Hassan al-Banna’s name was originally Sheikh Hasan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna but since it was rather long, he adopted a shorter version, Hassan al-Banna. He is of Egyptian origin and was a Muslim as the country id heavily dominated by Muslims. Hasan was born in 1906, and he died in 1949. Professionally, he was an imam, that is, an Islamic religious leader and a teacher. Forming the Muslim Brotherhood is what he is best remembered. It was formed in 1928, and he headed it until his demise. This group developed into a very large and influential organization especially in the Islamic religion. Hasan al-Banna was a key Islamic leader and his thoughts and actions played a major role in the development of Islam in the 20th and 21st century.
Hasan was born on 14 October 1906 in Egypt, his native country. He was born in Mahmoudiyah, a small city that neighbors the Nile delta and lies to the North-west of Cairo, Egypt’s capital city. Sheikh Ahmad ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Banna al-Sa’ati, his father was an imam as well as a teacher of Islamic law, commonly called the Hanbali rite. He had only one sibling, a younger brother called Gamal al-Banna. Gamal was educated at a local school in Cairo called Dar-Al-Uloum School. After his education, he wrote several books regarding Islamic traditions and beliefs. Apart from that, he had a shop that dealt with the repair of watches and often sold gramophones, as well. Banna’s parents were not wealthy even though they owned some property, supporting their family was a tedious task (Hoffman, 62).
Moving the family from Mahmoudiyah to Cairo further aggravated the matter since they did not know that the teaching of the Islamic law was not as respectable in the large city as it was in their native city. The family also soon discovered that their trade in artisanship could not compete with the industrial sector that was developing in the country. The new situation made their survival in the city increasingly difficult. When Banna attained the age of twelve, he joined a Sufi order, and he was fully initiated into the group in the year 1922. Sufi refers to a spiritual and inner element of Islam. The adherents of these traditions are called Sufis, and they believe that they are taking part in Ihsan, that is, perfect worship of Allah.
This method of worship is believed to have been revealed by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad. It is considered one of the highest and most sincere methods of worship amongst the Islamic faithful. Banna also took part in several demonstrations opposing British rule. These demonstrations coincided with the 1919 revolution. In a bid to spread this message to the rest of his fellow citizens, the idea of forming an organization came to him. He envisioned that the organization would eventually free the entire country of the British tyranny, and they would finally attain self-governance. In March 1928, after thinking his idea through, he launched the organization and named it Muslim Brothers (Kane, 45). He selected the name because he sought to build a relationship, which was similar to kinship ties with the members.
At first, Muslim Brothers was one of the several small Islamic organizations that had emerged during the same time. Such associations aimed to endorse faith in Allah and took part in charitable actions. Muslim Brothers kept growing gradually, and in 1930, it had set up branches of the organization in all provinces, in Egypt. Approximately ten years later, a decade since its inception, the membership had grown to about one million followers. Of this number, 500, 000 were active members while the rest were inactive members commonly called sympathizers. The number constituted of only the Egyptians, but some citizens in the neighboring countries were also aware of its actions (Zahid, 45).
Membership numbers increased drastically when the organization moved their headquarters to Cairo, the capital city in 1932. Banna’s charisma and his ideologies made the organization become the most popular one of its time. His belief and dedication to Allah made him earn the respect and love of many people. Banna preached everywhere he went, not only in the mosque. Once when he preached in a coffee house, in Ismailia, he was criticized and accused of demeaning the Islamic faith. However, since he did not like arguments especially about religion, he apologized for this. This characteristic made him loved by the Egyptian people even more.
Foreigners especially the British dominated Ismailia both economically and in military. This appalled Banna, and he wanted to change the living conditions in this area. The natives were literally penniless while the foreigners lived in luxury and splendor. Banna’s motivation to join politics stemmed from this need to better the country. He hoped to bring change through activism from the grassroots up to the large cities. Institution building was another priority since Banna believed he could achieve change only through education. Banna eventually created a complicated mass movement of native Egyptians with similar dreams for their country. This movement had sophisticated features in governance and included people from all lifestyles.
Such people were the peasants, professionals and the workers. These people helped him to spread the message of self-reliance and independence. To facilitate the autonomy of this organization, Banna used the already existing social networks especially those involving places of worship like mosques and neighborhood groups. The use of theses networks was to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to them that would result in their disbanding (Fondren, 39). To increase the sense of unity, they created cells; they were like smaller organizations whose leader reported to actual head of the organization. The cells were called usar and were the equivalent of a family. Psychological, material and social support was the basis of Muslim Brothers (Hoffman, 78).
By these ideologies, the members achieved a high level of loyalty and unity to the organization, the fight and their leader, Al-Banna. Messages spread by Banna were deeply rooted in Islam, and he encouraged the members to keep their faith in Allah firm. Issues tackled by this organization include healthcare, education, management of natural resources and most importantly colonialism. Since issues affected a large number of the citizens, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to acquire members from almost all parts of Egypt. Al-Banna is remembered as one of the few leaders who out rightly resisted the British rule in Egypt. Most people preferred to ignore the presence of the British in order to ensure their safety.
During the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, Banna decided to send some volunteers to battle Israel Conflict arose between the society and the monarchy due to their actions. Because of the fear that the organization may be planning a coup, the prime minister disbanded it in 1948. The government was aware of the group’s large membership, and they knew it would pose a significant risk to the British rule in Egypt. All assets belonging to the organization were impounded and most of its members sentenced and sent to prison. After the assassination of Urabi Pasha, another leader of the resistance, Banna released a statement expressing his dismay on the actions of the British Government (Fondren, 67).
It also blamed them for the death of Pasha and stated that terror was not acceptable in Islamic faith. On February 12, Al-Banna was assassinated with his brother as they were waiting for a taxi. Their deaths sparked a lot of unrest in Egypt because the British were accused of ordering the assassination. The statement he had released concerning the killing of Pasha was assumed the cause of the killing of Banna. A-Banna was declared a martyr in honor of his vigilant fight against the British rule, he was often called “As-Shaheed Imam Hassan Al-Banna” meaning martyr Hassan Al-Banna. His death brought a lot of sadness to the people of Egypt and other countries who had known him, but the most affected were members of Muslim Brotherhood since Banna was their “beacon of light” as they called him (Zollner, 190).
Hassan Al-Banna’s thoughts and actions have influenced the development of Islam in Egypt. His organization was fundamental in achieving this level of authority. Muslim Brothers, the organization Banna formed, began as a welfare group that catered for the needs of their fellow Muslims. Its activities included repairing and building of mosques and charitable works for the poor and disabled. Subsequently, they started establishing schools that would teach the young children how to read the Qur’an. Literacy levels in Egypt were below 15% then, and this was an opportunity for the organization to educate the citizens. Collection and distribution of zakat, the equivalent of tithe in Christianity was another of their duties (Zollner, 150). Zakat was given to help the poor who were not able to support themselves.
However, as the membership of the organization grew, it was able to build clinics and pharmacies that would provide high quality healthcare, as opposed to the poor facilities offered by the government. Private healthcare was too expensive; these clinics helped the citizens a great deal. Banna insisted on the issue of kindness and equal treatment of fellow people. His teaching was obtained from the Islamic teachings that stated that everyone was equal in Allah’s eyes, whether rich or poor. Because of this, Banna ensured that the members treated each other as members of a big family. The organization developed increasingly because of this teaching. Banna’s opinion on the matter of equality from the Qur’an helped him to develop Islam in Egypt.
Banna had a vision of an organization that could renew links that existed between modernity and traditional cultures. These links had been severed, and he wanted the Organization to re create the link between these two aspects. He believed that the link was broken by the sudden infiltration of the foreigners into the country. Children were taught the new traditions that were considered superior to the prior traditional ones. Banna also noticed the need for religious education that had been left behind due to modernity and the colonization of Egypt by the British. Before the coming of the Europeans, it was the duty of the parent to ensure that their children obtained religious education as required by the teachings of the prophet Muhammed.
Parents took that responsibility seriously, and most times by the age of fifteen, most children already knew the entire Qur’an by heart. However, with the coming of the British and industrialization, religious education was set aside. Modern education was embraced as it was deemed better and more important than religious education. Banna strived to change this notion and to remind the parents of the importance of religion. Therefore, he gathered a group of motivated preachers and trained them further for the task that lay ahead of them. Preparation entailed teaching them new and modern methods of educating the younger ones in order to make the lessons comprehensible. He sent them to various parts of the country to teach the children whose parents were willing to let them learn about the Islamic faith (Zollner, 120)
This undertaking was autonomous from the government and the religious association, it was a decision made by the Muslim Brothers. Utilization of the mass media was another aspect that made the agenda successful. Another reason this program was fruitful was that they were able to educate several children. From the program, they also found that some parents were willing to educate their children, but the educational centers were extremely few especially in the city of Cairo. Banna’s emphasis on religious teaching restored lost glory to Islam in Egypt and this made him one of the most respectable imams in Egypt’s history.
Formulation of the Muslim Brotherhood brought about a new ideology in political organizations. Banna, through his society, introduced the element of Islamism in politics. That is, Banna introduced equality, as opposed to the establishment of disenfranchised classes. This method was new considering all the other political organizations were created based on the social classes of the members. Members from these parties were from aristocratic families or urban elitists. Muslim Brotherhood became the party of choice for the majority of the Egyptians mainly the middle class, both educated and the lower Zahid, 97). It also represented the peasants and workers as well even though it was thought they did have an opinion when it came to politics.
Muslim Brotherhood became known as the religious political party since it followed all the rules set down in the Qur’an. Through the course of the decade, the society placed a lot of pressure on the government to improve the conditions in which its citizens were living. Their main agenda was to reduce the disparity that existed between the poor and the rich in Egypt. Through Banna’s leadership, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to bring about some changes in the country. Banna and his ideologies proved it was possible for politics and religion to be used in synchrony (Kane, 100). This made the number of followers of the organization increase greatly.
Banna’s organization obtained many enemies especially from the British government because they were educating the ordinary citizen. Education meant that they came to know of their rights and were able to fight for them. This meant that the government had to provide the citizens with better amenities. The next thing that they anticipated would be the struggle for independence from the British. Loss of the river Nile would pose a big loss to them since their trade would have been disrupted. A permanent way to silence the organization was required to make sure their best interest was considered, disbanding it seemed to be a good way, but it was not effective since Banna still condemned their actions publicly. Assassination was the next best option, and this is believed to be the reason Al-Banna was assassinated.
Hasan Al-Banna was a great leader loved and respected by his compatriots and people from other countries, as well. He firmly believed in the Islamic faith and worked very hard to ensure the coming of the Europeans did not deter its spread. Banna helped numerous people in Egypt through his organization, Muslim Brothers. His role as the leader of this society made him respected, and one of the most legendary leaders Egypt has ever had. The era promoted Islam in Egypt and ensured that it was spread to all the parts of the country.
Fondren, Billy R. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan and Syria: a Comparison. Ft. Belvoir: Defense Technical Information Center, 2009. Print.
Hoffmann, Thorsten. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Pursuing Moderation Within an Authoritarian Environment. Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School, 2011. Print.
Kane, Patrick. Art Education and the Emergence of Radical Art Movements in Egypt: The Surrealists and the Contemporary Arts Group, 1938–1951. Vol. 44, No. 4(2010): pp. 95-119. Print.
Zahid, Mohammed. The Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s Succession Crisis: The Politics of Liberalization and Reform in the Middle East. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2010. Print.
Zollner, Barbara H. E. The Muslim Brotherhood: Hasan Al-Hudaybi and Ideology. London: Routledge, 2009. Print.