Many reports have Hamas/Fatah re-creating a unity government very soon, possibly right after the Bush visit in a few weeks. Most rational people believe Hamas to be a terrorist group. But there is more to these animals than targeting civilians. This MEMRI piece will help you understand Hamas and their goals much better:


As a religious-social movement confined to the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas has to date focused primarily on implementing a domestic socio-religious program. However, Hamas’ victory in the 2005 municipal elections and 2006 parliamentary elections, and its subsequent takeover of Gaza, have raised questions regarding the future orientation of the movement’s political activities. The issue most frequently debated is whether Hamas will continue to pursue its locally oriented agenda, or, taking advantage of its political momentum, will extend its influence beyond the boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza by becoming active in the arena of global jihad.

This paper assesses the possibility that Hamas will establish operative ties with global jihad movements, especially with Salafi movements such as Al-Qaeda, and join them in their global enterprises. Based on a consideration of its ideology, its roots in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement, and the policies it has adopted since the Gaza takeover, the paper concludes that Hamas’ local orientation is grounded in its ideology, and that the movement is therefore unlikely to engage in global jihad and to take part in initiatives aimed at restoring the global Islamic caliphate, which was dismantled de facto in 1918 and officially abolished by Turkish leader Kamal Ataturk in 1924.

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I. The Ideological Differences between Hamas and Al-Qaeda

“The Land in Which the Laws of Allah Have Gained Supremacy is the Homeland of Every Muslim”

In examining the framework in which the Hamas ideology evolved, it is useful to start with movement’s founding document – the Hamas Covenant. [1] Interestingly, this document contains no explicit reference to global aspirations; on the contrary, the text repeatedly stresses that Hamas is a religious-nationalist movement whose primary goal is “to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

This focus on the liberation of a specific Islamic land, namely Palestine, clearly sets Hamas apart from global jihad movements like Al-Qaeda, which characterize their religious motivations in universal terms, and pursue broadly defined goals such as “waging jihad until all the Islamic lands, from Spain to Iraq, are liberated and the caliphate is fully restored,” [2] or “establish[ing] a true and just state – the greater state of Islam – [stretching] from ocean to ocean.” [3]

Another factor which differentiates Hamas from the global jihad movements is the use of the term “nationalism” (wataniyya) which recurs frequently in the covenant. The global jihad movements deliberately avoid using this term, since they recognize no political entity other than the global Islamic ummah, and thus do not recognize individual Muslim nations and states. [4] Sheikh Hamed Al-‘Ali, a prominent Kuwaiti Salafi scholar who supports global jihad, expressed this principle in a December 2006 article titled “In Defense of the Doctrine of Those Who Unify God…” stating: “Islam refers to countries by the [religious] doctrine [they follow], and thus divides [the world] into the Abode of Islam and the Abode of Heresy. The land in which the laws of Allah have gained supremacy is the homeland (watan) of every Muslim, based on his [religious] doctrine [rather than his ethnic origin or place of birth].” [5]

“If Hamas Is… Committed to Rendering the Word of Allah Supreme… [Why Does It Sit] Beneath the Dome of the Polytheist Legislative Council?”

Also highlighting the ideological difference between Hamas and Al-Qaeda is Hamas’s decision to take part in the 2005 municipal elections and in the 2006 parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority. Hamas’s choice of political participation, rather than jihad, as its primary means of spreading Islam provoked severe criticism from prominent figures in Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan Abu Yahya Al-Libi, for example, accused Hamas of being unfaithful to its Islamic goals: “If Hamas is committed to rendering the word of Allah supreme, [why does it] adopt a lame policy, [sit] beneath the dome of the polytheist legislative council, and hold meetings with the leaders of the unbelievers?… Tell us, what Islam are you talking about? Which shari’a do you intend to implement?” [6] Bin Laden deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri likewise rebuked Hamas for its political activities after it signed the Mecca Agreement in February 2007, [7] just as he had rebuked the Muslim Brotherhood in January 2006 for participating in the Egyptian elections. [8]

Hamas’ reaction to this criticism further underscores its character as a religious-nationalist movement and highlights the discrepancy between its ideology and that of Al-Qaeda. On March 12, 2007, Hamas responded to Al-Zawahiri’s criticism in a communiqué that stated: “Hamas is a Salafi movement of jihad and resistance, and will remain so as long as there is [even] one inch of Palestine [still] under occupation… We shall not betray our covenant with Allah, which compels [us] to proceed on the path of jihad and resistance, until Palestine – all of Palestine – is liberated… [Hamas’s] decision to run in the elections, to establish a government, and to accept the Mecca Agreement was motivated by a wish to defend the interests of the Palestinian people.” [9]

In a July 2007 statement, Hamas spokesman in Gaza Fawzi Barhoum made a similar point in response to Al-Zawahiri’s accusations: “Hamas has its own history and [its own] jihad. It is fighting on several fronts, [struggling to end] the occupation, to break the [political and economic] siege [on the Hamas government], and to enlist support for a united [Palestinian] government, among its other [goals]… We strive to liberate Palestine and we shall free our prisoners. We will persist until the occupation is removed from our land and from our sacred places.” [10]

Conspicuously absent from Hamas’ reactions to its critics is any expression of commitment to the global Islamic program – a commitment which is central to the ideology of the global jihad movements. Instead, Hamas reiterates its locally oriented focus on fighting the occupation.

“Hamas Will Not Impose its Religious and Social Programs on Others”

Another difference between Hamas’ position and that of global jihad movements is evident in the policies that it has adopted since its takeover of Gaza in June 2007. Ignoring the persistent demands of the Palestinian military group Jaysh Al-Islam, [11] and of Al-Qaeda leaders like Ayman Al-Zawahiri, [12] Hamas has refrained from announcing the establishment of an Islamic emirate and from enforcing shari’a in Gaza. Instead, it has kept its promise from before the takeover to avoid imposing Islam on the public. [13] In a 2006 television interview, Hamas Political Bureau head Khaled Mash’al promised, “Hamas will not impose its religious and social programs on others. Rather, it will present [its ideas] to others without forcing them [to accept them]. [For example,] women will not be forced to wear the hijab… Hamas [follows] the principle of ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ and ‘religion is [embraced] by choice, not by force.'” [14]

Hamas MP Hamed Al-Bitawi made a similar statement in his February 20, 2006 interview with the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad: “[Hamas] is neither a young movement nor a mob. We have a long history in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is known for its moderate thinking… We will not enforce Islamic shari’a[15] The view reflected in these statements is diametrically opposed to that of Al-Qaeda and other global jihad movements, who believe that it is their duty to impose shari’a in every Muslim country as soon as possible. [wholesale], though we will do our utmost to adhere to the Islamic principles, which are reasonable and prescribe what is good.”

II. Do Hamas’ Current Policies and Statements Reflect a Pragmatic Approach or an Ideological Stance?

Though Hamas’ current policies and statements are clearly at odds with the worldview of the global jihad movements, the question remains whether they represent a pragmatic approach aimed at improving economic conditions in Gaza, or an ideological position. Obviously, this question cannot be answered definitely, but an examination of some key factors does allow us to assess Hamas’ position, and thus to predict its probable course in the coming years. More specifically, an assessment of the ideology underlying Hamas’ statements and policies, and an examination of texts it has been circulating over the last few years, indicate that Hamas is likely – at least in the near future – to remain a local player and to refrain from engaging in wider-scale activities aimed at restoring the Islamic caliphate.

A factor that supports this assessment is Hamas’ ideological roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. As Lia Brynja noted, the Muslim Brotherhood perceives “[t]he revival of the Islamic caliphate… [as its] final aim,” to be achieved only after its other aims – namely the liberation of Egypt, the establishment of an Islamic state there, and the attainment of Arab unity – are achieved. [16] The Muslim Brotherhood, then, appears to view the restoration of the caliphate as a vision that will be realized at some unspecified time in the far future, not as a realistic aspiration to be pursued in the present, and Hamas has apparently adopted a similar position. This explains the absence of any reference to the caliphate in the Hamas covenant and in most statements by its leaders. [17] In contrast, organizations like Al-Qaeda constantly call for the restoration of the caliphate and urge Muslims worldwide to devote their efforts to this goal. [18]

Hamas’ position is also reflected in the biographies and last testaments of its martyrs. [19] Evidence shows that, in the last decade, Hamas has been using martyrs’ biographies and last testaments as a vital tool in the indoctrination of the Palestinian masses. [20] A case in point is the documents published by Hamas just before the outbreak of the second Intifada, during which the movement carried out an unprecedented number of suicide attacks. [21] Just prior to the beginning of this wave of attacks, Hamas began publishing martyrs’ biographies and last testaments which – unlike those published previously – were saturated with Koranic verses, quotes from the Islamic traditions (hadith), and ascetic notions derived from the early Islamic ethos of renouncing the world and its pleasures. The texts stressed the insignificance of this life and recommended martyrdom as a legitimate “fast track” to Paradise – the only worthy and desirable goal. These documents served a twofold purpose: preparing the ideological ground for the significant rise in suicide attacks, and recruiting Palestinians to follow the example of these martyrs. [22]

Interestingly, a close examination of numerous such documents posted on the Internet in 2007 finds no mention of the Islamic caliphate as one of the goals to be pursued by means of jihad and suicide operations. [23] The documents justify jihad as a means to “attain martyrdom,” [24] “meet Allah,” [25] “convene with the prophets,” [26] “defend [Islamic] sanctities,” [27] “resist occupation,” [28] reach “Paradise and [marry] the Virgins,” [29] “preserve Islam,” [30] and “cleanse Gaza of the hypocrites,” [31] but none of the documents mention the aim of bringing the world under Islamic rule. On the contrary, they consistently tie the notion of jihad to the immediate Palestinian context, and shy away from any allusion to global Islamic goals. Had Hamas intended to discard its long-standing nationalist approach in favor of a more global policy, it would presumably have used these texts to lay down the ideological infrastructure for this ideological shift.

A message posted November 11, 2007, on the Islamist website, titled “The Difference between Hamas and Al-Qaeda…,” explicitly stresses the movement’s local focus. The document, by an anonymous Hamas member, states: “Our organization, Hamas, believes in the local [character] of the conflict with the Zionist enemy, and [therefore] refuses to export it [to regions] outside Palestine…” [32] This approach is also in line with the importance that Hamas attributes to its inter-regional and international relations. The movement is unlikely to jeopardize these relations in the near future by exporting its jihad.
III. Afterword

Though most of the evidence presented here suggests that Hamas is likely to persist in its policy of confining its armed struggle to Palestine, this does not mean that the movement will necessarily adopt an isolationist approach. On the contrary, as evident from its ties with Iran, Hamas, as a pragmatic social movement, is likely to exploit contacts and forge ties with any foreign entity that will assist it in its battle against Israel and/or against Fatah in the Territories. At this point, however, it seems unlikely that Hamas will use these ties to adopt an agenda of global jihad.

It should be noted that there have been some cases in which Hamas members were shown to have ties with Al-Qaeda. [33] However, such cases have been few, and in none was it established that the contacts reflected any decision on the part of the Hamas leadership to forge ties with this organization. On the contrary: The contacts seem to have been initiated by the individuals themselves, acting in opposition to Hamas’ declared anti-Al-Qaeda policy.

As a final note, it is important to keep in mind that, given the current tension inside Hamas, any split within the movement may alter its character as a local jihad movement.

*Dr. Alshech is the director of the Jihad and Terrorism Studies Project at MEMRI.

[1] For a full translation of the covenant, See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1092, “The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement – Hamas,” February 14, 2006,

[2] Al-Zawahiri video published March 8, 2007. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1500, “Al-Zawahiri Attacks Hamas for Signing Mecca Agreement,” March 13, 2007,

[3] Bin Laden’s October 23, 2007 address to the mujahideen in Iraq,

[4] Similarly, Islamists reject the term “resistance” (muqawama), while Hamas chose this term as part of its title (The Islamic Resistance Movement) and uses it extensively in its publications. The global jihad movements prefer to describe their military activities as “jihad” rather than “resistance,” since the former is sanctioned by Islamic law, while the latter is sanctioned by international law. See, for example, an article by Al-Qaeda commander Yahya Al-Libi titled: “Jihad or Muqawama,” .


[6] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1568, “A Warning Call,” May 3, 2007,

[7] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1500, “Al-Zawahiri Attacks Hamas for Signing Mecca Agreement,” March 13, 2007, See also Al-Zawahiri’s December 2007 message titled “The Treason… of Annapolis” in which he calls upon Hamas to declare its commitment to “establishing the Caliphate,… fighting until the word of Allah [reigns] supreme… [and] liberating every inch of Islamic land from Andalusia to Chechnya…” See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1787, “Al-Zawahiri in Two Recent Messages: ‘Iran Stabbed a Knife into the Back of the Islamic Nation;’ Urges Hamas to Declare Commitment to Restoring the Caliphate,” December 18, 2007, ).

[8] Lydia Khalil, “Al-Qaeda & MB: United by Strategy, Divided by Tactics,”

[9] U6Qq7k%2bcOd87MDI46m9rUxJEpMO%2bi1s73U04Hy5EzozcaeDmuC%2f%2fWboCU2vOpUHfEJj6x%2fFzBqZaC33y%2bYlOIQekhMO%2bJO5a1r1PaOjO3MP1fSApQY5onKmhrtJsGd6cxx3PwS5nMmo%3d.


[11] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1641, “Jaysh Al-Islam to Hamas’ ‘Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades: Announce Establishment of an Islamic Emirate in Gaza,” June 29, 2007,

[12] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1634, “Al-Qaeda Deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri Calls on Hamas to Enforce the Shari’a in Gaza,” June 26, 2007,

[13] This is contrary to statements made immediately after the takeover by some Hamas officials, such as Nizar Rayyan, who announced that the takeover spelled “the end of secularism in Gaza.” (See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1633, “Fears in PA: Gaza May Turn into Taliban-Style Emirate,” June 26, 2007,



[16] These priorities were set by Hassan Al-Bana and his followers in the early years of the movement’s existence. (See Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, Reading, U.K., 1998, p. 80). The fact that the Brotherhood’s current website makes no reference to the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate suggests that the movement still adheres to these priorities.

[17] Hamas leaders rarely allude to the reestablishment of the caliphate, and when they do, the allusions are brief and contain no reference to timetables or to ways in which this goal may be achieved.

[18] For such an appeal by bin Laden, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1286, “Bin Laden’s Speeches 2003-2006,” September 8, 2006, See also an article titled “No Peace without Islam” published by the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC, now called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in the October 2005 issue of its journal Al-Jama’a. The author of the article, Abu Mus’ab ‘Abd Al-Wadoud (now the group’s leader) calls on the Algerians to refrain from signing agreements with the government, and to invest their efforts in reestablishing the historic Islamic caliphate. Al-Jama’a, October 2005, p. 24.

[19] The term “martyr” refers here to Hamas members who died while carrying out attacks against Israel.

[20] The documents are circulated widely among the Palestinian public via various media, and their intended audience is clearly the Palestinians rather than the overall Muslim community.

[21] Data show that between 1987 and 1999, Hamas terrorists carried out about six suicide operations per annum. During the second Intifada, however, the average number of suicide operations carried out by Hamas rose to 24.75 per annum. If one considers the hundreds of suicide missions thwarted by the Israeli military between 2000 and 2006, the increase is even more significant.

[22] For an analysis of martyrs’ biographies and last testaments as a martyrological corpus used by Hamas to justify and promote suicide attacks, see Eli Alshech, “Egoistic Martyrdom and Hamas’ Success in the 2005 Municipal Elections: A Study of Hamas Martyrs’ Ethical Wills, Biographies, and Eulogies,” Die Welt des Islams, forthcoming 48.1 (2008).

[23] I thank Daniel Nagy who assisted me in collecting the data.

[24] See, for example, the biography of Muhammad Abu Karsh,

[25] See, for example, the biography of Hussein Al-Shubasi,

[26] See, for example, the biography of Munir Muhammad Tanira,

[27] See, for example, the biography of Jamal ‘Abd Al-Rahman Abu Shwayreh,

[28] See, for example, the last testament of Hussein Khalil Abu ‘Awda,

[29] See, for example, the biography of Hani Muhammad Saleh,

[30] See, for example, the biography of Nayef Ibrahim Abu Al-Hasun,

[31] See Hamas’ announcement of Abu Al-Hasun’s death,,

[32] Hamas’ decision to extradite an Al-Qaeda operative to Egypt is further evidence that the movement is actively seeking to disassociate itself from Al-Qaeda.

[33] Such ties were discussed, for example, in an article by Dore Gold titled “Ties between Al-Qaeda and Hamas in Mideast Are Long and Frequent…” (San Francisco Chronicle, March 5, 2006). See also Zaki Chehab, Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement (New York, 2007), pp. 173-196, in which the author describes contacts between Hamas members and Al-Qaeda operatives in Sinai.

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