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Muslim Brotherhood

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Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim Brotherhood emblem:
Qur'an and Swords
The Muslim Brotherhood (Arabic: Hizb al Ikhwan al Muslimeen - The party of the Muslim Brothers or Jamaat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun - Society of the Muslim brotherhood )  is a fundamentalist international organization or organizations originating in Egypt, whose goals are the conversion of Muslim countries into states ruled by Sha'aria law, the re-establishment of the Caliphate and ultimately, world dominion. The Muslim Brotherhood's ideology, which insists that Islam is a prescription for governance as well as religion, is the prototypical example of Islamism. Their slogan is self-explanatory: "God is our purpose, the Prophet our leader, the Qur'an our constitution, Jihad our way and dying for God's cause our supreme objective.

Different factions of the Muslim Brotherhood believe that an Islamic society can be achieved by violent means in the near term, or by education and "preparation" of society and "democratic" takeover.  The Muslim Brotherhood was founded formally in March 1928 in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna,  but it may have existed before in a less formal framework. 

Muslim Brotherhood Ideology

Al-Banna developed the ideology and the methods of organization and recruitment that were to characterize most radical Islamist groups which may or may not have been inspired by the Brotherhood. The ideology includes the following points:

Islam most dominate and not be dominated.

Restoration of the lost caliphate - i'adat al Khalifa al Mafqudah -  is the chief immediate political goal of the Islamist movement. 

Islam is currently inferior to the West because it deserted its roots. It will triumph by returning to its pristine form.

Social revolution and anti-colonial struggle are an integral and major part of the mission of the Islamic revival.

Violent Jihad is a central tenet of Islam and martyrdom in the cause of Allah is highly valued.  Violent Jihad is the greater Jihad, while inner struggle for moral purity is the lesser Jihad.

Islam must aim to take over the entire world and assert its superiority through violent Jihad,

Western civilization is doomed by its decadence and Jewish influence.

Ideas such as democracy and human rights are products of Jewish influence and Western decadence. Society must be ruled by God and not men.

The Jews are particularly vile enemies of Islam. Israel is to be opposed because it is a foreign western implant.

Muslim Brotherhood ideology is virulently anti-Semitic  anti-Western and anti-democratic in principle.  It is important to emphasize this last point, in view of the optimistic theories of certain academics which insist that the Muslim Brotherhood and similar groups would evolve toward democracy because of democratic traditions in Islam. The original Muslim Brotherhood ideology views all such democratic traditions as heresy, though it might use democratic means to gain power. Al-Banna was succeeded by Sayyid Qutb. The reasoning behind this opposition is explained in Chapter 6 of Sayyid Qutb's book, Milestones: just government is government by God, and not by men. Qutb believed that the best sort of government was a dictatorship based on Sha'aria Muslim law.

Muslim Brotherhood Method of Organization and Recruitment

Hassan al-Banna was a gifted and instinctive grass roots organizer, and the Muslim Brotherhood the pattern for other Muslim organizations in many respects:

Use of existing religious organizations - Under Al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood used mosques, charities and other Muslim groups as the basis of its organization and a means to spread its ideology.

Soviet style subversion - The Muslim Brotherhood, like the Soviet Comintern, set up special sections for working with different social groups such as peasants, workers and professionals.

Eclectic Facade - Al-Banna and the brotherhood tried to minimize religious and ideological disputes with the religious elites and with local traditions that deviated from Islam, in order to attract the largest number of followers and ensure their welcome in mosques, shrines and Muslim gatherings of all types.

Multi-level structure - The Muslim brotherhood created "respectable" networks for charity and Islamic studies at one level. At the same time, it created a paramilitary clandestine wing with a cellular structure like that of the pre-Soviet Bolshevik party. The legitimate activities of the open outer circle, such as charity, could be used to fund the paramilitary activities, and at the same time, the outer circle served as a basis for recruitment into the clandestine group. 

Muslim Brotherhood under Hassan Banna

Hassan Al-Banna was a teacher and agitator, who used the above methods to grow the popularity of his group. Initially, he had only modest success. By 1936, after 8 years there were only about 800 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in and around Cairo and Ismailiya, where al-Banna taught. However, the rise of Nazi Germany, interested in opposing Britiain in the Middle East, and the  Arab Revolt in Palestine, gave the Muslim Brotherhood it's big chance. For Al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Jewish presence in Palestine was another Westernizing colonialist influence that had to be stopped simply because it was Western. Al Banna formed a tactical and ideological alliance with the Nazis as well as with Hajj Amin al Hussayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a Nazi sympathizer who coopted the leadership of the Palestinian Arab uprising. By 1938,  the Muslim Brotherhood boasted nearly 200,000 members, with fifty branches in Egypt alone, as well as numerous branches in Jordan and Palestine. The organization established mosques, schools, sport clubs, factories and a welfare service network. On the eve of World War II there were more than a half million active members registered in more than two thousand branches across the Arab world.

Muslim Brotherhood following World War II

The Brotherhood began to carry out major acts of violence in the 1940s, and was particularly active between 1945 and 1948. In one week in 1946, four violent attacks were directed at British occupation forces, wounding 128 people. Brotherhood members were put on trial and found guilty by judge Ahmed El-Khazindar. Eight months later, the judge was assassinated by two Brotherhood members.

As tensions rose in Palestine, in 1947 and 1948, Jewish-owned businesses in Cairo were bombed by the Brotherhood. When Egypt invaded the newly formed state of Israel, the invasion was spearheaded by Muslim Brotherhood volunteers, who apparently coordinated to some extent with the Egyptian army. Following the failure of the war, the Brotherhood grew increasingly strident in criticizing the government. On  December 18, 1948, Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Noqrashi (Noqrashi Pasha) dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood on the grounds that it had secretly plotted to overthrow the monarchy. Twenty days later, a young Muslim Brotherhood member assassinatied Noqrashi inside the Interior Ministry building.

Al-Banna tried to dissociate himself from the assassination, asserting or pretending that he had  lost control over the group's paramilitary wing. He declared that those who had carried out the assassination were "neither brothers nor Muslims". Nonetheless, al-Banna was assassinated by Egyptian government agents on February 12, 1949.

Noqrashi's successor, Ibrahim Abdel-Hadi, dealt harshly with the Brotherhood, putting large numbers of them behind bars. By the time his cabinet fell in July 1949, 4,000 Brotherhood members were in detention.

The Egyptian government, however, found it convenient to try to accommodate the Brotherhood. A court exonerated the Brotherhood on the charge of plotting to overthrow the monarchy. On April 30, 1951, the ban on the group was rescinded after the radical Wafd Party won the elections. The Muslim Brotherhood cooperated with the young officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, who overthrew King Farouk of Egypt, but soon fell out with the Pan Arab nationalists. A decree dissolving political parties in January 1953 did not cover the Brotherhood as it was not a political party. But a year later, the decree was invoked against the Brotherhood by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser who ordered that the group be dissolved. The supreme guide, Hassan El-Hodeibi was arrested, along with other leaders and members.

On 26 October 1954, a gunman fired bullets at Nasser as he delivered a speech in Manshiya Square in Alexandria. The government blamed the Brotherhood. Thousands of its members were rounded up and some were put on trial. Of these, six were sentenced to death and seven others were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Muslim Brotherhood under Sayyid Qutb

Following his return from the United States in 1951, Sayyid Qutb gradually assumed ideological leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood  Qutb developed and refined al-Banna's ideology. While the idea that Muslim rule had to be extended to the west may have been implicit in Banna's beliefs, Qutb made it far more explicit. He was also more strident in his calls to abrogate all Muslim jurisprudence and return to a somewhat hypothetical pristine state of Islam that existed in the very first years. Qutb's struggle was no longer against colonial oppression, but against the rule of man. He decreed that all governments that did not follow his ideology were in a state of Jahiliya, the darkness and ignorance that according to Islam, pervaded the Arabian peninsula before the advent of Islam. He systematized opposition to current Muslim regimes by proclaiming that all rule of man is oppression. Man can only be free, according to Qutb, by returning to a society where laws are extracted directly from the word of God as explained in the Quran.

Qutb also originated or expanded upon the idea and practice of Takfir, branding other Muslims, and particularly state regimes, as infidels, and thus legitimizing Jihad against the Muslim states. The popularity of this idea may have been encouraged by the suffering of the group at the hands of the Nasserist regime.

In August of 1965, Nasser charged that the Brotherhood had set up an armed organisation to seize power by force and another wave of arrests followed. Hundreds of members were rounded up.

In 1966 three Brotherhood leaders - Sayed Qotb, Youssef Hawwash and Abdel-Fattah Ismail - were sentenced to death and executed for plotting against Nasser. More than 100 others were condemned to various prison terms.

Muslim Brotherhood Since Qutb

Following Nasser's death in 1970 and Anwar As-Sadat's rise to power, jailed Brotherhood members were released. Groups began to splinter off from the Muslim Brotherhood. The Al-Takfir Wal Hijra - a group that views society as infidel and advocates withdrawal from it announced its appearance by kidnapping and killing a cabinet minister and launching an attack on the Technical Military Academy.

The mainstream Muslim Brotherhood reached a modus vivendi by renouncin violence. It remained illegal, it was tolerated by the government and, in some cases, even encouraged as a counter-balance to leftist forces whom Sadat considered the main threat to his regime.

In 1976, the group was allowed to publish a monthly magazine, Al-Dawa, which continued to appear until it was shut down by Sadat shortly before his assassination in October 1981.

In 1981, members of another offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad assassinated Egyptian President Anwar as Sadat. The assassination was followed by widespread suppression of the group.

The Brotherhood turned away from violence at least officially. It is unclear whether this renunciation refers only to a commitment to use democratic methods in Egypt, or whether the Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence in general. The Muslim Brotherhood became more active in civil society, winning control of several student unions and professional syndicates, and contesting parliamentary elections under stand-in party names. It is now the single largest opposition group in the Egyptian parliament. 

Muslim Brotherhood and Jihad

A basic tenet of the movement is holy war, Jihad in the sense of Jihad bis Seif, struggle by the sword. Jihad means "struggle" literally, and refers to a holy struggle or holy war.  Some Muslims believe that it refers primarily to an inner spiritual struggle. Others believe that Jihad in the sense of war should be waged only against idolators or only against those who threaten Islam. Al-Banna however, was quite explicit in stating that Jihad was to be waged as a holy duty ("fard") to subdue any society that did not submit to Islam. (For al-Banna's definition of Jihad, see the article on Jihad). Likewise Sayyed Qutb was explicit that Jihad was not a defensive war, but a staged struggle to "liberate" all mankind:

The second aspect of this religion is that it is a practical movement which progresses stage by stage, and at every stage it provides resources according to the practical needs of the situation and prepares the ground for the next one. It does not face practical problems with abstract theories, nor does it confront various stages with unchangeable means. Those who talk about Jihaad in Islam and quote Qur'anic verses do not take into account this aspect, nor do they understand the nature of the various stages through which this movement develops, or the relationship of the verses revealed at various occasions with each stage. Thus, when they speak about Jihaad, they speak clumsily and mix up the various stages, distorting the whole concept of Jihaad and deriving from the Qur'anic verses final principles and generalities for which there is no justification. This is because they regard every verse of the Qur'an as if it were the final principle of this religion. This group of thinkers, who are a product of the sorry state of the present Muslim generation, have nothing but the label of Islam and have laid down their spiritual and rational arms in defeat. They say, "Islam has prescribed only defensive war"! and think that they have done some good for their religion by depriving it of its method, which is to abolish all injustice from the earth, to bring people to the worship of God alone, and to bring them out of servitude to others into the servants of the Lord . Islam does not force people to accept its belief, but it wants to provide a free environment in which they will have the choice of beliefs. What it wants is to abolish those oppressive political systems under which people are prevented from expressing their freedom to choose whatever beliefs they want, and after that it gives them complete freedom to decide whether they will accept Islam or not.


When writers with defeatist and apologetic mentalities write about "Jihaad in Islam," trying to remove this 'blot' from Islam, then they are mixing up two things: first, that this f religion forbids the imposition of its belief by force, as is clear from the verse, "There is no compulsion in religion"(2:256), while on the other hand it tries to annihilate all those political and material powers which stand between people and Islam, which force one people to bow before another people and prevent them from accepting the sovereignty of God. These two principles have no relation to one another nor is there room to mix them. In spite of this, these defeatist-type people try to mix the two aspects and want to confine Jihaad to what today is called 'defensive war'. The Islamic Jihaad has no relationship to modern warfare, either in its causes or in the way in which it is conducted.


This religion is not merely a declaration of the freedom of the Arabs, nor is its message confined to the Arabs. It addresses itself to the whole of mankind, and its sphere of work is the whole earth. God is the Sustainer not merely of the Arabs, nor is His providence limited to those who believe in the faith of Islam. God is the Sustainer of the whole world. This religion wants to bring back the whole world to its Sustainer and free it from servitude to anyone other than God. In the sight of Islam, the real servitude is following laws devised by someone, and this is that servitude which in Islam is reserved for God alone. Anyone who serves someone other than God in this sense is outside God's religion, although he may claim to profess this religion. The Prophet- peace be on him - clearly stated that, according to the Shari'ah, 'to obey' is 'to worship'. Taking this meaning of worship, when the Jews and Christians 'disobeyed' God, they became like those who 'associate others with God'.... (Qutb, Sayyed, Milestones, Chapter 4)

Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood

Various organizations with the same or similar ideology have been called Ikhwan, Gama'a al Islamiyeh, al Jihad  and many other titles. It is difficult to determine the degree to which any "Jihadi"  group is independent, and it is probably that most Sunni Jihadist groups are related to the original brotherhood in some way. As the Muslim Brotherhood home page explains:

Al-Ikhwan has branches in over 70 countries all over the world. The movement is flexible enough to allow working under the "Ikhwan" name, under other names, or working according to every country's circumstances. (Source: Mulsim Brotherhood home page)

Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood and its derivatives have branched out to numerous countries, in some cases transmuting to a slightly different, generally more virulent ideology.  It had a very strong representation in Gaza. Yasser Arafat sprang from a family background in the e Ikhwan of Gaza and more importantly, the Hamas was founded by breakaway Palestinian members of the Ikhwan. The principle innovation of the Hamas was the focus of Jihadist ideology on Palestine.

The Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) is in one way or another responsible for most of the Sunni terrorist fundamentalist groups. "New" groups formed either when the original group was suppressed and it was necessary to take another name, or because of personal difference or minor or major differences in tactics or theology, or by merger with other similar groups. The most famous such group today is probably Al-Qaeda, which resulted from a merger of Osama Bin Laden's followers with those of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood activist Ayman Zawahiri and other groups.

It is difficult to understand the internal organization of each group or the relations between them. Groups and terrorist actions may in some cases be directly traceable to a central group such as Al Qaeda, or they may be derivative organizations or actions such as bombings may apparently be "inspired" by Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Qaeda teachings. As noted, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Group had adopted a cellular organization at one time. The home page of the Muslim Brotherhood Ikhwan group states the following under the heading "Organization:"


Al-Ikhwan has branches in over 70 countries all over the world. The movement is flexible enough to allow working under the "Ikhwan" name, under other names, or working according to every country's circumstances. However, all Ikhwan groups, in all countries are characterized by the following with respect to their method [3]:
1- Following the Salaf: Rejecting any action or principle which contradicts the Quran or Sunna, and inviting people to nothing but them both.
2- Establishing the Sunna: Working -as much as possible- to spread the Sunna in every aspect of life.
3- Increasing the Iman: By concentrating on the purity of hearts, loving Muslims in the sake of Allah, and remembrance (plus being away of any Sufi mistakes).
4- Political Activism: By putting political programs for "Islamising" government in different countries (after realistic studies), and establishing these programs thru the convenient ways which do not conflict with Islam.
5- Stressing Physical Health: By forming sports clubs and committing members to regular exercises.
6- Enriching Scientific Study: By enhancing the knowledge of members and others about Islam. Members with "Shari'a" major have special study programs.
7- Establishing a Sound Economic Infrastructure: By supporting and/or sponsoring any Islamic project and facing its "fiqh" problems. By the way, the ONLY accepted source of money to the Ikhwan is its members' OWN money [3]. .
8- Fostering Social ties: By maintaining brotherhood links among the members of the Islamic society.
What is noteworthy of the above is that it gives almost no hint of organization, but is rather a potpourri of percepts and goals and principles. Despite the bolded text, it is likely that Muslim Brotherhood funding has come from supporters in Saudi Arabia and the United States. The Holy Land Foundation was apparently established to finance terror.

Wikipedia gives an organizational scheme for the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is evidently only derived from a description of organization of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States. From evidence released in the Holy Land foundation trial, it appears that the different groups adopt different methods suited to each country in which they are formed, but with essentially the same goals (see here). The organizational relations between these different groups are unclear.

Goals of the Muslim Brotherhood

The goals of the Muslim brotherhood are set forth in the "home page" of the group:

Main objectives

A huge tree of "sub-goals" branches from these main objectives which are derived from the Quran and the tradition of the prophet (pbuh) [3,4]:
1- Building the Muslim individual: brother or sister with a strong body, high manners, cultured thought, ability to earn, strong faith, correct worship, conscious of time, of benefit to others, organized, and self-struggling character [3].
2- Building the Muslim family: choosing a good wife (husband), educating children Islamicaly, and inviting other families.
3- Building the Muslim society (thru building individuals and families) and addressing the problems of the society realistically. .
4- Building the Muslim state.
- Building the Khilafa (basically a shape of unity between the Islamic states).
6- Mastering the world with Islam.

It should be pointed out that the "home page" notes that the person who prepared it is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore the information may not be authoritative. It cites two sources:

[3] "The Messages of Al-Imam-u-shaheed", Hassan Al-Banna.

[4] "An introduction to the Da'wa of Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimoon", Saiid Hawwa.

Muslim Brotherhood in North America

 The Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood have also been established in North America since the 1960s. A document published by them explained:

“The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions. (Source: United States of America v. Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development et al, No. 3:04-CR-240-G, United States District Court for the Northern Division of Texas, Dallas Division, Gov't exhibit: Government Exhibit 003-0085; 3:04-CR-240-G; U.S. v. HLF, et al. p.21. Cited herere ) .

The above document came to light as evidence in the case of the Holy Land Foundation. Among other institutions, the Ikhwan in the United States founded the Muslim Students Union and the Muslim Students Association, which spread their ideology and apparently engaged in underground activities under the cover of innocent activities such as civil rights groups and charitable foundation.

Moderation in the Muslim Brotherhood

Since about 1970, the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt has professed to have become "democratic," seeking to take power in Egypt through free elections, education and political work.  A splinter group formed or reformed the Gamaa al Islamiya (originally a group founded by Mawdoodi), and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, supposedly recruited "spontaneously" from a loose aggregation of university students and other individuals which continued to support violence. The Gamaa al Islamiya itself supposedly renounced violence in 1997, apparently as a result of a deal struck with the Egyptian government. The group would renounce terror, in return for a massive release of its jailed members.

Though the Muslim Brotherhood party is outlawed, candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood have gained considerable representation (about 20%) in the Egyptian parliament, even though elections are heavily rigged in favor of the governing party. The announced philosophy of action of the "New faction" of Muslim Brotherhood itself at this time is that violent or "democratic" overthrow of an Arab government must be preceded by intensive Islamic education. They also court dialogue with the west, which is opposed by the "old" faction.

There is no agreement as to whether the renunciation of violence by Muslim Brotherhood groups is permanent and sincere or a tactic that was adopted due to exigencies of government repression. It is not clear either if this renunciation is a general renunciation of violence, or whether it limited to taking power in Egypt by democratic means, after which Islam must be spread by violent Jihad.  There is also disagreement about the relation between different offshoots of the brotherhood. There has been, over time, a progressive process in which older groups assume non-violent means either in reality or professedly,  and new groups are formed from members and leaders of the older groups, which are more violent. Thus, the Ikhwan Muslim brotherhood became professedly non-violent in the 1970s, spawning the al Jihad or Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Gama'a Islamiyeh of  the blind Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman. In turn, when the Gama'a Islamiyeh renounced violence in 1997, a part of its members joined other groups to form Al-Qaeda. All these groups apparently believe in imposition of a Sha'aria state and Muslim world dominion as an end goal, and in education toward this goal, but some profess non-violent and democratic means, others are committed to violence against the west and Israel, and others are committed to violence against "non-believing" or "hypocritical" (takfiri) Muslims as well. 

Ami Isseroff

Updated December 17, 2008


 Politics in God's Name (Al Ahram Weekly, 247, 16-22 November, 1995)

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: See Qutb, Sayyid  History of Islam and the Arabs Jihad Islamism Al-Banna, Hassan

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