Social and Political Understanding of the Islamic World: Muslim Brotherhood

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In the past several years, the Muslim Brotherhood has gained international notoriety for its political activity in Egypt, the country where it was founded in the late 1920s and where it has since been classified as a terrorist organization. In The West, the dominant view of the Brotherhood in the wake of Egypt’s political upheaval is one of an extremist, fundamentalist group, more concerned with ideology than governance. While many scholars and pundits have raised legitimate concerns about the Brotherhood’s ability to usher Egypt into a new age of democracy and government accountability, the fact remains that the depiction of Muslim Brothers as militant ideologues is one that is grossly oversimplified and fails to take into account the Brotherhood’s development over time and the contextual details that have shaped its ideology. This reductionist view of the Brotherhood is part of a larger issue: a fundamental misunderstanding not only of political Islam, but of the diversity of religious and political ideologies of Muslims worldwide.
Political Islam, a now-favorite topic among scholars and pseudo-intellectuals alike, is a concept that is difficult to understand without at least a rudimentary understanding both of Islam and of the social and political history of the Islamic world. For instance, the Brotherhood is widely considered one of the earliest Islamic fundamentalist movements, and its emergence was largely reactionary to the immense political change witnessed in the wake of WWI, a phenomenon discussed more fully later in this paper. To speak very generally, however, proponents of political Islam see politics as an extension of the faith. Even among Islamists (a controversial neologism in itself) there is a vast array of b...

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