|* Influential Islamist organization
* Ideological forebear of Hamas and al Qaeda
* Supports imposition of Shari’a law
* Approves of terrorism against Israel and the West
Founded in 1928 by the Egyptian schoolteacher/activist Hasan al-Banna (a devout admirer of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis), the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) — a Sunni entity — is one of the oldest, largest and most influential Islamist organizations in the world. While Egypt historically has been the center of the Brotherhood’s operations, the group today is active in more than 70 countries (some estimates range as high as 100+). Islam expert Robert Spencer has called MB “the parent organization of Hamas and al Qaeda.” In 2003, Richard Clarke – the chief counterterrorism advisor on the U.S. National Security Council during both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations – told a Senate committee that Hamas, al Qaeda, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were all “descendants of the membership and ideology of the Muslim Brothers.”
MB was established in accordance with al-Banna’s proclamation that Islam should be “given hegemony over all matters of life.” Toward that end, the Brotherhood seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate, or kingdom — first spanning all of the present-day Muslim world, and eventually the entire globe. The organization further aspires to dismantle all non-Islamic governments wherever they currently exist, and to make Islamic Law (Shari’a) the sole basis of jurisprudence everywhere on earth. This purpose is encapsulated in the Brotherhood’s militant credo: “God is our objective, the Koran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle [jihad] is our way, and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.”
Consistent with the foregoing credo, MB since its founding has supported the use of armed struggle, or jihad, against non-Muslim “infidels.” As al-Banna himself wrote: “Jihad is an obligation from Allah on every Muslim and cannot be ignored nor evaded.” Added al-Banna: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”
In the 1930s, the Brotherhood was largely an underground organization. Paramilitary in nature, it stockpiled weapons and operated clandestine camps that provided instruction in military and terrorist tactics. Partly due to its call for a return to traditionalist Islamic values, and partly because of the unpopularity of the Egyptian monarchy, MB’s membership swelled throughout the Thirties and early Forties. By 1944, the Brotherhood in Egypt consisted of some 1,500 branches and as many as a half-million members. As of 1948, its membership may have exceeded 2 million. During the Forties, the late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat fought alongside MB.
According to scholar Martin Kramer, the Muslim Brotherhood of that period had “a double identity”:
“On one level, they operated openly, as a membership organization of social and political awakening. Banna preached moral revival, and the Muslim Brethren engaged in good works. On another level, however, the Muslim Brethren created a ‘secret apparatus’ that acquired weapons and trained adepts in their use. Some of its guns were deployed against the Zionists in Palestine in 1948, but the Muslim Brethren also resorted to violence in Egypt. They began to enforce their own moral teachings by intimidation, and they initiated attacks against Egypt’s Jews.”
In December 1948, a Brotherhood member assassinated Egyptian prime minister Mahmud Fahmi Nuqrashi. Egypt’s government retaliated by banishing MB from the country. Then, in February 1949, Hasan al-Banna was killed by government agents in Cairo. A harsh, official crackdown was initiated against the Brotherhood; thousands of its members were imprisoned and many others were confined to detention camps.
With Gamal Abdel Nasser’s revolutionary seizure of power in Egypt in 1954, MB split into two factions. One, led by Hasan al-Hudaybi, favored working with Nasser’s secular government in an effort to gradually move the country toward Islamic fundamentalism. A more radical faction, led by the writer and ideologue Sayyid Qutb (1909-1966), advocated armed revolution against corrupt (i.e., non-Islamist) regimes in the Middle East and, more broadly, against unbelievers in Western nations.
Qutb — whose wordview distinguished sharply between “the Party of Allah and the Party of Satan,” — declared that Egyptian society under the secular Nasser was contrary to authentic Islam. Asserting that the Prophet Mohammad himself would have rejected such a government, Qutb claimed that Muslims had both a right and an obligation to resist it. Qutb’s writings — which challenged the views of mainstream Sunni theologians, who extolled the Islamic tradition of deference to the state and ruler — are now cited by many scholars as some of the first formulations of political Islam.
A corollary of Qutb’s fundamentalist critique of Egyptian society was his abiding contempt for the Western, especially the United States, which he regarded as spiritually vacant, decadent, idolatrous and fundamentally hostile to Islamic piety.
After MB member Abdul Munim Abdul Rauf tried to assassinate President Nasser in October 1954, the Brotherhood, which had recently received permission to resume its operations in Egypt, was outlawed once again. Thus it receded as a political force, and it has been banned in Egypt ever since. Notwithstanding the ban, the Egyptian government has permitted MB to operate within limits since the 1970s, keeping the organization in check with frequent arrests and crackdowns.
MB re-emerged somewhat under Anwar Sadat, a sympathizer of the group, when he became Egypt’s president in 1970. Taking advantage of the Brotherhood’s militant aversion to secularism, Sadat sponsored the organization against his communist and socialist political opposition. Later, however, MB joined the political Left in opposing Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel, believing the normalization of relations with the Jewish State to be a betrayal of Islam.
Sadat was assassinated in October 1981, after a fatwa (religious edict) calling for his death had been issued by Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Islamic Group leader who despised Sadat for having struck a bargain with Israel. The assassination was planned jointly by MB and the Islamic Group.
In 1987, MB allied itself with the Labor Party and the socialist-liberal al-Ahrar Party to form the “Islamic Alliance,” a coalition that won 65 seats in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.
In 1995, Mustafa Mashhur, who would head MB in Egypt from 1996-2002, published Jihad Is the Way, the last of a five-volume work titled The Laws of Da’wa. Jihad Is the Way detailed MB’s determination to advance Islam’s global conquest, to reestablish an Islamic Caliphate, and to infuse all Muslims with a sense of duty to wage jihad against Israel. Masshur said that MB differed from al Qaeda only in its tactics, not in its goals. Among his book’s quotes were the following:
“The Islamic ummah [the supranational community of Muslims] can regain its power and be liberated and assume its rightful position which was intended by Allah, as the most exalted nation among men, as the leaders of humanity.”
“Know your status [as Muslims], and believe firmly that you are the masters of the world, even if your enemies desire your degradation.”
“One should know that it is not necessary that the Muslims repel every attack or damage caused by the enemies of Allah immediately, but [only] when ability and the circumstances are fit to it.” (This passage counseled Muslims to wage jihad only when conditiomns were ripe, and not sooner.)
“It should be known that jihad and preparation towards jihad are not only for the purpose of fending off assaults and attacks of Allah’s enemies from Muslims, but are also for the purpose of realizing the great task of establishing an Islamic state and strengthening the religion and spreading it around the world.”
“Jihad for Allah is not limited to the specific region of the Islamic countries, since the Muslim homeland is one and is not divided, and the banner of Jihad has already been raised in some of its parts, and shall continue to be raised, with the help of Allah, until every inch of the land of Islam will be liberated, and the State of Islam established.”
“Honorable brothers have achieved shahada [martyrdom] on the soil of beloved Palestine, during the years ’47 and ’48, in their jihad against the criminal, thieving, gangs of Zion.”
In more recent years, the Brotherhood has attempted to forge a reputation as a moderate and reformist Islamic group that has renounced its violent past, in favor of participation in local and national politics. Even in Egypt, where MB is officially banned, the organization runs candidates as “independents” in that country’s parliamentary elections, under the slogan “Islam is the Solution.” Some Islamist groups have condemned such engagement in secular politics as a heretical abandonment of jihad’s mandates. In practice, however, MB’s political involvement has not replaced, but rather has supplemented, its pursuit of jihad-by-the-sword.
Indeed, numerous statements by MB leaders offer compelling evidence of the group’s undiminished militancy. For example, Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni, head of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, has repeatedly pledged his support for the terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah. Muhammad Mahdi Othman Akef, who served as MB’s Supreme Guide from 2004-2009, expressed his support for suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq (during the Iraq War), “in order to expel the Zionists and the Americans.”
Many other Brotherhood luminaries have likewise justified jihadist terrorism against Israel and the United States. MB spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi has written: “There is no dialogue between them [the Jews] and us, other than in one language — the language of the sword and force.” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, was a member of the Brotherhood. Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian MB preacher, was a mentor to al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden. And bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a Brotherhood member as a young man, though he later broke with the group because of its willingness to participate in political elections. In 2006, Rajab Hilal Hamida, a Muslim Brotherhood member serving in Egypt’s parliament, said:
“From my point of view, bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri and [the late radical Islamist] al-Zarqawi are not terrorists in the sense accepted by some. I support all their activities, since they are a thorn in the side of the Americans and the Zionists.”
Embracing Hasan al-Banna’s belief that Islam is destined to eventually dominate all the world, MB today is global in its reach, wielding influence in almost every country with a Muslim population. Moreover, it maintains political parties in many Middle-Eastern and African countries, including Jordan, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and even Israel. Not only does the Brotherhood exist in Israel proper, but its Palestinian chapter created the terrorist organization Hamas, through which MB has supported terrorism against Israel ever since. Article II of the Hamas charter explicitly identifies Hamas as “one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine.” In January 2006 Hamas defeated the rival Fatah party to win the Palestinian legislative elections, thereby becoming the first branch of MB to control an official government.
Outside of the Middle East, MB exercises a strong influence in Muslim communities throughout Europe. Among the more prominent Brotherhood organizations in the region are: the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations, the Muslim Association of Britain, the European Council for Fatwa and Research, the Islamische Gemeinschaft Deutschland (IGD), and the Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF).