Hamas: Holy War: Now or Later?

As the precursor of the HAMAS movement, the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza promoted the long-term strategy of creating the foundations of a Muslim state that would eventually become powerful enough to destroy Israel. According to the doctrines of the Brotherhood, part of the process in bringing about the ideal pan-Islamic state includes the spiritual phenomenon of an “Islamic reawakening” throughout the entire Muslim world. Only subsequent to the “Islamic reawakening” and the re-establishment of Islamic political power as the Caliphate could the destruction of the Jewish state begin as a divinely-sanctioned war between Islamic forces and those of Israel. In other words, holy war later.

Taking this position one step further, HAMAS’ spiritual leader Sheik Ahmad Yasin formulated the concept that ‘Palestine’ should become the central battlefield for the creation of a nationalist Islamic state. In other words, holy war now.

For HAMAS, the question of Israel’s eventual eradication is central and absolute. HAMAS differs in view from the Muslim Brotherhood in asserting that the establishment of an Islamic state in ‘Palestine’ will serve as the tool for achieving their ultimate goal of creating a pan-Islamic state across the Middle East.

HAMAS’ redeveloped outlook came about shortly before the Palestinian uprising in 1987 and the parallel development in Gaza of a third organization, the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (IJMP). Inspired by the Islamic revolution that swept Iran in 1979, the Islamic Jihad challenged the Brotherhood by staging spectacular attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Following the doctrine that Islamic land must be ruled only by Muslim ‘believers’, the IJMP’s war on Israel differs from that of HAMAS only in its immediate goal-that a pan-Islamic empire must be created throughout the Middle East with its foundations on the ruins of Israel. It perceives itself as the vanguard of an internationalist- oriented movement of ‘believers’ who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of repulsing Western influence from the Islamic world. The evil of Western influence is personified by the United States, which Ayatollah Khomayni termed “the Great Satan.” Consequently Israel, as the agent of the U.S. in the region, is termed “the Little Satan.”

From this perspective, the Islamic Jihad sees itself as fighting a worldwide war against the West, following in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad. The IJMP regards itself as one part of the larger Iran-sponsored Islamic Jihad movement, which is most well known for its abduction of American and other Western hostages in Lebanon.

To compete with what was perceived as the more activist approach of the Islamic Jihad, Sheik Ahmad Yasin, then a Muslim Brotherhood leader, adjusted his own doctrine, leading to the formation of HAMAS. In 1987 he nationalized the war of the IJMP, and spoke of an Islamic Palestinian state as a stage towards his movement’s final goal.

Rather than insisting on the establishment of a pan-Islamic state as the prerequisite for waging holy war on Israel, Yasin changed the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza to that of “partial” holy war.’ In this manner, Muslim Brotherhood and HAMAS activists could participate in the Palestinian uprising while at the same time remaining faithful to their notion of a cataclysmic holy war that would eventually be waged by their Caliphate. HAMAS joined Islamic Jihad in deciding that the time for its jihad is now.