The Islamic Association is a major Sunni organization in Lebanon. With a membership that currently numbers approximately 5,000, this Islamist group’s origins date back to the height of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s efforts at Arab unity in 1964, when members of an older organization — the Association of the Worshipers of the Compassionate — established the Islamic Association in Tripoli.
Following the unsuccessful 1967 Arab attack against Israel, the Islamic Association and other Islamist groups throughout the Arab world gained strength. During Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), the Islamic Association’s militia, called the Mujahidin, fought with the Lebanese National Movement against Christian Maronite forces; in 1982-83 the Islamic Association participated in fighting the Israelis.
The Islamic Association follows the militant doctrines of the Muslim Brethren in Egypt and Syria. Fathi Yakan, a follower of Sayyid Qutb’s radical brand of Islamist thought, is the Islamic Association’s main ideologue. Yakan joined Sa’id Hawwa of Syria’s Muslim Brethren in the wake of the 1967 war to advocate a jihad against the Western and Israeli “crusaders.” The Islamic Association believes in achieving an Islamic order based on the Shari’a (Islamic sacred law) through jihad of the heart (spiritual struggle), jihad by word (education and propaganda), and jihad by hand (economic, political and military action).
The Islamic Association engages in internecine struggles with such organizations as Ahbash, as well as with the traditional Sunni religious establishment and traditional leaders (the Karamis of Tripoli, the Salams of Beirut, and the Hariris of Sidon), all of whom it regards as the instruments of foreign interests. Islamic Association members tend to live in Lebanon’s urban centers with large Sunni concentrations — Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon. The Association recruits young people via the Muslim Students Association. It offers social welfare services, though less sophisticated ones than Hezbollah provides, but has not succeeded in attracting many Sunni votes; over the years, it has held few seats in Lebanon’s parliament.
This profile is adapted from the article “Islamism in Lebanon: A Guide to the Groups,” written by A. Nizar Hamzeh and published by Middle East Forum in September 1997.