Muslim Brotherhood: a force for good?
With the present upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East many are wondering what will fill the vacuum as we see many of the 'strong men' being deposed by the uprisings of the 'Arab Spring'.
Philip Wren surveys the present scene.
first published 05/05/2011
The Middle East and the Muslim Brotherhood
by Philip Wren of 'Trumpet Sounds'
THE TURMOIL in the Middle East came to the attention of the world press in January. First came the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. Then came popular unrest in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Libya. Other countries such as Saudi Arabia feared that discontent would appear on their streets and instituted clamp downs. Egypt as elsewhere has suffered from the rise in global food prices. By the end of 2010 food price inflation in Egypt was running at 17%. It was the hardship of ordinary people facing rising food prices, high unemployment and low wages which sparked the present round of unrest.
In the West the events have been reported as a movement of the people to replace corrupt autocratic leaders with democracy. Like the fall of communism 20 years ago there is a feel that history is being made with a new order emerging. However what we are witnessing today is very unlike the fall of communism. Back in 1989 we had a good idea who would step into the place vacated by the communists. [In this article I am avoiding the issue of whether communism was replaced or just metamorphosed].
Today in the Middle East there is no clear alternative to the former leadership. Opposition has been suppressed for so long that the removal of existing leaders results in a power vacuum. Who is placed to fill that vacuum?
The Muslim Brotherhood
In answer to the question of who is placed to fill the political vacuum the Muslim Brotherhood has been mentioned. What is the Muslim Brotherhood? Will its rise to power be beneficial or detrimental to the future of the Middle East?
Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East Editor, calls it "conservative and non-violent," and "poorly understood - especially in the West."
In contrast Walid Shoebat calls the Muslim Brotherhood, “a rising dragon which will deceive many by trumpeting non violence.”
Who is correct?
The history of the Muslim Brotherhood starts in the days of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the removal of the Caliph. The Caliph based in Istanbul was the central unifying figure not just of the Ottoman Empire but for the whole of Islam. The Caliph was deposed in 1924 by Mustafa Kemil Ataturk the President of the new nation of Turkey. For Muslims this was a fatal death blow for their religion. A promotional video by Hizb-ut-Tahrir an Islamic group whose goal is to restore the Caliphate describes it as follows: The 3rd of March, 1924—the world was plunged into darkness. The Khilafah—His light, spread from East to West for over a thousand years—was brought to an end. The consequences were unimaginable: death, destruction, chaos, exploitation. After 80 years of the absence of the Khilafah, the Muslim world has awakened from its slumber, and the Ummah [the community of all the world's Muslims] is ready to resume its political destiny. From the darkness will emerge a new light.
Founding of the Muslim Brotherhood
Into this world in which Islam had been crushed the Muslim Brotherhood was born. It was a world in which Islamic lands were dominated by foreign powers. The heart of Islam had been ripped out with the removal of the Caliph. And society was adopting secularism and western values.
The colloquial version of the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood is as follows: “In 1928, six Egyptian workers employed by British military camps in Isma'iliyya, in the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt, visited Hassan al-Banna, a young schoolteacher who they had heard preach in mosques and coffee-houses on the need for an Islamic renewal. "Arabs and Muslims have no status and no dignity," they said. "They are no more than mere hirelings belonging to the foreigners.... We are unable to perceive the road to action as you perceive it...." They therefore asked him to become their leader; he accepted, founding the Society of the Muslim Brothers.
In the early 1930s The brotherhood undertook small scale welfare work among the poor, set up workshops and small factories, and organised the collection and distribution of Zakat (the Islamic alms tax). It also established a number of Qur’an schools, important in a country with 80% illiteracy. Later it went on to found benevolent institutions such as pharmacies, clinics and hospitals. The widespread popularity of the Brotherhood has from the start been founded on its benevolent work among the poor. It also has a reputation of being free from corruption which is prevalent among the ruling classes.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s English language website; has more history on the movement’s origins and development. The website paints a picture of the Brotherhood being a tolerant and benevolent organisation which seeks to spread Islam through peaceful means. There is no doubt that work to improve the lot of the ordinary Muslim is a very strong side of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the reason why many non violent Muslims are attracted to it.
From the start another essential aspect of the Muslim Brotherhood has been the making of Islam comprehensible to a new generation. To achieve this Al Banna trained preachers and founded publishing houses. Al Banna and other leading Brotherhood thinkers such as Said Al Qutb, Mustafa Mashur and at present Yusuf al-Qaradawi see Islam as the solution to the world’s problems. Individualism in the West and collectivism in the East have failed. For them the time had come to establish an Islamic Ummah. This is a society of people whose lives are fully in accord with Islamic ethics. This Ummah when established would, they believe, spread throughout the world.
The other side of the Brotherhood
That is the public face of the Muslim Brotherhood as presented to the West. But it is not the only side. The insignia of the Brotherhood is a green shield with crossed swords the sign for Jihad, with a Qur’an above and the Arabic word ‘Wa-a’iddou’ below. Wa-a-iddou means prepare and reminds the members of the verse from the Qur’an: "Prepare against them as you are able of force and cavalry to terrorize Allah's enemy and yours", Their main motto is "Al-Islam-Huwa-Alhal" [Islam is the Solution]. The full version of this is; “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” These mottos express an underlying belief that violence is justified to bring about their vision of an ideal world.
Jihad is the Way
This message is reinforced by the Brotherhood’s Arabic publications. One titled ‘Jihad is the Way’ was written by Mustafa Mashur who led the Egyptian Brotherhood from 1996 to 2002. The text has been translated by Palestinian Media Watch and can be read by clicking here.
The booklet sets out the necessity of Jihad for the achieving goal of the global spread of Islam. It makes clear that Jihad is not just an inner struggle for self discipline or a necessity for self defence. Included below are two out of many quotes which illustrate that aggressive warfare to bring in the Ummah is what is in mind.
“He [Hassan al-Banna] felt the grave danger overshadowing the Muslims and the urgent need and obligation which Islam places on every Muslim, man and woman, to act in order to restore the Islamic Caliphate and to re-establish the Islamic State on strong foundations... and to liberate the Muslims and defend them from any attack, and to spread the Da'wa (Islamic missionary activity) of Islam in the world and to establish this great religion, which Allah wanted for his servants.”
“In all his (Hassan al-Banna's) writings and conversations, he always urged towards Jihad and aroused the desire for seeking Shahada (Martyrdom)... he did not content himself only with speech and writing, and when the opportunity arrived for Jihad in Palestine he hurried and seized it. The [Muslim] Brotherhood provided the most magnificent models [for Jihad and courage] and were it not for the [evil] scheming and the treachery on the part of the leaders of the Muslim countries of the time, the situation would have been different.“
Walid Shoebat describes the Muslim Brotherhood as; “a rising dragon which will deceive many by trumpeting non violence.” He went onto call this dragon which trumpets non-violence as the form of Islam which we in the West really need to fear. It would appear that he is correct. The coming months will see the Muslim Brotherhood consolidate its power in Egypt and elsewhere. A firm objective of the Brotherhood from its inception has been the eradication of Israel. The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt is now effectively dead.
The current 'peace treaty' between Hamas (in Gaza) and the Palestinian Authority (in the West Bank) is probably no more than a superficial alliance and tactical move to precipate international calls for the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State. Many nations - now including the UK - are making public noises of endorsement for such a development.
Although the civil war in Gaza revealed that Hamas and the PA are enemies of each other and divided over tactics; their shared aim is the anihilation of the state of Israel by violent or political means respectively.