During the Ottoman rule, Sufism and the other Islamic sects were the political parties at the time. The empire’s system based on caliphate derived its political legitimacy in practice from Islam, which represented the official ideology of the empire.
Since the empire’s Islam was specifically Sunni Islam, all other Islamic sects were implicitly regarded as a threat to the authority! Therefore, they were dealt with in firmly permanent way, which made most of the rebellion movements during the Ottoman rule come out of these non-Sunni surroundings, not to mention that there were even rebellions within the Sunni Islamic movement itself. There was always an attempt to rebel by crowding out the Ottomans over monopolizing Islam, which has always been a course of conflict between them and the Persians, because it forms the ideology of power. It is the conflict that we now see it returning in different forms, starting with ideological competition through the idea of “exporting the revolution” presented by Iran’s Wilayat al-Faqih, and the Neo-Ottomanism presented by the Turkish Justice and Development Party. The two sides derive their strength from religion in an attempt to adjust it in order to serve their old/modern national projects. Perhaps their rivalry today to monopolize the Palestinian cause or the Arab Spring is one of the manifestations of this conflict.
However, the birth of capitalism and the spread of bourgeois and liberal ideas in the world at the time, given what accompanied them from a qualitative shift in economy, transiting from agricultural economy to industrial economy, began to appear under the influence of all this. New mainstreams and ideas emerged and first expressed themselves in their desire for reform, which is clearly noticed in the large number of movements, associations, and parties that were formed under that idea. A big part of their ideas and steps revolved around reforming the Ottoman Empire, or maybe separating from it later to start a new stage. Here where the first seeds, roots, or first ideas began that may have helped in the birth of the MB later.
Religious voices emerged, and their vision for change and reform were derived from religion itself. Just as the nationalists wanted to revive and restore “Nation’s personality” from history to legislate, consolidate and propagate the idea of Arab nationalism in pursuit of the change that they seek, to be separated from the Ottomans and form a single Arab state, the Islamic current wanted to do the same through what was called Salafism, which means a return to the historical origins of religion.
The religious families and scholars of Damascus had a role in generating ideas and inciting against the Ottomans, as well as the role they played in embracing modern ideas, where Al-Qasimi is considered a model for harmonizing Islam and Arabism.
The dispute over the Ottoman Caliphate, whether staying within the Ottoman Empire or separating from it, formed a new polarizing point within the circule of scholars in Damascus on the one hand, and the secular elites on the other one. Each of them had a position that was governed by their ideas and the class to which they belonged. In addition to ideas and the quest for change, there were other factors that played a prominent role, including feudal families, landowners and religious families whose interests were associated with the survival of the Ottoman Empire.
Under the pretext of fighting French colonialism, there was a rejection from the Christian side of the French colonizer, whose policy clearly fought against the Sunni component in Damascus, which was considered the carrier of the Arab nationalism project. The French policy brought minorities closer, and worked to clearly divide Syria into sectarian mini-states with the aim of breaking the broad Arab Islamic mainstream in Damascus and Syria in general. This divisional policy generated a counter movement that prompted Muslims to adhere to their Islam and Arabs to adhere to their Arabism, so the policies of the French implicitly incited against the religious dimension they had, especially as they saw that one of the components of their identity was threatened. In addition, religious and feudal families found themselves threatened economically with the French policies, which reinforced the religious dimension socially and politically, as these people began to move to defend their interests, identity and money. Hence, French policy contributed to planting the beginning of ideas that confuse secularism, minorities and colonialism.
These renaissance elites played a prominent role in rooting an Islamic/secular dialogue. They also entered into an implicit competition with the left, liberal and nationalist currents in an attempt to prove their existence. In addition, everyone was fighting on the front of rooting the ideas he advocated, and confronting the West with its colonial plans and fleets coming to the region.
From this conservative Salafism, Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Egyptian Brotherhood movement, drew his ideas that were implicitly influenced by, Mustafa al-Siba’i, the founder of the Syrian Brotherhood movement who studied in Egypt. However, Mustafa al-Siba’i, who is imbued with renaissance Salafist thought and the Levantine environment of multiple sects, nationalities and religions, was able to build the Syrian movement on the ground of renaissance Salafism, which enabled him later to easily combine socialism and Islam in his book “The Socialism of Islam”, to be a partner in the birth of the 1950 constitution in Syria, and to be the one who found the solution to the issue of the religion of the president of state in the constitution, when he presented a compromise between the extremist currents of both the Islamist and secular parties.
After the ideas of the Islamic University had been transferred from Egypt to Syria through students who studied in Egypt and other countries, associations, forums and youth centers for activities and meetings were established. Some of which had a clear Islamic feature while others were under the guise of youth activities with an Islamic background, such as Dar AlArqam in Aleppo in 1935, which was founded by Omar Baha Al-Amiri and Abdul Qader Al-Husseini. The Muslim Youth Association was founded in Damascus by Muhammad Al-Mubarak and Bashir Al-Awf. Moreover, the League Association in Homs was founded, and its secretary was Mustafa al-Siba’i, and the MB Association in Hama in 1937 was founded by Muḥammad Ḥāmid.
All of these and others had a comprehensive name, “Muhammad’s youth.” They held their first, second, third and fourth conferences under the name of Muhammad’s youth and then on the fifth in 1945, it was decided to replace the name “Muhammad’s youth” to the name of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a central committee was elected. This committee chose Mustafa al-Siba’i as its Secretary-General and ran in the 1947 elections, and some of them succeeded, such as Professor Muhammad al-Mubarak. The movement also ran in the 1949 elections under the name “Islamic Socialist Front” and won ten members.
Reflecting on the above shows us the ecology from which the founders of the Syrian MB emerged and in which they were influenced. They were born in Sharia schools, religious scholars and sheikhs’s surroundings, which were more sensitive and affected than other groups about Caliphate fall as they benefited the most from their closeness to the Ottomans and the management of financial affairs of Islamic institutions and departments. The MB was born in general within the context that ruled the collapse of the global empire and the climate between the two wars with all the political, ideological and intellectual storms on Syria. This makes it valid to say, “The MB movement in Syria comes between the stubborn Salafism soaked in its province and the Salafism of the Renaissance, expressing the reality of the Levantine atmosphere characterized by sectarian, and ethnic diversity.”