AL-BANNA, HASSAN (1906-49) (Religious Movement)

Founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin)

Hassan al-Banna whose writings and ideas have exercised a profound influence on radical Muslim thinking was born in 1906 in the small town of Damanhur about ninety miles from Cairo and received a traditional Islamic education. After training as a primary school teacher he later attended the prestigious Dar al-Ulum Teacher Training College in Cairo where he studied both western and Islamic subjects.

Al-Banna was himself greatly influenced by the strict, puritanical Islam taught by Hasanyn al-Hasafi (1848-1910) founder of the Hasafiyyah mystical brotherhood (tariqa) of which he himself was a member.

Al-Banna’s period of study in Cairo in the 1920s and his experience of city life in Ismailia where he was appointed to teach at a secondary school in 1927 convinced him that Egyptian culture was in grave danger of being completely detached from its Islamic foundations. He believed that the country itself was in the grip of a profound moral crisis which he likened to an unstoppable storm, and pointed to false notions of individual and intellectual freedom, ‘lewdness’ imported by Europeans in the form of ‘half naked women, liquor, theatres, dance halls, newspapers, novels and silly games’ among other things, as the main reasons for this crisis.

Even more troubling and dangerous than these imports, Al-Banna was convinced, were the schools and scientific and cultural institutes which Europeans had established in the centre of the Islamic world. He believed these cultural, educational, and scientific institutions would prove to be far more detrimental to Islamic society in the longer term than any military or political power that the outsider might use to control it.

Thus, Hassan Al-Banna came to see his life’s mission as the protection of Islamic society from the corrupting and corrosive influence of the non-Muslim and in particular western world, and as the transformation of Islamic society by a return to authentic Islam. For this purpose he set about establishing in 1928 the Muslim Brotherhood or (Ikhwan al-Muslimin). While over time this movement’s activities would become more diverse and political it initially placed most stress on Islamic education which it believed would be its most effective weapon. What was provided was a complete and rounded education. Schools were opened for both sexes to train people to live according to Islamic faith and practice. The academic curriculum was supplemented with the teaching of practical or vocational courses in some colleges to enable Muslims to sever their dependence on western aid and products. In essence AlBanna’s message was that Islam was a comprehensive, a total way of life and had no need to rely on the support of the non-Muslim world.

The Brotherhood became increasingly involved in politics in the 1930s organizing mass demonstrations in against British influence and its policies in Palestine, and offering support both humanitarian and military to the Palestinians. For their part, those in power in Egypt were also aware of the growing number of militants in the Brotherhood some of whom supported the use of violence.

Al Banna was sent to jail for a short period in 1941 for organizing a demonstration against the British. This did little to restrain him and after his release he continued his campaign thereby contributing to the political turmoil that marked the 1940s. The political agitation intensified and turned violent in Egypt with the creation of the state of Israel in 1947. In 1948 the Egyptian Prime Minister was assassinated by a member of the Brotherhood and the movement was banned. A year later in 1949 Al-Banna who had campaigned fiercely against the creation of the state of Israel was shot dead, most likely in retaliation for the assassination just mentioned. The influence of Al-Banna’s ideas has scarcely waned since his death and his message has continued to have a profound effect on the thinking of such militant Islamic reformers as Sayyid Qutb (see Qutb, Sayyid).

Next post:

Previous post: