The Life and Thought of ‘Izz-Id-Din al-Qassam – Part Three

However, according to Hanifi, Sheikh al-‘Alarm’s “close contact” was his brother, who held the post of Mufti and chief chaplain of the Muslim soldiers serving the French in the Army of the Levant. AI-‘Alami, a special roving muqaddam. of the Tijaniya tariqa, travelled extensively in the Arab East in the early decades of the 20th century establishing branches of the Tijaniya and setting up zawiyas in Egypt, the Sudan, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Arabia.

Al-‘Alami had a great impact upon al-Qassam and his closest disciples in Hanifi. According to Hanifi, only al-Qassam, Hanifi himself, and three others were initiated into the Tijaniya tariqa by al-‘Alami (Sheikh Ali, the brother of al-Qassam, Sheikh Salih al-Wouli, and Sheikh Mohammed Abdul-Ghani). They were instructed by al-‘ Alami in standard Tijaniya practice: to dhikr the tahlil and to recite the tijani wird known as “salat al fath” fifty times after each prayer invoking blessings upon the Prophet, the particular contemplative route of the Tijaniya.

Although al-Qassam was subsequently given the ithim (spiritual authority) as a muqaddam Tijaniya by Sheikh al-‘Alami, thereby empowering al-Qassam to initiate others into the tariya, Hanifi says no other followers of al-Qassam were initiated nor were any others told about the relationship between al-Qassam and the Tijaniya. But it was around this small inner core of Tijani’s that al-Qassam would build the new movement of mujahidin.

There were other differences between al-Qassam and al-Qassab. Both sheikhs believed in the inevitability of jihad against the colonial occupation of the Muslim world, but whereas al-Qassab concentrated on developing a following among the middle classes who he believed in turn would lead the Muslim masses, Al-Qassam found himself more and more drawn to the uneducated working classes who responded to his warm and modest personality, as well as to his preaching, first at the Gerini mosque and then after a few years at the Istiqlal Mosque built by the Jamiat Islamiya to serve the spiritual needs of the growing number of Muslims employed in the new industrial district growing up in and around Haifa’s railroad yards.

Because of his easy accessibility in contrast to many of the other `ulama, al-Qassam would frequently be stopped on the street on his way to teach at the Madrassa Islamiya for advice and religious guidance, so he was frequently late for his classes. As director of the Madrassa, al-Qassab insisted that al-Qassam should keep regular hours, but since that was becoming increasingly impossible, al-Qassam resigned his teaching post.

Al-Qassam intensified his contacts with the people of Haifa. He became an “outstanding personality” at the Mawlid al-Nabi festivals held according to Syrian custom whenever a family has some good fortune to celebrate – the birth of a child, his or her memorisation of a portion of the Quran, graduation, promotion – in a metaphysical sense, “the birthday of the Prophet”. AIQassam would recite the mawlz’d.“38”

At the mawlids, at his Friday sermons, and his less formal lessons in the mosques following asr (afternoon) prayers, al-Qassam studied the men who seemed most concentrated in their prayer and invocations and most responsive to his preaching, and he visited them in their homes for more discussion and more observation. Invariably, these were men without formal education, illiterate railway workers, construction workers, stevedores, artisans and small shopkeepers. Al-Qassam formed them into perhaps a dozen circles, each circle unknown to the other. He taught them to read, using the Quran as text and all the time he preached the duty- and inevitability of jihad.

Many of his followers were former tenant farmers recently driven off their land either by the land purchases and Arab labour exclusion policies of the Jewish National Fund, or by their inability to meet the rising rents in the Palestinian land boom stimulated by the continuous Zionist purchases.“39”

In Haifa all of the effects of sudden development and the peculiar characteristics of the settler-colonisation of Palestine were compounded. As the major port, railroad centre and (by the early 1930’s) oil refinery for the Arab East, Haifa, more than any other city in Palestine, attracted the drifting Palestinian labour force. The jump in Jewish immigration in the early 1930’s which stimulated a boom in building and allied trades in Haifa further intensified this effect, drawing in still more unskilled labour from the countryside.“40”

Crowded into shantytowns, largely ignored by the traditional urban Palestinian leaderships who were locked into an almost all-consuming political struggle between the big families for the leadership of Palestinian Arabs, victimised by an inflation that often required more than half the wages of an unskilled worker to pay the rent of a decent room, and thrust into a rapidly secularising environment, the Palestinian workers’

. .. feelings were intensified by the spectacle of the handsome new boulevards erected in the more desirable parts of the towns by and for the [Jewish] immigrant population, and by the acres of Jewish working men’s quarters erected by Jewish building societies. Sometimes too, he had the experience of being driv-en from work by Jewish pickets and he resented the fact that the British Mandate] Government paid the Jewish workman double the rate it paid him for the same work.“41”

The same transformation of Palestine by British colonial rule that was creating this new, displaced Palestinian Muslim working class was also preparing the country for the establishment of a Zionist settler society and state. The traditional Palestinian elite were incapable of responding to either phenomenon. At worst, the avarice and petty political rivalries of the big family notables, and the decadence of the religious leadership contributed directly to the settler colonisation of Palestine; at best, by opposing Zionist settlement while refusing to directly confront the British colonial authority protecting that colonisation, they limited the effectiveness of their opposition.“42” This was the social and political order in which al-Qassam began his preparations for jihad.

Al-Qassam taught his disciples how to read using the Quran as his textbook; so he taught them the doctrine of jihad, but with the most important passages illuminated by hadith which he quoted to them from memory. “43”

To the degree that the informants for this study were able to recall his commentaries, certain themes stand out that reflect either upon the circumstances of his particular time and struggle, or provide an explanation for the subsequent behaviour of his disciples.

The core of the doctrine was contained within surah-al-hajj, XII: 78:

And strive for Allah with the endeavour that is His right. He hath chosen you and hath not laid upon you in religion any hardship; the faith of your father Abraham (is yours). He hath named you Muslims of old time and in this (scripture) that the messenger may be a witness against you, and that ye may be witnesses against mankind. So establish worship, pay the poor due, and hold fast to Allah. He is your Protecting Friend. A blessed Patron and a blessed Helper!

Al-Qassam explained this verse to mean that the mujahid has been chosen by God, and the perfect, effective jihad requires ihsan – the sincere perfection of all aspects of ibadat (ritual duties) agida (creed), iman (faith), and Islam (submission to God’s commands). The perfect mujahid helps the poor, feeds the hungry, comforts the sick and visits his relatives, and all of these good deeds must be crowned by constant prayer. Therefore the mujahid must concentrate upon his prayer. To illustrate this sense of sincerity and its relation to prayer, al-Qassam quoted from the hadith describing ihsan: “It is to worship Allah as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet truly he sees you”.“44”

The mujahid achieved this sincerity by practising the “greater jihad ” which al-Qassam also described as the jihad al-nafs (the jihad against the self). al-Qassam made frequent use of this hadith, but on two levels. In his public sermons he preached that striving to be honest, truthful, to respect other people, their trust and their family honour, was jihad. To deprive oneself of haram (forbidden) pleasures was jihad, and he preached that only when the Muslims practised jihad al-nafs could they live at peace with their neighbours.

To the mujahidin the importance of the greater jihad and of the quality of sincerity that he wanted them to achieve in their religious life was primarily for of good character. Good character, al-Qassam taught, was more important than bravery in jihad. When God praised the Prophet, it was not for his bravery but for his good character (akhlak karimah) or ethical standards. A man of good character will never accept humiliation but will fight; therefore the virtues precede bravery or militancy as a prerequisite to fighting ft sabilAllah; therefore, the greater jihad is greater than the lesser jihad.

At the same time al-Qassam insisted that the “conscientiousness and logic” that could only be acquired by secular sciences in the West was present, as the method of jihad, within Islam as a gift of God. This idea of jihad as in Islamic science which had, according to Abu Is’af, in its manner of ‘exposition something of the nature of “mathematical probability”, was based al-Qassam on four verses (LI:39-43) from surat-al-najm:

That man hath only that for which he strives for, And that the fruit of his striving will be apparent, Then will he be rewarded with a reward And afterward he will be repaid for it with fullest payment, And that thy Lord, He, is the goal.

There was nothing the disciples could not master. The light machine gun, al-Q,assam declared, was a mentality as well as a weapon.

The justification for jihad was “to elevate the Word of God” but oppression and humiliation were intolerable facts. They must fight fiercely for they are the defenders alluded to in XLII:40-42 to whom no blame will attach; it is their enemies who have come to oppress, who are the wrong doers, the aggressors. In battle the mujahid must concentrate upon fighting well and save his human sympathies for when he takes prisoners.

Al-Qassam continuously returned to the theme that it is not a necessary condition that the Muslims be as strong in number and weaponry as their enemy when fighting starts. Quoting verses VIII: 65 and IV: 104, al-Qassam taught that the basic condition is faith. He who believes that God is with him and fights to prevent the transgressor from transgressing has arrived at the central doctrine, even if he knows he is going to die, because martyrdom inspires the other Muslims to continue the struggle and the martyr’s death is kindling wood for jihad and Islam.

The mujahid seeking martyrdom is of the spiritual elite or the “vanguard” (tali’a)45 which al-Qassam illustrated by quoting the hadith: “This religion will not cease to endure with a company of the Muslims fighting on its behalf till the last hour comes”. According to the (Zuaranic verse IV : 84 the mujahid is responsible for himself. It is not a condition that he cannot fight until he has all of the people behind him. The mujahid must be the vanguard and light the way for those who will follow. Whatever the number, however small it may be, the mujahid must trust in God and be sure that victory will come and that he will be victorious. AI-Qassam frequently quoted the many hadiths bearing upon the rewards awaiting the shahid in paradise and this fate was understood as one of the dimensions of victory, as well as that of triumph in this world. The mujahid’s love of martyrdom will secure his victory in either dimension, according to verse IV: 104, because the enemy has only the love of life.

Al-Qassam taught his disciples that surat-at-tazvba was the surah of jihad, and he frequently recited IX: 6 when giving strict orders to the mujahidin that if they took prisoners they were not permitted to torture or humilate them. al


Mahmud Sursawi (“Abu Yusuf”), private interview, Beirut, August 1973. Sursawi’s father. Abu Mahmud, was an early disciple and member of the Haifa mujahidin. The mawlid recitation consists of a long poem eulogising the Prophet, of which a number of versions are in cirulation.
39) Palestine: Report on Immigrationm, Land, Settlement and Development by Sir John Hope Simpson, 1930. London: HMSO, pp. 35-36, 52-56.
40) Nevil Barbour, Nisi Dominus (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies Reprint, 1969), p.333.
41) Ibid., p.134. The “experience of being driven from work by Jewish pickets” is an allusion by Barbour to the “conquest of labour” campaign undertaken to prevent Jewish firms from hiring Arab labour and to force the Mandate government into hiring on a parity basis although the Jewish percentage of the population was still insignificant compared to the Arab population (Barbour, pp. 139-141, 100-101).
42) The political history of the Palestinian struggle against Zionism and in particular the inability of the traditional leaderships to lead that struggle with dedication, perseverence and intelligence is discussed in Kayyali, Palestine: A Modern History, and by Naji Allush, Al Muqawama al-arabiya fifilatin (Beirut: PLO Research Centre, 1967).
43) Unless otherwise noted, the section on al-Qassam’s oral teachings are a composite of the recollections of Abu Is’af, Abu Ibrahim al-Kabir, Muhammed Hanifi, “Abu Adnan” Sursawi, and Muhammed al-Qassam.
44) An-Nawawi, Forty Hadith, p.30.

The Islamic Quarterly, London
Second Quarter 1979