Consider 'Izz-id-Din al-Qassam as a man of many
facets, as a living rebuttal of the schematic division of Islam;
of `Sufi indifference to activism', or `salifiyya indifference
to dhikr'. Consider 'Izz-id-Din al-Qassam in terms of the reintegration
of the Modern Muslim Personality.
On November 21, 1935 a three-column wide front-page headline
in the Jerusalem Post announced that a British constable had
been killed and another injured in a battle with Arab gunmen
near Jenin. The gunmen were described as "bandits" and "brigands"
in the headline and in the body- of the story."1"
According to the official statement issued by the British authorities
and quoted in full by the Post: "Among the bandits known to
have been killed were: Sheikh Izz-ed-Din al Qassam . . . who
disappeared from his house in Haifa early this month and was
the organiser of the band". "2"
Both British and Zionist intelligence circles were in fact better
informed. They knew Sheikh 'Izz-ed-Din was the President of
the Young Men's Moslem Association, a popular khatib (preacher)
at the Istiqlal mosque near the Haifa railroad yards, and a
roving mathun (marriage registrar) for the Haifa shari'a court.
Al-Qassam had been under surveillance, had been brought in for
questioning, and had been cautioned against his habit of publicly
preaching jihad against both the British occupation and the
Zionist colonisation over the preceding decade. He was also
suspected of having organised a series of clandestine armed
attacks against Jewish settlers and British officials in and
around Haifa beginning in the early 1930's, but the authorities
did not prosecute him, for lack of evidence."3"
Al-Qassam however was convinced that his arrest was imminent
and could jeopardise the secret organisation he had carefully
built over the previous decade. Taking only twelve of the men
in Haifa most openly identified with him, he moved up into the
mountains near Ya'bud between Nablus and Jenin early in November.
After one of his patrols had killed a Jewish policeman serving
in the British force in an accidental encounter, he divided
his group to better evade the inevitable pursuit.
But al-Qassam's group was discovered and surrounded by a large
force of British police and soldiers. Called upon to surrender,
al-Qassam told his men to die as martyrs and he opened fire.
AI-Qassam's defiance and the manner of his death (which seemed
to stun the traditional leadership) electrified the Palestinian
people. Thousands forced their way past police lines at the
funeral in Haifa and the secular Arab nationalist parties envoked
his memory as the symbol of resistance. Five months later, a
band of mujahidin, led by one of
al-Qassam's companions in the flight from Haifa,
ambushed a group of Jewish travellers in northern Palestine.
In the weeks that followed, peasant guerilla bands and urban
commandos led by other Qassamiyun sprang up across Palestine.
The 1936 Uprising had begun."4"
'Izz-ed-Din Ibn Abdul-Qadar Ibn Mustapha Ibn Yusuf
Ibn Muhammed al-Qassam was born in Jebla in the Latakia district
of Syria in 1882 (1300 AH)."5"
His grandfather and grand-uncle were prominent sheikhs of the
Qadari tariqa who came to jebla from Iraq. His father, Abdul
Qadar, held a post with the shari's court during Turkish rule
but was better known as the murshid of the Qadari tariqa in
Jebla."6" However, Sheikh
Abdul-Malik al-Qassam, nephew of al-Qassam and the Imam of a
mosque in Jebla, says that Abdul Qadar also followed the Naqshabandiya
tariqa, which was to play a noticeably militant role in resisting
colonial conquest in 19th century Syria, as well as in India,
Turkestan and in the Caucasus, while reaffirming the Shari'a
orthodoxy of the turuq. "7"
Al-Qassam, who followed the Hanifi school of
juris-prudence, studied as a boy with a well-known `alien from
Beirut, Sheikh Selim Tayyarah, who had settled in Jebla and
taught there at the Istambuli Mosque. Shortly after the turn
of the century, al-(Zassam left Jebla for Cairo to study at
According to some of his Arab biographers as well
as some of his disciples and acquaintances in Haifa, al-Qassam
studied under Sheikh Muhammed `Abdu while he was at Al Azhar.
The extent of his study with `Abdu at Al Azhar is as indeterminate
as the date of his departure from Jebla for Cairo. All reports
agree he returned as an 'alien from A1 Azhar in 1909. 'Abdu
died in 1905, and al-Qassam left Jebla for A1 Azhar either in
1902"9" or in 1904."10"
However significant the experience, it is given prominence in
many of the contemporary Arab biographical sketches of al-Qassam,
to the exclusion of any of the other more certain influences
upon his life."11"
His oldest follower, Muhammed Hanifi, who became
al-Qassam's disciple a few years after the Sheikh's return from
AI Azhar, confirms reports of his study with 'Abdu, and says
the Sheikh also talked of having met Rashid Rida in Cairo, but
never mentioned al-Afghani to him in any context that he could
Yet the two accounts which are directly based on the recollections
of 'Izz-id-Din 'Alam-id-Din at-Tanukhi, al-Qassam's classmate
and close friend at Al Azhar, make no mention of al-Qassam studying
or meeting with either 'Abdu or Rida"12".
AI-Qassam first met and befriended at-Tanukhi, the son of a
Damascus notable, at A1 Azhar. Many years later, after the death
of al-Qassam, he was to tell al-Qassam's son Muhammed of the
lesson he learned from the Sheikh. "We were studying in Al Azhar
together and we were short of money. I asked the Sheikh, `What
do we do now for funds?"' The Sheikh asked atTanukhi what he
could do and at-Tanukhi said he could cook nammourah, an Arab
sweet. Al-Qassam told at-Tanukhi to cook the sweets and he would
sell them. At-Tanukhi's father was visiting Cairo at the time
and passing by Al Azhar he saw them together selling the sweets
and asked his son what he was doing. At-Tanukhi answered with
some embarrassment, "This is what al-Qassam told me to do",
and his father replied, "He taught you to be self-sufficient"."13"
The story is instructive for it is the earliest of many anecdotes
in which Qassam practises and encourages the practice of self-sufficiency
as one of the moral elements along with humility, courage, and
asceticism for training in thabit (steadfastness) which
was also understood by his disciples to mean the willingness
to sacrifice and the practice of moral-ethical behaviour.
While many of the anecdotes reflect the zuhd (ascetic) practices
and training methods of the earliest Sufis, they were also understood
by some of his disciples in an almost al-Afghani sense of "willingness
to sacrifice for the cause ."13"
al-Qassam was sensitive to what he perceived as the backwardness
and moral debasement of the Muslims of his day and he believed
that the only way the Muslims could liberate themselves from
the foreign occupation (that was to become all but universal
after World War One) and to progress (tagaddum ) would be by
the revival of Islam."14".
When al-Qassam returned to Jebla he began teaching at a school
maintained the Qadari tariga. In addition to the disciplines
of tasawwuf, al-Qassam ded instruction in Quran, its commentary
and jurisprudence. He also served as Imam at the Ibrahim Ibn
Adham mosque in Jebla."15"
al-Qassam still considered himself a follower of the Qadari
tariqa."16" But when he returned
to Jebla to visit the tombs of his father, grandfather and grand
Perhaps this is what the salifi Sheikh at-Tantawi (or his source,
at-Tanukhi) -neans when he writes that al-Qassam "took the useful
and good things in it [the Qadari tariga] and what was derived
from the Quran and the Sunna and left what aroused his suspicion"."16"
Al-Qassam undertook an Islamic revival in Jebla based upon the
conscientious practice of religious obligations and orthodox
voluntary practices. To illustrate the theme of one of his sermons,
that the Muslim who does not pray ;: a dead man (which suggests
as its text the hadith, "He who remembers His I-ord and
he who does not are like the living and the dead".),"
he encouraged his disciples to grab a villager who did not pray,
put him in a coffin, and carry him around Jebla."18"
The incident also illustrates how al-Qassam's insistence on
piety was accompanied by good humour. His disciples, members
of his family and acquaintances describe al-Qassam as a man
who was always smiling or laughing. Sheikh Nimr, who was a student
of al-Qassam's in Haifa, describes him as "an intensely
active man but with a child-like charm. He laughed like a child,
spoke with the simplicity of a child and was a warm and impulsive
person". His family attributed his good humour to a complete
trust and confidence in God. "At the worst times he would
always laugh and tell us not to worry"."19"One
story that still circulates in Jebla is how an important official
came to the town to meet al-Qassam, only to find him, to his
great shock, eating a simple lunch with the fireman at the communal
hamaam (public bath)."20"
Similar stories circulate about his later life in Haifa, where
he lived simply and with the poor in a society rapidly dividing
along the strict class lines of a modern industrial city, although
he was a salaried official of the waqf. 'Izzat Darwaza, a leader
of the Istiqlal Party, who met al-Qassam several times during
this later period in his life, described him in this manner:
|His face was illuminated by an inner light. He was a man
lacking in arrogance or selflove. He was open and available
to all of the people and the people loved him. And he lived
the life of a mujahid."21"
Al-Qassam devoted himself to moral reform, encouraging the community
to keep regular prayer, to maintain the Ramadan fast, and to
stop gambling and drinking. His campaign was so successful that
those among the townspeople who were not noticeably pious either
reformed or began to conform to shari'a standards in public.
Because al-Qassam had acquired moral authority with the Turkish
authorities responsible for the district, he was able to call
upon the police in the case of rare but flagrant violations
to enforce Shari'a standards within the town. On a few occasions
when he heard that mule trains were moving alcohol through the
district he sent out his disciples to intercept the caravans
and destroy the contraband."22"
The religious revival in Jebla reached such a point that the
women would go out into the market unveiled on Friday at noon,
certain they would encounter no man on the streets, since every
male in Jebla was at prayer. "23"
The family of his classmate at-Tanukhi had been exiled to Turkey
by the Ottoman authorities for suspected Arab nationalist activities
and by this time at-Tanukhi was studying in Paris. When at-Tanukhi's
mother died, al-Qassam travelled to Turkcy to visit the family
and according to Hanafi, he took over the responsibility of
sending at-Tanukhi money to continue his studies.
But there are no indications that al-Qassam himself was ever
involved in the anti-Ottoman Arab national movement. His behaviour
and the Turkish assessment would indicate that he was a loyal
subject. In September 1911 the Italians invaded Tripolitania
(Libya). Al-Qassam began to preach jihad, took up a collection
in Jebla to support the combined Turkish-Libyan forces fighting
the Italians, and composed a chant for the townspeople:
| Ya Rahim, Ya Rahman
Unsur Maulana as-Sultan
Wa ksur a'ada ita al-Italiyan
(Oh Most Merciful, Oh Most Compassionate
Make our Lord the Sultan victorious
And defeat our enemy the Italian .)"23"
The governor of Jebla attempted to take control
of the fund raising away from al-Qassam; when the townspeople
continued to contribute to al-Qassam, the governor accused the
Sheikh of plotting against the Ottomans, but an official investigation
vindicated al-Qassam and resulted in the discharge of the local
Exonerated by the authorities, al-Qassam soon became convinced
that fund raising for the jihad against Italy was not sufficient.
In June 1912, while preaching the Friday sermon at Jama'at as-Sultan
Ibrahim al-Adham mosque in Jebla, al-Qassam called for volunteers
for jihad against the Italians. Many twonsmen volunteered,
but he only accepted those who already had military training
with the Ottomans, and he again raised funds to finance the
expedition and to provide a modest pension to the families of
the mujahidan during their absence. Accompanied by anywhere
from 60 to 250 mujahidin,"24"
al-Qassam went to Alexandretta (Iskandarun), expecting the Ottoman
authorities to provide them with sea transport to Libya via
Alexandria, the same route used by Anwar Pasha, Aziz al-Masri
and Abdul Rahman Azzam, who had already made their way to Libya
to participate in the jihad against the Italians in Tripolitania.
1) At the time, the Jerusalem Post was a privately
owned Jewish newspaper in Palestine that reflected the opinion
of the moderate wing of the Zionist movement in Palestine.
2) Ibid., Nov. 21, 1935.
3) Tegart Papers, Reports 1937-1939 (copy available at
the Institute of Palestine Studies, Beirut), Memo 17/12/37, pp.2-4,
7-8. Ben-Zion Dinur, ed. Seser Toldot Ha-Haganah, Vol.1, Book
2 (Tel Aviv: Marachot, 1956), pp. 449-453. A detailed if somewhat
confused and exaggerated account of some of these same early operations
appear in Adel Hassan Ghneim, "Thawrat al-Sheikh Izz-id-Din
al-Qassam", Shu'un Filastiniya, No. 6 (Jan. 1972), pp. 183-184.
Also, see the generally accurate summary of al-Qassam's public
life and appreciation of his political achievements in A.W. Kayyali,
Palestine: A Modern History (London: Croom Helm, n.d.), pp. 180-183,
4) Tegart Papers, "Memo: Terrorism 1936-1937",
pp.iv-v ("... the old followers of Sheikh 'Izzedin were no
doubt the nucleus of the  rebel organisation. ...",
united report on 'Izzid-id-Din al-Qassam, DS 1262, pp.1-6. Dinur,
op. cite. pp. 467-469. Zu'ayter Papers, Vol.7, diary entire, 20/11-,
21/11-, 8/12-, 9/12/1935 (n.p.). Kayyali, op. cit., pp. 180-198.
Also, Sheikh Abu: Ibrahim al-Kabir Khalil Mohammed, private interview,
amman, March 1974 (hereafter referred to as Abu Ibrahim al-Kabir).
A small shopkeeper and in his seventies at the time of the interview,
he had assumed command of the Haifa section of the Qassamiyun
immediately upon the death of the Sheikh.
5) 'According to biographical data on al-Qassamin the personal
archives of Zuhayr Shawish (Shawish Papers, and private interview,
Beirut, March 1974). Al-Qassam's full name is Mohammed 'Izzid-Din
Bin Abdul Qadar Bin Mustapha al-Qassam. A similar version, but
lacking "Bin Mustapha" occurs in the unpublished Mss. of Sheikh
Mohammed Said Mustapha at-Tantawi, "AI-Alaam alIslam", Ch. 23,
p. 1. Both Shawish and at-Tantawi(private interview, Mecca, Nov.1976)
cite as their mainsource of information 'Izz-id-Din 'Alam-id-Din
at-Tanukhi ad-Damashqi, who was a close companion of al-Qassam
at A1 Azhar. Poet, man of letters, and deputy chairman of the
scientific Council in Damascus, Tanukhi was associated with the
same Syrian Salafi circles including Zuhayr Shawish and Sheikh
Mohammed at-Tantawi's brother, Sheikh 'Alt at-Tantawi. Shawish,
an exiled leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, was publisher
of the Islamic Publishing House (Beirut) at the time of the interview.
Shawish also cites a (deceased) disciple, Abu Ibrahim as-Saghrir,
as an additional source for his information on the Haifa period.
6) Shawish Papers; at-Tantawi, op. cit., pp. 1, 8; Sheikh
Mohammed Hanifi, private interview, Damascus, February 1974. Hanifi
is the oldest (95 in 1974) and closest disciple (surviving or
not), by consensus of all the surviving disciples.
7) Imam Abdul-Malik al-Qassam (hereafter, Abdul-Malik),
private interview, Jebla, February 1974. Albert Hourani, A Vision
of History (Beirut: Khayats, 1961), pp.56-57. Trimingham, Sufi
Orders, pp. 127-129.
8) Haj Hassan al-Hafian, private interview, Jebla, February
1974 (94 years old), who served under al-Qassam against French
occupation of Syria and fought with the Mujahidin in the Palestine
193639 Uprising after al-Qassam's death.
11) Adel Hassan Ghneim, "Thawrat ash-Sheikh 'Izz-id-Din
al-Qassam, Shu'un Filastiniya, No. 6 (Jan. 1972), p.181; ['Ali
Abed Ibrahim] "Sheikh 'Izz-id-Din al-Qassam", At-Tala'i was al
jamahir, Vol. 4, No. 48 (June 1975), p. 23. Neither of these authors
indicates his source, and neither of them indicate elsewhere that
they interviewed surviving disciples of al-Qassam. However, Ibrahim
cites Ghneim as a source, and Ghneim cites a work by Sheikh Mohammed
Nimr al-Khatib, Min athar anndkbar (Ghneim does not provide publication
data). Sheikh Nimr was a leading figure in Haifa Islamic circles
from the late 1930's up until partition (1948) and also reports
al-Qassam studied with 'Abdo. (Personal interview, Beirut, February
12) Shawish Papers; at-Tantawi, op. cit.
13) Mohammed 'Izz-id-Din al-Qassam, private interview,
Jebla, February 1974. Born in Haifa seven years prior to his father's
death, Mohammed was teaching at the 'Izz-id-Din al-Qassam government
school in Jebla at the time of the interview.
14) Abu Ibrahim al-Kabir.
15) At-Tantawi, op. cit., Ch. 23, pp. 1-2.
16) At-Tantawi, op. cit., Ch. 23, p.8.
17) Bukhari and Muslim, Mishkat, Book IX, Ch. II.
18) Rashid 'Ebu, private interview, Jebla, February 1974.
As a young boy, 'Ebu served as a courier for al-Qassam when he
was in the mountains above Jebla fighting the French. After al-Qassam's
death he went to Palestine and participated in the 1938-39 Uprising.
19) Umm Mohammed al-Qassam, wife of'Izz-idDin al-Qassam,
in her 90's at the time of the inter view (Jebla, February 1974).
Also, Mohammed al-Qassam, Hanifi, and all the other disciples
20) Mohammed al-Qassam; Sheikh Nimr alKhatib.
21) Mohammed 'Izzat Darwaza, private interview, Damascus,
22) Ebu; Abdul-Malik.
24) Hanifi (who was not taken along by the Sheikh because
he lacked military experience), for the lower figure; Shdwish
Papers and at-Tantawi, for the higher figure.
The Islamic Quarterly, London
Second Quarter 1979