the road not taken

The Muslim Brothers could have done Egypt  — and still can – a great service. Instead of plotting to seize power, it could have focused its energies on improving the moral fibre of society, that’s what religion is for. 

By this I do not mean more prayer bumps (or zebibas) on the foreheads of men, or long beards or the veil they force women to wear.  I  simply mean better work ethic, honesty,  higher hygiene and  punctuality to mention just a few of the  traits that separate successful and advanced societies from those that lag behind.  Creative and productive  societies that shape the world we live in,  and those that simply consume what that former produce,  and are meanwhile consumed by the rage of lagging behind as we see in most Muslim-majority countries world wide.


Instead, the Muslim Brothers and its affiliates around the world have campaigned to convince many in their respective societies that the reason they lag behind is that they have abandoned the teachings of Islam – a blatant ideological and historical  non-sequitur that could only  flourish and mushroom in places where the unholy mix of superstition, poverty and illiteracy have created a fertile ground.  Success in the material world has little to do with religion, and everything with education and hard work.  Otherwise why would non-Muslim nations be so successful !  It’s an ideology that feeds on – and fuels – futile fury.


The Muslim Brothers could have used its organisational skills and religious zeal to promote individual self-improvement and discipline as core religious values for social development and for the public good. This is an area where religion can do what no mighty police force or a huge state bureaucracy can.

But Al-Banna’s path was obvious from the start : he chose form over substance.   His first venture into Isalmic activism  was as a vigilante teenager bullying  fellow villagers into strict religious observance ,  i.e ritual matters more than what people actually do  with their lives and to each other.   Henceforth,  that was the path followed by nearly all  the zealots,  from the Muslim Brothers to the Wahabis and their fellow travellers of Al-Qaeda.


For decades – and up until its final days in the presidential palace in Cairo – the MB has refused to separate its missionary work (known in Arabic as Da?wa) from its political ambition.  It has ignored advice from well-meaning friends that it would be better for the organisation, for society at large and for the cause of da?wa to disengage from politics and  focus on charity and ethical improvement. 


The result of that intransigence, in the words of its former deputy head, Dr Mohamed Habib,  was enormous damage to the religious cause itself.  After the january 25 revolution and one year in power, the Muslim Brothers’ appetite for politics has completely overtaken any concern for the cause of Islam,  which it claims to represent.   And no sign yet of regret or introspection. 


Today, If there’s one thing Egyptians agree upon   it is that their society has changed almost beyond recognition. Most people complain of the decline in moral standards :  anti-social behaviour of all kinds, violence, unabashed selfishness and dishonesty.  As the Egyptians have become more observant,  their morals standards have plummeted.  

It’s a paradox that raises fundamental questions about the nature of that so called “Islamic revival” of which the Muslim Brothers is the foremost representative. How come that in a society where people have become

visibly more religious than before,  there is an unprecedented epidemic of sexual harassment of women ,  and  the number of street children has reached levels unseen in Egypt’s recorded history !


Instead of channelling its energies and enormous financial resources into creating the

“Muslim Bolshevik vanguard” to seize  power and impose Sharia to resurrect past glories the MB could have actually  campaigned to translate Islamic principles into practice in everyday life : honesty and hard work. These are values that all Muslims would agree are fundamental to their faith.  In fact, the daily call to prayer includes an exhortation to do good work (hayy ala al-falah) which could also mean “to till the land”, or “ to work hard”.  It’s not ritual for its own sake, which is the way of the puritans and the Pharisees,  but the enlightened and progressive understanding of faith – faith that serves the individual and the community alike, that makes society more productive and creative,  and not the MB’s doctrine that encourages total and blind obedience to the infallible Supreme Guide,  which disempowers the individual without whom there can never be progress, but endless regurgitation of  rancid ideas.      


(Written for the Islamist Gate : )


Magdi Abdelhadi

Writer, broadcaster, moderator, media consultant. I commute between London and Cairo. I am a former BBC journalist. All views here are only mine.

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