Although most in the West consider Hamas, which brutally massacred some 1,400 Israelis on October 7, 2023, to be anything from a terrorist to a nationalist organization, the group sees itself first and foremost as a religious—namely, Islamic—movement, dedicated to enforcing Muslim law (sharia), including through jihad.
“Hamas” means “zeal” in Arabic and is an Arabic acronym from harakat al-muqawamah al-islamiyyah (the Islamic Resistance Movement). The group is primarily concentrated in the Gaza Strip.
Created primarily by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has the stated goal of replacing the entire state of Israel with a Muslim state governed by sharia. Jihad and Islamist indoctrination are its two principal means of instituting this new state.
Although its official membership is around 20,000, more than 200,000 Palestinians—5.26 percent of the then total population of the Palestinian Territories—attended the funeral procession for Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004, suggesting that its local sympathizers are ten times its official number.
In addition to its immediate goals, Hamas’s founding charter also illustrates the organization’s commitment to Islamic principles in general. The slogan—“Allah is its goal [theocratic rule], the Prophet its model [example of the Muhammad], the Koran its Constitution [sharia], Jihad [terrorism] its path, and death [suicide-bombings] in the cause of Allah its most sublime belief” —fully demonstrates its Islamic, as opposed to territorial or nationalistic, motivations.
Though most Hamas members are Palestinian Sunni Arabs, the charter “welcomes all Muslims who share its beliefs and thinking, commit themselves to its course of action, keep its secrets and aspire to join its ranks in order to carry out their duty.”
The Hamas Charter echoes the sentiment of observant Muslims in regard to the land of Palestine, all of which is believed to be “waqf land” that has belonged to Islam “since it was conquered by the Companion [Caliph Omar I] of the Prophet [c. 640].” In accordance with Islamic law, observant Muslims stress that the entire land of Palestine belongs to Islam by right and must therefore be re-conquered by Islam, not necessarily by Palestinians, but by Muslims. Hamas clearly defines “Nationalism as part and parcel of the religious faith,” thereby universalizing the notion of “nationalism” to include the entire Muslim umma, irrespective of actual nationality. And like global jihadists, Hamas clerics have publicly expressed their support for re-establishing the Caliphate.
Based on all the above, it is unsurprising that Hamas includes statements such as the following (from Article 7 of its charter):
The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews [related by al-Bukhari and Moslem].
To achieve its immediate goal of an Islamic Palestinian state, Hamas has steadfastly denounced the Oslo Accords, the Annapolis conference, and other diplomatic efforts to establish a long lasting peace in the region, referring to them as “initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences … [which] are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”
“The so-called peace process is futile,” Hamas leader Khaled Mashal declared in 2015. “There is no peace. Only the path of jihad, sacrifice and blood.”
However, when addressing Western audiences, Hamas leaders (such as Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshal) have stated that they are willing to recognize Israel with pre-1967 borders, even as the organization continues to reiterate, on a regular basis, its total rejection of Israel’s existence. Such doublespeak is a common tactic that finds its roots in Islam’s doctrine of deception, known as taqiyya, which the various PA factions even implement against one another.
As was the case with its parent organization, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has gained the support of the Palestinian people by providing social and welfare services and by presenting itself as Israel’s implacable foe, as well as an opponent of the more corrupt, effete Fatah.
Hamas is also steadily Islamicizing Palestinian society through indoctrination and propaganda. This method is a fundamental part of the organization’s charter: “We must imprint on the minds of generations of Muslims that the Palestinian problem is a religious one,” an “Islamic education based on the implementation of religious precepts [Sharia].” Hamas has gone to extreme lengths to indoctrinate young Palestinians into its beliefs, including the use of “jihadist” Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny lookalikes in its television programs.
Hamas’s principal sources of funding traditionally include Iran, which, according to the U.S. State Department, spends approximately $100 million annually supporting Palestinian groups including Hamas; private charities, including those operating in the West (the most notorious being the Holy Land Foundation, now defunct, which channeled $12 million to Hamas ); and individual donors from the Gulf States.
Between 1993 and 2009, the military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din Qassam Brigades, is believed to have killed over five hundred people in more than 350 separate terrorist attacks, many of them suicide bombings. Since then, Hamas’s brigades have continued to launch rocket attacks against towns in southern Israel.
By far, its most successful jihad occurred last October 7, 2023, when the Hamas jihadists slaughtered 1,400 Israelis.
Editor’s note: The above article is an updated adaptation of the World Almanac of Islamism 2011’s entry on Hamas, which was written by Mr. Ibrahim.