The Brotherhood emerged at a critical juncture in the history of the Islamic nation.
A short time before the appearance of the movement, the Ottoman caliphate had already fallen down, exactly in 1924. This was shocking to a large number of Muslims.
The caliphate had its own symbolism in the thinking of most Muslims. It had a religious dimension. It was more than just a system of rule.
When the Ottoman caliphate fell down like a house of cards, Hassan al-Bana, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood later, was only 18 years old.
Al-Bana was a frequent visitor of discussion forums attended by senior scholars of al-Azhar. He reportedly talked a lot to these scholars about the importance of bringing the caliphate back to life.
Al-Bana kept thinking and working for four years before he founded the Muslim Brotherhood movement in 1928. Together with founding the movement, al-Bana drafted a seven-stage plan to found an Islamic caliphate and then make Muslims masters of the universe.
Al-Bana mentioned the caliphate in a large number of the letters he addressed to Muslims. He even considered the founding of this caliphate a religious duty that Muslims must carry out.
The Muslim Brotherhood puts the revival of the caliphate at the top of its list of priorities,” al-Bana said in his speech at the fifth congress of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He even said that religious texts ask Muslims to work to reestablish the caliphate and make it a reality on the ground yet again.
The presence of a caliph, al-Bana added, is necessary for the enforcement of Islamic law. He also considered the caliph to be God’s shadow on earth.
The movement derives its belief in the importance of founding an Islamic caliphate from a saying by Prophet Muhammad in which he refers to this caliphate.
The Brotherhood thinks all Islamic states must be ruled by one caliph.
The caliphate as an issue occupies a large space in the thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood. For the Brotherhood, this issue is a lifeboat for the movement. Some of the members of the movement view the caliphate as a solution to all the problems of the Islamic nation. The same people think that for Muslims to make progress, they have to bring this type of rule back.
Nonetheless, the Brotherhood is not aware of the changes that happened in Islamic thought since al-Bana’s death.
Some Islamic thinkers believe that Islam is not about a specific system of rule. They also think that Muslims who live today are required to revive a system of rule that was prevalent in the past.
Other thinkers cast doubt on Prophet Muhammad’s saying in which he mentions the caliphate. One of the thinkers adopting this point of view is Jassim Sultan who discusses the same issue in detail in his book “Crisis of Islamist Organizations”.
Life is more complex than ever before. Islamist movements need to understand that the system of rule they aspire to found is only an imaginary utopia. They need to understand that they always clash with society because they work to achieve an objective that is illogical in all senses of the word.
The Brotherhood has not made any successes, even as it was born 90 years ago. Such a movement needs to have enough courage to rethink the objective it keeps talking about day and night, or it will keep clashing with society over and over again.
Emad Ali is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood.