On the Making of the “Young” Muslim Brotherhood

[Apologies for the mnay tpyos and gramatical miskates taht is whole ofer the plasse. I have no time to proof reed]

The Egyptian revolution removed the vail from the very popular yet very unknown group called al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Despite being banned for decades and after a huge attacking campaign from the media, public and private, they became central to the Egyptian Revolution.The post revolution discussion about them, both positively and negatively, explains a lot about how central they will be in the future of Egypt. Following the media after the revolution made me realize how ignorant people are about this movement, its organization, and its very ideas. Even those who are considered elite intellects make some funny comments, something that made it obvious to me that they build their understanding about the MB from what they watch in the media.The may have had some interaction with the MB politicians, yet, only through the very little political margin given to them by the previous regime.

On the other hand, people could not deny the civilized and the effective role they played during the Egyptian Revolution, which revealed an effort that bore its fruits during one the greatest event in the Egyptian history. The “Young” generation of this movement, among the young people of Egypt, showed itself as one of the most important assets Egypt has, if not the most important. But these young people did not come from no where. They did not just pop up showing value immediately like this. There ought to be an explanation of this phenomenon as there ought to be one for the rest of the Egyptian youth who impressed all of us during this very unique revolution. The amount of discipline, organization, and commitment the MB youth had makes the question harder, as you can’t be that disciplined, organized, and committed on your own especially in a society that is full of illnesses and lack of commitment.

Since some people, especially some intellects and politicians, are convinced that the MB are intellectually oppressive, close-minded, and have a personal (evil) agenda, they could not explain what they saw from these young MB members except by differentiating between them and their leaders. Now we hear these two terms a lot in the media, “the MB” and “the MB youth,” clearly stating that these are two different entities and hence values and qualities. The media continued to presents us with the MB as an old, male, intellectually oppressive, and personal agenda motivated leadership. On the other side, they present the poor, impressive, enlightened, valuable, modern, yet oppressed young MB as a different entiry. There were calls and even campaigns to liberate those young MB from the oppression of the MB as Egypt liberates itself from the old corrupt regime.

In this note, I would like to make the statement that it is very unfair to make such a distinction. It is also not an informed conclusion to arrive at. I invite the reader to go through the rest of the note to conduct the analysis by themselves.

The “Islam” of the Muslim Brotherhood – The Idea

Being someone who read a lot of the writings of the MB authors and intellects and someone who interacted with them on the personal level, I believe Islam the MB presents to people is the closest to what Muhammad (pbuh) presented to his people when he received the message from Allah. Of course, I am not saying that the MB has a different version of Islam than what the rest of Egyptian Muslims or all Muslims in the world have. Rather, the same faith, text, and tradition were utilized by the MB to present young people with a true religion, a religion that can help them live a peaceful, civilized, and productive life, while expecting a rewarding and blessed after life. The MB understanding of Islam came in coherence with the human nature. Hassan Al-Banna (may Allah have mercy on him and reward him the best for his founding thoughts and effort) presented to Egypt, and hence the world, Islam in a real form. Away from the puzzles of fiqh that were prominent then, he presented a very straight forward understanding. Away from the materialistic life, he presented a very spiritual offering. Away from the useless debates, he presented a project of liberation and civilization for Egypt and the whole Muslim nation. Away from disunity and political fights, he presented a “Brotherhood.” In a Muslim world occupied with foreign forces, he presented a plan for liberation.  Islam that MB presents is the Islam people need and is the solution to their personal, family, and society’s problems. It is Islam that gives them a role to play, a cause to live for, and a dream to live. It is simple to understand yet very deep to reflect on. It is a long cause to live for yet you can start living it tomorrow.

As a young person living in Egypt, I found out that this is the “Islam” that I want to embrace. As I was born Muslim embracing Islam as a faith and practicing its rituals, the MB presentation of Islam was EXACTLY what I needed.

I am sure people are surprised how the MB were able to attract a large number of young people to interact with them, learn from them, and even “join” them while being officially banned by the government. It is very surprising that young people dare to belong to an organization while they know that this might threaten their future and even their lives. It is not JUST Islam that attracted them. It is the MB presentation and realization of Islam that attracted them.

The atmosphere of the Muslim Brotherhood

I am very surprised when people call the MB leaders to be intellectually oppressive (some of that later). But one of the things I think the MB succeeded to do is to give those young people an opportunity to live a healthy organizational life they have been missing in their “normal” society. Most of Egyptian parents do not promote a democratic atmosphere at home. The teacher in the school teaches people in a one direction fashion where the students barely have a chance to speak, debate, or question. There was no organizations or societies where young people can find home to volunteer, and lead. Businesses, companies, government agencies, schools, and even religious organizations were lead by selected leaders whose leadership knowledge and skills are unquestionable. Expressing opinion, let alone the full practice of democracy, was an evil act that is blame-worthy and sometimes deserves punishment.

In the midst of this society, the MB gave those young people a chance to volunteer, be part of committees, run projects and lead projects, interact, express their opinion, debate their ideas, even get into intellectual and organizational conflict, and practice democracy (known as Shura in the MB and Islamic tradition). I experienced those young MB organizing small event such as a sports tournament in the neighborhood and great events like a political campaign for a district candidate. People think that in these event, the leadership will be given to a few leaders who just give orders to the intellectually oppressed “soldiers.” On the contrary, these events were opportunities to give those young people a chance to learn and excel in community and political work in a way that was not there in the society AT ALL.

The Spirituality of the Muslim Brotherhood

What was also very effective in the making of these young MB is this very unique value Islam has and the MB focused on, that is, spirituality. Their spirituality was unique not in the sense that they were the only place for people to gain emotions. As a matter of fact, there were many other groups and ideologies that had more spirituality than the MB. Rather, it was in the attachment of spirituality in the normal life. Interacting with the MB gives those young people the chance to utilize their emotions while continuing to live their normal life. I remember when I was first introduced to this idea of “converting regular life habits” to “rituals” by just recalling a pure good intention performing those habit. Even having fun can be done with such an intention and one can gain a lot of reward, while having fun. One can argue that this is a very genuine Islamic concept and very well known in the literature. Not only do I agree but also acknowledge that most the MB ideas and values rely on such genuine Islamic concept. They, however, were able to bring life to the books and show those young people a great example of how to practice these Islamic values. I remember the referee bringing the two teams together before the game and reminding them of many intentions they can take before playing the game, something I used to make fun of originally but I appreciate and value a lot now given the habit it instilled in many people like me. There can be a lot of materialistic reward doing activities, volunteering, and organizing, but the spiritual and the emotional atmosphere the MB were able to create for their members, especially the young ones who are hungry for it, was unique and was a real magnet to these young people. Not surprisingly, this value was the strongest value that kept the MB steadfast in the face of many external and internal struggles and conflicts the group went through

The Brotherhood of the Muslim Brotherhood

“The secrete of your strength,” is how Hassan al-Banna described ‘brotherhood’ to his MB members. As the Prophet (pbuh) described “loving for the sake of Allah” as the strongest tie of Iman, this concept was one of the most unique values of the MB and one of the strongest magnets to the young people. The Egyptian people are friendly by nature and very social by their very upbringing. The concept of brotherhood is very intrinsic to Egyptians. In addition to that, ‘brotherhood’ is a genuine Islamic concept. All these things made the people of Egypt hungry for this quality. Again the MB made these concept a reality. The Egyptian society lost a lot of its friendly nature. We started realizing relationships that  are only based on materialistic reasons, I only call someone, visit someone, or befriend someone when I need them. We also started seeing unnecessary competitions for wealth and even sports. Pure friendship was rare and often has impurities of not being obedient to Allah. (I remember that I had a very nice group of friends, yet being with them is not always a good thing to do–you know what I mean). For a young person who would like to be committed to Islam and still live this nice brotherhood, MB was the perfect place. It really impresses those young people when someone, whom they just interchanged phone numbers with today, calls them the next day JUST to ask about them. It was amazing to see how this brotherhood translates itself to real support when someone faces a life challenge, happy or sad. It was practiced at its best and it was a source of steadfastness as well in the face of external and internal challenges and conflicts. I actually asked one of my friends who used to be very active with the MB social events. I asked him “Why do you guys do so many of these social events such as camps and trips.” He quickly and eloquently told me, “We want to engrave memories in the mind of young people for them to recall at the times of challenges and trials.

The Similarity of the Muslim Brotherhood

I once volunteered to represent one of the MB candidates in our district in one of the voting locations. As usual, the only way to get the power of attorney to do so is to get it through other candidates. Representing this other candidate and meeting with representatives of other candidates in the same voting location, a man in his fifties representing his own brother told me, “BTW, this man is going to win!” He was talking to the MB candidate I was representing. Of course he does not know that I represent him. When I asked him about the reason he responded, “You do not know how popular these people are. Yesterday, they had a rally in our neighborhood. They were, mash’Allah, in thousands, all in white clothes wearing long black beards!” I could not stop myself from laughing out loud and quickly apologizing and making something up to explain the laughter. The reason I was laughing is that this man did not even see the rally. He just heard about it. However, following the media presentation of the MB, he added the white clothes and the long beard to give his story a “MB” flavor.

The MB are completely different from what this man described. You can hardly pin point them within the public. They look very much like everyone else. Their belonging to the MB did not change their ‘similarity’ to the society around them. The MB is generally a reflection of the neighborhood they live in. They do not show specific dress, some wear beards and majority doesn’t. They engage in many activities that people might not even imagine they will. To parents (who are scared to death that their kids even mention the name of MB let alone interact with them), the MB people are the best friends their kids should have. They are farmers in the villages, like everyone else, many of them teach in the university, like anyone else, and their kids are jumpy and problematic like everyone else’s (and even more 🙂 )

This attribute made them very appealing to the young public. I do not have to “change” to be like these guys. I do not have to dress in a particular way or get rid of the things I do to belong. These are just the same people with a little more commitment to Islam. The MB succeeded to make commitment to Islam something easy for people to do as they succeeded to make it real and practical.

The Modernity of the Muslim Brotherhood

While the Salafi attribute is very clear in the MB literature, they are the farthest from the nowadays Salafism. They are only Salafis in tracing their understanding and beliefs to the pure understanding and beliefs of the prophet and his companions. The fact that they are trying to be very modern and contemporary in their thinking, tools, and programs made them very appealing to young people. The MB reformed a lot of their positions and adopted many contemporary ideas of modern life. Their positions regarding politics, society, and other aspects made them also easy to embrace. Many people blame the MB of not doing enough in this area. However, I think they are more modern than many other groups (Islamic or not).

The Discipline of the Muslim Brotherhood

This is actually a point that people use as praise and at the same time as dispraise. Interestingly, I read an article praising the MB of being so organized and have the highest committed members on the Egyptian scene. Yet in the same article the author makes the blame on their disciplinary mentality that kills people’s talent and their ability to be creative and independent thinkers.

I am not surprised. This is a little challenge. The challenge of having committed members who get around a project and drive it very strongly and with great focus, while allowing them to be creative and independent. The MB is not a school or an educational group, nor is it an organization of developing human resources as they appear to be. They are also acting like a political party with an agenda and with projects that needs commitment and often-time discipline, something that may take a little for its members talents and dreams. When political participation is the MB’s top priority, it is very hard for people of other talents and flavors to find room to exercise and sharpen their talent. I recall some of the stories quoted in the books of the MB about some early members who change the college of their liking to the one more beneficial to the MB projects and cause. As much discipline this creates, it also creates an environment where people feel tied.

If you add to the huge challenge the MB were facing from the government of closing all their projects, allowing them no room in media and journalism, and harassing them in their businesses, it became very difficult to accommodate all talents in different flavored projects. Also, the banned nature of the MB in the past few decades left no room for public discussions, opposition, and full democracy within the ranks of the MB. It wasn’t even clear to the members of the MB, let alone the public, who are the leaders of the MB locally so that interaction could take place. The tough secret police fest made it very scary to give women, for example, a real leadership role to play away from small projects they run away from the main scene.

The Outside of the Muslim Brotherhood

Outside the MB, there are people who are as good or even better than the MB. There are very good intellects and very good authors. Ideas were not only owned by the MB. Great qualities and great leadership is probably all over the place in the Egyptian scene. Even the ideas and the concepts Hassan Al-Banna came with were not unique to him. Every single aspect I mentioned above is probably embraced by others and they out performed the MB in it. However, it is highly unlikely you find all of these things together in a single group not only in theory but also in practice. It is not practiced over a short period of time but rather a few decades. Most of the time these things were practiced, they were practiced under a hostile oppressive regime which made it more challenging and probably made it more successful.

Aren’t there any problems with these guys?

The MB are just a group of human beings. Humans make mistakes as the Prophet mentioned. They, as individuals, make mistakes and they as groups make mistakes. They, as a whole movement and organization make mistakes. It is very important that we deal with such a group (and any other group for that matter) as a human group. Their ideas are human, their application of these ideas is a human one. The fact that they take Islam as a foundation of their work does not stop them from making mistakes. They also suffer from the same illnesses and problems the Egyptian society suffers from and they are face same challenges the rest of Egyptians are facing. They also get lazy like everyone else and the Shaitan can trap them as he can with other people. They can also fail in a project they run and make decisions that are not fully correct.

However, they realize that and they try their best to minimize their mistakes, learn from them, and improve as they make more mistakes. They probably need to do more in all aspects including the ones they excel in. They need to cope with the very rapid change Egypt is going through and deal with a reality they never dealt with before. They also need to watch for their intention and the very basic goal they set for themselves, for I believe the time of freedom and openness is as challenging or even more challenging than the time of oppression.

The point I want to make

This note is not meant to single out the MB as the only good people in Egypt. It is not meant to praise them or give them more popularity (since not many people are going to read it anyway). Rather, it is a reminder to those who speak very negatively about the MB to realize the much good in them. Also, it is an attempt to explain that those young MB did not just pop up from the ground. They were the product of a planned, blessed, and sophisticated effort by their elder who people call, oppressors.

 

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