This article describes in detail the goals of Hamas, in what way these goals are different from other radical Islamic groups, and why its ideas are so attractive to many Muslims. In contrast to many other articles, it looks at the end of the world aspects of the struggles of radical Islam, including those of Hamas. It describes how radical Islam answers some of the existential problems of Islam, and also the compromise that Muslims make when they share religious space with Judaism and Christianity. Finally, it makes the points that it is unlikely that we Jews will be able to change the beliefs of Muslims, but it is imperative that we point out the religious aspects of the war in Gaza to young, progressive non-Jewish and Jewish students and show them that this war has nothing to do with the political rights of the Palestinians and their efforts to escape so-called oppression. This is not an impossible task, since much of the support these youngsters provide to the Palestinian cause is based on ignorance.
Is Islam at war with Jews and Judaism?
Clearly, normative Islam is not in conflict with the Jewish people nor with their religion. However, one of the achievements of Hamas has been to fire up the imagination of much of the Muslim world in sympathy with its genocidal aims against Israel and Jews. In effect, the Muslim world has become more radicalized. The extent of this is unknown since data is lacking. However, the large demonstrations in support of Hamas throughout much of the Muslim world suggest that Hamas has succeeded in energizing the Muslim people in support of its goals. At the same time, normative Islam has been placed on the defensive. To understand why this has happened, we need to ask the questions – what are the goals of Hamas, in what way are they different from other radical Islamic groups, and why are they attractive to so many Muslims?
Hamas was created in 1987 by Muslims associated with the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood during the First Intifada after the breakdown of the Camp David Accords.
The aim of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Hamas arose is to establish a unified Islamic political entity or caliphate throughout the Muslim world, and perhaps beyond, by means of jihad or holy war whenever necessary. This ideology is also espoused by other radical Sunni movements such as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, as well as Shia fundamentalist movements and countries such as Hezbollah, the Houthis and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In popular Sunni eschatological (end of the world) literature, this caliphate will be led by a Mahdi, or by Jesus who has become a Muslim, and this will be the prelude to the Day of Judgment and the beginning of the World to Come.(a) In this literature, Jews are considered the epitome of evil and there is no alternative but to eradicate a Jewish state in the middle of the Islamic world. Less has been written about the Shia vision, but Iran’s majority Shia sect is the Twelvers, and it believes that the twelfth imam Muhammad al-Mahdi is alive and will remain hidden until the end of days. When Allah directs, his presence will be revealed. The current efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its protégés Hezbollah and the Houthis are steps in bringing about the appearance of this hidden imam.
It is important to note, however, that there is a significant ideological difference between Hamas and other fundamentalist movements. Despite its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ original 1988 Covenant makes no mention of any political entity other than in Palestine. This is not to say that it opposes global jihad for creating a caliphate, but this is not its primary aim. Rather, its intent is to destroy Israel and its population and to put in its stead an Islamic state as part of an apocalyptic, redemptive and messianic struggle leading to the end of days.(b) As is the case for other radical Islamic groups, Hamas’ mission leads to a culture that glorifies death, since death while participating in jihad leads to a privileged place in the World to Come.
The notion of genocide of the Jewish people is first raised in Islam by a particularly odious hadith (a hadith is part of the Islamic oral tradition) which is quoted in Hamas’ 1988 Covenant:
The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews when the Jews will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say “O Muslims, O Abdullah [servant of Allah], there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
It is noteworthy that this killing of Jews is not specifically for any political purpose, but for realizing the Day of Judgment and World to Come. For public relations reasons, Hamas may have diluted its intent to indiscriminately kill Jews, although one would be gullible to believe this. Hence, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal stated in 2010 that the Hamas Charter is “a piece of history and no longer relevant, but cannot be changed for internal reasons.”
The current hatred of Jews by many Muslims and genocidal intent dates to the time of the mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini who in 1920 organized the first of several Arab riots against Jewish immigration to Palestine during the British Mandate of Palestine. Prior to this time, Jews living in Muslim countries were regarded as second-class citizens, but they otherwise had protected or dhimmi status. It is noteworthy that Al-Husseini was not a Palestinian nationalist. He was one of the founding members of the Muslim Brotherhood and he supported its ideas of an Islamic caliphate, of which Muslim Palestine would have been a part. As the spokesman to the Muslim world for the Germans in Berlin during the Second World War, he was also instrumental in organizing, together with the Nazis, the total elimination of the Jewish population of Palestine. That this massacre did not happen is due to the defeat of Rommel’s German Afrika Korps by the British at the Battle of El Alamein. Were it not for this, the Jews in Palestine would have suffered the same fate as European Jewry.
Thus, the ideological basis of the Islamic struggle against Israel was already established over a hundred years ago and decades before there were Palestinian refugees or any other evidence of so-called “oppression” of the Palestinians. During the 1993 Oslo Accords, a Palestinian terrorist Yasar Arafat was invited to take over the West Bank and Gaza on the assumption that he would be prepared to make a comprehensive peace with Israel once the framework for Palestinian statehood was established. When Israel failed to agree to conditions that would have led to its demise, such as the return of all Palestinian refugees, he unleashed the Second Intifada.
Why does so much of the Islamic world find the fundamentalist ideology of Hamas so appealing? An answer is to be found in the slogan of the Houthis: “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, curse on the Jews, victory for Islam.” Victory for Islam is not last in this slogan because it is the least important but it is the goal to which all the others lead. The eradication of Israel is for the glory of Islam. This is an appealing message to many Muslims.
This is because the creation of a financially successful and militarily strong Jewish state that has repeatedly defeated Arab military forces that initiated wars against it and which is situated in the middle of the Islamic world is a challenge to the foundational ideas of Islam. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of the prophets and the only prophet to receive authentic revelations from Allah. Other monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity are regarded as having received inferior revelations and hence have an inferior status to Islam.
What radical Islam has done is to devise a highly improbable ideology by which Islam can once again realize the supremacy it achieved over Judaism and Christianity when it stormed out of the Arabian Peninsula and conquered the Christian Byzantine world.
There is, of course, an alternative choice for Muslims. This is to share religious space equally with Judaism and Christianity and to accept that within a small piece of territory within the Muslim Middle East there is a people that has a religion with its own laws and concepts of morality that predates Islam by thousands of years.
This choice is the modern-day challenge for Islam. It is not an easy one. The first choice of radical Islam promises the victory of Islam and its awaited Word to Come, but pits Muslims in conflict with the rest of the world and the leaders of many Muslim countries. The second choice of coexistence constitutes a compromise with the foundational aspects of Islam and its vision for the end of days. Nevertheless, the latter is the choice that many Muslims have made, and in particular the leaders of Muslim countries (although not necessarily their people) that have signed onto the Abraham accords with Israel, namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
The religious aspects of Israel’s current wars with Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Iran are usually ignored in most international news reports and political analyses. This is a mistake, since these are not incidental but foundational aspects of these struggles. Without this understanding, it is easy to believe the erroneous story that Hamas’ war in Gaza is part of a long-standing struggle against the oppression of the Palestinian people.
Is Islam at war with Judaism? This current war in Gaza was initiated by the most popular Sunni fundamentalist group, Hamas, with the support of the most influential Shia fundamentalist country, the Republic of Iran, supported by its powerful protégés Hezbollah and the Houthis. Their common goal, the eradication of Israel, likely has the support of millions of Muslims. It is generally recognized that this war has been tremendously positive for Hamas from a public relations aspect through its use of human shields and putting Israel in the position of perpetrating considerable collateral damage. Hence, at the very least, fundamental Islam is at war with Israel. And since it is difficult to know nowadays on an ideological level where normative Islam ends and fundamental Islam begins, clearly a substantial proportion of Muslims hates Jews, their religion, and especially their country. This does not mean that most Muslims are prepared to take out a knife or a gun or a car to kill Jews in jihad. But some are.
It is doubtful that we Jews can do much about changing the radical beliefs now prevalent among many Muslims, other than to destroy Hamas as a military force. However, it is imperative that somehow we get the message across to the young students of America and Europe, both non-Jewish and Jewish, about the true nature of the war in Gaza – that it is part of a religious struggle between Judaism and much of Islam and not a war about the political rights of the Palestinians and their efforts to escape so-called oppression. This is not an impossible project, since much of the support these youngsters provide to the Palestinian cause is based on pure ignorance.
Why is this important? Because these students with progressive views studying in Ivy League universities could well become the future political leaders of America.
a). Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature by David Cook, Syracuse University Press.
b). Hamas and Islamic Millenarianism: What the West Doesn’t Recognize by Paul Landau in WPR, January 8, 2008.