When a group of Shiite, Sunni, and Sufi clerics agree on a religious matter, that should be earth-shaking front-page news, just as if Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis agreed on a religious matter. I will get to that below. First, however, some background is required.
In my last column (“Islamophobia: This time, blame the victim”), I attacked the normative Islamic religious establishment for not denouncing as a vicious falsehood the claim made by Hamas and other terrorist enterprises that they represent Islam and are defending it by committing unspeakable atrocities on innocent civilians. In my column published two weeks earlier (“The media’s role in skyrocketing Jew-hatred”), I argued that the media plays into this failure in the way it reports on events in the Israel-Palestinian dispute.
Also routinely ignored by the clerics and the media are the crimes Hamas has been committing against the people of Gaza ever since it violently overthrew the government there in the June 2007 “Battle of Gaza.” That nine-day conflict and the significant civilian casualties and infrastructure damage it caused are rarely mentioned. Only the casualties and infrastructure damage Israel causes by its attacks are ever mentioned.
The public, the Muslim world especially, needs to know of the long list of crimes Hamas commits against fellow Muslims in Gaza, yet it is virtually absent from clerics’ statements and media reports. All too often, we are treated to interviews in which Gazans speak passionately about how Israel’s punishing campaign had destroyed the lives they had before October 7. The interviewers never challenge those descriptions.
But they should because of what a trans-sectarian group of Muslim clerics jointly said and did in March of this year (to be discussed further on).
The Muslim clerics who attended the 43rd Consultative Meeting of Provincial Muftis in Ankara, Turkey, also should have been aware of what was done in March. On November 16, the muftis — Islamic scholars — passed a resolution stating that “Gaza, Jerusalem, and Palestine are matters of faith and dignity for Muslims,” and that “remaining indifferent to the atrocities and genocide committed by Zionists in Gaza…is a significant moral burden and an unforgivable crime against humanity.”
The resolution had been proposed by the Turkish government’s religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet. Its president, the mufti Ali Erbaş, often is accused of promoting antisemitism in Turkey. With the approval of the assembled clerics, he issued a fatwa (a non-binding legal ruling) that stated that Islamic law forbids supporting any country that stands by Israel. To do so, it said, would be “directly or indirectly supporting oppressors, occupiers, terrorists, and killers.”
That brings us to what was done quite openly by the Iraqi-based Islamic Fatwa Council months before the October 7 nightmare. The IFC is a legal body composed of Shiite, Sunni, and Sufi clerics. Because of its trans-sectarian makeup, its fatwas usually carry great weight in the Muslim world.
On March 9, 2023, the IFC issued Fatwah F02301, which said that, based “on the requests of countless believers,” it had “reviewed extensive documentation of Hamas behavior towards Palestinians in Gaza.” Hamas, the fatwa concluded, “bears responsibility for its own reign of corruption and terror against Palestinian civilians within Gaza.” The fatwa cited “the many forms of extortion and terror which Hamas practices against civilians in Gaza.… Hamas has been promoting and engaging in ISIS-like behavior against Muslims and Palestinians alike, under the guise of ‘resistance.’”
Fatwah F02301 then ruled that it “is prohibited to pray for, join, support, finance, or fight on behalf of Hamas—an entity that adheres to the ideology of the [Egyptian] Muslim Brotherhood movement.” The IFC clerics added that the fatwa “applies to Hamas…and all of Hamas’s affiliates, financiers, organizations, entities, representatives, deputies, jurists, current and future members, and followers within and outside of Gaza.”
Significantly, as if to underscore that its ruling was not an outlier to be dismissed, it also added this: “The Islamic Fatwa Council joins the UAE Fatwa Council [a government body created in part to help eradicate Islamic extremism] and the Council of Senior Scholars of Saudi Arabia [the kingdom’s highest religious body] in declaring the Muslim Brotherhood movement and all of its branches [including Hamas] as terrorist organizations that defame Islam and operate in opposition to mainstream Islamic unity, theology, and jurisprudence.”
In issuing Fatwah F02301, the IFC called attention to a 25-part series of video interviews released in January titled “Whispered In Gaza,” in which “Palestinian men and women…testified to the oppression they face under Hamas rule.” The series protects the identity of the testifiers by using animation and voice-altering technology.
Produced by the Brooklyn-based Center for Peace Communications, the series received high praise from academics and others in and out of the Arab world, but like Fatwah F02301, it too is ignored by the majority of Muslim clerics, Islamic politicians, and the media generally.
Fatima Abo Alasrar is an Arabian Peninsula affairs scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, where she specializes in studying trans-state militias. “Palestinians are gradually breaking the silence on their conditions as they realize that Hamas has exploited their suffering in the pursuit of power, disregarding their well-being and fundamental human rights,” she said.
Breaking that silence, however, often comes at a high price. According to Ghaith al-Omari, Hamas “targets any manifestation of dissent and suppresses even the mere expression of dissatisfaction with the living conditions. In 2019, a large number of Gazans took to the streets … to protest the dismal living conditions in the Strip under Hamas…. Hamas deployed both its security forces and activists to crack down violently on the protestors…. And no effort was spared to delegitimize the protestors, who were called ‘traitors,’ ‘collaborators,’ and ‘spies’ with ‘a Zionist agenda.’”
Al-Omari was part of the late Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat’s negotiating team at the 2000 Camp David Summit and at the 2001 Taba Summit in Egypt. He was an adviser to Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, until 2006. Today, he is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute’s Irwin Levy Family program on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Relationship.
While he is no fan of Israel’s “restrictive policies” against Gaza, Al-Omari bemoans the fact that “the conduct of Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Strip, has received much less attention. Through its actions during armed hostilities and its day-to-day religious, cultural, political, social, and economic policies, Hamas has created an oppressive, stifling reality for the majority of Gazans.”
Dr. Jawad Al Anani has held several high-ranking positions in Jordan, including significant stints as deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, as well as heading several other ministries. He also served for a time as president of the Royal Court in Amman. Said he of the film series:
“I saw quite clearly that many people in Gaza yearn for peace and security and crave a dignified, decent life. It is understandable that the interviewees preferred anonymity: merely for expressing themselves openly, they could have faced accusations of ‘collaboration with the enemy.’ Yet in participating, they exposed the undeniable fact that people yearn for a normal life free of threats — a feeling that is shared on both sides of the border…. I have not the slightest doubt that Gaza [without Hamas] would become an oasis of peace and prosperity, a tribute to its people and their neighbors.”
These are serious Muslim voices reacting to the evils Hamas perpetrates on the people of Gaza. (Their comments and several others, as well as the videos themselves can be downloaded at www.peacecomms.org/gaza.) “Whispered in Gaza” offers 25 other voices — those of people living under Hamas’s tyrannical regime. The authoritative voices of the Islamic Fatwa Council, the United Arab Emirates Fatwa Council, and the Council of Senior Scholars of Saudi Arabia also have spoken. They all cringe, as we all should, at the level of devastation Israel has caused, but they put most of the blame where it belongs — on Hamas and its crimes.
But the majority of Muslim clerics and politicians, and most of the world’s media, ignore all these voices.
Others have spoken as well, and regrettably, their voices are being heard. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, for example, insisted in late October that “Hamas is not a terrorist organization, it is a liberation group, ‘mujahideen’ [Muslims who fight on behalf of Islam or the Muslim community] waging a battle to protect its lands and people.”
Unless the bulk of Muslim clergy stand up as the IFC did, as the UAE Fatwa Council did, and as the Council of Senior Scholars of Saudi Arabia did, and unless they declare that Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all the other terrorist bands are defamers of Islam who “operate in opposition to mainstream Islamic unity, theology, and jurisprudence,” and unless the media in and out of the Arab world report the truth about these Islam-defaming criminal enterprises, there can never be peace for the Children of Abraham — all the children of Abraham, through his sons Isaac and Ishmael.
Kein yehi ratzon, in shā Allāh, may it be God’s will.
Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi of Kehillat Torat Chayim v’Chesed–a virtual congregation, and an adult education teacher in Bergen County. He is the author of eight books and the winner of 10 awards for his commentaries. His website is www.shammai.org.