Middle East Resources

Hasan al-Banna & Gamal al-Banna

Two Bothers Whose Expositions Of Islam Were Poles Apart

Bassam Michael Madany

10 May 2022

In late April 2022, I watched a YouTube program about the life of the Egyptian scholar, Gamal al-Banna. Right away I wondered, could he be related to Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood? In fact, Gamal and Hasan were brothers!

First, an Introduction  

Islam spread through conquests led by Muhammad and his successors the Caliphs. Following the assassination of Ali in 661, Islam became divided between his followers known as the Shi’ites, and the Umayyads their opponents known as Sunnis. Ali’s son Hussein was assassinated in 680 in his attempt to regain the Caliphate, an event that intensified and perpetuated the animosity and rivalry between the two camps.

In 750, the Umayyad Caliphate ended in a bloodbath. It was replaced by the Abbasid Caliphate, that moved the center of Islam from Damascus to Baghdad. The Four Schools for the interpretation of Shariah law were founded during their reign. Theological disputes arose regarding the nature of the Qur’an, and Predestination & Free Will.

Gradually, the Abbasids lost power, rival Caliphates sprung up in Andalusia (Spain) and in Cairo, Egypt. Eventually, the converted Turks of Central Asia, founded the Ottoman Caliphate, adding new territories to Islam in eastern and central Europe. After their failure at the Second Siege of Vienna in 1683, they began to decline. At the end of WWI, the Ottomans lost all their former colonies. The founder of Modern Turkey, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk (father of the Turks,) abolished the Caliphate in 1924 and secularized the institutions of Turkey.

The abolishment of the Caliphate caused an ideological tremor among Muslims in Egypt and in India.  Two Egyptians ideologues, Hasan al-Banna, and Sayyid Qutb, called for the re-establishment of the Caliphate. In India, Abul Ala Mawdudi entertained the same hope. Hasan al-Banna organized the Society of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. In January 1949, a member of the Brotherhood assassinated the Prime Minister of Egypt; the Egyptian secret police retaliated by assassinating Hassan al-Banna a month later.

Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s coup of July 1952 ended the Egyptian monarchy and brought in an Arab nationalist ideology that clashed with the Brotherhood’s worldview. An attempted assassination of President Nasser at Alexandria in 1954 by a member of the Brotherhood, led eventually to the trial of Sayyid Qutb, who was found guilty of conspiracy against the regime, and executed on 29 August 1966.

Following the death of President Nasser in 1970, he was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. His surprise attack on the Israeli forces on the east side of the Suez Canal in 1973, paved the way for peace with Israel. That cost him his life on the 6th of October 1981 when he was assassinated by an Islamist officer during a parade commemorating the Egyptian victory of October1973!

Thus far the legacy of Hassan al-Banna and the impact of the Brotherhood in Egypt, and elsewhere.

Gamal al-Banna began as an Islamist like his brother; however, he underwent a metanoia (radical change of mind,) and became a reformist Muslim intellectual.

Here are excerpts from “The Forgotten Archives of Gamal al-Banna” by Ian Hamel, a specialist in the history of The Muslim Brotherhood.i

“About fifteen years ago, I had the privilege of entering Gamal al-Banna’s lair, the youngest brother of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. In a small apartment in a working-class district of Cairo, he had collected more than 30,000 books, hundreds of unpublished documents, such as handwritten notes on the secret links between the Brotherhood and the Free Officers Movement, the military organization founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser.  Gamal al-Banna who died in January 2013, had once edited the Brotherhood’s newspaper, ‘Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen.’ He was arrested in Deccember 1948, along with many Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and released in 1950. 

“But very quickly, he had moved away from this Islamic organization to devote himself to the workers’ cause. and became head of the General Union of Textile Industry Workers. He published ‘La liberté de croyance en Islam’, (The Freedom of Belief in Islam,) ‘L’Islam et le rationalisme,’ (Islam and Rationalism) and ‘L’échec de l’État islamique à l’époque moderne.’ (The Failure of the Islamic State In Our Time)”

Analysis and Comment 

What drives Muslims in their persistence to bring about such a utopian dream as The Islamic Caliphate? It’s the conviction that the Islamic State, founded by Muhammad at Medina in 622, must expand until the entire world had become part and parcel of the global Islamic Umma. This notion doesn’t come from the Qur’an which is silent about the Caliphate. We are indebted to the work of the Tunisian scholar Dr. Héla Ouardi, who authored in 2017, Les Derniers Jours de Muhammad. (The Last Days of Muhammad.)ii  

Here are excerpts from her book:

“While investigating the circumstances of Muhammad’s passing, Héla Ouardi found an important matter, ‘namely that the climate among the Prophet’s family during his last days was a climate of great political tension, an atmosphere of a dénouement of an established order.’ As to whether Muhammad left a will regarding his successor is not very clear. Both Sunni and Shi’ite sources relate that on the Thursday before his death, the Prophet expressed the wish to dictate a will. He asked for a tablet and an inkwell and said, ‘I will write a document that will protect you from bewilderment for eternity.’ But Omariii, who was present, opposed it and said: ‘The Prophet is confused; we already have the Qur’an, and that’s enough for us.’   Since the Qur’an is silent about a successor to the Prophet, how did the idea of Khalifa come about? In fact, the Caliphate was an ad hoc institution invented by the Companions of the Prophet when were suddenly confronted by the absence of a power center.  By preventing the Prophet’s family from assuming the role of the Caliphate, the history of Islam has been punctuated by violent conflicts. Thus, in Islam violence has become sacred, allowing some Muslims to perform horrific acts to bring them closer to God. 

“Muslims generally think they are superior to others, since they follow of the last revealed religion, and their Prophet is the last or ‘seal’ of the prophets. Muslims are incapable of self-criticism. This feeling of ‘sufficiency’ has produced an immobility in many Muslim societies, especially in Arab-Muslim societies, clinging to the utopia that carries dreams of glory, constantly shattered by several stinging failures.” 

Here is the assessment of another North African scholar, the Algerian Boualem Sansal. He commented in the French journal L’Express on the “Consequences of this Never-Dying Dream,” in these words:

"Where Islam takes hold, it is forever. Islamism is based on Islam, which no one has the right to criticize. Since democracy recognizes all opinions, from the far right to the far left, it is obliged to recognize Islam as well. All those who do not commit attacks or violent acts, are protected by law. Islamism finds itself in a conquered terrain. So, it’s   necessary to fight Islamism from the beginning. Because it is like humidity in a house. Initially the threat is invisible, it penetrates the walls which, little by little, crumble. When you realize it, it’s too late. You have to destroy everything to clean up. It becomes a mission impossible. France is at the stage where it has just discovered that Islam is eroding her home." 

Boualem Sansal : "La France vient de découvrir que l'islamisme ronge la maison" - L'Express (lexpress.

Hassan al-Banna’s death took place in 1949; his brother Gamal al-Banna died sixty-four years later.  Hassan’s legacy lives on in the Brotherhood and in the many Islamist organizations it had inspired.

Gamal’s legacy continues in the life of other reformists like Farag Foda who paid with his life for preaching a modernized Islam.iv Another reformist Dr. Sayyid Al-Qimni who passed away on 6 February 2022. was an indefatigable advocate for the updating and reforming the hermeneutics of the Qur’an and Hadith.

Farag Foda was a prominent Egyptian professor, writer, columnist, and human rights activist. He was assassinated on 8 June 1992 by members of the Islamist group El Gama'a El Islamia, after being accused of blasphemy by a committee of scholars at al-Azhar University Mosque.

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i https://global-watch-analysis.com/freres-musulmans-les-archives-oubliees-de-gamal-al-banna/?lang=en

iiHéla Ouardi is a Tunisian scholar who in 2017 published in Paris, France, Les Derniers Jours de Muhammad. (The Last Days of Muhammad.) She is Professor of French Literature and Civilization at the University of Tunis, and Associate Researcher at the CNRS Laboratory for Monographic Studies. She is general Manager of the Book at the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Tunisia from September 2016 to January 2018.

iiiOmar played a vital role in the founding of the Caliphate. He may be regarded as the effective founder of the Institution, even though Abu Bakr (Father of Aisha) held that position from 632-634. Omar was the second Caliph, from 634-644, followed by Uthman from 644-656, followed by Ali from 656-661. His death marked the end of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. These dynastic caliphates followed: The Umayyad Dynasty from 661-750, the Abbasid Dynasty from 750-1258, when destroyed by the Mongolian invasion. The major Caliphate that followed was the Ottoman Caliphate that governed parts of the Balkans, the former Byzantine Empire, the Middle East, and most of North Africa, until it ended in 1924.

ivFarag Foda was a prominent Egyptian professor, writer, columnist, and human rights activist. He was assassinated on 8 June 1992 by members of the Islamist group El Gama'a El Islamia, after being accused of blasphemy by a committee of scholars at al-Azhar University Mosque.