Time to clear out the favourites that have been burning a hole in my browser since before the August break.
Hossam Tammam, who runs the IslamOnline spin-off Islamyoon.com and is an expert on Islamist movements, most notably the Muslim Brothers (read his book – تحولات الإخوان المسامين), explains the rationale behind the Egyptian government’s recent crackdown on the Brother’s finances:
In the case known as the “international organisation”, which started in June 2009, the government seems to be targetting MB economic power once again. Prosecutors have indicted several MB-affiliated businessmen, charging them with money laundering and receiving funds from abroad to finance the outlawed group.
And finance, under the pious smokescreen of Islamic finance, is the lynchpin of Islamist groups like the MB’s strategy to support their own activities and re-Islamise society. In fact, as noted by most commentators, the MB and its founder Hassan al-Banna were instrumental in the development of Islamic economic models:
The origins of all Islamic economic and financial regulatory organizations, including the AAIOFI’s date back to the 1920s invention of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) founder Hassan Al-Banna, who designed political, economic, and financial infrastructures to enable Muslims to fulfill a key form of jihad mandated by the Koran (Al Jihad bi-al-Mal — financial jihad) “you… should strive for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives….” – 61:10-11.
He viewed finance as a critical weapon to undermine the infidels — and “work towards establishing an Islamic rule on earth.” To do that, he understood that Muslims must create an independent Islamic financial system to parallel and later supersede the Western economy.
Al-Banna’s contemporaries and successors (such as the late Sayed Qutb and current Yusuf Qaradawi) set his theories and practices into motion, developing sharia-based terminology and mechanisms to advance the financial jihad — “Islamic economics,” finance and banking.
Early 1930s MB attempts to establish Islamic banking in India failed. Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser shut down the second attempt, in 1964, after only one year, later arresting and expelling the Muslim Brothers for attempts to kill him. Saudi Arabia welcomed this new wave Egyptian dissidents, as did King Saud bin Abdul Aziz earlier waves in 1954 and 1961. Their ideas so appealed to him and his clerics that in 1961, Saud funded the MB’s establishment of the Islamic University in Medina to proselytize their fundamentalist Islamic ideology, especially to foreign students.
In 1962, the MB convinced the king to launch a global financial joint venture, which became the cornerstone and engine to spread Islam worldwide. This venture created charitable foundations, which the MB oversees.
The first were the Muslim World League (MWL) and Rabitta al-Alam al-Islami, uniting Islamic radicals from 22 nations and spinning a web of many other charities with hundreds of offices worldwide. In 1978, the kingdom backed another MB initiative, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), which with all these “charities” are implicated for funding al Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, Hamas and others.
These “charities” are used to advance the political agenda set forth by the MB. “I don’t like this word ‘donations’,” Qaradawi told BBC Panorama on July 30, 2006.
“I like to call it jihad with money, because God has ordered us to fight enemies with our lives and our money.”
In 1969, the Saudis convened Arab and Muslim states to unify the “struggle for Islam,” and have, ever since, been the OIC’s major sponsor. The 56 OIC members include Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Based in Jeddah “pending the liberation of Jerusalem,” the OIC charter mandates and coordinates “support [of] the struggle of the Palestinian people…recovering their rights and liberating their occupied territories.”
So, with Islamist movements such as the MB employing Shari’a-tinted economics to finance themselves, pay for projects and, on a more strategic level, demonstrate proto-Islamic statecraft in the test bed of the real world: Islamic economic models would engender support for an Islamic system amongst the people and serve as the paradigm for a future Islamic state or states.
As Tammam writes:
Since its inception the MB has been big on finance. On a purely theoretical level, MB founding father Hassan El-Banna said the group should be an “economic company” just as it is a “Salafi inspiration, a Sunni method, a Sufi revelation, a political organisation, a sports society, a cultural league and a social idea”.
The fundamental importance of Islamic finance to all Islamist politico-religious movements has not escaped them. Islamists justify their willingness to employ a hybrid Western-Islamic model to bring about the Islamisation of society by recourse to the Qur’an.
So-called Jihad bil-Mal or Financial Jihad (fundraising for needy Muslims, supporting the mujahideen and ensuring the victory of Islam) draws inspiration from a series of well-known verses in the Qur’an:
“Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if ye but knew.” – al-Tawba (Repentance), Chapter 9, verse 41
“Those who believe, and have left their homes and striven with their wealth and their lives in Allah’s way are of much greater worth in Allah’s sight. These are they who are triumphant.” – al-Tawba (Repentance), Chapter 9, verse 20
“O ye who believe! Shall I show you a commerce that will save you from a painful doom? Ye should believe in Allah and His messenger, and should strive for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is better for you, if ye did but know.” – al-Saff (the ranks, battle arrays), Chapter 61, verse 10-11
“The (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and His messenger and afterward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah. Such are the sincere.” – al-Hujraat (the private apartments, the inner apartments), Chapter 49, verse 15
“Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and the officials (appointed) over them, and those whose hearts are made to incline (to truth) and the (ransoming of) captives and those in debt and in the way of Allah and the wayfarer; an ordinance from Allah; and Allah is knowing, Wise.” – al-Tawba (Repentance), Chapter 9, verse 60
All Islamic scholars are unanimous in their interpretation of these verses regarding the centrality and importance of financial jihad as part of Allah’s jihad commandment to Muslims. Some interpretations note the verses’ internal order, in which “wealth” precedes “lives,” as evidence of the significance of financial jihad and, in certain circumstances, its precedence over self-sacrificing jihad. In his Islamic edict on jihad in Chechnya, al-Shuaibi determined that the “significance of financial jihad is not inferior to self-sacrificing jihad, being even more important.”
Dr. Hussein Shehata, a professor at al-Azhar University in Cairo, explains the uniqueness of the financial jihad commandment as being “a trial of strength of Muslim faith” and “a means to purify the soul from stinginess.” Through financial jihad, according to Shehata, Allah gives wealthy Muslims the opportunity to allocate some of their money for da’awa (literally, the call for Islam), the Islamic effort to teach or to convert people to Islam.
Dr. Ajeel Jassem al-Nashami, secretary general of the International Organization for Zakat (Islamic alms) in Kuwait, argued that donations made by Muslims for zakat should be funneled to finance jihad warfare in Palestine against Israel. In his interpretation of the Quranic verse (al-Tawba, Chapter 9, verse 60), he noted that Allah determined eight ways for using zakat for the benefit of Muslims, four of them designated to support jihad and the other four aimed at helping the needy.
Praising the merits of financial jihad, Muslim scholars also rely on Islamic tradition (hadith) attributed to the Prophet Mohammad, which assures Muslims who donate money for jihad the same reward in Heaven as the mujahideen themselves. According to hadith: “One [Muslim] who equips a person on his way to raid [the enemy’s camps] in Allah’s path [jihad] is considered to have the same status as the raider [mujahid]. One [Muslim] who substitutes [the raider] concerning his family and [taking care of their needs] with good deeds is considered to have the same status as the raider [mujahid].”
In practical terms, financial jihad is designed to sustain self-sacrificing jihad and enable it to achieve its goals on the battlefield. Dr. Abdullah Qadiri al-Ahdal, a Saudi professor at al-Medina University, referring to the duty to support the Palestinian mujahideen, determined that “financial jihad applies to all of us [Muslims] in accordance with each person’s capability. No excuse can dismiss anyone from donating money to the mujahideen and their families…as they are in urgent need of food, medication, clothing, weapons, and other [basic] necessities of life.” Al-Ahdal views financial jihad as a vital means for the mujahideen in financing their military activity (purchasing weapons, etc.) and at the same time in securing proper social conditions for the families of the mujahideen, who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Islam.
In another fatwa, Hussein Shehata argues that financial jihad is designed to assure mutual indemnity among Muslims and the commitment of Muslims to their warriors. According to Shehata, Muslims are committed to “financially support the families of the mujahideen who joined the call for jihad and left behind them their women and children….They [the families] are in desperate need of money and basic necessities of life such as food, drink, and accommodation.” Shehata explains that the financial jihad commandment given by God is intended “to calm the mujahideen’s [worries] by demonstrating that there are those [Muslims] who practice financial jihad and do not skimp on money for their families, even if they have fallen on the battlefield or their houses are damaged or destroyed.”
In Seventy Ways to Support the Chechen Jihad, published on the official website of the Chechen mujahideen, the importance of financial and material donations is emphasized. The Chechen mujahideen called upon Muslims to support jihad in Chechnya against the “Russian enemy” in any way possible, and to begin by transferring financial and material support.
39 Principles of Jihad, a book by Mohammad bin Ahmad al-Salem that appears on websites affiliated with al-Qaeda, offers readers an opportunity to comprehend the broad meaning of the concept of jihad as interpreted by Muslim scholars. Jihad is not only an expression of violent action against infidels, but comprises diverse acts that every Muslim is commanded to perform in order to sustain jihad. Eight of the 39 principles deal with various aspects of financial jihad:
- Financing jihad – Muslims can join in jihad by donating to jihad and the mujahideen. The donation’s value is determined by its quality and destination and not only by the amount of money given.
- Supplying the fighters’ needs – Believers who are unable to take part in jihad (for instance, women and the handicapped) can perform their duty by supplying money and equipment to the mujahideen. By doing so, the donor is considered mujahid and deserves the same reward.
- Taking care of the mujahideen’s family – Believers who support the mujahideen’s family are considered mujahid and deserve half of their reward. On the other hand, neglecting the mujahideen’s family may bring them misfortune and death by the hand of God.
- Assisting the families of the fallens – by supplying the special needs of orphans and widows.
- Assisting the families of prisoners and wounded warriors – by supplying their necessities.
- Collecting funds for the mujahideen – Money is the lifeline of jihad. Its importance also stems from the action of gathering donations, which arouse the spirit of jihad in the hearts of believers. There are many ways to carry out this duty: at mosques, public venues, family gatherings, charity events, monthly donations, or by urging the wealthy to open their hearts to the mujahideen.
- Granting charity donations to the mujahideen – who enjoy priority in Islam.
- Financing medical treatment for wounded mujahideen.
The MB, as the archetypal Islamist movement, continued to expand its economic activities until a backlash and subsequent bloody crackdown under Nasser ensured that their economic activities in Egypt were minimal. Tammam again:
On a more practical note, El-Banna wasted no time in forming a number of companies and economic enterprises, most of which were either directly helpful to MB activities or related to his pan-Islamic vision. El-Banna believed in a national liberation movement with an Islamic orientation, and this vision influenced the type of investment on which MB companies focussed. He formed a mining company and a textile company at a time when Egypt was still a major supplier of raw cotton to British factories. We don’t know whether those companies were owned by the MB itself or by individuals affiliated with it, or a mix between the two. But we know that the MB was allowed to own companies at the time.
Private ownership, legitimately earned profit and ethical finance were all in vogue at a time when Nasser and the vanguard of the Free Officers had espoused a pan-Arabist socialist political and economic model.
As the MB’s activities were outlawed under Nasser, the subsequent exile of various key MB members allowed them to acquire new skills and knowhow heretofore unavailable to them in Egypt. By acquiring contacts and financing in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia, the Brotherhood and its members pioneered what became some of today’s most important Islamic financial institutions. They were ideally poised at the onset if the Sadat era to take advantage of the new found economic optimism and restructuring overtaking Egypt:
MB capital acted without delay, investing in housing, health, education, transport, food and many other services. By the end of the 1970s a new class of MB-affiliated businessmen was taking shape in Cairo. A network of businesses linked with the group soon emerged. The MB was particularly active in real estate investment, medical supplies, school supplies, automobiles and food production. All of these areas were once monopolised by the state but were now open for private investment. MB economic activities filled up part of the gap left behind by the withdrawal of the state, making the transition to a market economy less painful for the public.
Soon the MB tried its hand at tourism, especially organised pilgrimages to Mecca, management and training, electronics and information technology. The man who organised the MB’s branching out into these new fields of economic activities was Khairat El-Shater. He was one of the first MB businessmen to venture into management (having formed the Umma Centre in the late 1980s) and computers (the well- known Salsabil Company).
Unlike MB investment under Hassan El-Banna, which was part of a national liberation quest (forming a textile company under British occupation was a daring act, in the same league as the nationalisation of the Suez Canal), investment in the liberalisation period took on a consumerist nature. As of the 1990s, the largest MB investments were directed at luxury housing and North Coast tourist resorts.
Although the Brothers have performed an important economic role both domestically and abroad, this could not translate into corresponding success in the public domain, where the MB remains a banned political organisation. Instead, MB members themselves became successful businessmen in their own right and acquired the wealth and privilege to use as clout on behalf of the Brethren and the ideology to which they espoused. People like Khairat El-Shater:
El-Shater was the only exception. A brilliant businessman, El-Shater also had immense organisational skills that placed him at the top of the MB’s organisational hierarchy (he is currently the second deputy of the general guide). El-Shater is the first MB leader to combine economic and organisational power. As such, he is more than a businessman and a successful MB leader, and his influence within the MB is substantial.
The mystique surrounding the group’s wealth has been generated partly by the presence of several rich individuals at the heart of the MB leadership. Moreover, the movement has all but dissolved its capital assets in Egypt save for a few schools, banks and charitable institutions; financial clout now rests in the hands of members who must contribute approximately 8 per cent of their wealth to the Brotherhood every year.
The increasingly blurred distinction between Brotherhood coffers and private wealth has meant the government using their legal and authoritative muscle to freeze and even confiscate the private assets of several wealthy individual members of the MB.
What’s interesting is that Nasser’s crackdown on his fellow revolutionaries and the eventual enforced isolation of various MB personalities in Europe and America during the 1950s, 60s and 70s prior to their return and the movements initial resurgence under Sadat, have contributed to the group’s financial portfolio and their fundraising and investment overseas. A full set of accounts for the global organisation and its various offshoots would reveal just how wealthy the Brothers are.