The Blog

MAS's Muslim Brotherhood Problem

Does the Muslim American Society want an Islamic government in the United States?

12:00 AM, May 25, 2005 • By DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

ON MAY 14, 2005, PAX-TV's Faith Under Fire broadcast a debate that I took part in against Mahdi Bray, the executive director of the Muslim American Society's (MAS) Freedom Foundation. Bray had selected the debate topic in advance, and chose to argue about "The United States of Islam?"--that is, whether American Muslims wanted to see Islamic law (sharia) implemented in the United States. While I unwaveringly agreed that most American Muslims don't want to see the United States ruled by Islamic law, I nonetheless jumped at the chance to debate this topic against Bray. After all, the Chicago Tribune recently published a story detailing how the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood operates in the United States as none other than MAS. So while most American Muslims don't want to see the United States governed by sharia, Bray's organization does. And while researching for the debate, I found that MAS--except in its most public of statements--is quite open about its agenda and allegiances. Even a brief review of various MAS chapters' websites provides a revealing look at what the national organization is teaching its members.

THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD is an international Islamist group that largely operates underground and behind the scenes, with branches in about 70 countries. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian schoolteacher who--in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and abolition of the caliphate--bemoaned the sickness of the Ummah, or larger Muslim community. The Brotherhood's response to this perceived sickness was to emphasize doctrinally that Islam encompasses all the affairs of man. As al-Banna wrote, "Islam is faith and worship, a country and a citizenship, a religion and a state. It is spirituality and hard work. It is a Qur'an and a sword." The group also emphasizes that Islam is a universal faith. As al-Banna put it, Islam "has encompassed all aspects of human life, for all peoples and nations, and for all times and ages."

Because the Brotherhood views Islam as all-encompassing and universal, one of its highest goals is to spread Islamic law. The Chicago Tribune explains that the controversial "ultimate goal" of the U.S. Brotherhood is "to create Muslim states overseas and, they hope, someday in America as well." Brotherhood members did emphasize to the Tribune that they operate within the laws of the countries where they live:

They stress that they do not believe in overthrowing the U.S. government, but rather that they want as many people as possible to convert to Islam so that one day--perhaps generations from now--a majority of Americans will support a society governed by Islamic law.

Despite these pronouncements, the Muslim Brotherhood has not always been known for non-violence. The "Qur'an and a sword" outlook trumpeted by al-Banna is, for example, evident in the organization's militant motto: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope." Consistent with this motto, Muslim Brotherhood members have been involved in such episodes as the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi Nokrashi and the attempted assassination of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

One of the Muslim Brotherhood's most violent theoreticians was Sayyid Qutb, whose ideas heavily influenced Osama bin Laden's current conception of jihad. The 9/11 Commission Report explains Qutb's writings:

Three basic themes emerge from Qutb's writings. First, he claimed that the world was beset with barbarism, licentiousness, and unbelief (a condition he called jihiliyya, the religious term for the period of ignorance prior to the revelations given to the Prophet Mohammed). Qutb argued that humans can choose only between Islam and jihiliyya. Second, he warned that more people, including Muslims, were attracted to jihiliyya and its material comforts than to his view of Islam; jihiliyya could therefore triumph over Islam. Third, no middle ground exists in what Qutb conceived as a struggle between God and Satan. All Muslims--as he defined them--therefore must take up arms in this fight. Any Muslim who rejects his ideas is just one more nonbeliever worthy of destruction.