Skip to main content

Why Islamic State has no sympathy for Hamas

The Islamic State does not regard fighting Israel as legitimate and calls instead for first "purifying" the Islamic world, including challenging Hamas.
A militant Islamist fighter gestures as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic "caliphate" after the group captured territory in neighbouring Iraq, a monitoring service said. The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot previously known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), posted pictures online on Sunday of people waving black flags from cars and holding guns in th

Most of today's Salafist jihadist movements have no interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the time being regarding it as irrelevant. Instead, their call is to engage in intense, bloody confrontations involving bombings, executions, and suicide attacks against governments headed by Muslims and against Muslim civilians.

Al-Qaeda has followed this course for decades, and now the Islamic State (IS) is following in al-Qaeda's footsteps, fighting a brutal war across swaths of Iraq and Syria and in an effort to “purify” these areas through killings and population displacement. Once taking territory, it is not mobilizing the populations under its control in opposition to the Israeli military operations in Gaza. Why is this?

Some jihadists or pro-jihadist Salafists have issued video clips and tweets explaining their lack of assistance to the Palestinians. One tweet stated, “The Hamas government is apostate, and what it is doing does not constitute jihad, but rather a defense of democracy [which Salafists oppose].” Another tweet said, “Khaled Meshaal: Hamas fights for the sake of freedom and independence. The Islamic State: it fights so that all religion can be for God.” Meshaal is head of Hamas' political bureau.

On July 22, the Egyptian Salafist sheikh Talaat Zahran declared that it is inappropriate to aid the people of Gaza because they do not follow a legitimate leadership, and because they are equivalent to Shiites since they follow them, referring to Hezbollah and Iran, with which the Sunni Hamas movement has been allied. Thus the jihadists' position is not simply a political stance, but stems from Salafist theological principles.

Salafists believe that jihad must be performed under legitimate leadership. This argument is advanced through the “banner and commander” concept, which holds that whoever undertakes jihad must follow a commander who fulfills the criteria of religious and political leadership and has raised the banner of jihad. Given that there is neither a legitimate leader nor a Salafist-approved declaration of jihad in Palestine, fighting there is forbidden.

In addition, for Salafists, if non-Muslims control Islamic countries and apostates exist in the Islamic world, the Islamic world must be cleansed of them before all else. In short, the purification of Islamic society takes priority over combat against non-Islamic societies. On this basis, Salafists see conflict with an allegedly illegitimate Hamas government as a first step toward confrontation with Israel. Should the opportunity for military action present itself in the Palestinian territories, Salafists would fight Hamas and other factions deemed in need of “cleansing” from the land and engage Israel afterward.

This approach has its roots in Islamic history, which Salafists believe confirms the validity of their position. Relevant points of historical reference include the first caliphate of Abu Bakr, which gave priority to fighting apostates over expanding Islamic conquests, which occurred later, during the second caliphate, under Umar bin al-Khattab. Likewise, Saladin fought the Shiites and suppressed them before he engaged the crusaders in the Holy Land.

Salafists today see that their priority as fighting Shiites, “munafiqin” (dissemblers, or false Muslims) and apostates, whom they call the “close enemy.” During the current war in Gaza, a number of IS fighters have burned the Palestinian flag because they consider it a symbol of the decline of the Islamic world, which succumbed to national divisions through the creation of independent political states. In Salafist doctrine, the entire Islamic world must be united under a single state, an Islamic caliphate, which IS declared in late June.

Salafist groups active in Gaza have engaged in various rivalries with Hamas there, but they have not succeeded in establishing a foothold of any significance. Some groups have posted video clips acknowledging their support for IS following the group’s recent victories in Iraq and Syria. The main dispute between Hamas and Salafist groups rests on their disparate principles. Hamas is more realistic and pragmatic than the jihadist Salafists. The former has political priorities in liberating Palestinian land, whereas the latter has religious priorities in the establishment of a totalitarian Islamic caliphate and considers the Israeli issue secondary to this central goal.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Free

The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.

Free

What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing
Expert

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to pro.support@al-monitor.com and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial