Hiding in Plain Sight in Plainfield: The Muslim Brotherhood of North America

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Hiding in Plain Sight in Plainfield:

Overview The following presentation reveals some preliminary findings from an as-yet unfinished doctoral thesis entitled Re-Islamization in Higher Education from Above and Below: The University of South Florida and its Global Contexts, by Terri Wonder, a doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida. At USF Terri is being mentored by specialists in the fields of social psychology, organization and administration theory and practice, education law, political Islam/Islamism, and international terrorism. wondertk@juno.com

Presentation Outline

  • Summation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, from 1927-1966, with the inception of the movement until its repression by Nasser

  • Summation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s organizational charts, with view of overhead transparencies alongside slideshow

  • Explanation of historical development of the charts and their significance, with emphasis on their administrative purposes

  • Summation of results of Nasser’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, with emphasis on Muslim Brothers in-exile in Saudi Arabia’s university system, the role of the Society of Muslim Ladies, and Sayyid Qutb’s Signposts in the reconstitution of the organization as the “neo-Muslim Brotherhood”

  • Explanation of the “discovery” of the organizational structure and administrative functioning of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America, with comparative emphasis on the Islamic Society of North America, its affiliated groups and persons, and their ideology and institutional roles

Hassan Al-Banna: 1906-1949

  • A sheikh’s son born during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the demise of the Caliphate, and the rise of modernization / “de-Islamization” of Egypt and the Middle East (i.e., in social psychology a “cathexis” or significant emotional turning point for Islamic civilization)

  • At age of 12 became leader in his village of The Society for Moral Behavior and the Society for the Prevention of the Forbidden (haram)

  • Al-Banna and other members reached “deep into town life” by imposing “increasingly burdensome fines” on Muslims who “cursed their fellows and their families, or cursed in the name of religion” and by drafting and circulating “secret and threatening letters to those they regarded as living violation of the teachings of Islam” (Mitchell, 1969/1993: 2).

  • 1927, Al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, Egypt

Ideological Interplay: Salafism, Marxism, and Nazism

  • Salafism: The Ideological Base of the Muslim Brotherhood

  • Al-Banna and co-founders steeped in teachings of Muhammad Ibn Abdul al-Wahhab (b.1700)

  • While accused of being devoid of intellectual creativity, Al-Wahhab nonetheless had some influence on the Brothers

  • Al-Wahhab taught that Islam had vanquished many earlier civilizations but had become corrupted by foreign influences and therefore had lost its sense of “unity” (tawhid)

  • From Al-Wahhab the term “Salafist’ came into being, denoting a “pure” form of Islam believed to have been practiced by Muhammad and the early caliphs, the “al-salaf al-salihin

  • Appeal for Salafism grows in 1930’s Egypt as Rashid Al-Rida published articles about the doctrine in Al-Manar (The Beacon)

Salafism Translates into the Muslim Brotherhood’s Credo:

  • “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; struggle is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.”

  • Says Mitchell (1969/1993): That credo “was equally useful as a unique mark of the Brother” (p.193, italics added).

Sayid Qutb: The Brothers’ Leading Intellectual/Theoretician

  • As was the case for the main leadership of the Brothers, Qutb was in Egypt’s educational sector of the civil service

  • He is the Brothers’ most major figure in formulating the economic, political, and educational ideology of the Brotherhood and the mass social movement known as “Islamism” or “political Islam”

  • He advocated a means of Islamic education designed to return the Community of the Faithful (ummah) to their original state of “purity” be de-Westernizing education and being “careful when we describe Islam not to relate it to other principles and theories” (Social Justice in Islam, p.117)

  • “Islam is a comprehensive philosophy and a homogenous unity, and to introduce into it any foreign element would mean ruining it” (p.117)

  • Islam is a “delicate and perfect piece of machinery that may be completely ruined by the presence of an alien component” (p.117)

  • Education cannot be “entrusted” to “human logic alone”; it “relies also upon revelation” (p.292)

Assimilating the Sacred with the Profane: The Fruit of Qutb’s American Education

  • Among the many paradoxes of Islamism, and Qutb’s theories in particular, is that it cannot escape reference to Western or “alien” ideologies (see Pipes, 2002)

  • And so it was Qutb’s trip to America in the 1940’s--having been sent by King Farouk because Qutb was becoming a state nuisance--that spurred him to write Social Justice in Islam (1953), a work whose title and totalitarian precepts borrow directly from Marxism, then gaining in popularity among US academics

  • “With no exaggeration his pamphlets can be compared, in terms of spread and influence, with the Communist Manifesto” (Kepel, 1984/2003: 56)

  • Qutb’s “basic missionary message” was that world peace could be achieved only under Islam “within the framework of jihad as an expression of ‘world revolution’” based on “religious legitimacy and the use of force in the form of irregular war” (Tibi, 1998: 56-58)

“By international legal standards, this kind of violence qualifies unequivocally as ‘terrorism’” (Tibi, 1998: 58)

  • And so after returning to Egypt, having received an M.A. in education at The University of Colorado, Qutb helped engineer the overthrow of the Egyptian government in the 1952 Free Officers’ coup d’etat

Immersion in Marxist rhetoric and concepts helps disguise influence of Fascism in Brotherhood ideology

  • Jew

  • International Bankers

  • Crusader conspiracy

Nevertheless, anti-Semitism in the “Islamic Order” (Nizam Islami) remains a constant feature of the movement

  • Witness, for example, the reproduction of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, The Talmudic Jew, and even Marxism itself, as “alien” influences on Islamism that the Muslim Brotherhood would perpetuate in its own ideology

  • Also witness Qutb’s own teachings published and disseminated through the Brotherhood’s library in the General Headquarters in Cairo--

  • From Al-Manar (1952), the essay “Our Struggle with the Jews” states that de-Islamizationist intellectual power in the Arab world manifests from a secret alliance with the “Jews” who maintained “a massive army of agents in the form of professors, philosophers, doctors, and researchers—sometimes also writers, poets, scientists and journalists” (qtd. in Schoenfeld, 2004: 42)

From Theory to Practice: Education, Indoctrination, Students, and the Secret Apparatus

  • While some of the Brotherhood’s early development resulted from Qutb’s social theory, some of it also appears to have been the result of Al-Banna’s need to control conflict within the organization and in his interest in advancing a direct confrontation with the state

  • Thus by the 1940’s, educational theory became re-codified as “scientific” that would appeal to professors and students in the universities--a point that refutes Beck’s (1998) assumptions about Islamic fundamentalism’s education programs

  • By that time, the Brotherhood had begun recruiting “rovers” through its para-educational subsystems introduced originally to ensure success of members enrolled in Egypt’s universities

  • Rovers were found in the Brothers’ summer youth camps, where they received intellectual, spiritual, and physical training

Kepel (2002)

  • “The success of the Society of the Muslim Brothers derived from its capacity to muster widely different groups in support of its program, while recruiting members through charitable activities such as dispensaries, workshops, and schools near mosques” (p.30)

  • And as it became more successful, it grew larger and needed more management, which led to the Secret Apparatus, a paramilitary version of the Brotherhood’s Field Apparatus (see Appendix B)

  • “Left-leaning Arab intellectuals … regarded the Brothers as a populist movement whose aim was to enlist the masses”; yet this populist view “pointed out similarities to the workings of European fascism during the same period” (p.28).

Al-Banna Youth

  • Student “rovers” (jawwala) work for the revolution

  • Specific membership ranks, like all sub-units of the Brotherhood: assistant (musa’id), related (muntasib), active (‘amil), and struggler (mujahid)

  • Five groups of rovers equals one battalion (kata’ib)

  • These developed also in response to British activity in Palestinian territory, “the inspiration for activism within the Society” (Mitchell, 1969/1993: 30)

  • And also in support of Erwin Rommel’s advance into Libya in Egypt’s Western desert, when member students began circulating pro-Axis propaganda and holding supportive campus demonstrations

More on the “Rover Troops” (Firaq al-Jawwala)

  • Their taking of loyalty oaths in the summer youth camps “more importantly preserved order within the Society and its defense against enemies from outside” (p.202)

  • They were the Brothers’ “prime source of power, the machine by which the alleged revolution was to be effected” (p.203)

  • They had close associations with the close-knit “families” of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Field Apparatuses

  • They were the organization’s “spiritual-military training program” and a ‘prime inspiration to violence” (p.203)

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Organization and Administration

General Headquarters

  • The primary leadership’s main units: General Guide, Guidance Council, and Consultative Assembly

  • Mitchell (1969/1993) writes, the general headquarters “was also the base for ‘technical’ operations and the field apparatuses” (p.169)

  • Physically composed of committee rooms, offices, a permanent staff, reception rooms, a small mosque, and library—the largest room in the building

  • The library might best be described as a “central intelligence” headquarters for information collected from the society’s members from around the world, which is likely why the library’s contents were of such interest to Farouk and Nasser, who confiscated or burned most of the collections

Technical Operations: Responsible to Guidance Council

  • Sections (aqsam)

  • message propagation (nashr al dawa)

  • labor and peasants

  • students

  • liaison with Islamic world

  • professions

  • press/translation

  • bodily training

  • family

Purposes and Appointments of Sections & Committees

  • advisory and investigative

  • leaders named by General Guide or Guidance Council

  • assistants appointed by Guidance Council

  • office locations usually at General Headquarters

  • press/translation responsible for publishing newspapers and magazines & collecting, filing, translating into different languages

  • major role in spiritual and intellectual training of members, including members whose native language was not Arabic

  • sections more important than committees, however, because of involvement with training and orientation of members

  • chairmanships of sections highly prized because they carried possibility of real power within the structure

Nashr Al-Dawa

  • Most important of all sections

  • Responsible for disseminating ideology compatible with “the spirit of Islam”

  • Missionaries (du’at) for speeches and lectures/well-trained for “public meetings” outside the society

  • Publications of a “scientific, cultural, and athletic” nature/none can be issued without authorization by the section

  • Supplies branches with speakers and lecturers

  • Provides field apparatuses with unified schedule of study for the missionary school which each was required to maintain

  • Graduates of missionary school elevated to level of organizational missionaries

Organizational Change and Education

  • Education of the Brothers changed from basic religious and propagandistic messages to more sophisticated ones with “scientific” emphasis

  • Nashr al-Dawa “began to make use of the talent available to it among its professional members in the fields of law, economics, society, education, chemistry, engineering, and zoology”

  • Al-Banna’s death “compelled the society to look to its hitherto untapped ‘intelligentsia’ to find answers’” about challenges from “outside its ranks”

  • (Mitchell, 1969/1993:189)

Students Section

  • Training ground for future party leadership

  • Responsible for establishing “Islamic atmosphere” in Egypt’s school system

  • Organized summer classes for preaching and guidance

  • Rovers make sure that study and leisure time is spent profitably


  • Historically an outgrowth of students section

  • Work colored with “Islamic atmosphere”

  • Committee subdivisions representing different types of workers in Egyptian society

  • Most important to Brothers were teachers and civil servants because these were the largest professions in Egypt and could mold opinion and instruments of “a new generation of Muslims”

Liaison with Islamic World

  • Global nashr al-dawa

  • Studies problems of the Islamic world in cooperation with policy of General Headquarters

  • Organizes annual meeting attended by leaders and representatives of the ‘Islamic movement”—whether of the Brothers or other reform organizations

  • Discuss possible unification of rules and regulations different groups governed themselves

  • Dossiers on demographics and socio-political issues

  • Information collection on growth of the movement itself

  • Studies country problems through research, lectures, publications, study groups

  • “Missionary” exchange

More aboutMissionaries”

  • “And throughout its history the Society, in the traditional Islamic fashion, never minimized the effect of a good speaker” (Mitchell, 1969/1993: 190)

  • Many missionaries doubled as teachers and professors in Egypt’s civil service

Liaison Section

  • Administered by a chief, two deputies, a secretary, and his aide

  • Nine permanent sub-committees for world regions: North Africa; East and Southwest Africa; the Fertile Crescent; Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Persian Gulf kingdoms; Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan; India, Ceylon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, China, Pacific Ocean, and Far East; Islamic minorities in the Americas, Soviet Union, Europe; Older specialists; Islamic divisions

  • Liaison section guests checks in with General Headquarters

  • Provides haven for foreign Muslim students who sympathize with movement, then urged to join Brotherhood in other countries

  • Manages General Headquarters library, a clearinghouse for information on world’s Islamic movements

Field Apparatuses

  • Mitchell (1969/19930 states that these were “the administrative channels through which the voice of high command passed to operating membership groups and through which the membership was welded to the highly disciplined instrument it was” (pp.175-176)

  • Administrative unit (al-maktab al-idari) largest unit in field, usually coincided with provincial divisions of the government of Egypt

  • Districts (manatiq) also imitates organization of government

  • These units allowed for ease in communication among various civil servants who were also Muslim Brothers

  • Also, they set the stage--as does the entire organization--for a shadow government to take over in the event of a successful coup d’etat

Branches (Shu’ba)

  • Usually named according to geographical locations, but not always, in case of academic branches

  • For most members allegiance was to a specific branch

  • Branch consisted of a council of administration elected by a general assembly composed of paid-up branch members

  • Structure and purpose like a “miniature General Headquarters”

  • Chairman, two deputies, secretary, treasurer

  • Funds for whole Society occurs at these lowest levels

  • Memberships, contributions, legacies, profits, publications, emblems, pins, seals, endowments, land grants, etc.

  • Designated fixed shares go up the rungs

“The General Headquarters was, in effect, at the mercy of a strangely decentralized fiscal structure” Mitchell (1969/1993, p.181)

Other ways Branches imitate General Headquarters

  • Sections and Committees within the branches

  • Each branch maintained a reading room

  • Local educational programs and initiatives

  • “Family” activities take shape in branches


  • Most fundamental enterprise for creating cohesion among members

  • Term originated to soften its identification with the term ‘cell’—which was part of the government’s press campaign to delegitimize the Society

  • Reinforces loyalty oaths taken by members, especially when Brotherhood became concerned about outside infiltration of ranks

  • Family represented by a chief (naqib) who represented his family to a branch

  • Four families = a clan (‘ashira)

  • Five clans = a group (raht)

  • Five groups = a battalion (katiba)

Academic Branches

  • Mirror the organizational and administrative structure of the university as opposed to other institutions in Egypt’s civil service

  • Leaders of academic branches have more capability than other leaders in other branches because of the time and intellectual equipment they possess

  • Thus, they would arouse animosity of other leaders in the organization

  • They also had greater potential to become enemies of the state itself by mobilizing “rover” students

“The head of the university branch was the recognized leader of the university Brothers; his was a powerful voice in the leadership echelon of the Society in general, among the student Brothers, and among other students. Control of the position was one of the most certain assurances of mobility to the highest ranks in the Society” (Mitchell, 1969/1993: 180)

Other People involved in University Branches

  • Leaders of each faculty

  • Faculties divided in turn divided into groups representing four years of schooling

  • Heads of year-groups responsible to faculty heads for member performance of their groups

  • Breakdown allowed for small units to be rapidly assembled yet large enough to be effective in their fields of knowledge

  • “Perhaps no other facet of the activity of the Brothers in the university so astounded (and infuriated) their opponents there as the ability of the leaders to communicate directions and decisions with such speed and to have them perfectly obeyed” (p.180)

  • Overlap between faculties and families regarding

  • para-educational training

Nasser’s Repression of the Brotherhood

  • The repression can be attributed, in part, to the success of the organizational structure and administration of the Society over a period of a few decades that grew more and more confrontational with a socialist state

  • 1,000 members arrested in 1954

  • They were either tortured, executed, or exiled

  • Qutb spends fifteen years in prison, is released, and later executed

  • The society itself is abolished in a legal sense until Sadat assumes power and lifts ban

Qutb’s Signposts

  • Like all of Qtub’s works, very important in terms of its reformulation of doctrine and potential action into the neo-Muslim Brotherhood after 1966

  • Mrs. Zaynab Al-Ghazali organizes teach-ins for released prisoners and young student recruits

  • She goes to Saudi Arabia to speak with exiled Brothers now working in Saudi Arabia’s newly restructured education system, run by the Wahabbi Al-Sheikh family

  • Copies of Qutb’s prison work Signposts disseminated along the Nile among students and in Saudi Arabia, where it is taught and published

New Doctrines of the “Vanguard”

  • Jahiliyah: all but a few elect Muslims have this condition

  • Takfir: members of society as a whole no longer Muslims; only a few “vanguard” are

  • Kufr: Muslims who are not pure/ “His blood is forfeit”

  • Istid’af: “weakness” in enemy society

  • Kitman: “concealment” practiced in enemy society

  • Al-haraka bi’l-mafhum: “concealed advance”

  • Marhalat al-tamakkun: “phase of power”

  • Jihad: now means vanguard know when to retreat and when to advance by seeking contact with surrounding jahiliyah society

Brothers-in-Exile in “The Kingdom”

  • Muhammad Qutb (part of conspiracy to assassinate Nasser)

  • Omar Abdul Rahman (…Sadat, New York City landmarks, leadership coup in New Jersey mosque)

  • Ayman Al-Zawahiri (…Sadat, Al-Qaeda official)

  • Abu Jihad (founder of Palestinian Fatah movement)

  • Hassan Al-Turabi (engineered overthrow of Sudan, genocide of black Christian minorities in southern Sudan)

  • Abdullah Azzam (conceives of “martyred scholars,” Bin Laden’s mentor)

  • Many of these and others were part of a US lecture circuit in the 1980’s and 1990’s

And one final doctrine: Zalzalah

  • “Shaking” or “Revolution”

  • but not from above, from below

  • and

  • specifically through education

Islamizing North America: “Concealed Advance” in Organization and Administration Ideology, Structure, Purpose

  • The Society of the Muslim Brothers

  • Cairo, Egypt


  • Emerson (2002): documents relationships among ISNA and sub-groups with Islamist leaders who are members of the Brotherhood; states that Mustapha Mash’hur, Supreme Guide of Egyptian Brothers was a speaker at a MAYA conference

  • Katz (2004): states that IIIT “is” the Muslim Brotherhood

  • Actually it is, I believe, part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Field Apparatus of the overarching group; field apparatuses often mirror the administration, roles, and purposes of the overarching group

  • Also my research suggests a consistency in ideological/rhetorical patterns based on the early Brothers’ and Qutb’s doctrines in IIIT educational theory (see chapter sub-section analysis on IIIT educational theory)

  • And consistency in the structural and administrative purposes between the society in Egypt and the one in Illinois (see files on the various sub-groups like MAYA, MAS, etc.)

  • In addition, liaison section of original Muslim Brotherhood had a sub-committee for Muslims in the Americas, indicating the ISNA may have resulted from the Brotherhood’s study of North American “needs”

  • Why would members-in-exile in the US want to change their antecedents’ most basic & successful organizational structure and administrative system?

Are PIJ, HAMAS, Hizbullah, Al-Qaeda in North America therefore part of some shadowy Secret Apparatus affiliated with branches and other field apparatuses and summer youth camps, as was the case with the Brotherhood in Egypt?

ISNA (see structure, Appendix C)

  • With minor modification, the structure is the same as Appendix A

  • Exceptions: Two Vice Presidents instead of one “Vice Guide”; no known “Deputy”

  • Nomenclature is not exact, with North American posts in a few instances taking on names that mirror North American organizational customs but purposes and tasks are the same (see file on ISNA for analysis)

  • Board of Directors/Majilis Ash Shura =Consultative Assembly

  • Executive Council = Guidance Council

  • Field Services Department = Technical Operation

Examples of ISNA Sections and Committees (These maintain similar structures and purposes to the Egyptian organization and administration)

  • AMSE (see file for analysis)

  • AMSE (see file)

  • AMSS (see file)

  • AMJISS (see file)

  • Perhaps also various “society/center” mosques around the country, given that MSANational says its database is taken from the ISNA database of mosques

  • Also, content of 1998 program for ISNA convention maintains a purpose similar to those in Technical Operations, as defined in Mitchell (1968/1993), with liaison and missionary-type issues

ISNA General Headquarters

  • Non-traditional mosque design meant for overtly political purposes (see The Mosque, by Frishman & Khan, 1994/2002)

  • Built in 1979, has a mosque, library, and office space—just like the Cairo headquarters (see “Import, Adapt, Innovate” by Khalidi, 2001)

Types of Field Apparatuses (see files for each)

  • IIIT

  • Quba Institute, possibly


  • AMA National

  • MYNA


  • MSA National

Portrait of an Academic “Missionary” in North America (see file on Hartford seminary and notes on visa denial of Tarik Ramadan, Al-Banna’s grandson in Switzerland)

  • Relationships with other ISNA upper-level leadership

  • Evidence of Muslim Brother-type “academic missionary” work around world

  • Responsible for training religious leaders

  • As is often the case, a “political imam” & not a “traditional imam”

What does this mean to us?

  • Knowledge as tool for law enforcement investigation

  • Shows lines of communication and organizational direction, and also areas of potential conflict within organization

  • Illustrates importance of educational fields to Brotherhood and use of Western structure by anti-Western group

  • Indicates possibility that Muslim Brotherhood is the “Comintern” of a hitherto thought of “decentralized” mass movement

  • Supports idea of declaring ideological enemy thus expanding types of immigration law for securing borders and investigating individuals

  • Does ISNA keep records in its headquarters like those that were kept in the Cairo headquarters?

  • How much of the structure in place in other regions the Brotherhood began studying in the 1930’s?

  • Can we construct a world chart showing cross-regional relationships?

  • The questions go on ad infinitum

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