May 8, 2007
The US and the Muslim Brotherhood
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:
Qutb remains a heroic figure for many Egyptians. But Ibrahim Hudaybi, the young activist who sent me the text message about the arrest, pointed out to me when we met the next day that his own grandfather, Hasan Hudaybi, who replaced al-Banna as supreme guide and was jailed along with Qutb, wrote a book from prison, "Preachers, Not Judges," designed to reassert the brotherhood's commitment to peace and to open debate... Hudaybi wanted to see the brotherhood deal explicitly with the legacy of Qutb, even if doing so might not play well in the hustings. Other, more senior figures I spoke to insisted rather implausibly that Qutb had been misunderstood; but all swore by the philosophy of tolerance and the program of gradual reform laid out in "Preachers, Not Judges." (James Traub, "Islamist Democrats," New York Times Magazine [April 29, 2007])
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:
One issue of enduring concern is Qutb's ambiguous legacy in the Brotherhood. Critiquing "the martyr," as Qutb is known, requires a surgeon's touch: he died in the service of the organization yet had strayed far from the founder's vision. Even Hudaybi's Preachers, Not Judges, an indirect but clear refutation of Qutb, never mentions him. Today, the Brotherhood lionizes Qutb, admittedly a major figure whose views cannot be reduced to jihad. But it straddles a barbed fence in embracing Qutb while simultaneously arguing that his violent teachings were "taken out of context." What lessons will younger members tempted to radical action draw? ("The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood", p. 113)
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:
But from his own cell, Hudaybi disputed Qutb's conclusion. Only God, he believed, could judge faith. He rejected takfir (the act of declaring another Muslim an apostate), arguing that "whoever judges that someone is no longer a Muslim ... deviates from Islam and transgresses God's will by judging another person's faith." Within the Brotherhood, Hudaybi's tolerant view-in line with Banna's founding vision-prevailed, cementing the group's moderate vocation. (p. 110)
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:
Hudaybi himself (whose opinion became far more measured after 1966) declared that the book vindicated all the hopes he had placed in Sayyid Qutb, who now embodied "the future of the Muslim mission" (da'wa). (Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and the Pharaoh [University of California Press, 1993], p. 30)
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:
There are a number of writers who argue that Du'at la Qudat, when it was published in the 1970s, to be exact in 1977, that it is an evidence of the Muslim Brotherhood's turn away from radical thinking, and that it evidences a shift of the Muslim Brotherhood's stance towards a centrist Islamist ideology...What I want to say today are two things. Overall my argument that Preachers, Not Judges was not written by Hassan al-Hudaybi, and secondly, it is not written as a response to Sayyid Qutb.
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:
There is an oversimplification of the historical context, because as we know all you have to do is go on their [the Muslim Brotherhood] website today you still have a sub-section where Qutb is referred to and reference is made to his work; Qutb is still held in the Brotherhood's memory, the Brotherhood did not turn away or against Qutb. To say that it that the Muslim Brotherhood issued a refutation in the 1970s rejecting Qutbian thinking, that would contradict exactly that. So I would say that it is more in response to an inner conflict, but it is also a truce, the beginnings of a truce, with Abd' al-Nasser's regime...
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.
In the mid sixties, Abd al-Nasser decided to release all Muslim Brothers who were in jail at the time. However, the security Authorities (sulutat amniyyah) opposed the decision due to the security policy then in place. Around this time, we obtained information that the Brothers who were brought to jail in 1965 were of three groups, comprising followers of al-Banna, the followers of al-Hudaybi, and the followers of Sayyid Qutb. There was no disagreement among them; they were all agreed that contemporary society was in a condition of jahiliyyah that must be changed to establish the Islamic state. Exactly when an Islamic state should be established varied amongst the three groups...The followers of al-Hudaybi and al-Banna preferred to delay the establishment of an Islamic state, since delay was in the interest of survival of the organization. Their view was that they should save the life of their Brothers and not to provoke the authority at that particular time. Given these circumstances, we sought more information and found evidence of extreme Islamic thinking among the Brothers in jail. Investigations revealed sufficient evidence to result in 17 potential charges (qadiyyah). We moved quickly to face this type old thinking that was spreading from jail and gaining public support due to current socio-economic discontent in the wider society. Our plan, of course, was to match this type of thinking intelligently. We asked the Ulama and the men of al-Azhar for assistance. We intended to take advantage of the differences that we found among the extreme groups with regard to when it was best to establish an Islamic state. We also devised a successful plan for us to infiltrate the Islamic groups, secure our presence among them and persuade some of them to co-operate with us...The truth of this matter is that Hasan al-Hudaybi did not co-operate by an opinion, or by fatwa (legal opinion) in this book. The book was not, in fact, written by Al-Hudaybi at all. Actually, the book was written by select members at al-Azhar. We managed to get the prepared chapters into the jail and circulate them amongst the Muslim Brothers. We then closed our eyes to their meetings and discussions. We had arranged for Ma'mun, the son of al-Hudaybi, to pass him the chapters. He did this pretending that they were his own... Among the Brothers who were in the prison and co-operated with us in circulating this book in jail were Abd al-Mut'al al-Jabri and Saad al-Din Mutwally Ibrahim. We then collected the chapters and facilitated the book's publication and rapid distribution...
The book made a significant impact on the Brothers and encountered their extreme thinkers particularly inside the jail. Muhammad Qutb and some of his supporters separated themselves from the groups of extreme thinkers, although with Muhammad Qutb were Shukri Ahmad Mustafa, Sayyid ‘Id Yusuf, and Ali Abd al-Fattah Abduh Isma'il. These three Brothers were, however, the first to spread the militant extremism after they were released. (Fu'ad Allam, "Akhtar Kutub Hasan al-Hudaybi min Ta'lif Mabahith Amn al-Dawlah" Rose el-Youssef, No. 3507 , p56-59; cited in, Sayed Khatab, "Hakimiyyah and Jahiliyyah in the Thought of Sayyid Qutb," Middle Eastern Studies 38/3 [July 2002]: 149-150)
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:
There has been no response to this revelation from either Ma'mun, the son of al-Hudaybi, or from al-Azhar, and there is no reason to reject this new information. Al-Hudaybi, like others of his brothers, believed that Islam is a religion and state. He, like others, described the society of their time as a ‘society of jahiliyyah that should be changed and an Islamic state be established'. (Ibid, pp. 150-151)
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:
Al-Hudaybi accepted the theory and practice, namely the book Ma'alim [Qutb's Signposts - P] and its milestones and recommended them for his group. It is noteworthy that al-Hudaybi did not recommend the book Da'ah wa Laysa Qudah [Preachers, Not Judges - P], which was attributed to him. (Sayed Khatab, "Al-Hudaybi's Influence on the Development of Islamist Movements in Egypt," The Muslim World 91, 3/4 [Fall 2001], p. 468)
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:
Du'ah wa Laysa Qudah (Preachers, Not Judges) was written to claim that hakimiyya (sovereignty) is not a Qu'ranic term mentioned in the Qu'ran. However, the term hukm (from hakama, to govern or to judge) is a Qu'ranic term repeatedly mentioned in the Qu'ran. The author's analysis seeks to separate the term hakimiyya from the term hukm and then denies the Qu'ranic word group of hukm any political connotation. This perspective views Islam as simply a religious without the right to govern and order human life or to organize the daily affairs of the Muslim, a point directly opposite to al-Hudaybi's ideological position...According to this information the book is not al-Hudaybi's and he did not write a single word of it. (p. 465; emphasis added)
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.