Hassan al-Banna

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Sheikh Hassan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna
حسن أحمد عبد الرحمن محمد البنا
Hassan al-Banna.jpg
Born (1906-10-14)October 14, 1906
Mahmoudiyah, Beheira, Egypt
Died February 12, 1949(1949-02-12) (aged 42)
Cairo, Egypt
Religion Islam
Jurisprudence Shafi'i
Creed no creed
Political Party Muslim Brotherhood
Alma mater Dar al-Ulum
Founder and 1st General Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood
In office
Preceded by (Position established)
Succeeded by Hassan al-Hudaybi & Said Ramadan

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, was an Egyptian schoolteacher and imam, best known for founding the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest and most influential Islamic revivalist organizations.[1]

Al-Banna's writings marked a watershed in Islamic intellectual history by presenting a modern ideology based on Islam.[2] Al-Banna considered Islam to be a comprehensive system of life, with the Quran as the only acceptable constitution.[3] He called for Islamization of the state, the economy, and society.[2] 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.[3][2] Al-Banna's ideology involved criticism of Western materialism, British imperialism, and the traditionalism of Egyptian ulema.[4] He appealed to Egyptian and pan-Arab patriotism but rejected Arab nationalism and regarded all Muslims as members of a single nation-community.[3][2][4]

The Muslim Brotherhood advocated gradualist moral reform and had no plans for violent takeover of power.[5] "Jihad of the spirit" was a key notion in their program, referring to self-initiated productive work aimed at bettering the conditions of the Islamic community.[2] Under al-Banna's leadership, the organization embarked on a wide-ranging campaign of social engagement with a particular emphasis on public health improvements.[4] At the same time, in the wake of the abolition of the caliphate, al-Banna warned Muslims against the "widespread belief" that "jihad of the heart" was more important than "jihad of the sword" and called on them to prepare for struggle against colonial rule.[5] He allowed formation of a secret military wing which took part in the Arab-Israeli conflict.[4] Al-Banna argued that the state should enforce Islamic public morality through censorship and application of hudud corporal punishments, and generally encourage Egyptians to abandon Western customs.[2] Nonetheless, his thought was open to Western ideas and some of his writings quote European authors instead of Islamic sources.[2]

Al-Banna was assassinated by Egyptian secret police in 1949.[3] 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 located northwest of Cairo in Beheira Governorate.

His father, Sheikh Ahmad Abd al-Rahman al-Banna al-Sa'ati, was a Hanbali imam,[6] muezzin, and mosque teacher, and an important spiritual influence during al-Banna's early life. Sheikh Ahmad was also 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.[7]

Although al-Banna was only thirteen years old during the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, it was the event that first exposed him to Egyptian nationalist politics. In his personal accounts, al-Banna connected himself with the widespread activism of the time. In spite 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, as evidenced by Sheikh Ahmad's distinction as an imam, and by the fact that the family owned 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 would develop a close relationship, adding to al-Banna's early intellectual and religious development. In addition to the mosque school, al-Banna received private instruction from his father. In Cairo, he attended Dar al-‘Ulum, an Egyptian institution designed to educate prospective teachers in modern subjects. As it was a less traditional school, al-Banna enrolled against his father's wishes, as a break from typical Islamic conservatism. He studied in Cairo for four years. 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]

During his studying in 1924, al-Banna learned of the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, which influenced him greatly. Although the Caliphate had no power, he viewed its end as a "calamity" and later called it a "declaration of war against all shapes of Islam".[8]

After completing his studies at Dar al-‘Ulum in 1927, al-Banna became a primary school teacher in Ismailia, which was the location of the Egyptian headquarters of the Suez Canal. At this time, Ismailia was the Egyptian town that had the highest foreign influence. While living there, al-Banna grew increasingly disillusioned with the British cultural colonization that he witnessed. He was especially concerned that hasty attempts to modernize Egypt often resulted in the negative effect of sacrificing or forgetting Islamic principles. Al-Banna was also among many Egyptian nationalists who were dissatisfied with Wafd leadership, mainly because of its moderate stances and its insistence on secularism. According to al-Banna's accounts, the Muslim Brotherhood was established in March 1928 when six unnamed workers affiliated with various Suez Canal companies approached al-Banna, complaining about the injustices suffered by Arabs and Muslims at the hand of foreign control. Feeling that their complaints resonated with his own concerns, al-Banna became their leader and the Muslim Brothers was created.

At first, the society was only one of the numerous small Islamic associations that existed at the time. Similar to those that al-Banna had himself joined since he was 12, these associations aimed to promote personal piety and engaged in charitable activities. By the late 1930s, it had established branches in every Egyptian province.

A decade later, it had 500,000 active members and as many sympathizers in Egypt alone, while its appeal was now felt in several other countries as well. The society's growth was particularly pronounced after al-Banna relocated their headquarters to Cairo in 1932. The single most important factor that made this dramatic expansion possible was the organizational and ideological leadership provided by al-Banna.

In Ismailia, he preached in the mosque, and even in coffee houses, which were then a novelty and were generally viewed as morally suspect. At first, some of his views on relatively minor points of Islamic practice led to strong disagreements with the local religious elite, and he adopted the policy of avoiding religious controversies.[9][10]

He was appalled by the many conspicuous signs of foreign military and economic domination in Isma'iliyya: the British military camps, the public utilities owned by foreign interests, and the luxurious residences of the foreign employees of the Suez Canal Company, next to the squalid dwellings of the Egyptian workers.[9]

Political activity[edit]

His endeavor was to bring about the changes he hoped for through institution-building, relentless activism at the grassroots level, and a reliance on mass communication. He proceeded to build 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.

In anchoring this organization into Egyptian society, al-Banna relied on pre-existing social networks, in particular those built around mosques, Islamic welfare associations, and neighborhood groups. 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 to the movement through a series of cells, revealingly called usar ("families").

The material, social and psychological support thus provided were instrumental to the movement's ability to generate enormous loyalty among its members and to attract new recruits. The services and organizational structure around which the society was built were intended to enable individuals to reintegrate into a distinctly Islamic setting, 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.[11] 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 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.[12] 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[13]

Muslim Brothers and the 1936 Palestinian Revolt[edit]

Al-Banna (third from left) with Aziz Ali al-Misri (fourth from 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 rely upon donations from the rural and urban working classes rather than wealthy Egyptians. In addition to 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.

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 society reached its climax. Concerned with the increasing assertiveness and popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as with rumours that it was plotting a coup, Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nukrashi Pasha disbanded it in December 1948. The organization's assets were impounded and scores of its members sent to jail. Following al-Nukrashi's assassination by a student member of the Muslim Brotherhood,[14] Al-Banna released a statement condemning the assassination and stating that terror is not an acceptable way in Islam.[15][16][17]

On 12 February 1949, al-Banna was at the Jama'iyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimeen headquarters in Cairo with his brother-in-law Abdul Karim Mansur to negotiate with Minister Zaki Ali Pasha, who represented the government. However, the minister never arrived. By 5 p.m., al-Banna and his brother-in-law 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.[18]


Al-Banna's daughter Wafa al-Banna was married to Said Ramadan, who became a major leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their son, and Hassan al-Banna's grandson, is Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar. Hassan al-Banna was an older brother of Gamal al-Banna.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hasan al-Banna - Islamic Studies - Oxford Bibliographies - obo". Retrieved 2017-01-08. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Olivier Carré (tr. Elizabeth Keller, rev. Liv Tønnessen) (2009). "Bannā, Ḥasan al-". In John L. Esposito. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ a b c d John L. Esposito, ed. (2014). "Banna, Hasan al-". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ a b c d Patrick S. O'Donnell (2010). "al-Banna', Hasan (1906–49)". In Oliver Leaman. The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Islamic Philosophy. Continuum. (Subscription required (help)). 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ "من أعلام الدعوة والحركة الإسلامية المعاصرة":الشيخ المحدّث أحمد عبد الرحمن البنا الساعاتي بقية السلف وزينة الخلف، مجلة المجتمع الكويتية، 20 ديسمبر 2008م
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Farmer, Brian R. (2007). Understanding Radical Islam: Medieval Ideology in the Twenty-first Century. Peter Lang. p. 83. Retrieved 29 December 2016. 
  9. ^ a b Mitchell, 7.
  10. ^ Lia, 32-35.
  11. ^ Mura, 61–85.
  12. ^ Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... Macmillan. p. 158. ISBN 9780099523277. 
  13. ^ 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;
  14. ^ Biographical Dictionary Of Modern Egypt (American University in Cairo Press ISBN 1-55587-229-8)
  15. ^ Mitchell, Richard Paul, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 68–69
  16. ^ [1] suggests that al-Banna favoured assassination and therefore was assassinated by the government.
  17. ^ "The Roots of al-Qaeda". All Things Political Today. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  18. ^ [2]


External links[edit]

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