The Muslim Brotherhood: An Introduction

December 11, 2012

Since my recent post about Egypt’s internal turmoil, I’ve had some readers email me asking that I expound on who and what the Muslim Brotherhood are.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a socio-religio-political movement that was founded in Egypt in 1936, and, to me, the Brotherhood’s philosophical framework is best understood through the writings of one of their most prolific members, Sayyid Qutb.

Sayyid Qutb’s interpretation of Islam grew out of the many confrontations that occurred between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian state in the 1950s and 1960s. Increasingly radicalized by Egypt’s suppression of the movement, Qutb espoused a rejectionist ideology that was meant to be a kind of call to arms for the Egyptian people.

Qutb in an Egyptian jail

Qutb in an Egyptian jail

Qutb, who had a modern education, saw the Western world as morally decadent, racist, and devoid of familial responsibility. Worse, the West’s influence was growing in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. Throughout the writings of his forty published books, Qutb divided the world into two antipodal camps, the Muslim world (dar al-Islam) and the world of evil epitomized by the West (dar al-Harb).

Qutb wrote that it was important to establish special groups of Muslims living in the West to create a righteous minority that could at times carry out jihad against Western governments that he saw as corrupt and an enemy of Islam. Militant groups and terrorist organizations  continue to use Qutb’s vision today in their ideology and tactics.

Qutb’s ultimate goal was to create a true Islamic society under a restored caliphate (spiritual community). Qutb saw the bulk of Egyptian society as basically good Muslims governed by un-Islamic laws and nominal Muslims. The creation of a truly Islamic state could only come through the implementation of sharia law and the eradication of Western laws and influence.

While the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have in recent years rejected Qutb’s championing of a violent overthrow of the state (jihad) and have since pushed for the gradual reform of Egypt’s laws, it nevertheless still aspires to transforming Egypt into an Islamist country. That is why the Muslim Brotherhood have used Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s election as an opportunity for a power grab.

The Brotherhood have written a draft constitution under Morsi that is scheduled to be voted on this coming weekend. The draft has been criticized for not protecting the rights of women, Coptic Christians, freedom of expression, or journalism. The draft is designed for the sole purpose of protecting the Brotherhood’s interpretation of Islamism and for imposing that vision onto the Egyptian state and the Egyptian people.

I hope this clarifies some confusion about the Muslim Brotherhood. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts and/or questions. Do you agree with my using Sayyid Qutb’s ideological framework in this post? Was it helpful?

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