The Muslim Brotherhood, Part II – Haj Amin al-Husseini
by PETER FARMER
August 27, 2012
Part I - A Brief History of the Muslim Brotherhood (Can be found by clicking here)
The identity of today's Muslim Brotherhood, in many ways, parallels the lives of just three influential men, who founded and shaped the Brotherhood as it grew into the largest and most-influential Pan-Islamic movement in the world today. The three men were Hasan al-Banna, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, and Sayyid Qutb. In the previous installment of this series, we examined the life of the founder of the movement, Hasan al-Banna. In this, the second installment, we turn our attention to a second key figure - Haj Mohammed Amin al-Husseini.
Mohammed Amin al-Husseini was born in 1895 in Jerusalem in what was then British Mandatory Palestine into an influential, politically-powerful clan. Young al-Husseini was indoctrinated by his father and other clan members, who hated the British and the Jews. He attended a Koranic primary school and then a Turkish-funded secondary school, where he learned the language of that nation. He matriculated briefly in 1912 at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, where he learned Islamic (sharia) law. In 1913, he made the pilgrimage to Mecca required of all Muslims, and thereafter appended the prefix "Haj" to his name.
With the start of World War One in 1914, al-Husseini joined the Turkish army and became an artillery officer. He was on disability leave in Jerusalem in 1916 when British forces captured the city. During the period 1916-1918, al-Husseini participated in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Immediately after the war, al-Husseini's views remained those of an Arab nationalist, but his political and ideological views shifted towards overt anti-Semitism and a greater Muslim consciousness. Other Palestinian Muslims began to look to him for leadership. Al-Husseini then participated in efforts to destabilize the British mandatory government; he also became a hardline opponent of Jewish immigration into Palestine. In 1920, during the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, violent rioting between Jerusalem's Jews and Arabs broke out; al-Husseini was charged with incitement for his role in the uprising and received a ten-year prison sentence from a military court. He fled to Trans-Jordan before being apprehended.
In 1921, his brother Kamel, the mufti of Jerusalem, died - and fate intervened on Amin's behalf; in a move designed to placate Palestinian Arabs, British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel pardoned al-Husseini, and appointed him the new Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and head of the Supreme Islamic Council. Hoping to neutralize growing discontent among the Arab population, Samuel appointed members of the rival Nashashibi clan to the council, in addition to those selected from the Husseini clan. For a time, this gambit worked, as infighting among the two clans prevented a united front. Al-Husseini, however, led an international Muslim effort to restore the site of the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques (Haram ash-Sharif), upon the Temple Mount - a site claimed as a holy place by both Jews and Muslims. Husseini's efforts rallied other Arab Muslims to his cause, and strengthened resistance to the influx of Jews into Palestine and Jerusalem.
Tensions between Jews and Muslims mounted over the next few years, and inevitably, finally burst into the open in August 1929. On August 17, a Jewish boy was stabbed to death while retrieving a football and a young Palestinian Arab was subsequently badly beaten by a group of Jews. From 23-29 August, civil unrest and violence broke out in the Old City of Jerusalem in a dispute over access to the "Wailing Wall" at the foot of the Temple Mount, as Muslims attacked Jewish families and businesses, and British police and Jewish defenders retaliated. Casualties and property damage were extensive; 133 Jews were killed and 339 injured, while 110 Arabs were killed and another 232 injured, mostly by British police. Some accused al-Husseini with inciting the riots, but he emerged from the episode unscathed and with his credibility as a leader much-enhanced among his own people.
During the 1930s, al-Husseini consolidated his leadership position and expanded the Pan-Islamic movement. He founded the World Islamic Congress and supervised the creation of a number of clandestine organizations, including the "Holy Struggle" youth movement (al-jihad al-muqaddas) and the paramilitary al-Futuwwah, and helped funnel arms and equipment to them. He traveled widely in the Middle East and interacted with his counterparts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Among his associates was the Syrian-born leader of the militant anti-Zionist "Black Hand" group (al-Kaff al-Aswad), Izz ad-Din al-Qassam.
In November, 1935, after killing a police officer, al-Qassam and three of his men were surrounded by British security forces and all were killed in a gun battle. On April 15, 1936, Arab gunmen attacked a truck convey, killing two Jews. The next day, in retaliation, Irgun (Jewish paramilitary) gunmen killed two Arab workers. Thus began the second Arab revolt of 1936-1939. Al-Husseini quickly formed and headed a coalition of Muslim leaders called the Arab High Command (AHC), which demanded a series of strikes, boycotts of British and Jewish businesses, and similar measures. Thousands of Jewish farms and orchards were burned or otherwise destroyed, and many rural Jews had to flee to safer areas. Under the threat of more-substantial British military intervention, and the arrival of a British Royal Commission of Inquiry, the AHC called an end to the general strikes in October 1936.
In the summer of 1937, British security forces attempted to arrest al-Husseini for his part in the revolt, but - tipped off by an informer - the mufti fled into the protection of a haram (religious sanctuary or mosque). After the assassination of a British official in September, al-Husseini was deposed from his post on the Supreme Islamic Council, and warrants issued for the arrest of a number of its members. Husseini fled to French-controlled Lebanon. Husseini became increasingly paranoid over the prospect of betrayal by friends and associates, and on his orders, a number of them were executed.
In 1941, by then living in Iraq, al-Husseini participated in the coup d'état against Prime Minister Nouri al-Said and pro-British regent Crown Prince Abdullah, and the abortive Anglo-Iranian War of 1941. After escaping to Persia, al-Husseini made his way to Italy and arrived in exile in Berlin in November, 1941 - where he spent the remainder of the Second World War as a guest of the Nazi Party.
In part III of this series, we will examine Haj Amin al-Husseini's wartime life in Nazi Germany and his post-war role in the Pan-Islamic movement.
Copyright 2012 Peter Farmer
Peter Farmer is a historian and commentator on national security, geopolitics and public policy issues. He has done original research on wartime resistance movements in WWII Europe, and has delivered seminars on such subjects as political violence and terrorism, the evolution of conflict, combat medicine, and related subjects. Mr. Farmer is also a scientist and a medic.