The Roots of al-Qaeda
In order to understand who our enemy is we need to understand the roots of al-Qaeda. This insidious terror organization has one goal and one goal only, the destruction of Western civilization. They see it as inimical to their Islamist philosophy and the establishment of a worldwide Caliphate.
Let me be clear that Islam and Islamism are two widely divergent philosophies. Islam is one of the world’s great religions that was established by Mohammed on the Arabian Peninsula in about 610. Through a variety of means it spread throughout the Middle East and today has approximately 1.5 billion followers.
Islamism is a philosophy that has merged the practice of the Islamic with a political system that can be described as militant Islam, Jihadism or Islamic fundamentalism. The adherents call for the total elimination of all non-Muslim, particularly Western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influences in the Muslim world. This fundamentalism is manifested by terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Where did this philosophy have its roots? Although an anti-western prejudice stems from the earliest days of Islam, especially due to the various Crusades, modern Islamism can be traced to the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Hassan al-Banna founded this organization in 1928.
He saw it as a counterbalance to the modernizing influence of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern state of Turkey. Ataturk had been a member of the so-called “Young Turks” who had overthrown the Ottoman Empire and established the Republic of Turkey. Ataturk believed that the Islamic world needed to utilize the tools of the West in order to better the lives of the people.
On the other hand al-Banna, an Islamic scholar and schoolteacher, believed that the Qur’an and Sunnah was the “sole reference point for …ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state.” By 1940 the Muslim Brotherhood had over 2 million members throughout the Islamic world.
Hassan al-Banna was born on October 14, 1906 in Mahmoudiyah, Egypt, north-west of Cairo in the Nile delta. His father was a local imam and teacher. Hassan participated in the demonstrations against British rule in 1919. By the age of 16 Hassan was a fully initiated member of the Sufi order. Hassan founded the society of Muslim Brothers in 1928. At first it was an organization that promoted personal piety and charitable works.
Gradually, the focus of the organization began to move into the area of political activity as al-Banna reacted to the signs of foreign domination around him. Resistance to British rule, colonialism, public health, educational policy, natural resources management, Marxism, social inequalities, Arab nationalism, the weakness of the Islamic world on the international scene, and the growing conflict in Palestine, all played a role in the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood.
At the beginning of the war in Palestine the Brotherhood sent volunteers to battle the Israelis. The increasing concern that the Brotherhood was plotting a coup caused the government to disband the organization in December 1948. The Brotherhood’s assets were impounded and many of its members were jailed. The prime Minister, Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha, was assassinated by a member of the Brotherhood on December 28, 1948. Al-Banna promptly condemned the murder but he in turn was assassinated on February 12, 1949 by two unknown gunmen.
Hassan al-Banna’s principal disciple was Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian author and educator. He was born on October 9, 1906 in the Egyptian village of Musha, located in Upper Egypt’s Asyut Province. His father was a landowner and administrator who was also a political activist. He was educated in Cairo in the British-style of schooling. After his graduation he worked as a teacher for the Ministry of Public Education.
From 1948 to 1950 Qutb attended Colorado State College of Education in Greeley, Colorado where he wrote his first work of religious social criticism. Like al-Banna he was much affected by the Western influences that he saw throughout the Islamic world. He found major aspects of American life were primitive and “shocking”, a people who were “numb to faith in religion, faith in art, and faith in spiritual values altogether.”
Upon his return from America he resigned from his position in the government and became a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He became editor-in-chief of the Brothers’ weekly Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, and later head of its propaganda section, as well as an appointed member of the working committee and of its guidance council, the highest branch in the organization.
In July 1952 Egypt’s pro-Western was overthrown by a group the nationalist Free Officers Movement led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Brotherhood thought that Nasser would establish an Islamic Brotherhood but instead the new government went in the direction of secular nationalism. Qutb had frequent meetings with Nasser about a post monarch Egypt. Unknown to Qutb Nasser was looking to take over the Brotherhood’s social programs which he saw as the main reason for their popularity.
With the attempted assassination of Nasser in 1954 the government cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb and many other members were imprisoned by the Nasser government. Qutb would spend the balance of his life in and out of Egyptian prisons. While in prison he wrote his two most important works, a commentary of the Qur’an Fi Zilal al-Qur’an (In the Shade of the Qur’an), and a manifesto of political Islam called Ma’alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones). They encompass his radically anti-secular and anti-Western claims based on his interpretations of the Qur’an, Islamic history, and the social and political problems of Egypt.
Sayyid Qutb was released from prison in 1964 but rearrested within 8 months. He was accused of plotting the overthrow of the government and sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out on August 29, 1966 when he was hung.
After this many of the members of the Brotherhood in Egypt fled to Saudi Arabia. Among his students were two men who would have a tremendous impact on the United States: Ayman al-Zawahiri and the then-obscure Osama bin-laden, the founders of al-Qaeda.