Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

BooK: Ikhwanul Muslimoon: Tazkiya, Adab, Shahadat (Muslim Brotherhood: Self Purification, Literature, Martyrdom)
Author: Obaidullah Fahd Falahi
Publisher: Al-Qalam Publications, Baramulla, Kashmir
Year: 2011
Pages: 302
Price: Rs 210

Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimoon, or Muslim Brotherhood, is one of the oldest contemporary Islamic revivalist movements in the Muslim World. A number of works have been written about its birth, evolution, ideology and engagements. In most of these works, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been portrayed as a radical and fundamentalist movement and in certain cases as terrorist too. Some analysts have gone further and described MB as the ideological force behind various “Islamic” terrorist organisations.

It is a factual reality that MB witnessed many phases and during its initial decades few ideologues like Sayyid Qutb came forward with a radical interpretation of Islam that described the modern-day institutions and system as Jahiliyah, and made it obligatory on every Muslim to struggle for its removal and change. Sayyid Qutb had to pay a heavy price for his views and was sent to the gallows by the Egyptian regime under President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

MB had to bear the brunt of the Egyptian dictators and the Egyptian State and this continues till today.

The relationship between MB and the Egyptian State is an interesting subject for study and analysis. The recent violence against elected President from the MB, his government and MB cadres opens a new ground for research.

The present book under review by an academic and researcher on Islamic political movements doesn’t deal with these intriguing questions about MB. Rather, it is a collection of his papers which he wrote from time to time on various aspects of MB. It deals with the reasons behind the establishment of MB by Hasan Al-Banna in 1928 in Egypt and the various phases that it passed through including, the religious movement phase (1933-39), political phase in which MB took active part in politics (1939-45), and spreading and establishing branches in other countries (1945-48). Dr Fahad also describes the role of MB volunteers and cadres in the first Arab-Israel war of 1948 over Palestine as well as during the Suez Canal crisis in 1956.

He also covers the stance of MB vis-à-vis Egyptian State and the huge sacrifices offered by the MB cadres which surprises one with the fact that there still exist men and women who are ready to sacrifice everything for a noble cause and ideology. The jail seems to be the second home of every MB leader except its founder Hassan Al-Banna who was mercilessly assassinated in Cairo on 12 February, 1949 by the Egyptian secret service agents.

The incarceration and sacrifices that MB offered over the years during the dictatorships of Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak and now General Sisi in Egypt kept the flame of resistance burning and MB didn’t compromise on its ideals about the establishment of Islamic State as envisaged by its founder. These sacrifices and steadfastness made MB survive the brutal attacks of the Egyptian authoritarian regimes.

MB history inspires the reader and instills in him the love for an ideology and a cause that demands sacrifices.

Another chapter describes the amalgamation of Islamic Mysticism (Tasawwuf) and politics in MB. The cadres are inculcated the Islamic values and norms alongwith the love of Allah, the Prophets and People while being politically active is also considered as an act of worship by MB. MB believes that politics has an over-arching impact on lives of people and this field can’t be left at the mercy of sycophants and vested interests. They describe their indulgence in politics for welfare of the people and to enforce the code and conduct of the Qur’an on Muslim societies. MB trains its cadres while reinforcing the fact that coming to power is a long-drawn process. For the revolution to be successful, there must be an organisation of dedicated souls, otherwise no revolution can be materialised nor any Islamic State be established, though the strategy for establishing the Islamic State has changed from revolution to electoral process now.

Dr Fahad describes the atrocities that MB cadres had to go through particularly in Egypt and how there were orders for resistance but not for violence from MB leadership to its cadres. But Fahad fails to describe how the chief ideologue of MB Sayyid Qutb, the martyr, and his thoughts were sidelined by the MB after his death. They described his ideology as not being representative of MB and his followers were branded as “Qutbists” not Ikwanis. For the West and Muslims too Sayyid Qutb still remains the ideologue and the idealist face of MB. This subject should have been probed by the author.

The book breaks the myth of MB supporting terrorist activities or violence to achieve its goals. Time and again we witness MB leaders abhorring, condemning and criticising violence that, according to them, proves counter-productive in achieving their goals in Muslim societies. In contrast, MB supports use of violence against forces of occupation like Israel.

In some chapters, Dr Fahad describes the writings of MB leaders and its cadres that have acquired a definitive and unique status in the Muslim literary world, while being true to the spirit of Islam and the ideology of the Ikhwan. Most of the MB leaders were good writers and the emphasis on literary culture and reading made them pen down a lot of Islamic literature that has acquired a unique distinction in the literary accomplishment of Muslim revivalist movements.

Also there is a lot of information in this book about the organisational system and character-building of the cadres that includes both men and women, but Dr Fahad hasn’t given a description if there is any difference in the curriculum and organisational process among men and women inducted into MB.

The author has failed to include more ideological discussions about the concept of Islamic State of MB and the process of revolution. Such a discussion would certainly have added to its academic merit and conceptual luminosity. 

Despite these flaws the book is a must read for anyone interested in MB as the author has brought many issues lucidly forward that engross the reader to complete the book to its end. Overall the book is a nice addition to the Urdu literature about Islamic Revivalist Movements though the book predates the latest developments in Egypt which for the first time ushered in an MB government which was also overthrown by the army within a year. The struggle continues and the MB cadres have shown their dedication and perseverance in facing the military government without resorting to violence.

The reviewer is a writer-activist based in Srinagar

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2013 on page no. 21

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