The Birth of Islamic Radicalization

The Muslim brotherhood was institutionalized in 1928 by Hasan Al Bana in Egypt. At the time it was just a small organization – a party that was created based on the reaction of increasing western influence in Egypt – due to the Suez Canal project that was happening at the time, where British immigrated to Egypt for the project, creating a division in the Egyptian society. British were living in luxury residences and facilities while the other side of Egyptian community (Muslims) were living in poor conditions, thus inspiring Al-Bana that this inequality shall not be tolerated. The brotherhood gained its popularity through the social causes; education and training centers, charities, hospitals and its growing influence on areas the government failed to deliver the services to the common people. So how did it lead to radicalization?

Their main goals were: follow Quran and Sunnah, and unify the world under Shari’a system, eliminate corruption and fight for justice, eradicate foreign domination and western values from Muslim lives, create an Islamic Caliphate without westernization –opposing nationalization, to raise a generation of Muslims who would understand Islam accurately and act according to its teaching. It was an “Islamic Totalitarian Mass Movement” and was defined as,

“a Salafiyya message, a Sunni way, a Sufi truth, a political organization, an athletic group, a cultural-educational union, an economic company, and a social idea.”

The original slogan of brotherhood was “Islam is the Solution” with its Motto:

“Allah is our objective, the Quran is our constitution, Prophet is our leader, Jihad is our Path and death in the name of Allah is our goal”.

The main goals were focused on dominating the nation and the world by imposing Shari’ah law and governing the entire planet under one complete Islamic system. Nonetheless, Muslim brotherhood did not promote jihad or radicalization at that point. It was in 1948 – 1949, with increasing university graduates and growing middles working class groups that brotherhood ideologies started shifting –  further opposing secularism, democracy, and nationalism. These oppositions led to clashes between the brotherhood and Egyptian government elites, fueling conflicts between the two groups that soon led to the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud, which later steered to the assassination of Hasan Al-Bana, the murder of Islamic leader as a form of revenge in 1949. In spite of this,  the government accused brotherhood of operating a secret militant organization and promoting killing as “jihad” to achieve their objectives, proclaiming brotherhood was no longer a peaceful organization promoting Islamic ideologies and peace in the name of Islam. This was the first wave of radicalization in brotherhood history and one of the significant periods in Islamic history – when Sayyid Qutb came into the picture that revolutionized the growth of Islam in the world.

Born in Egypt in the early 20th century, Sayyid Qutb was admired as a mentor, author, poet and a trainer with his intellectual background in education and culture, closely associated with social and political movements in Egypt at the time and a member of Muslim Brotherhood in 1950. In this modern time, Qutb widely accepted as the scholar who introduced the notion of “radical Islamism” with the architecture of “Jihad” as violent means to achieve the goals and legitimize the Islamic ideologies. Qutb was not a radical Islamist at the beginning, his transformation of ideologies went through a progression of secularism (moderate and liberal) moving towards fundamental and traditionalist beliefs, lasting with radical Islamisation. Qutb’s turning point towards “radicalization” was a gradual process with many factors inter-linked on the process of how Islamic ideologies were becoming more influenced by West and American Values (modernity) and the Islamic community – ummah was spiraling into a jahiliyyah – [“ignorance of divine guidance” or “the state of ignorance of the guidance from God”].

“Our whole environment, people’s beliefs, and ideas, habits and art, rules and laws — is Jahiliyyah, even to the extent that what we consider to be Islamic culture, Islamic sources, Islamic philosophy and Islamic thought are also constructs of Jahiliyyah!”
“The whole world is steeped in Jahiliyyah. We must … free ourselves from the clutches of jahili society, jahili concepts, jahili traditions and jahili leadership.”

There are two major defining moments of Qutb’s life that explains and is argued upon his militant ideologies. First, his time spent in America exposed him to the modernity of people engage in shameless and immoral behaviors. Secondly, his criticisms, social and political anti-influences on Nasser regime in 1954 led to his incarceration from 1954 till 1964 – pushing him in finding deeper meaning and denouncing western values and introducing radicalization through his “Signposts”. His release from prison lasted a short duration, carrying out an assassination attempt on President Nasser [to overthrow the jahiliyyah and become a martyr – a shahid who have died in God’s name and defending Islam), being imprisoned again in 1965 and executed the following year.

“This movement uses … physical power and Jihaad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the jahili system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs but forces them to obey their erroneous ways [i.e. what they want to do] and make them serve human lords instead of the Almighty Lord.”

However, his death was supported and preached by his follows as a hero – a shahid who died for Islam, which escalated his beliefs and ideologies to be further accepted by muslim community throughout the world – inspired by mix of Al-Bana ideologies with Qutb’s belief of radicalization – dividing the orientations of Muslim Brotherhood into:

1. Moderate and pragmatic Islamist brotherhood under the leadership of Hasan Al Hudaybi, who succeeded the general guide after Al- Bana. Hudaybi was more focused on a gradual approach, acceptance of secularism and nationalism, focused on political strategies to gently win power and increase influence within the government system so that they can establish an Islamic rule within the system. While the moderate Muslims brotherhood believes in Islamic Caliphate, a manhaj and hakimiyya, their focus is more gradual and rational through political and social strategies, embracing democracy as an alternative to jihad but using their political influence to change the government policy systems and establish Shari’ah system.

2. Radicalized Islamists fighting world domination, Aa more radicalized group following the leadership of Qutb focusing on Jihad and radical means of violence to bring justice and achieve their missions and world domination.

This two orientation steered the creation of Islamic organizations we see today. While some organizations have a mix od Al-Bana and Qutb’s ideologies, other organizations are solely focused on promoting Qutb’s principles and the notion of radicalization.

  • Jama-at al-Islami founded by Abul A’la Maududi, a key Islamic figure in Islamic history who shaped the foundations of Pakistan, promoting Islamic values and teaching at the same time of Qutb and Al-Bana. He also opposed nationalism and believed in establishing a caliphate and Jihad is the way for Islamic world domination, but were challenged with political situations between India and Pakistan.
  • Ruhollah Khomeini was a Shiite scholar who was the main weapon of Iranian Revolution in 1979 and establishing an Islamic State in Iran proving the ideologies of Qutb and principles of brotherhood, that nations can adopt Shari’ah as a complete system.
  • Hamas and Hezbollah are more similar in operation to the muslim brotherhood and are national organizations working in their territory to establish the goals and principles of brotherhood with respect to their country.
  • Al-Qaida and ISIS are transnational actors totally inspired by Qutb’s ideologies and strongly believe in radicalization and violence. Their main focus is world domination by Islam and eliminating wester ideologies by eliminating United States and the West from power and hegemony. ISIS claims to believe in the same principles of founding brotherhood principles, but they solely believe in Jihad as the solution and believe they should have the power and authority of Islamic Caliphate. They have killed more muslims than non-muslims; criticizing the concept of takfirisma muslim accusing another muslim of apostasy, derived from the word kafir – the disbeliever. Al-Qaeda also claims to believe in the founding principles of muslim brotherhood, but they are more focused on eliminating the western and American values; specially focused on destroying United States and Israel –the chief power and threat and claiming the authority of holy city; Jerusalem. Both ISIS and Al-Qaeda calls out for global jihad and violence as the only means.

However, over the years the term “radicalization” or radical Islamism and “jihad” has been misused and abused in various forms, manipulating the meaning and objective behind the term and its ideology. The radical Islamism and jihadists we see today are no longer fundamental to core beliefs of Muslim brotherhood and Sayyid Qutb; where the objectives were derived or based on proving concepts from Quran and Prophets Sunnah.

Islam is a religion of peace and provides many solutions to problems, and the notion of the radical Islamism we see today is just a selective interpretation of what Islam or Islamism should be. The surprising fact is that the line distinguishing between Islamism, fundamentalism, or radicalization is lost within Islamic society with new meanings and definitions of religious wars, holy war, and defensive wars. While these actions have confused everyone who is a non-Muslim, these selective actions have humiliated all the Muslims practicing the fundamental beliefs of peace, prosperity, and equality.


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