Arabism, Islamic history, religion

Part 2: The history of the House of Saud: Wahabiizm, the Salafiyyah and the Muslim Brothers

The Salafiyyah continued, Mohammed Abduh and Rashid Rida

Mohammed Abduh was Egyptian and developed the work of Jamal ad- Din Afghani. He believed God was the supreme ruler and the founder of Islamic principles and observed the word of Mohammed whom he believed to be the last Prophet. As was true of al-Afghani and other scholars when it came to the law and social morality he believed Islamic principles should continue to be observed and that the Ulama give guidance according to reason and in consideration of changing circumstances.

Along with Mohammed Abduh, Rashid Rida produced the publication  ‘al-Manar’ and after his friend’s death he advocated the foundation of a new Khalifa. This was partly in response to the ”audacity” of the Turkish nationalist leader Mustafa Kemel Ataturk who had dissolved the Ottoman empire. Though the empire was, in some people’s view, the last true Khalifa the Salafiyyah movement had never viewed it as such. Judging by an entry from the ‘On-line Encyclopedia Britannica’, Rida was a pacifist and his vision rather idealised as he advocated a Khalifa, within which Islamic ideas could be discussed, interpreted and act as an advisory body to governments in the region.

The reform of the legal system

Mr Esposito in his book ‘Islam The Straight Path’ points out, that despite good intentions and the modernist approach adopted by al-Afghani, Abduh and Rida for a time, the actual reform of the legal system was problematic. Needless to say Islamic ”purists” believed, that such reforms were an attempt to accommodate the west.  Responses to this from the various schools were ultimately underpinned by the philosophy of reason, which predates western supremacy. Abduh was a great advocator of women’s rights and denied, that polygamy was a prerequisite of the Islamic faith. He introduced educational and other reforms, which were welcomed by young people and intellectuals including members of the Ulama.

After the death of Mohammed Abduh, Rida’s gradual departure from the modernist or centralist philosophy of the Salafiyyah appears to centre around the belief, that law reform required more than the set of piecemeal regulations. Abduh had relied on the Maliki (one of the schools of Jurisprudence) principles  of ”public interest’, which was a subsidiary strand in classical jurisprudence and advocated, in a nutshell, that the law should move with the times but Rida gradually adopted the principles of the Hanbali School whereby social situations are adapted to Islamic principles.

This emulated the approach of Ibn Taymiyyeh centuries before and the philosophy of reason was marginalised once again. A true Khalifa was integral to the construct as Islamic law and was to be administered by the Ulama. Many of Rida’s fellow Salafists had adopted secularism and more secular regimes were emerging or were to emerge in the region, including in his own country Syria. This was in the period between the two world wars and the west was again on the rampage. Unlike his two compatriots Rida was a home bird and not familiar with western culture or more importantly western languages. He became attracted to the Wahabiiz movement in the Arabian peninsula and his doctrine had a profound effect on the views of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brothershood of today.

Is the Islamic Brotherhood part of the Islamist movement?

Essentially yes but Hourani in his history of the Arab people describes how there was a polarisation in the 1960s as some of the movement’s leaders were willing to make concessions to existing regimes. There was of course an agenda as this gave them a say in policy decisions and there was always the hope, that they might sway public opinion and take charge. The movement and its contribution to the 2011 uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia is clear but in Syria whether or not they conspired with the mercenary forces to overthrow the secular regime is a grey area.

The Brotherhood’s popularity in the Muslim world is controversial, when Mohammed Morsi won the election in Egypt in 2012 his victory may well have been simply due to a wish for a regime change as he promised to be a moderate leader. We’ll never know now as he was quickly deposed, with the help of Britain. Tunisia is dogged by attacks inspired by pan Islamism despite the fact, that the new 2012 constitution incorporates Islamic principles into the legal system. Perhaps the attacks are due to the tardiness of the Tunisian government in drawing up and instituting the new laws.

In Syria the Muslim Brothers seemed to be divided and did not appear publicly, in 2011, as an opposition to the secular Ba’athist regime. Instead a movement known as the Free Syrian Army emerged and their political and religious roots were subjugated as the western media focused on their calls for ”democracy”. What we do know is, that the two opposing ideologies of pan Arabism and pan Islamism have competed for around a century or longer if you consider, that so called secularism is intertwined with Islamic principles but administered in tandem with modern legal systems.

Hasan al-Banna

Hasan al-Banna was born in Ismailia, lower Egypt he harboured similar concerns to Rida about the decline of Islam and the rise of secularism, particularly among young people. The journal ‘Ikhwanweb’ reports, that al-Banna believed Islam transcends all international borders and nationalities, which was the basis for the Khalifa in the time of the prophet and in the early years of Islam. At that time conversion to Islam was a clear objective, which may not be the case today though in Syria now, there are tax incentives for the Christian population as there was under the old Khalifas.

Next time more about al Banna, the Hanbali school and the rise of Wahabiizm



Part 2: The history of the House of Saud: Wahabiizm, the Salafiyyah, the Muslim Brothers


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