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News Analysis

Islamic Reformer, Brother of MB Founder Dies

Thu, January 31, 2013

Ryan Mauro

Egyptian Muslim reformer Gamal al-Banna passed away at age 93 on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. What distinguishes him wasn’t only his unequivocal stance against Political Islam and in favor of a reformation, but the fact that he was a younger brother of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet, at the same time, he was anti-American and supported terrorism.

Gamal al-Banna was known for his intellectual prowess. He wrote and translated over 150 books and his library consists of over 30,000 volumes on Islamic theory and world history. And he didn’t mince words.

“The Muslim mind is rusty. It has done nothing the last thousand years…it means that you act without thinking,” he says in a documentary by an Iraqi Muslim named Walid al-Kubaisi about the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.

He urged the Muslim world to think critically and independently and not to blindly follow the rulings of Islamic scholars from long ago.

In 2008, he wrote a book attacking 653 of the hadiths (saying or acts ascribed to the Muslim prophet Mohammed) written by Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. As St. Francis Magazine explains, “After the Qur’an, al-Bukhari’s collection of hadiths is considered the most sacred book in Islam; never before has any Muslim scholar who lives in the Arab world, thrown so much doubt – publicly - on the sources of Islam.”

“You can’t say that religious opinions made over 1,000 years ago are valid for all times…We must have a revolution in the understanding of Islam, a revolution almost like Martin Luther’s,” he said in 2009.

He was an ardent opponent of sharia-based governance and therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood, that was founded by his older brother. In November, he called Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi a “tyrant.”

“There cannot be a civil state with an Islamic reference, and if this happens it will become a religious state, even if it is not like the Iranian model of a religious state, in which the clergy rule the country,” he said in May 2011 when he stood against the Islamists trying to take over Egypt.

“If you allow Islam to become the source of legislation, you will have placed yourself in a whirlpool due to the large number of interpretations and religious views on various matters,” he stated.

He distanced himself from his brother, saying he “was the total opposite,” while claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood had betrayed his vision by becoming political.

Gamal al-Banna argued in favor of assimilation into Western societies. He said in al-Kubaisi’s documentary that Muslims living in other countries “should abide by its customs and traditions” as long as they are allowed to practice their faith. He even said that the hijab often worn by Muslim women to cover their hair has no Islamic justification and that there should be no punishment for apostasy.

The irony of Gamal al-Banna was that he pushed a very liberal interpretation of Islam but was politically extremely anti-Western. He praised the 9/11 attacks as “very courageous” and a response to “the criminal and racist American foreign policy” and “barbaric capitalism and the enslavement of the peoples.” He also endorsed Palestinian suicide bombings as acts of “martyrdom.” Surprisingly, he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

He felt that Islam and capitalism are in contradiction because of Western civilization’s “excess,” giving the example of a town destroyed by a tunnel or nuclear power plant construction. The solution is to “discriminate between what is right and wrong as a society, not a government.”

Gamal al-Banna was a mixed bag for the West. His Islamic teachings are democratic, reformist and completely against Political Islam/Islamism. On the other hand, he endorsed the anti-Western terrorism that is a product of Political Islam.

The quest to build a pro-Western, anti-Islamist generation of Muslims will be long, and progress will be incremental. A 21st-century moderate won’t suddenly appear and transform the Middle East and the Muslim world. Positive change will have to come in stages.

Gamal al-Banna’s remarks about Western foreign policy and terrorism are repulsive, but his religious teachings can expedite that long process of reform. Let us hope his interpretations of Islam outlive him and lead to the burying of Political Islam and with it, its incendiary propaganda that influenced him.


Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.