This is the very question many people are asking about the Muslim Brotherhood following the Egyptian Revolution of January 25, 2011. While the world was enthralled by a peaceful youth movement to overthrow a corrupt regime, many feared then, and more fear now, that the aftermath will result in national leadership in the hands of Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some believe the Brotherhood will transform Egypt into a theocratic state as in Iran. Others believe the movement is largely moderate, compatible with a modern democratic state. Some Muslim Brothers speak of a return to a caliphate; others speak of human rights and religious freedom. Are some stuck in the past? Do others obscure their ultimate goals? Who are they, and what do they want?
Fortunately, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a booklet answering this very question. It is subtitled: Readings from the Letters of Imam Hasan al-Banna. Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and lived from 1906 until his assassination in 1949. Al-Banna was eager to put forth clearly his aims and understanding of Islam. He wrote:
For this reason I have wished to speak to you about the definition of Islam and its ideal picture in the souls of the Muslim Brothers, so that the foundations of which we call for, take pride in, and seek the expansion of, may be completely clear.
The booklet newly gathering his thoughts was published in April 2011, thus reflecting an effort, at least on the part of some Muslim Brothers, to make clear once again the principles of the group following the revolution. It was presented to the author of this text while attending ‘Tuesday Conversations’ at the Omar ibn al-‘As Mosque in Old Cairo. A helpful young member of the organization selected it from a wide variety of books made available at the entrance to the mosque. ‘Tuesday Conversations’ was a weekly public lecture conducted by al-Banna until it was forbidden by the government in 1948. General Guide Mohamed Badie re-launched the session under the slogan, “Listen to Us, not about Us.” This is fitting with al-Banna’s original desire to present a clear image of the Brotherhood.
The booklet is divided into two sections. The first is a general introduction to understanding the call of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the second is a more specific treatment of its definition, end, goals, means, etc. This text will provide summaries of each section which represent loose translations of the content. It will also provide direct quotes in italics, especially in areas that appear more provocative and need further explanation. The text will follow the outline provided by the booklet.
One caveat to present the reader before beginning: The Muslim Brotherhood is a flexible and evolutionary organization which has consistently changed with the times. That the information which follows is drawn from its founder and re-presented is a fair indication this vision still drives the organization. Yet it must be emphasized the current leadership may have moved on from certain statements or understandings its founder possessed, which were forged in the period of European colonialism. This can only be assessed through monitoring their statements and direct questioning in interviews, which will hopefully be possible in the days to come.
The Muslim Brotherhood is more than a political organization, though it includes this function as witnessed in the creation of its Freedom and Justice Party. Politicians of all stripes are accused of changing their statements to suit their audience, and Brotherhood politicians should not be excused from this suspicion. Yet as Mina Magdy, political affairs coordinator for the Maspero Youth Union, a largely Coptic Christian human rights organization which rejects cooperation with the Brotherhood, says,
They interact according to what people want to hear, and maybe some of them are sincere in their kind words. But we judge them according to their books, by what is written.
This text is an effort to present one example of what is written and distributed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Who are We, and What do We Want?
Part One – A General Introduction to Understanding the Call of the Muslim Brotherhood
1. Islam … As the Brothers Understand it
Many people misunderstand both Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. Some think of Islam as rules for worship and the provision of serenity in life. Others view it as a system of virtue and avoiding vice, while others think it is an inherited, backward tradition. As for the Brotherhood, some see it as a preaching organization for prosperity in this life and reminders of the next. Others view it as a Sufi organization promoting self-denial.
a) We believe Islam incorporates all things to organize life in this world and the next: Doctrine and worship, nation and nationality, religion and state, spirituality and work, and Quran and the sword.
b) We follow the Quran and the Sunna as practiced by the followers of Muhammad and those who followed them.
c) Islam organizes all of life for all peoples at all times.
In times past Islam came under the powers of the infidel world, so that it and its empire grew weaker and lost its meaning.
The theoretical part of our call is to show people clearly the pure Islam; the practical part is to ask them to carry it out. To this we will strive, calling people to the task, expending everything for its sake, so that we live nobly either in life or in death.
2. The Muslim’s Duty in Life, as the Muslim Brotherhood Understands it
The Quran is the measure by which we judge our call and our goals in life. It teaches that some people seek food or riches, or even to spread trouble and evil. But the Muslim’s goal is higher: It is to guide people to the good, giving them the light of Islam.
Therefore, the Quran has made Muslims to be the guardians for an incapable humanity, giving them the right of superintendence and sovereignty over the world. This is in service to our noble teachings and is our business, not that of the West; for the civilization of Islam, and not the civilization of materialism.
Muslims should expend themselves in sacrifice for this call, and not profit from it. As they do they create civilization, unlike Western imperialism, which promotes desires and cravings.
It is necessary we make this clear and specify it, and I think we have arrived to a place of clarity and agreed: Our duty is to have sovereignty over the world and to guide humanity to the good ways of Islam and its teachings, which alone can make a man happy.
3. The Muslim Brotherhood on the Path of its First Call
We call people along the same path Mohamed did, so that they maintain these three strong feelings:
a) Faith in the greatness of the message
b) Pride in belonging to it
c) Hope in the support of God in achieving it
Part Two – Getting to Know the Call of the Muslim Brotherhood
1. Essence of the Muslim Brotherhood
The essence of the Muslim Brotherhood is to explain carefully the call of the Quran in its entirety, in accordance with the modern age. We seek to win hearts and souls to the principles of the Quran, so that we may renew our heritage and bring all Islamic viewpoints closer together.
We seek to develop and liberate the national wealth, raising standards of living, achieving social justice and security for all citizens, combating ignorance, sickness, poverty, and vice.
We wish to liberate Egypt and all Arab and Islamic lands from foreign control. We will support Arab unity and the Islamic league.
We will establish a state which implements practically the regulations and teachings of Islam, protecting them domestically and publishing them abroad.
We will support global cooperation in protection of rights and freedoms, to promote peace in the balance between faith and the material world.
Muslim Brothers are:
- Strangers who seek reform among the corrupt
- A new mind to judge between right and wrong
- Callers for Islam and the Quran, connecting the earth with heaven
- Possessors of the noblest call, the greatest aim, the strongest foundation, the securest band, who have light for the way
The Muslim Brotherhood is:
- A Salafi call to return to the Islam of Quran and Sunna
- A Sunni way in worship and doctrine
- A Sufi truth to promote purity of self and love for God
- A political organization to reform governance both home and abroad
- A sporting group to build strong bodies in performance of the pillars of Islam
- A scientific and cultural club to promote learning
- An economic company to make clean profits
- A social idea to treat social ills
2. The Goal of the Muslim Brotherhood
The goal of the Brotherhood is to create a new generation of believers from the teachings of Islam, in order to give the nations a complete Islamic imprint in all aspects of life.
3. The Message of the Muslim Brotherhood
Ruling the world, guiding all of humanity to the ways and teachings of Islam, which alone can make people happy.
For too long the civilization of materialism has divided the Muslim peoples and retarded their progress. It stands against them and the leadership of the Prophet, denying the light of Islam to the world.
We do not stand for this, but will pursue them and raid in their own lands, until the entire world celebrates the name of the Prophet and the teachings of the Quran. The shade of Islam will cover the earth, and then what the Muslim desires will be achieved: No sedition and all religion will be for God.
4. Goals of the Muslim Brotherhood
Our program has clear and specific stages and steps, since we know exactly what we want and the means by which to achieve it.
- First, a Muslim man, clear in his thought, doctrine, morals, sympathies, work, and behavior.
- Second, a Muslim house, in the areas above but we care also for the women as we do for the men, and for children as we do for youth. This is how we shape the family.
- Third, a Muslim people, so that our message is heard in every village, district, and city.
- Fourth, a Muslim government, which will lead the people to prayer and the guidance of Islam, as did the Companions of the Prophet and the caliphs Abu Bakr and Omar. We recognize no system of government that does not emerge from the foundation of Islam. We recognize no political parties or traditional forms which the infidels and enemies of Islam have forced upon us. We will work to revive the Islamic system of rule in all its forms, and we will shape an Islamic government from this system.
- Fifth, an Islamic nation, desiring every part of the Islamic world to join with us, which was previously divided by Western politics and whose unity was weakened by European colonialism. We do not recognize these political divisions and will not submit to these international agreements which turned the Islamic nation into weak, torn apart, tiny states, easily swallowed by usurpers. We will not be silent as these peoples’ freedom is digested by autocrats. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, the Hijaz, Yemen, Tripoli, Tunisia, Algeria, Marrakesh, and all lands where Muslims say ‘There is no god but God’ – these are one large nation which we aim to liberate, rescue, and save, incorporating its parts one with the other. If the German Reich forced itself as a protector of all who had German blood, then Islamic doctrine obliges every strong Muslim to consider himself a protector of all who imbibe the teachings of the Quran. It is not possible in Islam for the racial factor to be more powerful than the factor of faith. Doctrine is everything in Islam, for what is faith except love and hatred?
- Sixth, we desire the flag of God to fly high over the lands which once enjoyed Islam and the call of prayer declaring ‘God is great’, but then returned to unbelief. Andalusia, Sicily, the Balkans, southern Italy, and the islands of the Mediterranean were all Islamic colonies and must return to the bosom of Islam. If Mussolini saw as his right to recreate the Roman Empire, whose so-called ancient empire was built on nothing but avarice and pleasure, then it is within our right to restore the glory of the Islamic Empire which was founded on justice, fairness, and spreading light and guidance to the people.
- Seventh, we desire to announce our call to the whole world, and to cause every tyrant to submit to it, so that there is no sedition and all of religion is for God.
Those incapable cowards who suppose this is all fantasy or dreams are simply suffering from weakness of faith that God has cast into the hearts of Islam’s enemies. We announce clearly that every Muslim who does not believe in this program and work for its realization will have no fortune in Islam.
5. The Preparedness of the Muslim Brotherhood
Those who follow this path possess a faith that cannot be shaken, confidence in God that cannot grow weak, and souls which rejoice most in their martyrdom. Furthermore, they possess great psychological power, having a strong will, firm loyalty, great sacrifice, and knowledge of faith. They implement the Quranic verse which states: God will not change a people until they change themselves.
6. The Means of the Muslim Brotherhood
As stated in the Muslim Brotherhood foundational system law, we pursue our goal through the following means:
- Preaching – through letters, publications, newspapers, magazines, books, and delegations both here and abroad
- Nurturing – inclusive of spiritual, intellectual, and physical
- Directing – so that all issues of life might be guided practically to their Islamic solution
- Work – creating economic, social, religious, and scientific establishments, in addition to mosques, schools, and clinics, to get rid of all which is harmful, such as drugs, drinking, gambling, and prostitution
It is true that speeches, lectures, money and other means may help identify an illness and proscribe a cure, but the only means to solve it are through deep faith, precise strengthening, and continuing work.
The general means we pursue our goals are:
- First, spreading our call and convincing people of it until it becomes the general opinion.
- Second, using all proper elements necessary to strengthen the firm support for reform.
- Third, engaging in a constitutional struggle until our call is supported by official professional clubs and the executive powers. Then, when the time is right, we will nominate ourselves for parliamentary bodies.
- We will not deviate from these means unless we are forced to, but we will not refrain from declaring our position openly without ambiguity, ready to bear the results of our work.
We will not burden anyone but ourselves, or court favor except among our own. We know that which is God’s is best and will remain. We know expending yourself for truth is the key to immortality. There is no call except that which comes from striving for God, and there is no striving for God which is not met with persecution. But then comes the hour of victory when the Quranic verse is achieved:
When the apostles give up hope and think that they were treated as liars, there reaches them Our help, and those whom We will are delivered into safety. But never will be warded off our punishment from those who are in sin.
7. Peculiarities of the Muslim Brotherhood Call
It is a call to God, resisting the materialism of the world. It is a universal call, rejecting racism or distinction between persons. Unlike other contemporary calls, it is composed of:
- Distance from points of contention
- Distance from the cult of personality and pride
- Distance from political parties and associations
- Care for growing stronger in gradual steps
- Securing work and production through promotion and advertisement
- Great acceptance among the youth
- Rapid spread through villages and cities
8. Foundations of Understanding Islam in the Muslim Brotherhood
So that all understand Islam in the manner we do, we present these twenty foundational statements:
1) Islam is a complete order of life, inclusive of state and nation, government and people, creation and power, mercy and justice, culture and law, science and jurisdiction, material and resources, earning and wealth, jihad and preaching, army and idea, trustworthy doctrine and true worship.
2) The Quran and Hadith are the reference for every Muslim.
3) Faith and worship give light and sweetness, but illumination, impressed ideas, and visions are not part of Islamic principles.
4) Amulets and sorcery must be fought against.
5) The teaching about the imam and the one who stands for him is not based on Islamic texts, and opinions about this always change.
6) We accept all that the earliest Muslims did which fits with the Quran and Hadith, but we do not oppose those who view things differently.
7) Everyone who does not possess sufficient standing in religion should follow an imam until he does.
8) Differences in subordinate matters should not divide Muslims.
9) Be careful about discussion of matters which often descend into minutia.
10) The most sublime Islamic doctrines are the knowledge of God, his unity, and his transparency.
11) We must rid our faith of heresies, but in a proper way which does not lead to evil.
12) Certain matters between Muslims are for jurisprudence, examining them with proofs and evidence.
13) The early companions of Mohamed should not be criticized.
14) Do not adorn tombs of the deceased or call upon the help of departed saints.
15) It is wrong to call upon God’s help through the intercession of his creation.
16) Customs of a people should not change religious norms.
17) The basis of all work is our doctrine, which should push us toward perfection.
18) Islam frees the mind and enables modern science.
19) The opinion of sharia and the opinion of reason should not conflict with each other, though true science always submits to true doctrine.
20) We declare no Muslim to be an infidel, unless he speaks of his unbelief, or denies a fact of religion, or impugns the purity of the Quran, or explains it outside of what the tools of the Arabic language can accommodate, or behaves in a way unexplainable except by unbelief.
9. Working for Islam according to the Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim should continually work to reform himself, set straight his Muslim home, guide his society, and liberate his country from any foreign, non-Muslim political, economic, or spiritual power.
He should work to reform his government until it becomes truly Islamic. Its members should be Muslims who perform the pillars of Islam and not those who willfully neglect them, to implement the regulations and teachings of Islam.
It is permissible to seek the help of non-Muslims should this be necessary, but not in the positions of general authority, as long as he agrees on the general basis of the Islamic system of governance.
The characteristics of this government are a feeling of subjection, kindness towards its subjects, just dealings with the people, keeping itself from the general wealth, and economy in working with it.
The obligations of this government are the provision of security, making laws, promoting education, keeping itself strong, preserving general health, watching over the general interest, developing wealth, protecting capital, strengthening morals, and issuing the call to Islam.
The rights of this government, when it performs its duties, include loyalty, obedience, and assistance through its people and their money.
The Muslim should then work to restore the international position of the Islamic nation, so that its lands are liberated and its glory revived in the return of the lost caliphate and all desired unity.
Then, finally, the Muslim should work for professorship of the world by spreading the call to Islam in all corners… (quoting the Quranic verse):
Fight them until there is no sedition, and all of religion is for God.
10. The Process of Formation is among the Firm Principles of the Muslim Brotherhood
Moving gradually in steps: All aspects of our call move in three steps:
- Propagation, definition, and preaching the idea so it is received by the masses in all classes of people.
- Empowerment, selecting helpers, preparing soldiers, and outfitting the troops among those who are called.
- Implementation, work, and production.
Many times these three stages can work simultaneously. The preacher calls to Islam, while he also chooses people and educates them, while he also works to implement the goals.
11. Describing the Muslim in the Call of the Muslim Brotherhood
He is characterized by:
- Believing in the idea with faith, sincerity, zeal, and work
- Sincerity in dispossessing himself for the cause
- Striving in the path of its realization
- Influencing both work and production
- Incorporating time for preaching
- Keeping from being miserly in his belief
- Aware of all his duties
- Brings love to all people
 Following the practice of these three groups is also a key distinction of the Muslim party called Salafi, though it is not restricted to them alone.
 That is, Mohamed.
 The term jihad incorporates an idea of ‘striving’, of which violence and warfare are possible but not necessarily implied.
 The designation of ‘modern age’ moves the Brotherhood beyond the aforementioned Salafis, who generally speaking reject philosophical world advancements in favor of the original vision of Mohamed and his companions.
 The Red Sea coastal region of present day Saudi Arabia, within which are the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
 A designation for Morocco.
 Designating the lands of Spain and Portugal, where Islam ruled for 800 years.
 Representing a prominent teaching of Shi’ism.
 Representing a practice among some Sufis and traditional Muslims.
 It appears these military allusions are symbolic rather than a call for militias, but further clarification is necessary.