_A Word From_ Stan

A Word From Stan

The Origin of Modern Islamic Extremism

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Islam has been in a period of decline since the 17th century.[1] This loss of influence, territory and wealth is still a relatively recent phenomenon. In the preceding millennium, the accomplishments of Islam out-distanced those of Christian Europe, India and Africa, indeed the entire civilized world. The Muslim community basked in what they felt was God’s blessing on his people.[2]

One thousand years of ascendancy seemed to confirm their assumptions. Whereas the Savior of the Christians died a criminal’s death on a wooden cross and His followers struggled for survival in Roman coliseums, Mohammed conquered all of Arabia in his own lifetime.[3]

Within fourteen years of the prophet’s death in 632 A.D., his followers conquered territory from Egypt to Iran, disfiguring both the Byzantine and Persian empires. By 730 A.D., less than a century later, the territory of Islam (Dar al-Islam) included North Africa, Spain and Central Asia. Sicily fell in 827 A.D. India followed in 1001 A.D. and the Balkans in 1356. Inroads were made deep into the Dark Continent and as far away as Southeast Asia. Every religion and  civilization in its path gave way to the sword of Islam.[4]  This rapid rise “ex nihilo” to worldwide dominion gave Muslims, no matter how downtrodden they might be in the present day, reason to revel in the success of their religion.[5]

One cannot understand the Middle East in the modern era without reference to this legacy of success. As Joseph Kostiner concluded, “It is the Master Reason for a revolutionary inclination among Muslims. Islam is supposed to be a triumphant, universal religion, which will dominate Christianity and Judaism. Islam does not accept the rise and fall of civilizations. Muslims are born to dominate infidels.”[6]

The 16th century blew winds of change between Islam and the West. Europe broke out of its long slumber, jettisoning centuries of economic, political and religious baggage. The Reformation and Renaissance invigorated the West while Islam stagnated.

The incursions by Western “infidels” into the Middle East were relentless. Aggressive French traders were granted commercial rights in 1535 by the Ottomans. Soon the Dutch and British had their own agreements. Later, the development of the steamship enabled the Portuguese to circumvent the Ottoman trading routes altogether.

The territory of Islam was in jeopardy beginning with the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt in 1798. Because the conquest took only a few weeks, the weakness of the Ottoman Empire became apparent.[7] The first province to fall to the French after Egypt was Algeria in 1830. In 1839 the British captured Aden, the gateway to the Red Sea. In 1881 the French expanded their holdings to include Tunisia. The British occupied Egypt in 1882 to halt an Egyptian financial crisis. Not to be left out, the Italians seized Libya, and Spain took dominion over Morocco. Straws were drawn between the French and British for Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan.[8]

The world suddenly seemed a very small place. Scheduled steamship service from Britain to Egypt and Syria began in 1836. Railroads between Cairo and both Alexandria and the Suez were laid by the British in 1856 increasing to 3000 miles of track in 1914.[9] And the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 made Egypt the hub of trade. Egyptian cotton was irrigated with modern equipment, and oil was extracted with Western technology and European labor.[10]

In the 19th century, rulers in Egypt seemed to welcome the West, admiring its technology, its military strength and its ideas. For example, Mohammed `Ali, the first governor of Egypt after French occupation, was a modernizing reformer. To strengthen his army, “he embarked on a crash program to raise Egypt’s military and economic capabilities to the level of Europe. Recruitment, military training, drill pattern, tactics and command structures were all copied from the French, as were land surveys, hydraulic planning, disease control, industrialization and taxation.”[11] In addition, he sent students, numbering 339 Egyptians, to study in Europe; established the first secular schools; and he imported printing presses to publish Western books, including textbooks.[12]

Even these first stages of modernization were massively painful. Unskilled peasants were conscripted by the ten’s of thousands to build canals and irrigation projects, and, in fact, thousands lost their lives in the process. The glitter of European technology quickly tarnished in the cemeteries and serfdom of massive building projects.

Even more important to the backlash against Western influence was the poor treatment many Egyptians received at the hands of the foreigners, of which there were some 80,000 by 1875. The newly educated Egyptian middle class saw the inequities and was able to turn them into movements of nationalism or pan-Islam.

Hasan al-Banna, the teacher who founded the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), is one such example. He lived and taught in the Suez Canal Zone city of Ismailia, which held a garrison of British troops and was staffed by the French and other foreigners. As he says:

And this elegant, magnificent, and luxurious Administration office of the Suez Canal Company, having authority and influence, mistreated Egyptian employees, but was generous to foreign employees. The latter only were advanced to positions of ruling masters…

And the magnificent houses, which were widespread in all of the European quarter, were offered to the foreign employees of the Company. The Arab employees, on the other hand, lived in small cheap homes. And all the names of the streets in the Arab quarter were written only in the language of this economic occupation. Even the mosque street was written thus, `Rue de la Mosquee’…[13]

The late 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of the Egyptian nationalist movement. Initially, the anti-Western sentiments were directed toward the British, even though there were many positive features of the British occupation. The latent French influence was still highly regarded in the upper classes. In fact, the French partisans, of which there were many, fanned the flames of anti-British sentiment. The positive features of the Occupation were swallowed up in nationalistic rhetoric.

One such supporter of independence was the French-educated Mustafa Kamil, the founder of the first true nationalist party in Egypt.[14] In 1900, applying techniques learned from the French, he utilized the newspaper, al-Liwa (“The Standard”), for propaganda against the British.[15] Due to the influence of Jamal al-Din al Afghani, Kamil’s movement was revolutionary, but owing to French influence, he pressed for a state based upon secularism and not a religious one.

There were other groups caught up in a nationalism that sought answers in Islam. The leader of one such effort in Egypt was Muhammed `Abduh, a contemporary of Kamil’s. Though he was a pan-Islamic, as was al Afghani, he took the more moderate course of gradual reform. He saw the benefits of modernization, but rejected the Christian and secularist elements. As a result, he attempted to “reconcile orthodox Islam with the requirements of modern progress”[16] thereby indicating that interpretation (ijtihad) of the Koran had not ended with Mohammed and that it could be interpreted to fit changing times. It was `Abduh who made Western dress lawful as well as charging interest in banks. He also made child marriage illegal thus nullifying the example of Mohammed. His movement was radically innovative, but he never adopted a revolutionary mentality.[17]

Confronted with the anomie which modernization engendered, Mohammed `Abduh adopted a “restorative collective action” whereas Mustafa Kamil opted for “anomic collective action.”[18] The fact that these different courses of action were adopted almost simultaneously, demonstrates some credibility for the notion that social conflict is generated by revolutionary ideologies. That both Kamil and `Abduh were motivated by various abuses which were unacceptable to their respective consciences lends some credence to Richard Rubenstein’s thesis that sociological factors precipitate disorder.[19]

Muhammed Rashid Rida succeeded `Abduh in his reform party. However, when the Caliphate was abolished, he moved to the neo-Hanbalite school which was a step into the Islamist movement.[20] One can understand his reaction. After 1300 years of continuous existence, the Caliphate was abolished in 1926 by the last remains of the Turkish Empire and a secular republic was instituted. The caliphate was mainly a political authority, but since there is no real separation of religion and state in Islam, he was the “defender of the faith” and entrusted with “the sword of Islam.”

Two separate conferences were convened to discuss this development, but the inevitable conclusion was that there was no one to raise this symbol of Islam because of general weakness.[21]  Here again was a case of relative deprivation but on a macro-cultural scale. It is not coincidental that Hasan al-Banna founded his Muslim Brotherhood organization within two years. Everywhere he and other leaders looked, Islam was in a state of disrepair. If God had enabled them to build an Islamic empire, then human neglect of his religion could be the only reason for the current state of affairs. This neglect was exacerbated, Islamic purists felt, by people such as Mustafa Kamil and Sa`d Zaghlul who sought solutions in a secular state or reformers like Muhammed `Abduh who watered down the truth. They concluded that the notions of progress and a secular state were inherited from European thinkers and were not truly Islamic.

A summary of these Egyptian leaders is helpful in establishing strains of thought. Clearly, Mustafa Kamil was an anti-British revolutionary. But he was in favor of modernization, secularism and French rationalism and against an Islamic state but without denouncing Islam.

Muhammed `Abduh was also in favor of modernization, but he was dedicated to restoring Islam. He was for reform and against extremism; he cooperated with the British, but not with the conservative religious thinkers of al-Azhar, the Muslim university.

Hasan al Banna broke completely with any attempts to compromise Islam. He was anti-Western, anti-modern, anti-reform, and anti-secularist and he urged nationalism in the form of an Islamic state. Thus, the Islamist movement, of which the Muslim Brotherhood was the first organization, is not a progressive reform movement nor was it originally a revolutionary, secular, nationalist movement. Because it is a reflection of Hasan al-Banna, it is an anti-Western, anti-secularist, anti-reformist, anti-modernist effort, which he founded to gain God’s favor by returning to the original formula of Islam so that he will bring another Golden Age of worldwide dominion. In this sense, it could be considered revolutionary within secular regimes and within multi-state regions.

What is the primary difference in the movements led by Kamil, `Abduh, and al Banna?  It is plausible that these key men chose different paths because of conflicting views of “truth.”  If there is no truth, only the progress of history, then one is like Mustafa Kamil. If truth changes with the times, then he is a Muhammed `Abduh. But if one believes that there are enduring truths and thinks that they can be discovered, then he is an Hasan al-Banna. He based his life on what the Koranic text actually said. The only remaining question is whether or not he investigated the evidence for this truth or simply assumed it. Regardless, the spread of modernization triggered these alternatives by carrying Western ideas into the Middle East.

Even so, the Islamist movement itself demands more definition. It is not really appropriate to call it Islamic fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is the name conscripted from Christianity by Western scholars to describe the resurgence of Islam in the Middle East. As Gilles Kepel has noted, anyone who understands the issues involved, realizes how prejudicial the term is to Christianity if it is also used for Islam. Because of this, the term, Islamist (Kepel’s choice), will be used to describe these currents of Islam and “extremism” will be used to characterize their radical tendencies.

Other characterizations besides “fundamentalism” have been suggested, for example: “revivalism, rebirth, puritanism, fundamentalism, reassertion, awakening, reformism, resurgence, renewal, renaissance, revitalization, militancy, activism, millenarianism, messianism, return to Islam and the march of Islam.”[22]  From this list, Dekmejian chose fundamentalism because “it connotes a search for the fundamentals.”  Actually, he appears to use it because of his Western disposition in that he frequently resorts to such terms as “fundamentalism,” “salvation,” “chiliastic,” “puritan,” “puritanical,” “faith,” and “true believer.”  To Dekmejian, all religions are essentially the same, or at least similar enough that nuance was not useful.

All of these terms are used stereotypically, with little regard for their fully developed meanings in a completely different religion. Only someone who knows little of such things would resort to such usage. The fact that so many scholars do conflate religions makes Kepel’s terminology all the more scholarly in its clarity. For example, the first group to colonize New England was the Separatists. They fled England because of persecution and because they felt that reform within the Church of England was hopeless. The Puritans were moderate reformers (comparatively) and chose to stay in England. They fled 20 years later under the scourge of religious persecution.

The Islamist movement teaches a strict adherence to the divine law (Shari`a). Islam has a very simple theology and a comprehensive and detailed moral law, which touches on all areas of life. One can understand the Islamist movement’s emphasis on strict adherence to the law by reference to the failed attempt to confirm Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court. Beyond the rhetoric, the rejection of Robert Bork was an issue of whether or not the supreme law of the land, the U. S. Constitution, should be interpreted in light of the original intent of the framers who believed that all men were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable (sic) rights (strict construction); or whether the framers wrote a flawed document which is best amended by modern jurists in light of contemporary understandings and without reference to any transcendent notion of “right” (loose construction).

The same argument can be applied to any set of laws and is suitable in understanding Islamist views of the Shari`a. Moreover, because the life of Muhammed continues as a model to be emulated, his life is opened up to literalist and non-literalist interpretations. There is a powerful attraction if one is, or believes he is, reading the actual commandments given by God to man—as opposed to ones that were adulterated by human interpretations. It is this quest for the truth, or, in this case, the quest for precise observance of the divine law and Hadith’s which motivates the Islamist movement.

Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Islamist movement, was a devout Muslim born in 1906. From his youth he was an active reader, especially enjoying military adventure stories and religious devotional books. As a youth, at the urging of one of his teachers, he helped to found an ethical society, which was to profoundly influence his thinking on the MB and education. Harris describes the work of the society:

All members were required to lead a strictly religious life; they had to pray regularly, and to obey God, their parents, and their elders. Its members were fined whenever they `deviated from the path of Islam’ in speech or conduct. Later he was to comment, `There is no doubt that such an association has more ‘influence in forming character than twenty theoretical lessons. Schools and institutions should give considerable encouragement to such societies.[23]

Then when Christian women missionaries came to Egypt to evangelize Muslims, al-Banna was distressed.  Islam had grown so weak he thought that the West would not send men to do their work, only women.  What is considered a privilege in Christianity by women to be ambassadors of their faith, al-Banna viewed as an affront, a brazen and purposeful insult.

Before leaving his first teaching post in Ismailia for another in Cairo, al-Banna was asked by 6 of his disciples what they could do to help restore the “glory of Islam.”  “We are fed up,” they said, “with this life—this life of chains and humiliation. And now you see that the Arabs and the Muslims in this country have neither position nor respect, and their rank is even below that of servants employed by these foreigners. We have nothing to offer except our blood, our lives, our faith, our honor, and these few pennies…[24]

Hasan responded by pledging with them to “‘…be soldiers for the cause of Islam, which is life for the country and glory for the people.'”[25]  The year was 1928. Egypt was ripe for such a movement. The census of 1882 counted 6.8 million people, and in 1927 there were 14.2 million. Land available for cultivation meanwhile had only grown from 4.8 million acres to 5.6 million acres. And two thirds of the population was under 30 years of age. Because 70% of the land was owned by only 7% of the landowners, this meant that there was not enough land for children to inherit. They were driven from the rural culture they knew to over-populated cities, especially Cairo and Alexandria. Then two depressions occurred in 1921 and 1926. Subsistence living, unemployment and a foreign occupation created a greenhouse for the Islamist movement.[26]

The history of the Muslim Brotherhood is a history of one of the most amazing movements in modern times. Hasan al-Banna captured the hearts of his people because he was able to organize, train, and educate leaders to help the Egyptian people to help themselves. For all of his hatred for modernization, the early years of the movement were quite positive. From 1928-1936, it was a religious, missionary movement. Hasan traveled back and forth across Egypt speaking in mosques, schools, at village meetings, in universities and with the army. Early on, he trained an elite group of his followers to do the same. High standards were maintained and the message was always the same:  piousness, respect for God and family, and fighting evil and corruption.[27]

Through a network of branches, schools were founded to fight illiteracy, medical clinics and orphanages were established, athletic training was begun, mosques were built and Islam was taught. As more and more people joined, newsletters were published, headquarters were secured, companies were started, and conferences were held. At its peak in 1950, there were 2 million members in 2000 branches and an organization that rivaled the government in influence.[28]

From 1936 to 1949, the movement became more and more political. The event which triggered this transition from an Islamic religious movement, was the problem of the Palestine Mandate and the Jewish National Home. Hasan organized the MB to aid the Palestinian Arabs, even raising funds for them. Because Israel was an Arab problem, the event also marked the end of Egyptian nationalism and the corresponding rise of pan-Arabism with Egypt at its head.[29]

As an idea, Pan-Arabism was formulated by `Abd al-Rahman `Azzam Bey and embraced quickly by Ali Maher. Together they persuaded al Banna to throw the weight of the MB behind this effort. This coalition put Hasan into the political limelight for the first time. Subsequently, he was never able to establish the MB as an actual participant in the government. This fact meant that he was never able to gain the legitimacy enjoyed by the ruling party.[30]

After the defeat of the combined Arab forces in Palestine in 1948, which included volunteers from the MB, and the subsequent revelations that corruption by the ruling monarchs undermined the war effort, Hasan al Banna declared that “true Muslims could wait no longer to destroy the forces of secularism, to ‘purify’ Egypt, and to establish—in his own words ‘to restore’—an Islamic government in the country.”[31]

It was at this point that the Islamist movement—that is, the MB—became revolutionary in the general sense of the term. They sought to overthrow the established regime. Egyptian politicians and foreigners who were pro-British were terrorized.

In the struggle for national sovereignty, the MB had the greatest mass support but was declared an illegal organization by Nuqrashi, the prime minister. Both Hasan al-Banna and the prime minister were assassinated in the fray that followed. The MB became an underground organization until the Free Officers won the battle for control of Egypt in the revolution of 1952. The MB groped for its future. It had lost it inspirational leader and, as such, was soon to lose the influence of earlier decades. Moreover, it would turn more and more to extremism under the tutelage of Sayyid Qutb as it lost its connection to the people.

Sayyid Qutb was an Egyptian born in 1906 while Egypt was yet occupied by the British. Though he went to a state school, something of his religious urges are revealed by his memorization of the Koran by the age of 10. He was politically aware largely due to the nationalist activities of his father, al Hajj Qutb Ibrahim. Egyptian political leaders were invited to his home; political meetings were attended; books and newspapers were read; all of which created an environment of activism in which Qutb was an eager participant.[32]

By the age of 15, he had published his opinions in the popular press.[33]  As many of the wealthier Egyptians did, Qutb graduated from the university—both an Islamic college and Cairo University, where he received a Ph.D. He taught for 16 years and by 1940 had risen in the new middle class to the position of an inspector of education. It was during this period that his reformist tendencies became apparent. Writing became his avenue for expressing his activism, and he crafted numerous suggestions for educational reform and submitted them to the authorities.[34]

By 1948, he had sworn off political parties as useless relics. And considering the revolving door of parties in power within Egypt over the previous 30 years of its pseudo-independence, one can understand Qutb’s pessimism. As a result, he began to write more and more on political topics, especially social problems and nationalism. This brought him into conflict with the “powers that be” and would have meant prison had it not been for old allies who secured an assignment for Qutb to study the American educational system on behalf of the Ministry of Public Education.

It was Qutb’s visit to post-World War II America that re-kindled his childhood commitment to Islam. During his tenure in the U.S., from 1948-1951, he was repulsed by the sexual profligacy he saw and the modern ethos he found. Particularly alienating was the American response to the assassination of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brethren. Americans bade him a fond farewell.[35] Upon his return to Egypt, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and within a year was on its executive council. He was firmly entrenched in the leadership of the bid to make Egypt an Islamic state.

Gamal Ab`dul Nasser overthrew King Forouk in 1952 and established a military dictatorship. Everyone was sunning in the afterglow of revolution and Qutb, himself, was granted several important posts. Soon the honeymoon was over and Qutb landed in prison for a few months. His crime?  He supported the Muslim Brotherhood against Nasser. After his release, undaunted, he became editor of “The Muslim Brethren.”

In 1955, in an event which was to mark Qutb, both literally and figuratively, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison due to the poor marksmanship by a member of the Brotherhood, Mahmud `Abd al-Latif. Firing eight bullets at close range, he bungled the assassination of President Nasser.[36]  Nasser, in turn, cracked down on the MB. Qutb was tortured, but later was permitted enough freedom while in prison to write during which time he penned five of his twenty one published works.[37]

In 1962 Qutb began the revolutionary manifesto that would, just four years later, lead to his death. “Signposts,” his magnum opus, was serialized in chapters that were given to Zaynab al’ Ghazali who used them to educate cells within the Muslim Brotherhood. On August 30, 1965 Nasser, having discovered this network, declared that a conspiracy by the MB had been exposed and accused Qutb of being the ringleader. Actually, Qutb himself was not a perpetrator, per se, but the policy of Egypt and others was to punish those who were the ideological source of treasonous activities in addition to those who carried out various anti-government operations. One year later, on August 29, 1966, Sayyid Qutb, and two other leaders, were hanged.[38]

Religion, Daniel Pipes says, “…has diminished so much during the past five hundred years that many persons, especially intellectuals, find it difficult to appreciate the import of religion in other times and places.”[39] The diminishing role of religion results in secularization, and secularization, according to Ernest Krausz, and “is a `process whereby religious thinking, practice and institutions lose social significance’ and are increasingly restricted to the domain of faith.”[40]  Though accurate on the waning influence of religion in the short term, Pipes was clearly mistaken over the longer term.  Religion can experience revival.

It is precisely this Western perspective and the culture that it represents which was the target of Sayyid Qutb’s book “Signposts.”  In other words, while religion, for some people, especially intellectuals, is easily marginalized, such is not the case for a majority of westerners and a vast array of Muslims. From Sayyid Qutb’s perspective, he had been to America, seen its society, studied its educational structure, both as an intellectual and a Muslim, and he rejected it. In America, he had seen a glimpse of Egypt’s future, and it did not work.

In rejecting modernity and its resulting secularization, Qutb reconstituted an archaic Koranic word—jahiliyya—to describe modernity’s deleterious effect upon Egypt.   Jahiliyya came into Qutb’s writing through the influence of Abu-l-Hasan `Ali Navdi. Navdi wrote a book called “What Did the World Lose Due to the Decline of Islam?” in which he expounded upon the work done in 1939 by the Pakistani thinker, Abu-l-A`la Maudoodi. Qutb and others before him railed against modernity’s negative effect upon Islam, but Maudoodi was the first to call modernity the New Jahiliyya.[41]

Jahiliyya originally referred to the state of the world before the appearance of the prophet, that is, ignorance of the one true God, Allah, and his ways. Maudoodi’s innovation was to define jahiliyya in his contemporary situation by ascribing it to the British. Modernity, brought to India (before Pakistani independence) by the British, was the new barbarity because it assumed that Islam was fit for the “dustbin of history.”[42]  Indeed, Maudoodi took several words that were well known to Muslims and, in seeking the original meaning, redefined them. This had the affect of raising the standards of what made a good Muslim ruler.[43]

Building on Maudoodi, Sayyid Qutb devised several levels of jahiliyya. The most barbaric regimes and societies were Communist because they were atheistic. But Qutb’s list also included “‘societies that proclaim themselves Muslim'” but “`bestow characteristics that belong exclusively to the Divinity upon others beside God.'”[44]

In other words, if a ruler establishes a system of law different from the Shari`a, he is exercising human sovereignty. But sovereignty belongs only to God. Therefore, that ruler is a usurper of Allah’s prerogative. The only way for a prince to rule without such usurpation is to base the government upon the divine law. Based on this standard of judgment, Nasser fell far short.

Had Sayyid Qutb not gone the next step and described how jahiliyya could be reversed and a Muslim state established, he might still be alive. But the fact of the matter is that he constructed a revolutionary ideology and advocated an armed struggle to carry it out. The jahiliyya was to be overcome in Islam as follows:

‘A man has faith in his credo…When three believers have been touched by the faith, this credo now means to them: “You are now a society, an independent Islamic society, separate from the jahiliyya society…”  From that moment, the Islamic society exists in deed. The three become ten, the ten a hundred, the hundred a thousand, and the thousand twelve thousand…Thus, the society emerges and takes root. In the meantime, the battle begins between this nascent society that has declared it secession…from jahiliyya society…and the sacred combat (jihad) lasts until Judgment Day. (“Signposts,” p. 129-130)'[45]

The advocacy of an armed struggle by the diminutive professor was not a jihad in the ancient sense. Qutb wanted an internal jihad. To him it was clear that Nasser’s Islamic socialism was not Islamic but jahiliyya and “had to be fought in the way that pagans were fought.”[46]

When Hasan al-Banna led the MB, there was an uneasy alliance of purpose with Arab nationalists. Later, Qutb and others saw Arab nationalism as a “step in the right direction” towards an Islamic state. Finally, convinced by his imprisonment that Egypt’s current leaders were infidels, Qutb broke completely with the Arab nationalists in all their stripes and developed the justification for an internal jihad. In answering the authorities who questioned this internal jihad saying that it harmed the war against Israel, one of Qutb’s disciples said:

There are some who say that the jihad effort should concentrate nowadays upon the liberation of Jerusalem. It is true that the liberation of the Holy Land is a legal precept binding upon every Muslim…but let us emphasize that the fight against the enemy nearest to you has precedence over the fight against the enemy farther away. All the more so as the former is not only corrupted but a lackey of imperialism as well…In all Muslim countries the enemy has the reins of power. The enemy is the present rulers. It is hence, a most imperative obligation to fight these rulers. This Islamic jihad requires today the blood and sweat of each Muslim.[47]

The key obstacle that Qutb had to overcome in his declaration of jihad against Nasser or any other apostate Egyptian ruler was the tradition of complete acceptance of all political authority within the Sunni tradition of Islam, which counts 90% of something which implies sin against God, you should neither obey nor rebel. Do not support the fitna (civil strife), neither by your hand nor by your tongue.'”  Or consider the more colorful admonition to “obey the caliph even if he is a black slave.”[48]

Qutb authenticated his argument by grounding it in the writings of a respected 13th century Islamic scholar named Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (1268-1328). There were four “rites of law” (madhhabs) in Sunni Islam, and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal founded one of them. The Hanbal school of law “demanded the strictest adherence to the law and its doctrines at times inspired radical legalism;” Consequently, Ibn Taymiyya, who was a Hanbali scholar, could be called the grandfather of the Islamist movement.[49]

Qutb utilized the following ruling in Ibn Taymiyya’s writings:  “…a Sunni ruler becomes illegitimate if he does not apply a substantial part of the Shari`a. The illegitimacy is defined in ulama terms: the ruler who neglects or transgresses Islamic law is ipso facto an infidel, or rather an apostate, hence the object of jihad.”

Originally, Ibn Taymiyya did not single out the Sultans for repudiation. Rather, his formulations were written to castigate the Mongols who supposedly had converted to Islam. But since they did not apply the Shari`a and were about to overrun the Mamluks, they became the object of a quasi-internal jihad.[50]  It was not far from this quasi-internal jihad against quasi-Muslims to Qutb’s internal jihad against rulers who, in his opinion were likewise not real Muslims because they did not apply the Shari`a.

In sum, the two main reasons that the Islamist movement has gained in strength is the crisis in Islam and an interpretive scheme that emphasizes armed struggle against modernist infidels, both Western and so-called Muslim Pharaohs. There has been an illustrious history of empire for a thousand years and the 20th century signaled the nadir of a precipitous decline. The Caliphate had been abolished; most of the empire was under Christian domination; and modernization generated a cultural and ideological tide against Islam.

There were three responses to this relative deprivation, and they are characterized by Mustafa Kamil, Muhammed `Abduh, and Hasan al Banna. Kamil was the secular nationalist; `Abduh was the liberal reformer; and al Banna was the Islamic nationalist. By offering an Islamic ideal to the people, which spoke to the people of a glorious past, al Banna’s movement was the only one which had a broad appeal, born as it was, in the midst of depression, over-population, mass urbanization and foreign chauvinism. The Muslim Brotherhood, Hanna’s brainchild, began as a missionary effort and, through his outstanding leadership, became a national welfare organization with a membership of two million Muslims and a network that extended throughout the country of Egypt.

After the Arab defeat in 1948 at the hands of the Israeli’s, Hasan blamed the rulers and all Muslims as adherents. Even the founder of the strict constructionist Hanbali School of religious law, Ibn Hanbali, declared, “‘you should obey the government and not rebel against it. If the ruler orders called for revolution—the overthrow of the monarchy. He was killed before he could accomplish it, and his death, as is often the case in such movements, spelled its decentralization and decline. Perhaps, if the Supreme Guide who replaced al Banna, had cooperated more fully with the Free Officer’s Revolutionary Council, the MB would be a powerful force in the government. But when Huydaibi failed to collaborate with the general reforms put forward by the new regime in 1952, the MB’s historical role as the caretaker of the people was usurped.

Sayyid Qutb’s leadership gave new life to the MB. He made several significant contributions to its direction and ideology, for example, that modernity is the jahiliyya (barbarity); that Egyptian leaders were infidels because they do not implement the Shari`a; and an internal jihad must be fought against them. But again, his death and the imprisonment of the MB leaders spelled the end before the beginning of any popular uprising.  Even though the MB lost its potency as a movement after the deaths of al Banna and Qutb, the ideas that they propagated live on in present day Islamist movements.

Another important reason that the MB had languished is that it never established a basis in power. It has largely operated in cells.  This now works in its favor of their ideological progeny by having been transformed into a widespread terrorist network.  In the early 1940’s, al Banna tried to establish a coalition with the army officers but to no avail. The later Islamist movement was eventually controlled by the naked power of the state.

According to the criteria of Samuel Huntington, the Islamist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood, never became an institution. It did not need to as it spread around the world with new names. Qutb’s thought appealed to students, professionals and soldiers of the new middle class, and one of his followers, a soldier, yelled out when he assassinated Anwar Sadat, “My name is Khalid al Islambuli and I have killed the Pharaoh.” That was not enough.  Osama Bin Laden, following in Qutb’s and al Banna’s footsteps, focused on America, the Great Satan and the fountainhead of secularism, and Israel, which is seen as its demonized protectorate, making America the evil enemy of today.

Stan Oakes signature


First written in 1988 and revised in 2003. In 2012, a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, was elected as President of Egypt and then removed by military force.

[1] R. H. Dekmejian, Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World, (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1985), p. 3.
[2] Daniel Pipes, In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. 71.
[3] Ibid., p. 72-73.
[4] Ibid., p. 73.
[5] Ibid., p. 74-75.
[6] Joseph Kostiner, “Class Notes,” July 11, 1988.
[7] Christina Phelps Harris, Nationalism and Revolution in Egypt: The Role of the Muslim Brotherhood (Westport, CT.: Hyperion Press, 1981), p. 113.
[8] Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 169 and 182.
[9] Harris, op. cit., p. 25.
[10] Lewis, op. cit., p. 171.
[11] Pipes, op. cit., p. 100
[12] Harris, op. cit., p. 21.
[13] Ibid., p. 148-149
[14] Ibid., p. 68.
[15] Ibid., p. 69.
[16] Ibid., p. 116
[17] Ibid., p. 127.
[18] Charles Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution (New York: Random House, 1978), p. 18.
[19] Richard E. Rubenstein, Alchemists of Revolution: Terrorism in the Modern World (New York: Basic Books, 1987), p. 50.
[20] Harris, op. cit., p. 131
[21] Ibid., p. 133-35
[22] R. H. Dekmejian, Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1985), p. 4
[23] Harris, op. cit., p. 145 as quoted in “Memoirs of Hasan al-Banna
[24] Ibid., p. 148.
[25] Ibid., p. 150.
[26] Ibid., p. 106-107.
[27] Ibid., p. 153.
[28] Ibid., p. 159.
[29] Ibid., p. 177-78.
[30] Ibid., p. 178-79.
[31] Ibid., p. 180.
[32] Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and the Pharaoh (Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1985), p. 38.
[33] Ibid., p. 40.
[34] Ibid., p. 39.
[35] Ibid., p. 41.
[36] Ibid., p. 41.
[37] Ibid., p. 43 and 68.
[38] Ibid., p. 42.
[39] Pipes, op.cit., p. 4.
[40] Pipes, op. cit., p. 5 as quoted in Ernest Krausz, “Religion and Secularization: A Matter of Definitions” Social Compass 18 (1971-2): 212.
[41] Emmanuel Sivan, “Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985) p. 25.
[42] Ibid., p. 27.
[43] Kepel, op. cit., p. 48.
[44] Ibid., p. 47.
[45] Ibid., p. 53-54.
[46] Ibid., p. 56.
[47] Sivan, op. cit., p. 20.
[48] Pipes, op. cit., p. 91.
[49] Ibid., p. 65.
[50] Ibid., p. 91.

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