Hassan al-Banna

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Hassan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna
حسن أحمد عبد الرحمن محمد البنا
Hassan al-Banna.jpg
Born(1906-10-14)October 14, 1906
DiedFebruary 12, 1949(1949-02-12) (aged 42)
ReligionSunni Islam
Political partyMuslim Brotherhood
Alma materDar al-Ulum
Senior posting
Founder and 1st General Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood
In office
Preceded by(Position established)
Succeeded byHassan al-Hudaybi

Sheikh Hassan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna (Arabic: حسن أحمد عبد الرحمن محمد البنا‎; 14 October 1906 – 12 February 1949), known as Hassan al-Banna (Arabic: حسن البنا‎), was an Egyptian schoolteacher and imam, best known for founding the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest and most influential Islamic revivalist organizations.[3]

Al-Banna's writings marked a watershed in Islamic intellectual history by presenting a modern ideology based on Islam.[4] Al-Banna considered Islam to be a comprehensive system of life, with the Quran as the only acceptable constitution.[5] He called for Islamization of the state, the economy, and society.[4] He declared that establishing a just society required development of institutions and progressive taxation, and elaborated an Islamic fiscal theory where zakat would be reserved for social expenditure in order to reduce inequality.[5][4] Al-Banna's ideology involved criticism of Western materialism, British imperialism, and the traditionalism of the Egyptian ulema.[6] He appealed to Egyptian and pan-Arab patriotism but rejected Arab nationalism and regarded all Muslims as members of a single nation-community.[5][4][6]

The Muslim Brotherhood advocated gradualist moral reform and had no plans for a violent takeover of power.[7] The "Jihad of the spirit"―self-initiated productive work aimed at bettering the conditions of the Islamic community―was a significant part of their ideology.[4] Under al-Banna's leadership, the organization embarked on a wide-ranging campaign of social engagement; they especially emphasized public health improvements.[6] Following the abolition of the caliphate in 1924, al-Banna called on Muslims to prepare for armed struggle against colonial rule; he warned Muslims against the "widespread belief" that "jihad of the heart" was more important than "jihad of the sword".[7] He allowed the formation of a secret military wing within the Muslim Brotherhood, which took part in the Arab-Israeli conflict.[6] Al-Banna generally encouraged Egyptians to abandon Western customs; he argued that the state should enforce Islamic public morality through censorship and application of hudud corporal punishment.[4] Nonetheless, his thought was open to Western ideas and some of his writings quote European authors instead of Islamic sources.[4]

Al-Banna was assassinated by the Egyptian secret police in 1949.[5] His son-in-law Said Ramadan emerged as a major leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s.

Early life[edit]

Hassan al-Banna was born on 14 October 1906 in Mahmudiyya, a rural Nile Delta town in the Beheira Governorate northwest of Cairo.

His father, Sheikh Ahmad Abd al-Rahman al-Banna al-Sa'ati, was a Hanbali imam,[8] muezzin and mosque teacher. His father was an important spiritual influence during al-Banna's early life. Sheikh Ahmad was known for his work as a Hanbali scholar, particularly his classifications of the traditions of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal al-Shaybani. These classifications became known as musnad al-fath al-rabbani. Through this work, Sheikh Ahmad forged connections with Islamic scholars that proved useful when his son moved to Cairo in 1932.

In addition to his early exposure to Hanbali puritanism, Hassan al-Banna was inspired by Rashid Rida's magazine, Al-Manar. He was also heavily influenced by Sufism as a youth in Mahmudiyya. He attended weekly Hadra and was a member of the al-Hassafiyya Sufi order.[9]

Al-Banna was first exposed to Egyptian nationalist politics during the Egyptian Revolution of 1919; he was thirteen years old at the time. In his personal accounts, al-Banna identified with the widespread activism of the time. Despite of his young age, al-Banna participated in demonstrations in Damanhur, self-published political pamphlets and founded youth reform societies.

Although Al-Banna's family were not members of the Egyptian elite, they were relatively well-respected in Mahmudiyya. Sheikh Ahmad's was a distinguished imam and the family owned some property. However, during the 1920s economic crisis, the family had trouble sustaining the upkeep of their property and moved to Cairo in 1924.


In Mahmudiyya, al-Banna studied in the village mosque with Sheikh Zahran. The two developed a close relationship that influenced al-Banna's early intellectual and religious development. In addition to the mosque school, al-Banna received private instruction from his father. He also studied in Cairo for four years; he attended Dar al-‘Ulum, an Egyptian institution that educated prospective teachers in modern subjects. The school was not very traditional and al-Banna enrolled against his father's wishes, as a break from typical Islamic conservatism. Building upon his father's scholarly connections, al-Banna became associated with the Islamic Society for Nobility of Islamic Morals and the Young Men's Muslim Association (YMMA). He published more than fifteen articles in Majallat al-Fath, an influential Islamic journal associated with the YMMA.

Muslim Brotherhood[edit]

Al-Banna learned of the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, while he was still a student. This event influenced him greatly; although the caliphate had no power, he viewed its end as a "calamity". He later called the events a "declaration of war against all shapes of Islam".[10]

After completing his studies at a Dar al-‘Ulum in 1927, al-Banna became a primary school teacher in Ismailia. At that time, Ismailia was the location of the Egyptian headquarters of the Suez Canal. Foreign influence was stronger in Ismailia than in other parts of Egypt. While living there, al-Banna grew increasingly disillusioned with British cultural colonialism. He was especially concerned that hasty attempts to modernize Egypt often had the negative effect of compromising Islamic principles. Many Egyptian nationalists were also dissatisfied with Wafd leadership, mainly because of its moderate stances and insistence on secularism.

According to al-Banna's accounts, six unnamed workers affiliated with various Suez Canal companies approached al-Banna in March 1928 with complaints about injustices suffered by Arabs and Muslims at the hand of foreign control. Their complaints resonated with his own concerns; al-Banna became their leader and the Muslim Brothers was created.

At first, the Muslim Brotherhood was only one of many small Islamic associations that existed at the time. Similar to the organizations that al-Banna had himself joined at a young age, these organizations aimed to promote personal piety and engaged in pure charitable activities. By the late 1930s, the Muslim Brotherhood had established branches in every Egyptian province.

A decade later, the organization had 500,000 active members and as many sympathizers in Egypt alone.[citation needed] Its appeal was not limited only to Egypt; its popularity had grown in several other countries. The organization's growth was particularly pronounced after al-Banna relocated their headquarters to Cairo in 1932. The most important factor contributing to this dramatic expansion was the organizational and ideological leadership provided by al-Banna.[citation needed]

In Ismailia, al-Banna preached not only in the mosque, but also in the coffee houses; in those times, coffee houses were generally viewed as a morally suspect novelty. When some of his views on relatively minor points of Islamic practice led to strong disagreements with the local religious elite, he adopted the policy of avoiding religious controversies.[11][12]

Al-Banna was appalled by the many conspicuous signs of foreign military and economic domination in Ismailia: the British military camps, the public utilities, farms, food supply was owned by foreign interests by forces, and the luxurious residences of the foreign employees of the Suez Canal Company, next to the squalid dwellings of the Egyptian workers.[11]

Political activity[edit]

Al-Banna endeavored to bring about reforms through institution-building, relentless activism at the grassroots level and a reliance on mass communication. He built a complex mass movement that featured sophisticated governance structures; sections in charge of furthering the society's values among peasants, workers and professionals; units entrusted with key functions, including propagation of the message, liaison with the Islamic world and press and translation; and specialized committees for finances and legal affairs.

Al-Banna relied on pre-existing social networks―in particular those built around mosques, Islamic welfare associations and neighborhood groups―to anchor the Muslim Brotherhood into Egyptian society. This weaving of traditional ties into a distinctively modern structure was at the root of his success. Directly attached to the brotherhood, and feeding its expansion, were numerous businesses, clinics, and schools. In addition, members were affiliated with the movement through a series of cells, revealingly called usar ("families").[citation needed]

The material, social and psychological support provided by the Muslim Brotherhood were instrumental to the movement's ability to generate enormous loyalty among its members and to attract new recruits. The movement was built around services and an organizational structure intended to enable individuals to integrate into a distinctly Islamic setting that was shaped by the society's own principles.

Rooted in Islam, Al-Banna's message tackled issues including colonialism, public health, educational policy, natural resources management, social inequalities, pan-Islamism, nationalism, Arab nationalism, the weakness of the Islamic world on the international scene, and the growing conflict in Palestine.[13] By emphasizing concerns that appealed to a variety of constituencies, al-Banna was able to recruit from among a cross-section of Egyptian society—though modern-educated civil servants, office employees, and professionals remained dominant among the organization's activists and decision-makers. Al-Banna was also active in resisting British colonial rule in Egypt.

Al-Banna warned his readers against the "widespread belief among many Muslims" that jihad of the heart was more important and demanding than jihad of the sword.[14] He called on Muslims to prepare for jihad against colonial powers:

Muslims ... are compelled to humble themselves before non-Muslims, and are ruled by unbelievers. Their lands have been trampled over, and their honor besmirched. Their adversaries are in charge of their affairs, and the rites of their religion have fallen into abeyance with their own domains ... Hence it has become an individual obligation, which there is no evading, on every Muslim to prepare his equipment, to make up his mind to engage in jihad, and to get ready for it until the opportunity is ripe and God decrees[15]

Muslim Brothers and the Palestine conflict[edit]

Al-Banna (third from left) with Aziz Ali al-Misri (fourth from right), Mohamed Ali Eltaher (second from the right) and Egyptian, Palestinian and Algerian political and religious figures at a reception in Cairo, 1947

Among the Muslim Brothers' most notable accomplishments during these early years was its involvement in the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. The Muslim Brothers launched a pro-Palestine campaign which contributed to making the Palestine issue a widespread Muslim concern. The Muslim Brothers carried out a fundraising campaign said to have relied upon donations from the rural and urban working classes, rather than wealthy Egyptians. In addition to their fundraising efforts, the Muslim Brothers also organized special prayers for Palestinian nationalists, held political rallies, and distributed propaganda. Although the Palestinian Revolt was ultimately suppressed through repression and military action, the Muslim Brothers' impressive mobilization efforts helped make the Palestinian question a pan-Arab concern in the Middle East.

According to Steven Carol, the Brotherhood was heavily financed by Nazi Germany, which contributed greatly to its growth.[16] According to Carol, in 1939 al-Bannah received twice as much funds from Germany per month, as the entire yearly Muslim Brothers' fundraising for the Palestinian cause.[16]

The Muslim Brotherhood's official publication, Ikhwan Wiki states that Hassan al-Banna never received financing from either Nazi Germany or the United Kingdom but insisted on maintaining the group as an independent organisation. It also states that the Nazi's "imperial" and racist agenda is completely against the Islamic ideology of the movement.[17] Hassan al-Banna in two of his writings, Peace In Islam and Our Message, criticises the ultra-nationalism of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as being a "reprehensible idea" within which was "not the slightest good"[18] and which gave power to "chosen tyrants".[19]

Last days and assassination[edit]

Between 1948 and 1949, shortly after the society sent volunteers to fight against Israel in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the conflict between the monarchy and the organization reached its climax. Concerned with the Brotherhood's increasing assertiveness and popularity among the masses, as well as being alarmed by rumours that the Brotherhood was plotting a coup against the monarchy and cabinet, Prime Minister Nokrashy Pasha (whose predecessor had been slain by a Brotherhood adherent near the end of World War II) outlawed the organization in December 1948. The Brotherhood's assets were impounded and scores of its members were sent to jail. Following the murder of Nokrashy Pasha by a student member of the Brotherhood,[20] Al-Banna released a statement condemning the assassination and stating that terror is not acceptable in Islam.[21][22][23]

On 12 February 1949, al-Banna and his brother-in-law Abdul Karim Mansur were scheduled to negotiate with the government's representative, Minister Zaki Ali Pasha, at the Jama'iyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimeen headquarters in Cairo—but the minister never arrived. By 5 p.m., al-Banna and his brother-in-law had decided to leave. As they stood waiting for a taxi, they were shot by two men. Al-Banna eventually died from his wounds. King Farouk and his Iron Guard of Egypt were accused of being behind the assassination.[24]


Al-Banna's daughter Wafa al-Banna was married to Said Ramadan, who became a major leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their two sons, Tariq Ramadan and Hani Ramadan, are Contemporary Islamic scholars as well as educationists. Hassan al-Banna's younger brother, Gamal al-Banna, was a more liberal scholar and proponent of Islamic reform.[25]


Hassan al-Banna was a prolific writer who penned more than 2000 articles and many books, including an autobiographical novel entitled Mudhakkirât al-da'wa wa al-dâ'iya (Remembrances of Preaching and of a Preacher).[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ryan, Patrick J. "Fellow Travelers?." Commonweal 137.13 (2010): 23. "Not as intellectually acute as Afghani and 'Abduh, Hassan al-Banna nevertheless took his heritage from the same modernist school"
  2. ^ Introduction to Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from Al-Banna to Bin Laden, pg. 26. Part of the Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics series. Eds. Roxanne Leslie Euben and Muhammad Qasim Zaman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 9780691135885
  3. ^ "Hasan al-Banna – Islamic Studies – Oxford Bibliographies – obo". Archived from the original on 2017-01-01. Retrieved 2017-01-08.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Olivier Carré; Liv Tønnessen (2009). "Bannā, Ḥasan al-". In John L. Esposito (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Translated by Elizabeth Keller. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195305135. Archived from the original on 2017-09-13. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  5. ^ a b c d John L. Esposito, ed. (2014). "Banna, Hasan al-". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195125580.
  6. ^ a b c d Patrick S. O'Donnell (2010). "al-Banna', Hasan (1906–49)". In Oliver Leaman (ed.). The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Islamic Philosophy. Continuum. ISBN 9780199754731. Archived from the original on 2017-09-13. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  7. ^ a b Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... Macmillan. p. 160. ISBN 9780099523277.
  8. ^ "من أعلام الدعوة والحركة الإسلامية المعاصرة":الشيخ المحدّث أحمد عبد الرحمن البنا الساعاتي بقية السلف وزينة الخلف[permanent dead link]، مجلة المجتمع الكويتية، 20 ديسمبر 2008م
  9. ^ Introduction to Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from Al-Banna to Bin Laden, pg. 26. Part of the Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics series. Eds. Roxanne Leslie Euben and Muhammad Qasim Zaman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 9780691135885
  10. ^ Farmer, Brian R. (2007). Understanding Radical Islam: Medieval Ideology in the Twenty-first Century. Peter Lang. p. 83. ISBN 9780820488431. Retrieved 29 December 2016.
  11. ^ a b Mitchell, 7.
  12. ^ Lia, 32–35.
  13. ^ Mura, 61–85.
  14. ^ Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... Macmillan. p. 158. ISBN 9780099523277.
  15. ^ Al-Banna, Hasan, Five Tracts of Hasan Al-Banna, (1906–49): A Selection from the "Majmu'at Rasa'il al-Imam al-Shahid Hasan al-Banna", Translated by Charles Wendell. Berkeley, CA, 1978, pp.150, 155;
  16. ^ a b Carol, Steven (2015). Understanding the Volatile and Dangerous Middle East: A Comprehensive Analysis. p. 481. ISBN 9781491766583. After ten years, the Ikhwan had only 800 members, but the Muslim Brotherhood became a regional force after receiving massive aid from Nazi Germany. [...] In 1939, they transferred to al-Bannah some E£1,000 per month, a substantial sum at the time. In comparison, the Muslim Brotherhood fundraising for the cause of Palestine yielded only E£500 for that entire year. This Nazi funding enabled the Muslim Brotherhood to expand internationally. By the end of World War II, it had a million members.
  17. ^ https://www.ikhwanwiki.com/index.php?title=%D8%B9%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%A9_%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86_%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%84%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%86_%D8%A8%D8%A3%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A7_%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%A9
  18. ^ "Six Tracts of Hasan Al-Bana", page 70, Africaw for Publishing and Distribution, 2006
  19. ^ https://www.scribd.com/document/97406376/Peace-in-Islam-Hassan-Al-Banna
  20. ^ Biographical Dictionary Of Modern Egypt (American University in Cairo Press ISBN 1-55587-229-8)
  21. ^ Mitchell, Richard Paul, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 68–69
  22. ^ [1] Archived 2012-02-08 at the Wayback Machine suggests that al-Banna favoured assassination and therefore was assassinated by the government.
  23. ^ "The Roots of al-Qaeda". All Things Political Today. Archived from the original on 22 November 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  24. ^ Zeinobia (27 February 2008). "Egyptian Chronicles: Egyptian X-files: Who Killed Hassan Al Bana ??". Archived from the original on 20 April 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  25. ^ Caroline Fourest, Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan, Encounter Books (2008), p. 7
  26. ^ Brigitte Maréchal, The Muslim Brothers in Europe: Roots and Discourse, BRILL (2008), p. 89


External links[edit]

Religious titles
Preceded by
New position
General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood
Succeeded by
Hassan al-Hudaybi