A 'Spiritual Leader's' Worldly Evils

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) called the slain Hamas Sheikh Ahmad Yassin an “Islamic religious leader.” To the American Muslim Association of North America (AMANA), he was a “renowned Islamic scholar.” Anas Altikriti, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, declared that “for millions of Muslims all over the world, he was seen not only as the founder of Hamas, but as the spiritual father of the latest phase of Palestinian armed struggle for freedom.”

The media got into the act, too. Honest Reporting noted that Agence France Presse termed Yassin simply Hamas’ “spiritual guide.” The BBC stated that “the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas” was a “powerful inspiration for young Palestinians disillusioned with the collapse of peace hopes.”

These labels — “religious leader,” “Islamic scholar,” “spiritual guide” — are notable for being simultaneously accurate and misleading. Most Western readers will no doubt take from them the idea that Yassin, who was in the characterization of the BBC “a frail quadriplegic who could barely see,” was merely an otherworldly father figure, an ascetic clergyman whose religious instructions may have been interpreted overzealously by his spiritual children, but after all, boys will be boys. To call Yassin a spiritual guide suggests to Westerners that he had little, if anything, to do with the ugly business of Hamas’ incessant targeting of Israeli civilians in suicide bombing attacks.

But the sacred/secular distinction doesn’t even exist in Islamic theology, and only has a presence in Islamic culture as an import from the West — and accordingly despised by the likes of Sheikh Yassin. In fact, Yassin founded Hamas in explicit opposition to the relatively secular principles of the PLO. Hamas’s charter declares: “Secular thought is diametrically opposed to religious thought. . . . . we cannot substitute [the PLO] for the Islamic nature of Palestine by adopting secular thought. For the Islamic nature of Palestine is part of our religion, and anyone who neglects his religion is bound to lose.”

The BBC notes that while studying at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Yassin “formed the belief that Palestine was an Islamic land ‘consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day,’ and that no Arab leader had the right to give up any part of this territory.” This idea is based on traditional Islamic religious concepts — chiefly, the idea that any land in which Muslims have held sway at any point belongs forever after to the dar al-Islam (House of Islam), and cannot legitimately be governed by non-Muslims. It would not be enough, therefore, for Israel to set aside land for a Palestinian state; Israel must be subsumed within — and the Jews subjugated to — an Islamic state.

Thus there can be no negotiations: “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith . . .”

Hamas and similar groups such as Islamic Jihad have painted themselves — and the Middle East — into a corner. The Muslim militants who see their struggle against Israel as part of their religious responsibility cannot recognize Israel’s right to exist, or reach any kind of negotiated settlement with “the Zionist entity,” without denying what it has identified as “part of its faith.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, “since September 2000 Hamas has perpetrated 425 terrorist attacks of various kinds, in which 377 Israelis were murdered and 2,076 civilians and soldiers were wounded.” This too Yassin encouraged on religious grounds, promising suicide bombers paradise on the basis of Qur’anic injunctions such as this: “When ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks. … But those who are slain in the Way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will He … admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them” (Sura 47:4-6).

So Yassin was indeed a spiritual leader, but his impact was unmistakably political. The Jerusalem Post adds that “trying to characterize Yassin as a ‘spiritual leader’ is similar to trying to characterize Osama Bin Laden in the same vein.”

Killing Yassin is no more the murder of a sainted religious figure than the killing of Adolf Hitler would have been in 1944. It speaks volumes about CAIR, AMANA, the European leaders who deplore Israel’s action, and the journalists who breezily call Yassin a “spiritual leader,” that they do not acknowledge this fact.