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Hamas and the ideology of hate

The words of the Quran and Muhammad inspire the attacks on Israel


Rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip on Sunday. Associated Press/Photo by Fatima Shbair

Hamas and the ideology of hate
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Israel was caught completely unprepared on Saturday, as the militant Muslim group Hamas launched a full-scale aggressive assault from land, sea, and air. To claim it as a religious mission, Hamas named the assault “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm,” as its fighters crossed into Israel and fired a massive barrage of rockets at targets, shocking many Israelis on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Official tallies count more than 3,000 rockets fired from Gaza against Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Hamas seems to have chosen the day of the attack carefully to catch the Israelis off guard—it also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Arab attack against Israel on Yom Kippur on Oct. 6, 1973.

As of now, around 700 Israelis have died—many of them civilians—and nearly 2,000 are wounded. Those numbers are sure to rise. Videos of Israeli women and children taken by Muslim fighters circulated on the internet, as an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader “congratulated Palestinian fighters for launching the biggest attack on Israel in years.” Palestinian and Israeli media outlets announced that many Israeli soldiers were taken captive by the Hamas fighters

The Hamas attack appears well-planned and supported by its allies in the region, especially Iran and Hezbollah, aiming to thwart possible attempts by Israeli and Saudi Arabia to normalize relations. As Israel responds, the situation won’t end well and many more civilians on both sides will suffer, especially as Hamas is known for using civilians as human shields in buildings in Gaza where they store weapons and military equipment.

While there are various political angles in this dreadful situation—including how American weakness in the region enables bad actors against its major ally—we should pay close attention to the ideology that drives Hamas.

Hamas is highly political and deeply religious. As a group, it emerged in the 1980s from the larger Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. While there is no doubt about the political aspiration of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, they both openly and explicitly tie their militant actions to the Quran and Muhammad as sources of legitimacy. This is why Hamas named the entire operation after Al-Aqsa Mosque, due to its religious esteem, to consolidate spiritual sentiment and momentum.

Not only is fighting Israeli soldiers commanded and commended, but attacking Jews—even noncombatants—becomes a religious commitment, since the Quran explicitly states that the “strongest in enmity” to the Muslims are “the Jews.”

To Hamas, the Jews are the enemies. Why? Because the Quran and Muhammad’s statements explicitly state so. Not only is fighting Israeli soldiers commanded and commended, but attacking Jews—even noncombatants—becomes a religious commitment, since the Quran explicitly states that the “strongest in enmity” to the Muslims are “the Jews.” Notice the designation of a religious group as an enemy. This forms and fuels hatred against humans based on their religious loyalty.

For Hamas, the Islamic designation of the Jews as enemies doesn’t distinguish military commanders from civilians—all are in one basket. Whether Hamas and its militias care about Islam and its advancement is not the issue, as they clearly use its ideological claims to advance their political agenda.

This is evident in the way Hamas persuades Muslims to serve as suicide bombers and human shields by encouraging them to wage jihad against the Jewish enemy, the state of Israel.

In Islam, jihad is chiefly armed fighting with religious meaning. Jihad is the most commendable of actions, and martyrs are promised immediate admittance to paradise. Hamas uses this claim to encourage Muslims to fight the Jews by waging jihad for religious causes. If killed, the Islamic logic goes, Muslims receive the highest eternal reward. Any attack against the Jewish state is thus viewed as a jihadi mission for Allah’s cause. Hamas understands that the Israelis will hesitate to bomb buildings full of civilians, and the group uses these buildings to secure weaponry and launch attacks, convincing Palestinians they are serving a high religious cause.

Hamas preachers advance the attack on the Jews as an emulation of Muhammad’s precedent. In Muhammad’s biography, he fought “the three main Jewish tribes of Medina,” after identifying them as hypocrites and unbelievers of his religious message. The example is loaded with religious weight for those who want to follow Muhammad’s model. In one account, Muhammad seized the Jews, and “all adult males are executed, and the women and children are enslaved.” Devotees can hardly escape yearning to imitate such a model.

The political dilemma is indeed complex, but the ideological hatred toward a religious enemy is driven by and amplified through ancient statements deemed sacred and foundational for religious enthusiasts to attack the Jews.

With such a foundation, fighting is not likely to cease any time soon.


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.


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