May 5, 2011
The Muslim Brotherhood and Spring Time for Sharia in Araby
It is important to recognize why the Muslim Brotherhood certainly does represent the apotheosis of the so-called "Arab Spring" or more aptly, "Spring Time for Sharia in Araby."
We must recognize, as serious scholars of the pre-Edward Said era of historical negationism understood well, the traditional, mainstream Islamic authenticity of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan Al-Banna's vision.
Charles Wendell published a magisterial 1978 translation of Hasan al-Banna's five pathognomonic treatises, or "tracts" as Wendell translated the Arabic word "risala," in al-Banna's case.
Wendell dedicated this 1978 work to the great Orientalist Gustave von Grunebaum (d. 1972)-a champion of applying Western scholarship to the study of Islam, contra the prevailing idiocy in the academy today. The late (d. 2003) Yale scholar of Islam Franz Rosenthal's obituary for von Grunebaum (d. 1972) included these observations about von Grunebaum's seminal contributions, and uncompromising standards:
If von Grunebaum was able in addition to produce an amazingly large and significant number of books and articles, to which all these and many other activities ranked second in importance in his estimation as well as ours, it was because everything he did arose from the same source - his personal conviction as to the intellectual obligation resting upon the Western student of Islam. He was convinced that it was his duty to interpret Islam from the point of view of the Westerner deeply steeped in his own civilization at its best, that there was indeed no other way of making the study of Islam meaningful for non-Muslims, professional scholars and educated non-specialists alike, than by scrutinizing it from the outside and measuring it by the most demanding and universally valid standards devised in the West for assessing intellectual and moral worth."
What Charles Wendell knew and was unafraid to proclaim, in the noble tradition of von Grunebaum, is that Al-Banna represented a continuum-not just from the so-called "Muslim modernists" al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida, most directly-but from foundational, mainstream Islam itself-the Islam that still appeals most to the Muslim masses wherever they reside, including sadly, here in the US.
For those who may never have (or never will) actually read Al-Banna's main treatises/tracts, here are Wendell's critical summary insights:
Hasan al-Banna's fundamental conviction that Islam does not accept, or even tolerate, a separation of "church" and state, or of either from society, is as thoroughly Islamic as it can be. Any attempt to translate his movement into terms reducible to social, political, or religious factors exclusively simply misses the boat.The "totality" created by the Prophet Muhammad in the Medinese state, the first Islamic state, was Hasan's unwavering ideal, and the ideal of all Muslim thinkers before him, including the idle dreamers in the mosque. His ideology then, before it was Egyptian or Arab or whatever, was Islamic to the core. Since it embraced all aspects of human life and thought, it was at least as much religious as anything else. Practically all of his arguments are shored up by frequent quotations from the Qur'an and the Traditions, quite in the style of his medieval forbears. If one considers the public to whom his writings were addressed, it becomes instantly apparent that such arguments must still be the most compelling for the vast bulk of the Muslim populations of today. The nagging feeling that Islam must, and very quickly at that, catch up with the West, had even by his time filtered down from above to the masses after having been the watchword of the modernizing intellectual for almost a century. There was also the notion that all these Western sciences and techniques were originally adopted from Islamic culture, and were therefore merely "coming home"-a piece of self-conscious back-patting that was already a cliché of mist Muslim political writing.