Sufism Spawned The Muslim Brotherhood
This article aims to provide readers with a better understanding of Sufism and its evolution into the Muslim Brotherhood through Hasan al-Banna.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Sufism
- 3 Hassan al-Banna: Founder of the Muslim Brotherhood
- 4 Ayman Zawahiri
- 5 Sufism and Qaeda-al-Jihad
- 6 The Muslim Brotherhood 50 Point Manifesto
- 7 Conclusion
- 8 See Also
- 9 External Links
- 10 References
Do not let Sufism's asceticism, mysticism, and syncretism, cause you to be mesmerised into believing that this is a benign sect of non-violence. People seem transfixed with these exotic descriptions and suddenly become warm, nostalgic, and develop a motherly protective wing over this romantic "aspect" of Islam, and are easily misled by Sufi dissimulations. In all probability, Sufism evolved through the fusion of early religions such as Zoroastrianism, Neoplatonism, Hinduism, even Christianity and other diverse traditions, and on top of these fusion of ideas, Islam was superimposed. Thus there are a lot of ritualism in Sufism that belongs to other traditions. But do not let that mislead you. In actuality, the Muslim Brotherhood evolved out of Sufism in the 20th century.
Sufism is an "aspect" (dimension) of Islam, yet many Muslims will not consider Sufism as a part of Islam because of some Sufi non-conformist rituals. The name Sufi comes from “suf,” the Arabic word for wool or “saf,” the Persian word for pure. The dervishes or advanced students of Sufism wore inexpensive wool clothes as part of their life of renunciation, which is characteristic of Sufism.
Sufism and Islam
Religious leaders from the Middle East came from all over to learn about Islam directly from Muhammad and were ordained by him. These ordained masters founded three major Sufi orders. This knowledge was passed down through their shaykhs to their disciples who then fanned out to spread their new "dimensions" of Islam by forming new schools. Many of these "Sufi ashrams" (schools) also served as community centres and included residence for students and masters, and also served as orphanages and hospitals and many other community services, unlike orthodox Muslim Mosques. Sufi were more inclusive and community minded.
The Sufi Way
The Sufi Way first involves learning about morality and ethics through "studying Islam." This is of course the only practical and logical way since in Arab and Islamic countries, where Sufi existed, was the only form of education that was established and available to peoples in the Islamic region, the Islamic educational system. Even so, there were some deviant Sufi sects who have adopted sufficient non-Islamic aspects, or have incorporated sufficient of the writings of early Sufi saints that may not entirely conform to orthodox Islamic tenets. This is why confusion of this sect exists. But here, we will concentrate on those Sufi who accept Islamic teachings of morality and ethics as their basis of beliefs. It is not possible to accept Islamic values of morality and ethics without fully appreciating and studying the Qur'an, the Hadiths, the Sira, or Shari'ah.
Next, Sufis believe in self discipline and applying these standards of morality to one's inner self. These stages are achieved through instruction, imitation and self discipline.
In the third stage, having acquired sufficient religious knowledge, and understanding of the religion, he is then able to experience the spirit of Allah within himself and thus reach the "mystical stage" of Sufism.
The fourth stage is ma'rifah or gnosis. This is where the knowledge of Allah is realized and is only achieved by prophets, great masters and saints. The goal of following the Sufi way is not to become a saint, but rather to align your life with the will of Allah and to do all that you can to accept and live by Allah's Grace. Indeed, if your goal is to become a saint, it is all but assured that because of your own desires you will never become one.
Tenets of Sufism
There are many variations within Sufism but they generally include the following:
- There is only one Allah and that Allah possess everything.
- Allah is in your heart, Allah is always very close even when humanity is very far from Allah.
- Nothing happens without Allah's will, and Human will is very critical, but it exists within the context of Divine will.
- Because of Allah's will, all things, good and bad, are from Allah.
- Life as we know it is an illusion, and the true life revealed when we reach in the hereafter. Some orders go as far as to describe this process of reality beyond illusion as reincarnation, which is a distinct departure from orthodox Islam.
- There are four Holy Scriptures, the Qur'an, the Torah, the Psalms of David, the Gospels of Jesus and works of Sufi saints.
".. dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone." (Ibn Khaldun)
Sufism is more accurately described as "an aspect or dimension of Islam." Sufi orders (Tariqas) can be found in Sunni, Shi'ite and other Islamic groups. Sufi are emphatic that Islamic knowledge should be learned from teachers (shaykhs) and not exclusively from books. Thus, in Sufism, the influence of a shaykh on Sufi followers is most effective. But it is because of this that different "aspects" easily evolved in Sufism, dependant upon the eccentricities of the Shaykh.
Sufism are Aspects of Islam
Having touched on the influence of "Shaykhs" on the understand and practice of Sufism, as described in the immediate paragraph preceding, and the possibility of a wide interpretation of its practices and ritualisms, we can now appreciate the roots of the variability of Sufi practice and ritualism throughout the Islamic world, causing doubts to arise of its conformity and authenticity to orthodox Islam. Hasan al Banna of course recognised this failing in the Sufi (Islamic) Ummah, and likely influenced by the Wahhabi (Salafi) movement, sought to rectify the diversities of the various "aspects" of Sufism. A detailed study of his manifesto, (below), will outline clearly how he intended to remove some of the ambiguities and irregularities and to bring Sufism in line with orthodox Islam. Thus uniting it with the whole Islamic Ummah. The Muslim Brotherhood manifesto was drawn up to achieve this consolidation and regularising of Sufi practice. But in so doing, the aims of the Muslim Brotherhood runs parallel to that of the Wahhabi movement and with similar aims.
Sufis could be described as (1) devout Muslims; (2) praying five times a day, (3) giving to charity, alms, (4) Fasting, (5) pilgrimage, thus they adhere strictly to the outward observance of Islam. But in addition, they nurture spiritual dimensions. They are aware that one of the names of the Prophet was "Dhikr Allah" (Remembrance of Allah).
Dhikr as practised by Sufis is the invocation of Allah's divine names, verses from the Qur'an, or sayings of Muhammad in order to glorify Allah. Dhikr is encouraged either individually or in groups and is "a source of tranquillity" for Sufis.
"...hearts become tranquil through the remembrance of Allah" (Qur'an 13:28).
Many Sufis have used the metaphor of lovers to describe the state Dhikr leaves them in. Sufis say adherences to the "Shari'ah" manifests in the limbs and Dhikr manifests in the heart with the result that the outward is sober, the inner is drunk on divine love.
Summarising Sufism in Islam
- Sufis learn their morality and ethics by studying Islam in the same way other Muslims learn about Islam.
- Sufis observe the 5 Pillars of Islam, and adhere strictly to all the outward observances of Islam.
- Sufis adhere to the Islamic Shari'ah.
- In addition Sufis observe privations and introspection.
Hassan al-Banna: Founder of the Muslim Brotherhood
Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949) in 1928 founded the Egyptian Society of the Muslim Brothers (also known as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Brotherhood, Ikwanul Muslimeen), which is Egypt’s oldest and most influential fundamentalist Sufi group. An offshoot of the Muslim Brothers, called the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (led by Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri), fused with Al Qaeda (led by Osama bin Laden) to form Qaeda al-Jihad in June 2001. What is less well known to some people is that the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda—and their fusion group Qaeda al-Jihad--are Sufi-based movements and that they became so through the influence of Sufi Egyptian Hassan Al-Banna. The strong Sufi influence helps explain the “disciplined emotionalism” of Qaeda al-Jihad leaders and their disciples, and its rejection of science, knowledge, and learning as the way to better the lives of Muslims around the world.
Sufism and Dhikr (Glorifying Allah)
Hassan al-Banna also began to read avidly from available materials on Sufism. He revered al-Ghazzali and Sufism upon enrolling at age 14 in the Primary Teachers’ Training School at Damanhur, 13 miles from his home but still within the Egyptian Nile delta province of Buhayra. Banna was exposed to the medieval master’s views on learning and knowledge from studying his masterpiece entitled “Ihya’ Ulum al-Din” or, in English, “The Revival of the Religious Sciences.”
Hassan al-Banna was so absorbed with al-Ghazzali’s Sufi teachings that during his last year at the Teachers’ Training School in Damanhur, he almost disavowed learning (even though he loved learning) and its benefits for individual and society, and was ready to skip the final stage in his formal training in Cairo. His teachers, however, persuaded him to put aside his doubts and go on to higher education. At the age of 16 years in 1923, he left the Teachers’ Training School and entered Dar al-‘Ulum (House of Sciences) in Cairo. Dar al-‘Ulum was founded in 1873 as the first Egyptian attempt to provide modern higher learning in addition to the religious sciences that were the specialities of al-Azhar University mentioned earlier.
But Hassan’s earlier extra-academic education from his father and teachers was always more important to him than his formal “scientific” education. Indeed he prided himself on going beyond the dictates of his “academic program” and turned avidly to reading even more of the literature of Sufism. Following his graduation from Dar al-‘Ulum in the summer of 1927 at the age of 21 years, he was assigned to teach Arabic in a primary school in the Suez Canal Zone city of Ismailiyya located on the west side of the canal halfway between the northern entrance to the Suez Canal and the southern terminus. He remained a school master until his resignation in 1946, nineteen years later.
Hassan al-Banna, Muslim Brotherhood, and Sufism
Hassan al-Banna took the Ghazzalian message to heart and made it a basic feature of his preaching to his first followers in the Society of Muslim Brothers. Throughout his career, “it sustained and reinforced what one might call the ‘practical and at the same time other-worldly’ qualities of his mind,’” according to Richard Mitchell, whose book entitled “The Society of Muslim Brothers” is considered the seminal work on the group’s origins.
Hassan al-Banna launched the Society of Muslim Brothers in March 1928. Though immersed in Sufism for most of his life, he determined that Sufism was not perfect. By contrast, he came to understand that Sufism inspired and justified a spiritual withdrawal from life that eventually led to a socially useless existence.
Al-Banna moved away from Sufism during his middle years because it tended to divide the Ummah. He and the Brothers strived to combat Muslim disunity by preaching the essential unimportance of the differences that permissibly exist with the body of Muslim Ummah. The first step in regeneration of the Muslim community was "to minimize the various movements" within the Muslim Ummah. "The Brothers, Banna insisted, belonged to no sect or school. Differences of opinion were, of course necessary and even desirable, but carried beyond their legitimated function they became harmful to Islam." (Mitchell, p.217.) Banna once said, "Let us cooperate in those things on which we can agree and be lenient in those on which we cannot."
Al-Banna thus transferred his Sufi ardour from “isolated spirituality” to “social spirituality.” For the Muslim Brothers, this meant that in addition to the mystical aspect of the dhikr (into a state of trance) and the spiritual discipline gained thereby, there was an obligation to enter the world and exert effort towards the solution of social problems affecting Muslims.
Ayman Zawahiri was born in 1951, two years after al-Bassan’s assassination, and in 1974 graduated from Cairo University Medical School, which was boiling with Muslim Brotherhood Members. Unbeknownst to his family, including his twin sister who attended medical school with him, Zawahiri secretly joined a cell of the Muslim Brothers. In the late 1970s, several cells joined to form the "Egyptian Islamic Jihad," which Zawahiri eventually led. The assassination of President Anwar Sadat on October 6, 1981, by a military cell within the scattered ranks of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad resulted in Zawahiri’s imprisonment by President Hosni Mubarak (the current president of Egypt, as of this writing) for three years where he transformed from a relative moderate in to an underground violent Takfeeri extremist. The torture received in prison created a strong appetite for revenge, according to Lawrence Wright in "The Man Behind Bin Laden."
In prison he encountered Shaykh Omar Abdel Rahman (born 1938, now imprisoned for life in Colorado for crimes relating to the bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993) with whom he had heated debates about the best way to achieve a true revolution and who should lead the revolution. Rahman, blinded by diabetes as a young child, attended Al-Azhar University in Cairo and became one of the most outspoken clerics to denounce Egypt’s Government.
Zawahiri originally went to Pakistan as a surgeon with the Red Cross (International Red Crescent Society) to care for Afghani refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion turmoil in 1980. He learned of Osama bin Laden who was also there, and cultivated a relationship with him in earnest, according to Lawrence Wright. Zawahiri was rewarded with generous financial support for his Egyptian Qaeda Al-Jihad. In addition he began to provide medical care for bin Laden.
Sufism and Qaeda-al-Jihad
Sufi practices characterize Qaeda-al-Jihad in several ways. First, Qaeda-al-Jihad is organized as a Sufi-type brotherhood around Osama bin Laden who is the brotherhood’s spiritual leader or Shaykh. The initiation ceremony specific to many Sufi orders, called “bayat”, involves taking the hand of the group’s spiritual leader. During the “taking hand” ceremony, the new Sufi initiate receives the blessings of the lineage, and a promise of spiritual protection along their life’s journey.
"Members of al-Qaeda take"bayat" (an oath of allegiance) to their sheik, Bin Laden, as an act of initiation....Bayat means that the link between the one making bayat, and the shaykh is unbroken. This makes a Sufi connection possible during the solemn moment of taking bayat (pact) with the shaykh, who is the link in the chain." Bayat is the ritual of accepting the shaykh as guide and coming under the protection of the lineage of the order. The number of actual members pledging bayat is unknown, but al-Qaeda is said to have trained as many as 5000 militants in camps in Afghanistan and perhaps Indonesia."
Second, the Sufi aesthetic practice of wandering and withdrawing and living in caves is consistent with the way in which bin Laden and Zawahiri have been living. Some may say that they have been forced to the caves by Coalition forces, but the ease with which they have adapted to this barren and difficult way of life supports a Sufi influence.
Third, Zawahri travels around the mountains and valleys like a Sufi and even wears a turban and cloak suggestive of ancient Sufi attire. For example, Lawrence Wright wrote in September 2002: “Last March, a band of horsemen journeyed through the province of Paktika, in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. Predator drones were circling the skies and American troops were sweeping through the mountains. The war had begun six months earlier, and by now the fighting had narrowed down to the ragged eastern edge of the country. Regional warlords had been bought off, the borders supposedly sealed. For twelve days, American and coalition forces had been bombing the nearby Shah-e-Kot Valley and systematically destroying the cave complexes in the Al Qaeda stronghold. And yet the horsemen were riding unhindered toward Pakistan.
They came to the village of a local militia commander named Gula Jan, whose long beard and black turban might have signalled that he was a Taliban sympathizer. "I saw a heavy, older man, an Arab, who wore dark glasses and had a white turban," Jan told Ilene Prusher, of the Christian Science Monitor, four days later. "He was dressed like an Afghan, but he had a beautiful coat, and he was with two other Arabs who had masks on." The man in the beautiful coat dismounted and began talking in a polite and humorous manner. He asked Jan and an Afghan companion about the location of American and Northern Alliance troops. ‘We are afraid we will encounter them,’ he said. ‘Show us the right way.’
Fourth, probably the most telling Sufi sign among Qaeda-al-Jihad members is their "disciplined emotionalism," a Sufi trait long cultivated, particularly during long dikhrs. Yosri Fouda, an Egyptian journalist, noted the existence of "al-Qaeda chants," which may be used during dikhrs. Fouda also noted: "Bin Laden's mentality is not much of a compromising one. I’ve not seen it either directly or indirectly, that bin Laden would ultimately like to sit down and talk about things. Zawahiri neither. At the same time I’m not sure if it’s in their eyes it is a zero sum games because they have already expressed certain things, have highlighted certain conditions…” Fouda’s analysis of Bin Laden and Zawahiri’s behavior is consistent with Al-Ghazzali’s position that analysis and discussion cannot bring one closer to the truth; only mysticism or intuition can achieve that, in the Sufi tradition.
The disciplined emotionalism exhibited by Osama Bin Laden and his acolytes provides the stamina and focus necessary to triumph over the Enemies through carefully imagined, designed, and executed terrorism atrocities produced over the entire Sufi life times.
The Muslim Brotherhood 50 Point Manifesto
In order to fully understand the aims of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Banna's manifesto spells it out. Our emphasis and comments in parentheses, and for the sake of brevity, we include only those points which are most relevant to the discussion.
Political, judicial and administrative sectors
1. An end to party rivalry, and a channelling of the political forces of the (Islamic) nation into a common front and a single phalanx (united peoples-Ummah).
2. A reform of the (civil and Sharia) law, so that it will conform to Islamic legislation in every branch.
3. A strengthening of the armed (fighting) forces, and an increase in the number of youth groups; the inspiration of the latter with zeal (indoctrination) on the bases of Islamic Jihad.
4. A strengthening of the bonds between all Islamic countries, especially the Arab countries, to pave the way for practical and serious consideration of the matter of the departed Caliphate (i.e., a world Caliphate).
5. The diffusion of the Islamic spirit throughout all departments of the government (total control of Government,) so that all its employees will feel responsible for adhering to Islamic teachings.
6. The surveillance of the personal conduct of all its employees (total mind control,) and an end to the dichotomy between the private and professional spheres.
8. An end to bribery and favouritism, (nepotism and corruption) with consideration to be given only to capability and legitimate reasons [for advancement].
9. Weighing all acts of the government acts in the scales of Islamic wisdom and doctrines; the organization of all celebrations, receptions, official conferences, prisons and hospitals so as not to be incompatible with Islamic teaching; the arranging of work-schedules so that they will not conflict with hours of prayer. (Total control of the state with Islamic principles.)
Social and educational sectors
2. Treatment of the problem of women in a way which combines the progressive and the protective, in accordance with Islamic teachings, so that this problem - one of the most important social problems - will not be abandoned to the biased pens and deviant notions of those who err in the directions of deficiency or excess.
14. The confiscation of provocative stories and books that implant the seeds of scepticism in an insidious manner, and newspapers which strive to disseminate immorality and capitalise on lustful desires. (Total control of literature and media. Total censorship.)
20. The annexation of the elementary village schools to the mosques, and a thorough going reform of both, as regards employees, cleanliness, and overall custodial care, so that the young may be trained in prayer and the older students in learning.
21. The designation of religious instruction (Islam) as a basic subject in all schools, in each according to its type, as well as in the universities.
22. Active instigation to memorise the Qur'an in all the free elementary schools; making this memorisation mandatory for obtaining diplomas in the areas of religion and (Arabic) language; the stipulation that a portion of it be memorised in every school.
24. The cultivation of the Arabic language at every stage of instruction; the use of Arabic alone, as opposed to any foreign language, in the primary stages.
25. The cultivation of Islamic history,, and of the national history and national culture, and the history of Islamic civilisation.
28. To give journalism a proper orientation, and to encourage authors and writers to undertake Islamic, Eastern subjects.
1. The organisation of zakat (charity) in terms of income and expenditure, according to the teachings of the magnanimous Sacred Law; invoking its assistance in carrying out necessary benevolent projects, such as homes for the aged, the poor, and orphans, and strengthening the armed forces.
2. The prohibition of usury, and the organization of banks with this end in view. Let the government provide a good example in this domain by relinquishing all interest due on its own particular undertakings, for instance in the loan-granting banks, industrial loans, etc.
Summary of Muslim Brotherhood's Manifesto
From a reading of all the points of this manifesto, including those which have been ommited, we gather the following aims:
- To unite all Muslims under one single Ummah with a uniform Shari'ah Law. This will unite all Muslims into the envisioned world Caliphate.
- To encourage and strengthen the Jihadist zeal in Islam into a formidable fighting force.
- To control all government institutions to observe Islamic principles throughout and to eliminate corruption.
- To strictly control Islamic education to abide with Islamic objectives.
- To ensure that the public are subject to the strict control of Shari'ah Laws.
- To ensure that the media and the press conform to Islamic codes of conduct.
- To ensure that Islamic charity is observed in accordance with the Qur'an.
- To prohibit Usury.
There is nothing above that does not conform to the most orthodox Qur'anic teachings. It is orthodox Islam in its truest form. It is a manifesto for world domination. It clearly indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood's beliefs are orthodox Islam (some identify this as "extremist" Islam). It shows that the Muslim Brotherhood has the same aims for spreading Islam throughout the world, and aim for a Caliphate, just as the Wahhabi (Salafi) movement wants.
- Terrorism - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Terrorism
- Muslim Brotherhood - A hub page that leads to other articles related to the Muslim Brotherhood
- What is Sufism? - New Humanity Times, February 28, 2004
- Nuh Ha Mim Keller - The Place of Tasawwuf in Traditional Islamic Sciences - masud.co.uk, 2005
- Sufism - BBC, September 8, 2009
- The Sufi Side of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda Brothers - SEMP, Biot Report No. 299, November 23, 2005
- The Muslim Brotherhood Manifesto is based on Charles Wendell's translation of Hassan al-Banna's book, "Five Tracts." (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1978)
- The 50 point Manifesto of Hassan al-Banna - Point de Bascule, February 10, 2011