Islamic Leadership in an Islamic Government (Waly al-Faqih)

Conditions of Leadership

By: Imam Khomeini

The conditions that a leader must have directly stem from the nature of the Islamic government. After general conditions, such as sanity, there are two foundational conditions which are:

  1. Knowledge of the law.
  2. Justice.

When differences arose after the Noble Prophet (s) as to who would take on the responsibility of the caliphate there was no difference of opinion in whether the future leader must have merits. The only difference was in regards to which person had those merits.

Since the Islamic government is a government of laws it is necessary for the leader to know what those laws are – as has been mentioned in traditions. It is not only necessary for the leader to have this knowledge but anyone who has some sort of position must have this knowledge as well. But, the leader must have the most knowledge. Our imams used this to reason for their imamate – they would say that an imam must be better than the rest of the people. The criticisms that Shia scholars give are also in this regard where they say that so and so asked the ruling from the caliph who was unable to answer him and therefore the caliph is not suitable for caliphate. They also say that the caliph performed such and such action that was in opposition to Islamic law and therefore he is not suitable for caliphate.

Knowing the law and being just are foundational pillars for Muslims. Nothing else has as much importance, for instance knowledge about the angels, knowledge about the attributes of Allah, none of these matter in the issue of imamate. If one has knowledge about all fields of science and has discovered all of the laws of nature or is an amazing musician he will not become more suitable for leading an Islamic government than one who has knowledge about the law and is just. That which is related to caliphate and that which was discussed in the age of the Prophet (s) and the imams (a) and that which is certain amongst the Muslims is that the leader or the caliph must know Islamic laws and must be just in theological and ethical matters. Intellect denotes this as well because and Islamic government is a government of law – not a free-flowing government or a government clinging to the whims of an individual. If the leader does not know the law he is not suitable for leadership because if he follows someone the strength of the government would be broken and if he does not follow someone he would not be able to implement the law. The tradition: “Jurists rule over sultans” is certain. If sultans followed Islam they would have to follow jurists – they would have to ask the jurists what the law would be in various cases and how to implement it. In this case the real leaders are the jurists and that is why they must officially take control of the government and not give it to someone who is forced to follow them because they are ignorant of the law.

Of course, it is not necessary for general workers to know all Islamic laws and become jurists. Rather, it is enough for them to know the laws that are in relation to their work; it is enough to know their duties.

This was the case in the time of the Prophet (s) and the Commander of the Faithful (a). The leader must have these two merits, but their representatives and other workers who are sent to other lands must know the laws that are in relation to their work.

A leader must be perfect in theological beliefs and ethics. He must be just. He must not be polluted by sin. A person who wants to implement divine punishments in their correct places; a person who wants to take control of the public treasury; a person who Allah gives power over his servants must not sin. “My pledge does not reach the oppressors.”

If a leader is not just he would not act just in giving Muslims their rights, obtaining taxes, spending the money obtained from taxes correctly, and implementing divine punishments. It is possible that he would place those close to him over the society and spend the public treasury to his own benefit. (Walayat al-Faqih, p.58-61)

The door of ijtehad must always be open in an Islamic government. The nature of a revolution and a government dictates that ijtehadi opinions must be freely given – even if they oppose one another. Nobody should have the right to prevent this. But, what is important is correctly understanding governance and the society in which, according to them, the Islamic system can make plans for the benefit of Muslims. It is here that the term ijtehad used in the Islamic seminary is not enough, rather if a person is the most knowledgeable in regards to the sciences taught in the Islamic seminary but is unable to recognize what is in the best interest of the society or is unable to recognize righteous people from non-righteous people he would not have a political vision and would not have the ability to make correct decisions. This person is not a mujtahid in social or government matters and cannot become the leader of the society. (Sahifah Nur, v.21, p.47, 1988, Tehran)

Dear Shaykh Ali Mishkini:

After greetings, you wanted my viewpoint in regards to the constitution. Whatever the people in charge thought was correct act in accordance to it. I will not intervene – except in the matter of leadership. We cannot leave our Islamic country without a leader. We must choose someone who will defend the honor of Islam in the political world.

At the beginning I believed and insisted that the condition of being a marja’ is not necessary. A just mujtahid who is confirmed by the Khobregan and is respected throughout the country is enough. If the people vote for the Khobregan so that they determine which just mujtahid is suitable for leadership then his acceptance is the acceptance of the people. In this case he will be chosen by the people and his governance will be established.

I said this in regards to the constitution, but our friends insisted on the condition of being a marja’ and because of that I accepted. I knew at that time that this will not be applicable in the near future. (Sahifah, v.21, p.129, 1989, Tehran)

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The Political Dimensions of Islam

By: Imam Khomeini

At the same time that Islam orders man to worship and at the same time that Islam shows man how to worship, it tells man how to live and how his relationship with other humans must be. Islam even tells us how an Islamic society must deal with other societies. There is no action or movement from an individual or a society that does not have a ruling in Islam. Therefore, it is clear that the concept of an Islamic leadership and being religious encompasses all facets of the society because Islam takes the responsibility of guiding a society in all of its dimensions. (Sahifah Nur, v.4, p.167-168, 1978, Paris)

Islam is not something that only looks at one side of an issue. Islam has rulings on all sides of all issues – all of the issues relating to the world, relating to politics, relating to the society, relating to economics, and relating to everything which the people of the world do not know about. Monotheistic religions came to glance at both sides of the issue; to devise a plan which would be implemented by both sides. It is not the case that it only deals with one side while the other side is left ambiguous. Islam is especially this way – more than the other religions. [The two sides are referring to matters of this world and matters of the hereafter] (Sahifah, v.9, p.137, 1979, Langarud)

The Glorious Quran which is in the hands of the Muslims is the same as it was from the beginning of Islam to now; one letter has not been added to it or taken away from it. When this Quran invites people to ponder it does not mean that they should sit in their homes and remember Allah; to remember Him in private. The issue is a social issue, it is an invitation to politics; an invitation to governance and at the same time all of these issues are acts of worship. Worship was not separated from politics and social benefits. In Islam, everything which has been encouraged has a spiritual dimension, even working in factories, farming on farms, teaching in schools – all of these are in the benefit of Islam and have spiritual dimensions. (Sahifah, v.18, p.275, 1984, Tehran)

Islam’s ethical rulings are also political. The ruling that is in the Quran which states that Muslims are brothers to one another is an ethical ruling, a social ruling, and a political ruling. If the members of the various tribes that have become Muslim believe in Allah and the Prophet they are brothers. In the same way that brothers love each other, all groups must love each other. In addition to this being one of the huge Islamic ethical and in addition to it having huge ethical results it is also a huge social ruling that has huge social results. (Sahifah, v.13, p.23, 1980)

It can be said that, without exception, all of the divine encouragements, even in personal matters and even in issues regarding one’s relationship with Allah, have a social and political dimension to them. (Sahifah, v.18, p.274, 1984, Tehran)

If you were able to understand the meaning of religion in Islamic culture you would clearly see that there is no contradiction between religious leadership and political leadership. Rather, just as political struggles are part of one’s religious duties leading political movements is part of the responsibility of religious leaders. (Sahifah, v.4, p.167, Paris, 1978)

The slogan that religion and politics are separate is one of the propagational aspects of the occupational forces who want to keep Muslims away from deciding their own destiny. In Islamic law political and social issues are discussed before matters of worship. The Prophet’s methods in regards to internal and external political issues show that one of the great battles of the Prophet (s) was a political battle.

The martyrdom of the Commander of the Faithful (a) and Hussayn (a) as well as the imprisonment, torture, and poisoning of other imams (a) was all on the path of Shia political battles against oppressors. In one word: fighting and political activity make up an important part of religious responsibility. (Sahifah, v.4, p.33, 1977, Paris)

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The Prophet’s (s) role in creating unity and brotherhood amongst the Muslims

“Verily the believers are brothers so make peace between your two brothers.”

The first point that stands out in the Prophet’s (s) life is brotherhood and unity in which he practically implemented amongst his followers. He also mentioned it on various occasions. In the first years of the migration, when the numbers of Muslims increased when the people of Medina accepted Islam, he made the brotherhood contract between the Muslims of Mecca (muhajireen) and the Muslims of Medina (ansar). In order to emphasize this matter he repeatedly stated: “A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim – do not oppress him and do not make him surrender to you.” He also stated: “A Muslim is for a Muslim like a building where every brick increases the overall strength of the building.” At this moment he would put his fingers together to stress the importance of what he is saying.

It seems as if the Prophet (s) saw what was going to happen after him in that the Muslims will form sects and the members of each sect would fight with the members of other sects. That is why he clearly explained Islam in that it causes unity amongst the Muslims by saying: “Whoever testifies to the oneness of Allah; whoever faces our direction of prayer; whoever prays like us; whoever eats the meat that was slaughtered by Muslims is a Muslim.”

In another tradition it states: “A person who tastes Islam is a person who is satisfied with Allah, his Lord. Islam is his religion and Muhammad is his prophet.”

Abdullah bin Umar also narrated a tradition from the Noble Prophet (s) which states: “I have been ordered to fight against the people until they bear witness to the oneness of Allah and the messengerhood of the Prophet (s); until they pray and pay religious taxes. When they act in accordance to these their blood and property would be respected, unless they are in opposition to a right that Islam has ordained. The account of all of this is with Allah.”

Even in the last years of the Prophet’s (s) life in Medina where the practical laws of Islam were completed and hordes of people accepted Islam a five-facet document was sent to all of the people who have a tendency for accepting Islam. This was the determining factor behind the practical method of Islam and Muslims and attacking the sanctuaries of a person who has accepted the five mentioned facets was prohibited.

This document which was announced through the Prophet and after him through the divine religious leaders (a) is as follows: The Prophet stated that Islam is secure under five foundations:

  1. Bearing testimony to the oneness of Allah and the messengership of the Prophet.
  2. Praying.
  3. Paying the religious dues.
  4. Performing the pilgrimage.
  5. Fasting in the month of Ramadan.

The Prophet (s), with utmost clarity, stated in regards to the importance of unity amongst the Muslims and refraining from creating sects: “Unison causes goodness and division causes punishment. Whoever distances himself from the unison will die the death of a person in the state of ignorance.” Referring to the words of the Messenger of Allah (a) shows that he invited the nation to unity.

The Prophet (s) did not consider there to be any merits over one’s tribe, language, race, or the likes – the only merit of a human over another human is by piety.

The Prophet states: “The person’s tribe and family relations whose actions cannot lead him anywhere will not lead him anywhere either.”

When everyone knows that their creator is one and when everyone knows that they came into existence from one father and one mother they will fall under the ruling in the verse: “Verily believers are brothers.” As a result, they will desire for their religious brother what they desire for themselves and they will not desire for their religious brother what they do not desire for themselves.

The Prophet (s) practically established brotherhood between the Muslims from Mecca and the Muslims from Medina in Medina. This pact was so valuable that the Muslims who partook in it took pride in being a part of it.

So, what happened in that over time divisions occurred? Is it not the case that those who are unaware of Allah and those who are the enemies of the time have used division to destroy Islam? Imam Khomeini (r) stated that the people who occupied Muslim lands and the people who sought power separated Muslims from one another forming numerous nations. When the huge Othmani government was established the occupiers divided it up. Russia, the countries surrounding Russia, and all of the other occupiers joined forces and fought against it. Each one of these countries took a part of it or, in the least, influenced a part of it. It must be said that most of the rulers of the Othmani government were not suitable for leadership and some of them were corrupt. But, this was the danger of occupiers – they would find the righteous from amongst the nation, use the people to put them at the head of the government, and strongly put up a nationalistic front. After the many battles of the First World War they divided up the Othmani government creating ten to fifteen small countries. Each small portion was given to one of their supporters.

Another factor behind division was the incorrect actions of the Muslims themselves. Ones actions has an effect on others – an effect that is different than speech. The effect of speech is short-lived while the effect of action is deep and rooted. Therefore, it has been said since ancient times that 200 sayings are not worth half of an action. According to this, Islam has ordered its followers to invite people to Islam with their actions before they invite them with their speech. Islam strongly prohibits one to invite someone to do something that they do not do themselves. This is considered a greater sin.

Since Islam is an international religion and all Muslims have the duty of trying to spread this grand message. Muslims cannot shirk the duty of guiding others. Therefore, it is necessary for Muslims to invite people to Islam through their actions before they invite them through their speech. It is self-evident that all people are not able to recognize the religion by only referring to the principle sources; rather, most people recognize Islam through the actions of Muslims. Therefore, each Muslim must become a speaking Quran; a walking Islam. Sometimes the humanistic action of a follower of a certain school of thought affects another human being more than a hundred times that of speeches or books. It attracts them to the specific school of thought. The opposite is also true. If you look at the complaints that people have with religion you will realize that the complaints are normally about the followers of religion and not about the principle religion itself. For instance, it has been seen many times that one would say if such and such religion brings about success then why is the follower of that religion unsuccessful? This religion did not guide him and did not prevent him from committing evil actions. God-willing we will witness Islamic unity in the society.

Islam Times

Recognizing the factors of division

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

By: Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi

One of the very beneficial and effective steps that the Islamic Republic took was unity and the week of unity. This week is a week which has the most suitable days for the issue of unity to present itself. It is the days of the birthday of the Prophet of Islam (s); the person who brought the best religion to the world; the seal of the prophets; the person who is the person of acceptance for all of the Muslims in the world.

The issue that I have chosen to speak about in this limited time is the factors behind division. It is self-evident that if we do not find the factors behind division the slogans of unity will not go anywhere. Unity conferences are great; slogans of unity are great, but what is important is that in these conditions the main factors behind division must be recognized and destroyed. As long as this is not accomplished all other activities will only have a small effect. Before I enter the discussion, I want you brothers and sisters to grant me the permission to speak a little bit about the definition of unity and the issue of coming together. Many mistakes stem from here. The issue of unity and coming together can be explained in many different ways, most of them being incorrect. One meaning from amongst all of these meanings is correct and acceptable. Unity does not make sense if it means that Shias or Sunnis should leave their beliefs and surrender to the other side. Unity does not make sense if it means that the Islamic sects should only accept the commonalities that they have with each other and reject all of the differences. Unity does not make sense if it means that we should sit with each other and make peace, for instance we have ten commonalities and five differences and we will make a compromise – two or three of out beliefs will be rejected and two or three of your beliefs will be rejected being replaced by a unified belief. Unity would not be practical if it meant that we should have conference attended by Shia and Sunni scholars where they would sit down and logically discuss their differences while normal people would calmly sit in the audience choosing which side was more logical. But, the unity that we are after and the unity that we spend all of our energy to obtain has two principles: First, we must respect each other’s beliefs and second, we must try to cooperate along a path in which we have the same goals. We have many similar goals – protecting Islam, protecting the Quran, expanding Islam in the world, rescuing Jerusalem from the Zionists, and protecting the sanctity of Mecca, Medina, the Ka’aba, and hajj. Therefore, we need to unify our efforts along a path where our goals are singular – this is the meaning of coming together and unity which we are after and which we invite our brothers and sisters to follow. This is a very short definition or unity and coming together. The principle discussion is to try to recognize the general factors behind division. We know that if a person’s body is hurt from the outside the inside of his body will work to heal it. But, if the wounds on a body are from the inside his blood will become polluted – the blood will have to be filtered for him to heal. The issue of division in the Islamic world is a wound that stems from the inside – the factors behind it are internal. These factors must be recognized and fought against so that the blood of the Islamic world can become clean and free-flowing throughout all groups of Muslims so that we can be unified.

There are a lot of issues in regards to the factors of division and enmity. We will mention five factors so that our brothers and sisters think about them. There are more factors, but these five are the most important factors. I am certain that if people work against these five factors and if they are able to uproot them then the issue of coming together and the issue of unity will not be difficult.

The enemies of Islam always cling to differences. They consider it better to become victorious over Islam in this way than any other way. The reason for this is because Muslims will fight wars against each other and the enemy will not have any loses. The international community will not cry in defense of the Muslims either. Muslims will kill each other. I heard this sentence in the news today: “South Africa, while being independent, is distancing itself from independence.” Nelson Mandela is the African leader of the freed South Africa, but the African tribes have started fighting each other. The leader announced that there is evidence in hand which shows that the reason the African tribes are fighting is because of the conniving works of the whites in that area. This was a nation that was on the brink of independence, but the enemy used division to negate their movement.

We should talk about Islamic countries. You know that Afghanistan is an Islamic country and is on the brink of independence and Islamic government. But, the enemy has spent millions of dollars and has used spies to make the Afghan political parties attack each other. Brothers started killing each other. Sunnis killed Sunnis; Shias killed Shias; Sunnis killed Shias; Shias killed Sunnis. A society that was on the brink of independence and Islamic government fell because division was created. Another example of this is Lebanaon. Lebanon can be transformed into another Islamic country with an Islamic government because it has spiritual and material potential. But, when it is on the brink of such an action the secret hands of the enemy start working. The murder that is happening in Lebanon is not found anywhere else in the world. Everyone is fighting everyone. This is the political strategy of divide and conquer working at its best. Recently, western scholars studied Islamic movements, the revival of Islam, and Islamic revolution in various countries. After this research was conducted they stated that the only way to prevent Islamic revolutions is by creating divisions amongst the Muslims. Therefore, they have started to do this. In Pakistan a secret group was found who state everywhere that Shias are disbelieves (kafirs). They write this on vehicles, in government offices, and on walls in the city. 200 books against Shiaism have been published in Pakistan in a very short period of time. Where is the money for this coming from? Who is behind all of this? The same people who fear an Islamic revolution.

The second factor is the failure of understanding the culture of unity. Unity needs a culture and will not be possible until we reach that culture. Unity needs an expansion of breasts and people need to concentrate on common goals. If we do not reach this culture we will not reach unity. If I am fanatic and consider what I believe in to be the only truth and if I do not respect your thoughts then the possibility of unity is not present. Our beliefs are certain and respectful for us and your beliefs are certain and respectful as well. If I abuse your beliefs and if you abuse our beliefs we will not reach unity. If we see someone eating poisonous food screaming at them will not have much effect – rather we must make them understand that their food is poisonous. When we work and make Muslims understand how dangerous the defeats due to division have been we will make them realize the importance of coming together. If Israel, a minority, was able to place itself in the heart of the Islamic world in six days (something that the crusaders were not able to do over a period of 200 years) it is time to realize that we need to be placed in the brink of unity.

The third factor is important. It is the factor of putting tribal or racial issues before Islamic beliefs and teachings. The enemies of Islam are trying to raise the issues of tribalism. They have worked for many years on the issue of tribalism and Arab nationalism. They have been able to separate some Muslims from all of the other Muslims in this way. There are 150 million Arabs in the world; they have separated them away from the one billion Muslims in the world. Palestine, which was a Muslim issue, was transformed into an Arab issue and defeat followed. If we allowed these tribes to become overshadowed by Islam; if we allowed Islam to come first the conditions of Muslims, unity, and coming together would be very different today.

The fourth factor behind division is the Islamic factors entering international political groups. Before the fall of communism, the world was divided into two poles; the east and the west. Some Muslims of the world, instead of creating a third pole for themselves, decided to go under the banner of the east and others decided to go under the banner of the west. They became toys for the political groups to play with. They could have become an important international factor. An important part of the world’s sensitive centers are in the hands of Muslims. Muslims have a very rich heritage which is taken from the Quran and the Noble Prophet (s). But, there have been some mistakes made or treasons committed by the heads of Islamic states which have caused some to fall under the banner of the Russians and some to fall under the banner of the Americans and English. These two poles used the Muslims in their war against each other. There are many examples of this type of politics in the modern day for us to examine. The scholars must wake up the Muslims in this regard. They must warn them that they should not leave the evil rulers alone and allow them to put themselves under the political banners of superpowers. They should want everyone to fall under the banner of unity. The factor behind division is that when so and so country is under the political banner of America and other countries are under the political banner of Russia it is impossible for these countries to be unified – no matter how much we scream UNITY UNITY.

The fifth factor of division is that Muslims do not have enough knowledge about each other. Sometimes Muslims use books that are published by the enemy in order to learn about each other. Sunni brothers, if you want to learn about the beliefs of Shias learn them from Shias. We are better than anyone else to speak about our beliefs. Why do you try to learn our beliefs from the mouths of the enemy? Likewise, the beliefs of Sunnis must be learned from Sunnis – not from the enemy. If we did this many of our problems would be solved.

There is an example of this that whenever I remember I become terrified. One of the times that I visited Hijaz I met with the Saudi Arabian minister of religious issues. When introductions were being given in the meeting the first sentence mentioned was: “I heard that you have a scripture different than our scripture.” He heard this from our enemies; not from us. I had an answer prepared and said: “If you come to Iran to see it would be great. If you cant come you can send a representative – we will pay the expenses of the travel. We will arrive at the airport in Tehran and from there we will go into the streets of Tehran. We will stop at whatever mosques you want and you can look to see what Quran they have. We will stop at any house you want and we will examine their Qurans. If our Quran is different, even by one letter, with the Qurans in other Islamic countries then you will have a right to say what you are saying.”

When people stay away from each other and listen to the enemy this will be the result. As must as a say that the stone that the Shias place in their mosques is because prostration must be performed on the ground they say that in so and so book it was written that they are idol-worshipers. We scream and say that the first-tier scholars of the Shia have believed that the Quran has not been distorted from the beginning of Islam until now. If one believed in distortion it would be very rare. The first-tier scholars of the Sunnis believe the same thing, but there are rare scholars of both sects that claim the Quran was distorted – these words should not be listened to. Whatever we say they say that it was written in so and so book that the Shia believe in distortion.

Islam Times

Islamic Scholars and Unity

Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi: Two important factors, unity and I’tila’ are counted as two great pillars of the Islamic faith. Rather, they are definite duties for a person who has accepted Islam.

Shaykh Muhammad Abduh: Differences and weakening the religion is an evil plan of the foreigners. The foreigners try to weaken the various Islamic sects by causing disputes. They want the people’s hearts of those sects to hate one another and to keep them away from clear Islamic commandments.

Ayatollah Burujerdi: One of the huge marja’s of the Shia world, who is highly respected as well, was Ayatollah Burujerdi. He worked very hard to create unity amongst Muslims and even cooperated with Dar al-Taqrib in Egypt. His opinion in unifying the Muslims was referring to the unanimously accepted tradition of thaqalayn and for the non-Shias of the world to look at the amazing amounts of knowledge that the Shia Imams have – which was given to them by the Prophet (s). He wanted them to come closer to Shiaism and to create the groundworks for Islamic unity.

Imam Khomeini: The society in which divine prophets and the Quran worked to establish was a unified society. This is a concept which surpasses tribes, nations, and governments. We must return to our roots and the Islamic culture without adding anything to it. We must put forth effort to protect and strengthen unity – starting from within ourselves. Disunity is from Satan and unity is from the Merciful. Is it possible for one to have a monotheistic ideology, believe that there is only one God, believe that divine will encompasses all things, but have disunity in his practice and in his relationship with other creations?

Ayatollah Khamenei: Islamic unity is an important issue which will be achieved by creating relationships between Islamic spiritual leaders. I open my arms up to people who follow an Islamic organization with the purpose of serving Islam and protecting the benefits of Muslims.

Shaykh Mahmoud Shaltut: Islam has not forced any of its followers to follow are particular sect. Rather, each Muslim can correctly choose any sect and observe the laws that are derived from it. Therefore, a person who follows one of the four sects can easily change to follow another one. The Ja’fari sect, famously known as the Twelver sect, is permissible to follow just as it is permissible to follow any one of the other four sects. Therefore, it is suitable for Muslims to recognize this and to leave all forms of fanaticism directed at a particular sect.

Sayyid Abd al-Hussayn Sharaf al-Din: Division is political and unity is political. Politics divided Sunnis and Shias from the beginning and now, politics must unite them.

Shahid Murtada Mutahhari: It is self-evident that what the scholars mean by unity is not making all Muslims follow one particular sect or accepting what is similar in all sects and rejecting what is different. This would be impossible. Rather, what they mean is putting all Muslims in one line together standing up to their enemies.

Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Hussayn Tabatabai: The Shia of the first century never left the lines of the majority. They aided the general Islamic society in progression. Now, it is also necessary for Muslims to be united and to refer to the principles of Islam. They must leave their disunity and face all of the problems that were caused by the foreigners during the past few decades.

Ayatollah Shahid Muhammad Baqir Sadr: I have spent my whole life in trying to bring about unity and brotherhood between Shias and Sunnis. I have made many pro-unity statements. I am the brother and the son of the Sunnis just as I am the brother and the son of Shias.

Imam Musa Sadr: Solidifying the lines of Muslims is not something that was ordained only by the Prophet (s). Rather, the necessities of life and the intellect also advise us to do the same thing. This is an issue which our existence depends on. I do not mean, by mentioning unity, that we should just blindly mention it over and over again. Rather, I mean that unity, in its complete meaning, is what we are striving for.

Islam Times

The Islamic Community

The social aspect of Islam is one of its most important aspects. Islam teaches us the importance of an Islamic community and how to achieve an Islamic community. Some of the verses of the Quran in this regard will be listed:

“Do not be like those who became divided [into sects] and differed after manifest signs had come to them.”[1] Here we are being warned to remain unified and not divide ourselves up into sects or any other divisions. Allah is commanding us to have a unified community.

”Indeed those who split up their religion and become sects, you will not have anything to do with them. Their matter rests only with God.”[2] Again, Allah is commanding us to leave sectarianism and remain unified – to safeguard our unified community.

“The faithful are indeed brothers. Therefore make peace between your brothers and be wary of God, so that you may receive [His] mercy.”[3] Here, the issue of brotherhood is raised, which is the main topic of this paper, and the issue of making peace between Muslims in dispute. This is pointing to a unified community once more.

“And obey God and His Apostle, and do not dispute, or you will lose heart and your power will be gone.”[4] Here, Allah is mentioning the result of dispute and disunity – a loss of power and strength, which is once more pointing to the need of unity.

“There has to be a nation among you summoning to the good, bidding what is right, and forbidding what is wrong. It is they who are the felicitous.” Here, Allah is referring to a nation, a community, that is doing what they are supposed to do – enjoin the good and forbid the evil. The result of this is that they will become felicitous, so one has to form a community and make that community do the right things to become felicitous.

What does this all mean? It means that we must form unified communities. How do we do that? One of the most basic methods of doing this is caring for our Muslim brothers. It is narrated that the Prophet (s) said: “One who starts his day without caring (about) the affairs of Muslims is not a Muslim.”[5]

One of the verses that was quoted at the beginning of this paper was the 10th verse of the 49th chapter stating that the faithful are indeed brothers. Brotherhood is a very important concept in Islam and is one of the foundations of the Islamic community to which Allah has given great importance. This is clearly understood by those who have experienced real brotherhood.

Brotherhood is something that has been encouraged and explained by the infallible imams. For instance, it has been narrated from Imam Sadiq (a): “Seek nearness to Almighty Allah through helping your (Muslim) brother.”[6]

There will even by rewards for such actions in this world as has been narrated from Imam Ali (a): “Helping the brothers-in-Allah increases sustenance.”[7]

I will conclude this paper by mentioning some of the aspects of an Islamic friendship between two brothers in faith. The Imams have made many statements about what it means to be a friend and how we should treat other believers. I will only mention a few of them.

First, it has been narrated from Imam Rida (a): “It is the duty of a believer towards another believer to have his love in his heart, to assist him with his wealth, and to stand by his side against one who does injustice to him.”[8] In this tradition we are ordered to love other believers, to aid them with our wealth, and to stand by there side when injustice befalls them. Do we actually do this? When one of our brothers hits a financial low do the members of our community run to give him financial aid? When the police wrongfully accuse and arrest one of our brothers for terrorism do we stand by his side or do we distance ourselves from him in hopes that a similar situation would not befall us?

There are two more traditions that I want to narrate from the books Risalah al-Haquq which is attributed to Imam Ali bin al-Hussayn (a):

“The right of the companion (sahib) is that you act as his companion with bounty and in fairness. You honor him as he honors you and you do not let him be the first to act with generosity. If he is the first, you repay him. You wish for him as he wishes for you and you restrain him from any act of disobedience he might attempt. Be a mercy for him, not a chastisement. And there is no strength save in God.” This tradition alludes to the famous saying: want for your brother what you would want for yourself. If one applies this saying in their friendships they will be the best friend that anyone could have.

Another tradition from this risalah is in regards to people with whom one is sitting. The reason I am mentioning this is because the manners that are encouraged for one to have with a person who sits next to him are definitely encouraged for one to have with a friend as well. “The right of your sitting companion (jalis) is that you treat him mildly, show fairness toward him while vying with him in discourse, and do not stand up from sitting with him without his permission. But it is permissible for him who sits with you to leave without asking your permission. You should forget his slips and remember his good qualities, and you should say nothing about him but good.” The end part of this tradition is interesting to me. We should forget about whatever mistakes a friend of ours makes, and we should only remember his good qualities. This would both protect and improve our friendship.

Therefore, Allah has shown us the importance of a unified community in the Quran. One of the foundations of this unified community is a brotherhood amongst the believers which has also been encouraged by the infallible leaders of Islam as well as Allah in the Quran. The meaning of Islamic brotherhood is loving our brothers, aiding them financially, standing by their side when they are being dealt an unjust blow, wanting for them what we want for ourselves, and overlooking their mistakes while remembering their good qualities.

Islam Times


[1] Quran, 3:105

[2] Quran, 6:159

[3] Quran, 49:10

[4] Quran, 8:46

[5] al-Kafi, v.2, p.162 (printed by Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah)

[6] Khisal by Shaykh Saduq, v.1, p.8 (printed by Intisharat Jami’ah Mudarasin, Qom, 1403)

[7] Ibid, v.1, p.125

[8] Bihar al-Anwar, v.74, p.233-234

Fadlullah condemned the Vatican’s recent position that “he who denies the Holocaust denies the existence of God”

Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah

Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah

His Eminence, the Religious Authority Grand Ayatullah Aluzma Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, issued a statement denouncing the recent position by the Vatican that “he who denies the Holocaust denies the existence of God”. Following is the text of the statement:

“In the midst of the developments engulfing the world these days, and in light of the Israeli carnage that killed more than 6000 Palestinian women and children and elderly in Gaza, and while the Muslim world expected the Vatican to support voices calling for the prosecution of Israel’s leaders for their crimes and use of internationally-banned weapons – and because the Vatican espouses the message of Christianity in deterring tyrants and supporting the vulnerable and the oppressed as Jesus (p) did – the Vatican issued a surprising statement saying that he who denies the Holocaust denies the existence of God.

It is certainly sad and depressing that the statement issued by the Vatican came in the wake of Jewish threats to the Pope, most notably by the Chief Rabbinate of the Zionist entity which boycott its relations with the Vatican after the Pope pardoned a British bishop who questioned the Nazis use of gas chambers in executing the Jewish during the Second World War. The Rabbinate only resumed relations with the Vatican when the Pope supported the “Jewish brothers” as he said, and stressed that the Holocaust must not be denied.

The Pope’s statement provoked many questions over the independence of the first Catholic site in the world, and its submission – in a way or another – to Israeli and Jewish pressures and to the conditions of the enemy and its rabbis. The Pope did not denounce these rabbis for describing the Arabs as snakes and bugs that must be killed, or for issuing a fatwa upon which the Israeli army can kill the Palestinian civilians, including children, women, and elderly.

We are fully aware that the Holocaust issue espoused by the West – with it being only based on the Israeli and Zionist story and manipulated to a large extent to control the Europeans – has become non-negotiable and above any questions or scientific and objective researches. As such, anyone attempting to address the issue of the Holocaust in a scientific manner in a bid to clarify this issue and reveal the miseries of the European people during World War II will be condemned, slandered, and pursued, akin to French writer, Roger Garaudy, and others. But to our surprise, the Vatican itself succumbed to this logic and thus the largest official Catholic authority fell under pressures applied by the Jews who seek to see this authority submitting not only to their political pressure and superstitions and myths but also to their defamed and false stories. The Jews intend to tighten their grip over spiritual, scientific, and political powerful positions in the world and force them to work in accordance with the hellish and racist schemes in regarding the non-Jews as inferiors who must be servants for the Jews and their projects.

We will not engage in a debate with the Pope on whether the Jews are innocent of killing Jesus (p), but we are fully aware that they cannot be acquitted from the blood of the Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. We expected him to speak out and condemn the heinous crimes perpetrated by the enemy in Gaza. However, the Vatican was only able to issue “shy” words calling for an end to the violence in Gaza. We expected the Vatican to support the Palestinian cause, the most just issue in the world, and the Palestinian people who are the most oppressed in this era in which arrogant powers oppress the vulnerable people who were a great concern for Jesus and his message and march.

While we blame the Pope for this shortcoming and believe that the historical German complex must not play any role in this regard, we emphasize the need to continue the Christian-Islamic dialogue and initiate dialogue with the Pope over this issue among others, for we believe that the pressures applied by the Jews who usurped Palestine must not create a chasm in the Islamic-Christian relations. Furthermore, our perspective of the Christians is based on a Quranic view which says that they are the closest to the believers. We also call upon the Muslims worldwide to carry out a calm and rational dialogue with the Christians over the ideological and political issues, in addition to the human issues in the world. We also call upon them to pay attention to the Zionist attempts to foment a Christian-Islamic feud, namely the pressures exercised on the official Christian institution or the Western research centers under the pretext that these centers are anti-Semitic and that they seek to end Israel’s existence.”

Islam Times

The Solution to Human Suffering

It was last Monday that I found myself in a place I rarely ever get the chance to venture: looking the misfortunes of humanity-at-large dead in the face. A group of us, primarily youth from our center, had come together for a small protest rally on MLK Day, and the location chosen was near downtown Dallas’s MLK Boulevard: a roadway wedged between impoverished, primarily minority, and markedly disadvantaged neighborhoods. As lengthy speeches were delivered about the atrocities being perpetrated against the innocents of the Gaza Strip, and the essential little-known differences between Judaism and Zionism, many of the area’s inhabitants passed us by. Some were supportive, touched, and caring, but others still were inexplicably angry. They yelled at us to shut up and leave and professed hope that Israel might succeed at whatever it was doing.

As I heard these words, I knew enough about human suffering to not take them at face value, and as I reflected on the deeper sentiments behind their opposing shouts, I couldn’t help but understand exactly where these people were coming from. On an ordinary day, having fully understood both sides of the story and internalized the unparalleled suffering of the Palestinian people, I have no doubt in my heart that every one of those passerby, gathered there on the namesake road of one of modern history’s bravest crusaders against oppression, would stand next to us and express their solidarity and grief that our world is such a horrific place for some. But life for those people couldn’t possibly have ever been ordinary. They were living in one of the “worst” areas of the sprawling DFW metroplex and had probably known nothing but injustice from the moment they entered this world, dominated by power-hungry corporate powerhouses in a paradoxical nation that professes economic opportunity for all, but where the majority of the wealth lies in the hands of the wealthiest 1%. These weren’t a bunch of soulless barbarians who didn’t care about the hundreds of slaughtered children in the Gaza Strip… they themselves were simply downtrodden human beings who had probably suffered every day of their lives in lesser, but equally poignant measures.

There was no enduring shower of bombs or criminal phosphorous making the lives of these people a visible hell, and our momentary attention and solidarity must spiritually and ethically be with the most virulently oppressed, but they were still the victims of a different brand of war: the wars of the streets, of limited prospects, of class divisions, and gang fights and no escape but gunfire. As I reflected on the likely plights of these human beings who lived not an hour away from me, I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed. It didn’t kill me that I couldn’t directly reach a hand out to the victims in Gaza and nurse every one of them back to health; the unimaginable distances were enough to appease my heart. But there was nothing I could tell myself now, as I looked out into the city and saw the homeless wanderers, drug addicts, and other casualties of capitalism. I looked at the bleak community centers and the schools, whose deterioration seemed to attest that efforts to move forward are always made, but don’t always succeed.

It completely blew me away: there were so many people, as far as the eye could see and further, who needed help, quite possibly the kind of help that can only come with lifelong guidance and unfailing personal persistence. I was near enough to help some of those many, but what could I do alone? Was there anything I could say to help even one of these people, or ten? How could I chant in burning fervor for the souls of Gaza, behold the injustices all around me now, and commit myself to only one group of people? And even if I could fight the good fight for all of them, what about the three-fourth of the continent of Africa that is still perishing in poverty and malnutrition from the ill effects of colonialism and imperialism? If I were to take a survey of how many people in the world need help, would I run out of room to account for them all? Every second, isn’t there likely another human being born who will probably struggle to survive? I am a seventeen year old girl who can barely exit gym class unscathed. How could I even dream of taking on the infinite conflicts that ravage the human race?

Needless to say, when the protest ended, my heart felt like a ship anchored down by the weight of a thousand accounts of human tragedy. Mankind has existed on this earth for untold millennia, but no amount of time will ever be sufficient to eradicate the injustices that multiply as fast as creation itself. As different as today’s world is, as much as we pride ourselves for how far we have come, every starving child is a testament that things will never be different enough. 1982 has just replayed before our very eyes, when surely the world must have whispered “never again” as soon as the smoke over Sabra and Shatila cleared. So at the last, one question lingered in my heart… what answer do these people have? Who is going to help them if I can’t be the one?

It was then that it really struck me: that grand, beautiful realization that sometimes hits you when you stare at a gargantuan mountain peak and murmur Subhan’Allah, and other times steals your breath as you revel in the glow of a child’s smile. For a long time, my friends and peers, particularly the ones who have experimented with every belief system under the sun, have asked: why do we need religion? Amid all the wars that have been waged throughout history “in the name of God”, is there any central reason why human beings should logically submit themselves to a bunch of preset guidelines and dictates? If it is in man’s fundamental inclinations to be a free being, why should he willfully bind himself to a prescribed way of life?

The answer for me, in the context of that day’s frustrations, became Allahu Akbar – God is great! We may be limited in our ability to help others, but God is the Infinitely Beneficent, and He has given us a faith wherein there lies a collective solution to human suffering. In my walk near MLK Boulevard, that single notion became my answer: Islam – the flawless religion bestowed on creation by our beloved Creator – prescribes, dictates, and sanctions compassion, and if you have ever looked into the eyes of someone who has truly suffered, you cannot possibly find an insufficiency in such a perfect idea. There will never be enough “mes” or “yous” to ensure that “they” make it through life, and there is no assurance that “me” or “you” won’t someday, by an unexpected twist of fate or two, find ourselves in “their” position.

Therefore, in order to endure, we must become a “we”, and seek empowerment from an outside force so much greater than ourselves that we become always, at any given moment, capable of inwardly coming to terms with whatever life throws at us, and devote ourselves to helping those less able. And where else might this empowerment come from but the very God who has created us and comprehends our every weakness more intimately than we do, who is nearer to each person than his or her jugular vein? And where in this savage world is there ever an assurance that you will be helped merely because you need it; does starvation ebb its hold on a dying orphan merely because the child cries out and asks to live? There are not enough sets of ears in the world to hear every dying child, but when we come together and listen to the oppressed as an Ummah, when we incorporate into the very practice of our religion the necessity of helping those less fortunate than us, we combine the power of millions of souls united under the common goal of living Fi Sabeel Allah: in the way of God, who treasures acts of compassion almost more than any.

One of the uncountable beauties of our belief system is that it does not merely suggest that we make time to remember the oppressed ones and contribute from our excesses to help those in need; it unequivocally requires it. One of the biggest issues people have with organized religion is the strict finiteness of its rules, but isn’t it worth pondering that one such guideline in our faith is the charity – Khums – an assurance that a faithful Muslim cannot legitimately pass through this world without helping his fellow man? The Qur’an outlines it in a beautifully concise manner:

“Know that whatever of a thing you acquire, a fifth of it is for Allah, for the Messenger, for the near relative, and the orphans, the needy, and the wayfarer.” (8:41) I might not be able to do much in my idealistic hope to help others, but by the grace of Allah, Islam ensures that I will never be alone in whatever trite efforts I make.

Islamic Insights

Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Liquor Store

Liquor Store

In the midst of the Black and Brown neighborhoods across America, you find liquor stores posted on residential corners every few blocks or so. We call them convenience marts. In the land of milk and honey, these businesses are perfectly lawful because no legal infringement forbids the exchange of cash for alcoholic substances. Not since the days of bootlegging liquor during our country’s prohibition days, at least. From 1920 to 1933 the making, selling and transporting of alcohol was punishable by law until Franklin Roosevelt changed the game by signing an amendment.

Juxtaposed with businesses like this are churches that safely house the many denominations of Christianity. By equal comparison there are reachable markets selling intoxicants and vices of all sorts like pornography and cigarettes. Provided, these small business merchants sell many other items like household staples, beverages, junk food, lottery tickets and a myriad of miscellaneous product. The residents hurriedly dash to these stores when visiting a supermarket isn’t convenient or if they need a quick supply of this or that. Outside the entrance, other activities like dice games and dope dealings take place.

Store owners make a decent living, which speaks to the perpetuated allure of the American dream. However enticing this may seem, making a decent living is often earned at the expense of vulnerable, downtrodden and sometimes chemically dependent locals. Whether the addiction is nicotine or alcohol, consumption of these injurious products only contribute to a greater pathology and sadly, one whose cause has long been legalized.

Where consumer accountability is considered, accessibility must be too.

If there were a rehabilitation center within the same proximity of these liquor stores, perhaps my tension would cease to exist. And the framework for which I’ve built this argument would easily collapse. But that’s not the case in disadvantaged areas where people survive in the most compactly populated places.

The demographics in these neighborhoods are chiefly African American, working class Whites and Latinos that were born here or immigrated. Seldom are adults college graduates or hold a job that can reap a family wage which necessitates the taking of two jobs, government assistance or other means of income. Urban planning and economic development are only regarded when old homes are demolished to make way for new townhouses and condos.

Similarly, schools have the lowest standardized test scores while classrooms have the highest student to teacher ratios. Government funding is munificently given to school districts whose students score the peak ranking in their assessments at year’s end. It doesn’t take a genius (or a college grad) to calculate what that means for inner city kids who would be provided the opportunity to thrive academically if our government helped schools without rigid stipulations.

And if it’s not Oakland or Richmond, it’s Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago or a neighborhood like Watts in Southern California. It’s an issue that deserves national attention, however, it is also an issue disregarded by government because answerability is tossed back and forth between merchants and lawmakers.

Three years ago while most Bay Area residents were carving turkeys and eating sweet potato pie, a wave of vandalism, arson and then kidnapping struck the community liquor stores by mysterious men, cloaked like Nation of Islam followers. The public was later notified that stores were set ablaze by the late Yusef Bey’s disciples who cleared shelves of alcoholic beverages, and left the floors covered in liquid poison and shattered glass. The owners were left with a clear message- it is moral hypocrisy to sell alcohol in these neighborhoods, to another browbeaten group of people. The news was immediately sensationalized and nightly broadcasts kept playing footage taken from surveillance cameras.

The Bey family debacle has been forever colored with scandal- sexual abuse, alleged kidnappings, murder and torture in their twisted understanding of justice. It was whispered that Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey was murdered by adherents to this cult-like following.

This moment in time presented a dilemma for Muslims on both sides; nobody appreciates the presence of Arab owned liquor stores especially when other members of Islamic centers work hard to erect a better example. Muslims largely felt as though the collective group of merchants, the Yemeni Grocers Association amounting to 300 members, were unapproachable. In fact, they were labeled “mafia” when the subject was brought up at a masjid in East Oakland years before the wave of crime washed upon our shores. Secondly, Muslims objected to and seldom affiliated with the Bey family for the same reasons. Although they didn’t attend our masajid, there was a brawny presence of this family and their businesses throughout Oakland.

Yet, somehow and in some way, we were still wedged in the pandemonium. Media outlets would ask leaders for comments and only a handful of Muslims were prepared to really deal with backlash and public relations. With every passing day, the relations among African American Muslims (and non Muslims) became strained with the Arab community.

Most would agree that it’s duplicitous to have Arabic calligraphy illustrating the words of the Qur’an hanging on the walls of a liquor store. It was further demoralizing to see the hijabi wives of these merchants standing behind the counter, ringing up the largest bottles of cognac, pricing condoms, men’s magazines, bacon and so on. This is no exaggeration. This is happening across America right under your nose.

And this, dear readers, blurs the line between our way of life and their way of business.

Although named Yemeni Grocers Association, a percentage of these Arabs are Palestinian. They are refugees from a land in which displacement, dispossession, unemployment and poverty are the primary reasons for flight. Is it fair then, that in this great escape, they resettle in neighborhoods afflicted with the same state of affairs? Is it fair that our neighborhoods are being gentrified as quickly as their homeland is, making way for European immigrants in the Jewish religion?

No, it is not fair but evenhandedness isn’t always considered in my America, a land for capital gain. Truthfully we know that where one gains success, another may be exploited.

Immediately following the vandalism and arson, Muslims made sincere attempts at being proactive by handing out leaflets, organizing meetings and holding press conferences. In addition to diplomatic measures, one group located in East Oakland led a three mile march up Macarthur, down 98th avenue, up East 14th and finally stomped the remaining blocks of 82nd back to their starting point. During the course of this march, an annual activity every Friday following Thanksgiving, they passed several liquor stores whose owners looked mortified. Some of them even called Oakland Police Department in fear they would suffer another blow. Those in procession kept walking, some with strollers and little ones, or handed the merchants inspirational writings about Islam, the religion of their homeland.

But my applause ended when the efforts of these groups did too. Once again, we found ourselves suspended in the hype of sensationalism with no unyielding plan for the next day, month or year to come.

The sales of Islamically-illicit substances grows and finances not just families and those back home, but this cash may also finance the masjid depending on where you attend. In my current city, the masjid was taken from the hands of African American leadership and “given” to local merchants.

This should be a point of contention if you live in a neighborhood like mine.
It’s ironic that Muslims are more likely to boycott Starbucks than approach leadership of these masajid and argue a plea. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to state my case against this hypocrisy. Starbucks is said to donate to the state of Israel and Muslims have joined Palestinian activist groups in a divestment campaign reminiscent of ones carried out during the South African Apartheid against companies like Coca-Cola.

And if it’s not Starbucks, it’s Wal-Mart as a trendy target of consumer consciousness.

But this situation is deeper than the pockets of both corporations. While we are willing to join the ranks in these campaigns, no less honorable than those of a political struggle, we overlook that race relations and fair play aren’t even guaranteed with those we stand next to in this movement.

If we’re willing to give up a caramel macchiato at a café said to be associated with Palestinian repression, are the Palestinian store owners willing to stop selling their beverages too? To what extent is the real sacrifice in these matters?

Let’s be real- the international cause is indeed noble but don’t let that engross you from what’s happening in your own backyards. Racism is an institutional condition mirrored by the ugliness of social conditioning, both here and abroad. My neighborhoods are occupied by several forces- cops, criminals and those who peddle dope both legal and illegal. We are in a state of occupation too.

We must continue to initiate constructive dialogue about the destructive forces in our communities, even if these forces are coming from our brothers and sisters in faith.

Solidarity must be reciprocated in practice, not merely in theory.

insight-info

The Plot Against Gaza

Israel has justified its assault on Gaza as entirely defensive, intended only to stop Hamas firing rockets on Israel’s southern communities. Although that line has been repeated unwaveringly by officials since Israel launched its attack on 27 December, it bears no basis to reality. Rather, this is a war against the Palestinians of Gaza, and less directly those in the West Bank, designed primarily to crush their political rights and their hopes of statehood.

The most glaring evidence contradicting the Israeli casus belli is the six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that preceded the invasion. True, Hamas began firing its rockets as soon as the truce came to an end on 19 December, but Israel had offered plenty of provocation. Not least it broke the ceasefire by staging a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas members. Even more significantly, it maintained and tightened a blockade during the ceasefire period that was starving Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants of food, medicine and fuel. Hamas had expected the blockade lifted in return for an end to the rockets.

A few days before Israel’s attack on Gaza, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, noted Hamas’ commitment to the ceasefire and its motives in restarting the rocket fire. “Make no mistake, Hamas is interested in maintaining the truce,” he told the cabinet. “It seeks to improve its conditions — a removal of the blockade, receiving a commitment from Israel that it won’t attack and extending the lull to the Judea and Samaria area [the West Bank].” In other words, had Israel wanted calm, it could have avoided invading Gaza simply by renegotiating the truce on more reasonable terms.

Israel, however, had little interest in avoiding a confrontation with Hamas, as events since the Islamic group’s takeover of Gaza in early 2006 show.

It is widely agreed among the Israeli leadership that Hamas represents a severe threat to Israel’s ambition to crush the Palestinians’ long-standing demands for a state in the West Bank and Gaza. Unike Fatah, its chief Palestinian political rival, Hamas has refused to collude with the Israeli occupation and has instead continued its resistance operations. Although Hamas officially wants the return of all the lands the Palestinians were dispossessed of in 1948, at the establishment of Israel, it has shown signs of increasing pragmatism since its election victory, as Diskin’s comments above highlight. Hamas leaders have repeatedly suggested that a long-term, possibly indefinite, truce with Israel is possible. Such a truce would amount to recognition of Israel and remove most of the obstacles to the partition of historic Palestine into two states: a Jewish state and a Palestinian one.

Rather than engaging with Hamas and cultivating its moderate wing, Israel has been preparing for an “all-out war,” as Ehud Barak, the defense minister, has referred to the current offensive. In fact, Barak began preparing the attack on Gaza at least six months ago, as he has admitted, and probably much earlier.

Barak and the military stayed their hand in Gaza chiefly while other strategies were tested. The most significant was an approach espoused in the immediate wake of Hamas’ victory in 2006. Dov Weisglass, former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s fixer in Washington, gave it clearest expression. Israel’s policy, he said, would be “like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”

John Wolfensohn, envoy to the Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, Europe and Russia through most of 2005, has pointed out that the US and Israel reneged on understandings controlling the border crossings into Gaza from the moment of Israel’s disengagement in summer 2005. In an interview with the Israeli media, he attributed the rapid destruction of the Gazan economy to this policy. However, although the blockade began when Fatah was still in charge of the tiny enclave, the goal of Weisglass’ “diet” was to intensify the suffering of Gaza’s civilians. The rationale was that, by starving them, they could be both reduced to abject poverty and encouraged to rise up and overthrow Hamas.

But it seems the Israeli army was far from convinced a “diet” would produce the desired result and started devising a more aggressive strategy. It was voiced last year by Israel’s deputy defense minister, Matan Vilnai. He observed that, if Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel (in an attempt, though he failed to mention it, to break the blockade), the Palestinians “will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” The Hebrew word “Shoah” has come to refer exclusively to the Holocaust.

Though his disturbing comment was quickly disowned, Vilnai is no maverick. He is a former major general in the army who maintains close ties to the senior command. He is also a friend of his boss, Ehud Barak, the Labor leader and Israel’s most decorated soldier. The reference to the “shoah” offered a brief insight into the reasoning behind a series of policies he and Barak began unveiling from summer 2007.

It was then that hopes of engineering an uprising against Hamas faded. The diet regime had patently failed, as had a Fatah coup attempt underwritten by the United States. Hamas struck a pre-emptive blow against Fatah, forcing its leaders to flee to the West Bank. In retaliation the Israeli government declared Gaza a “hostile entity.” Barak and Vilnai used Gaza’s new status as the pretext for expanding the blockade of food and medicines to include electricity, a policy that was progressively tightened. At the same time they argued that Israel should consider cutting off “all responsibility” for Gaza. The intention of Barak’s blockade, however, was different from the Weisglass version. It was designed to soften up Gazan society, including Hamas fighters, for Israel’s coming invasion.

Far from being threatened by the intensifying blockade, Hamas turned it to its advantage. Although Israel controls two of the land borders and patrols the coast, there is fourth short land border shared with Egypt, close by the town of Rafah. There Gaza’s entrepreneurs developed a network of smuggling tunnels that were soon commandeered by Hamas. The tunnels ensured both that basic supplies continued to get through, and that Hamas armed itself for the attack it expected from Israel.

From March 2008 Barak and Vilnai began pushing their military strategy harder. New political formulations agreed by the government suggested the whole population of Gaza were to be considered complicit in Hamas actions, and therefore liable for retaliatory military action. In the words of the daily Jerusalem Post newspaper, Israeli policy makers took the view that “it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population [of Gaza] is Hamas.”

At this point, Barak and Vilnai announced they were working on a way to justify in law the army directing artillery fire and air strikes at civilian neighborhoods of Gaza, as has been occurring throughout the current Gaza campaign. Vilnai, meanwhile, proposed declaring areas of the tiny enclave “combat zones” in which the army would have free rein and from which civilians would be expected to flee — again a tactic that has been implemented over the past three weeks.

Although Israel is determined to crush Hamas politically and militarily, so far it has been loathe to topple it. Israel withdrew from Gaza precisely because the demographic, military and economic costs of directly policing its refugee camps were considered too high. It will not be easily dragged back in.

Other options are either unpalatable or unfeasible. A Fatah government riding in on the back of Israeli tanks would lack legitimacy, and no regime at all — anarchy — risks losing forces more implacably opposed to a Jewish state than Hamas, including al-Qaeda. Placing Gaza under a peacekeeping force faces other hurdles: not least, the question of which countries would be prepared to take on such a dangerous burden.

Instead Israel is planning to resort to its favorite diplomatic maneuver: unilateralism. It wants a solution that passes over the heads of Hamas and the Palestinians. Or as Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, put it: “There is no intention here of creating a diplomatic agreement with Hamas. We need diplomatic agreements against Hamas.” The formula currently being sought for a ceasefire will face opposition from Israel unless it helps achieve several goals.

Israel’s first is to seal off Gaza properly this time. Egypt, although profoundly uncomfortable at having an Islamic group ruling next door, is under too much domestic pressure to crack down on the tunneling. Israel therefore wants to bring in American and European experts to do the job. They will ensure that the blockade cannot be broken and that Hamas cannot rearm with the the help of outside actors like Iran. At best, Hamas can hope to limp on as nominal ruler of Gaza, on Israeli sufferance.

The second goal has been well articulated by the Harvard scholar Sara Roy, who has been arguing for some time that Israel is, in her words, “de-developing” Gaza. The blockade has been integral to achieving that objective, and is the reason Israel wants it strengthened. In the longer term, she believes, Gazans will come to be “seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims.”

In addition, Gazans living close to the enclave’s northern and southern borders may be progressively “herded” into central Gaza — as envisioned in Vilnai’s plan last year. That process may already be under way, with Israeli leafletting campaigns warning inhabitants of these areas to flee. Israel wants to empty both the Rafah area, so that it can monitor more easily any attempts at tunneling, and the northern part because this is the location of the rocket launches that are hitting major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon and Ashdod and may one day reach Tel Aviv.

The third and related goal, as Barak and Vilnai proposed more than a year ago, is to cut off all Israeli responsibility for Gaza — though not oversight of what is allowed in. Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian analyst, believes that in this scenario Israel will insist that humanitarian supplies into Gaza pass only through the Egyptian crossing, thereby also undercutting Hamas’ role. Already Israel is preparing to hand over responsibility for supplying Gaza’s electricity to Egypt — a special plant is under construction close by in the Sinai.

Slowly, the hope is, Gaza’s physical and political separation from the West Bank will be cemented, with the enclave effectively being seen as a province of Egypt. Its inhabitants will lose their connection to the wider Palestinian people and eventually Cairo may grow bold enough to crack down on Hamas as brutally as it does its own Islamists.

The regime of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, meanwhile, will be further isolated and weakened, improving Israel’s chances of forcing it to sign a deal annexing East Jerusalem and large swaths of the West Bank on which the Jewish settlements sit.

The fourth goal relates to wider regional issues. The chief obstacle to the implementation of Israel’s plan is the growing power of Iran and its possible pursuit of nuclear weapons. Israel’s official concern — that Tehran wants to attack Israel — is simple mischief-making. Rather Israel is worried that, if Iran becomes a regional superpower, Israeli diktats in the Middle East and in Washington will not go unchallenged.

In particular, a strong Iran will be able to aid Hizballah and Hamas, and further fan the flames of popular Muslim sentiment in favor of a just settlement for the Palestinians. That could threaten Israel’s plans for the annexation of much of the West Bank, and possibly win the Palestinians statehood. None of this can be allowed to pass by Israel.

It is therefore seeking to isolate Tehran, severing all ties between it and Hamas, just as it earlier tried — and failed — to do the same between Iran and Hizballah. It wants the Palestinians beholden instead to the “moderate” block in the Arab world, meaning the Sunni dictatorships like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that in turn depend on Washington for their security.

The prospects of Israel achieving all or even some of these goals seems improbable. Too often Israeli meddling in its neighbors’ affairs has ended in unintended consequences, or “blowback.” It is a lesson Israel has been all too slow to learn.

Insight-info

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