Sheikh Hassan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna (14 October 1906 – 12 February 1949), known as Hassan al-Banna, was an Egyptian school teacher and imam, best known for founding the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest and most influential Islamic revivalist organizations.
In Mahmudiyya, al-Banna studied in the village mosque with Sheikh Zahran. The two developed a close relationship that influenced al-Banna’s early intellectual and religious development. In addition to the mosque school, al-Banna received private instruction from his father. He also studied in Cairo for four years; he attended Dar al-‘Ulum, an Egyptian institution that educated prospective teachers in modern subjects. The school was not very traditional and al-Banna enrolled against his father’s wishes, as a break from typical Islamic conservatism. Building upon his father’s scholarly connections, al-Banna became associated with the Islamic Society for Nobility of Islamic Morals and the Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA). He published more than fifteen articles in Majallat al-Fath, an influential Islamic journal associated with the YMMA.
Al-Banna’s writings marked a watershed in Islamic intellectual history by presenting a modern ideology based on Islam. Al-Banna considered Islam to be a comprehensive system of life, with the Quran as the only acceptable constitution. He called for Islamization of the state, the economy, and society. He declared that establishing a just society required development of institutions and progressive taxation, and elaborated an Islamic fiscal theory where zakat would be reserved for social expenditure in order to reduce inequality. Al-Banna’s ideology involved criticism of Western materialism, British imperialism, and the traditionalism of the Egyptian ulema. He appealed to Egyptian and pan-Arab patriotism but rejected Arab nationalism and regarded all Muslims as members of a single nation-community.
The Muslim Brotherhood advocated gradualist moral reform and had no plans for a violent takeover of power. The “Jihad of the spirit”―self-initiated productive work aimed at bettering the conditions of the Islamic community―was a significant part of their ideology. Under al-Banna’s leadership, the organization embarked on a wide-ranging campaign of social engagement; they especially emphasized public health improvements. Following the abolition of the caliphate in 1924, al-Banna called on Muslims to prepare for armed struggle against colonial rule; he warned Muslims against the “widespread belief” that “jihad of the heart” was more important than “jihad of the sword”. Many members of the Muslim Brotherhood took part in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Al-Banna generally encouraged Egyptians to abandon Western customs; he argued that the state should enforce Islamic public morality through censorship and application of hudud corporal punishment. Nonetheless, his thought was open to Western ideas and some of his writings quote European authors instead of Islamic sources.
Al-Banna was assassinated by the Egyptian secret police in 1949.