Origins: The Proto-Muslim Brotherhood

               The origins of Modern Salafism and Islamic reform in Egypt in the 19th century . Precursors to the  modern Muslim Brotherhood. (Proto-Muslim Brotherhood)
Around the mid 19th century there emereged a debate in Egypt about how and if Islam can be “modernized”. As they saw it, the principle of taqlid (tradition) had been reduced to a blind imitation of past customs. The praxis of Islam had to be reformed for the modern worlds.

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani
Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-1897) is often accredited to the origin of the “Salafi” movement in Egypt during the turn of the century. He argued that the changing position of Muslims in Egypt during his time was due to a stagnant and distorted view of Islam by Egyptian practitioners, and that the forces of imperialism and foreign aggression could be defeated only through the reformation of Islamic practice. Afghani and his disciples would push for a return to the source, the first community of Mohammad and his followers (the salaf) and also a renewal of the practice of Ijtihad (independent reasoning) in order to update and strengthen shari’a (Islamic religious law) to adapt it to the changing conditions. 

The return to ijtihad was significant. In the Sunni stream of Islam, the practice of independent reasoning based directly on Quranic sources had coalesced into four major schools of shari’a law, each with their own qualifications for entry and opinions on legal issues. These schools of law (the Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, and Shafi’i) held official status in Islamic courts and appointments were typically made by the respective governments in cooperation with the schooling apparati. Afghani’s theory of the independent mujtahid (one who practices ijtihad) promoted a popular basis for legal reasoning that could oppose “official Islam”.

For more information on Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, including an interview with Martin Kramer, visit the Diwaniyya archive . Selected Readings for Jamal al-Din al-Afghani 

                                                                  (Muhammad 'Abduh)
  Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849-1905) was a disciple and close associate of Afghani’s that was highly influenced by the enlightenment discourse in Europe.[1] He witnessed, disparagingly, that the Muslim community around him was ill equipped to be able to compete with Europeans in matters of practicality. He focused intently on the need for educational reform that could potential allow Islamic and Europeans to once again be able to exist on an even keel intellectually. For ‘Abduh, religion laid the foundation for all moral guidelines and “If the spirit of religion is not strengthened among the Egyptians, and if [instead] religion is weakened, these moral qualities will also collapse. Religion is the basis on which moral conduct is built.” In a radical departure from accepted doctrine, he taught that modern scientific thought could be accepted without damage to Islam. There were many ways to reconcile modernity, rationalism and Islam. He emphasized science and principles from the European Enlightenment as means by which to revitalize the conditions of Muslims living in Egypt at this time.

   Beginning with ‘Abduh and later with Rida we see a push to prove the Islamic origins of the western intellectual enlightenment. For example democracy is discussed in terms of the Islamic practice of “shura” or  “consultation”. The focus of much of the work done during this period was on “remaking” Islam so that scripture remained a comprehensive framework for daily life.

                                                              (Muhammad Rashid Rida)
                 The Syro-Egyptian Islamic thinker Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935)  studied under ‘Abduh in Cairo at the turn or the century, where he began calling for a reexamination of his predecessors’ ideas. Unlike ‘Abduh, Rida did not share his predecessors affinity for Western culture and was uninterested in western intellectualism. 
                  The problem approached by ‘Abduh in the early 20th century still had not been solved by the time Rida came to Egypt, and in his eyes these reforms were not effective because they were aimed at “westernizing Egypt and Islam” and not based on returning Islam to its roots, which he viewed as being the only successful; solution. Like ‘Abduh, Rida viewed the world as a dichotomy between the “West” and the “Muslim world”. He considered the Muslim world to be in a weak position compared to the West. Western style of life was not to be strived for, according to Rida, but instead embracing the west in an effort to repudiate and invalidate its claim on modernity. Rida is quite possibly the most important segue leading us from the “proto-Muslim Brotherhood” up to Hasan al-Banna and the founding of the organization
  Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the modern Muslim Brotherhood movement, was highly influenced by Rashid Rida’s thought, and developed his ideas into a social organization dedicated to the implementation of those principles. 


Diwaniyya Contributor