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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Muslim Brotherhood and the Upheavals in the Middle East

 by Prof. Gabriel Sawma

 The most important figure of Muslim Brotherhood since its establishment in 1928 is the writings of a long dead Egyptian Muslim scholar called Sayyid Qutb (1906-66). Outside the Muslim world, he remains virtually unknown, yet he has been cited as the figure that has most influenced al-Qaida leaders namely, Usama Bin Ladin and Dr. Anwar al-Zawahiri.

Sayyid Qutb is considered a prominent figure in the development of Jihadi Salafi ideology; born in a slum area along the Nile Valley, in Egypt, and enjoyed both Western and Islamic education, a typical background for a modern-day jihadist intellectual. His major influential work among the Muslim population is Ma'alim fil Tariq or Milestones on the Road.  Sayyid Qutb was accused of trying to overthrow the government of Nasser and subsequently executed in 1966.

Qutb is regarded as the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; he argued that Islam is the religion of the whole universe and that Islamic Sharia and the spiritual principles of the Quran, should be the law governing the universe. He labels the West as "jahiliyya" or ignorant of the law of Allah, and argues that a true Muslim would be rejecting his God if he obeys any man-made government and its laws. He argues that the false gods of the Muslims living in the United States would be the President, Congress, Supreme Court, and the Constitution which empowers them. According to Qutb, a Muslim cannot serve Allah alone if he acknowledges the authority of Western institutions (jahili).

Sayyid Qutb refused to recognize the doctrine of separation of religion and state; he claimed that Muslims who abide by man-made laws, such as the U.S. Constitution, will be unable to share Islamic relationships with fellow Muslims because of the doctrine of Separation. He called for the establishment of Islamic Sharia for the Muslim community everywhere they are found, and use their utmost to convert others to Islam. He claimed that secular constitutions restrict the faith of Islam, and inevitably, there will be a conflict between the demands of Western governments and Islam. He said a true Muslim living in the West is not free to serve his God because he has to live by man-made laws and recognize their authority instead of God's law represented by the Islamic sharia. Qutb concludes the West will be destroyed from within because of its lack of spiritual values, and will inevitably be eclipsed by a more superior civilization of Islam.

So what makes Muslim Brotherhood and Sayyid Qutb so popular in the Arab world? To answer this question, one has to look in the state of affair in the Middle East and the history of the Arab peoples after the eclipse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire was a setback to Sunni Muslims in the Middle East; they constitute more than eighty-five percent of the Muslim population, worldwide. The Ottoman Empire was a symbol of political and theological unity of Islam. The Ottoman Sultan was political as well as Caliph, or religious leader for the Muslims. That position of the Sultan disappeared to be ushered into the era of nation-states in the region, and the independence of the Arab states, each having its own political leader and a mufti for the republic or monarchy.

In 1924, the position of the Caliph was abolished by Turkish leader, Kamal Ataturk. That position was as important to Sunni Muslims as is the pope for the Catholics. Until 1924, the Sultan was the Caliph of all Muslims; he was assisted by one mufti for the Empire.

Additionally, Ataturk, closed the traditional religious schools and abolished Islamic Sharia; veiling of women were officially discouraged, Western clothing for men and women were encouraged and Western calendar was adopted to replace Islamic calendar. New civil, commercial, and penal codes based on European models were adopted. A new civil code ended Islamic polygamy and divorce and introduced a new civil marriage code. New Turkish alphabet modified after Latin, replaced the Arabic alphabet, the language of the Quran. Islamic call for prayer and public reading of the Quran required being in Turkish rather than Arabic. Women were given right to vote and right to hold office, Sunday was adopted as legal weekly holiday instead of Friday and the Westernization process of Turkey began. As a result of all these and many other changes, Turkey became a secular state.

Such changes were seen by the Muslim population in the Middle East and North Africa as being taken under  Western influence and do not comply with Islamic sharia. In 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen Movement) was established. Following the independence of the states in the Middle East and North Africa, every constitution of these states contains provisions stating that Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic sharia is the source law. Among all these states, only Lebanon and Turkey have no such provisions.

In the Egyptian Parliamentary elections in December 2005, Islamic Brotherhood Movement increased its presence in Parliament five-fold. The goal of the Movement is to utilize democracy to gain a majority in the elections in order to implement Islamic sharia as the law of the land. Muslim Brotherhood has the potential to take over every single state in the Middle East and North Africa and enforce Islamic sharia as Sayyid Qutb saw it.

Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background. Professor of Middle East Constitutional Law, Islamic sharia, and Islamic economics. Expert consultant on Islamic law. Editor in chief of International Law blog,; Lecturer on Islamic economics,; Author of “The Aramaic Language of the Qur’an,; Email:; Tel. (609) 915-2237.

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