Salafism grows, fear rises

November 27, 2013
Sarah Benton

The article from Al Monitor/Palestine Pulse is followed by one from Ha’aretz, plus Notes and links.

A Palestinian Salafist takes part in a protest in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 24, 2012. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters

Salafists Betrayed by Hamas’ Moderate Stance

By Adnan Abu Amer, translated by Kamal Fayad, Al Monitor, Palestine Pulse
February 26, 2013

From the very first day after Hamas won the legislative elections in early 2006, the decision-making circles of some neighboring countries feared that an “Islamic emirate,” as they called it, would be established on Palestinian lands.

Subsequent events revealed that Hamas did not establish an Islamic emirate in Palestine, nor did it enforce Shariah law either regionally or internally, out of a desire not to draw, at that particular stage, the ire of factions hostile to it. But by so doing, Hamas provoked the anger of extremist Islamic movements, which believed this inaction belittled their desire to impose a long-lost religious obligation.

Islamizing society

Throughout its 25-year history, Hamas has succeeded, to a great extent, in merging nationalism and religiosity, as well as political discourse and Muslim thought. Yet, the current atmosphere has led to the rise of religious movements that want to adopt an Islamic discourse that transcends that of Hamas. They focus on the jihadist religious aspects at the expense of Palestinian political nationalism, and justify doing so by saying that the roots of the ongoing problem can be traced to the old historical conflict between Islam and Judaism.

Since the early days of Hamas’ entry into the political arena, it has espoused moderate leanings, and did not hasten to impose Shariah Law or establish an Islamic state. Its political performance and its behavior in society supported this observation, despite the urgent appeals by its members for the adoption of broad rules of conduct. But Hamas’ Muslim scholars exhibited a greater audacity than their counterparts in other Islamic movements by issuing religious edicts that suited Hamas’ interests alone.

While Hamas entrenched itself on the Palestinian Islamist scene, the political scene underwent a qualitative change that saw an increase in the influence of Salafist factions. Despite the fact that the shift toward Islamism started at the onset of the 1987 Intifada, the current change among Islamists has come in favor of their Salafist offshoot.

Many Salafist movements appeared on the scene to call for the establishment of an Islamic emirate, with some of them rising to the forefront in a manner that might cause Hamas some concern. Most prominent among these movements are the Army of Islam — Tawheed and Jihad Brigades, which just released its founding statement and declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda; the Nation’s Army — Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (The Companions of the Prophet), which issued an urgent appeal for all Salafist factions to unite and repel the attack perpetrated by the “Crusaders,” the Jews and their supporters; and the faction commonly known in Gaza as “Jaljalat,” which is composed of ultra-religious youth, whose activities started at the beginning of Hamas’ reign in Gaza in 2007, but whose influence and number of supporters has grown, following their bombing campaign against Internet cafes several years ago.

Many other Salafist factions have issued their own statements, such as the Swords of Righteousness Brigades — The al-Qaeda Army, led by Abu Sahib al-Makdissi; Junud Allah and the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as well as other factions whose presence on the ground has not been ascertained, such as the Tawheed and Jihad Legions, the Islamic Army of Jerusalem, the Jihadists of the Islamic State of Palestine, Fatah al-Islam, Osbat al-Ansar and the Swords of Righteousness. Furthermore, the most prominent Salafist leader has called for the merging of all Salafist-jihadist groups into one faction called “the Brigades of Tawheed and Jihad,” which would have a single unified command.

The causes behind their proliferation

All of these Islamist movements are located in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While Hamas succeeded in minimizing their visible presence, these movements are but the tip of the Salafist iceberg. Some expect their numbers to increase, either because of divisions that will take place in their midst, or the spawning of more of them as a result of the religious changes that Palestinian society is currently undergoing.

A number of different factors helped in the proliferation of the Salafist jihadist phenomenon in the Gaza Strip. Most important among these was the political atmosphere, in which the Salafists began to preach that elections were a sin that served to make people comply with laws other than God’s, and led to the acceptance of an “ungodly democracy.” The relationship between Hamas and Fatah during different stages of the unity government, the warring between them and the Mecca Agreement all served to spread Salafism among Hamas’ members, at a time when the Salafists accused Hamas of “corrupting the doctrine, siding with the secularists and resorting to earthly laws.”

Palestinian Salafists shout slogans during a rally in protest of what they say are recent massacres committed against the Syrian people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Aug. 22, 2013. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters

The truce with the Israeli army and Hamas’ occasional abandonment of military activities created a misconception among these Salafists, who felt that Hamas had forsaken the resistance. Some of them even went so far as to accuse Hamas of doing so to gain political favor, which they considered a manifestation of its leaders’ lack of religious faith, desertion of principles and loss of hope for internal reforms and change.

The economic situation further fueled the rise of Salafists. The siege imposed on Gaza and the hardships that Gazans endured as a result drove some of them to accuse Hamas of causing the crisis, while smooth talkers and instigators exploited the harsh situation to influence the young and unemployed.

On an educational level, the lack of religious teaching helped in the proliferation of Salafist elements, as the youth were left ill-versed in jurisprudence and the objectives of Shariah. This was a situation that was further exacerbated by the lack of popular justification and explanation for the contentious accusations that Salafists levelled at Hamas in their teachings and bulletins.

The Palestinian Salafists, or “Binladenists,” whose resistance efforts were confined to the occupation, blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for not calling for worldwide jihad against the “infidels.” They considered Hamas to be a national movement that participated in legislative committees, more than a legitimate “Islamist movement” that ruled through Shariah. These Salafists’ rise came as a result of them calling for a return to the “jihadist approach,” the rejection of political and legislative platforms and compliance with Shariah instead of worldly laws. They also harshly criticized Hamas for not declaring the establishment of an Islamic emirate.

The emirate project

The prevailing belief is that Salafist organizations existed in Gaza only as secret, dormant cells that sprung to life and entrenched themselves during the second year of the al-Aqsa Intifada, when they took advantage of the movement’s momentum and militaristic nature, the collapse of the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus, the fact that large numbers of their members took part in resistance operations and the constant internal bickering and conflict among the different Palestinian factions.

But news of their existence was intentionally suppressed due to a fundamental difference between their ideology and that espoused by the Palestinian regime under the late president, Yasser Arafat. Their presence as organizations connected to and allied with Salafism was also hampered by the fact that the Palestinian Authority’s security agencies were both powerful and effective, maintaining intelligence and security coordination with Israeli as well as some Arab security agencies.

The beginnings of the intellectual and religious dispute between Hamas and the Salafists, especially on the issues of establishing an Islamic state and implementing Shariah, can be attributed to the public statements of some Salafist leaders who objected to Hamas’ respect for international conventions, its rule based on a “secularist worldly” constitution and its abiding by the Oslo Accord, which resulted in the relinquishing of more than three quarters of Palestinian lands to the Israelis and the implicit recognition of Israel’s existence.

But the relationship between Hamas and the Salafists truly worsened when the former announced that it was not seeking to Islamize Palestinian society, and was not demanding that the political arena be governed by Shariah Law during its reign. Furthermore, the Salafists were not convinced by Hamas’ policy of “gradually” implementing Sharia Law.

Hamas tried to regain the initiative in two ways — first through “ideological orientation,” whereby it sent its clerics to the mosques in order to “raise awareness” among young people who were attracted by Salafist ideals. It also aimed to control infiltration and the smuggling tunnels, and began to “intellectually rehabilitate” Salafists whom it arrested, following their declaration of the establishment of an “Islamist state.” Tens of them were later released after being “rehabilitated” and promising to never again conduct activities that might destabilize society or adversely affect the lives of the people.

In addition to the intellectual aspect, Hamas adopted security measures, including surveillance operations and arrests, in an attempt to regain the mosques through which Salafist organizations had tried to spread their ideals. All of this means that, both as a government and a movement, Hamas’ relationship with the Salafists went through many phases and periods of tension, confrontation and waiting.

Adnan Abu Amer is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and head of the Press and Information Section as well as a lecturer in the history of the Palestinian issue, national security, political science and Islamic civilization at Al Ummah University Open Education. He has published a number of books on issues related to the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Follow him on Twitter @adnanabuamer1.

Israel faces new power in West Bank: Growing Salafist group with Al-Qaida leanings

Rise in popularity attributed to the increased activity of factions with similar ideology in Egypt’s Sinai and the Syrian civil war.

By Amos Harel, Ha’aretz
November 27, 2013

The skirmish in the South Hebron Hills late Tuesday was the first time the Israeli security forces had confronted a third armed presence in the West Bank – not the Palestinian Authority or Fatah and not Hamas, either, but a radical Salafist Islamic group operating independently of the established organizations. The killing of three wanted men from the cell was preceded by a round of arrests in the Hebron and Nablus areas. There have been similar clashes between Salafist operatives and the Palestinian security forces in recent months.

The presence of the Salafis, most of whom are not violent, is now being felt in the West Bank, nearly a decade after they established themselves in the Gaza Strip. Last year, saw a rise in their organized operations, most of which are not political and do not involve terror activity. In East Jerusalem, in particular, one stream called Hizb a-Tahrir stands out, though its activities aren’t violent. Still, there have recently been large assemblies of Salafist groups at several locations in the West Bank, including in the Hebron area. “Suddenly, from nowhere, you hear that 30,000 people are attending a gathering at the stadium in the South Hebron Hills,” a senior military official told Haaretz.

The rise in popularity of the Salafis in the West Bank is apparently the result of disappointment with the PA and the difficulties that Hamas, which is being pressured by both the PA and Israel, is having in presenting a viable, stable alternative. On the margins of the Salafist movements, there is a violent jihadist arm under the influence of al-Qaida’s violent ideology, which has already manifested itself in cells in the Gaza Strip. One can assume that the increased activity of factions with similar ideologies, both in the Sinai Peninsula and especially in the murderous Syrian civil war, strengthens support for them in the West Bank.

Last week, the Shin Bet Security Service arrested five members of one such armed squad in villages in the Hebron region and in a village near Nablus. The detainees, like the two men killed on Tuesday, are in their late twenties and have no previous record of security offenses or membership in a terror organization; nor had they done any time in Israeli prisons. From the moment they appeared on the Shin Bet’s radar screen, two elite units were activated – the Border Police SWAT team and the Shin Bet’s special operations unit – with the Israel Defense Forces operating in the outer circles. The army said that the two killed were considered the heads of the cell and were carrying pistols. Two explosive devices were found in the car they’d been traveling in. The border policemen fired first at the car, but as of last night it still wasn’t clear whether there had been an exchange of fire.

According to the Shin Bet, the terror squad members were preparing explosive charges and kidnapping attacks targeting both Israelis and people associated with the PA. The cell prepared hideouts, acquired weapons and manufactured explosives. Additional members of the cell were still being hunted down on Tuesday.

The IDF officer who oversaw Tuesday’s operation, Judea and Samaria Forces commander Brig. Gen. Tamir Yadai, was wounded in same area around Hebron 14 years ago, in a clash with a Hamas terrorist in which a border policeman was killed.


Who are the Salafis?

From the As-Sunnah Foundation of America

Nuh Keller wrote in his essay entitled: Who or what is a Salafi? Is their approach valid?:

The word salafi or “early Muslim” in traditional Islamic scholarship means someone who died within the first four hundred years after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), including scholars such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi’i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Anyone who died after this is one of the khalaf or “latter-day Muslims”.

The term “Salafi” was revived as a slogan and movement, among latter-day Muslims, by the followers of Muhammad Abduh (the student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani) some thirteen centuries after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), approximately a hundred years ago. Like similar movements that have historically appeared in Islam, its basic claim was that the religion had not been properly understood by anyone since the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims–and themselves.

According to “Salafi” ideology, a “Salafi” is therefore one who has special knowledge or ability to follow the beliefs of the Salaf above the massive majority of common Muslims. They also include certain hand-picked scholars of later times.

Of course, this illusory definition is questioned by Sunni Muslims. Even the name of “Salafi,” as understood by the “Salafi” movement, is rejected on the grounds that it is an innovated appellation which Ahl al-Sunna have not used and which appeared only a few decades ago. Dr. Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti of Damascus wrote the definitive book on this issue, entitled al-Salafiyya marhalatun zamaniyyatun mubarakatun la madhhab islami (The Salafiyya is a blessed period of history, not an Islamic school).

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