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The Muslim Brotherhood is extremist
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 29 - 07 - 2015

The Muslim Brotherhood has always tried to promulgate three illusions about its history and ideology. The first is that it is a “moderate” group that represents and advocates centralist Islam and that is not inclined to extremist judgements. The second is that it is a proselytising group whose primary concerns is to educate and guide Muslims towards the righteous path through sage advice and sermons. The third is that it rejects violence as a means to realise its aims.
The reality is the reverse of all the above. The Muslim Brotherhood has always been primarily oriented towards political involvement and its quest for political power and rule is a part of its creed. Also, there was room for the use of force and violence in the thinking of the organisation's founder, Hassan Al-Banna and much more so in that of Sayed Qotb who has become the highest authority for all Islamist movements today. Indeed, we could say that Muslim Brotherhood ideology laid the foundations for the ideological and operational outlooks of all the extremist groups in the contemporary Islamic world.
IDEOLOGICAL STRUCTURE: Muslim Brotherhood ideology proceeds from the notion of the “totality” of Islam. Al-Banna sought to imbue his mission with such a character. Islam, he said, was “a creed and a faith, a nation and a nationality, a religion and a state, spiritualism and action, a Holy Book and a sword”. Accordingly, he described the organisation he founded as “a Salafist calling, a Sunni path, a Sufi truth, a political organisation, an athletic group, an economic company and a social idea”. In other words, the group's activities covered all aspects of life, which was geared to giving its leadership a broad jurisdiction and greater power to influence its members and train them in its codes of obedience. Indeed, it was for such indoctrination purposes that it placed heavy emphasis on recruiting children and teenagers, so that it could more easily shape their minds.
According to Sameh Fayez, a former Brotherhood member who resigned from the organisation, indoctrination begins at a very early age. Muslim Brotherhood children are given material to memorise and recite and they quickly learn to reject “the other”. “They classify others into only two categories: either as agents for the heretic regime that is fighting the Muslim Brotherhood or as secularist infidels.” They are inculcated with an ideological outlook that hybridises Islam with the Muslim Brotherhood mission. “You find yourself, involuntarily, thinking that you are defending Islam when you defend the Muslim Brotherhood, and when you defend Islam you feel as though you're defending the group,” Fayez said. As a result of this upbringing, “The Muslim Brothers, in the eyes of its youth, are the shadow of God. They are the faith. People who reject them reject the faith.”
Proceeding from this identification of Islam with the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim Brotherhood thought, Al-Banna erected his ideological system on two foundations. The first is the application of God's Law. The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to enforce Sharia, a notion that Qotb developed using the concept of hakimiya, or divine sovereignty, which holds that God is the source of legitimacy and that all ideas that contradict this are contrary to God's Law. On the basis of this concept, Qotb distinguished between two types of societies: the jahili society and the hakimiya society. All modern societies were jahili according to this Muslim Brother ideologue because under their constitutions the people are the source of authority, the people elect their own representatives and they are governed by man-made laws. “Positive law does not merit sovereignty and an elevated status, as that status was attained by God through His Law which people must follow,” he writes.
In his work, In the Shadow of the Quran, Qotb argues: “Jahiliya (Ignorance) is not a name for a historic phase that predated Islam; it applies literally to all situations, regardless of considerations of time and place.” Shirk, or the heresy of equating another entity with God, occurs by merely “granting the right to legislate to anyone but God from among His worshippers, even if this is not accompanied by shirk in the belief in His divinity or the rites of worship to Him alone.” Accordingly, “The world today is in a state of jahiliya... This jahiliya stems from the encroachment on the supreme authority of God on earth, and on that most special of His divine properties, sovereignty, as it grants this quality to human beings and makes some of them lords over others.”
The second ideological foundation was jihad and the use of force to establish the Islamic society governed by God's Law. In his message to the Fifth Muslim Brotherhood Congress in 1938, Al-Banna responded to the question as to whether the Muslim Brothers intended to use force to achieve their ends. “The Muslim Brothers must be strong and they must work in strength,” he said. That quality came in degrees or levels. “The Muslim Brothers know that the first degree of strength is strength of creed and faith. This is followed by strength of unity and bonds. Then come physical strength and strength of arms... it is not correct to describe a group as strong unless it possesses strength in all these senses. If it uses physical strength and force of arms when it is disunited and in disarray or weak in faith and lax in creed its fate will be perdition and death.”
Al-Banna's ambitions for his organisation exceeded that of a proselytising movement early on. He regarded rule as a chief article of the faith. “The Islam in which the Muslim Brotherhood believes makes government one of its pillars and it depends on execution and guidance.” He added that this pillar was rooted in the central religious text rather than in subsidiary religious jurisprudence, and was therefore irrefutable and not open to interpretation.
But the Muslim Brotherhood could not be seen as thirsting for power. Accordingly, Al-Banna wrote, “The Muslim Brothers do not seek power for themselves. If they find someone in the ummah who is prepared to assume that burden, perform that duty and rule in accordance with an Islamic Quranic method, they will be his soldiers, supporters and aides. If they do not find such a man, as rule is an article of their methodology, they will free it from the hands of every government that does not implement the commands of God.”
From this standpoint he criticised other Islamic movements. “The reluctance of Islamic reformers to demand the power to rule is an Islamic crime that can only be exonerated by moving to wrest executive power from the hands of those who do not believe in the laws of Islam.”
Then, in 1948, after a public debate over the Quran as a source for legislation, he declared: “After offering advice and explanation, there remains only bargaining or holy war.” On another occasion he told Muslim Brotherhood members: “I exhort you to jihad of action after the oral call. We will invite all government bodies to embrace Islam. If they respond we will support them. If not, we will wage war against them relentlessly until God grants our people victory.”
Qotb broadened the call for use of force on the basis of his condemnation of all modern societies as jahiliya and in violation of God's Law. He held that Muslims do not have the right to reconcile with those societies and that it is a duty to wage holy war against them. “Our mission is not to accommodate to the realities of that jahili society or to owe it allegiance… The first step in our path is to place ourselves above that jahili society and its perceptions, rather than to modify our values and perceptions by any amount so as to meet it halfway. The moment we take one step alongside it, we lose our whole methodology and we lose the path.”
Islam, he writes, “does not accept compromises with the jahiliya. It is either Islam or jahiliya.” Qotb applies this logic to international relations. “There is one house the house of Islam in which stands the Muslim state. All else is the house of war and the relationship of Muslims with it is either combat or truce. But it is not a house of Islam and there is no allegiance between its people and the Muslims.”
These passages in Qotb's works are clearly filled with extremist notions with all their fanatic bigotry and rejection of the other, and their calls for the use of violence as a means to attain the ends. They express a vision that seeks to transform life into a permanent war and Islam into a religion of uninterrupted jihad until the entire world is converted to Islam. To Qotb, this jihadist militancy is the correct understanding of Islam. “Those who understand the nature of this religion, realise the imperative of mobilisation for Islam in the mode of the jihad with the sword alongside the jihad with the word.” We note, of course, that he mentions “sword” before “word”.
The inevitable result of this logic was the actual use of violence and the call to use force to change society. After all, as we have seen, “jihad by the sword” is an intrinsic article of the creed and it is to be used “to resist jahili society, to eliminate it from existence, and to eliminate the systems and authorities based on it.”
All jihadist takfiri groups that espouse the use of violence were inspired by Qotb, whom they revere as “the professor and master”. This is evident from many of the writings by the leaders and ideologues of those movements. Notable examples are Message of Faith by Saleh Sirriyah who commanded the attack against the Military Technical College in 1974; The Compendium on the Quest of the Noble Knowledge by Sayed Imam Al-Sharif, Al-Qaeda's mufti; The Stages of Jihad: Subsequent Versions of Previous Ones by Abdel-Akher Hamada, the Egyptian Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya ideologue; Commandments for Mujahideen by Mosaab Al-Zarqawi, commander of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia; and last but not least, Ayman Al-Zawahri's A Knight under the Banner of the Prophet, which describes Qotb's ideas as “the spark of the call to the Islamic revolution”.
VIOLENCE IN PRACTICE: Following his gradualist approach, Al-Banna built up a powerful organisation. Its founding blocks were “families”, each consisting of five individuals. The concept was similar to that of cells in underground organisations. He then created units of mobile teams, whose members wore kaki uniforms, after which he formed the “Secret Apparatus”, an exclusively paramilitary organisation. Weapons were acquired and members were trained in how to use them.
Such measures soon led to a series of acts of violence and murders. In 1945, prime minister Ahmed Maher was assassinated. In 1947, the King George Hotel in Alexandria was bombed. In 1948, police arrested a group of Muslim Brotherhood youth in the Muqattam hills area in Cairo as they were engaged in weapons and explosives training. That same year, police intercepted a vehicle filled with explosives and driven by Mustafa Mashhour, who would later become the Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide in the 1970s. In March 1948, the organisation's Secret Apparatus assassinated Judge Ahmed Al-Khazindar after he had handed down guilty verdicts against Muslim Brotherhood members accused of bombing the Metro Cinema.
Such incidents prompted the government to issue a decree in December 1948 ordering the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood. The response of the organisation was to assassinate prime minister Fahmi Al-Noqrashi that same month. In 1949, a Muslim Brotherhood youth attempted to bomb the Cairo Court of Appeals, but failed. Then in May, the Brotherhood attempted to assassinate prime minister Ibrahim Abdel-Hadi.
Over subsequent decades, the Muslim Brotherhood persisted in its acts of violence, as occurred in 1954 and 1965 in the Nasser era, and with the abovementioned attack against the Military Technical College in 1974 in the Sadat era, and then with the assassination president Sadat himself in 1981. In the Mubarak era, the Muslim Brotherhood supported the groups of Arab youth who volunteered to fight against the communists in Afghanistan. Some of these would go on to form the kernel of Al-Qaeda and become a source of escalating violence when they returned to their own countries. They were commonly referred to as the “Afghan Arabs”.
In the 1990s, terrorist violence in Egypt flared with the proliferation of organisations inculcated in the ideas of Qotb. People's Assembly Speaker Refaat Al-Mahgoub was assassinated in 1990, the writer and journalist Farag Fouda was assassinated in 1992, and several other writers and intellectuals were the victims of assassination attempts, not least of which was the failed attempt against Nobel Prize Laureate Naguib Mahfouz. The Muslim Brotherhood never condemned those acts. In fact, several of their lawyers volunteered to defend the persons accused in those cases.
With the opening years of this century, the Muslim Brothers became increasingly involved in the political process. In 2000, 17 of its members were elected to the People's Assembly and 88 Muslim Brothers won seats in the 2005 parliament. But the seeds of violence and thirst for it never abated entirely. In 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef said: “Demonstrations are not our only means. Everything comes at its own time and date.” He added that the date for “combat” had not arrived yet. In 2007, Muslim Brotherhood students staged a quasi-military march at Al-Azhar University in which they demonstrated their skills in martial arts training exercises. The display was meant to deliver a message to other students and society as a whole. Three years from then, the Muslim Brotherhood mufti, Abdel Rahman Al-Barr, referred to the 2010 parliamentary elections as the “raid of the ballot boxes”.
It is little wonder, therefore, that the Muslim Brotherhood would clash with every ruling regime in Egypt: with the pre-1952 monarchical order, with the governments of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, and with the post-30 June 2013 order. In spite of their constantly reiterated refrains claiming that its approach was “peaceful”, in all of these clashes its members used violence. It should also be stressed that it no point in its history did the Muslim Brotherhood undertake any form of revision of its ideology, policies or practices, which is why its recourse to violence triggered three rulings to ban the organisation: in 1948, 1954 and 2013.
In sum, as the foregoing analysis demonstrates, the Muslim Brotherhood was the mother movement for the use of jihadist violence. All militant jihadist organisations of all stripes trace their ideological, organisational and operational outlooks and practices to the Muslim Brotherhood experience.
The writer is a researcher in youth studies, and a PhD candidate at Cairo University.

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