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Article, The Other View

Plight of Islam in the Modern World – Egypt of the Muslim Brothers compared to post 9/11 Pakistan

A paper I just got back.

Major criticism of my professor was

(1) that to try to compare these two situations is dangerous, since they are far apart (very true, I should have emphasized that more perhaps, but I had a limit on words which I just manged to keep)
(2) the Muslim Brotherhood still exists (I suggest it stopped to exist in the paper which is of course wrong, although it doesn’t any more exist the way it used to)
(3) my English is not sufficient for a good mark (I wrote it in English so I could share it elsewhere, otherwise the course is in German)

“Plight of Islam in the Modern World – Egypt of the Muslim Brothers compared to post 9/11 Pakistan”

Jakob Steiner


Course: Auseinandersetzung mit “der Moderne” – islamische Diskurse im 20. und 21. Jh.

Autumn Semester 2009

Lecturer: H. Faehndrich

Abstract: While Pakistan in the first decade of the 21st century may be very different to Egypt in the high time of the Muslim Brothers (1930s – 1950s), there are some striking resemblances concerning modernity and religion and how the conflict between these two terms has influenced society or in reverse was shaped by it. In this paper some of these similarities are portrayed. While Hassan al-Banna stood for a defense of the (Muslim) East against the West based on reasoning coming from the Quran, Sunna and Sufism and trying to find a non-violent consensus, his movement is remembered as radically conservative and an intellectual base for today’s leaders of terroristic activity. Similarly an underlying intellectual development in Pakistan is disregarded over the rising violent outbreaks in the name of religion.

The time from the attacks on the World Trade Centre until today has been intense for Pakistan. While as a military and economic power it is involved in the tumultuous geopolitical developments in the region (Kashmir to the East, Afghanistan to the West) since it’s creation in 1947, it has moved into the world’s focus especially after George W. Bush declared his War on Terror in 2001. Religious Extremism has a long history in the country and has many different facets. It was fostered especially in the 1970s when Zia ul-Haq ruled as a Military dictator, strongly influenced by conservative Deobandi and Wahhabi Islam . On the population his brutal reign did not have an ultimately unifying effect. Although since then, most Pakistanis greet “Allah Hafeez” instead of the Farsi “Khuda Hafeez” [Khuda meaning God in general, whereas Allah can be considered an expression for the “Muslim God”] and to some extent Pakistanis felt emphatic with their Muslim brothers in war torn Afghanistan and in Kashmir, Religion and increased religious practice was forced on them and they did not entirely choose this development from inside. After 2001, then a secular dictator in power succeeded in 2008 by a “democratic” President and parliament, Pakistan’s general population continuously shifted towards a more conservative stance in terms of religion. This is most noteworthy in the middle class and here especially in the younger and middle aged population . The upper Class is often indifferent or has a liberal stance. People from the lower class, though often pious are rather averse to religious fanaticism .

With this personal observation I want to link to H.A.R. Gibb’s observations in Modern Trends of Islam and ultimately to Richard Mitchell who has taken up this observation as an explanation for the Muslim Brothership’s appeal in Egypt between the 30s and the 50s (elaborated on p. 330 – 331)

Comparing Pakistan between 2001 and today and Egypt between the 1930s and 1950s does not always have to be telling. Times have changed, the former is an Indian-sub-continental culture, the latter Arabic, Sufism has different values in both. Nonetheless some developments are similar in both situations and I hope to be able to portray a possible scenario for Pakistan based on developments that have long passed in Egypt.


A major motor for the Muslim Brotherhood was its rejection of imperialism, external but also the internal ; the current sentiment is very similar in Pakistan. While on the one hand anti-Americanism exhibited by Pakistanis is what we see in Western Media and what is also existent especially for the less educated middle class , the educated middle class, often trained in Western Universities is increasingly criticizing the West for getting involved in their country, be it in terms of the war against terrorism but also in terms of aid and views on democracy – so called neo-imperialism. More than being angry at the West, they are angry at their own government, the internal imperialism of al-Banna, which is seen as a puppet of the West. Thus they reject the ideologies of the West, but do not criticize them directly but rather their own government for letting it prevail .

Government and violence

Secondly, the relationship between the government and more radicalized groups can be noted. As Mitchell portrays the Muslim Brotherhood, its relationship to the ruling power was ambiguous. Vice versa, the government more than once tried to destroy it and in other times was trying to benefit from the wide acceptance the Society had. In Pakistan the dealings with radical organizations like the Lashkra-e-Toiba have been similar. While gaining a lot of government support in Zia ul-Haq’s time, these groups were officially banned in Musharraf’s time after international pressure mounted but never effectively prosecuted. Like the Society, they all have violent and humanitarian arms and especially the latter is beneficial for the government. Also their ideology seems to be less based on active discussions of the Quran and the Sunna but rather on prefabricated Wahhabi ideals propagated by their leaders. Also they are generally not accepted by the media and often regarded solely as terrorist outfits.

Nationalism and Religion

Mitchell elaborates the meaning of nationalism and patriotism for the Muslim Brothers . While the sentiment of qawmiyya (devotion to one’s people) in Pakistan is often not only directed to Pakistan (Kashmiris are devoted to the Kashmiris in India rather to other Pakistanis, Muhajirs, Muslim who came from India during Partition have their own party – Muttahida Qawmi Movement), the wataniyya is established strongly in most Pakistani citizens. But the only thing that unifies otherwise completely different people like Balochis, Pathan and Punjabi who are opposed internally over political, water and natural resources issues, is Islam, religion is their patriotism. Sa’id Ramadan’s quote, “So long as patriotism is loyalty to the nation, then religion is its gate, for no loyalty is possible for him who has no religion” fits perfectly for Pakistan.


As Zeenath Kausar points out in the paper Iqbal on Democracy, “[…] it is as irrational to accept any of the Western concepts or ideologies without any critical scrutiny as it is illogical to reject any Western concept and ideology only because it is originated in the West.” As Mitchell points out , democracy was seen as an integral part of Islam by al-Banna (similarly so by Iqbal). While Pakistan’s government is democratically elected it is still based on a feudal system (the major parties belong to families, their leaders are not elected). Some see the failure of Democracy in Pakistan solely as a result of the wide spread corruption and nepotism, others argue that ultimately Democracy as deemed fit by the West is simply not compatible with Islam. They often reject it exactly because “it originated in the West” and is “thrown at the East” as Husayni put it and not after having scrutinized it according to Islamic principle as al-Banna or Iqbal have done.


While the world is currently looking at Pakistan only considering its terroristic activity and its reluctance to contribute to the war against the Taliban in their own country in the way the West would like to see it, the developments of the people’s sentiments are often overlooked. Students agitated by the Jamaat-e-Islami to demonstrate against any US involvement in the country, burning flags are regarded as lunatics who can be disregarded. That may sometimes be true, since many of them have no clue what they are actually for and what against. But more silently the views of the educated class in the country move in a similar direction, only on a more intellectual level. Their way of thinking, their logical reasoning are very much comparable to the way al-Banna’s non-violent approach to defend Islam’s and the “East’s” values against the West and in more modern terms how Jean Ziegler described the “hatred against the West” . It is difficult to estimate what may have happened to the Muslim Brotherhood and subsequently to the Egyptian state had al-Banna not been assassinated. He seemingly tried to bring change in the minds of the people like today’s educated Pakistanis are often still arguing that all fault lies primarily with them and only after they have changed and become reasonable Muslims and law-abiding citizens can they fight the West effectively. But the physically radical side of the Society eventually gained a lot of power and had some share in its final collapse, leaving the image of the Society a “conservative radical” one . Similarly Pakistan is regarded as increasingly radicalizing in the violent form. It seems that although the West did have the opportunity to learn in History from similar developments (in this case Egypt) and see a struggle for an intellectual approach against the West with logical reasoning, this development in Pakistan is again readily overlooked.


The Rise of Sunni Militancy in Pakistan: The Changing Role of Islamism and the Ulama in Society and Politics; S.V.R. Nasr; Modern Asian Studies 34 (2000)

Modern Trends in Islam, H.A.R. Gibb, The University of Chicago Press (1947)

The Society of the Muslim Brothers, Richard P. Mitchell, Oxford University Press ( 1969)

Iqbal on Democracy: Acceptance or Rejection?, Zeenath Kausar, Allama Iqbal Society, Lahore (2001)

L’Haine de l’Occident; Jean Ziegler, Michel Albin SA. (2008)

About Jakob Steiner

... lived, worked and studied in Australia, Europe and Asia.


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