With the recent news of a Palestinian deal between Fatah and Hamas, which is supposed to result in a unity government in which both are represented, a long-standing feud between the two organisations looks like it is coming to an end. (Having said that, the prospects of Palestinian reconciliation have looked hopeful before, only to end in disappointment later on.)
Whatever the outcome may be, it seems obvious that, from a Palestinian point of view at least, the process of reconciliation is a good thing. One might think that this even applies to more radical Islamic groups in the Gaza Strip. Sure, these groups don’t exactly like Hamas and they probably hate the secular Fatah even more, but you might think that even they would agree that Palestinian infighting serves no purpose and that a united opposition against Israel is certainly better. Well, think again. In this post, I will look at a document called Palestinian National Reconciliation in the Balance of the Islamic Shari’a, prepared by the Shari’a Council of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad – Bayt al-Maqdis, one of the radical groups in Gaza.
Qur’an and Sunna
While the authors of the document acknowledge that division and conflict is bad and reconciliation and unity is commendable in Islamic tradition, they state that it should happen on certain conditions. One of these is that any reconciliation should conform to the Qur’an and the Sunna (the example of the Prophet Muhammad). Citing verses (Arberry’s translation) Q. 4: 59 (“[…] If you should quarrel on anything, refer it to God and the Messenger […]”), Q. 4: 65 (“But no, by thy Lord! they will not believe till they make thee the judge regarding the disagreement between them […]”) and Q. 42: 10 (“And whatever you are at variance on, the judgment thereof belongs to God”), the authors state that the Qur’an itself calls on Muslims to appeal to God and the Prophet for mediation. Instead, the document claims, Fatah and Hamas base their reconciliation on “man-made law” (qanun wad’iyya) and future “polytheistic elections” (intikhabat shirkiyya), which shows that their efforts are born in sin.
This issue of “man-made laws” and elections is taken a step further by the authors, who point to the desired results of the Palestinian reconciliation: forming a new parliament and a government that “judges according something else than what God has sent down”. Citing Q. 42: 21 (“Or have they associates who have laid down for them as religion that for which God gave not leave?”) and Q. 5: 50 (“Is it the judgment of pagandom then that they are seeking? Yet who is fairer in judgment than God, for a people having a sure faith?”), the authors equate such “un-Islamic” legislation with the yasiq, the Mongol system of legislation that combined Islamic, Mongol and other laws–a system Ibn Taymiyya condemned in his day. The authors, unsurprisingly, condemn such a system of laws as “clear unbelief”.
Another bone of contention related to legislation is the authors’ claim that the Palestinian reconciliation is based on international laws and treaties that have been drawn up by international organisations such as the United Nations and the Arab League. Since these are, in the authors’ view, “infidel” organisations themselves, they are not to be followed. Moreover, isn’t the United Nations the organisation that has adopted a string of resolutions “that have destroyed Palestine and have allowed crimes against the Muslims, their houses and their possessions”? The international and regional support this reconciliation enjoys, the document suggests, shows you that it’s utterly wrong.
The final obstacle that the authors discern in the Palestinian reconcilliation is the implicit recognition of Israel that it entails. They point out that Muslim scholars agree that jihad is an individual duty (fard ‘ayn) if a non-Muslim enemy occupies as much as an inch of Muslim land. Nevertheless, the authors state, Fatah is not ashamed to proclaim openly that they accept and recognise Israel’s right to exist and its right to live in freedom and security on “the lands occupied in 1948”. This is bad enough to the authors, of course, but Fatah’s reconciliation with Hamas at least implies that the latter will go along with this. Didn’t Hamas’s Khalid Mish’al himself talk about cooperating with Fatah “to realise the shared national goal”, which he mentioned as being the founding of “a free Palestinian state and complete self-determination on the land of the [West] Bank and the [Gaza] Strip with Jerusalem as its capital without any settler”? The authors seem to assume that this is not only a shared goal between Fatah and Hamas but also the latter’s final goal. If it is, the author’s suggest, Hamas is openly violating its duty to wage jihad against Israel.
What is interesting in all of this is the important role legislation plays. Many of the arguments (no recourse to Islamic law in reconciliation, no government on this basis, reliance on international law, support from regimes and organisations that apply “man-made laws”) focus on this issue and only one argument points to Fatah’s more conciliatory stance towards Israel. Only as an afterthought do the authors add the alleged betrayal of Palestinian President ‘Abbas by supposedly encouraging Israel to wage war on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. This portrays the Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad – Bayt al-Maqdis as pious and very concerned with doctrine, even to the point of apparently attaching more value to it than to political reconciliation. Whether this is going to be a very popular stance among Palestinians in general is highly doubtful.