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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Manipulating the Narrative: How Hamas is Retelling Historic Islamic Battles to Influence the Muslim Community and Reshape Jihadist Ideology

Islamic history encompasses two of the most powerful battles in the collective memory and consciousness of Muslim nations: the Battle of the Trench and the Battle of Hattin. Hamas and its allies from the Brotherhood attempt to portray the October 7 war as a continuation of these religious battles. Recently, narratives from Hamas and Brotherhood theologian scholars have increasingly focused on these two battles, aiming to reshape jihadist philosophy in response to the negative image associated with groups like ISIS and Al-Nusra. This article delves into the profound historical and religious significance of these battles and explores their transformative impact on contemporary jihadist ideology and evolution.  

Understanding why Hamas and Brotherhood theologians have resurrected these ancient battles as ideological touchstones amid the protracted Gaza-Israel conflict requires a nuanced examination of their relevance and the enduring implications. By dissecting the historical context and strategic significance of these battles, we can trace the ideological lineage and symbolism that underpin Hamas’s narrative and assess the potential ramifications of its resurgence. To clarify this connection, let’s explore the history of one of the two battles: the Battle of the Trench. In the Islamic narrative and collective memory, this battle holds significant symbolism, particularly in connection with a pivotal event in early Islamic history.  

Salman the Persian advised Muslims to dig a trench around Al-Madinah al-Munawwarah, located in Saudi Arabia. Faced with the impending threat of a confederation of Kuffar (polytheists) and Jews, Muslims fortified the city’s defenses by digging a trench, making it challenging for enemy forces to breach. 

The Battle of the Trench tells a story of dire living conditions and desperate circumstances. Prophet Muhammad and his companions endured harsh winters, hunger, and fatigue as they worked tirelessly to strengthen their defenses. They faced betrayal from within, as some Jewish tribes in the region sought to undermine the Muslim community’s unity. Despite these challenges, the Muslims remained steadfast in their faith and purpose.  

The story continues to show that the Muslims’ perseverance in the face of adversity is a testament to their unwavering commitment to their cause. Despite facing overwhelming odds and being outnumbered by their enemies nearly three to one, their eventual triumph at the end of the trench war symbolizes the triumph of faith and perseverance over adversity. In their current narrative, Hamas seeks to draw parallels between the struggles of Prophet Muhammad and his companions and their own struggle against what they allege as oppression and occupation. 

By invoking the spirit of the Battle of the Trench, Hamas aims to position itself as fighting on behalf of Muslim nations against the forces of injustice and tyranny. They see themselves as continuing the legacy of Prophet Muhammad’s struggle against the disbelievers and Jewish tribes, fighting for the liberation and dignity of the Palestinian people. In Quranic text, Surah Al-Ahzab states: ‘And He [Allah] brought down those from the People of the Book who supported the enemy alliance from their own strongholds and cast horror into their hearts. You, believers, killed some, and took others captive’ (33:26). 

In contemporary contexts, Hamas uses the symbolism of the Battle of the Trench to inspire and mobilize support for their cause. They portray themselves as the defenders of Islam and the Palestinian people, drawing strength from the example set by Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Through their resilience and determination, they seek to demonstrate that victory is possible, even in the face of overwhelming odds.  

The second event in Islamic history is the Battle of Hattin, which stands as a pivotal moment in the struggle between Muslims and the Crusaders, as depicted in Islamic texts, led by the renowned Muslim commander, Saladin. It occurred in 1187 AD near the present-day village of Hattin in the Lower Galilee region of northern Israel, not far from the Sea of Galilee. The story shows that Saladin’s astute leadership and strategic prowess were evident as he orchestrated the battle, depriving the Crusaders of leveraging geography to their advantage. The signing of treaties and the capture of fortresses and cities prior to the battle underscored meticulous planning. 

The Islamic texts tell that the Battle of Hattin marked the most significant defeat suffered by the Crusaders during their occupation of Islamic territories in the Levant, resulting in a substantial decline in their power and influence. This pivotal moment opened the gateway to the liberation of large parts of Palestine and presented a significant opportunity to reclaim Jerusalem after years of occupation. Efforts toward liberation began immediately following the Crusader occupation, driven by emerging leaders committed to reclaiming Muslim lands. The battle results led to a resurgence of jihad and contributed to the emergence of a new generation of jihadists and scholars, strengthening the Islamic front against the Crusader threat. 

The preparations for the Battle of Hattin extended over ten years, as detailed in Islamic texts. Hamas mirrors this meticulous planning and effort in its construction of tunnels, spanning a decade. This legacy and connection serve as inspiration for Hamas, drawing parallels to Saladin’s example. During Saladin’s efforts to unify the Islamic state for jihad, he initiated a four-year truce with the Crusaders. This respite allowed him to focus on internal affairs, while scholars and preachers emphasized jihad and sacrifice for the sake of Allah. Saladin’s unwavering determination was evident in his solemn demeanor, refraining from laughter while Al-Aqsa remained in captivity. Following the Battle of Hattin, he directed his energies towards liberating Jerusalem, ultimately reclaiming it from Crusader control after 91 years of occupation. His subsequent victories in Tiberias, Acre, Sidon, Beirut, Gaza, Nablus, Ashkelon, and other cities underscored his commitment to a strategy of patience and eventual triumph. 

Hamas, religious jihadists, and Brotherhood groups draw connections to the Battle of the Trench and Hattin, emphasizing parallels in their struggle against perceived enemies represented by the U.S. and Israel (Christians and Jews). The symbolism of the Battle of the Trench highlights Prophet Muhammad’s strategic acumen in employing defensive strategies to repel the enemy, showcasing his leadership abilities. Quranic verses, such as Surah Al-Ahzab: ‘He [Allah] has also caused you to take over their lands, homes, and wealth, as well as lands you have not yet set foot on. And Allah is Most Capable of everything’ (33:27), further support these narratives 

Similarly, the Battle of Hattin signifies a decade of meticulous preparation, culminating in the unity of previously fragmented Islamic nations. Analyzing Hamas through a psychological lens akin to Prophet Muhammad’s companions has the potential to fuel radicalization and terrorism, which aligns with Hamas’s objectives. The strategy of patience displayed in Hamas’s tactics resonates with Arab youth, particularly in Jordan, Egypt,  and Syria drawing parallels between the group and Prophet Muhammad. 

These narratives seek to depict Hamas in a positive light, drawing parallels between the group and Prophet Muhammad to garner public support. The historical significance of the Battle of the Trench and Hattin, alongside Hamas’s contemporary actions, highlights their relevance in Muslim collective memory, emphasizing unity and resilience. Collective memory, especially of these battles, molds Muslims’ identity and informs current actions. Hamas strategically leverages this historical narrative to portray itself as a defender of Islam and a symbol of resistance. 

Recognizing parallels between past and present sheds light on Hamas’s motivations, which extend beyond strategic warfare. The group aims to sow disruption in the region, particularly centered around Jerusalem, inspiring other jihadist groups with the possibility of victory. 

The overarching message of Hamas is the perpetuation of historical conflicts against both Crusaders and Jews, framing their actions as a continuation of this historical/religious struggle. By positioning themselves as modern-day defenders of Islam against external aggression, Hamas seeks to rally support and justify its ongoing resistance against perceived oppressors, notably Western powers and Israel. Hamas’s narrative not only mobilizes support internally but also targets the outside world, particularly Western audiences, through strategic communication and media outreach. The glorification of acts of patience and desperation sparks a profound contemplation on the meaning and philosophy of jihad among Muslims globally, further rallying support for Hamas’s cause. By portraying historical struggles as testaments to the endurance and faith of the Muslim community, Hamas taps into a deep reservoir of religious sentiment to construct a strong jihadist identity. 

Moreover, historical symbolism is strategically employed to legitimize the use of violence in the eyes of the international community, presenting Hamas as a righteous defender against perceived injustices. While Hamas may indeed aim to shape the global discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suggesting that it seeks to legitimize jihad as a tool of conflict resolution could be contentious. Such a statement might imply that Hamas’s methods are widely accepted or justified, which may not align with prevailing perspectives in many parts of the world. It’s crucial to consider the diverse range of opinions and perspectives on this matter. 

author avatar
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen, Ph.D. holds a PhD from Al-Nahrain University Medical School in Baghdad City and is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, specializing in terrorism and homeland security with a specific focus on Islamist terrorist groups.
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen, Ph.D. holds a PhD from Al-Nahrain University Medical School in Baghdad City and is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, specializing in terrorism and homeland security with a specific focus on Islamist terrorist groups.

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