What is the Muslim Association of Britain?

Author: 
Sacha Ismail

Since September 2002, Stop the War Coalition protests have been co-sponsored by an organisation called the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). More recently, the SWP-sponsored Respect electoral coalition has worked closely with the MAB, with former MAB President Anas Altikriti heading Respect’s Yorkshire and Humberside slate for the European elections in June 2004.

The leaders of the STWC and Respect, and in particular the Socialist Workers’ Party, have gone to great lengths to portray the MAB as representative of all people of Muslim faith or even background in Britain. This is very far from the truth. The MAB is a political organisation with a very specific political agenda: a reactionary one which we should be doing everything in our power to oppose.

In MAB’s Inspire newspaper, produced for the 28 September 2002 anti-war demonstration, an article on the MAB’s “Historical Roots and Background” links it explicitly to the Islamist tradition of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Society of Muslim Brothers is a political current founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna. Today it claims more than 70 international affiliations, with branches in Sudan (where it remains linked to the brutal military regime), Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Its aim has always been for Shari’a law, rather than any democratic consensus or accountability, to regulate society.
For a short time the Brotherhood were allied with Nasser, but fell out. After they co-organised an attempt on Nasser’s life the Brotherhood was crushed, its leaders executed, including Sayyid Qutb, today their most influential ideologue.
Qutb said we are living in the midst of “jahiliya” (a period of unknowing). It is the duty of the true believer to destroy that “jahiliya”, interpreted as everything to do with the West. Qutb’s beliefs are the inspirational point of departure for many of the jihadi militarist groups today.

In Egypt today the Brotherhood present themselves as moderate, but the “moderateness” is relative. For instance, they declared the Muslim academic Nasr Abu Zaid an apostate after he put forward the theory that the Qur’an has been interpreted differently in different historical contexts. They tried to force his wife to divorce him through the courts. The couple eventually fled to Scandinavia.

MAB spokespeople have recently been cagey about the group’s political affiliations. The British media establishment seems to go along with the deception. When Times journalist Anthony Browne debated Altikriti on Newsnight, he was asked by the producers not to bring up MAB’s links to the Brotherhood. When Browne raised those links regardless, the presenter shut him up.

Some on the left point to the “progressive” policies of Respect and say MAB may be “moderating” its line to keep in step.

Even if the entire MAB network were to align themselves with Respect’s policies, that would be utterly beside the point. The MAB are associates — and some MAB individuals are long-time associates — of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideologies and causes.

The Brotherhood in Egypt have been willing to form electoral alliances with an organisation (in fact Islamist) called the Socialist Labour Party. They are flexible, sophisticated, soft-soap fundamentalists. They are still fundamentalists.
The evidence?

- In Inspire an article on “Islam and Human Rights” stated that apostasy from Islam is either “a religious offence punishable by death” or, at least, “an act of mutiny or treason, that is punishable” as such.
- MAB was set up in 1997 by Kemal el-Hebawy, who was at the time the London-based spokesman in Europe for the Muslim Brotherhood.
- One Executive member is Azzam Al-Tamimi, a Hebron-born academic who has called himself a “sympathiser and supporter” of Hamas. Many of his articles seek to rationalise the religious inspiration and righteousness of the suicide bomber (though they are careful to eschew active support). He advocates the “dismantling of Zionism” — clearly meaning the Israeli national entity. (See articles quoted on http//:memri.org)
- Tamimi is not just a sectarian Palestinian nationalist. He is a religious ideologue — he teaches theories associated with Islam at Markfield Institute of Higher Education, an institution established by the Islamic Foundation. He heads up the Institute of Islamic Political Thought. On that group’s board of advisers is Dr Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
- Qaradawi is the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. MAB invited him to Britain in July this year to head up the “pro-hijab” conference organised by MAB and hosted by the Greater London Authority. Qaradawi was embraced by Ken Livingstone as a “moderate” but has seriously debated the necessity of putting homosexuals to death. (These views can be read on islamonline.net)
- MAB’s website still has links to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Jamaat e-Islami, the main Islamist movement in Pakistan. It still recommends Qutb as a guide to Islamic doctrine.
- At the Stop the War Coalition conference in January 2003, the AWL moved a motion to dissociate from MAB. A MAB speaker, replying, said that MAB was proud to be associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Anas Altikriti replying in The Times (17 August 2004) to allegations that MAB is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood replied with these weasling words: “MAB is an independent British organisation. Links with others extend simply to shared ideas, values and expertise, in which the Brotherhood is indeed rich, with around eight decades of experience.”

Some on the left argue that because MAB represents only a tiny handful of British Muslims and because British Muslims are a small minority, the idea of Britain becoming an Islamic state is ludicrous. Therefore British Islamists must drop this part of their agenda. Again that misses the point.

The notion of an ideal Muslim society and state is a pivotal part of an integrated political-religious ideology. Islamists are interested in what constitutes the ideal Muslim state because it defines most clearly what they consider to be true Islamic culture, true Islamic philosophy and true Islamic custom.

MAB condemned the 11 September atrocity and has disassociated itself from the activities of more radical Islamist groups? MAB stewards on the anti-war demonstrations attempted to restrain groups such al-Muhajiroun and Hizb-ut-Tahrir? Its politics are not as extremely reactionary as those of such groups? All true, but it proves that the MAB are canny, not that they are democrats.

An analogy: groups such as the French Front National and the Austrian Freedom Party are not fascist in quite the same sense that the German Nazis were; there can be little doubt, however, that they are part of the same broad milieu. The MAB is at the moderate, reformist end of the Islamist spectrum, but it is part of that spectrum nonetheless.

MAB’s presentation of its beliefs has acquired more “moderate” gloss in the last two years. But scratch the surface, and we find they still want to fight for their absolutes.

For instance, political Islamists generally believe the wearing of hijab is an absolute duty for Muslim women. Other Muslim opinion on this is as varied as can be. But political Islamists are sure.
MAB are clear that for them, wearing the hijab is an important religious duty. They call their initiative “Pro-Hijab”, not “Right to choose”.

Yet they front it up with talk of women’s choice and opposition to bans. They want to broaden their appeal. They have duped the left. Why? Because the left wants to be duped.

By allying with the MAB — to the extent of allowing one of the organisation’s leaders to head a supposedly left-wing electoral list — the SWP is effectively saying that it is more interested in conservative and Islamist Muslims than left-wing and secular Muslims or ex-Muslims.

Criticising the MAB is not Islamophobic or anti-Muslim; many if not most Muslims are strongly opposed to Islamism, and Muslim workers, women and left-wingers are of course the first victims of the Islamists in power. It is no coincidence that socialist, feminist and labour movement groups in Muslim countries are among the most virulent opponents of Islamism, since they are fighting against it for their lives.

Is it not in fact Islamophobic to assume that all Muslims support the politics of Islamism?

As well as alienating secular and left-wing Muslims from the anti-war movement and left, the STWC/SWP alliance with the MAB also serves to alienate Jewish people, feminists and many on the left. The MAB has money, and that means that it can mobilise substantial numbers of people; but even supposing that a clear anti-fundamentalist stance alienated more people than it attracted, numbers are not everything.

Before, during and since the end of the war, the AWL has argued consistently for a movement in solidarity with the peoples — and in the first instance, the working class — of Iraq, which raises democratic, secular and internationalist slogans against US-UK imperialism, the remnants of the Ba’thist regime and insurgent Islamic fundamentalism. It should be obvious that alliance with the MAB is incompatible with this goal.

To taint the British left with MAB’s reactionary politics is to cripple and marginalise it, and to betray socialists and democrats in the mainly-Muslim communities.

For a detailed discussion of the politics of Islamic fundamentalism, see http://archive.workersliberty.org/
wlmags/wl102/political%20islam.htm
.