By Adnan Abu Amer
October 13, 2014
The magnitude of Hamas’ media mobilization in response to Israeli accusations of being the same as the Islamic State (IS) was remarkable. Hamas spokespeople and prominent leaders denied the accusations, which have not fooled Western circles.
The political differences between Hamas and IS are primarily ideological and doctrinal, which have prompted many Salafist jihadist members to abandon Hamas as they disagreed with its approach. Many of these Salafist jihadists later joined radical groups, among them IS.
A scholar in Gaza with ties to Hamas spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity about the doctrinal divergences between Hamas and IS. A primary difference, he said, is the two groups' "relationship with others who are religiously and politically different in times of peace and war. Hamas deals with those who are different — except for Israel — on the basis of peace, including those who are religiously different, whereas IS battles against all of those that are different from it."
In its relationship with Christians and Jews, Hamas’ position is based on Verse Eight of the Quranic Surat al-Mumtahanah, which reads, “God does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes — from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, God loves those who act justly.”
The scholar added, “Hamas and IS have different doctrinal stances in terms of governance, democracy, the civil state, citizenship and the formation of political parties. While Hamas recognizes and encourages these concepts, IS considers them blasphemy whose proponents must be killed.”
Although IS has no military presence in the Palestinian territories, Hamas is taking part in the intellectual and ideological debate regarding IS, judging IS' behaviour and weighing in on its disputes with Islamic movements in Arab countries.
A number of Hamas elites are reluctant to openly speak of the doctrinal and intellectual differences with IS, preferring to talk about them privately in closed-door meetings or anonymously in the media due to security concerns and out of fear of sparking an offensive by IS supporters or engaging in a doctrinal or an endless Sharia debate.
A Hamas official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that a Sept. 14 statement by Yusuf al-Qaradawi best represents Hamas' convictions on the matter. Specifically, it has intellectual and methodological disagreements with IS, but Hamas does not support the US-led battle against it.
A senior scholar in Gaza told Al-Monitor, “Hamas and IS have significant disagreements in terms of the interpretation of Islamic sources and the role of politics. Hamas’ short term strategy to reach power stems from the structures that are based on political partnership. This is part of its pragmatism that requires the movement to participate in democratic elections.”
He added, “IS views the concept of political partnership as blasphemous and contrary to Islamic rules, for it is controlled by positive laws that are away from the divine law. It believes in the access to power through armed force only and does not underestimate its Salafist jihadist ideology.”
Adnan Ibrahim, a Palestinian author born in Gaza who has lived for decades in Austria, has expressed one of the most outwardly anti-IS statement thus far. Ibrahim, who is considered an innovator of Islamic thought, accused IS of desecrating non-Muslims and subjecting them to Islamic authority.
Al-Monitor obtained a booklet circulating among Salafist activists supporting IS in Gaza. It read, “IS considers Hamas’ participation in the elections and its application of the positive law as part of the polytheistic innovations worthy of the fires of hell.”
It went on, “Hamas is violating Sharia by adding a Palestinian nationalist nature to its resistance to the Israeli occupation and by not speaking of the Islamic faith. This is because Islam requires Muslims to engage in war to establish a complete international Islamic community that is not limited to a particular geographic area.”
Hamas scholars consider IS in violation of Sharia, as the group does not refer to the scholars of the Islamic nation. IS has no Sharia scholars in its ranks, and it has split away from the larger Muslim community and announced the establishment of the caliphate with zero consultation. IS believes that everyone who has a different opinion is an infidel and carries out mass murders without distinction.
Youssef Farhat, a prominent scholar and Hamas figure in Gaza, took a firm position against IS and engaged in dialogues to express the variance between IS and Hamas.
Farhat believes that IS, with its radical orientations, should be first fought on the ideological and intellectual level before the military level. According to him, the group’s origins are deeply rooted in Islamic history, while other Islamic groups have deviated from the true Islamic path and teachings.
Al-Monitor met with a scholar within Hamas, a graduate of Al-Madinah International University who wished to remain nameless. He referred to the two groups' religious origins, noting that Hamas belongs to the moderate Muslim Brotherhood, while IS is related to a radical current close to al-Qaeda. The latter had created other groups that were also incompatible with Hamas in terms of Sharia interpretation and political ideas.
The same scholar believes that IS' creation was inspired by Saudi Arabian Wahhabism. This extremist, radical ideology is the foundation of al-Qaeda and all its branches, including IS. The beliefs of IS are no different from the ideas, beliefs and actions of Saudi Arabia, except when it comes to armed jihad.
The differences between Hamas' ideology and the Wahhabi-inspired ideology of the Islamic State are numerous. Hamas does not consider Shiites infidels, as IS do. Hamas scholars believe that Shiites are an Islamic group that strayed from the teachings of Islam, though it does not consider them infidels in the doctrinal sense of the word.
Further, Hamas’ literature does not call for the establishment of a caliphate, as advocated by IS. Hamas rejects a religious theocratic government and calls for a civil state with an Islamic reference, with no caliphate label, as explained by Qaradawi's book, “The Jurisprudence of the State in Islam,” which is studied by Hamas’ Sharia scholars.
Hamas does not consider non-Muslim Brotherhood members infidels. Meanwhile, IS commits massacres against those who oppose it, whether Muslims or Christians, considering anyone who doesn't join its ranks infidels.
Hamas scholars show their support for religious freedom and do not condone attacking or harming any person, in reference to the Quranic teaching, “There is no compulsion in religion.”
Hamas is an inclusive movement that takes on political, social and jihadist roles. Its efforts are not limited to its military wing, despite its importance. However, the goals of IS are purely military, as this group does not believe in politics or institutional work.
For Hamas, the concept of jihad is limited to resistance against the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories. It does not fight the Jews because of their religion, but because they are occupying Palestine. Also, Hamas does not adopt the practice of beheading Israeli soldiers and settlers, as it believes that mutilating bodies is prohibited by Islam.
Al-Monitor learned that the Hamas leadership did not approve of its militants’ execution of spies on Sept. 22 during the Gaza war, as it preferred to execute these spies out of the public eye or in the presence of judicial bodies. The move coincided with the publishing of images of IS executions on battlefields in Syria and Iraq, giving a pretext for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to claim a link between Hamas and IS and inaccurately say that they use the same methods.
Hamas aims to organize and prepare society before adopting the provisions of Sharia, one of the central differences between IS and Hamas. This orientation goes in line with the Muslim Brotherhood theory that calls for the formation of a Muslim individual first, then a Muslim family, in order to establish a Muslim society and then a Muslim state.
The Muslim Brotherhood doctrine, followed by Hamas, teaches its followers the importance of first spreading the group's ideology among individuals, underlined by the Brotherhood slogan: "If you create an Islamic state within yourselves, it will be created on your land." IS began its work by imposing borders on the people.
IS has tarnished the image of Islam through its killings and beheadings that are broadcast on social media. This, in turn, has ruined the image of Islam in the eyes of both its followers and adversaries.
Hamas does not base its rules solely on Sharia, but mixes it with positive laws and is committed to the gradual implementation of Sharia, which is not the approach of the Islamic State. While Hamas accepts democracy as a system of governance, IS considers it blasphemous and considers anyone supporting a democratic system of governance an infidel.
Adnan Abu Amer is dean of the Faculty of Arts and head of the Press and Information Section as well as a lecturer in the history of the Palestinian issue, national security, political science and Islamic civilization at Al Ummah University Open Education. He holds a doctorate in political history from the Demashq University and has published a number of books on issues related to the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict.