Historical Origins of the Ideology of ISIS and other Militant Groups Who Commit Terrorism in the Name of Islam - Part 2:
The revolutionaries who borrowed from Marxist-Leninist ideologies in Post WWII Egypt
Getting beyond "Islam is a religion of peace"
What we intend to accomplish here is to illustrate a cohesive narrative about the development of terrorist groups in the Muslim world that effectively serves to make clear to people the disassociation of their horrendous actions from the teachings of Islam itself and identify the origins of these acts as being from ideologies foreign to the religion; therein serving a blow to the appeal of ISIS to disaffected Muslim adolescents who would be most likely to be enthralled by their propaganda while in the throes of their particular identity conflicts.
As will be shown, this narrative has been priorly acknowledged and established by Western and Eastern authorities alike; and if we take a look at the history we will see that it exists right under our noses. Still, for too long we have failed to reiterate this narrative as a response to the propaganda and horrendous acts put out by ISIS and their ilk.
Commonly, when responses are sought by media outlets from Muslims after the occurrence of newsworthy atrocities there is little room for the discussion (if you can call it that) to get beyond nominal denouncements and general proclamations that Islam is a religion of peace. This is because as a medium mainstream media does not allow for elaborate discourse to begin with, and when it comes to issues pertaining to Muslims and Islam western audiences, generally, are already beginning with a lack of background knowledge on the relevant issues as well as an acutely narrow frame of reference from which to understand them. Also, because the Muslims who are generally brave enough to put themselves out there in such situations are people in the western societies that concern themselves more with protecting and safeguarding the civic rights of Muslims and protecting them against discrimination, as oppose to undertaking a judicious study of Islam itself and the amalgam of geopolitical history underlying the complex situations in which terrorism is spawned.
While Islam certainly is a religion that aims to inculcate spiritual tranquility and stoicism upon the individuals who believe in it; saying it is a religion of peace is 1.) an oversimplification of the religion, as it is really a religion that encompasses all areas of the human drama, which can include armed and physical conflict, and 2.) would be incorrect if it is deemed to mean that Islam is a religion of pacifism; peace and pacifism are not the same thing in exact terms, and while there are certainly times that pacifist action is advised, encouraged, or even obliged by Islam there may also be times where Islam’s guidance dictates self-defense, preventive action, degrees of liberation, and assertion of righteousness. It depends on the particulars of given situations, contexts, and circumstances on individual, communal, and nation/state levels (all this being major reasons why the seeking of guidance and direction from scholars, elders, and established leaders with knowledge in the religion is so greatly exhorted by Islam. The more the Muslim youth heed this the better off they will be, but alas, a modicum of defiance of adults is par for the course with adolescents). Therefore, while there is nothing wrong with saying that Islam is a religion of peace in and of itself, if the discussion of these issues is only left there it becomes latent that denouncements of terrorism and the groups that commit them are being predicated on oversimplifications. In turn that leaves open a feeding frenzy for those who are seriously anti-Islam (for which a $200 million industry exists in the US) to take advantage of what amounts to a general lack of discourse that is accessible to lay observers in the non-Muslim societies. As a matter of fact, if you type “Islam is a religion of peace” into an internet search engine you will be inundated with a wide array of links and websites set out to assure you (with all types of anecdotal and conjectural evidence to boot) that Islam is not that at all.
So in drawing this narrative out, that the ideology of ISIS owes its origins to the lines of Marxist/Leninist revolutionary thinking that was prevalent and sweeping throughout the globe in the late 19th and better part of 20th century, we will be referencing and aggregating a bevy of knowledge from academics who have in essence long established this point. We will also connect the relevant historical dots, and thereby make the case for how this narrative can be used to empower the Muslim youth, be they within the throes of adolescent rage or otherwise, against ISIS and their likes, rather than falling suspect to their propaganda. We will further pontificate on how educators can take part in all of this, and aim to give the non-Muslim reader a window into the world of polemics against ISIS and terrorist groups that is penned by the major Islamic scholars of the current day; which represents a whole other complimentary end to this narrative via its ability to grasp the hearts and minds of the young Muslims with religious ferver.
Historical Context - 20th Century Egypt
We showed in the previous article that the better part of history in the Muslim empires saw relative stability in the Muslim lands which in recent times, especially since the World War II era, have been fraught with civil and domestic strife; and we asked the question: what is different now?
Recent history has witnessed the phenomena that Western academia generally refers to as “the Colonial Period” – this is the period of mass colonization by Western European governments – particularly Britain and France - of foreign lands throughout the world.
The colonization of the Americas had its role in spawning this period, and the British colonization of India in the 17th century was another major occurrence. However, for those who study the Muslim world, and the Arab world especially, the beginning of the colonial period is traced to the French and Napoleonic invasion of Egypt and Syria in 1798-1801.
The political motivation behind this invasion of the French was to take control of nautical trade routes between India and Britain; and overall, trade and the pursuit of resources was the principal driving factor that starts this sort of tit for tat in the colonization of the Muslim/Arab world by European powers. In the course of this Britain invaded Egypt in 1882 and directly governed Egypt until 1922, the post World War One period, and Egypt would not have full autonomy until the year 1952.
In 1917, under the fallout and victory of Western Europe in World War One, the British and French reached an agreement as to how they would divvy up colonial rule in the Arab world; called the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Influences of Westernization were strong in Egypt during this time in all areas of society; music, cinema, theatre, and radio programming all took off in Egypt, following British models, and much of what was produced therein spread throughout the Arab world. The first radio programs, movies, television shows, all these hallmarks of Western entertainment in the industrial era, spawned initially in the Arab world from Egypt during this era as a direct result of British influence. Even today, entertainment products that are originally Arab are most likely to have been produced out of Egypt.
In academics the same phenomena took off, especially in the areas of liberal arts, social sciences, and philosophy – Egypt actually already had some establishment in the physical sciences (but that also experienced institutional advancement from British influence at this time) and the history of confluence in scientific development in the physical sciences between the Muslim and European world is a whole other whole fun topic to be delved into. But when we are talking about changes and new features brought in by the British, and French, in academics to Egypt in the vein of this article’s topic we are talking especially about the “soft” academic subjects if you will; social sciences, political theory, philosophy etc.
Egypt released itself from colonial rule of the British in 1952, in a movement led by a group of officers who renegaded from the Egyptian army and called themselves the Free Officers Movement. They were led by officers Muhammad Naguib and Gamel Abdul Nasser who would, respectively, rule Egypt for several years thereafter. Having been trained in an Egyptian Army that itself was designed, trained, and developed by the British (and still today American and British military train the heads of the Egyptian army) the members of the Free Officers movement were from the Egyptian upper and middle class (the tuition cost to enter the military was too high for the peasant class to afford) and had undergone British style education growing up, including exposure to Western liberal arts ideologies . While they had fostered amongst themselves a resentment for British colonization, and some of that was based on their identity as Muslims, they were not people that had undergone Islamic education growing up. They also represented a new generation of Egyptian military men in that the opportunity to serve in the Egyptian army had expanded in 1936 with the Anglo-Egyptian treaty, and many of these new members had joined cells organized by communist organizations . The Free Officers movement is noted for having never adopted a specified and pronounced political ideology but rather being unified by an anti-British occupation ethos . That is to say they united based upon having a common enemy rather than common ideals. It was members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including its founder Hassan al-Banna, who directed and spearheaded the initial coalescence and organization of the Free Officers Movement . Several founding members were avowed Marxists (such as Khalid Muhidin who joined the Brotherhood as an avowed Marxist) and the theoretical basis for their tactical strategy overthrow of British colonial rule was from revolutionary aspects of communist/Marxist and Stalinist ideology .
While the Muslim Brotherhood is often characterized as an "Islamic" movement and brands itself as such to a large degree, we see here that from early on in the late and post-colonial period of Egypt the Brotherhood was influenced and partnered with the ideology of Marxism, and they continually adopted Leninst revolutionary tactics that directly contradict the Islamic edicts of obedience to rulership and authority. A major method that the Muslim Brotherhood used to recruit officers into allegiance with the Free Officers was the distribution of pamphlets that made religious references but borrowed the exhortive rhetoric of communist revolutionaries, which is evident in the very name of the pamphlet "Soldiers of the Liberation Army" (Junud al-Jaysh al-Ahrar) a naming style centered on the use of the word "liberation" (ahrar or tahreer in Arabic) that has been mimicked over and over again by communist-nationalistic military juntas ; such as the Chinese People's Liberation Army founded before it in 1927 that led the Maoist revolution in 1949 and the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua founded after it in 1961 that overthrew the Somoza government in 1970. Tahrir Square (or Liberation Square) in Cario, which was made famous to the world during the anti-government demonstrations of 2011, was given that name by the Free Officers after they took the government over in 1952.
When the Free Officers plotted their overthrow they annointed one of their members who was a former member of the Ministry of Education, named Sayyid Qutb (who we mentioned in the previous article), to work in their own Ministry of Education. Qutb's background was similar to them, he had been trained as a teacher in British-style educational institutes in Egypt and had also worked as a journalist and long been a student of the Western liberal arts and philosophies. He aligned with the resentment of British dominance when the Free Officers plotted their overthrow. Anwar Sadat, who was a lead member of the Free Officers and would later become the president of Egypt, said that Qutb was the "main ideologue" of the Free Officer's revolution .
But very shortly after the Free Officers did take over Qutb turned on them. He was disaffected with the movement and felt it should be more “Islamic” – after this Qutb would go on to pen a series of tracts, or manifestos, calling for the overthrow of the Egyptian governments and actually all governments in the Muslim lands.
Qutb was educated at Dar-al-Ulum as a teacher, a school that was intentionally focused under the British protectorate on integrating teaching, philosophy, and political ideation from the West . After finishing at the school he taught there he worked in the Ministry of Education and embarked on a career of literary writing in the traditions of Western modes of literature in poetry, short stories, literary critique, and autobiographical sketches. He was a vocal opponent of the British monarch and presence in Egypt despite working in their administration in the Ministry of Education, where the monarch still enabled him to be employed despite being a critic. However, he did leave employment from the Ministry in 1947 to be editor of two newspapers. With one of these papers he would be dismissed from his position, the other would be shut down after publishing six issues that were themed on rancor against the foreign occupation of Egypt . After losing these jobs he was welcomed back to the Ministry of Education who would send him to the United States to earn a Masters degree. His time in America is an often cited part of his biography by both his supporters and by Western academics who have studied his life. The former (in a display of their own rancorous disposition) laud this timer period of Qutb's as being integral to his personal development to a luminary disposition by allowing him to see and affirm in his own mind the “materialism, racism, and sexual permissiveness” that he perceived American society to be based on; while the latter describes this as the period of Qutb’s “radicalization.” Being from rural Egypt where, like most places, people tend to fall on the conservative end of the social continuum Qutb clearly experienced culture shock in America and, with rancor towards the British already settled into his mindset and disposition (despite the education and career that it had given him) he famously wrote about Americans:
“It is astonishing to realize, despite his advanced education and his perfectionism, how primitive the American really is in his views on life...His behaviour reminds us of the era of the ‘caveman’. He is primitive in the way he lusts after power, ignoring ideals and manners and principles...It is difficult to differentiate between a church and any other place that is set up for entertainment, or what they call in their language, fun,’”  (the elements of Social Darwinist philosophy, as articulated by the early 20th century French doctor Alex Carrell whose work Qutb was heavily influenced by, are latent in this excerpt. When we examine Qutb’s tracts closer we will show how Qutb took Social Darwinist philosophy and twisted it into abusive misuse of Islamic terminology).
The coalition of enmity and envy at play is rather discernible in this writing, and it is indicative of a general inferiority complex that has honestly plagued the Muslim world in the colonial and post-colonial era and that continues today; this complex can manifest itself in a rancorous disposition (more likely to be found in the psychology of adolescents than others) wherein terrorist groups hope to sew the seeds of their ideology - the psychological dilemma that inflicted the founder of their ideology is the same one they hope to prod the Muslim youth of today into treading.
Qutb would finish his Masters degree at the University of Northern Colorado and return to Egypt in 1951. Quickly upon his return he joined Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (the Muslim Brotherhood) and their opposition to British rule as editor of their official journal. The Muslim Brotherhood partnered with Muhammad Naguib and Gamel Abdul Naser and the Soviet-backed Free Officers movement in rebelling against and overthrowing British rule in 1952. However, the Muslim Brotherhood became enemies of the Free Officers in 1954 when the Free Officers negotiated the retreat of British armed forces from the Suez Canal in exchange for agreeing to allow the British to use their military to protect their own commercial interests in the Suez. 
It should be noted here that by the Muslim Brotherhood’s own admission and action (and boasting actually), their breaking point with the Free Officers did not come over a dispute about religion at all; we established in the earlier article that Islam would only even approach allowing disobedience to the rulers in a case where the rulers were prohibiting people from praying (something that never happened under the the Free Offices or any of the rulers that followed them including Gamel Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak) but rather their rancor towards the Free Officers came about over issues of economics and distribution of wealth; the same as the rancor of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and all other figureheads of communist revolution in the 19th and 20th century. The Muslim Brotherhood and Sayyid Qutb enthusiasts, however, in ignorance of the Islamic dictums pertaining to rebellion and disobedience to the rulers claimed this negotiation and treaty on the part of the government of Egypt to be "treason against Islam" .
We also see from the Muslim brotherhood and Sayyid Qutb the practice of calling out and criticizing the rulers publicly, primarily via distribution of self-published periodicals but also through public demonstrations (these are also tactics practiced by communist revolutionaries, a famous example of which in US history was The New Masses publication published by the Communist Party of the USA). Such practices go against the edicts of Islam. It has been long established in Islam that if one takes issue with the rulership of the society or any authority they are under they should advise them with private consultation, as established in the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and the practices of his predecessors:
Whoever intends to advise one with authority, then he should not do so publicly. Rather, he should take him by the hand and advise him in seclusion. If he accepts the advice, then all is well. If he does not accept it, then he (the advisor) has fulfilled his duty. "
Furthermore, during the 1952 revolution when the Free Officers were partnered with the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the Egyptian Democratic Movement for National Liberation (an avowed communist group), they employed anarchic, subversive, and guerilla warfare-type tactics commonly employed in the wave of communist revolutions in the 20th century such as rioting, arson of public and industrial institutions, and targeted assassination; all this while the officers went in complete defiance of their rank-in-file status as petty officers in the Egyptian army, violating their chain of command, and rebelling against authority. These are the tactics of the Bolshevic revolution of 1917 in Russia and the Maoist revolution of 1949 in China that had come before and they are in blatant violation of the edicts of Islam and the common sense of anyone who values peace, stability, and security for a society. To whatever extent a Muslim initiates or partakes in these practices they are sinning and in violation of edicts established by the religion they profess to follow. To whatever extent any group or individual employs these practices in the name of Islam they have innovated a matter into the religion, and innovating matters into the religion of Islam is something that Islam strictly forbids, which we will show the evidence for in the next article.
The Free Officers employed these tactics while in partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood and Sayyid Qutb with Qutb acting as their head "idealogue" in carrying these tactics out. When the Brotherhood and Qutb split with the Free Officers after the revolution they would employ the same tactics against the new government. 
After the Brotherhood began to rebel against the Free Officer-led government the government banned the organization and arrested its leaders including Sayyid Qutb. He would spend the rest of his life (with the exception of an 8 month stint of release in 1964) in prison. It was in prison where Qutb would adopt the political strategy employed by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin of authoring tracts with the aim of disseminating this literature to engender the aspirations for rebellion amongst the masses while exhorting for them into (vaguely-defined) action towards that end. Thereon, the literature of these tracts would spread (and at times be mimicked) throughout the Muslim world spurring faux-Islamic Leninist-style rebellions from that decade on. The next article will discuss the matter of "innovation" in Islam, or inventing new ideas into it that have no basis from it, and show the reprimand that the religion has already given to those like Qutb who invent ideas into it that are antithetical to it and from ideologies that are antithetical to it. It will also illustrate more evidence as to how Qutb had begun borrowing ideas from communism in his writings about Islam that preceded the 1952 revolution.
1- Gordon, Joel (1992), Nasser's Blessed Movement: Egypt's Free Officers and the July revolution, Oxford University Press US, p. 42
2- Ibid. p.39
3 - Ibid. p.40
4 - Ibid. p. 45
5 - Ibid. p. 46
6 - Ibid. p. 45
7 - Bangash, Zafar. "Remembering Sayyid Qutb, an Islamic intellectual and Leader of rare insight and integrity" in Al Mehri (Ed.), A.B. Milestones. Maktabah Booksellers and Publishers. Birmingham. 2006. The Apendices Part 1: Essays.
8 - David C. Kinsey, “Efforts for Educational Synthesis under Colonial Rule: Egypt and Tunisia,” Comparative Education Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, Colonialism and Education. (Jun., 1971), pp. 172–187.
9 - Al Mehri, A.B. (Ed.). Biography of Sayyid Qutb. Milestones (pp 5-30). Maktabah Booksellers and Publishers. Birmingham. 2006. p. 7
10 - Ibid. p. 8
11 - Ibid. pp. 9
12 - Musnad Aḥmad 14909,
13 - Kerbœuf, Anne-Claire (2005). "The Cairo Fire of 26 January of 1952 and the Interpretations of History". In Goldschmidt, Arthur; Johnson, Amy J.; Salmoni, Barak A. Re-Envisioning Egypt 1919–1952. American University in Cairo Press. pp. 194–216.
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