Why is the West singing praise for a terrorist group?
The Muslim Brotherhood managed to promote its image in the Muslim world as a reformist organisation after associating itself with Muhammed Rashid Reda, a Syrian scholar.
All controversies encompassing the MB unfolded in September 1927 in the city of Islamilia, on the west bank of the Suez Canal when a 21-years old young man, named Hassan el-Bana, was appointed a teacher in the city, which is 130 km from Cairo. He was the eldest son of an owner of a watch repair shop in Al-Mahmoudiya village in Damanhur.
El-Bana was allegedly interested in charitable work when he was only 12 years old. He was appointed the head of an outreach. Shortly after, he launched a vigilant group to fight cultures and ideas alien to Islam in society.
Despite his religious devotion, el-Bana refused to continue his study in Al-Azhar (the highest seat of Sunni teaching in Egypt). When he left his village for Cairo, he was enrolled at the Teachers Colleges. Being a bustling metropolis city, Cairo was allegedly notorious for its secular European cultures, alcohol shops and night clubs, which shocked the student, who hailed from a rural area. His diary was stuffed with his condemnation of these anti-Islam practices and cultures.
El-Bana’s vision of Islam was greatly influenced by the two scholars and reformers: Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1898) and Mohamed Abduh (1849-1905). Both of them are given credit in the Muslim world for their initiatives to ripple the stagnant water of Islam. Their chief task was to free the holy texts from restrictions and religious fetters. They prioritized reason if there was a conflict between it and slavish imitation.
Al-Afghani was harsh critic of Muslim rulers for allegedly being amenable to dictations from foreign powers. He reached cruel conclusion after touring several foreign countries, such as Iran, Britain, Russia and India.
Al-Afghani visited Egypt in 1871. During his 8-year stay, he attracted the attention of local sheikhs and scholars. One of his admirers was Sheikh Mohamed Abduh, a graduate of Al-Azhar, who was appointed Egypt’s Mufti in 1899. However, al-Afghani was dismissed from Egypt for his controversial ideology. His influence on his disciples was apparent in a fatwa Mohamed Abduh issued to encouraged Muslims to deposit their savings in banks.
The Mufti also legitimised bank loans and interest rate. In his defence to Islam, Abduh declared that Prophet Mohamed’s faith did not resist reforms. He said that the Muslim Sharia should be attuned to the modern life to guarantee the public interest.
Likewise, Muhammed Rashid Rida (1865-1935) is widely regarded as an influential Islamic reformer of his generation. Rida was born in the village of Al-Qalamoun, in Lebanese Tripoli, in which he came across Sheikh Mohamed Abduh in 1894. After three years, Rida decided to leave Syria for Cairo to be close to Abduh. The following year, he published al-Manar, a weekly and then monthly journal.
Rida was deeply concerned with finding an answer to the question: why Muslim nations were lagging behind others. He attributed signs of backwardness in Muslim communities to their departure from Islam. He had a strong belief that Islam would have better future only when Muslims honour its ethics and principles.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, Rida’s ideas witnessed a radical change, nonetheless. He decided to propagandise Wahabism of Saudi Arabia. Wahabi ideologists, who were campaigning for the revival of that raw and unalloyed Islam under Prophet Mohamed and Muslim caliphs, were invited to contribute extensively to Rida’s Al-Manar. The publisher also celebrated Wahabi military invasions of the holy cities in the Saudi kingdom. In his book Najd Covenant, Rida defended Salafism for being the proper and correct version of Islam.
According to researcher Hammadi al-Redisi, Rida rehabilitated the image of the Wahabis when he disassociated them from heresy, declaring that they were reviving the proper and correct Islam. Al-Redisi, who studies law and political sciences in Tunis University, provided strong evidence that Wahabi faqeehs and lobbyists financed Rida’s publications, including his book Wahabism and Al-Hejaz. The book published in 1926 sought to damage the image of opponents of Wahabism by claiming that these people had allied themselves with the British and the Jews to eliminate Islam from the world.
Rida’s pro-Wahabism vision influenced the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and his religious project.
Re-establishment of the alleged Muslim Caliphate
In his writings, Rida said that the Muslim state did not benefit Muslims alone. “The Muslim state is good for humanity,” he noted. He explained: “[The Muslim state] honours justice and equality; serves the interests of every individual; and celebrates virtues and values; fight vices; and offers help to the needy and miserable people.”
In addition to his unequivocal support to Wahabism, Rida lent his voice to scholar Abdel-Rahman al-Kawakebi (1849-1902), who said that Arabs were the legitimate heirs of the throne of the Turkish empire. Al-Kawakebi’s extraordinary theory of inheritance of throne came in his book The Characteristics of Despotism.
In his Al-Manar, Rida drummed up support to al-Kawakebi’s support for Arab rulers to succeed Turkish sultans. Al-Kawakebi revealed his call in this respect prior to the collapse of the Ottoman empire, which brought in secular ruler Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on the 3rd of March 1924.
Two years before Ataturk’s ascension to the throne, Rida published his book The Great Caliphate, in which he condemned Turks for their betrayal of Islam. Rida strongly defended the integrity of Prophet Mohamed’s religion in the Arab land by saying that this particular version of Islam was the best and incontestable. He also declared his support to the establishment of Arab caliphate.
Rida’s defence to the integrity of Arabs and their role in revealing the relationship between Islam and humanity was elaborated in the book Islam, which was written by British-American historian Bernard Lewis, who was specializing in oriental studies. According to the historian, Rida strongly believed that Egypt was the only Arab country, which had the potentials to pioneer the Arab world. Egypt’s merits in this respect included geographical position, big population, cultures and economy.
In 1924, Rida revealed his ambition for the establishment of an institution, which could help lay down the foundations of the new Muslim state, and in the meantime, undermine the hegemony of Western materialism on mankind.
Rida appeared to have been fortunate. His dream was fulfilled when it was embraced by Hassan el-Bana. The young enthusiast launched the Muslim Brotherhood four years after the Muslim caliphate collapsed in Turkey.
In the preamble of one of his most interesting writings The Speech of Teachers-the fundamental principles of the Muslim Brotherhood, el-Bana explained “After four years of the collapse of the Muslim caliphate, a talented young man in his 20s called strongly for its revival. This young man is no other than Hassan el-Bana, son of Abdel-Rahman el-Bana.” In his self-made praise, el-Bana criticized young people of his generation accusing them of being hedonists.
Wahabism & MB
Although Wahabism was the chief ideology in Saudi Arabia, an important chapter of the history of Egypt’s MB was written in the kingdom. The two schools came together when, a year before el-Bana established his group, he travelled to Saudi Arabia to work as a teacher.
Seven young people from Ismailia followed el-Bana there in March 1928. They were seeking his advice how they could defend the integrity of Islam and what means they should have to free Muslims from the fetters of Western slavery.
Introducing themselves, they told him that were Muslim brothers willing to serve Islam. “Then, you are Muslim brothers,” replied el-Bana. At this moment, the Muslim Brotherhood, a global Muslim institution was given its name; and the seven visitors were ordained el-Bana’s disciples. And he was voted the General Guide.
The group’s banner was inscribed by the words: “Our Goal is Allah; our leader is the Prophet; our constitution is the Qur’an, the war is our way, and self-sacrifice is our ultimate goal.”
However, Lebanese-born French historian Habib Tawa explained that the Muslim Brotherhood was named after fighters called Muslim brothers, who were sent to Saudi Arabia to support King Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdul-Rahman Al-Saud of Hejaz and Najd to invade Mecca. “Calling themselves Muslim brothers, they inspired inspired el-Bana to name his group the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Tawa, whose PhD thesis was interested in the intersected relationship between authorities, the political movements and the armed militias in Egypt—From the Palestinian War Until the Collapse of monarchy (1948 to 1952).
The mascot el-Bana suggested to his group bears striking resemblance to Saudi Arabia’s. The MB’s a banner features two crossed swords embracing the holy Qur’an. The verse saying ‘And prepare against them whatever you are able of power’ is visible in the place. The Saudi Arabia’s mascot revealed in 1926 also features the two crossed words and the word “And prepare..” (verse 60 of Sura Anfal in the Qur’an)
Rida’s influence on the MB was debated by the founder’s grandson Tarek Ramadan. In his PhD thesis, Ramadan disclosed that his maternal grandfather pledged to publish Al-Manar for five years after the death of its publisher. The grandson also explained that el-Bana was a reformer, who walked in Rida’s and Abduh’s footsteps.
The grandson’s allegations that Rida was Mohamed Abduh’s disciple was refuted by Islamic thinker Ali Mourad (d. 2017). “Rida opposed Mohamed Abduh’s call for prioritizing reason,” said Mourad. As long as Rida is concerned, Mourad condemned him for being fundamentalist, who devoted his intellectual and religious project to suppress Mohamed Abduh’s reformist voice.
Alain Gresh, ex-Editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, said that Ramadan’s dissertation had opened the door on the unknown area of Islamic reformist project. Revealing el-Bana’s fundamentalism side, Gresh, who was born in Cairo in 1948, quoted the grandson’s thesis as saying that both Mohamed Abduh and Hassan el-Bana were interested in introducing a project of overlapping modernity and fundamentalism. Gresh’s biological father is Henri Curiel, a communist who was assassinated in Paris in 1978. That was why, Gresh, who has written extensively on Islam and the Arab world, admired el-Bana’s integrity and peaceful message by denying categorically that the General Guide had ever ordered political assassinations.
El-Bana’s duplicity in Europe was also defended in a report published by the Union of Islamic Organisations in France’s Islam journal (now suspended). Referring to a conference held in Paris in 1988, UIO’s report said that el-Bana was an Islamic reformer, who received the torch from Jamal-Eddin al-Afghani and Mohamed Abduh. It is noteworthy that Rida was not mentioned in this area. El-Bana was also praised by UIO for allegedly producing a spiritual and intellectual dimension to Islam.
Such a deliberately misleading argument and image-airbrushing managed to increase the number of el-Bana’s admirers in the Western communities of university professors, politicians, media people and thinkers over decades. Moreover, these people have portrayed the MB for being as the Muslim version of the Christian reformist trend in Latin America, which sought to rekindle the dim hope of the poor and wretched people.
Due to this misplaced defence and enthusiasm, el-Bana, whose MB is branded terrorist group in several countries, was compared to India’s Gandhi in the West.
Moreover, leftist icons in Europe, such as researcher Miguel Bin Siyag, environmentalist Jose Boufi and member of the French Communist Union Daniel Bin Said paid tribute to el-Bana when his grandson Tarek Ramadan told the European Social Forum in Paris in 1983 that ‘the tenets of Islam do not conform with the new liberal capitalism. El-Bana was also given credit by European leftists when his grandson quoted him as saying that Islam being the faith of the poor is interested greatly in realizing social interdependence and solidarity—the chief principles sought by communists and later by leftists.