The man who influenced my life
Dr. Hassan Hathout
We praise Allah. We bear witness that there is no God but Him, and we bear witness that Mohammed is His messenger and the Prophet. We ask Allah to shed His Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, upon his family, his companions, and his followers to the day of judgment.
Bismillah ar Rahman ar Raheem. We all read books, book reading is beneficial. I am a book and I am yearning to be read before I die. Because we accumulate experiences during our life. It would be a pity if we pile up our treasures, keep them hidden and just go without anybody taking any notice.
This morning, I am proposing, inshallah, to let you wade through a few pages of my youth. I’m still young but I mean the earlier youth. I would like you to know a person to whom I owe being what I am. I mean the good side, the bad side I am responsible for.
He was one of my teachers, also a book to be read. I hope we can glance through his life. It was several decades ago, before the second world war. My motherland of Egypt was actively pursuing the Western Model, at the expense of Islamic and Historical Culture.
It is alright to quote from other cultures and other experiences, provided you take the best. But the climate in Egypt in those days, was such that notable people and leaders of education would say that we have to copy the European Civilization, we have to copy the Good in it and we have to copy the Bad in it.
Such was the moral climate. There was quite a degree of compromise of moralities, and with a British Occupation Army in Egypt, we lead the life of the defeated, who naturally wants to imitate the conqueror. The occupied people lost confidence in themselves, and therefore want to be like the occupier.
People were so fascinated by the Western Civilization, that it really washed away their Heritage. Unfortunately those who were so fascinated were the leaders of the nation, in culture, in journalism, in education, in the Universities, in writing and in the media, (there was no TV at the time).
My teacher was a student at that time. His name was Hassan Al Banana. Some of you might have heard the name, others not. I believe he is a unique type of person. Centuries might roll over before a similar personality is produced. I think that the person who most influenced my life was that teacher.
At the time, he looked around and was really sad for the situation in Egypt. One of the great Pashas of the time,(‘Pasha’ is a title like ‘Sir’ or ‘Lord’) would say, "The donkey is better than the human being, because the donkey does not feel jealousy about his wife." He thought that humans should be like that and that those who felt jealousy were just backward people.
At that time, only a few youth said their prayers. Religion was confined to the elderly circle. Those young people hid their prayers.
The very few University Students who kept their prayers, would hide in the University, go to some hidden isolated place, in order to say their prayers, because they did not feel confident enough to be seen praying.
To be religious was almost an accusation of being backward, pedantic, not ‘with-it’, ignorant. This was the moral climate in Egypt at the time. He was concerned, and when he finished college, he decided to give his life to the cause of Islam.
Having finished college, he had the opportunity to be sent to Europe for Higher Education, but he preferred to decline that offer, and he was appointed as an elementary school teacher in a town called Ismailia. That is a place near Suez in the North of Egypt and it was the seat of the Suez Canal Company of old fame. The Suez Canal Company was a State within a State. It was mainly British, French, Americans and other Europeans. It was the company that really had the say in Egyptian affairs, as well as drawing on Egyptian wealth for the benefit of its’ foreign investors.
When he arrived in Ismailia at the age of 22, (this is a particular message for anyone of you at the age of 22-that we call ‘children’)he went by train and he prayed to Allah to enable him to make a difference in that city.
The first thing he saw was a city living completely in the shade of the Suez Canal Company. Most of the people were cheap labor at that company, they were very poor. It was a relation almost of slavery. They looked at the Europeans and the English and the French, like they were the natural masters, and that Muslims were the natural slaves or servants. No doubt, they had no dignity and no pride.
So he started studying the religious map of the town, by going to the mosques. What did he find in the Mosques? He found the Muslims and their leaders, the Sheiks and Scholars, fighting over such issues as "Where is the father of the Prophet? Is he in Hell or in Heaven?"
Some people would say he is in Hell, because he didn’t become a Muslim. Others said that he is the father of the Prophet and he didn’t witness Islam, so why should he be in Hell?
All sorts of similar questions were put as if they were the focus of Islam, and the priorities of Islam. The people were divided over them to the extent of physical fighting between groups of people and groups of scholars.
How could he serve Islam amongst all those turbans and their followers, when the religious element in the town was consumed by these kinds of questions.
When there is a will, there is a way. So he decided that since he could not do anything on the religious arena, that he would try the others who were not religious people. Those who just go to work and back, to sit with their friends at the café, several of which were scattered over the town, and sip their tea and play their dominoes and their backgammon "tawla" and take their water pipes, and religion was not one of their concerns really.
He thought, "If the mosques are not open to me, why not try the streets?" He chose one of those big cafes and he went to it. One day he said, "My brothers, my brothers listen to me, listen to me, just a few moments." He talked to them for a matter of 4-5 minutes. It was a very charming and engaging talk. His personality was very pleasant, and he had the charisma. He was a very loving person, and a loving person is usually a loved person as well.
It became a habit and the people became addicted to it, so that every day, the people would congregate in that café. The crowd grew day by day, until it was a really large crowd. By word of mouth people talked about that Effendi (that means a person who wears a suit rather than the Ghalabia) who is that Effendi who comes and talks religion at that Café.
The Café owner became very pleased, because it meant increased business, people come and order tea and coffee, and pay for it. So there was a time when the Café owner prepared a podium for him ,a large box for him to stand on. The people would eagerly wait for him to come and make his short speech.
One day while he was speaking he took the holder that people use to hold the hot coal to light the water pipe, and he threw a hot coal at the crowd, so they were frightened and dispersed.
He lectured them, "You are afraid of this little bit of coal fire, how about Hell, in the Hereafter?" Then he started a long lecture that took several hours. They were fascinated all the time, and they cried, because he could somehow transfer their imagination from this world to the Hereafter. In that world they would either be in Eternal Heaven or Eternal Hell. Then he reminded them what it takes to be a Muslim. He reminded them of the Colonization, expressed by the Suez Canal Company in Ismailia. He reminded them of the stand of the Muslims about Colonialism, about the moral climate in the country, about the political climate in the country, about the occupation army in a Muslim land and left them crying after a lecture of about two hours.
When he left, he heard footsteps behind him. When he stopped, he found six people following him. They told him, "We are ignorant, we are not educated, we work in the Suez Canal Company, but somehow, you aroused something in us that will never sleep again. Because we are ignorant, we entrust you with being responsible for us. It is a trust that we make Allah witness, that our responsibility is on your shoulders. You just take us, we are your raw material. You teach us, and order us what to do for Islam and we are willing to obey."
He took them to his humble flat, where they spoke together. He said, "We are brothers in God, we are brothers in Islam, so how about calling ourselves ‘The Muslim Brothers’?" This was the origination of the term that started a movement, which became a world-wide movement later on.
"Let me to start with, teach you religion, you and those who would like to be taught."
Someone mentioned that there was a small Mosque which was in ruins, and nobody used it. So, why not reconstruct that Mosque and restore it to be used for our meetings, since the formal mosques have no place for people like us, who are not interested to debate whether the prophet’s father was in Hell or Heaven.
They volunteered to reconstructed the mosque. They observed that one of them used to come late to the class.
When inquiring, they found that all he had was a bicycle, which he used to travel for his work at the Suez Canal Company, and he had sold it in order to give all the money from it to repair that Mosque. When it was morning, he left on foot, hours before dawn, and in the evening it took him so long to return that he was late for the classes. This is an example of giving. Imagine you giving your car for an Islamic cause, when you can not buy another. The brothers bought him another bicycle.
Day after day, the crowd again increased. Rumors took the news to the Mosques and their populations, so more and more people found sense in what that young man was teaching them. Perhaps it was their first taste of Islam as it ought to be.
As more and more people came, they took people from the other Mosques. It was so noticeable, that the hierarchy in the Mosques knew about it. They felt offended.
One day, they decided to go to confront that young man, who after all was not a religious leader. When they came they found that the Mosque was over full with people. He could see burning eyes within the congregation.
He had started his talk, when suddenly a hand was raised, and someone asked, "Mr. Can you tell me where the Prophets’ father is? Can you tell me who was Abraham’s father? Can you tell me what is the ruling about saying ‘asalatul was salaam alaik’ after the Adhan?"
It was his opportunity to give them a flowing, lengthy address about what Islam, really is, and about the responsibility they bear before Allah for the lowly stand of Islam and the Muslims in the country at the time, for the presence of an occupation army in the country of Muslims.
He pointed out how this conflicts with Allah’s saying,
wal lillaheel ighizzatu wa lirasulihi wa lilmuminina
"Dignity is for Allah and His Apostle and for the Faithful."
He told them, "If you are ruled by the British, it conflicts, and you are not the faithful, or else you would have guarded your pride and guarded your dignity."
Then he started looking with them in the Qur'an. He quoted all the verses that ordered prayers, and fasting, and alms giving and the Pilgrimage.
He could teach them that the Qur'an contains more than that. And he read them verses that said,
itha_ laqitumul latheena kafaru zahfan fala tuwalluhumul adbar(a).
"O Faithful, if you confront the non-believers in battle, don’t turn your backs and flee, or else your lot will be the wrath and anger of Allah."
He would point out some verses like,
Innamaa za'ul latheena yuhareebuna Allaha wa rasulaha wa yas'auna
fil ardi fasadan ay yuqattala auw yusallabu auw tuqatta'a aideehim
waarjuluhum min khilafin auw yunfauw minalard(i),
"Those who disobey and fight God and his Apostle, and spread mischief in the land should have their punishment in the form of being killed, crucified, mutilated, or exiled."
He pointed out; the verses regulating family law, whom to marry, and whom not to marry, verses concerning the relations between man and wife, and with their children, Also verses concerning inheritance laws, verses concerning commercial law, war ethics, the penal code. Verses about government, the rulers and the ruled, and the shura, which is the prototype of democracy with some differences.
He told them, if you think that the Qur'an is there for you just to read, then you are reducing Islam to what it is not. The Qur'an is the book to implement, and no Muslim should be in a position to say, I take this but I don’t take that. "I can do the prayer, but not the rest of the Qur'anic commandments."
He gave them such a lecture that they were stunned, and electrified and changed. Some change came about in the town of Ismailia.
Who was the first to discover the change? It was the Suez Canal Company, who noted a change of behavior of the laborers. Whereas they were used to the laborers being like servants, with bowed heads, with no dignity, and no pride. The laborers continued to perform their work very admirably and very efficiently, but somehow their faces were showed confidence, and with dignity.
The change was so noticeable that they investigated and found that the only thing that happened to those people was the exposure to that man in that Mosque.
So they tried to buy him, by offering money. But it didn’t work. He didn’t take it. Since their spies told them that his teachings included that the wealth of a country should be to its’ nation, that it is against Islam to be occupied by a foreign army, and about the role of freedom and dignity in Islam, the totality of Islam, not just reducing it to the chapter on worship, then they found the potential danger in the man. Thus it was the Suez Canal Company who were the first to discover him.
Other changes occurred in the town. At that time prostitution was legal. There was a prostitution quarter, where they lived, by government permission, under government control. One of the changes that happened in the town was that all that quarter was purchased by people’s money, was knocked down, and was replaced by a complex buildings of the Islamic Movement, which includes the Mosque, the School, the factory for the women, the former prostitutes, and a school for the women.
In a very short time, every single woman of those prostitutes was a good Muslim, found a husband and got married. This was really quite a change.
All this happening under the nose of the Suez Canal Company, so that no wonder that the man was transferred from Ismailia and was sent to be a teacher in an elementary school in Qina in south Egypt, near Aswan. They though that was Exile.
His followers were angry at losing him and at the move undertaken by the company. They suggested that they find some big people to talk to the Minister of Education at the time. But, he said, "No!"
He went to Qina, and there very soon, Islamic meetings were held for teaching, and amongst the audience for those meetings were the Christian Priests. Immediately friendship was felt between the citizens of the one town. In no time, 50 New branches were opened in Qina.
So they found that they were defeating their purpose.
So they had to transfer him to Cairo, hoping that in the crowd of Cairo and the business of life, the man would be just lost. But the story repeated itself, and in Cairo, of course he had access to the universities.
The Universities which were almost Atheist at the time invited him on the occasion of commemorating the Hijra. The students wanted to bring him as a speaker. But the Professors asked, "Who is that man, why should he come and talk to us? Of course we refuse to bring Hassan Al Banana, he is an imposter, he is not educated, he doesn’t know religion"
His students played a little trick, instead of proposing the name of ‘Hassan Al Banana’ they proposed the name of ‘Hassan Ahmad’ which was also his name. That led to the first encounter with the university. In the largest hall of the university with all the staff and all the students, thousands of them, he spoke about the Hijra.
He spoke for 5 hours and all the time everyone feared that he might stop. Not like myself, or other speakers whom you are hoping that they will finish. No, the pervasive feeling was, we want more and we want more. So much so that the Senior Professor of Shariah at the university at the time stood up to comment, saying "My children, and you are all my children, my Master Hassan Al Banana."
That started changes in the university and that brought to light Muslims who tried to be Muslims in the university, and that started the Islamization of the university.
These are the precious years of my life, because not only were we taught Islam and what Islam is about, but the man helped produce a unique teaching.
He used to teach us, "We will fight people with love." We used to read the supplication to remember our friends. To these days, every morning I read Sura Ya Sin and then the supplication. I would address Allah, Praised and Exalted be He, maybe apologizing, maybe seeking forgiveness, but part of it is to remember my brothers and sisters and ask Allah for them. Until this very day. I would remember their faces and name them by name. "Please Allah, I ask you to be kind and gracious and offer your help to (names) "
Be sure my brothers and sisters, that many of you, without suspecting it are on my prayer list every morning. Because I believe that Love is the thing that would make the Muslims viable. Without Love, the Islamic Movement is just an adventure that will fade away. Without Love, no future. Love is the cement, Love is the power, the energy, the electricity, love is the oil. Without it, no way.
I would recommend it to you, because as you pray for your Brothers and Sisters, even not remembering their names, but recognizing their faces, I assure you would never back bite them, you would never stab them in the back while they are away, you would never harshly criticize them, unless you go and speak to them.
We lack this. This is a missing Vitamin in our life, and unless it is restored, we will remain the image of a community but not the Muslim community.
I don’t imagine that a leader was ever loved by his followers like the man was. On the other hand he had a loving nature, he never hated, he never was angry. He was committed to his cause.
When it was time for us to form the Boy Scouts, the man didn’t want a militia, so we just enrolled in the National Boy Scouts Movement, which was open and just Boy Scouts, like any school, any association. So when it was time to disband and prevent and cancel all those, we were just Boy Scouts. The followers of the National Boy Scouting Society. But when it was time for us to become boy scouts and therefore to wear short trousers, I remember one of his colleagues feeling very angry about the Muslims wearing short trousers.
So at the time, decades ago, a Conservative friend of his, a colleague of his, who was a very pious man came to him in anger. He said, "Hassan Effendi (Mr. Hassan)"
Hassan replied "Naam Sidi (Yes Sir)"
And the man said, "I hate you!"
And Hassan said, "By God, I love you."
But the Man said, "I hate you, in God."
He replied, "This makes me love you more."
That was the answer of the loving man. This was his attitude, all the time, during the several years I was with him. Never angered. Although there were plenty of reasons to get angry.
Imagine some one of his followers going to his home at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and waking him up. Even though his sleeping hours were very short, they would come to wake him up. Why? "I have seen a dream, and I had to come to see you." That was how people have used him, out of love of course. He never frowned, he never rebuked, he was always receptive and in a good mood.
The atmosphere of love, made me see things that I do not see now. I witnessed a buyer and a seller. The buyer wanted to buy a bottle of Eau de Cologne. The seller asked 14 Piasters, (about 14 cents), but the buyer offers 16. The man who is buying says, "this is the price I buy from the other shops, so I must pay this price." The shop owner says, "this is my merchandise, it is my right to put the price I want on it."
It is economy in reverse, the buyer wants to pay more and the seller wants to take less, just because they felt the brotherhood. The buyer took a very long way to go to that particular shop to buy from his brother. The seller wants to spare his brother an extra 2 Piasters.
This was the atmosphere that we lived in and it is gone, it hasn’t come back yet. It is from Allah, so ask Him to give it to you, to live in that love.
It was not love only for Muslims. It was love international. Love per se. A loving heart doesn’t hate. It doesn’t hate Muslims, doesn’t hate non-Muslims, doesn’t hate people, it doesn’t hate animals, doesn’t hate things.
I think the prescription is to take that bucket you call your heart and empty it, and fill it with Allah and then it will know only love.
In those days, one of our interests and our mission, was to visit the Christian Society in Egypt. We would tell them that Islam is not against Christianity.
No wonder in all the meetings of the association, there were Christians, and no wonder that the Priests came and attended. No wonder that there was love and harmony between the two elements of Egypt, the Muslims and the Christians.
The days of Islamic revivalism in contradistinction to the Christian revivalism, which sounds like a tug of war. This misses the essence and spirit, the purity and reality of Islam.
That was how we lived at the time.
I remember when Hassan Al Banana chose to run for elections for the Egyptian Parliament. One of his delegates in one of the election centers was a Christian. And the Christians loved him and loved us. We were very exemplary in our universities and so on.
One of the things that happened was, a wide spread of the idea, a wide spread Islamization of the universities and of the Country, which was expressed in social activities.
In small villages which were so dark at night because they had no electricity, not even gas lights, the Brothers would volunteer to have gas lamps on the village streets in order to light up.
Hundreds of dispensaries and clinics with volunteer doctors, were operating almost at no cost, in order to help the poor, who did not have the fees for regular doctors.
There were factories and projects where labor and management were both owners. So that when a company like this started, the tension between Capital and Labor never existed, because part of the salary of the laborers was to buy them shares in the company. So although they were laborers, they were also owners, and what was good for the company was good for them. This was widespread.
It happened in Upper Egypt in a very remote corner of the country at the time. Of course education was not as widespread as it is now. There was a solitary school in a town, in Upper Egypt, it wasn’t a government school, and the government had no schools in the district. It was a school owned by a Christian Society.
The headmaster of that school was the Imam of the Mosque. They needed him to teach Arabic since there was a scarcity of teachers. Most of the teachers were not qualified at the time in elementary education.
It so happened that that Imam of the Mosque, the Headmaster of the School, joined the Movement of the Muslim Brothers. This somehow hurt some of the people in the Christian society. We felt very friendly to the Christians, but in that particular instance, the people ( the owners of the school) were not pleased. They remained silent until it was one month before the start of the school year, and they sacked the man. They sent him a letter, "Thank you very much, we don’t need your services anymore."
They waited that long so that the man would not have tried to seek employment in another school, by that time all the schools would have filled their positions. The man was really very poor.
This was relayed to Hassan Al Banana. Very casually he said, "That is fine, then we will make a school, and he will be the headmaster of it." Just like that. There was one month to go to school opening.
One of the Brothers donated his home, rent free for one year. A finger pointed to four new university graduates, "You, and you, and you and you, don’t seek a job, you will go to that town to work as teachers."
Someone in Damieta on the Mediterranean, was planning to open a school, (but it was not after a month but after a year.) So all the desks and chairs and equipment, he sent on the Nile by boat to that town.
Mr. Al Banna’s instructions to the four teachers was to go to the town and instruct the brothers to give out leaflets announcing the arrival of four teachers who were all university graduates. That was a big plus.
At the time there was a crowd at the station, meeting them, there was a demonstration and cheers in the streets. When it was day, they worked out the curriculum. When it was after noon, they visited all the surrounding villages in order to introduce themselves to the people and to talk about the school, so that the majority of the pupils, were transferred by their parents from the old school to the new school. On the day of opening the school, all four years opened at once.
This is love and this is commitment because when I think of asking our parents, what the Mormons ask of their people, "When you graduate from the university, you give yourself to us for one year." The Mormons do that. The Muslims do not. It is high time to reflect on what it takes to be committed and to be loving.
Also when it was time to tell the occupation army to go, and they wouldn’t listen, but had to be harassed, they had to lose their night’s sleep. They had to be fought and this was done.
The first time ever Egyptians heard about something called Palestine was through us. Otherwise people were not sure whether the Capital of Sham (Syria) was Jerusalem, or Baghdad and so on.
Certainly it was the question of Palestine that almost sealed the fate of the Movement because at the time (1948 when Palestine was partitioned by the UN) when the legitimate owners refused the partition, at that time, the Egyptians knew nothing about Palestine. As a matter of fact, when the Prime Minister of Egypt was approached, and asked to do something. His answer was, "I am the Prime Minister of Egypt, not the Prime Minister of Palestine."
Through the national Movement Palestine became a cause, and Egyptians realized that Israel was not their just for the poor Jews, but it was as a stab in the heart of the Muslim heartland, to keep us subdued, and as an advanced post for Colonialism.
Many volunteers, including myself, volunteered in Palestine in 1948. Not hateful at all, but to serve the cause of Justice, for wherever Justice is compromised, Muslims should be concerned, whether in Palestine, Kashmir, Eastern Europe, or South Africa.
Wherever there is the question of just and unjust, Muslims should have a stand. Because the mission of Islam is a global, universal mission
Wa ma arsalnaka illa rahmatan lil'alamin
"and we have sent you for none else but Mercy to the worlds."
Pakistan and Indonesia, what are they, we Egyptians never heard of them, but our Headquarters was the hub of the workers for Indonesian independence and for the creation of Pakistan.
One of the things I regret. I always used to feel that if things go bad in Egypt, I would go to Pakistan. Only two states have been carved out on religious grounds, they are Pakistan and Israel. As a student I was with the demonstrators in the streets of Cairo shouting "Pakistan Zinzabad!"
Islam is not to blame but we are to blame for harboring the seeds of divisiveness because we have Islam on our tongue but not in our heart. You still see the divisiveness, whether in Islamic Centers, Islamic Communities and Muslim Countries. What happened to Israel is well known and what happened in Pakistan is well known. The way we behaved in Palestine sealed our fate, because it was found that there was for once some electricity in dawah, some aqida which when it touches the Egyptian people, they become very different people.
I remember the Egyptian Army trying to take a hill, trying several times with artillery and airplanes, and with a total assault. Failing three times, and then 40 of the Muslim Brothers would go and occupy it. This was reported in the press. This frightened people, it frightened the King, the Political Parties, and of course it frightened Zionism and Colonialism.
So one day the Ambassadors of America, Britain and France came to the King to demand that the Muslim Brothers "Ikhwan" should be disbanded. It was disbanded and Hassan Al Banana was later assassinated, and no funeral was allowed, and the two people who walked after him to be buried were his father and Makram Ebeid, a Christian Egyptian Politician at the time.
The man went to his Lord, and he is with his Lord now, but the various elements that he formed and the people that he raised still remain. When they die, it seems that they can somehow convey the message to people after them. Now I am confident that my daughter and my only child knows what it was about and knows what Islam is about.
Islam is something which is endangered, even in the Muslim countries. Every Muslim Ruler considers Islam the Threat number 1, not Zionism, not Israel, not of course, the United States of America, or the Colonialism.
Long after Hassan Al Banana, when Egypt had been through the Revolution and the new Regime, but Islam was always considered as an enemy. We were persecuted, we were in jail, including my brother and myself. We had to flee home, at last coming to the United States of America.
Who knows, maybe the infertile soil that would not accept the seed of Islam in the East, might be replaced by a more fertile soil that would accept Islam in the West.
East and West are for Allah, Praised and Exalted be He, and it maybe that one of the unintended benefits of the dictatorships there is that people came to the United States for a change, not to make more money, but to find a place where they are free more, to speak about Islam and to preach Islam. This is the beginning of the Islamic Movement in the United States and in the West, and you are part of this.
Of course if you are in a train, you wouldn’t notice that it moves, if you stand in the street, you wouldn’t notice that the earth is moving, if you were a droplet in a cloud, you wouldn’t notice that the cloud was moving, because you are part of it.
But there is an Islamic Birth in the United States. If this little embryo is given the care it is due, it will grow into a fetus, a newly born and to a mature person.
Islam knows no boundaries, it is the enemy of no one. America needs Islam. If you look objectively you will see that this current civilization harbors in its’ body the seeds of its own destruction, physically and morally-AIDS and exploitation and the Deficit.
You have the medicine, you are needed, you are wanted. They need the medicine, because nothing will save it except the teachings of Islam and Islamic values.
Can you catalyze the liaison between the sick the needy and the medicine? You are entrusted with that. Whether you like it or not, and whether you believe it or not.
You will be asked by Allah, Praised and Exalted be He, "You were in America, you had Islam, you had Freedom, you had a roof over your head and you had a full stomach, and you had your children in schools. What did you do for Islam?"
The answer is very crucial, the answer is very reflective on your dwelling in the hereafter. You are yet to give the answer, I hope you pass the test.