“Allah is our objective; the Quran our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; struggle is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”
In 1924, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey and the ascension of Ataturk to the leadership of a new secular government, ended the Islamic Caliphate. The Caliphate had been led by Istanbul for centuries, even though its power had steadily waned after the disastrous defeat of Muslim forces by the Poles at the siege of Vienna in 1683. With the establishment of secular rule in Turkey, there was no longer a single Islamic political power.
The reaction to the loss of the Caliphate led to two major Islamist movements, both of which, along with their successor groups, are still making their presence felt today. The first was the Wahabi sect in Saudi Arabia, which soon became the guiding ideology of the House of Saud, and remains the backbone of Salafist ideology to this day. Wahabism grew out of the tribal Bedouin society of the Arabian Peninsula and soon became what Walid Phares calls “Top-Down jihad.”
The second group to emerge in the pursuit of a new Caliphate was “al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen,” the “Society of Muslim Brothers.” Founded in 1928 by an Egyptian schoolteacher, Hassan al-Banna, it stated its purpose from the outset–shariah law and the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate. The quote at the top of the page is from the Muslim Brotherhood’s mission statement.
As part of al-Banna’s intense hatred for secular and materialist forces in the modern world, he began to adopt elements of European anti-capitalism and Marxism in his ideology. Elements, particularly of the anti-capitalism, can still be found in a great deal of Islamist ideology today. It also led into the kind of internationalism that the international communists were espousing, only with international jihad and shariah law being the goals, rather than communism.
The first major international act of the Muslim Brotherhood was the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-39. Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, incited his people to a three-year war against the British and Jews in the Palestine Mandate. Amin al Husseini was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood membership spiked during the war, going from around 800 in 1936 to over 200,000 by 1939.
During the Second World War, the Muslim Brotherhood sided with Nazi Germany. The Brotherhood’s institutional anti-Semitism fit well with the Reich’s policies, while other similarities in their worldviews and goals brought the two ideologies even closer together. While Hitler’s ideal was Aryan domination of the world, the Brotherhood’s was Islamic domination of the world. For the time being, Nazi Germany and the Muslim Brotherhood were great friends, united in anti-Semitic and anti-British sentiment.
Hassan al-Banna was firmly committed to an alliance with Nazi Germany, as well as Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. It was al-Husseini, however, who would be the primary bridge figure between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Germans. As early as 1933, he had assured the German envoy to Palestine that he looked forward to the expansion of fascism and anti-democratic governments to other countries. He used Nazi iconography extensively in his Muslim youth groups, and in 1937, even met with Adolf Eichmann to further cement the alliance. In 1941, he met Hitler himself, praising the Germans for “knowing how to get rid of Jews.” From his own memoirs, and testimony from the Nuremberg war crimes trials, it has been revealed that al-Husseini was planning an Auschwitz-style death camp near Nablus. He also directly collaborated in blocking Jewish refugees from entering Palestine, getting them sent to the death camps instead.
During the war, al-Husseini recruited three divisions of Bosnian Muslims for the Waffen-SS, to serve in Yugoslavia. The largest, the 13th Waffen-SS Handzar (Dagger) Division, became notorious for the swath of destruction they carved through Yugoslavia, killing Jews, Gypsies and Serbian Christians.
Before and during the war, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazi Propaganda Ministry cooperated extensively. Some of the common ground can still be seen in Brotherhood propaganda today, especially as aimed against Jews.
One of the Brotherhood’s chief ideologues, Sayyid Qutb, traveled to the US in 1949, returning to Egypt in 1950. Qutb was reportedly shocked by the support for Israel he found in the US, and declared the US an enemy of Islam, going so far as to speak of a “Jewish onslaught on Islam, with Christian complicity”. The US has been a target for the Brotherhood ever since.
The Brotherhood opposed Communism during the Cold War, though with their well-established antipathy toward the West, this was largely because it was being repressed by Communist allies such as Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, which remained the Brotherhood’s headquarters. During Nasser’s attempts to crush the Brotherhood, the organization fled to Saudi Arabia several times and ties were established with the Wahabis. This led to a considerably pronounced blending in both the ideology and strategy of the movements.
The Brotherhood was instrumental in rallying fighters to go to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in 1979. Many of these Brotherhood-affiliated fighters have become the jihadists fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and wherever other jihad fronts have opened up today.
Unlike the Saudi-sponsored Wahabis, the Brotherhood started underground and has remained so for most of its existence. So have its offshoots: while the Brotherhood has direct branches in just about every major Arab nation, there have been a considerable number of its members who have considered it too slow and too timid in pursuing its goals of global shariah. The Brotherhood has always looked at the long game, using ruthless jihad when the circumstances permitted it, but also playing nice with Arab governments when the circumstances called for a slower, more moderate approach. Several of the offshoot groups include Hamas, Islamic Jihad, The National Islamic Front of Hassan Turabi in Sudan, Gamaat Islamiya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Jamaat Islami and Abu Sayyaf.
Through Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Brotherhood was involved in the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981 in retaliation for his signing the Camp David Accords with Israel.
Many of the most notorious Islamic Terrorists of the last decades have been members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, was a close student of Sayyid Qutb. Ayman al-Zawahiri started in the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Islamic Jihad before he joined Osama Bin Laden in Al Qaeda. Many of Al Qaeda’s roots come from the Brotherhood, though it is primarily an offshoot of the Wahabi movement in Saudi Arabia.
In 2012, in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution against Mubarak, the Brotherhood rose to a position of governmental authority in Egypt, for the first time in its history. Muhammad Morsi was elected president, with the blessing of Yusuf al Qaradawi, a prominent intellectual leader in the Brotherhood (though he has refused any official leadership role). Qaradawi is on record praising Hitler’s efforts to exterminate the Jews, and praying that Allah will grant the Muslims the ability to finish what Hitler started.
Morsi’s first year as president was rocky and led to a considerable backlash against the Brotherhood in Egypt, leading to his overthrow in June of 2013, and the removal of the Brotherhood from power in the process. How this will affect the Brotherhood’s long-term strategy remains to be seen; they have been in existence for almost 95 years and are unlikely to go away overnight.