THE IDEOLOGY OF TWO RADICAL EGYPTIAN MOVEMENTS: JAMA`T AL-MUSLIMIN (TAKFIR WAL-HIJRAH) AND AL-JIHAD
History reveals cyclical patterns of Islamic revival in times of crisis. Leaders of revivals appear as Mujaddids (renewers of the faith, promised at the start of each century), or as a Mahdi, the Saviour sent by God in the end times to establish the final Kingdom of justice and peace (). The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was the main grassroots movement that emerged in response to the modern crisis in the Arab world. Suppressed by Nasser, the Neo-Muslim Brotherhood reemerged during the Sadat era as a movement committed to non-violent participation in the political process.
Radical groups (jama`at) emerged out of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its main ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, was the catalyst for extremists dedicated to a violent takeover of power (). Whilst he himself belonged to the mainline Brotherhood, Qutb's radical reinterpretation of several key concepts such as Jahiliyya, Hakimmiyya, Takfir and Jihad, inspired those radicalised through imprisonment and torture to split off from the Brotherhood, using his writings to legitimise violence against the regime ().
The proliferation of radical groups is a response to the impact of modernity. Western encroachment and national elite misrule are accompanied by massive economic and social dislocations, creating a crisis of identity and a search for authenticity. Repression by military-backed regimes left no avenues for protest except religious idioms ().
The oil boom enhanced the power of Islamic Saudi Arabia and channelled much financial aid to militant groups, encouraging their growth. The success of the 1973 war against Israel, the accompanying oil embargo against the West, as well as the Iranian revolution of 1979 further fuelled radical zeal.
Sadat encouraged the development of Islamicist unions as a counterweight to Nasserite dominated professional and student unions. These jama`at Islamiyya extended their influence through a network of educational and social services at a time when government services had collapsed in face of the economic crisis and the explosion in population growth and in student numbers. The Jama`at offered Islamic identity and community and became a recruiting field for the revolutionary radicals ().
The 1970s also saw a dramatic rise in the number of independent private (ahli) mosques not controlled by the government. They provided a safe meeting point for militants and recruits ().
Of the two groups under study, Takfir espoused a passive separatist and messianic ideology, pushing off its active confrontation with the state to an indefinite point of time in the future when it would have achieved its phase of strength. AL-JIHAD followed an activist and militant ideology which committed it to immediate and violent action against the regime.
BRIEF SURVEY OF HISTORY, ORGANISATION AND LEADERSHIP
TAKFIR WAL-HIJRAH - THE SOCIETY OF MUSLIMS (JAMA`AT AL-MUSLIMIN): This was a Jama`a led by Shukri Mustafa. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Asyut, he was imprisoned in 1965 and joined the radical disciples of Qutb. On his release in 1971 he started building up the Society. Following the kidnapping and murder of an ex-government minister in 1978 he was executed.
Mustafa was an autocratic leader, who expected total obedience from his followers. He was a charismatic personality with piercing eyes, always dressed in black, feared rather than loved by his followers. His title was Amir al-Umara' and he was accepted as the Mahdi (). He ran TAKFIR as a highly disciplined organisation, centrally controlled by himself, that included cells (majmu`at), missionary and catering units. As contemporary society was infidel, Takfir set up its own alternative community, working, studying and praying together. There were gradations of membership. Full members devoted themselves totally to the community, leaving their jobs and family. Errant members were excommunicated and punished ().
JAMA`AT AL-JIHAD (MUNAZZAMAT AL-JIHAD, TANZIM AL-JIHAD): This jama`a that assassinated Sadat had a coherent ideology and a complex organisational structure (). Its main ideologue was Faraj, a former Muslim Brotherhood member who was disillusioned by its passivity and joined activist radical groups, finally founding Al-Jihad in 1979. He wrote "AL-FARIDA AL-GHA'IBAH" (The Neglected Obligation), in which Al-Jihad's ideology was expounded. The group was active in Upper Egypt and Cairo in various sectarian conflicts and disturbances. In October 1981 it assassinated Sadat at the military parade, and following this fought the security forces for three days in Asyut in a bid for power, before being finally suppressed.
In contrast to Takfir, AL-JIHAD was not led by one charismatic leader but by a collective leadership (). It built up a sophisticated organisation (tanzim) headed by a leadership apparatus (jihaz al-qiyadi) in charge of overall strategy (with a ten-member Majlis Al-Shura headed by Sheikh `Abd al-Rahman). Everyday operations were run by a three-department supervisory apparatus (jihaz al-taqyim) ().
Members were organised in small semi-autonomous groups (majmu`at) and cells (anqud) (). There were two distinct branches - one in Cairo and the other in Upper Egypt. The Cairo group was composed of five or six cells headed by Amirs who met weekly to plan their strategy ().
In recruiting, both groups relied heavily on kinship and friendship ties. Both recruited predominantly students from rural areas and from lower-middle-class background, who had recently migrated to the big cities and were alienated and disoriented in the new environment. Most were well educated, particularly in technology and sciences ().
TAKFIR recruited mainly in Upper Egypt and was the only jama`a to actively recruit women. Faraj recruited for AL-JIHAD in ahli mosques of the poor quarters where he delivered Friday sermons (). Al-Jihad succeeded in recruiting members from the presidential guard, military intelligence, civil bureaucracy, media workers and university students and professors.
COMPARISON OF IDEOLOGIES
Both groups agreed that authentic Islam existed only in the "golden age" of the Prophet and the Rashidun. Muslims must rediscover its principles, free them from innovations, and actively implement them in present society. This was in line with Salafi views, and contradicted the traditionalist view of Islam as the total of Quran, Sunna and all scholarly interpretation and consensus over the ages. It differed from the reformist view in stressing active political, rather than mere educational involvement.
The ultimate goal for both groups was the establishment of a renewed universal Umma under a true Khalifa fully implementing shari`a - this is God's ideal form of Islamic government (). Until the establishment of Khilafa, the Islamic jama`at are the vanguard of the true Umma in its struggle. The takeover of power in individual Muslim states is a necessary first step toward the ultimate goal.
TAKFIR claimed that the Prophet's mandate was to fight all people (al-nas) until they convert, pray and pay zakat. This has never been achieved and is the ultimate goal. The world needs a special leader of a special group - Mustafa and Takfir - to establish true Islam. After establishing its rule over one state, TAKFIR will issue a call to all humanity to join Islam and submit to shari`a. Those who reject the call must be fought against to end all dissension. The Islamic state will be the third superpower and extend its dominion over the whole world ().
AL-JIHAD believed it was the obligation of every Muslim to fight for the establishment of shari`a over the whole world - starting first in one specific state. This goal is only attainable by war against the infidel rulers of all states ().
Both groups agree that tawhid implies that individuals and states must totally submit to God's sovereign rule (hakimiyya). In contrast to the traditional Ulama' view of the necessity of submission to any ruler claiming to be Muslim, they insisted that submission to God's rule is only acknowledged when sharia is fully implemented (). Implementation of shari`a becomes the sole criterion of legitimacy of regimes ().
The Ulama' viewed jahiliyya as an historic condition of paganism in pre-Islamic Arabia. For both groups, jahiliyya is a present condition of a society that by its non-implementation of full shari`a reveals its rebellion against God's sovereignty. All Western society and the international organisations dominated by it are jahili () as are all Muslim regimes.
TAKFIR claimed that both the regime and all of society were jahili and true Muslims must separate from them and join TAKFIR, the only true Muslim jama`a. Takfir was extreme in repudiating all Muslim communities after the Rashidun, including the four madhabs and all traditional commentators. Madhabs were unnecessary as the Quran was given in plain Arabic. Their founding Imams were puppets of rulers who used them to monopolise Quranic interpretation to their own advantage. They had closed the door of ijtihad and made themselves tawaghit (idols), serving as mediators between God and believers ().
AL-JIHAD was less extreme in its judgement of Islamic history and contemporary society. Ibn Taymiyya was interpreted as teaching that the masses are mixed Muslims and jahili, but the rulers are all jahili as they legislate according to their own whims ().
AL-JIHAD called for a return to Quran and Sunna, but accepted the four madhabs, much of scholarly consensus, and some later commentators such as ibn-Taymiyya.
Whilst traditional Ulama' and the Muslim Brotherhood would not denounce a Muslim as an infidel, accepting his claim to be Muslim at face value and leaving the judgement of his intention to God, both groups were ready to denounce Muslims as kuffar. Another innovation was that whole societies and regimes were excommunicated rather than individuals only. The failure to implement shari`a made Egypt a jahili state under takfir, and all true Muslims were duty-bound to wage jihad against the regime.
Both groups agreed on the overall goals of Jihad: to overthrow infidel rulers, unite the Umma, restore khilafa, guarantee the freedom of da`wa, liberate occupied Muslim territories and establish shari`a rule in the world. External jihad must be postponed until the infidel regimes of Muslim countries are overthrown and replaced by true Islamic states.
TAKFIR declared both regime and society under takfir. They are the near enemy to be dealt with first by jihad - Israel and other external enemies would come later. Because TAKFIR is still in its phase of weakness, open jihad is not to be initiated until it reaches its phase of strength. Jihad must then be waged under the rightful khalifa and in its final stage will compel non-Muslims to convert and impose shari`a on the whole world ().
The Society denounced all symbols of the regime's legitimacy: the religious establishment, the army, and all government services. Members felt no allegiance to the state and refused conscription. In case of war they would not fight in the Egyptian Army but flee to a secure position. They did not recognise state education, uniforms, marriage or the legal system, as they were jahili and served the state. They were not allowed to be state employees, and those who were, changed jobs on joining the society ().
AL-JIHAD declared any neglect of fundamental religious obligations as kufr. It declared violent jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam, suppressed by the Ulama'. Jihad against unbelievers must be the top priority of all true Muslims (). The regime and its employees were kuffar because they behaved like the Mongol rulers of Ibn Taymiyya's days who mixed shari`a with customary law. Immediate jihad against them is legal and imperative (), its goal being the seizure of political power and the establishment of an Islamic state ().
Faraj gave priority to a coup against the regime, seizure of political power, and the assassination of the "evil prince". The first target was the enemy at home - external enemies would be dealt with later. Jihad declared by a true Islamic state is the means of restoring khilafa and of spreading God's hakimiyya over the whole earth (). Faraj claimed a consensus of scholars on the obligation of waging jihad and establishing the Islamic state ().
Al-Jihad was extreme in claiming active jihad as God's solution to the problem of dealing with apostate rulers. There was no excuse for postponing the confrontation which was to be waged by violence and the mobilisation of the masses. Killing true Muslims enlisted by the regime was justified by reference to prophetic example and famous commentators. So was the infiltration of the enemy camp and the use of deception in overthrowing the regime ().
Faraj criticized other groups for their gradualist strategy and involvement in the political system which only strengthened the regime. He dealt with various excuses put forward for postponing active jihad or interpreting it as defensive or non-violent. He concluded that they were all wrong and that active and immediate jihad is the only strategy for achieving an Islamic state ().
The fall of the jahili regime will miraculously cure all ills (), as God would grant success and establish the new state which imposed His shari`a. There was no need to prepare the ground and establish one's strength beforehand.
Al-Jihad was an activist group and a grave danger to the regime as it planned an immediate coup. Its ideology motivated to action, and it was involved in most of the sectarian conflicts, riots, and acts of terrorism in the late 70s and early 80s.
Traditional Ulama' view Muhammad's hijra as a historical occurrence which at most has spiritual relevance for Muslims today. TAKFIR was extreme in its interpretation of hijra, claiming that all true Muslims in all generations must emulate Muhammad's model - physical separation from jahili society and departure to a safe place to establish a new society and prepare for the stage of return and victory. Total separation (mufassala kamila) is a must in the temporary stage of weakness which ends when the alternative Umma becomes strong enough to challenge the regime (). Till then, they recommended passive separation, non-violence and escape to safe areas. Their tragedy was that through violence against "apostate" members they invited police interest and provoked the final episode of kidnap that brought them down much too early by their own ideology. Takfir was a millenarian movement in a stage of passive growth which could stretch indefinitely,and as such was not politically dangerous in spite of its bizarre life style. It aimed to win over a large portion of the total population before it would deem itself strong enough for the final assault on jahili society. Takfir did not reach its phase of power - it was still in its phase of weakness when it was destroyed.
AL-JIHAD rejected Mustafa's insistence on total separation from society, neither would it postpone jihad until the phase of strength was achieved. Separation was seen as purely spiritual, and al-Jihad tried to infiltrate the military, security services and other government institutions so as to successfully wage immediate jihad. In this respect it was far more dangerous than Takfir ().
Both groups agreed that the true Muslim must be loyal only to the whole Umma. Loyalty to the nation-state was rejected as a half-measure. Establishment of truly Muslim regimes in various states was merely a first step in the process of uniting the Umma. The jama`a is the local expression of the true Umma and demands complete loyalty from its members. This differed from the traditional view of the Umma as the sum total of all who claim to be Muslims around the world.
TAKFIR was exclusive, seeing itself as the only true Muslim community, and all others as infidels or apostates. It would therefore not cooperate with other fundamentalist groups in spite of similar ideologies. It was the nucleus of the true Umma, which would grow until all true Muslims would eventually join it. Salvation is found only within the society - leaving it is apostasy. Mustafa was the Mahdi and Caliph who would be used of God to establish true Islam in all the world ().
AL-JIHAD, though not as exclusive as Takfir, saw itself as the vanguard of the true Umma, mobilising all true Muslims by its actions and example to struggle for the reestablishment of Khilafa. The downfall of the Ottoman Khilafa was a catastrophe - Jihad is the way to overthrow the infidel rulers and restore khilafa.
Contrary to the traditionalist view of Jews and Christians as protected "People of the Book", the two groups viewed them as kuffar because they had deliberately rejected the truth and because of their connections to colonialism and Zionism (). They were accused of serving as a "fifth column" for external enemies (), a Trojan Horse of the West within Muslim societies ().
TAKFIR stressed an international Jewish conspiracy and the need to fight it, whilst Zuhdi's group in AL-JIHAD viewed Christians as the first enemy to be dealt with and was heavily involved in anti-Coptic activities. `Abd al-Rahman issued a fatwa legitimating the killing and robbing of Christians who were anti-Muslim.
Both groups accepted the prevalent conspiracy theories that saw the Christian West, Jewish Zionism and atheist Communism as planning to corrupt, divide and destroy Islam. Rulers in Muslim states were puppets of these forces, leading their countries into dependence and secularisation. This battle had started right at the inception of Islam. The Jews and Christians of the 7th century were identical with the Jews and Christians of today ().
takfir accused the Jews of seducing humanity to idol-worship and of spreading corruption and immorality all over the world. AL-JIHAD accused Muslim rulers of obeying Jews and Christians and opening up Muslim countries to exploitation ().
Takfir was a Mahdist movement with an eschatological worldview. The world was close to its end time as indicated by the signs of disbelief, oppression, immorality, famine, wars, earthquakes, and typhoons (). Mustafa was the promised Mahdi, Imam and Khalifa who would found the new Muslim community, conquer the world, and usher in God's final reign on earth.
AL-JIHAD, while not mahdist, accepted the tradition of the Mahdi who will reveal himself at the end of time to establish justice in the whole world. In the meantime, the West was in decline, and would soon be replaced by true Islam (). Lack of messianic leadership was no excuse for postponing the struggle. Leadership should be given to the best Muslim in the community.
After its suppression and the execution of Shukri, TAKFIR seemed to disintegrate and members joined other underground groups such as al-Jihad. However there are persistent rumors that a nucleus remains active underground ().
Despite the imprisonment and execution of AL-JIHAD's leaders following Sadat's assassination, offshoots managed to regroup, declaring jihad against Mubarak's regime. Al-Jihad has continued to be linked with terrorist incidents and outbreaks of communal violence ever since (). In July 1986, following the riots started by mutinous Central Security Forces, seventy-five members of an offshoot were arrested (). In September 1989 members of Salvation from Hell, another offshoot, were sentenced for the attempted assassination of two ex-cabinet ministers and a journalist (). In 1990 five members of al-Jihad were arrested for the killing of the speaker of the National Assembly ().
Sheikh Abd al-Rahman was exiled to the USA in 1985, where he was later implicated in the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York. He had kept a nucleus of al-Jihad operating both in Egypt and abroad.
Many assassination efforts and anti-tourism attacks in the 1990s are attributed to al-Jihad and its offshoots ().
Studying these two groups reveals the impact of the ideologisation of Islam by the likes of Qutb and Maududi in politically activating many Muslims. Ideology serves as a motivator to action aimed at implementing utopia and it legitimises the use of violence as a means for achieving this goal.
It would seem that the theology of these groups is not simply a return to Salafi origins, but a Khariji-like sectarian innovation that lies outside the framework of mainline Islam. In fact it is largely a modern revolutionary doctrine expressed in Islamic idiom.
It is difficult to know who these groups actually represent. Most commentators think that their membership is a small minority in Egypt, but that they have a larger circle of sympathisers that agrees with their goals and acquiesces with their methods.
They seem naive in their belief that the mere takeover of political power in a coup and the establishment of shari`a will miraculously solve all problems facing Egypt. The Iranian model suggests that should they succed in capturing political power they will have to pragmatically adapt much of their extreme ideology to the reality of a functioning state in the modern world environment.
The most unpleasant feature in their stand is their virulent anti-Jewish and anti-Christian position. The paranoia of their conspiracy theories has much to do with a simplistic search for scapegoats which bodes ill for a successful reform of society. Positive reform demands a realistic appraisal of one's own weaknesses and a quest to remedy them rather than blame others for all problems.
Their utopian presentation of the projected golden age of Shari`a and Khilafa inevitably raises high expectations that can never be fulfilled. Should they take power, it would mean dealing with the frustrations of unfulfilled expectations by totalitarian means. As in most revolutions, multitudes will have to be sacrificed on the altar of ideology.
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