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MAS's Muslim Brotherhood Problem By: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
The Weekly Standard | Monday, May 30, 2005

On May 14, 2005, PAX-TV's Faith Under Fire broadcasted a debate that I took part in against Mahdi Bray, the executive director of the Muslim American Society's (MAS) Freedom Foundation. Bray had selected the debate topic in advance, and chose to argue about "The United States of Islam?"—that is, whether American Muslims wanted to see Islamic law (sharia) implemented in the United States. While I unwaveringly agreed that most American Muslims don't want to see the United States ruled by Islamic law, I nonetheless jumped at the chance to debate this topic against Bray. After all, the Chicago Tribune recently published a story detailing how the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood operates in the United States as none other than MAS. So while most American Muslims don't want to see the United States governed by sharia, Bray's organization does. And while researching for the debate, I found that MAS—except in its most public of statements—is quite open about its agenda and allegiances. Even a brief review of various MAS chapters' websites provides a revealing look at what the national organization is teaching its members.

The Muslim Brotherhood is an international Islamist group that largely operates underground and behind the scenes, with branches in about 70 countries. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian schoolteacher who—in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and abolition of the caliphate—bemoaned the sickness of the Ummah, or larger Muslim community. The Brotherhood's response to this perceived sickness was to emphasize doctrinally that Islam encompasses all the affairs of man. As al-Banna wrote, "Islam is faith and worship, a country and a citizenship, a religion and a state. It is spirituality and hard work. It is a Qur'an and a sword." The group also emphasizes that Islam is a universal faith. As al-Banna put it, Islam "has encompassed all aspects of human life, for all peoples and nations, and for all times and ages."


Because the Brotherhood views Islam as all-encompassing and universal, one of its highest goals is to spread Islamic law. The Chicago Tribune explains that the controversial "ultimate goal" of the U.S. Brotherhood is "to create Muslim states overseas and, they hope, someday in America as well." Brotherhood members did emphasize to the Tribune that they operate within the laws of the countries where they live:


They stress that they do not believe in overthrowing the U.S. government, but rather that they want as many people as possible to convert to Islam so that one day—perhaps generations from now—a majority of Americans will support a society governed by Islamic law.


Despite these pronouncements, the Muslim Brotherhood has not always been known for non-violence. The "Qur'an and a sword" outlook trumpeted by al-Banna is, for example, evident in the organization's militant motto: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Consistent with this motto, Muslim Brotherhood members have been involved in such episodes as the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi Nokrashi and the attempted assassination of Gamal Abdel Nasser.


One of the Muslim Brotherhood's most violent theoreticians was Sayyid Qutb, whose ideas heavily influenced Osama bin Laden's current conception of jihad. The 9/11 Commission Report explains Qutb's writings:


Three basic themes emerge from Qutb's writings. First, he claimed that the world was beset with barbarism, licentiousness, and unbelief (a condition he called jihiliyya, the religious term for the period of ignorance prior to the revelations given to the Prophet Mohammed). Qutb argued that humans can choose only between Islam and jihiliyya. Second, he warned that more people, including Muslims, were attracted to jihiliyya and its material comforts than to his view of Islam; jihiliyya could therefore triumph over Islam. Third, no middle ground exists in what Qutb conceived as a struggle between God and Satan. All Muslims—as he defined them—therefore must take up arms in this fight. Any Muslim who rejects his ideas is just one more nonbeliever worthy of destruction.


This brings us to MAS, which was incorporated in Illinois in 1993 and today has 53 chapters nationwide and about 10,000 members. According to the Chicago Tribune, a contentious debate among Brotherhood members preceded MAS's incorporation, and the Muslim American Society is now the name under which the U.S. Brotherhood operates.


While MAS leaders admit that their organization was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, they claim that the two are now completely distinct. For example, MAS official, Shaker Elsayed, told the Chicago Tribune, "Ikhwan [Brotherhood] members founded MAS, but MAS went way beyond that point of conception." The fact that a MAS spokesman such as Bray feels comfortable publicly arguing that MAS does not want to see an Islamic state in America demonstrates the strength of its public disavowal of the Muslim Brotherhood.


On Faith Under Fire, I stated that, consonant with the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda, MAS has made clear that it would like to see our constitutional order replaced with rule according to the Koran and Sunnah. In response, Bray stated definitively, "I would be very happy if we could just maintain the constitutional principles that we have in the United States." He went on to say that, for the past two years, the MAS Freedom Foundation has been training Muslims about the Constitution and showing them how to "take full benefit of those beautiful things called the Bill of Rights." In fact, he accused me of taking words from MAS's websites out of context, and claimed that MAS's true agenda was "to support. . .the U.S. Constitution and to defend the Constitution against enemies both domestic and foreign."


Let us examine what MAS stands for today—with reference only to its own material that is readily available on the Internet—and determine who took MAS's agenda out of context.


MAS's outlook is best reflected in its curriculum. While any Muslim can join MAS by paying $10 a month in dues, the group has various gradations of membership. MAS's highest membership class is "active" membership. To attain active member status, a Muslim must complete five years of community service and education. The website for MAS Minnesota outlines the objectives of MAS's active member program. These objectives include:


(1) Continue building the correct unified comprehension of Islam as outlined in the Message of the Teachings by Imam Al-Banna. . . .


(9) Make the member fulfill his duties as outlined in the Message of the Teachings by Imam Al-Banna.


Although these objectives appear on MAS Minnesota's website, there is no suggestion that they apply only to the regional chapter. Instead, MAS Minnesota's website discusses the MAS curriculum in general terms that suggest that it is presenting the national organization's curriculum and objectives.


And the listed objectives are telling. Even a cursory review of The Message of the Teachings indicates that al-Banna's "unified comprehension of Islam" falls short of a call to defend the Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic. In that book, al-Banna tells his fellow Muslims that they must work toward "[r]eforming the government so that it may become a truly Islamic government, performing as a servant to the nation in the interest of the people. By Islamic government I mean a government whose officers are Muslims who perform the obligatory duties of Islam, who do not make public their disobedience, and who enforce the rules and teachings of Islam." Moreover, al-Banna implores his followers to "[c]ompletely boycott non-Islamic courts and judicial systems. Also, dissociate yourself from organisations, newspapers, committees, schools, and institutions which oppose your Islamic ideology."


The message that all countries should be ruled by Islamic law is echoed throughout MAS's membership curriculum. For example, MAS requires all its adjunct members to read Fathi Yakun's book To Be a Muslim. In that volume, Yakun spells out his expansive agenda: "Until the nations of the world have functionally Islamic governments, every individual who is careless or lazy in working for Islam is sinful."


Al-Banna flatly states in The Message of the Teachings that violence is an acceptable means for spreading Islamic ideology: "Always intend to go for Jihad and desire martyrdom. Prepare for it as much as you can."


Nor is al-Banna's work the only one in MAS's curriculum to advocate the promotion of Islam through violence. MAS's adjunct members are required to read Syed Qutb's Milestones. Among other things, Milestones contains Qutb's exposition on "Jihad in the Cause of God," which is a refutation of those who claim that jihad encompasses only defensive warfare. Qutb states that jihad is, in fact, justified when the sole purpose is the establishment of Islam:


The reasons for Jihad which have been described in the above verses are these: to establish God's authority in the earth; to arrange human affairs according to the true guidance provided by God; to abolish all the Satanic forces and Satanic systems of life; to end the lordship of one man over others since all men are creatures of God and no one has the authority to make them his servants or to make arbitrary laws for them. These reasons are sufficient for proclaiming Jihad.


Just as Bray claimed that one of MAS's primary goals is to support and defend the Constitution, MAS president Esam Omeish recently wrote that the reason MAS draws inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood is "in order to espouse the values of human dialogue, tolerance and moderation." Yet both MAS's curriculum and also the scholars that MAS requires its members to read openly flout these values.


While Bray pointed out in our debate that MAS has educated Muslims about the American judicial system, this is not the issue. Muslims in America have no choice but to use the U.S. courts. Rather, the issue is one of respect for the liberal democratic traditions at the bedrock of our culture. While Bray tries to portray MAS as an organization that embraces these shared values, the group simultaneously teaches its members that all governments should become Islamic and that non-Islamic judicial systems should be boycotted.


MAS has long played a double game where, despite its fringe outlook, it attempts to pass itself off as mainstream. When the Chicago Tribune began to lift the curtain on this deception with its investigative report, MAS's leadership quibbled with the portrait that the newspaper painted. Yet an even bigger indictment lies in the material that MAS requires its members to read—and in the book that it touts as "the correct unified comprehension of Islam."


Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is an international counterterrorism consultant and an attorney with Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

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