Evin Ismail, a PhD in Sociology from Uppsala University, Sweden, who wrote her doctoral thesis on the trajectory of Islamist violence, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Islamic State. She has written several government agency reports on Political Islam.
Joas Wagemakers book “The Muslim Brotherhood: Ideology, History, Descendants” (2022) offers an informative and sophisticated defense of the Muslim Brotherhood, portraying it as a democratic, pragmatic, and diverse movement. The book elaborates on and argues that the Muslim Brotherhood has developed its ideology and tactics from an “early” violent one to a contemporary peaceful one. The early period is understood as the 1950s and earlier. The author argues that since the 1960s, the Muslim Brotherhood ceased to use violence and to follow Sayyid Qutb’s teachings, instead choosing to follow Hassan al-Hudaybi’s peaceful teachings and practices. Moreover, the author argues that the Muslim Brotherhood has abandoned wanting to implement sharia and an Islamic state and, therefore, ought to be viewed as having progressed. Throughout the book, the author argues that the Muslim Brotherhood, in many different countries, has become a peaceful and democratic force.
The book’s strength is that it gives a nuanced perspective of the Muslim Brotherhood in dispelling conspiracy theories and myths surrounding the movement. For example, the author argues that there is no international Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy. The most convincing argument offered in the book is that the movement is too weak, too divided, too unorganized, and too uncoordinated to be a conspiracy. The book is a great source of information on the diversity of the Muslim Brotherhood and how it has progressed. However, it leaves out many destructive elements that will be discussed in this review.
Movement Instead of Organization: How the Muslim Brotherhood Claims it Does Not Exist
One problem with the book is that when defending the Muslim Brotherhood from conspiracy allegations, it often repeats the Muslim Brotherhood’s arguments uncritically. Hence, the book’s main weakness is that it is too lenient on the Muslim Brotherhood, and it goes to great lengths to portray them as a democratic force by being selective in its evidence. For instance, the author writes:
The fact that European organizations that make up the Muslim Brotherhood as a movement do not call themselves ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ is therefore not the result of cunning plans or secret agendas; this has to do with the fact that they are not actually part of the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization, with that group’s controversial reputation and with the ingrained fear—based on decades of repression—to be seen and treated as Muslim Brothers. As such, attempts by Muslim Brothers to gain influence in politics, school boards and mosque councils are not examples of stealthy infiltration, but of behaviour that characterizes political parties, activists and ideological organizations all over the world. [p. 223]
This is one example of being too lenient on the Muslim Brotherhood; Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups allegedly do not want to be associated with the name because of fear of repression and a controversial reputation, but at the same time it wants to be treated like a serious political actor and not receive allegations of having secret agendas. This is not logical since they bring the allegations upon themselves by not being honest about their ideological beliefs.
Furthermore, the Brotherhood acting in this way, without transparency, in Europe, comes at the cost of Muslims and Islam. Firstly, because people do not get the chance to know who they are (hence secret agenda allegations), and second because Islam is being portrayed as reactionary when it is wrongly represented by a small minority of reactionary Muslim Brotherhood groups who are given space in, for instance, the media, which is disproportionate to their size among European Muslims.
A comparison would be to have a Nazi-inspired white power group representing Christians in Europe, while denying that they have anything to do with Nazism because they are not part of the “Nazi party organization” and fear the consequences of being connected to a group with such an awful reputation—while also wanting to be a serious political actor, just calling itself “Christian”. Clearly, this would not be accepted or taken seriously—primarily because denying the Nazi connection is dishonest and only serves the purpose of protecting the group from the same scrutiny other groups would have. Here, the bigotry of low expectations has benefitted the Muslim Brotherhood.
Furthermore, the author argues that there is a need to separate between organization and movement—just as the Muslim Brotherhood does. Hence, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups can claim not to be connected to the Muslim Brotherhood because they are not part of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood organization, whereas belonging to the movement is so loose that it supposedly gives a protection against allegations of sympathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is worthwhile critically questioning this separation and its purpose. Clearly, it has been set up to protect those who believe in the Muslim Brotherhood ideology from allegations of actually doing so. Focusing on the distinction between an organization and a movement, while claiming that belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood implies membership in the organization, as the author does, allows the Muslim Brotherhood to deny that they exist.
Moreover, one may also ask whether becoming a movement is not a more dangerous development than being a member of the organization, given that it has less structure and therefore can take many different forms without anyone (or an ideology) being held accountable This argument about the dangers of the Muslim Brotherhood movement can be exemplified by the case of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Sahwa movement’s influence on the emergence of ISIS.
The Muslim Brotherhood: Ideology and Violence
According to the author:
The use of violence against the state has never been the policy of the Muslim Brotherhood, however. Moreover, it was sworn off in the 1960s (Egypt) and 1980s (Syria) and has never been used or propagated at all by the sahwa in Saudi Arabia. [p. 96]
This statement is simply not true. The Sahwa propagated violence against the US forces in Iraq and the Iraqi state by calling it an obligatory jihad and issued a Fatwa allowing it. Furthermore, the Sahwa tried to persuade Saudi official religious scholars to do the same but were met with resistance: “Sahwis were disappointed as several official religious scholars declared that the violence against civilians in Iraq is not jihad, and should be denounced as fitna”.
Sahwa scholar Salman Al-Awdah called on Saudis to pressure the Saudi government to cleanse the country from non-Muslims and Shiites since they, according to him, pollute Islam. Additionally, much of the Sahwa literature, such as Mohammed Qutb’s, focused on excommunicating Muslims on the basis of antisemitism and loyalty to Muslim states not ruled by Islamists, while propagating that “impious Muslim leaders” must be opposed.
Wagemakers’ statement, “Bin Laden only spoke positively about the sahwa at a time when he had not yet become the radical that he would later be”, is also incorrect. The reality is that: “Safar al‐Hawali and Salman al‐Awdah … were frequently mentioned in al‐Qaeda communications in the 1990s and are cited in the communiqué of Bin Ladin’s first public declaration of jihad against The Zionist‐Crusader Alliance”. Additionally; along with Sahwa ideologue Al-Hawali, ”Al-Awdah is widely considered to have been one of Osama’s primary teachers, not least because bin Laden regularly cites Al-Awdah and Al-Hawali’s arrests in the early 1990s as a rationale for turning to open militancy”. The topics of al-Awdah’s audiotapes in bin Laden’s collection were on the need for Muslims to defend their faith against “corrupt governance within the House of Islam”. Like al-Awdah, al-Hawali preferred to attack “corrupt Muslim rulers”, the Saudis above all.
According to Wagemakers, the Muslim Brotherhood, including Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi, were against participation in the Iraq war, and the overall presentation of Al-Qaradawi is positive. However, this is incorrect since Al-Qaradawi advocated for suicide bombings in Iraq and Israel in 2005, calling it an Islamic duty. The author claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has abandoned Qutb’s teachings while acknowledging that Muslim Brothers in Europe are still reading Qutb’s exegetic work, “In the Shade of the Qur’an.” Hence, there is little evidence that Qutb’s influence ceased to exist after the 1950s, and Muslim Brotherhood members being critical of him does not absolve his influence.
To take a salient example, Sahwa ideologue Mohammed Surur was critical of aspects of Qutb’s thought, but also heavily influenced by him. In the book, the author suggests that being critical against, for instance, Qutb somehow means not following him, which is an oversimplification of the matter. Moreover, Qutb’s writings, such as “In the Shade of the Quran,” were translated into Persian and used as a justification for the Iranian Revolution. This shows that Islamists borrow from each other whenever it benefits them, and to rule out Qutb’s contemporary and future influence on the Muslim Brotherhood is seemingly a premature analysis.
In the book, Hamas violence is mostly understood in the context of Israeli occupation and not the Muslim Brotherhood’s antisemitic ideology. The problem with this reasoning is that, then, all forms of terrorism can be excused by blaming the context, which comes at the cost of civilian victims of terrorism. Civilian victims of terrorism exist due to advanced ideological justifications of violence and genocide; unfortunately, the author does not explain these advanced ideological components of Islamism but rather focuses mainly on the Islamists’ own context-based explanations.
Wael Saleh has explained this phenomenon in the following way:
Consciously or unconsciously, a significant number of researchers often justify the violence of Islamists, whether by completely denying this accusation without in-depth analysis or by ignoring the Islamists’ theoretical legitimization of violence in the name of religion. These researchers…limit themselves to trying to understand the social, political, and economic causes of violence or presenting it as a mere deviation from the peaceful approach of the Islamists.
However, Wagemakers rightfully points out that the Islamic State (ISIS) is a strongly anti-Shia terrorist group. ISIS’s founding father, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed that Islam’s victory is tied to the physical eradication of the Shia, and has been responsible for targeting civilians in Iraq. However, what is not mentioned in the book is that Zarqawi adopted his anti-Shia beliefs from the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Sahwa movement ideologue Surur. This genocidal anti-Shiism that ISIS is known for is actually a continuation of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
Regarding the attacks by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS’s predecessor, against Amman in 2005, the author writes:
The Muslim Brotherhood had nothing to do with this and, moreover, represented a different type of Islamism than Al-Qaida; yet, many failed to see this distinction when several members of the Muslim Brotherhood expressed their condolences to the family of Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), the Jordanian leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, when he was killed in 2006. Although they were probably acting out of politeness to a family from their constituency—not out of sympathy for Al-Qaida—and other politicians had done the same but were left unpunished, two members of the Muslim Brotherhood were fined and imprisoned for eighteen months to two years for this. [p. 108]
Here, again, ideology is downplayed, and Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood members of parliament paying condolences to the family of Zarqawi upon his death is understood as an act done out of politeness. However, there is no convincing argument as to why the reader should believe this to be the case. Rather, it is part of the author’s pattern of repeating the Muslim Brotherhood’s own perspective, uncritically. Furthermore, it is a profoundly naïve assumption given the many ideological similarities between Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Additionally, there is actual evidence that points in the direction of the condolences being made out of sympathy for Zarqawi: one of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood members of parliament who participated in Zarqawi’s wake afterwards called Zarqawi “a martyr”. When commenting on the innocent Jordanians who were killed in Zarqawi’s attacks, the same Muslim Brotherhood member said they were not martyrs but rather “mobs and ignorant people”. The suicide bomb attacks took the lives of sixty people participating in a wedding at a hotel and the dead included women and children. Unfortunately, this disturbing information about the Muslim Brotherhood member of parliament supporting suicide bomb attacks is not mentioned in the book, but rather whitewashed.
The Conflation of Islam and Islamism
In the book, antisemitism among the Muslim Brotherhood is, to a large extent, seen as a problem of the early Muslim Brotherhood; however, this is not an accurate description. The book does not mention the Nazi funding of the Muslim Brotherhood or that its founder, Hassan al-Banna, and the Brotherhood’s current main ideologue al-Qaradawi, admired Hitler. Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood are mentioned as admirers of the freedom and democracy in western countries, when in fact, the main western influence on their ideology has been Nazi Fascism.
Previous research has demonstrated that the Quran neither singles out Jews nor is it antisemitic. However, in the book, Islamized antisemitism, as created by the Muslim Brotherhood, is not mentioned as their construction but reduced to their own explanations referring to a Quran quote without the proper context of what the Muslim Brotherhood did when they politicized these Quran verses. For instance, Qutb added the conspiracy theory of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to it in his book, “In the Shade of the Quran”. Hence, when repeating the Muslim Brotherhood’s own explanations—without a critical analysis—it comes at the cost of Islam.
The same tendency to blame the Quran for the Muslim Brotherhood’s reactionary ideology can be seen in the following quote:
The situation is more complicated with regard to societal rights and freedoms, however. The Muslim Brotherhood has clearly conceded far less on this point. This is probably due to the relatively clear texts in the Koran on, for example, women’s rights, and because of the generally conservative social norms in the Arab world that would not allow a different attitude from the populist Muslim Brotherhood. [p. 223]
Here, there is a risk that the author, when conveying the Muslim Brotherhood’s perspective, also paints Muslims and Islam, including the Quran, as inherently misogynistic and backward when in fact the Muslim Brotherhood constructed many of these reactionary interpretations, such as Mohammed Qutb’s belief that women should not work or engage in social interaction in society.
Hence, there is a problem with the Muslim Brotherhood in the sense that, in their pursuit not to have their ideology revealed, they instead blame reactionary tendencies on Islam and Muslims. This makes the Muslim Brotherhood very dangerous in societies with low knowledge of Islam. For two reasons: (1) they can use authenticity claims to radicalize young Muslims, while (2) they also fuel anti-Muslim racism. Ultimately putting Muslims at huge risk.
The consequence of not specifying and viewing the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology critically but rather repeating their own perspective is that the reader, who is mainly supposed to be a European, gets the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood is a progressive movement, whereas Islam is supposedly reactionary. Lastly, the author concludes the book by stating that it is not possible to reduce the Muslim Brotherhood to one stereotype. Indeed, that statement should also include the stereotype of the Muslim Brotherhood as a developed, peaceful, and democratic movement.
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.
 Al-Rasheed, Madawi, 2006. Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation. Cambridge, UNITED KINGDOM: Cambridge University Press, p. 94.
 Fandy, Mamoun. 1999. Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent. 1. New York, N.Y: St. Martin’s Press, p:101.
 Ismail, Evin. 2022. The Antisemitic Origins of Islamist Violence: A Study of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State. PhD diss., Uppsala University, 2022, p. 182 Link:. https://bit.ly/3lrQypq.
 Wagemakers. 2022. P: 163.
 Ismail, Evin. 2022. The Antisemitic Origins of Islamist Violence: A Study of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State. PhD diss., Uppsala University, 2022, p:171.
 Miller, Flagg. 2015. The Audacious Ascetic: What the Bin Laden Tapes Reveal about al-Qa’ida. Oxford University Press, p:192.
 ibid, p. 193.
 ibid, p. 191.
 Barnett, Antony. 2005. “Suicide Bombs Are a Duty, Says Islamic Scholar.” The Observer, August 27.
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 Saleh, Wael. 2021. Applied Islamismology (AI): Toward an Arab Epistemological Reference Framework for Studying Political Islam. Published by TRENDS Research and Advisory. https://trendsresearch.org/product/applied-islamismology-ai-toward-an-arab-epistemological-reference-framework-for-studying-political-islam/
 Kazimi, Nibras. 2006. “Zarqawi’s Anti-Shi’a Legacy: Original or Borrowed?” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology 4:53-72,99. p:67.
 See Kazimi 2006:56 and Moghadam, Assaf, and Brian Fishman. 2010. Self-Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions within al-Qa’ida and Its Periphery. P:207.
 Ismail, Evin. 2022. See chapter 7 and 8.
 See: https://trendsresearch.org/insight/25-05-2022/
 Firestone, Reuven. 2020. Is the Qur’an ‘Antisemitic’? In An End to Antisemitism, Vol. 2, edited by Armin Lange, Kerstin Mayerhofer, Dina Porat and Lawrence H. Schiffman. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020. P: 91–106.
 Ismail, Evin 2022. See chapter 7.
 Bosanquet, Antonia. 2012. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World: An Analysis of Muhammad Qutb’s Portrayal of Feminism as a Jewish Conspiracy. EB-Verlag. P:21