May 8, 2007
The US and the Muslim BrotherhoodBy Patrick Poole
Western media and Beltway foreign policy establishments are engaged in a push to rehabilitate the image of the Muslim Brotherhood in order to convince US diplomats to initiate a dialogue with the organization. The Muslim Brotherhood has spawned virtually every single Islamic terrorist outfit in the world. But one of their central claims these days is that the Brothers long ago rejected the "offensive jihad" ideology of their leading theorist, Sayyid Qutb, found in his 1964 book, Signposts. Invariably, they cite the circulation and later publication of Hassan al-Hudaybi's, Preachers, Not Judges, during the late 1960s and 1970s in Egypt, as proof of the Brotherhood's break with Qutbian jihadist ideology. The late Hudaybi's status as the second Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which he was appointed after founder Hassan al-Banna's assassination in 1949, is invoked as further evidence of the book's ultimate authority as the organization's official philosophy and methodology.
The problem with the apologists' narrative is that scholars over the past decade have discovered that Hassan al-Hudaybi did not author Preachers, Not Judges, and its target was not Sayyid Qutb, who is never mentioned in the text itself or even in the footnotes. Contrary to the claims of the apologists that Preachers, Not Judges has represented the ideological core of the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1960s, Qutb's Signposts remains a standard part of the organization's introductory membership curriculum (including the Muslim American Society in the US), making Signposts one of the top-selling books in the Muslim world and appearing in numerous translations, while Preachers, Not Judges has not been reprinted in Egypt for more than three decades, and hasn't appeared in print anywhere in the Arabic world since 1985.
Furthermore, Hudaybi, who did not leave much in the way of writings behind (one observer, Muslim Sister Zaynah al-Ghazali, remarks that he "had rarely left books or a trace of his thoughts on paper"), made absolutely no effort to promote the book that has since been attributed to him. To the contrary, he advocated positions much in line with Qutb's philosophy, and in fact, it was Hudaybi that was responsible for explaining Qutb's book, authorizing its publication (since Qutb himself was in jail), and recommending it to the Brotherhood's followers.
Perhaps the most recent example of this appeal to Preachers, Not Judges as proof of the Muslim Brotherhood's ideological rehabilitation can be found in last week's edition of the New York Times Magazine, where James Traub writes:
One immediate problem with Traub's representation of Preachers, Not Judges is that the book has absolutely nothing to say about "the brotherhood's commitment to peace and to open debate", nor does it elaborate a "philosophy of tolerance and program of gradual reform". This isn't the argument of the book, which is instead directed towards the theological arguments of Pakistani Islamist writer, Maulana Mawdudi. This is indicative of a common problem among those making positive assertions about the text - virtually none of them speak or read Arabic, the only language in which the book has appeared.
It should be noted that most, if not all, of those advancing these claims are merely repeating the argument made by Nixon Center fellows Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke in their highly-controversial article in the March/April edition of Foreign Affairs, "The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood".
At the heart of Leiken and Brooke's argument are the dual assertions that the group has "rejected global jihad" and that it "embraces democracy". To support their first claim, they invoke Preachers, Not Judges as the primary piece of evidence of the organization's alleged rejection of their Qutbist past:
To their credit, they admit that Qutb is nowhere mentioned in the book, but nonetheless contend that Qutb was still the "indirect" subject without identifying any supporting evidence. Elsewhere in their article, Leiken and Brooke spin a story of Hudaybi's soul-searching and intellectual labors while in prison in the 1960s, finally arriving at the conclusion that Qutb was in error:
In my contributions to this ongoing debate, I have previously noted ("Showdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Part 1") that Hudaybi's initial response to Qutb's jihadist manifesto, Signposts, was to hail it as the ideological future of the organization. The French Islamic scholar, Gilles Kepel, describes his excitement:
Scholars agree that Preachers, Not Judges was born out of the prison experience of the Muslim Brothers during the 1960s, during which time Qutb and several other Brotherhood leaders were executed. But recent research and new evidence over the past decade have revealed that the circumstances through which the book came about are radically different than what is represented by the Muslim Brotherhood's defenders in the West.
One of the recognized scholars on the topic of Preachers, Not Judges is Barbara Zollner, Director of Islamic Studies at Birbeck College, University of London. Not only is the book the topic of her PhD dissertation, but she has a volume on the subject, The Muslim Brotherhood: Hasan al-Hudaybi and Ideology, which is due to be published by Rutledge early next year.
At a conference held at Georgetown University in March on the theme of "Islamist Politics: Contemporary Trajectories in the Arab World," Zollner delivered a brief synopsis of her extensive research on the subject, "Du'at la Qudat: Notes on the Authorship, Purpose, and Relevance of a Text Purporting a Moderate Theology". During her lecture (available in audio here) she challenged the popular myth still advanced by the Muslim Brotherhood's Western apologists:
Dr. Zollner also challenges the claims that the Brotherhood had somehow rejected Qutb based of the group's continued and present promotion of his works, including Signposts:
What Zollner's research has found is that rather than being the product of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, the book was a collaborative effort by the Egyptian security apparatus and scholars of Al-Azhar University. She cites the testimony of security officials and Brotherhood leaders at the time about the true circumstances of the book's appearance.
As the jailed Brotherhood leaders were waiting for signatures on their pardons, the secret service became aware that some among their group had adopted a "moderate" posture as part of a deliberate plan of taqiyya (deception). The authorities responded with the creation of the text of Preachers, Not Judges to respond to the accepted ideology of the group, which was then handed off to the jailed Brotherhood leadership through Hudaybi's son, Ma'mun, with the intent of providing ideological "encouragement" to the prisoners (or more likely, an "imposed truce" by the Nasser regime).
An Egyptian scholar, Sayed Khatab, in a 2002 Middle East Studies article on Qutb's ideology, cites the memoirs of Brigadier General Fu'ad Allam, head of the security apparatus during the period when the Brotherhood's leadership was imprisoned, providing further details on the background of the creation of Preachers, Not Judges. The following account is from Allam's tell-all memoirs, which originally appeared in the 1990s in serialized form in the Egyptian daily, Rose el-Youssef.
Allam qualifies that several prominent leaders, including Sayyid Qutb's brother, Mohammad (who would remain an important Brotherhood ideologue and later mentor Osama bin Laden while teaching at King Abdel-Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia), quickly rejected the arguments of Preachers, Not Judges, not long after they were released from prison, which is evidence that the jail-house acceptance of the text for some was more for pragmatic than ideological reasons. Shukri, one of those identified as having embraced the program outlined in Preachers, Not Judges, would found the Ja'maat al-Islamiya (Society of Muslims), which would later be known as al-Takfir wa al-Hijra (excommunication and emigration), which would take Qutb's thought to its most extreme.
As Khatab states in his own analysis, Hudaybi continued to advocate the essence of Qutb's jihadist teachings:
In an earlier article published in 2001 in The Muslim World, Khatab noted both that Hudaybi affirmed Qutb's teachings and never promoted the book that was attributed to him:
Based on the witnesses, such as Fu'ad Allam and other first-hand accounts, who attest to the book not authored by Hudaybi, Khatab examines the argument of Preachers, Not Judges and concludes that the ideology it espouses was directly contrary to Hudaybi's beliefs:
Khatab suggests that scholarly accounts of this period written prior to this new evidence that assume Hudaybi's authorship of Preachers, Not Judges should be considered "doubtful" and need to be approached "carefully".
These evidences raise some important questions in the current debate in the West over the Muslim Brotherhood: is it the case that the journalists and Beltway wonks appealing to Preachers, Not Judges as proof of a "reformed" Brotherhood are simply ignorant of most of the scholarship over the past decade on this topic, or have they determined to bury this evidence with their silence in the hope that it will be ignored? If the former, we have cause to question their credibility as self-appointed experts on the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, and we also have to acknowledge their gullibility in accepting unquestioned the propaganda put out by the group; if the latter, their pretended objectivity is little more than the component of the official duplicity that characterizes the Muslim Brotherhood's long-standing operational methodology. Only they can tell us which it is.