During the recent 2023 Israel-Palestine conflict, Abu Obaida, the spokesperson for the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, delivered a message that marked a significant departure from their traditional Sunni ideology in favor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Shiite doctrine. On October 9th and 16th, and in multiple speeches, Abu Obaida used the terms “martyr” (الشهيد) and “mujahid” (المجاهد) (referring to individuals engaged in jihad) in connection with the Prophet Muhammad. These shifts in terminology may go unnoticed to those not well-versed in Islamic jurisprudence, but they carry deeper significance.
These words indicate a notable shift in Hamas’s narrative concerning war strategies, aligning with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision as articulated on February 11, 1980: “Our objective is to spread our revolution to various corners of the world, as it is inherently an Islamic revolution.”
This transformation in narrative used by Abu Obaida raises important questions about how it might reshape Hamas’s war strategy and tactics within Israel and by Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East, within the intricate context of the current conflict. This article explores the implications of this ideological shift for Hamas and its potential impact on the types of attacks and operations employed by Hamas, with Israeli and Iranian-backed militias, against U.S. military bases and interests in the region. To fully grasp the significance of this shift, it is essential to examine the complex network of affiliations and relationships that transcend political interests. This includes both historical and current ties between Hamas and Iran, as well as the involvement of Iran-backed militias in Iraq, such as Alwiyat al-Waad al-Haq (AHW), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and the Islamic Resistance of Iraq, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. This exploration offers insights into the behaviors, motivations, and threats these armed groups pose to U.S. interests and military bases in the Middle East.
To begin, it is necessary to explain that in Sunni doctrine, it is generally believed that the Prophet Muhammad passed away peacefully in his bed, with his death attributed to fever and a headache. According to the Sunni narrative, Prophet Muhammad’s death was not associated with martyrdom. Although it is mentioned in some sources, the story of his martyrdom remains a minor matter and lacks a basis in the actions or behaviors of the Sunni sect. As it is a fundamental principle for all Muslims to follow his steps, actions, and behaviors with others.
Yet, the Marty and mujahid are prevalent in the majority of Shia fiqh, and it appears that the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades have been influenced by or have adopted the vision of Iranian theologians like Sayyid Mojtaba Mir-Lohi, commonly known as Navvab Safavi, a pioneer of Islamic jihadist movements, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Hence, the use of “martyr” and “mujahid” to describe the Prophet Muhammad by Abu Obaida not only represented a significant departure from Sunni jihadist conventions but also indicated a complex evolution within Hamas’s ideology, revealing an added layer of extremism, which I call “extremism within jihadist extremism”.
These words signify a readiness to sacrifice everything and engage in a war of annihilation without concern for the consequences, whether for us or them, in a battle between our truth and their falsehood.
Within the Shia Fiqh narrative and the collective Shia consciousness and memory, Prophet Muhammad is regarded as a martyr and mujahid, particularly among Iranian Shia jihadist militias. In this perspective, the Prophet is believed to have been assassinated through poisoning, making him a martyr at the hands of his wives, Aisha and Hafsa, and the daughters of Abu Bakr and Omar bin Al-Khattab, the first and second Khalifs, respectively. Hence, based on Shia doctrine, the killing of the Prophet and the subsequent oppression and mistreatment of the family of Prophet Muhammad are fundamental beliefs that underpin the narratives of grievance and oppression. These beliefs are closely linked to the concept of the return of Imam Mahdi, a fundamental tenet of Shia ideology. Imam Mahdi, also known as the Mahdi, is the messianic figure awaited in Shia Islam, believed to bring justice, righteousness, and ultimate harmony to the world.
The belief in the Mahdi’s emergence finds its origins in prophetic traditions. The concept of the Mahdi’s emergence finds its origins in prophetic traditions. Sheikh al-Tusi records a noteworthy tradition on the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, who quoted the Messenger of God. This tradition highlights the belief in the imminent appearance of a Mahdi from the Prophet’s family at the culmination of time. According to this belief, the heavens will bestow their blessings, and the earth will yield its fruits for him. His mission will be to establish justice and equity throughout the world, in stark contrast to the prevailing oppression and injustice.
It’s important to highlight that the term “ Mujahid” in the context of Abu Obaida’s speech aligns with the description of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who is regarded as the leader of Muslims (Al-Imam) and a mujahid. His followers consider him both a martyr and a mujahid, as well as Navvab Safavi. In accordance with the beliefs held by Khomeini’s followers, as outlined in the theories of Wilayat al-Faqih and Mahdism, the Mahdi’s army. These individuals not only have strong beliefs in the Mahdi but also eagerly anticipate his arrival.
Their steadfast commitment involves thorough preparations, including the acquisition of essential equipment, a crucial requirement for facilitating the Mahdi’s emergence and efficiently organizing his army, and fighting their enemies, represented by Israel and Western countries, which are described as Satan. The same grievance narrative has surfaced among Iranian leaders and their backed militias, particularly in Iraq since the beginning of the Israeli and Hamas conflict.
For instance, on October 25, 2023, Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei tweeted, “America is an inevitable partner in the Zionist entity’s crime against Gaza, and hands are stained with the blood of oppressed Palestinian children. She actually manages this crime committed at Gaza.” In fact, the association between the fall of Israel and the anticipated return of Imam Mahdi, in conjunction with the prevailing sense of grievance, is presently a prominent topic in the media among Shia militias in recent times.
Also, on October 13, and on his Arabic Twitter, Abu Ala al-Wala, the leader of Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) or (The Masters of the Martyrs Brigade) stated, “From the moment one’s feet touch the ground of the battlefield, images of all the martyrs who have trodden this path come to mind, foremost among them the martyr Suleimani, the martyr Mughniyah, and the engineer martyr. This reinforces the belief in the sanctity of this path and its significance in the hearts of the free, and the inevitability of victory on it, both in the near and distant future.” This pattern illustrates how Iran utilizes the grievance and oppression narrative to promote its vision of expanding Shia doctrine within Israel.
Hamas: Shifting Alliances Toward Ruhollah Khomeini’s Shiite Ideology:
Despite fluctuations in the relationship between the Brotherhood organization, to which Hamas is affiliated, and Iran has evolved over time, transitioning from political interests to strong religious and ideological connections. This transition is influenced by shared old religious beliefs, especially the belief in the concept of a ‘Global Islamic State’ (الدولة الإسلامية العالمية) and a common interest in countering the existence of the Israeli State. While political interests have historically played a role, the alignment of religious and ideological goals has become the predominant factor in this current conflict.
While political Islam in Iran was influenced by figures such as Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, to understand the grievance narrative and how Iran and Hamas use it to shape their terrorist operations, it is essential to delve into the connection between Navvab Safavi, an Iranian Shia cleric and founder of the Fada’iyan-e Islam group, and the broader ideological framework of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas.
In 1954, Navvab Safavi Cairo, where he was warmly received by the members of the Brotherhood. The relationship became strong to the extent that Safavi declared that “Whoever wants to be a true Jaafari [Shia Islamic jurisprudence] should join the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Safavi was one of the first to mobilize the Iranian masses around 5000 of Fedayeen of Islam against Israel in the early 1950s. He was explicit about his animosity and desire to incite war against Israel.
Notably, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wrote a phrase on his photo after his execution in 1956: “Peace be upon the pioneer of our time in jihad and martyrdom”
Also, Iranian scholars like Ayatollah Kashani also stayed in Cairo during this time. Cooperation was fostered through organizations like the Foundation for Rapprochement between Islamic Schools of Thought. This era marked the introduction of Iranian scholars to the ideas of figures like Sayyid Qutb and other prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. In his book entitled The Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Revolution in Iran,’ Dr. Yousif indicates that,
“It seems that there is a wide common ground between the two, [Hassan al-Banna and Khomeini ]suitable for forming a broad foundation for considering Iran as the starting point of the global Islamic state, which operates within the framework of the Muslim Ummah (the state of the Ummah), a concept that Imam Hassan al-Banna (may God have mercy on him) had long dreamed of, those who come after him to lead the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Notably, the same words, speeches, and ideas that were discussed in the past, particularly the global Islamic nation, are being circulated in the media by Brotherhood affiliates, Iranians, and their militia leaders. For example, on October 7, Abu Ala al-Wala, the leader of Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), made a statement on his Arabic Twitter account
“Allahu Akbar (God is great) indeed, and much praise be to Allah. To our brothers in faith, blood, and the partners of jihad and determination among the valiant sons of the Palestinian resistance, we say: ‘Labbayka, Labbayka’ (we respond to your call). We have received your call and realized your call for help. By Allah, it is the hour of aspiration and the moment of fulfilling our covenant. We have prepared our resources, strengthened our determination, and raised our spirits. Let the storm of Al-Aqsa be the end of their falsehood and the fulfillment of Allah’s promise of their demise and the salvation of the land from their corruption. Today, Allah fulfills His promise through your hands.”
Additionally, there is a recurring pattern of dehumanizing narratives and calls for the destruction of Israel in both Iranian rhetoric and Hamas’s narrative. Notably, Abu Obaida’s use the same offensive narratives resembles the current rhetoric used by militias backed by Iran in social media, indicating the influence of Shiism on Hamas.
For example, in Abu Obaida’s speech on October 19, 2023, he referred to Israelis as ‘enemies of humanity,’ likening them to Nazis, and used other degrading descriptions, calling for their eradication. Notably, Ruhollah Khomeini also labeled the Israeli state as a ‘cancerous gland that needs to be eradicated.’ Ruhollah Khomeini’s speeches against Israel were extensively published on Twitter. The recurrent narrative pattern, emphasizing grievances, dehumanizing Israeli citizens, and advocating for their annihilation, is widely disseminated in Arabic by Iranian supporters and sympathizers.
Importantly, these statements align with Iran’s broader narratives and objectives. These narratives have already stirred extreme hatred against U.S. and Israeli citizens and could potentially lead to tangible and risky consequences in the near future.
In conclusion, this ideological evolution carries significant implications for regional dynamics, security, and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Understanding these ideological shifts is crucial for assessing the motivations, strategies, and threats posed by jihadist groups like Hamas, especially in the context of their affiliations and relationships that transcend religious boundaries.