World Bulletin / News Desk
Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was the founder behind the construction of the most influential social movement not only in Egypt but also in the Arab world throughout the 20th century
Born in 1906, al Banna was the son of a local religious leader, and attended Dar al-ʿUlum, Egypt's first modern institute of higher learning, where he was trained as a teacher. In 1928, he founded the Society of the Muslim Brothers (al-ikhwan al-muslimun), considered the oldest organization of Political Islam.
Starting from an early age Banna was constantly bothered by the troubles of the Ummah and sought solutions that would end the suffrage. He was greatly disturbed by the declining Islamic morals in Egyptian society and the disunity of the Muslims. Banna was greatly disappointed by the end of Caliphate in Turkey and blamed western influence. Thus most if his ideas were centred about the unity of the Ummah under one state and community.
Banna developed most of his ideas in early years of his life. He was greatly influenced by Rashid Rida and a dedicated reader and a follower of Rida’s magazine, Al-Manar. Like Rida, he argued about the decline of Islam in the Middle East. He was mostly disappointed with rise of secularism, westernization of Egyptian society and the breakdown of traditional Islamic morals in British controlled Egypt.
His work with the Brotherhood began in Ismailia where he gave lectures in coffee shops, though he had been a member of various Islamic social and moral improvement organizations since childhood.
Through Islam, Al-Banna taught his companions to seek answers through local and indigenous moral, social, religious and political intellectual resources. His aim was to inspire them to imbibe and live up to Islam's morals and laws as the answer to the ways of the colonials.
Banna formed Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, as a response and a protest to the declining state of Islam. He argued that the decline of Islam was due to the ineffective teachings of the scholars and their failure to preserve Islam in its purest state. Ihkwan included both political and social aspects. Banna Ikhwan was a salafi movement, a Sunni path, Sufi truth, a political organization and social idea.
The organization was formed with six other people. Banna started the organization as a youth club by preaching at coffee house. Brotherhood gained much popularity in 1930s and extended its activities around Egypt. He established branches all over Egypt and formed the headquarters in Cairo. By 1936 the Ikhwan had around 800 members, and by 1938 it had over 200,000 members with 50 branches in Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood opened branches in Palestine and Jordan as well. The organization established mosques, schools, clubs, factories and welfares. By the end of 1930s brotherhood stretched throughout the Middle East and had more than half a million active members. In less than twenty years Muslim Brotherhood became a huge political entity. Banna attempted to run for parliament twice however he was pressured to withdraw in both attempts. During the 1942 elections government agreed to take action against alcohol consumption and prostitution upon Banna’s withdrawal from the elections.
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Banna with the growth of the organization opened a new branch within the Muslim Brotherhood; El-Nizam el-Hass. This new branch was found in 1940 to defend the Muslims against the Zionist movement in Palestine as well as the British occupation of Suez Canal. The new branch was developed underground to train soldiers for Jihad. During the Arab Revolt in Palestine, Banna sent troops to Jerusalem to fight against Jews. Brotherhood actively engaged in Islamic conflicts such as Algerian War of Independence, as well as recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Kashmir and the Arab Spring.
Banna throughout his life fought for two things; the unity of Ummah and independence of Muslim land from foreign authority. Growing support for the Ikhwan was a threat to both Khedive Farouk and the British. Both powers were specially disturbed by Ikhwan’s branch in Palestine, as they were a major threat to the declining popularity of Egyptian government. Prime Minister Mahmoud an-Nukrashi, fearing a coup disbanded the organization in December 1948, confiscated the funds and imprisoned most of its members. Twenty days later Nukrasi Pahsa was shot by a member of Muslim Brotherhood. Banna immediately declared that the organization was not behind the assassination act and the one who committed the crime was "neither brothers nor Muslims".
On February 12, 1949 Banna was shot by two assassins and deliberately left to bleed to death. Banna was buried by few women since men were not allowed join the funeral. He is remembered for rendering the theological and legal works of ‘Abduh, Rida and others into a practical approach to modern life which was embraced in Egypt by people of all classes, and globally by many other seeking change in their own societies. This not only challenged secular nationalist discourses, but also provided a powerful alternative to existing traditional religious narratives. Last but least, al-Banna’s articulation of Islam significantly transformed in the years and decades following his death, both among Brotherhood ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb, and among Islamists outside of Egypt.
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