Hassan al-Banna
Founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ikhwan al-Muslimun


NameHassan al-Banna (1906-1948)
Also Known AsMajmu'at Rasayil Al-Imam Al-Shaheed Hassan Al-Banna
BiographyHassan al-Banna was an Egyptian Islamic Modernist/Reformist (that is to say, a Salafi)1 and a member of the Hasafiya Sufi order.2 His father was a recognised Hanbali scholar,3 and by trade a watch maker. While most earlier Islamic Modernists had sought an accomodation of the positive elements of Western secular models, Hassan al-Banna believed that they had become a source of decadence and decay,4 observing ominously that,

...the civilization of the West, which was brilliant by virtue of its scientific perfection for a long time, and which subjugated the whole world with the products of this science to its states and nations, is now bankrupt and in decline.5

Furthermore, he believed the West's malady was afflicting the Muslim world, weakening and corrupting it, and "anaesthetising" its faith.6 He created the Jamaat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Society of the Muslim Brotherhood, MB) in 1928 in the wake of the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, with the aim of revitalising that faith. The eventual objective was to establish a Government that ruled "on the basis of Muslim values and norms."7 Such a goal, he said, could not be achieved without the re-Islamisation of people of all classes.8 Thus the MB began with the immediate task of carrying out da'wa, and the ultimate goal of establishing Islamic government. Al-Banna also rejected the distinction between lesser and greater jihad as based on a false hadith.9
1 Bari, Re-Emergence of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, p15.
2Davidson, Islamic Fundamentalism, p97. Esposito, Unholy War, p54.
3Chasdi, Tapestry of Terror, p159.
4Bari, p15.
5Asaf Hussain, Political Terrorism & the State in the Middle East, p78.
6Hussain, pp78-79. Davidson, p97.
7Davidson, p98.
8 Davidson, p98.
9Esposito, p51.
Al-Banna was a highly effective organiser and charismatic leader, and consequently his hierarchical movement and its model spread throughout the Muslim world.10 However, al-Banna's dominant personality was also a weakness, both because it stifled the development of the group's human capital and because al-Banna did not develop a systematic methodology for implementing the MB's political philosophy. The MB involved itself in public services as a form of da'wa, had a military wing and ran in parliamentary elections, but was unable to articulate a single, clear methodological model for taking power.11 At the same time, Arab nationalism and socialism were gaining in power, polarising the Islamic Modernists.12 Unsurprisingly, after al-Banna's assassination in 1949,13 the organisation drifted, until its collision with the reef of the 1952 Free Officers' Coup brought the differences within the MB into stark relief.14 10Davidson, p97. Hussain, p79.
11 Choueiri, Islamic Fundamentalism, p43.
12 Choueiri, p51.
13 Apparently by agents of the secret police. Davidson, p98. Esposito, p55.
14 Choueiri, pp41-42. Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt, pp36-37.
The Muslim world today lives in the wake of Hassan al-Banna's vigorous efforts to build and spread his Muslim Brotherhood. His political and religious legacy is enormous, including both radicals such as Maulana Maududi and Sayyid Qutb and the more moderate Muslim Brothers of the al-Dawa persuasion. However, al-Banna ultimately failed to bequeath a unified, successful movement. Rather, he left a directionless, bickering body of conflicting factions with little in common but their nihilistic quest to replace prevailing religious and political institutions with a politicised and therefore limited interpretation of the Sharia. Assessing Banna's legacy, it is difficult to conclude other than that the destructive elements of his legacy (the aforementioned nihilism) outweigh the constructive elements (which include an emphasis on public service and social integration).
LinksExcerpts from Hassan al-Banna's writing in Arabic and English, on the website of an electrical engineering student and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Kareem Darwish.
Bibliography
  • Zohurul Bari, Re-Emergence of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, Lancers Books, New Delhi, 1995.
  • Richard J Chasdi, Tapestry of Terror: A Portrait of Middle East Terrorism, 1994-1999, Lexington Books, Lanham Maryland, 2002.
  • Youssef M Choueiri, Islamic Fundamentalism, revised edition, Pinter (Cassell), London, 1997.
  • Lawrence Davidson, Islamic Fundamentalism: An Introduction, revised and updated edition, Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut, 2003.
  • John L Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002.
  • Asaf Hussain, Political Terrorism and the State in the Middle East, Mansell Publishing Limited, London and New York, 1988.
  • Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh, translated from the French by Jon Rothschild, University of California Press, London and Berkeley, 1985.
  • Trevor Stanley, The Quest for Caliphate: Islamist Innovation from Qutb to al-Qaeda, Honours Thesis, La Trobe University, Bundoora (Melbourne), 2003.
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    See AlsoSayyid Qutb, Maulana Maududi

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