The ideological foundations of the MB are thus profound and widely shared. And the MB’s role as “sponsor” of today’s European Islam can hardly be exaggerated.
Note that the MB founder al-Banna claimed that an Islamic state would: “… implement Islam as an all-embracing concept which regulates every aspect of life.”
This is ultimately a totalitarian system that is not especially “moderate”. Rather, it is an ideologically constructed movement, as can be seen in its recruitment process. Members undergo an induction for five to eight years, known as “tarbiyya”, in order to prepare them for ambitious efforts to create social structures over even longer-terms.
This gradual strategic approach explains the Brotherhood’s emphasis on indoctrination, preaching and da’wah. It also separates the organization from the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) and others who use brutal means without compunction in order to establish and declare such a state quickly.
Nonetheless, the Muslim Brotherhood also emphasizes that the individual should be subjected to the state and that the ultimate goal is a state based on sharia and where jihad, in the sense of holy war, must be applied. Moreover, since its formation, the Muslim Brotherhood has been clear about distancing itself and sometimes espousing hatred of the West and Western influence on Arab Muslim communities.
In this way, the differences are not so significant when the Brotherhood is compared with other more explicitly violent Islamist movements, such as IS. Islam’s political roots constitute a breeding ground for Islamists of all stripes who have differences but still manage to agree broadly on a vision of the role of Islam in the world and the importance of combating “corrupt” Western influence in the Arab and Muslim Middle East.
Swedish and European Muslim Brotherhood Ideological Networks
Today, rather extensive international research on both the Muslim Brotherhood in general and the European branch of the movement exists.
In Sweden, research on the heterogeneity of “Islam” has always been conditional. Most variations of Islam have been brought up for discussion, but not Islamism or political Islam, as it is also called. This has long been the situation and generally still is today, even though activists affiliated with the MB’s network have dominated the representation of Islam in recent decades.
The consequence of ignoring Islamism is a low level of knowledge in Sweden about what the European Brotherhood wants, both among politicians and the population at large.
The denial of the fact that Islamism has had a prominent position in the country for many years has also bolstered wide-ranging prejudices and stereotypes about “Muslims” in the collective consciousness.
As for the Brotherhood at the European level, researchers ask themselves a variety of questions. What is the organization’s political goal in Europe? Is it a movement, an ideological network, or is it made up of scattered activists? There are many uncertainties concerning the organization’s activities. The explanation for this is partly, as stated, that it has been taboo to explore what the activists in the network want. It is also a consequence of the activists themselves being unclear about their political project.
For example, the non-Muslim Swedish public is often told that it is prejudiced and lacks correct knowledge of Islam or simply that it is “Islamophobic.” However, activists who bring forth such accusations are usually less forthright about what exactly “Islam” constitutes for them and what they want “Islam” to contribute to Swedish society. Such clarity would be necessary in order to allow for a reasonable assessment of whether the activists’ definition of the religion should be seen as an asset or a burden for society.
Over the years, various criticisms have been directed at the European Muslim Brotherhood. For example, Roel Meijer shows that the list of complaints is long. The movement is accused of being a sworn enemy of the Western values of democracy, freedom of expression, pluralism and tolerance; homophobic; anti-Semitic; and reactionary and sectarian. Its overall objective is to introduce sharia in Europe.
Another common view is that the movement systematically makes use of “doublespeak”. In front of Western public officials, its members present themselves as proponents of democracy, while they show an intolerant side to Muslim audiences.
They are also accused of lack of transparency, especially when it comes to financial transactions.
In addition, the movement has been criticized for engaging in “infiltration” of European institutions in order to advance its version of Islam.
Gradual Development of the Movement
The first MB activists arrived in Europe in the decades after World War II. One of the pioneers was Said Ramadan, who established the first mosque and the organization in Munich in 1961.
Initially, most of the activists were students who clung to the political objective of transforming the governments of their home countries.
However, gradually, as the number of Muslims greatly increased in Europe, the movement came to realize the importance of directing its efforts towards European Muslims. Activists in the movement feared that Muslims would slip from their Islamic way of life if they were left adrift in secular Europe.
Like many other Islamists, they also believed that many Muslims practiced Islam in an unsatisfactory manner and thus saw it as the MB’s responsibility to educate European Muslims in the “correct” doctrine. To meet this responsibility, work was started to build an organizational structure that could support operations, both financially and ideologically.
In Sweden, the MB has been active since the late 1970s and has established its position over time, slowly and gradually building up its network as a result of immigration.
In so-called information publications about Islam from the 1980s, it is possible to detect the clear influence of the MB’s traditional ideological stance.
One of the most widespread, Att förstå islam (“To understand Islam”) looks like a transcript of the MB’s general policy for societal change. The leaflet contains all the ideas that the MB has become known for. It also indicates which methods should be used for the restructuring of society in an Islamic direction. It is stated, inter alia, that Muslims should “submit” to the faith, which is perceived to be an all-encompassing system of ideas, ideals and standards for human life. In general, Muslims should follow different rules than secular citizens. In particular, girls should be tightly controlled.
Moreover, Muslim organizations in the country are encouraged to mobilize their forces in a nationwide Islamic information campaign. Spreading Islam is perceived as a religious duty.
In fact, the leaflet offers good insight into general Islamist thinking, since it states how Islam should be perceived and disseminated in a rather pithy way.
Structure and Associations
The Muslim Brotherhood in Sweden is organized in a shura, or council, under an amir, or leader. This council may consist of a dozen people and its leaders are periodically rotated. Members are in turn organized into small units of five to ten individuals which form an usra, or family. The usra holds regular weekly meetings where participants mainly recite the Qur’an, pray and discuss spiritual matters.
In the mid-1990s, the Islamic Association of Sweden (IFiS) was created to provide a public organizational system for the MB’s various bodies in Sweden.
The Islamic Association in Stockholm, which is tied to the Stockholm mosque, is the original body from which the others have been spun off, including in Gothenburg and Malmö.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Sweden has also, at least in the past, assumed administrative responsibility for the creation of chapters in Norway and Finland, while Denmark has had its own local branch.
The Muslim Brotherhood adapted quickly to Swedish standards of association by forming various organizations, both faith-based and other types. Through these, the MB could both receive financial aid to build up its network in Sweden as well as learn about and interface with wider Swedish society. This work was opaque – traditionally, the MB almost never reveals its religious-political orientation and its membership in the broader MB network to outsiders.
In fact, seen from the outside, the MB operates as a more or less hidden structure. It is more a global network and a spiritual brotherhood than an association in the Swedish sense of the word. One can become a member of the MB by swearing an oath before a local or regional an amir, attending an usra, studying literature and carrying out the prescribed rites (including daily reading of the collection of texts called al-Ma’thurât), all without being a formal member in the Swedish sense.
The Islamic Association of Sweden works just this way. It was founded to facilitate the organization of its members and create a sort of MB-controlled platform, yet it denies its affiliation with the MB, if not its inspiration.
Over the years, the MB has gone on to create a plethora of organizations and establish a completely dominant position in the state-sponsored so-called Muslim part of civil society. This effort includes gaining millions in public funding – the state and its citizens have financially and organizationally aided the establishment of many organizations with direct or indirect ties to the MB. Many of these organizations receive state subsidies via, for example, SST (the Commission for Government Support for Faith Communities), MUCF (the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society) and Allmänna Arvsfonden (the Public Inheritance Fund).
In addition to national government agencies, regional and municipal bodies also provide support and contributions in the form of various project grants.
In fact, this phenomenon of the MB serving as the nexus of Muslim organizations is also seen to varying degrees in other European countries, but it is in Sweden that this trend has reached its farthest point.
A consequence of this development is that many interpretations of Islam other than the so-called moderate Islamist position that the MB represents are not as well-established in Sweden. Although there are many ethnic and religious associations in Sweden without links to the MB, none has achieved as much organizational impact as the MB affiliates, including other Sunni Muslim groups. So when government agencies, politicians and journalists turn to a Muslim organization, they often end up communicating with the MB, most likely totally unknowingly.
That said, in March 2014 the Swedish public radio show Medierna did present an episode about Muslim representativeness which showed that MB-linked organizations were over-represented in the media.
It is important to point out that it would not have been possible for Swedish MB-affiliated groups to achieve their exceptional degree of influence without a large degree of naiveté and ignorance, willful or not, about political Islamism as a concept. This ignorance has been common among Swedish politicians and others over a long period of time.
The two reports published by the MSB Agency mark a change. They are the first of their kind and it is to be hoped that the conclusions are taken seriously by Swedish society and that these two reports are not the last ones.
As is also shown by the reports, the decades-long build-up of MB-affiliated organizations and civil-society institutions, when coupled with a successful policy of becoming preferred interlocutors or representatives of the whole Muslim community, has created more segregation and polarization. As Dr. Aje Carlbom writes in the second report:
To reverse this trend, it is high time to acknowledge the inherent problems of letting the MB have more or less unfettered access to public money and, on a general level, start seeing individuals instead of collectives as the basic building blocks of society.
 Eric Trager & Gavi Barnhard, Brothers In Trouble? Gomaa Amin And The Future of the Muslim Brotherhood, Foreign Affairs, September 24, 2014.
 Ibid. and Lorenzo Vidino, The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, Columbia University Press, 2010.
 “Invitation,” similar to proselytizing, but can also refer to social outreach.
 As stated, it is already clear in the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
 Ibid., Trager, Barnhard & Vidino, The New Muslim Brotherhood, and Clive S. Kessler, The Islamic State and ‘Religion of Peace’, Quadrant Online, September 26, 2014.
 Carlbom, 2006.
 Meijer, 2012:295-321.
 Meijer, 2012.
 Johnson, 2010.
 Att förstå islam, information leaflet published by the Swedish Muslim Association and the Islamic Information Association.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.