Memoirs with Hasan el-Benna: The Guide and Steadfast Preacher

The Ottoman-Turkish scholar, Ali Ulvi Kurucu, narrated his personal account of Hasan el-Benna after he met him during his studies in Egypt in the late 1920s, recounting his encounter with el-Benna during the Hajj pilgrimage.

H

asan el-Benna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was the mastermind behind the construction of the most influential social movement not only in Egypt but also in the Arab world throughout the 20th century. Although so much has been written about the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood in English, these studies often suffer from orientalist prejudice that downplays individual exchanges loaded with a strong tone of spiritual inspiration.

The Ottoman-Turkish scholar Ali Ulvi Kurucu narrated his personal account of Hasan el-Benna after he met him during his studies in Egypt in the late 1920s, recounting his encounter with el-Benna during the Hajj pilgrimage. In what follows below, we share a couple of excerpts from his memoires with him, displaying el-Benna’s personal and ideological traits:

Curious, Careful and Smart

“A bearded, turbaned man passed in front of us with four or five people around him. He looked like he was 35 or 40 years of age and attracted our attention. He was the fastest one and quite hearty. My friend said,

‘This man is the guide of Ikhwan-ul Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood).’

When I learned this, I stopped and stared at them with admiration while they were leaving us behind. Hasan el-Benna was a very sensitive, careful and smart man. He heard us, stopped and returned. After saluting us and shook our hands, he asked each of us our names, professions and the places we live.

‘So we are neighbors,’ he said and invited us to religious gatherings that were held on Tuesdays between the evening and night prayers. He had a warm smile on his face with a charming voice. The light from his eyes illuminated and warmed my soul.”

Last Meeting at Hajj

“In Benna’s last pilgrimage, in the second night of Eid-ul-Adha, it was announced that Benna would give a speech around the tents of the pilgrims. Loudspeakers were organized and everyone was invited since the talk would address critical issues every Muslim should know. After the evening prayer, Benna started to explain the essentials of the Islamic cause. He dwelled on how one should sacrifice and work for the sake of this cause, our shortcomings as a people and what we should do to rectify them.

“During his speech, one old man asked for a microphone. We later realized that he and Benna knew each other. [Taking the microphone, the old man said]:

‘May Allah bless him! I’ve known Benna from his early childhood. The lenses of his glasses are green. He sees everything in green, even black cliffs. He is very optimistic. The situation of the Muslim world is clear. It is dead. You are hoping something will come to life from an infertile ground. There is no rain. There is a drought.’

A mood of pessimism spread across the room. Hearts lost their excitement. Benna, with a familiar relaxing smile on his face, responded:

‘My fellows, do you know the man who just spoke? He is one of the notables of Jerusalem. There have been many wise men from his family. We heard about the fire there (in Jerusalem). We learned about it by reading newspapers. But this old man is coming from the heart of the fire. An ember burns where it falls. None of us experienced what he has seen. They witnessed the occupation in Palestine. They are facing an enemy that killed its own prophets over the course of history. The Jews threaten to destroy everything and keep this promise. There are even darker days coming on the horizon.’

What do we work for?

After some elaboration, Benna continued:

‘In the past, some people who lost their hope told the prophets and their followers: ‘Why are you working so hard to preach and advise God’s creatures who already deserved God’s rage and punishment? Why are you exhausting yourselves with putting effort into ungrateful and inattentive communities that deserve to perish?’ Those blessed people answered: ‘We are doing this to have an excuse to explain our immense efforts to God on the Day of Judgment, so that we can say, ‘Oh God, we worked, we fought and became exhausted, but whatever we tried nothing changed.’ We cannot stand idle and defend ourselves by saying, ‘What can we do?’ It is impossible to change things. As it is says in the Qur’an: Some of them may listen to your advice, turn to Allah and accept the truth.

Benna continued:

‘Allah inspired me to respond with these verses from the Qur’an.’

Following Benna’s words, the old man took the stage again and said:

‘My dear son, Hasan, whose courage has mesmerized me since his childhood, in the Qur’an it says that God is the one who gives the wisdom to whoever He wishes. Those who are blessed with the wisdom are given many things. My dear son, you have been blessed with that wisdom and you have extracted the feeling of desolation that had occupied my soul. I am with you now, please go on. I am listening as my fellows do…’