As Israel prepares its ground assault in Gaza following attacks by Hamas, the militant group’s former leader has called for protests around the world and has said it is the time for jihad—a term that has been widely used by the group and other Islamist militants in the context of holy war.
Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state.
The group launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on Saturday and at least 1,300 people were killed there, the Associated Press reported, citing the Israeli military. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest air strikes on Gaza and at least 1,400 people have been killed in the enclave, according to the Palestinian health ministry, AP said.
Khaled Mashaal, the former leader of the political wing of Hamas, released a video statement to Reuters this week calling on others to “Deliver a message through, the squares and the streets, a message of anger, that we are with Palestine.”
Mashaal mentioned the concept of “jihad,” and some outlets reported that he had urged a “global jihad.”
Who Is Khaled Mashaal?
Mashaal was the leader of the political wing of Hamas from 1996 to 2017, tasked with building relations with other Sunni Muslim powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt.
The United States classifies both wings of Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Speaking in 2014, during conflict in Gaza, Mashaal said Hamas would not cease resisting Israel until its demands were met, saying: “The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that it be up for negotiation.
“There is no politics without resistance and there is no resistance without arms.”
Mashaal added: “Our enemy only comes under pressure when they are under fire. As our rockets hit them, they were forced to hold talks with us.”
While leader of Hamas’ political branch, Mashaal was based in Qatar, where he still lives. According to the Counter Extremism Project, he is now leader of Hamas’ diaspora office.
What Did Mashaal Say This Week?
In his recorded statement, Mashaal called for, among other requests, global protests. A video was published via MailOnline in an article summarizing his comments given in Arabic and translated, and credited to Reuters.
“I call on you, me being included as well, and we are all responsible for this to start with the things we are used to but with a higher ceiling, first of all for anger, to head to the squares and streets of the Arab and Islamic world on Friday, the Friday of Al Aqsa Flood,” Mashaal said.
“Deliver a message through the squares and the streets, a message of anger, that we are with Palestine, that we are with Gaza, with Al Aqsa, with Jerusalem, and that we are a part of this battle, this is first.
“Second, Gaza is calling you for help, with relief and money, with whatever you own, whoever can help, this is the moment of truth.
“What should we answer?
“We are facing truth, and here I say clearly, without hesitation, this is the moment for the nation to join in the fight, to fight with them.
“I call firstly the surrounding countries, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, all of its sons and daughters, officially and popularly, your duty is bigger, because you are closer to Palestine.
“Tribes of Jordan, sons of Jordan, brothers and sisters of Jordan, from all of your sides and backgrounds, this is a moment of truth and the borders are close to you, you all know your responsibility, and this applies to all nations.
“To all scholars who teach jihad for the sake of God and who preach the fighters and martyrs, to all who teach and learn, this is a moment of application [of theories], so that words are not just words.”
Newsweek has reached out to Reuters for a copy of the video statement.
Meanings of jihad
Jihad does not always refer to armed struggle, although it is widely used in that context by militant groups—including Hamas and its fellow Palestinian militant group named Islamic Jihad, some of whose fighters joined the attack on Israel.
Writing in 2017, following the Manchester Arena bombing in the U.K., Samantha May, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, explained in an article published by Newsweek that in theological terms, jihad literally means “struggle” in the path of God.
“The ‘greater’ jihad is the struggle to be a good Muslim, as enacted everyday by the millions of pious Muslims across the globe in acts such as getting out of bed for prayers at dawn and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan,” May wrote.
“The ‘lesser’ jihad, meanwhile, is armed struggle in the way of Allah.”
May added that while specific movements have reinterpreted the concepts for their own “temporal needs,” there is “no definite beginnings or ends to the vague concept of a jihadi ‘mission’—there are only constantly evolving practices, strategies and understandings.”
Mohammad Hassan Khalil, director of the Muslim Studies Program and adjunct professor in the College of Law at Michigan State University, writing for The Conversation, said that in the “specific context of Islamic law, however, jihad generally signifies an armed struggle against outsiders.”
However, it’s debated at what point warfare is justified, Khalil wrote, adding that a rule of civilian immunity from violence is “widely accepted.”
“But such radicals also invoke loopholes to get around this rule,” Khalil wrote.
“When attempting to justify 9/11, for instance, Osama bin Laden argued, among other things, that American civilians could be targeted since, he asserted, American forces had previously targeted Muslim civilians.
“To justify this loophole, bin Laden invoked the writings of medieval Muslim scholars such as al-Qurtubi. As I show in a recent book, however, al-Qurtubi actually held the exact opposite view: Civilians should never be targeted as a form of retribution,
“This is but one example of why it is critical not to conflate the prevailing interpretations of jihad with Muslim terrorism.”
As written by Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan in Islam: The Essentials, scholars have created dozens of accepted forms or definitions of jihad “of which war…is only one, and far from the most prominent.”
Where Does This Leave Us?
While the term jihad can be used in other contexts than to refer to a holy war, Hamas has always been clear about its aims and the means it believes are necessary to achieve them.
Hamas’s charter, updated in 2017, says there shall be no recognition of Israel—referred to as the Zionist entity—and that it seeks the complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea: meaning all of Israel and not only the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It underlines that armed resistance is at the heart of its struggle.
“Resistance and jihad for the liberation of Palestine will remain a legitimate right, a duty and an honour for all the sons and daughters of our people and our Ummah,” it says, referring to the community of Muslims, according to one translation.
Update 10/12/23, 2:43 p.m. ET: Adds additional context about Hamas and its aims