In the past few years, an increasing number of news items have focused on the clashes between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and more radical Jihadi-Salafi groups. (For a recent example, see here.) Analyses of these groups have mostly concentrated on their alleged ties with al-Qa‘ida and their criticism of Hamas as being soft (see here, for example) but little is known about their actual ideology. Last year, however, a book giving a detailed ideological critique of Hamas (Al-Qawl al-Asas fi Hukumat Hamas) was released by a Jihadi-Salafi from Gaza called Abu ‘Abdallah al-Maqdisi, not to be confused with Abu l-Nur al-Maqdisi, the leader of Jund Ansar Allah, whose death at the hands of Hamas last year caused a widespread uproar among Jihadi-Salafis. It is not clear how representative this book is of Hamas’ radical opponents’ ideology in Gaza but the arguments are typically Jihadi-Salafi ones and are therefore likely to count for something among these groups.
Democracy and Legislation
As may be expected, the book is highly critical of Hamas’ acceptance of elections and the will of the people at the expense of the will of God. The author argues that the Qur’an states that “judgement belongs only to God alone; He has commanded that you shall not serve any but Him” (Q. 12: 40, transl. Arberry) and that the idea of power to the people is a flagrant violation of this. He takes a stand against all sorts of things he associates with democracy, such as the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the separation of religion and state, freedom of the press and equality. Interestingly, he also tries to explain that in a democracy, it is the majority that decides on issues and gets its way, even if their point of view is entirely wrong. Although the author wants to say that God’s will should be done, not the majority’s, his dim view of human beings’ ability to do what is right reminded me of a few Greek philosophers that I’m sure the author would not like to be compared with.
In what may be a reference to the previous American administration’s goal of democratisation in Afghanistan and Iraq, the author also tries to frame democracy as inherently linked with “loyalty to the infidel West, world Zionism and the crusader Christianity in Europe”, as well as joining them in “waging wars against Muslims”. Having built up his argument that democracy is not only against God’s will but also involves fighting fellow-believers, he then goes on to quote numerous Hamas leaders stating their support for the people’s will, even if they reject implementing Islamic law (shari‘a).
Hamas’ unwillingness to apply the shari‘a in full is also dealt with in detail. The author cites numerous verses about God’s rule and uses Q. 9: 31 (“they have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords apart from God”, transl. Arberry) to “prove” that following non-Islamic legislation – just like Jews and Christians did by following “their rabbis and their monks” in this verse – actually equals worshipping other gods, thus constituting polytheism. He backs this up with a well-known hadith about ‘Adi b. Hatim, in which the Prophet Muhammad seemingly supports this explanation, in order to emphasise that the Hamas government is nothing but a bunch of infidels who worship other legislative gods.
The author then moves on to a subject on which Hamas may be assumed to be beyond reproach, namely its willingness to wage jihad against Israel. Abu ‘Abdallah al-Maqdisi disagrees, however. He lists a number of conditions that must apply for a group of Muslims to be allowed to accept a truce with their non-Muslim enemy, including that it must be negotiated by the rightful imam or his deputy, serve “Islamic interests” and be temporary. He then compares this with Hamas’ cease-fires with Israel and concludes that these come up short. He states that Hamas is an apostate organisation to begin with and may therefore not conclude truces at all. What’s more, Hamas’ cease-fires are all based on man-made laws instead of the shari‘a and the Palestinians – despite being the weakest party – have to make all the concessions, he states. Also, he says, “the Jews” are not going to stick to a truce agreement anyway.
Al-Maqdisi then moves on to scolding Hamas for condemning all kinds of armed attacks, including ones in Saudi Arabia, Britain, Qatar and Egypt, as well as those committed during cease-fires. To add insult to injury, he claims, Hamas does not just reject certain attacks but even actively kills mujahidin and people wanted by Israel. The author presents photographs of Hamas’ bullets and shoeprints from inside mosques supporting their Jihadi-Salafi opponents – hinting at the organisation’s willingness to shoot and wear shoes where that is strictly forbidden in order to crack down on their adversaries – as well as some gruesome pictures of fighters apparently slain by Hamas. All this is supposed to give the impression that Hamas is not only shunning its own duty to wage jihad against Israel but is even trying to disrupt the efforts of those who do fight.
The author’s most interesting topic of the book is perhaps his use of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ (loyalty to God, Islam and Muslims and disavowal of everything and everyone else). This concept is applied almost exclusively by Salafis, who use it to indicate that Muslims should have total and undivided allegiance to God and Islam in every sphere of life and must not show loyalty – expressed in friendship, help and affection – to “infidels”. Instead, they must disavow everything that may distract them from their devotion to Islam and Muslims, all in order to remain pure in one’s beliefs and lifestyle. Jihadi-Salafis often use the concept to portray relations between Muslim- and non-Muslim states, particularly if these result in alliances against other Muslims, as loyalty to “infidels” who should be disavowed instead.
Considering this interpretation of the concept, it is hard to think of how Hamas can be criticised. After all, the most likely “infidel” state to which Hamas could be accused of expressing loyalty would be Israel, the organisation’s sworn enemy. The author, however, takes an entirely different approach. He claims that Hamas’ frequent attempts to attain national unity mean that it has to co-operate with other Palestinian factions. Although it is left unsaid who those faction are, it is obvious that these include secular as well as Marxist Palestinian parties and organisations. This way, the author accuses Hamas of being loyal to these other, godless Palestinian groups in the name of national unity instead of doing what is best for Islam.
Similarly, Abu ‘Abdallah al-Maqdisi accuses Hamas of being loyal to “apostate” Arab regimes (by allowing them to visit and by having meetings with their leaders), Christians (by congratulating them with their religious holidays) and Shiites (read: Iran and Hizbullah, for co-operating with them and accepting their financial help). All of these forms of loyalty supposedly cause Hamas to deviate from “true” Islam and it is therefore not surprising that the author unambiguously concludes that “there is not the least bit of doubt about the apostasy of the Hamas government”. He specifically accuses “the prime minister, the ministers and the members of parliament” as well as “the different security apparatuses” that are allied to the Hamas government of being apostates as well. Interestingly, however, the author does not call for fighting Hamas since jihad against Israel has a higher priority and “fighting this government will scare people away from the da‘wa (the call to Islam)”.
The latter paragraph might indicate why Jihadi-Salafism is a growing but nevertheless small phenomenon among Palestinians and is likely to remain limited in its influence in the long run: its emphasis on Islam over Palestinian identity, its disdain of national unity in a context where this is sorely needed and its rejection of ties with Iran, Hizbullah and Arab countries when dealing with a group that can hardly afford to lose any of its few friends is not only totally unrealistic and pig-headedly ideological but also rather un-Palestinian. Jihadi-Salafism, being anti-nationalist, proudly raises the banner of Islam over conflicts such as the Palestinian-Israeli one but ignores the strong sense of national identity Palestinians have. This, combined with the fact that these groups are up against a well-established, credible and powerful group like Hamas, means they are unlikely to gain control over the Gaza Strip, let alone the West Bank, any time soon. Unfortunately, that is probably not going to stop them from trying.