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This article presents an account of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Islamic Brotherhood. It focuses on his vision for Palestine and how support for Hamas by the pro-Palestinian lobby in Britain has helped to heighten the surge of Islamic revivalism throughout the Muslim world.
It begins with a quotation by Hasan al-Banna illustrating his commitment to Islamic revivalism.
”Any span of land in which there is a Muslim proclaiming there is no God but Allah, or wherever the banner of God once raised becomes a trust in the hands of all Muslims to be given to God and to his prophet. They should defend its freedom with their bodies and should devote their lives and money to maintaining it”. (Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood)
”In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians” is an all too familiar chant to anyone who has participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration since 2008. Ostensibly it is a powerful rallying call, which invokes empathy for an oppressed people, a camaraderie with fellow demonstrators and a belief that the cause is winnable. For the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) it is much more, it is a mantra; a reminder of a duty to Islam and an expression of true Islamic identity. In 1937 a letter found its way into the Egyptian magazine entitled ‘al-Nazeer’, it was written by al-Ikhwan founder Hasan al-Banna to the British ambassador and attributed a failure by Muslims to liberate Palestine to a lack of resolve and a retreat from their religion:
“the Palestinian cause was not solved, not because the Muslims can’t solve it, but because they don’t want to solve it, and they don’t want because they don’t feel; this is because they are fake Muslims”, Ikhwanweb (2007).
The pro-Palestine lobby in Britain, demos and convoys
In (2002), al-Ikhwan’s representative the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) organised a demonstration in London. It was in suppport of the second Palestinian Intafada (2000), which ostensibly began at the the al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, a site, which is of special significance to al-Ikhwan founder Hasan al-Banna. The Intafada was orchestrated by the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, a grass roots organisation that emerged (1974) from a Gazan Islamic centre designed to promote Qur’anic teachings and conduct charitable works. The London protest was reported to be 100,000 strong and as the crowd marched through Picadilly, hundreds of men kneeled in the road to pray.
The defence of Gaza continued in Britain, as the sometimes violent pickets of the Israeli embassy (2009) gave way to decidedly peaceful demonstrations (2014). In February and December (2009), Muslim and non-Muslims supported MAB to stockpile vehicles bound for Gaza. MAB supporters included such notable figures as the New Labour politician George Galloway and journalist Evonne Ridley, who had converted to Islam while held hostage by the Taliban. The first convoy journeyed through North Africa, though both the Tunisian and Egyptian governments forbade its entry to their respective capital cities.
The second convoy processed through Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan but many of its number were refused entry into Egypt and returned to Syria; on both occasions some essential supplies did reach their destination. The Egyptian authories viewed support for Gaza as synonomous with the growing momentum of al-Ikhwan both in Egypt and throughout Arabia. A premise that was not without foundation, as is showcased by the subsequent Arab Spring.
Al-Ikhwan: its beginninings
Al-Ikhwan began life in Ismailiyah (1928), in the Suez region of Lower Egypt and it was there that chief policy maker Sheik Hasan al-Banna began developing a strategy to restore the Caliphate (Khalifa) and Islamic unity. Al-Ikhwan’s administrative system was intricate, its regional boards were centralised in Cairo and the executive committees were responsible for every aspect of social life, as al-Banna viewed Islam not simply as a religion but as a nationality and socio-political system. Nevertheless, Arabic unity was an essential first step as the Prophet Mohammed had chosen Arabic as the language of the Qur’an and the Hadiths (the words of the Prophet as recorded by his companions).
Between 1936 and 1938 the Egyptian Ikhwan flourished as its membership increased from 8000 to 200,000; this occurred amidst the political intrigue and turmoil of ousting British colonialism. Al-Banna’s vision required Arab unity to transcend national and geographical boundaries thus al-Ikhwan supported the Palestinian Arab revolt in 1936. It organised demonstrations in Egypt and sent money to the striking Palestinian workers. Despite numerous setbacks in Egypt, Palestine remained pivotal to al-Banna’s aspirations until his assassination (1947).
According to al-Banna the special significance of Palestine derives from a Qur’anic passage, which describes how God (Allah) took the prophet Mohammed from Mecca on a night journey to the Temple mount, the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque (al-Masjid al-Aqsa) in Jerusalem. The mosque had yet to be built but the Arabic word Masjid literally translates as a place of worship. The parable illustrates the importance of Jerusalem to the Islamic faith and al-Banna called on all Muslims to observe this, as he viewed Palestine to be part of the Islamic body and structure of Islamic identity. Palestine, he claimed is the property of all Muslims and to forsake it is to forsake Allah.
Al-Banna considered the passage a catalyst for the seige of Jerusalem by the first Rashidun Khalifa (634). From that point to the mandates (1914), when the borders were redrawn by western powers, Palestine, along with many of the surrounding territories, effectively fell within the auspices of the Christian crusaders, successive Islamic dynasties and warring European powers. Between 1914 and 1936 the west was relinquishing its power and the future of Palestine was adrift. The Zionists were buying up much of the land and Jewish migration was increasing but the full impact was yet to materialise, thus al-Banna’s hopes were not without foundation.
Following al-Banna’s death his successor Sayyid Qutb extended al-Ikhwan’s sphere of influence, notably to Saudi Arabian born Osama Bin Laden and the Iranian religious and revolutionary leader, Imam Ayatollah Khomeini. Qutb’s most popular book ‘Milestones’ highlights his belief that people are subservient only to God’s will, a view point that led to his execution in Egypt (1967). Al-Ikhwan’s revivalist philosophy directly opposes the concept of the nation state and almost certainly contributes to the declaration of a Khalifa in the Raqqa province of Northern Syria.
A Palestinian homeland or an Islamic state?
In the light of his doctrine one might conclude that al-Banna’s vision was not that of a traditional homeland for the Palestinian people but rather of an Islamic state. This sentiment echoes in the chant ”In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians”, as it inspires tens of thousands of British Muslims to take to the streets and persuades them to adopt the creed of a unified Islam, regardless of their geographical roots. Al-Banna’s commitment to an Islamic nation is encapsulated in the following declaration:
”For every region in which there is a Muslim saying: ‘There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah.’, is our homeland, inviolable and sacred, demanding love, sincerity, and sincere effort for the sake of its welfare”, Ikhwanweb (2007).