Hassan al Banna (October 14, 1906 - February 12, 1949) was an Egyptian social and political reformer best known as founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Banna was born in 1906 in Mahmudiyya, Egypt (north-west of Cairo). His father, Shaykh Ahmad al-Banna, was a respected local imam (prayer leader) and mosque teacher, educated at Al-Azhar University, who wrote and collaborated on books on Muslim traditions, and also had a shop where he repaired watches and sold gramophones. Though Sheykh Ahmad al-Banna and his wife owned some property, they were not wealthy and struggled to make ends meet, particularly after they moved to Cairo in 1924; like many others, they found that Islamic learning and piety were no longer as highly valued in the capital, and that craftsmanship could not compete with large-scale industry. (Mitchell 1969, 1; Lia 1998, 22-24)
When Hassan al-Banna was twelve years old, he became involved in a Sufi order, and became a fully initiated member in 1922. (Mitchell 1969, 2; Lia 25-26)
When he was thirteen, Banna participated in demonstrations during the revolution of 1919 against British rule. (Mitchell 1969, 3; Lia 1998, 26-27)
In 1923 he entered Dar al 'Ulum, a teacher training school in Cairo. Life in the capital offered him a greater range of activities than the village and the opportunity to meet prominent Islamic scholars (in large measure thanks to his father's acquaintances), but he was deeply disturbed by effects of Westernisation he saw there, particularly the rise of secularism and the breakdown of traditional morals. (Mitchell 1969, 2-4; Lia 1998, 28-30)
He was equally disappointed with what he saw as the failure of the Islamic scholars of al-Azhar University to voice their opposition to the rise of atheism and to the influence of Christian missionaries. (Mitchell 1969, 5)
In his last year at Dar al-'Ulum, he wrote that he had decided to dedicate himself to becoming "a counsellor and a teacher" of adults and children, in order to teach them "the objectives of religion and the sources of their well-being and happiness in life". He graduated in 1927 and was given a position as an Arabic language teacher in a state primary school in Isma'iliyya, a provincial town located in the Suez Canal Zone. (Mitchell 1969, 6)
In Isma'iliyya, in addition to his day classes, he carried out his intention of giving night classes to his pupils' parents. He also preached in the mosque, and even in coffee-houses, which were then a novelty and were generally viewed as morally suspect. At first, some of his views on relatively minor points of Islamic practice led to strong disagreements with the local religious Úlite, and he adopted the policy of avoiding religious controversies. (Mitchell 1969, 7; Lia 1998, 32-35)
He was appalled by the many conspicuous signs of foreign military and economic domination in Isma'iliyya: the British military camps, the public utilities owned by foreign interests, and the luxurious residences of the foreign employees of the Suez Canal Company, next to the squalid dwellings of the Egyptian workers. (Mitchell 1969, 7) Hassan al-Banna is known to have great impact in the moder Islamic thought. He managed to introduce Islam as an all-inclusive system of life, providing a practical example through his society.