20 Oct A Q&A Primer on Hamas – Part 1
Many people have questions about the deeply distressing events taking place in Israel and the Palestinian territories. So, each day for the next week I will posting answers to questions, attempting to help people understand the times in which we live.
I plan for the daily posts to address the following issues:
- What is Hamas? – This is today’s post.
- Why does Hamas think it will win?
- Who supports Hamas?
- Who are the Palestinians?
- What is the occupation?
- Is antisemitism part of the problem?
- What are the rules of war?
- Some concluding thoughts about the future.
Part 1 What is Hamas?
What is Hamas?
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1988, Hamas’ name is an acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement” in Arabic. The word hamas also means ‘zeal’, ‘enthusiasm’ or ‘fanaticism’. (In Hebrew Hamas means “wickedness”, “violence” or “destruction”.)
Hamas is one of two parties in power among the Palestinians. The other is Fatah, whose name is also an acronym, with the meaning ‘conquest’.
There are two Palestinian territories: Hamas rules in Gaza, while Fatah rules in the West Bank. Hamas took power in Gaza in 2006 from Fatah after winning a democratic election. At the time a conflict between the two parties broke out, in which hundreds were killed.
Both Fatah and Hamas are radical Islamist movements. At times in the past they have fought each other, but they have also made attempts at rapprochement. Fatah has praised Hamas for the October 7 attacks and has called upon all Palestinians to rise up in solidarity.
What is the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist renewal movement that was founded in Egypt in 1928. Its ultimate goal is to establish a caliphate, an overarching state ruled by Islamic law. The Muslim Brotherhood has a network of supporters in many countries, including the United States and across Europe.
The Brotherhood has had many offshoots, most of which are militant.
The Brotherhood, like many other Islamic revival movements, was founded in opposition to the dominance of the West. These movements all believe that the manifest decline of the Muslim world during the recent centuries of the West’s rise is due to poor observance of God’s laws by Muslims. Once Muslims obey Islam faithfully, and apply Islamic laws strictly – including pursuing jihad against non-Muslims – then the followers of Islam will become successful and dominate the world once again. This is their utopian goal.
For a long time now, Muslim countries have been experiencing many social, economic and political problems and this has played into the Brotherhood’s hands. The Brotherhood’s response to the widespread socio-economic failure of Islamic nations has been the slogan, “Islam is the solution”. Consistent with its beliefs, it has also blamed governments in Arab countries which do not impose strict Islam for the sufferings of Muslims.
What does “Islamist” mean?
Islamist is a term used for a form of Islam which is dedicated to achieving political dominance for the religion. An Islamist movement aims to establish an Islamic state in which the sharia (Islamic law) is the law of the land. This term can be applied to many Islamic revival movements. ‘Islamist’ is often used as a way to avoid calling radical movements ‘Islamic’, which could unfairly tar all Muslims with the radicalism brush.
What is Islam?
Islam is a religion which offers a total way of life, regulating both individuals and nations. It is based and modeled on the teaching and example of Muhammad, an Arab who lived 1400 years ago in Arabia. The sharia is a system of law and principles built upon the foundation of Muhammad and his book, the Qur’an, which he claimed was a direct revelation from God.
When Western people speak of ‘religion’, they can think of something individual, personal, interior, and spiritual. Islam can be like that for people, but in its varied expressions it is normally much more than that. It can be political and Muslims often seek to occupy and dominate the public square for their religion. It is for this reason that political parties in Islamic countries often project a religious identity.
Some critics of Islam say it is not a religion at all, but a political system, so it shouldn’t be treated as a charitable movement, but as a political one. I believe this is a limited and mistaken understanding of religion. It is a very Western understanding of what a religion can be.
Islam is both a religion and a political system. Indeed Islamic tradition does not recognise the difference between religion and politics; between the secular and the spiritual; or between what is civilian and what is military. It is all for Islam. That doesn’t make Islam any less a religion. It makes it much more than ‘just’ a religion.
What is Hamas’ goal?
The goals of Hamas are laid out in a document known as the Hamas Charter, which was adopted in August 1988. There is no evidence that Hamas has renounced or retreated from even a single line of their covenant.
Hamas’ most fundamental goal is to implement Islam fully and strictly. The Charter states about Hamas, that “Allah is its target, the Prophet is its example, and the Qur’an is its constitution. Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”
The Charter also makes clear that a core goal of Hamas is the destruction of Israel. It cites the words of the founder of the Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.”
The mission to destroy Israel is conceived of as a sacred calling. Thus the Charter is full of quranic verses referring to warfare against disbelievers in Islam. However, destroying Israel is but a means to achieving the overarching goal of the full implementation of Islam, which is thought to be impossible as long as non-Muslims rule in Muslim lands.
The genocidal future envisaged by the Hamas Charter has been repeatedly praised in the sermons of Hamas preachers. For example on April 7, 2023, Sheikh Hamad Al-Regeb said the Jews will only be defeated by weapons and terror, and then he prayed repeatedly, “Oh Allah, enable us to get to the necks of the Jews” (i.e. to cut their throats or behead them).
Would Hamas support a two state solution?
For reasons given above, Hamas is completely opposed to a two-state solution. Every attack on Israel is designed to prevent this happening. The Hamas Covenant states that “so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. … There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.”
For Hamas, it is military victory or nothing.
Tomorrow’s installment will address the question: Why does Hamas think it will win?
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.