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Muslim Brotherhood, international Islamic organization based in Egypt and working toward
an increased Islamic role in government and society. Hassan al-Bannah, an Egyptian
schoolteacher from a small town in the Nile Delta, founded the Brotherhood in 1928 as a
small social club. Bannah sought the formation of an \u201cIslamic System\u201d that would
gradually reform civic, social, family, and educational organizations, which he believed had
been torn apart by Western secularism (nonreligiosity) and materialism. In their stead, he
would re-create the unified Islamic community, or umma, that had existed centuries
before. Bannah did not advocate the overthrow of governments, but he considered any
person or group who opposed his goals to be an enemy. By linking his authoritarian credo
to Egyptian nationalism, Bannah\u2019s ideology inspired thousands of college students, young
professionals, and others over the next two decades.
World War II (1939-1945) brought major changes to Egypt in the form of rapid economic
growth and thousands of British troops, whose culture and behavior reinforced anti-
Western sentiment among Egyptians. By 1948 the Brotherhood had an estimated 500,000
members and probably a similar number of sympathizers. By this time, the Brotherhood
had also developed a so-called Secret Apparatus of guerrilla fighters, many of whom
fought against Israel after Israel declared its independence in 1948.
Although Bannah\u2019s approach was gradual, his results were radical from the government\u2019s
point of view. Fearing the Brotherhood was becoming a state within a state, the Egyptian
government outlawed the organization and in 1949 assassinated Bannah. The Brotherhood
revived in 1950, and some of its members ran in elections independently of the
Brotherhood. In 1952 army officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser seized control of the
Egyptian government and legalized the Brotherhood, only to ban it in 1954. The Secret
Apparatus retaliated by trying to assassinate Nasser, who responded by imprisoning and
executing many fundamentalists.
After Nasser\u2019s crackdown and during the repression that followed, the Brotherhood
entered a quiet period. But in 1974 the group reemerged, in part because President Anwar
al-Sadat promoted the conservative Brotherhood to balance his leftist opponents.
Although Sadat opened parts of Egypt\u2019s economy to Westerners, many of the
Brotherhood\u2019s senior leaders did not oppose him, because by this time they had come to
favor a more market-oriented economy. At the same time, however, the increased
competition and other reforms hurt many Egyptians. Some of the disaffected young
people embraced the writings of Sayyid Qutb, a Brotherhood writer whom Nasser had
hanged in 1966. Qutb asserted that Egypt was in a state of pre-Islamic ignorance, or
jahiliyya, and should be brought into a state of knowledge. Thus inspired, several young
militants in the Egyptian army, with ties to a more radical group called Jihad, assassinated
Sadat in October 1981.
During the presidency of Hosni Mubarak the Brotherhood began integrating more into
Egypt\u2019s political system. In 1984 and 1987 the group allied itself with existing political
parties and won seats in parliament. In the late 1980s the Brotherhood won control of
several professional syndicates. As the Brotherhood increased its role in politics, it
struggled on the one hand to keep its base of radical followers, many of whom believed
that participating in politics was a betrayal of Islam, while on the other hand trying not to
alienate the government, which feared the Brotherhood was cooperating too much with
In the early 1990s, as radicals made violent attacks on Egyptians and foreigners, the
government produced evidence that supposedly showed the Brotherhood had cooperated
with violent Islamists. Mubarak used the revelations to repress the Brotherhood, but his
campaign met with mixed success.
The Brotherhood is active in several other countries of the Middle East and North Africa, as
well as countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia, and it is accepted to varying degrees
by governments. In 1982 members of the Brotherhood were largely responsible for an
antigovernment uprising in the Syrian town of am\u0101h. President Hafez al-Assad crushed
the uprising, leaving at least 5000 people dead. In Sudan the Brotherhood took an active
role in the 1989 military coup that replaced Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi with General
Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The Brotherhood was rewarded with a major role in al-Bashir\u2019s
government. In Jordan the Brotherhood has long used nonviolent means to achieve
political power. In addition to holding several seats in Jordan\u2019s parliament, the
Brotherhood supports many of the country\u2019s medical clinics and schools.
In early-20th-century Egypt, anticolonial opposition, protests, and riots were
commonplace, as were violent British reactions. The pressure on the British, compounded
by the demands of World War I, led Britain to make political concessions. In 1922
Egyptians gained nominal independence and a parliament under King Fuad I, although
Britain remained in control behind the scenes. The corruption and ineffectiveness of Fuad\u2019s
government undermined the parliamentary system as a viable form of government. In the
1930s an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood emerged in vehement opposition to
parliamentary government as well as European culture and interference. This brotherhood
inspired other movements throughout Islamic North Africa, and its impact is still felt in the
of the Algerian state, hero of resistance to French colonial rule. Born in a small village
near Mousakar (Mascara), Algeria, to the head of a Sufi Muslim brotherhood, Abd al-Qadir
early on gained a reputation for piety and cultural refinement. In 1826 al-Qadir and his
father began a pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Muhammad,
the founder of Islam. They also stopped in Baghd\u0101d (in present-day Iraq) to meet the
head of their Sufist order. After their celebrated return in 1828, prophecies circulated
proclaiming Abd al-Qadir as a future leader of Algeria. Soon thereafter al-Qadir claimed to
be a descendant of Muhammad.
Between 1053 and 1061, a large part of northwestern Africa was subjugated by the
Muslim religious military brotherhood known as the hermits (Arabic al-murabit).
Leadership of the movement passed in 1061 to Yusuf ibn Tashfin, a Berber chieftain who
had previously conquered the region constituting present-day Morocco. In 1062 he
assumed the title of king. After enlarging their domain in northwestern Africa, the
Almoravids invaded Spain in 1086; during the next four years, they conquered the area
between the Tajo (Tagus) and Ebro rivers. In 1147 the dynasty was overthrown by the
Almohads, another Muslim reform movement.
similar in some ways to Christian monks (See also Sufism; Islam; Monasticism).
Brotherhoods of dervishes are numerous, and each has its own rule, mode of dress, rites,
and methods of receiving novices and of initiating them. Not all orders conform strictly to
the Muslim ceremonial and ritual law, and the occupations required by the different
brotherhoods vary. Some dervishes are wanderers, depending on alms for sustenance.
Some are settled in monasteries, called tekkes or khanagahs, where they observe special
rites or devote themselves to meditation and penance. Other dervishes are ordinary
tradesmen and laborers, performing the ceremonies of their order only on specific
occasions. Still others form a class of religious entertainers who are hired to chant their
dirge, or zikr, at public and private festivals. Frequently the devotees work themselves into
a frenzy, becoming capable of remarkable acts of strength, then falling into a state of
There are castelike categories among the Muslims as well. These are called brotherhoods
in northern India, and they identify Muslims with their traditional occupations, such as
butchers or leatherworkers. As with Hindus, Muslims marry within their brotherhood.
Among Christians as well, in the 19th century and to a much less significant extent more
recently, converts and their descendants continued to be identified by their Hindu caste of
the severing of their trade routes, finally submitted peacefully to Muhammad, who treated
the city generously, declaring a general amnesty. Tribal delegations arrived from
throughout Arabia, and their tribes were soon converted to Islam. Muhammad, now the
most powerful leader in Arabia, enforced the principles of Islam and established the
foundation of the Islamic empire. He ordered the destruction of the idols in the Kaaba, the
traditional place of pilgrimage in Mecca, which then became the holiest shrine of Islam. He
granted Jews and Christians religious autonomy as \u201cpeoples of the Book,\u201d whose
revelations anticipated his own. On his last visit to Mecca, at the time of the annual
pilgrimage, he gave a sermon in which he summarized his reforms, declared the
brotherhood of Muslims, and repudiated all distinctions of class, color, and race. He died
suddenly and unexpectedly in Medina about a year later, on June 8, 632.
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