Would Hassan Al-Banna (حسن البنا‎) Be Proud Today of Muhammad Mursi (محمد مرسى)?

June 24, 2012


Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949) was an important Egyptian reformer who lived in the early half of the 20th century. He is most well-known for having established, along with six friends in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood ( الإخوان المسلمون). In the city of Isma’iliyy, Egypt, Banna had witnessed growing up the manifestations of moral decadence, political corruption, and Western colonization (specifically, at the hands of the British Empire). As one author notes, “Banna himself recognized the importance of Isma’iliyya to his organization, because the Suez Canal Zone and the extensive British facilities and influence there had created a sense of alienation in the Egyptian in his own country; for him and others the Zone had become a (perhaps the) symbol of the sickness of the country. ( Said Aly, 224). Banna strongly denounced what he say as the privileging of materialism in Europe and the West, and instead advanced the notion that a revivalist reading of Islam could provide a needed gateway for humanity to experience the principles of justice and mutual respect. He once summarized the project of the Brotherhood in the following manner: “The  Brotherhood permit differences of opinion, detest fanaticism in outlook, and try to arrive at the truth and to convert men to it through the gentlest methods of forbearance (hilm) and affection (lutf).”

Indeed, Banna emphasized the political nature of Islam. He stated, in his message to the Fifth Conference of the Brotherhood:

We believe the rules and teachings of Islam to be comprehensive, to include the people’s affairs in the world and the hereafter. Those who believe that these teachings deal only with the spiritual side of life are mistaken. Islam is an ideology and a worship, a home and  a  nationality, a religion and a state, a spirit and work, and a book and sword. (The Light, Attached).

Banna strongly advocated the concept of Muslim unity, once writing that “that the mission of the Muslim Brotherhood is a general one unaffiliated with any particular sect, and that it does not favor a certain opinion known by a people to have a certain ’tint’, or any preconceptions and conclusions.” Moreover, Banna believed that “the greatest trial from which Muslims have suffered has been that of sectarianism and disagreement, while the basis of all their victories has been love and unity. The last of this Ummah will prosper only through the same means as did the first: this is a fundamental principle and acknowledged goal to every Muslim Brother.” (Our Message,  at 7). Differences were inevitable, and even differences in classical times among the scholarly community were addressed and appreciated, not derided and excommunicated. Banna mentions how the great Imam Al-Shafi’i would announce legal opinion in different circumstances depending on where he was geographically, including once delivering a contradictory opinion in Iraq and one in Egypt. Banna states: “The very Companions of the Apostle of Allah used to have differences of opinion, but did this create large differences between them? Or did it sunder or dissolve their solidarity? By Allah, no!”

Banna also preached a message of love and care, depressingly once lamenting the condition of his people in Egypt: It is difficult, very difficult indeed, to see how our people are presently oppressed, and then to resign ourselves to this present state of affairs, to accept a submissive role, or altogether abandon everything in despair. For when we work for mankind in the path of Allah we work harder than we would for our own selves.” (The Light, Attached).

He derided the existence of illiteracy among his people, mentioning that the Prophet Muhammad had stipulated as part of the ransom for the prisoners captured at the Battle of Badr (624 AD) , one prisoner should teach ten Muslim children reading and writing. (The Light, Attached). Banna also advocated for Muslims to learn not only religious sciences, but also religious sciences. He believed that there was no distinction between religious and natural sciences for purposes of acquiring knowledge, and that both should ultimately lead man to respect not only the Creator but the created as well.

Banna also noticed that a large number of Muslims were seeking to emulate the Western practices because they felt that the religious authorities among them were corrupt. But as Banna rightly pointed out, “this flaw [that the ulema might suffer from institutional corruption]” does not concern “the religion as such”, rhetorically asserting, “Does the religion command such things?” Banna advocated “An end to party rivalry, and directing the political forces of the nation into a unified front”, “An end to bribery and nepotism, promotion should only be given to those who have the capability and have a legitimate claim” and “Strengthening the ties between all the Islamic countries, especially the Arab countries, to pave the way for a practical and serious consideration concerning the departed Caliphate.” On the social front, Banna was far more conservative, advocating separate curriculum for females and males, “the prohibition of free mixing between male and female students,” “the prohibition of dancing and other such pastimes,” “censorship of music,” among others (Towards the Light, 6-7).

One problem I find with al-Banna was his refusal to engage in questions relating to issues of political legitimacy (al-shari’yah al-siyasiah li-nizam) (Awadhi, 13). Indeed, al-Banna rarely, if ever, challenged the legitimacy of the political leadership in Egypt during his time. Although his organization was certainly outnumbered, the fact that substantive political activism was rarely manifested suggests that the Brotherhood did not adequately take steps to fulfill their ideal version of society. Developments during the Mubarak presidency demonstrate this point quite clearly. The “legitimacy” of Mubarak’s authority was categorically recognized in 1987 when they voted for him. The Brotherhood also voted for Mubarak’s third term in office, and refusing to criticize the legitimacy of Mubarak openly. More recently, the Brotherhood did not even initially come out in support of the Youth-initiated revolution in Egypt on January 25, 2010. The cowardly nature of the Brotherhood is reflected in a belief that the legitimacy of a ruler remains throughout the duration of his political control–even if he may be a tyrant– as long as he does not impede the fulfillment of Islamic rituals (ibadat).

Now, turning to the victory today of Morsi to the presidency of Egypt, the question becomes whether Hassan Al-Bana would be proud were he to be alive today that his organization has catapulted to the top of politics in Egypt? I would say no. Statements from Morsi in recent months lead me to believe that he will not be able to implement the grand visions that Hassan Al-Bana advocated for as part of the Brotherhood ideological system. Indeed, this assessment is made stronger in light of the recent extra-legal measures taken by the Egyptian military to essentially dissolve any gain made thus far in the January 2011 Revolution. Recently, Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub, delivering a sermon declared certain disturbing details of a conversation he had with Muhammad Mursi. Mursi is narrated to have told Sheik Yaaqub that he believes that the Shia Muslims are “more dangerous to Islam than the Jews.”  Added to this, Morsi has went on the record as stating that the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty will not be annulled, despite the realities on the ground suggesting that Israel has benefited far more than the Egyptian population of the agreement with their neighbor. On a more mundane level, Morsi is simply boring—both as a speaker and a person. He has been heavily criticized for his oratory skills, and his inability to generate enthusiasm from his words. (Patrict Martin, 2010). In his speech today, although he emphasized Muslim unity, there was simply no indication of how Morsi will address the spiraling rates of illiteracy that has spread among the population there, among other important social and economic problems facing Egypt. Nor for that matter did we receive any indication that Morsi will challenge the military against its aggressive and illegal power grabs.

It remains to be seen whether Morsi will be able to implement the structural reforms necessary for alleviating poverty and unemployment in Egypt. But as things stand now, I am not very hopeful. Nor would Hassan Al-Banna be hopeful of for what Mr. Morsi would produce. In that sense, Al-Banna would not be proud of Morsi.


Hisham Awadi, In Pursuit Of Legitimacy: The Muslim Brothers And Mubarak, 1982-2000

Paul Brykczynski, The Relationship between Religion and Nationalism in the Political Thought of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb

Abd al-Monein Said Aly and Manfred W. Wenner, Modern Islamic Reform Movements: The Muslim Brotherhood in Contemporary Egypt, Middle East Journal, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Summer, 1982), pp. 336-361Published

Mohamed Morsi: Conservative pursues ‘Islamic state’ in Egypt, The Globe and Mail, Jun. 18 2012, 10:22 AM EDT, available at: http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/mohamed-morsi-conservative-pursues-islamic-state-in-egypt/article4224872/?service=mobile

Reading_Islamic Books_Knowledge and Propagation_What Is Our Message

toward the light_Hassan al-Banna


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