancient nature of Islam, no more than it it is the ancient nature of Christian Europe–Nazism is a historically unique ideology and unique evil. This stuff we now see in the Islamic world looks like Nazism because it comes from the Nazis. 

Let’s begin with that. Tomorrow we’ll explore the development of the Brotherhood in the postwar era. As a homework exercise, I leave it to America to identify lobby groups and think tanks in the United States that are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and to note ways that these groups have recently shaped public discourse on matters of national security.

If you fail the test, don’t blame the media–I’m doing my best, here. 

  1. Johannes Allert

     Excellent article Claire -

     I’ll start right here in the land of “Minnesota nice” citing support for Rep. Keith Ellison by  one of the largest front groups known as CAIR.

  2. Paul Stinchfield

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I find it unfathomable, a true national security emergency, that the words “Muslim Brotherhood” mean so little to most Americans. I’ve been blaming the media….

    The Brotherhood is sometimes described as “non-violent,” which is nonsense….

    I figure it’s about 50% due to the Left’s willingness to ally itself with any enemy of liberal democracy, and 50% due to the “useful idiot” disease that infects modern liberalism.

  3. Chris Johnson

     An easy answer for the homework questions could include the new institute at Harvard for the study of Shariah Finance.

    More fun to contemplate is a tangential connection to “stealth jihad”.  Back when Big Hollywood first launched, there was a thread regarding the potential reasons for studios to repeatedly finance and release movies that were not appealing to much of the American audience.  For me, that was obvious, though my reasoning was roundly rejected, there.

    The U.S. has had the second highest corporate income tax rate for a long time and now has the highest.  Studios do not want to make money, at least domestically.  They use movies almost guaranteed to lose money, domestically, to offset profits from successful releases, to reduce their taxable income.  If you look at the worldwide earnings for the domestic flops (e.g., “Syriana”, or “The Green Zone”, they make significant money overseas, free from U.S. taxation.  And they serve a propogandistic purpose, overseas, using big name stars and the best production resources to advance the theme of America as the Great Satan.  Track down the investors in these (domestic) money losers and I bet you will find al Banna.

  4. Douglas Pologe

    I don’t want to take the exam, but I did tweet and Facebook-share this excellent post. Does the teacher accept bribes?

  5. Douglas Pologe

    Although, there must be a better way of expressing the thought behind the words “idiot Westerners”.

  6. dittoheadadt

    Claire, how about publishing your finished product as one of those pamphlet-type docs that we hear advertised on the Ricochet podcasts?

  7. Sisyphus

     

    Douglas Pologe: Although, there must be a better way of expressing the thought behind the words “idiot Westerners”. · Jan 5 at 5:17am

    It’s going on a decade since 9/11, and almost everyone except Claire, Robert Spencer, and some of our fellow Ricos seem to have skipped the reading and the homework. The pop quiz is going to be nasty. Hint, Cosby Show is not the answer to question number 666.

  8. Kennedy Smith

     I like the good old for-profit mobsters (like Al Bananas down the street) so much better, somehow.  They know how to dress, for a start, and have no ideology but money.  Beware people with Causes.

    Breathlessly awaiting the part about the frozen head of Hitler.  No wonder we couldn’t find it.  Been looking in the Alps and South America.

  9. Kim K.

     Thank you for this and I look forward to reading further installments.  It is good, every once in awhile, to go back to the beginning and learn or re-learn why we are at the place we are.  You’ve done a great job.

  10. Leslie Watkins

    A sweet but uninformed friend of mine was complaining that she thinks all we’re doing is creating more jihadists, presuming, as most folks do, that Islamist philosophy is a recent phenomenon caused by poverty. I thought about going into the little bit I know about the Brotherhood and its links to current events, and how the major leaders have not been poor in the American sense, but it was late and I could tell she had no interest in listening to whatever historical context I might be able to provide. Once you are done with your series, Claire, I intend to send her a link and say: here’s the answer I would have liked to have given you the other night.

  11. Pseudodionysius
    Leslie Watkins: A sweet but uninformed friend of mine was complaining that she thinks all we’re doing is creating more jihadists, presuming, as most folks do, that Islamist philosophy is a recent phenomenon caused by poverty. I thought about going into the little bit I know about the Brotherhood and its links to current events, and how the major leaders have not been poor in the American sense, but it was late and I could tell she had no interest in listening to whatever historical context I might be able to provide. Once you are done with your series, Claire, I intend to send her a link and say: here’s the answer I would have liked to have given you the other night. · Jan 5 at 7:23am

    There is an intro essay to one of the Richard Pevear translations of Dostoevsky — I should really dig it up online — that pins this ideology down explicitly to bastardized (can I say that on Ricochet?) Enlightenment philosophies dressed up as the conceit that we can talk and negotiate our way out of anything. I’ve also made mention in the past of Daniel Pipes’s 1995 article.

  12. Nickolas

    Andrew McCarthy’s recent book, Grand Jihad, documents the activities of the MB in the United States. They exercise influence through front organizations such as NAIT, ISNA, MSA, MAS, CAIR, and IAP. Much of the funding comes from Saudi Arabia.

  13. Denise Moss
    C

    Bless you Claire on your education program…but good luck.

    I can point to the “Useful Idiot” stubborness in my own temple.  Some time ago I asked Claire and others for “moderate Muslems” for a panel I wanted to help put together.  I wanted to add a warning voice from the Islamic world and if nothing else I vet the panelists for involvement to CAIR and the Brotherhood.  I attended one meeting and was quickly cold shouldered by the cries of super liberal, anti-Western rhetoric, by people who had “seen” the poverty and exploitation in the Middle East and who “understood, but did not condone the violence of” Islamic frustration.  Facts were presented (by me) and disregarded for feelings.  I quickly became busy with work and gave up.

    It’s harder to infiltrate the mind of a bleeding heart Liberal than it is to infiltrate an al Queda training camp.  Especially the Jewish ones.

  14. Leslie Watkins

    P.S. I just noticed that “Coptic church” is trending on Yahoo, so there’s probably more interest in this subject than we might expect.

  15. Aaron Miller

    Somewhere in this series, I hope you will address how this evil ideology managed to become so powerful in so many different nations and cultures. Money is an insufficient answer.

    Purely in regard to its success, it reminds me more of communism than Nazism. Perhaps, as people around the world continue to flirt with communism because of the promise of equality, people will continue to flirt with radical Islam for the promise of one united humanity (one political order) across the globe.

  16. flownover
    Paul Stinchfield

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I find it unfathomable, a true national security emergency, that the words “Muslim Brotherhood” mean so little to most Americans. I’ve been blaming the media….

    The Brotherhood is sometimes described as “non-violent,” which is nonsense….

    I figure it’s about 50% due to the Left’s willingness to ally itself with any enemy of liberal democracy, and 50% due to the “useful idiot” disease that infects modern liberalism. · Jan 5 at 4:31am

    Don’t forget “radical chic” . It’s sort of old, as Tom Wolfe described the party at Lenny Bernstein’s apartment for the Black Panthers ages ago, but the concept is always valid. Inviting someone into your house that basically wants you out of the way has got to be a liberal disease. 

    Claire ? We need a ruling: does “radical chic” apply ?

    And wouldn’t that analogize to all liberals being 14 yr olds and all conservatives being parents to be tweaked ?

  17. Patrick Higgins

    Unlike everyone else here, I am not too familiar with the Muslim Brotherhood.  But I do see that they were forced out of the parliamentary elections this November.  Are they trying to incite sectarian violence to hurt Mubarak’s legitimacy in the upcoming presidential election this September?  How should the US respond?

  18. M1919A4

    I read an article in The New Yorker agazine, of all places, that spoke a good bit about the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood and their beginnings in Egypt.  It is found here: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2002/09/16/020916fa_fact2/

    If you are acquainted with it, Milady Claire, could you tell me whether it is even reasonably accurate?  I generally find the New Yorker too lefty for my tender stomach, but hesitate to damn a piece just on that account.

  19. Robert Bennett

    Thank you Claire.  I’m reading the Grand Jihad right now because of your post a few weeks ago.  Encounter sent it to me for free because I won one of their contests you recommended to me.

  20. AJK

    Geez. Only 200 words? Well, the link to my full response is this: http://gazistan.blogspot.com/2011/01/muslim-brotherhood-history-counterpoint.html

    Thank you for inviting me into a debate, and I’m sorry that it took so long. I think it’s a debate worth having, and I’m glad you do too.

    To understand MB, one has to look at the context in which they began. We will move on to the post-war Brotherhood tomorrow, as you say.

    Islam is an evangelical religion. Some branches more than others. It seeks to convert non-believers and asks its adherents to act as ambassadors for the religion and to live their lives religiously. It is no different from Evangelical Christianity in this regard.

    Note that al-Banna goes out of his way to not use the term “Jihad bil Sayf”. He rejected violence. MB has rejected violent means from its inception in 1928 (here) until current day (here).

    If we’re talking about them as a group, we’re discussing an explicitly anti-violence organization that fell along the vaqf tradition of Egypt, but trying to bring it in line with 20th century determinationist and nationalist movements.