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HASAN AL BANNA (1906-1949), founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and author of Majmu’at al-rasa’il (Letters) and Mudhakkirat al-da`wah wa-al-da` iyah (Memories of the Message and the Messenger). Born in Mahmudiyah near Alexandria, Egypt, Banna’, from his youth onward, took part in the Hasafiyah Sufi brotherhood with his friend Ahmad al-Sukkari. After attending the Damanhur teachers’ training college from 1923 to 1927, he went to the Dar al-`Ulum in Cairo, founded by Muhammad `Abduh (d. 19o5) and made famous by Muhammad Rashid Rida, who taught there until his death in 1935. By his own account, Banna’ read Spengler, Spencer, and Toynbee while a student there. In September 1927, he began teaching primary school in Isma’iliyah. There, he continued to be a correspondent of the Cairo Muslim Youth magazine Al fath (The Beginning) and pursued his relationship with Rida’s Maktabah Salafiyah (Fundamentalist Library) group and with his scholarly journal Al-mandr (The Lighthouse), which Banna’ took over from 1939 to 1941.

Political Activities. In Isma’iliyah in March 1928, Banna’ and six friends founded a “religious association devoted to the promotion of good and the rooting-out of evil,” a branch of the Hasafiyah (perhaps until 1933). By 1929, the organization was already being referred to as the “Muslim Brotherhood” (Jam’iyat al-Ikhwan alMuslimun) in the semi-official Al-ahram newspaper, where a photograph of the group was shown. Banna’ received donations, in particular five hundred books from the Suez Canal Company, which had its headquarters in Isma’iliyah, and he obtained permission to build offices and a mosque for the Muslim Brotherhood. The growth of the movement, which moved its base to Cairo in 1933, was rapid, numbering four branches in 1929, fifteen in 1932, three hundred in 1938, and eventually two thousand branches in 1948, according to its own journals. In 1945, Banna’ made mention of a half million “active members” in Egypt. There were also branches in Palestine, Sudan, Iraq, and Syria beginning in the period of 1946 to 1948. By 1930, the organization of the movement had been established by Banna’, and it was publicized in 1933, confirmed at the Third Congress in 1935, and codified in a “Fundamental Law” at the Eighth Congress in 1945. Banna’ was the author of the law, which conferred absolute personal authority on him. The “oath of obedience” of the active member, according to this law, stipulates “absolute trust in the leader and total obedience in all circumstances, good or ill.

In 1933, Banna’ transformed the Muslim Brotherhood into a political movement, excluding nonpolitical elements, but he kept the title of murshid (“guide”). He chose from twelve to twenty members to be his personal assistants, who made up the organization’s governing body. Decisions made by the executive committee required unanimity, and Banna’ alone had final decision making power. Parallel to the organization defined by these statutes was a Special Organization (al-Tanzim al-Khass), referred to outside of the brotherhood as a “secret organization” or “military machine.” This body answered directly to Banna’s authority at first, but perhaps as early as 1938 it was controlled by Salih `Ashmawi, an activist who became increasingly autonomous and who was even to maintain contact with the 1939 secessionist group Muhammadan Youth (Shabab Muhammad) whose journal Al-nadhir (The Warner) belonged to him. The armed units of this Special Organization demonstrated their ability and their stock of weaponry when they took part in the Arab revolt in Palestine in 1936, and later in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949

From 1944 to 1948, the armed units of the Muslim Brotherhood were the same as the Secret Organization of the Free Officers commanded by Gamal Abdel Nasser within the army, according to the account of Hasan al-`Ashmawi in Al-ikhwan wa-al-thawrah (The Brotherhood and the Revolution, Cairo, 1977). Anwar el-Sadat met Banna’ in 1940, and Nasser and Banna’ had contact in 1944, thanks to Sadat and to the Free Officer Muslim Brother Kamal al-Din Husayn. In 1948, the two secret armed organizations of the Muslim Brothers and the Free Officers separated, but they continued to cooperate. Banna’s “Letter of Teachings” (c. 1943) explicitly addresses the “fighting” brothers, ranked fourth after the assistant brothers, the affiliated brothers, and the active brothers.

All developments in Egypt, especially from 1940 to 1952, were necessarily affected, in one way or another, by Banna’, who was wooed by the government from 1933 to 1941 and from 1945 to 1948. Between 1941 and 1945, and from 1948 until his assassination in February 1949, he was active in the underground movement. In order to explain this success of the “idea,” as Banna’ called it, one must take into account the fact that after the euphoria in Egypt of the 1920s, the 1930s were marked by deep disappointment. The formal independence of Egypt that was declared in 1922 and the 1923 constitution were both attributable to the Wafd party, a popular movement born in 1919 during nationalist demonstrations and riots; both were eroded by the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty that confirmed Egyptian dependence. From that time onward, the Wafd party increasingly lost its credibility and popularity. The enthronement of the young King Faruq in 1937 gave Banna’ the opportunity to acclaim him enthusiastically, in hopes of being able to manage him and to replace the Wafd party with the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1939, Banna’ stated that he was both separate from and yet close to the Muslim Youth and Young Egypt (Misr al-Fatah; the future Socialist party), from which Nasser and several Free Officers were later to emerge. During these years he was courted by King Faruq as well as Mustafa al-Maraghi, head of the Islamic university al-Azhar, who wished him to compete with parliament and the political parties, especially the Wafd party.

World War II brought about further internal conflicts. In addition to Egyptian neutrality as provided for in the 1936 treaty, in 1942 Great Britain demanded general support for the Wafdist government that it had installed in February of that year. The Wafd party found itself discredited by Egyptian political public opinion and was harshly criticized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Banna’, who was a personal friend of the respected Arab Muslim nationalist `Aziz al-Misri, like all the members of the Egyptian nationalist movement, felt sympathies for the Nazis and fascists, Britain’s enemies. However, his politics were inconsistent, and he was criticized by the political parties on that account. At the beginning of the war, he relied on the support of King Faruq and his prime minister `Ali Mahir. When the king was forced to submit to British authority in 1941-1942, Banna’ found himself harassed and even incarcerated briefly in Cairo in 1941, and again in 1945. This did not, however, prevent him from maintaining close contact during these years with the government. During the 1930s and 1940s, he founded Muslim schools and started a publishing house, which put out the newspaper Al-ikhwan al-muslimun from 1933 to 1938 and from 1942 to December 1948, as well as the weekly Al-ta’aruf (Knowledge) from 1940 to 1942. In addition, it published Almanar, inherited from Rashid Rida, from 1939 to 1941. In these publications, Banna’ argued against the Christian schools of the missionaries.

In his letter to the Fifth Congress of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1939, Banna’ was already advising the king to dissolve the parties and to form a “People’s Union” that would “work for the good of the nation in conformity with the principles of Islam.” In 1945, he again made this suggestion and refused to join with the Wafd party as his friend Sukkari had suggested. Sukkar-1 then broke with him and censured him for his nepotism, particularly for enriching his uncle `Abidin. Sukkari left the Muslim Brotherhood in 1947. Rather than coinciding precisely with the Muslim Brotherhood, the People’s Union was to form its own nucleus. Banna’ reassured the king and the British that there was no threat of military action by the Muslim Brotherhood against the government.

Banna’s movement, which had weakened in the 1940s, faltered. He withdrew from the 1943 elections in favor of the Wafd party, and having lost the king’s support, suffered an outright defeat in the 1945 elections. Nevertheless, in 1946 the Muslim Brotherhood’s militia (scouts and the Special Organization) served to back up demonstrations in favor of the king against the “blue shirts” of the Wafd and even against the “green shirts” of Young Egypt. In the same year, the Muslim Brotherhood organized student demonstrations and independent workers’ strikes.

A crisis with the government developed in 1948, after Banna’ tried in vain, apparently with secret help from the British embassy, to regain the favor of the king and Prime Minister Nuqrashi Pasha, who were unpopular.

The volunteer units of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestine-Israel war of 1947-1948 were compelled to become part of the Egyptian army and to observe the ceasefire against their will. Although Banna’ submitted, not all of the fighting members of the Muslim Brotherhood followed him. They kept their weapons, and under the leadership of Shaykh Faraghli they withdrew to the Suez Canal until 1952, with the intention of guerrilla warfare against the British. Faced with the Wafd party and the Socialist party (formerly Young Egypt) in 1948, Banna’ even allied himself with the Communist groups, participating in demonstrations and writing tracts against the British and the government, but not the king.

The assassination on 22 March 1948 of a judge by a young Muslim Brother seems to have been completely independent of Banna’s authority. In November 1948, a large student demonstration of brotherhood members ended in the death of two British officers, and a jeep loaded with explosives and weapons on its way to brotherhood members was intercepted in Cairo. A military decree dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood on 6 December 1948. On 28 December, Prime Minister Nuqrashi, who had issued the decree, was assassinated by a student affiliated with the brotherhood. Banna’ denied responsibility for any of these actions in three papers that were only printed after his death. These were: Al-qawl al -fasl (The Conclusive Word), Al-bayan (Declaration), and Laysu ikhwdnan wa-laysu mushmin (They Are Neither Brothers Nor Muslims). The secret police assassinated Banna’ in the street on 12 February 1949. The funeral ceremonies took place under heavy military escort and without a procession. The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood was regarded as a martyr, and a 1951 trial found him innocent of the criminal actions of 1948.

Replacing Banna’ was to prove difficult, for the movement, still secret in 1951, was moving in three different directions. One school of thought, that of the Banna’ family (expressed in Banna’s son-in-law Said Ramadan’s journal, Al-muslimun), was moderate and loyal to the reformist wait-and-see policy of the majority of Banna’s writings. Another more activist and combative group was led by Salih `Ashmawi, who was Banna’s de facto successor in the underground movement and who in 1951 started the publication Al-da’wah (The Call). The third branch saw itself as moderate and was led by Shaykh Baquri (a future minister in Nasser’s government) and Kamal al-Din Husayn, the Free Officer. The new guide of the Muslim Brothers, Hasan al-Hudaybi, appointed in 1951 after the relegalization of the movement, represented the moderate tendency.

Sayyid Qutb, who officially rejoined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1951, was to inspire extremist groups from the 1970s to the 1990s. The ideologue of the Islamic Jihad Organization, Muhammad `Abd al-Salam Faraj, in his 1981 tract The Missing Precept (Al faridah al-ghaybah), deemed Banna’ and the Muslim Brotherhood to have compromised with “the pagan power” and become an enemy of the “minority of activist believers.” However, the brotherhood’s traditional adversaries mistakenly believed that violent extremism was contained in letters written by Banna’ himself, in particular the “Letter of the Jihad” and the “Letter of Teachings,” and that his disavowal of the 1948 crimes was only tactical. Nasser and his associates, who were at first respectful of Banna’ and his memory, after 1954 wrongfully imputed the 1945 assassination of Prime Minister Ahmad Mahir to him. The beliefs held about Banna’ and his movement by Nasser and his circle were often echoed in general works on contemporary Egypt.

Ideas and Philosophy. Two main themes dominate Banna’s doctrine, aside from his traditional dogmatic beliefs concerning faith in a single God and in his book as revealed to the Prophet. Four terms dominated his discourse-nation, state, social justice, and society. If we add the qualifier “Islamic” to these four terms, we will have characterized Banna’s “idea,” the key to which is the view of Islam as a comprehensive system of life. According to Banna’, it was this conviction, this intimate and illuminating discovery in the face of Western intrusions, which specifically defined the Muslim Brotherhood as an active political movement. The slogans that the Muslim Brotherhood took up from Banna’ were: “The Qur’an is our Constitution,” “No other Constitution but the Qur’an,” and “The Qur’an is our Law and Muhammad is our model.” And yet, an analysis of existing trends in the Islamic world shows Banna’ as accommodating and much more “westernized” than he would have acknowledged.

Banna’ rejected the movement for secularization begun in the nineteenth century, and also the secular Arab nationalism mapped out by Sati` al-Husri (d. 1968) in the 1920s and systematized by Michel `Aflaq (d. 1989) in Damascus in the 1940s. `Aflaq launched the secret Arab Bath (“Renaissance”) party in 1941 and founded it publicly in 1947, explaining that “Islam is the soul; Arabism is the body.” For Banna’, however, “The Arabs are the backbone of Islam, and its guardians. The Muslim Brotherhood speaks about Arabism in the same terms as the Prophet. In effect, just as Islam is a faith and a religion, it is also a country and a citizenship that erases differences of background between men: `The faithful are brothers.’ Thus Islam knows no geographical frontiers, nor `racial or civic differentiations’ ” (“Letter to the Fifth Congress”). Banna’ considered all Muslims to exist in a sole ummah (nation-community) and felt that the Muslim country is one country, no matter how physically distant its provinces might be. He did not hesitate to condemn expressly modern nationalism, especially European fascism or Nazism.

On the subject of war, or “combat for God,” Banna’s texts do not demonstrate that he preached terrorist violence. However, he asserted that war was an obligation at the time that Egyptians faced British colonial power. He interpreted the jihad tradition by making it a present-day individual obligation (fard `ayn) for all, rather than a collective obligation (fard kifayah) in which some could represent the whole. To the “fighting” brothers, the elite that was militarily trained and armed, Banna’ explained the stages of combat, especially that to which those who are part of the “first rank,” the Special Organization, are normally called. The fact that they went to fight in Palestine and then, against Banna’s decision, in the Suez Canal Zone against the British, was according to “the engagement that the first line of Muslim Brothers undertook on the 5 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1359 [13 April 1940]” (“Letter of Teachings”).

Finally, Banna’ advocated certain major principles of Islamic social justice. These were to be expanded on and specified, in the 1950s, by the socialist-leaning branch of Banna’s disciples. This group included Qutb, Muhammad al-Ghazali, `Abd al-Qadir `Awdah, and especially the Syrian Mustafa Siba`i, who were part of the pro-Nasser segment of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1952-1953 and later. Banna’ envisioned a radical Islamic reform of the Egyptian economic and social situation. Out of zakat (“alms”), one of the pillars of Islam, Banna’ constructed a rigorous fiscal system: “Islam consecrates the zakdt entirely to social expenses. This is used to help the insolvent and the destitute, which all the best sentiments in the world could not do. Thus we must at all costs attend to establishing social taxes by stages, taking into account wealth and not profits. The poor, naturally, will be exempt. Taxes will only be levied on the rich, and will be used to raise the standard of living” (“Letter on Our Problems in Light of the Islamic System”). Banna’ also rejected the modern system of interest in banking, and he condemned bonds (at a fixed interest rate) but not stock dividends. He was firmly opposed to speculative interest, which he called ribs (usury).

An Islamic society will thus be a society of social justice, said Banna’, not through righteous thinking and good works alone, but through institutions, the intervention of the state, and taxes on income and wealth, including progressive taxation. This interpretation is not explicitly traditional; it reflects a modernist and quasi socialist reading of the Qur’an and the hadiths. But this theoretical reflection was the product of the daily concrete experience of a man of the people who traversed Egypt for almost twenty years, and who knew his countrymen better than many liberal or Marxist Egyptian intellectuals. We have as evidence this extract from a text serving as the Muslim Brotherhood’s political program in 1943: “Remember, brothers, that more than 6o percent of Egyptians live in conditions worse than those in which animals live; they can only get their food by breaking their backs. Egypt is threatened with deadly famine, exposed to economic problems which have no solutions except through God” (“Letter on From Yesterday to Today”).

As to Islamic criminal law, in particular the hudud (Qur’anically prescribed penalties), Banna’ advocated its application only on the condition that an Islamic society with social justice was established, with appropriate legal interpretations required by present and future situations. The Muslim Brothers of the 1980s, in particular in Sudan, were disloyal to Banna’ in this regard and inverted his priorities. However, it is true that Banna’ wanted to see the implementation of all the Qur’anic laws in the proper circumstances.

[See also Egypt; and Muslim Brotherhood.]


Carre, Olivier, and Gerard Michaud. Les Freres Musulmans, 19281982. Paris, 1983.

Delanoue, Gilbert. “Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 3, pp. 1068-1071. Leiden, 1960-.

Harris, Christina. Nationalism and Revolution in Egypt: The Role of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Hague, 1964. Informative, in particular on the connections between al-Banna’ and the Free Officers. Husayni, Ishaq Musa al-. The Moslem Brethren. Beirut, 1956. Detailed information on Banna’ and his relations and actions throughout the Arab East.

Imam, `Abd Allah. `Abd al-Nasir wa-al-Ikhwan (Nasser and the Brethren). Cairo, 1981. Well-documented, pro-Nasserist view.

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/banna-hasan-al/

  • writerPosted On: October 15, 2012
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