JERUSALEM – In a groundbreaking ruling, an official Islamic legislative body based in the Arab world on Thursday issued a “fatwa,” or legal opinion, against the Islamist militant group Hamas, calling out its treatment of millions of Palestinians living under the his rule in the “inhuman” Gaza Strip and urging the terrorist organization and its followers to immediately lay down their arms, sit down and make peace.
The unprecedented statement, released by the Islamic Fatwa Council, a nongovernmental body of Shia, Sunni and Sufi clerics based in Iraq’s spiritual capital of Najaf, says Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, “has a responsibility for its own reign of corruption and terror against Palestinian civilians inside Gaza” and deems it “forbidden to pray, join, support, finance or fight on behalf of Hamas”.
“As an Islamic legal body, we acknowledge the plight of the oppressed around the world,” said Muhammad Ali Al-Maqdisi, a cleric on the council, in a video statement shared with Fox News Digital.
“We have seen what Gaza has been subjected to under Hamas rule. We have also seen the atrocities which, in our view, have been perpetrated against Palestinians – loyal, unarmed civilians – who have neither force nor recourse. And, therefore, we believed it was our Islamic obligation to help the oppressed.”
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Al-Maqdisi, who also serves as the council’s official spokesman, added: “This is what our religion commands us. Our faith, in its wisdom, enjoins us to be the enemy of the oppressor and an aid to the oppressed. That is because the fatwa was issued against Hamas”.
According to the council, the decision to hand down the legal sentence, which while not binding is considered highly influential in the Muslim world, came after the publication of a series of video testimonies of ordinary civilians in Gaza released last month by the US-center for peace based communications.
The ‘Whispered In Gaza’ series, which used animation and voice-altering technology to protect the identity of Gaza-based speakers, offered a rare, unfiltered look at life in the poverty-stricken Palestinian enclave and under attack and highlighted the anger and fears ordinary people have towards their autocratic rulers Hamas.
Hamas, a designated terrorist organization according to the US, EU and Israel, has maintained an iron grip on Gaza since it violently seized the territory in 2007 after Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2005. The group, which receives funding and training from Iran imposes a strict Islamic code on its more than 2 million residents as it continues to engage in the fight against Israel, including the firing of countless rockets and incendiary devices into Israeli territory and mass protests along the border fence.
Israel, along with Egypt on its southern border, continues to maintain a tight civilian and military blockade on the area, controlling the flow of goods and people into and out of the Strip and responding to attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups .
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Joseph Braude, founder and president of the Center for Peace Communications, which has created about 25 video testimonials, told Fox News Digital that a unit member of the council has contacted his organization to confirm the authenticity of the digitized accounts.
“We responded, as we had with many of our media partners, by arranging a secure private screening of the original footage for the researchers,” Braude told Fox News Digital.
Grand Ayatollah Fadhil al-Budairi, one of the three chairmen of the Fatwa Council, said in a separate video statement that, after seeing the evidence, “Islamic authority stands on the side of the oppressed Palestinian people.”
“We do not accept any harm done to them, whether it comes from Israel or elements of the Palestinian government, whether it comes from Hamas or others,” he said. “The Palestinian people have suffered enough and we do not accept that this oppression continues. We implore Islamic and humanitarian organizations to help in the preservation and protection of human rights in the Palestinian context.”
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While the fatwa marks the first time that an accredited Islamic legislative body has explicitly declared Hamas illegitimate under Islamic law, it follows similar rulings by the UAE Fatwa Council and Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Scholars against the Muslim Brotherhood movement and all its branches, declaring them terrorist organizations “which defame Islam and operate in opposition to traditional Islamic unity, theology and jurisprudence”.
For Hamas, a Sunni Muslim organization, rule by a council headed by a Sunni mufti of stature – Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdullah al-Dheeban – could have profound consequences, and the fact that the council also includes al-Budairi, a cleric Shiite, is a blow to Iran, the main supporter of Hamas.
“Because Hamas is an organization that defines itself along Islamic religious lines, this fatwa poses a direct challenge to Hamas’ legitimacy and undermines its claim to represent Islam,” Ghaith al-Omari, Palestinian affairs expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Politics, said of the significance of the fatwa from a political point of view.
“It may not have an immediate impact on its rule over Gaza as it maintains this rule by force. But in the long run, such a statement poses a serious challenge to the Hamas narrative,” he said.
Al-Maqdisi said the council is confident Muslims around the world will embrace his position and put support for ordinary citizens living in Gaza above its rulers.
“We are used to everyone seeming to support Hamas, but in reality many ordinary people do not support Hamas’ actions,” he said in his statement. “Maybe some governments support it because they have political interests, but we are not politicians and we don’t tie our judgments to political interests. What matters to us is to support the oppressed in Gaza.”
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Al-Maqdisi added that the time has come for Hamas to lay down its arms and seek peace.
“Hamas and its followers, I say, have been taking up arms since 1948 – nearly 75 years. In that time, thousands of innocent people have been killed,” he said. “My advice now is why not take up the arms of peace and sit down at the table for dialogue…Seek peace and urge those who support you to earn the embrace of your fellow citizens and put an end to this senseless killing.”