Izz ad-Din al-Qassam
|Izz ad-Din al-Qassam|
|Native name||عز الدين القسام|
|Born||19 December 1882
Jableh, Vilayet of Syria
|Died||20 November 1935
Ya'bad, British Mandate of Palestine
|Alma mater||al-Azhar University|
|Organization||The Black Hand|
Izz ad-Din Abd al-Qadar ibn Mustafa ibn Yusuf ibn Muhammad al-Qassam (probably 1882  – 20 November 1935) (Arabic: عز الدين بن عبد القادر بن مصطفى بن يوسف بن محمد القسام, ʿIzz ad-Dīn bin Abd al-Qāder bin Mustafa bin Yousef bin Muhammad al-Qassām) was a Syrian-born Palestinian Muslim preacher who was a leader in the fight against British, French, and Zionist organizations in the Levant in the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Syria, he later immigrated to British Mandate Palestine where he was eventually killed in a manhunt following the murder of a British policeman. Israeli historian Tom Segev has called him 'the Arab Joseph Trumpeldor'.
Early life and Muslim scholarship
Al-Qassam was born in Jableh, Syria, in the northern Latakia Governorate as the son of Abd al-Qadar, a Sharia court official during Ottoman rule and a local leader of the Qadari Sufi order. His grandfather had been a leading sheikh of the Qadari order and moved to Jableh from Iraq. Al-Qassam also followed the Hanafi school of jurisprudence (fiqh) and studied at the local Istambuli Mosque under the teaching of well-known 'alim ("scholar") Sheikh Salim Tayarah.
Sometime between 1902 and 1905, al-Qassam left for Cairo to study at the al-Azhar Mosque. Who he studied with is disputed by sources, some accounts say he studied under the Muslim reformist scholar Muhammad Abduh and came into contact with prominent proto-Salafist, Rashid Rida, who himself studied under Abduh, while others are skeptical of Qassam's relationship with either. At al-Azhar, al-Qassam developed the thinking that would guide his future activism. Critical of a stagnant Islam, he preached among the ranks of the farmers and local people in civil areas about the necessity for a modern Islam, one capable of defending itself from Western colonialism through jihad. He returned to Jableh in 1909 as a 'alim and served as a teacher at a Qadari madrasa ("Islamic school") where he taught both the mystical practices of the Sufi order and the jurisprudence and commentary of the Qur'an. In addition he preached as the imam of the Ibrahim Ibn Adham Mosque.
Following his return to Jableh, al-Qassam commenced a program of Islamic revival based on moral reforms which included the encouragement of maintaining regular salaah ("prayer") and the sawm ("fast") during Ramadan as well as advocating an end to gambling and alcohol consumption. Al-Qassam's campaign highly influenced Jableh's residents who increasingly adopted his reforms. He developed amiable relations with the local Ottoman police who he would call upon to enforce Sharia law on rare cases of major violations. In some occasions, he would send disciples as vigilantes to intercept caravans transporting alcohol which would then be disposed of. Despite the support for Arab nationalism from some of his fellow alumni at al-Azhar and among Syrian notables, al-Qassam's loyalties most likely laid with the Ottoman Empire as his relationship with the authorities would indicate. He was well-regarded among much of Jableh's population where he gained a reputation for piety, simple manners and good humor.
Support for Libyan resistance
Following Italy's September 1911 invasion of Libya, al-Qassam began collecting funds in Jableh for the joint Ottoman-Libyan resistance movement and composed a victory anthem. Jableh's district governor sought to gain control over the fundraiser and when locals nevertheless continued to send their donations to al-Qassam, he attempted to have him jailed. The district governor alleged that al-Qassam was working against the Ottoman state, but an official investigation found him not guilty and the governor was consequently dismissed.
In June 1912, during one of his Friday prayer sermons, he called for volunteers to engage in jihad ("holy struggle") against the Italians. Accepting only volunteers with prior Ottoman military training, al-Qassam enlisted dozens of volunteers and set up a fund for the expedition to Libya as well as a small pension for the families of volunteers while they were abroad. Although accounts vary, al-Qassam was accompanied by 60 to 250 volunteers known as mujahideen when he arrived in Alexandretta in the latter part of that year. Intending to gain sea transportation from the Ottomans, al-Qassam's request was rejected by the authorities who ordered him and his men back to Jableh. A new Ottoman government in Istanbul had gained power and shifted the state's focus to the Balkan front in October, abandoning the Libyan resistance. Part of the money that was raised was then used to establish a madrasa in Jableh while the remainder was saved for future efforts.
Anti-French resistance in Syria
He later enlisted in the Ottoman army when World War I broke out, where he received military training and was attached as a chaplain to a base near Damascus. Returning to Jableh before the war's end, al-Qassam used funds from his planned expedition to Libya to organize a local defense force to fight the French occupation. His principle role in the local resistance was financing the acquisition of weapons for Jableh's militia. By 1919, French forces moved into the coastal area of northern Syria while Faisal I established the Kingdom of Syria in Damascus as an independent Arab state. During this period, al-Qassam's Jableh militia fought against local French-backed Alawite militiamen who occupied areas around the city. The Alawites were eventually repelled, but French forces moved in soon after to consolidate their control. Consequently, al-Qassam and many of his disciples left Jableh for Mount Sahyun where he established a base near the village of Zanqufeh to launch guerrilla raids against the French Army.
Al-Qassam's militia grew when it was joined by another militia based in the mountains following the death of its commander Umar al-Bitar. However, as the French tightened their control of the area, they were able to successfully pressure several of Jableh's major landowners to drop their financial support for al-Qassam and pay taxes to the French Mandate government. This further isolated al-Qassam who decided to flee Mount Sahyun for Aleppo in May 1920. There he and his fighters joined ranks with Ibrahim Hananu who was leading attacks against the French Army until the latter captured Jisr ash-Shugur in July. As a result of this French victory and the impending capitulation of Aleppo, al-Qassam and members of his unit fled past French Army lines with forged passports to Tartus.
Establishment in Haifa
From Tartus, al-Qassam traveled to Beirut by boat and then to Haifa, then under the British Mandate, where his wife and daughters later joined him. Already in his forties, he concentrated his activities on the lower classes, setting up a night school for casual labourers and preaching to them as imam in the Istiqlal mosque, and he would seek them out on the streets and even in brothels and hashish dens. His greatest following came from the landless ex-tenant farmers drifting in to Haifa from the Upper Galilee where purchases of agricultural land by the Jewish National Fund and Hebrew labour policies excluding Arabs had dispossessed many of their traditional livelihoods'. He was also a prominent member of the Young Men's Muslim Association. Associated with the Istiqlal party (Independence Party), his activities were financed by several well-off businessmen due to his spreading reputation.
In 1929 he was appointed the marriage registrar at the Sharia court in Haifa by the Waqf authorities in Jerusalem, a role that allowed him to tour the northern villages, whose inhabitants he encouraged to set up agricultural cooperatives. According to Abdullah Schleifer, Al-Qassam was:
'An individual deeply imbued with the Islamic social gospel and who was struck by the plight of Palestinian peasants and migrants. Al-Qassam's pastoral concern was linked to his moral outrage as a Muslim at the ways in which the old implicit social compact was being violated in the circumstances of British mandatory Palestine. This anger fueled a political radicalism that drove him eventually to take up arms and marks him off from the Palestinian notable politicians'
He also took advantage of his travels to deliver fiery political and religious sermons in which he encouraged villagers to organise resistance units to attack the British and Jews. He intensified his agitation and obtained a fatwa from Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Taji al-Hasani, the Mufti of Damascus, which ruled that the struggle against the British and the Jews was permissible.
The Black Hand group
In 1930 al-Qassam's preaching was instrumental in laying the foundations for the formation of the Black Hand (al kaff al-aswad)), an anti-Zionist and anti-British militant organization. The idea for such a group appeared to crystallize after the 1929 riots. From the outset a split occurred in the movement, with one militant group led by Abu Ibrahim arguing for immediate terror attacks, while the other headed by al-Qassam thought an armed revolt premature, and risked exposing the group's preparations. According to Subhi Yasin, the terror attacks in the north were executed by this dissident group in defiance of Qassam, though in 1969 Abu Ibrahim denied these allegations. The ensuing terror campaign began with the ambush and murder of three members of Kibbutz Yagur, 11 April 1931, a failed bombing attack on outlying Jewish homes in Haifa in early 1932, and several operations that killed or wounded some four members of northern Jewish settlements. It climaxed with the deaths of a Jewish father and son in Nahalal, from a bomb thrown into their home, on 22 December 1932.
By 1935 he had recruited several hundred men—the figures differ, from 200 to 800—organized in cells of 5 men, and arranged military training for peasants. The cells were equipped with bombs and firearms, which they used to raid Jewish settlements and sabotage British-constructed rail lines. Though striking a responsive chord among the rural poor and urban underclass, his movement deeply perturbed the Muslim urban elite as it threatened their political and patronage connections with the British Mandatory authorities.
According to Shai Lachman, between 1921 and 1935 al-Qassam often cooperated with Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Mohammad Amin al-Husayni. They were on good terms, and al-Qassam's various official appointments required the mufti's prior consent. He suggests their cooperation increased after the 1929 riots, in which one source claims al-Qassam's men were active. The two fell out in the mid-thirties, perhaps due to al-Qassam's independent line of activism. When the Mufti rejected his plans to divert funding marked down for mosque repairs towards the purchase of weaponry, Qassam found support in the Arab Nationalist Istiqlal Party. Qassam continued his attempts to forge an alliance with the Mufti in order to attack the British. He was not successful for the Mufti, who headed the Supreme Muslim Council, was still committed to a diplomatic approach at the time. Qassam went ahead with his plans to attack the British on his own.
Following the October 1935 discovery of a clandestine cache of arms in the port of Haifa apparently originating from Belgium and destined for the Haganah, Arab indignation broke out in two general strikes. On November 8 the body of a British constable, Moshe Rosenfeld, was discovered near Ain Harod. Al-Qassam and his followers were believed to have been responsible and search parties set out to capture him. In this context, al-Qassam and twelve of his men decided to go underground and, leaving Haifa, took to the hills between Jenin and Nablus. There they spent ten days on the move, during which they were fed by local villagers. The British police manhunt eventually surrounded al-Qassam in a cave near Ya'bad, in the village of Sheikh Zeid. In the long ensuing firefight, al-Qassam and three of his followers were killed, and five captured. The manner of his last stand assumed legendary proportions in Palestinian circles at the time:
Surrounded, he told his men to die as martyrs, and opened fire. His defiance and manner of his death (which stunned the traditional leadership) electrified the Palestinian people. Thousands forced their way past police lines at the funeral in Haifa, and the secular Arab nationalist parties invoked his memory as the symbol of resistance. It was the largest political gathering ever to assemble in mandatory Palestine.
Influence and legacy
Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, according to Rashid Khalidi,
'played a crucial role in winning the populace away from the elite-brokered politics of compromise with the British, and in showing them the "correct" path of popular armed struggle against the British and the Zionists.'
David Ben-Gurion compared the glory that al-Qassam's actions aroused in the 1930s to the fame won in Zionist discourse by Joseph Trumpeldor. Recalling this, Tom Segev has argued that "The terrorists that al-Qassam led and the intifada fighters, more recently, may also be likened to the terrorists that Menachem Begin led." Although al-Qassam's revolt was unsuccessful in his lifetime, militant organizations gained inspiration from his example. His funeral drew thousands, which turned into a mass demonstration of national unity. He became a popular hero and an inspiration to militants, who in the 1936–1939 Arab Revolt, called themselves Qassamiyun, followers of al-Qassam. His grave became a place of pilgrimage.
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- Beverly Milton-Edwards, Islamic Politics in Palestine,p.17.He was dismissive of the use of fatwas and appeals by the ulama in institutional Islam was in his view ineffective.
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- Henry LaurensLa Question de Palestine:vol.2 Fayard, Paris, 2002 p.298. The purpose was 'établir un maquis' form a guerilla resistance group in the countryside.
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- Tom Segev, 'Back to school: Ben-Gurion for beginners,' at Haaretz, 22 June 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Izz ad-Din al-Qassam.|
- Lachman, Shai (1982). "Arab Rebellion and Terrorism in Palestine 1929-1939". In Kedourie, Elie; Haim, Sylvie G. Zionism and Arabism in Palestine and Israel. Frank Cass. ISBN 978-0-714--63169-1.
- Matthews, Weldon C. (2006). Confronting an Empire, Constructing a Nation: Arab Nationalists and Popular Politics in Mandate Palestine. I B Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-173-1.
- Nafi, Basheer M. (1997). "Shaykh Izz al-Din al-Qassam: A Reformist and a Rebel Leader". Journal of Islamic Studies 8 (2): 185-215.
- Sanagan, Mark (2013). "Teacher, Preacher, Soldier, Martyr: Rethinking 'Izz al-Din al-Qassam". Die Welt des Islams 53 (3-4): 315-352.
- Segev, Tom (1999). One Palestine, Complete. Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0-8050-4848-0.
- Abdullah, Schleifer (1993). "Palestinian Peasantry in the Great Revolt". In Edmund Burke. Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07988-4.