Book reviewed by Dr. Daud Abdullah*
for Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations.
The red minaret belongs to a small mosque south of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. It is so-called because it was built with red stones. There are many stories surrounding it.
One states that when Prophet Jesus returns, he will descend from heaven on this minaret. A second notes that it was here that a deaf Palestinian stood to fight off the British when they occupied Jerusalem in 1918. He was eventually killed despite his brave resistance.
This particular story may have inspired Ibrahim Ghusheh, the former spokesman of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). He has dedicated his entire life to the Palestinian cause and distinguished himself with similar bravery and tenaciousness. For Ghusheh the red minaret holds special meanings and memories, for he was born in Jerusalem in 1936; his family home faced the mosque with the red minaret. Hence he has called his enthralling memoir The Red Minaret.
The book charts his upbringing in Jerusalem on the eve of the Palestinian Catastrophe (al-Nakbah) of 1948; his studies in Egypt during the turbulent second half of the 1950s; his stay in Kuwait; and finally his time as an engineer in Jordan where he became one of the foremost practitioners in his field. It ends with his brief period of exile to Qatar in 1999.
Without exerting much effort, the reader cannot fail to be struck by the author’s exhaustive citation of dates and persons. This applies not only to his involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine in the 1950s and later with Hamas after its founding in 1987; it relates also to his childhood memories of Jerusalem.
Not much has been written in English about the Muslim Brotherhood generally, or its development in Palestine in particular. Herein lies one of the salient attributes of Ghusheh’s book. It fills that critical void, importantly not by an academic who researched the topic but by someone at the heart of the movement’s activities for over five decades.
During the pre-1948 period the Brotherhood in Palestine was essentially a religious, athletic and social movement. Looking back at that formative period, Ghusheh says, “The most important value that I remember characterized the Muslim Brotherhood is that of brotherhood. It was entrenched in those who used to come to us from Egypt.” (p.41). The late Said Ramadan founded the branch in the Shaykh Jarah district in 1946 on the instruction of Imam Hasan Al-Banna.
Another highlight of this period was the Popular Islamic Conference held in Jerusalem in 1953 attended by both Sayyid Qutb and Said Ramadan, among others from Egypt. At a lecture delivered in Jerusalem, Qutb told the audience that they were not asking the Arab armies to liberate Palestine; all they wanted was to allow the freedom fighters to carry light weapons because they were the people who would liberate Palestine. (p.42)
That the Muslim Brotherhood had a special interest in Palestine was further demonstrated by the visit to Jerusalem of the movement’s Supreme Guide, Sheikh Hassan Al Hudaybi, in 1954.
By then Palestine had truly become a global cause. The Popular Islamic Conference had prepared the ground for scholars from across the Muslim world to become involved. In 1954, Nawwab Safawi, the Iranian leader of the Fedayan-e-Islam organization, visited Jerusalem. Ghusheh opines about this particular visit, “The relationship between the two Islamic sects, the Sunnis and Shi’ites, was not always as tense as it is today.”
The Red Minaret offers a revealing insight into how certain pivotal events in Egypt with the Brotherhood impacted on their cadres in Palestine and Jordan. One such was the Manshiyyah incident of late 1954 when it was alleged that the Brotherhood carried out an assassination attempt on the life of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Many members of the Brotherhood were arrested and some were executed in Egypt. In Jordan, meanwhile, a hostile campaign was launched purporting that the Brotherhood was a terrorist organization.
In October 1955, Ghusheh travelled to Egypt to pursue an engineering degree at Cairo University. The climate, he says, was that of a “classic police state.”(p.53). He gives a vivid account of Palestinian student activities in Cairo in the mid-fifties. They functioned in strict secrecy, never using Islamic greetings like Asalamu Alaykum, or keeping beards; they were always clean shaven.
The League of Palestinian Students was then dominated by three political trends: the Communists, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Ba’athists. It was during this period that the author came into contact with Yasser Arafat and other future Palestinian leaders. Contrary to many reports, Ghusheh asserts that Arafat was not a member of the Brotherhood but was “close”. On the other hand, he affirms that Salah Khalaf