Izz ad-Din al-Qassam
عز الدين القسام
Izz ad-Din Abd al-Qadar ibn Mustafa ibn Yusuf ibn Muhammad al-Qassam (
Al-Qassam studied at Al-Azhar University in Egypt and afterward became an Islamic revivalist preacher in his hometown of Jableh in Syria during the last years of Ottoman rule. Following his return, he became an active supporter of the Libyan resistance to the Italian occupation, raising funds and fighters to aid the Libyans and penning an anthem for them. He would later lead his own group of rebels in alliance with Ibrahim Hananu to fight against French Mandatory forces in northern Syria in 1919–20.
Following the rebels' defeat, he immigrated to
Early life and Muslim scholarship
Al-Qassam was born in
Sometime between 1902 and 1905, al-Qassam left for
Following his return to Jableh, al-Qassam commenced a program of Islamic revival based on moral reforms which included the encouragement of maintaining regular
Support for Libyan resistance
Ya Rahim, Ya Rahman
Unsur Maulana as-Sultan
Wa ksur aadana al-Italiyan
O Most Merciful, O Most Compassionate
Make our Lord the Sultan victorious
And defeat our enemy the Italian
Izz al-Din al-Qassam, Ottoman-Libyan resistance anthem, 1911
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
Anti-French resistance in Syria
He later enlisted in the
Al-Qassam's militia grew when it was joined by another militia based in the mountains following the death of its commander
Activism in Palestine
Establishment in Haifa
From Tartus, al-Qassam travelled to Beirut by boat and then to
Al-Qassam concentrated his activities on the lower classes, setting up a night school for casual labourers and preaching to them as an imam,
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 the American historian Edmund Burke, 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.
Relationship with local leaders
According to Israeli historian Shai Lachman, between 1921 and 1935 al-Qassam often cooperated with
Between 1928 until his death, al-Qassam served as the president of the
Organisation of armed struggle
In training his men, al-Qassam stressed that maintaining good character was of paramount importance. As such, fighters should provide for the needy, aid people with illness, maintain good ties with their families and pray regularly to
The guerrilla bands became known as the
By 1935, al-Qassam had recruited several hundred men—the figures range from 200 to 800—organised in cells of five 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-built rail lines. Though striking a responsive chord among the rural poor and urban underclass, al-Qassam's movement deeply perturbed the Muslim urban elite as it threatened their political and patronage connections with the British Mandatory authorities. Following the October 1935 discovery of a clandestine cache of arms in the port of Jaffa apparently originating from Belgium and destined for the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary force, Palestinian Arab indignation broke out in two general strikes. The arms shipment to the Haganah served as the final impetus for al-Qassam to launch a revolt against the authorities.
On 8 November the body of a Palestine Police constable, Moshe Rosenfeld, was discovered near Ein 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 the residents of villages in the area. 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 on 20 November.
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.
To the surprise of the Palestine Police Force, al-Qassam's funeral, which was held at the Jerini Mosque, attracted at least 3,000 mourners, mostly members of the peasant and working classes. His coffin and those of his slain comrades were draped in the flags of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, the only three independent Arab countries at the time. In reaction to al-Qassam's death, strikes were held in Haifa and several Palestinian and Syrian cities. Al-Qassam is buried at the Muslim cemetery at the former Palestinian village of Balad al-Sheikh, now Nesher, a Jewish suburb of Haifa. An obituary for al-Qassam was published in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram on 22 November, eulogizing him as a "martyr" with the following statement: "I heard you preaching from up in the pulpit, summoning to the sword ... Through your death you are more eloquent than ever you were in life."
Five months after al-Qassam's death, members of his movement, known as "Qassamiyun" or "Qassamites", also Ikhwan al-Qassam,
(the Brothers of al-Qassam)
Al-Qassam, according to Palestinian-American 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.
The first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, compared the glory that al-Qassam's actions aroused in the 1930s to the fame won in Zionist discourse by Zionist activist Joseph Trumpeldor who died in a battle with Arab forces. Recalling this, Israeli historian 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. The Palestinian fedayeen who emerged in the 1960s saw al-Qassam as their originator. The founders of the Palestinian nationalist armed movement Fatah had initially considered naming their group the "Qassamiyun". Leila Khaled, a well-known member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, once stated that her organization began "where al-Qassam left off: his generation started the revolution, my generation intends to finish it."
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