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Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood: Roots of Modern Terrorism

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

American Counter Terror Strategy

Throughout the world and especially the Middle East the tide of Fundamentalist Islam is rising. With the growth of the fundamentalist teaching and adoption of attitudes it is disheartening to see the apparent confusion with which Western countries deal with this encroachment. Western governments seem unsure of how to react to the Islamic Fundamentalist push and unable to develop coordinated counter measures. Their difficulty begins with a lack of awareness of the movement's origins. To understand this fundamentalism one must understand the origins of Islam itself and the militant strategy being enacted straight from the Koran. The current wave of fundamentalism can be traced to the 1970’s and the Cold War. This current movement sprang from the global clash of democracy versus communism. This paper argues for a deeper appreciation of Islamic teachings and stratagems which will explain the many complexities of the movement. This study delves into the beginnings of the Muslim Brotherhood and its subsequent effect on the fundamentalist movement. Collectively this paper presents a theory about fundamentalism which uses the roots of Islam to explain the fundamentalist movement, its beliefs and what might reasonably be expected in the future.



Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood: the Modern Roots of Terror




Militant Islam in its many forms arguably is the most important strategic threat to the United States (US) and its western allies. It will continue to be so for the foreseeable future unless it is defeated. However the US government has appreciably backed away from its hard line stance put forth in the days after the 9/11 attacks. The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) was conjured up without much thought or understanding of the issue. In fact, our GWOT is really just another battle in a century’s long war. This campaign has long term goals and a global perspective. The roots of this campaign are centered in Islamist fundamentalism.

A war on terrorism is a misnomer as terrorism is a tactic in unconventional warfare and not an actual enemy. In misnaming the enemy the US government has immediately shown its ignorance on the entire enterprise of national security as related to the many facets of fundamentalist Islam. Islamic stratagems against all infidels are both explicit and implied within the theocracy of Islam and are there to be read by anyone. The mandates for fighting the infidel are outlined in the Koran and have not been changed or interpreted over the centuries just as the Koran itself can never be changed or interpreted. To understand why Islamic fundamentalists act as they do one must examine the roots of the theology and how it is applied by the current day fundamentalist groups. This paper will examine the stratagems of militant Islam through history. Special emphasis will be placed on the Muslim Brotherhood and its actions in perpetuating its brand of militant Islam. Finally, this paper will provide ideas for counter measures to fight the war on Fundamentalist Islam.


Islamic doctrine as put forth in the holy texts of this faith is at direct opposition with the core tenets of Western civilization and its survival (Dziak, 2007).  The war being fought by Militant Islamists is a global war in which the struggle has lasted in one form or another for centuries.

Shariah is the body of Islamic religious law which guide Muslim’s in all aspects of their life. In a speech given by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad Khalifatul Masih IV, a reputed scholar on Shariah and its applications in politics he stated:


Muslims have a right‑ rather, an obligation ‑ to enact Shariah law. It is argued that if they believe in the Holy Quran and if they believe also that the Holy Quran is a comprehensive Book which relates to every area of human activity and directs man as to how he should conduct himself in every sphere of life, then it is hypocrisy to remain con­tented with those claims. They should follow the logical conclusion and enact Shariah law and make it the only law valid for the country.  (Masih IV, 1991)


            In the strictest sense Muslims do not have the ability to moderate Shariah or soften the harshness of the scriptures in any way. In fact the Prophet Muhammad explicitly denies any future person or group the right or ability to moderate the “word of Allah” as given to him. The inability or unwillingness of the US and its allies to understand these basic precepts affects their ability to deal with an active militant Islamic movement engaged in an unconventional war, driven by a mandate directly from Allah, to conquer and enact Shariah in all countries of the world.

            Islam and its ideology have been practiced for fourteen hundred years. In this time Islam has accrued much experience in stratagem it needs to survive and prosper. Two of the precepts are Jihad and Dhimmitude. The universal goal of Islam is a global order in which all men recognize the rule of Allah either as believers or inferior subjects known as Dhimmis (Dziak, 2007). In order to accomplish this goal good Muslims should have to perform ‘jihad’. Ibn Khaldun the 14th century Islamic jurist and historian stated:


In the Muslim community, the holy war [Jihad] is a religious duty because of the universalism of the [Islamic] mission and the obligation [to convert] everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force…Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations. (Khaldun, 1958)


            Jihad, like many Arabic words, has multiple meanings. It can mean personal struggle, defined as an inward battle to do the right thing according to the Koran, or it can mean holy war. This is convenient for Islamists to point to in their attempt to disguise their true intentions. The deceivers use ‘jihad’ and tell Western audiences it is about a personal struggle while the Arabic audiences understand this deception and translate the meaning appropriately.

            This deception is part of the war which is waged upon the West. The only true peace according to Islamists is when all peoples are subordinate to Islamic law. The US and its western allies should be aware of this and accept it. It is plainly written in the Koran and history provides multiple examples of its truthfulness. Temporary truces are used to regroup and redeploy when needed. Any lie told is forgiven, any act justified when fighting the infidel. Radical brutal rule always follows an Islamic takeover of the government. Iran, Sudan, the Balkan conflict and Chechnya are all examples of what occurs in Islamic ruled areas. Ethnic cleansing and totalitarianism in the same manners as Hitler’s Germany, the U.S.S.R. and fascist Italy are the products of Islamism.

The Beginning of a Revolution

            The rise of current day Islamism parallels the growth of the German empire under Adolf Hitler. Nazism and Islamism shared a deep hatred of Christianity, western culture, capitalism, Jews and America (Dziak, 2007). The current day resurgence of Islamism was born from the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which Muslim’s called the Last Caliphate, at the end of World War I. In the 1920’s, as a direct result of the elimination of the Caliphate, a man by the name of Hasan al Banna created the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood began as a youth organization aimed at moral and social reform in Egypt. Al-Banna was influenced greatly by Adolf Hitler and the fascist party with which he came to power. During the 1930s, the Brotherhood became more political in nature and an official political group in 1939 (Lutz & Lutz, 2004). Many of the Brotherhoods tactics would be influenced by its leaders who participated in World War II through collaboration with Nazi Germany and a group known as the Free Officers. The collaboration did not last however and during the revolution in 1952 the Free Officers Movement, under the ultimate leadership of Gamal Abd al Nasser, came to power. During this period, or at least from 1954 on, the Brotherhood underwent fierce repression and persecution in Egypt necessitating an exit to Saudi Arabia (Lutz & Lutz, 2004).

Islam is not just a religion but a political ideology with mandates from the Koran covering every aspect of daily life. In this respect it is very similar to other totalitarian regimes throughout history. It has been a blueprint for governing societies since ancient times and most recently by the Muslim Brotherhoods, along with their off-shoots like Al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and while not a product of the Brotherhood, the Shiite’s in Iran. Barry Rubin states in his article “Islamism is Neo-Stalinism”:


Today the idea of a global "class struggle" in which the Muslims (proletariat) is engaged in a battle against the evil Christians and Jews (capitalists, imperialists) to wage a revolution and create a new utopian Islamist state (communism) seems to be in the mainstream of the Arab and Muslim discussion (Rubin, 2006).


            The Ayatollah Khomeini formed the Iranian ‘Revolution’ around the same concepts as Lenin did in the Soviet Union. Khomeini preached of an oppressed people subjected to a ruling class, who were not true to the beliefs of Islam, and along with the foreign capitalists, must be thrown out. 

            Once in power the Islamists concentrated on suppressing any dissent through whatever means necessary. In keeping with Islamic theology they were also responsible for spreading Islam’s traditions and teachings. Khomeini, like Stalin, realized the value of proxy groups which would fight on the states behalf but leave a barrier of deniability available to the government.

            Direct Iranian influence can be felt today in Iraq. The guerrilla warfare, propaganda and tactics are very similar to the old Soviet Union’s style (Hartwright, 2002). Because the Ayatollah and his posterity are Shiite, their influence in the Sunni world is blunted. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood use the tactics of terrorism through their off-shoot organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah to advance their Islamic ideas for revolution in different countries.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Perverted Roots of Terrorism

“The Muslim Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement of modern times. It is characterized by its deep understanding, accurate comprehension and its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts of all aspects of life, culture, creed, politics, economics, education, society, justice and judgment ,the spreading of Islam, education, art, information, science of the occult and conversion to Islam.” (Griset & Mahan, 2003)

The present problem and origin of religious terrorism is found in the fundamentals of Islam and specifically from the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdal-Wahhab. Wahhabism is a political and religious movement inside of Islam which espouses the doctrine of following the one God blindly and without question (Hartwright, 2002). Their sect is noted for its intolerance and rigid moral standards which prohibit music, tobacco and alcohol. Interestingly enough, so does the strict Baptist religion in the US (Patry, 2001).

Wahhabism is the ideological base of the Muslim Brotherhood and the founders were all steeped in these teachings. Wahhabism teaches that Islam had vanquished many earlier civilizations but had become corrupted by foreign influences and therefore had lost its sense of unity (Henzel, 200). Al-Wahhab brought about the term ‘Salafist’ which denotes a pure form of Islam supposedly practiced by Muhammad and his early followers.

The Salafist movement began in earnest after World War I.  The Middle East was redrawn by Britain and France which caused much unrest among Arabs. Countries were formed which had never existed previously and much frustration was felt by the masses as governments were seen as corrupt, inefficient and puppet regimes for the West.

For many Sunnis, the answer became a return to a purer Islam, put forth by the Muslim Brotherhood. The mid-1960's writings of Sayyid Qutb are central to the current generation of Sunni fundamentalists, known variously as Wahhabis, Salafis and Deobandis (Hall, 2007). Qutb’s writings are perpetuated in the actions of current day Muslim’s around the world. All of the 9/11 participants and bin Laden himself are Wahhabists as are the assassins of President Sadat in Egypt and the murdering clans in Kashmir (Lutz & Lutz, 2004). 

The Brotherhood’s creed is: “God is our objective; the Koran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” (Farah, Sandee, & Lefkowitz, 2007) Under Sayyid Qutb’s influence the Brotherhood pushed a distinct anti-western stance. In a seminal 1946 article published in the Egyptian magazine al Risala, after visiting the United States, Qutb wrote: “All Westerners are the same: a rotten conscience, a false civilization. How I hate these Westerners, how I despise all of them without exception.” (Farah, Sandee, & Lefkowitz, 2007)  His teachings propelled the Brotherhood into rejecting all non-Islamic states and pushing their duty to “dispel the darkness” spread by the West.

Qutb was hanged in 1966 but his teachings are still in the forefront of mosques around the world. Many of the Brotherhood’s leaders were driven from their home nations and most found their way to Saudi Arabia where the anti-Western Wahhabi establishment welcomed them. In the 1970s, flush with cash from the first oil boom and deeply disturbed by the successful Islamic revolution in Shiite Iran, Saudi leaders set out to spread their own conservative brand of Sunni Islam (Farah, Sandee, & Lefkowitz, 2007). The Muslim Brotherhood arrived in Saudi Arabia at a very precipitous time; because the Islamic world was about to change drastically.

Two Seminal Events

Organized, state-supported Shariah got a tremendous kick in 1979 with two events which shook the Islamic world to its core (Timmerman, 2003). In both instances, hatred of the Jews was thoroughly intertwined with fear and hatred of America and the openness of the West (Pipes, 2007).

The first event was the deposing of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran by revolutionaries loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini who believed a true Islamic state should govern every aspect of daily life. Under Khomeini's guidance, universities were closed; women were forced to wear the veil and were excluded from society.

The second event went virtually unnoticed in the West. It was the Nov. 20, 1979, takeover of the holiest shrine in Islam. The leaders violently took over the mosque and announced:"My name is Jouhayman alOtaibi. Here with me is Mohammad al-Qahtani. He is the Mahdi who has come to bring justice to the world. Bow down to the Mahdi who will cleanse the kingdom of corruption!" (Timmerman, 2003)

Inside Islam’s holiest site people were slaughtered and taken prisoner in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The captors espoused the depravity of the Saudi royal family and their Westernization of Arabic land. After three days of impotent attempts to end the siege, the Saudi’s asked for help from the French in stopping the nearly 2000 entrenched terrorists inside the mosque (Fradkin, 2007). After three weeks the insurgency was ended but the royal family faced a possible rebellion for their perceived lack of dedication to Islam. The support of the Wahhabi clerics was deemed crucial for the royal family to remain in power.

To solidify the support of the Wahhabi clerics and followers the Saudi royal family began pumping millions and millions of dollars into terrorist organizations around the world. (Patry, 2001) In 1962, to placate the clerics, the Saudis established the Muslim World League to build Wahhabite mosques around the world and propagate the faith. In 1973, they added the activist World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), which opened offices in 60 countries, distributing scholarships to young Muslims who accepted the Wahhabi doctrine that "Jews are the source of all conflicts of the world that Shia'a Muslims are part of a Jewish conspiracy and that Muslims, Jews and Christians cannot live together." (Patry, 2001)

With their billions, the Saudis also built an entire network of religious schools in Pakistan where the next generation of Wahhabi fanatics would be trained. Young men sent to these schools learned little about the outside world, focusing instead on Wahhabi interpretations of the Koran (Patry, 2001). It was here that the Taliban was spawned, brought up to hate non-Wahhabi Muslims, the West and, of course, the Jews. The Saudis continue to fund schools of Wahhabi thought throughout the world from Pakistan to the United States.  (Timmerman, 2003) The circle of hate put forth in Islam continued.

An incomplete list of militant islamists and organizations compiled by Fradkin are below with some additional comments. These individuals or organizations emerged from the original Brotherhood and benefited from the Saudi’s outpouring of funds.  Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheik” is responsible for killing hundreds of civilians and is currently serving a life sentence in New York for planning terrorist attacks in the United States; the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), founded and funded by the Brotherhood in 1987, to destroy Israel; Ayman Zawahiri, founder of the Brotherhood-based Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and currently Osama bin Laden’s chief deputy; Abdullah Azzam, who went on to Afghanistan and eventually became a co-founder of al Qaeda; and Hassan al-Turabi, bin Laden’s benefactor and host during his stay in Sudan. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, told U.S. interrogators he was drawn to violent jihad in Kuwait after joining the Brotherhood and attending its desert youth camps (Fradkin, 2007).


The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest and most formal worldwide expression of Islamism. Because of its long history it has had a substantial impact upon other Islamic groups. Some are direct off-shoots founded by one time Brotherhood members and others like the Saudi Wahhabists were collaborators. All Islamists are joined together by at least three factors: the desire to purify and thus revive Islamic life; the desire to restore the worldly fortunes of Islam; and the conviction that both can be achieved only by reappropriating the model of Islam’s seventh-century founders, the Salaf or virtuous ancestors, which include Mohammed and his closest companions or followers (Hall, 2007).


To this end Islamists practice a multi-pronged strategy. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy commander, wrote a book in 2001 titled “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner”. In this book Zawahiri outlines and prioritizes the goals of what he calls ‘the revolutionary fundamentalist movement’. In summary he proposes guerilla action where possible and political action where it’s not, all in support of overthrowing current Arab governments which do not subscribe to fundamentalist Islam. In ‘Knights’ Zawahiri makes it clear he does not expect to defeat Israel or the US. Rather he intends terrorist attacks against both countries to result in retaliation thus solidifying the idea of ‘us’ versus the ‘infidel’ and rally nations around this banner (Henzel, 2005).

Zawahiri states in ‘Knights’: “The jihad must dedicate one of its wings to work with the masses, preach, and provide services. . . . [T]he people will not love us unless they feel that we love them, care about them, and are ready to defend them.” (Henzel, 2005) This is where the Muslim Brotherhood comes in with its social programs, providing food and clean water along with money for infrastructure and education. The enemy has outlined his strategy for defeating the West and its allies. It is incumbent upon the West to use this information to defeat the enemy.

Counter Strategies

Many of the founders of spiritual thought in the Brotherhood and Al Qaida were never part of the clerical establishment. Al-Banna, Qutb and Zawahiri all fought against the clerics and governments of their time. Fundamentalist Islam remains to this day in a philosophical struggle with the traditional Sunni cleric establishment as well as Arab governments (Henzel, 2005). This fight with the establishment is a possible fissure which could be exploited. The Fundamentalists want power for themselves in order to push their beliefs upon others. By destroying governments and taking over politically the militants can be shown for what they really are. Walter Laqueur posits in his book Guerilla Warfare about insurgency and guerilla warfare having very limited success when used alone. The action must have the will of the people and usually a regular military augmented by an insurgency to be successful (Laqueur, 2002).

The United States should exploit any existing ties to regimes in the Sunni world to support efforts resisting the Salafists. This will be a matter for intelligence agencies combined with military Special Operations Groups which have the capability for building infrastructure along with the combat capability to perform small operations when necessary. The Department of State will need to work in developing relationships with existing Muslim regimes to build beneficial relationships with local authorities to achieve objectives.

Washington should realize their parameters for the GWOT are incorrect and reassess them. For the problem of Militant Islam the key is containing and then destroying the Salafist movement and thereby allowing more moderate voices to be heard in the Middle East.




Hartwright, Christian. (2002). The Red Roots of Terrorism. McAllen, Texas: Pan-Tech International.

Laqueur, Walter. (2002). Guerilla Warfare: A Historical & Critical Study. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Lutz, James., & Lutz, Brenda. (2004). Global Terrorism. London: Routledge.

Dziak, John. (2007). Islamism and Stratagem. The Intelligencer, 15(3), 7-16.

Farah, D., Sandee, R., & Lefkowitz, J. (2007). The Muslim Brotherhood in the United States: A Brief History. In Terror Watch (http://www.nefafoundation.org/miscellaneous/nefahlf0807.pdf]). Washington, DC: NEFA.

Griset, P., & Mahan, S. (2003). Terrorism In Perspective. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Hall, R. (2007). Sociology of Terrorism. RUSI Journal , 72-75.

Hartwright, C. (2002). The Red Roots of Terrorism. McAllen: Pan-Tech International Inc.

Henzel, C. (2005). Origins of Al Qaeda. Washington D.C.: US Army War College.

Khaldun, I. (1958). The Muqudimmah: An introduction to history. Pantheon , 473.

Masih IV, H. M. (1991). SHARIAH: Relationship Between Religion and Politics in Islam. Islamabad: Islam International Publications Ltd.

Patry, B. (2001). The Perverted Roots of Religious Terrorism. Canadian Speeches , 39.

Pipes, Daniel. (Speaker). (2007, December 15). Clash of Civilizations [Television broadcast]. New York: History Channel.


Rubin, B. (2006, April 9). Outside Views. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from National Ledger: http://www.nationalledger.com/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi?archive=1&num=4766

Timmerman, K. (2003, November 11). Preachers of hate. Insight on the News , p. 38.





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