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10 February 2010updated 24 Sep 2015 10:46am

Hassan al-Banna

The schoolteacher and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

By Ian K Smith

Arguably the single most influential Muslim ideologue of the modern age, Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. It became the most important grass-roots Islamic organisation of the 20th century.

Choosing to give his sermons in the streets and cafés rather than the madrasas, al-Banna pioneered a tradition of social Islam that is practised today by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. His audience was the mass of people who had moved from rural areas to the city and were reacting against what they saw as the westernised, degenerate way of life in Cairo.

Al-Banna preached a mass return to personal piety and the Quran-centred ethics of the early Muslims. He pursued this “Salafi” reform through the rigid structure of the Brotherhood, set out by the historian Richard Mitchell in his seminal 1960 study The Society of Muslim Brothers.

The Brotherhood penetrated and influenced Egyptian society at every level, from the anti-monarchist, anti-colonial Free Officers Movement to its own grass-roots preaching and organisation. In 1949, after the Brotherhood had assassinated Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi Nokrashi, al-Banna was murdered in a counter-attack.

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On the effect of European schools and institutions on young people in the Islamic world:

[They] taught them how to demean themselves, disparage their religion and their fatherland, divest them of their traditions and beliefs, and to regard as sacred anything western.

Next: Sayyid Qutb (d.1966)

Previous: Muhammad Iqbal (d.1938)

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