How the Muslim Brotherhood was established and what are its main ideologies? Is this movement different than the current movements that carry its banners and had military tendencies? How does the West in general and the United States in particular see and deal with this movement?
The Muslim Brotherhood, the best known and widespread movement in the Arab and Muslim World. Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, as they are called in Arabic, was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, a 22-year-old elementary school teacher and social reformer from Egypt. Al-Banna came from a well educated family in al-shari'a, the Muslim law. His father was a preacher in a Cairo mosque and by profession, he was a repair watchman. Hassan al-Banna was inspired by and belonged to a Sufi movement. At his early age, he actively participated in the political life during the British occupation of Egypt. He received his education in Cairo and was deeply disturbed by Western influence upon the Egyptian social fabrics. He perceived the secular west as corrupt morally and was deeply concerned by how Muslims were drifting away from the path of Islam.
The two most influential reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were Muhammad Abduh and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. Both of them were considered the founding fathers of modernizing Islam. Looking at western superior economic, technological and military power, 'Abduh was shocked by decline of a once powerful Arab and Muslim community, al-ummah. In his opinion, Islam had greatly drifted from the righteous path and from the main principles that were prevalent during the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the four Kalifate. Modern Muslims need to imitate early "pious predecessor" or "al-salaf al-saleh," who practiced a correct form of Islam. He mainly advocated education as the basis to redirect Muslim and to bridge the gap between Islam with modernity.
Jamal al-Din al-Afghani shared most of 'Abdu's philosophy and teachings. He was, however, more of a political activist that a scholar. Al-Afghani was raised in Iran, but it was in Cairo that he began his political activism. He traveled widely in Europe and was astonished to see the progress there while The Muslim world suffered from backwardness. He, similar to 'Abduh, advocated the return to the ideals of Islam to regain the power lost against colonial powers.
Al-Banna was deeply affected by 'Abduh and al-Ahfghani's views of how to revive Islam. But it was Rashid Rida, a Syrian and a disciple of Abdu, who influenced al-Banna the most. A jurist and an able scholar, Rida did not totally ascribe to Islamic traditions. He blamed the faqih or ''ulama" for most of the ills of society as they failed to educate the masses to achieve progress. All these three earlier reformers shared a common vision: to rebuild a nation that long had been in decline.
Al-Banna's message was loud and clear. He preached against western secularization and cultural decay of Muslim society. He did not believe that religion and politics are separable. He intended the movement to be a reformist movement designed to revive Islam during its declining stage. This spiritual ideology had a mission to combat social decadence and religious ineptness. It was due to al-Banna's charismatic leadership that new recruits joined its ranks. The organization's main original purpose was to foster religious education, to improve the life of the less fortunate through charity, and to promote the establishment of Islamic nation. It was opposed to violence and practiced peaceful means to achieve its objectives. Al-Banna was able to bridge the gap between the idealism of 'Abduh and the realism and activism of al-Afghani.
The movement actively participated in the 1948 war against Israel. It gained popularity shortly thereafter. Al-Banna was gunned down in 1949 at the age of 43. During the 1950s, Sayyid Qutb became its most influential intellectual and leader of the Movement. His famous books, Ma'alem fi al-Tariq (Milestones) and Fi Zilal al-Quran (In the Shadows of the Quran), were widely read by the members of the Movement. He advocated concepts such as "jihad" and "Takfeer" those who abandoned Islam and become unbelievers, infidels. Although he got his university education in the United States, Qutb however criticized the secular and materialistic life he observed in America. He rejected western values as inferior to the purity of Islam.
Today, AL-Ikhwan, or the Brotherhood, is one of the most influential organizations in the modern Arab World. It is mostly active in Egypt, Gaza, Syria, and Jordan and had many adherents in Saudi Arabia and North Africa. It operates openly in many countries and most of the time it is gone underground. It has a large base among the poor which is mainly attributed to its widespread network of charity. The organization does not condone military approach to take power from secularist regimes but to work in the framework of current political system to gain recognition and win seats in the parliament. It is perceived as a moderate movement in comparison to more radical ones and does not subscribe to the terrorist organization of al-Qa'eda led by Usama Bin Laden and his deputy al-Zawaheri. It is considered a moderate voice among the competing ideologies where the United States refuses to acknowledge or deal with it directly.