In Alexandretta, al-Qassam and the mujahidin
waited for more than month. Finally they were ordered by the
Ottoman authorities to return to Jebla. A new government in
Instanbul, mobilising to meet the closer threat of a war in
the Balkans, had abandoned the struggle in Libya and had come
to hasty terms with Italy in mid-October 1912."25"
Some of the money raised for the aborted expedition was used
to build a school. The rest was put aside and when World War
One broke out, al-Qassam volunteered for service in the Ottoman
army. In Shawish's words, "He was not infected by the nationalist
disease". Although 'ulama enrolled in the Ottoman army were
usually offered assignment in their local town or village to
register recruits, al-Qassam refused this offer and requested
a military assignment. He was sent to a camp south of Damascus
where he received his training and remained as a chaplain assigned
to the garrison.
In the chaos of the Ottoman collapse in the Arab East, with
British forces in Syria and French build-up in Lebanon, al-Qassam
returned to Jebla and initiated military training for every
able-bodied man in the town. With the fund put aside from the
Tripolitania jihad, the proceeds from the sale of his property,
and donations from local landowners, al-Qassam purchased arms
for the Jebla militia."26"
Jebla was part of the "Blue Zone' or "Occupied Enemy Territory
North" set aside the Allies for French occupation. From late
1918 through 1919 French forces moved into the zone and consolidated
their positions, while the Arab national movement struggled
on in Damascus to establish an independent Syrian kingdom for
But the first battles fought by the Jebla militia were against
Alawite bands that had come down from the mountains and had
begun to occupy the orchards and farmland outside Jebla. According
to Hanifi, the Alawites had been encouraged by the French to
move against the Sunni communities in Latakia district as part
of the destabilising manoeuvre prior to French occupation. "28"
When the Alawites were driven out of the Jebla area, the French
quickly moved in and al-Qassam took his closest disciples into
the mountains and established a guerilla base near the village
of Zanqufeh on Sahyoun Mountain. From there al-Qassam was able
to harrass French forces and continue to train his men in tactics
and in the doctrine of jihad. Each month al-Qassam would
teach the men a new verse from the Quran, helping them
commit the verse to memory and explaining its meaning, usually
in the context of jihad, while maintaining the practice of dhikr
according to Qadari practices.
A Sunni notable in the district, 'Umar al-Bitar, had also taken
to the mountains with armed followers to resist the French.
He was killed in action and his followers joined forces with
al-Qassam's group, which the French in their communiques continued
to treat as the guerilla band of 'Umar al-Bitar. This is probably
why several of the Arab biographers describe al-Qassam as serving
with 'LTmar al-Bitar, although al-Bitar's unit had operated
in a different sector . "29"
Although al-Qassam received reinforcements when
Hanifi returned to Jebla from a British prisoner of war camp
and brought twenty-five more townsmen with him to the mountains,
the overall position of the mujahidin deteriorated as the French
increasingly consolidated their hold on the district, with its
large pro-French Alawite population."30"
Important elements within the guerilla group, and in particular
several large landowners who were either serving with al-Qassam
or supporting the mujahidin with funds from Jebla and were now
under severe pressure from the French to pay their taxes or
lose their property, questioned the wisdom of trying to hold
out any longer.
This division led to quarrels in the village mosque in the mountains
where the mujahidin and their supporters met. Al-Qassam, who
was disturbed by the bickering which he described as fitna (in
the sense of subversion and trial), declared: "Ve are here
to fight the French, not to quarrel among each other"."31"
The effect of this experience would be reflected in Haifa when
al-Qassam would again begin recruiting mujahidin but with much
greater caution and a greater insistence on character, obedience
and the willingness of his followers to sacrifice, fi sabil-Allah.
The landowners abandoned al-(Zassam. Only the poor among the
mujahidin remained with him. His mountain base was in danger
of imminent encirclement by the French. Finding himself increasingly
isolated, al-Qassam abandoned his base and moved towards Aleppo.
There he joined forces under the command of Ibrahim Bey Hananu,
who had been raiding French forces in northern Syria since May
1920, a month after the San Remo Peace Conference which had
repudiated the Arab national movement's demand for an independent
Arab kingdom and had awarded France the Mandate for all of Syria
In mid July 1920 French forces had pushed past resistance by
Hananu's fighting forces and occupied al-Shoghur Bridge on the
road to Aleppo and were demanding (among other conditions in
an ultimatum to King Faisal) that the government in Damascus
punish the "criminals" resisting the French advance,
or the French would march on Damascus.
Bs- now, Hananu's group had disintegrated and al-Qassam accompanied
by Hanifi and three other followers remaining from the Jebla
and Sahyoun mountain campaign made their way to Damascus on
the eve of the battle of Maisalun to see Amir Faisal and ask
for arms to resume resistance. At-Tanukhi, back in Damascus
and serving as a secretary to Amir Faisal, arranged the meeting
and the Amir agreed to provide the Sheikh with fifty rifles.
al-Qassam also met with Sheikh Abdul Qadar al-Maghrebi, a great
alim of Damascus, and two othe sheikhs for advice. They
described the situation in Syria as hopeless and advised al-Qassam
to abandon the struggle. With the French army advancing on Damascus
and a French military tribunal death sentence on his head for
the Sahyoun mountain insurgency-, -al=Qassam decided to flee
the capital. He and his men made their way back to Syria through
French lines with false passports provided by at-Tantukhi and
from there by boat to Tartous, then Beirut, finally reaching
Palestine in 1921.
Al-Qassam was to settle in Haifa which was to become a centre
of refuge for exiles from French-occupied Syria and Lebanon.
A number of the leading exiles including al-Qassam joined the
teaching staff of Haifa's Madrassa Islamiya which maintained
branches throughout the city and was supervised and supported
by the Jamiat Islamiya, a waqf (foundation) financing
and supervising schools and other Islamic institutions in the
district. Supported and directed by Haifa's Muslim notables,
the Jamiat was a vehicle for communal self-support and expression
for the Muslims of Haifa and the surrounding rural districts
through the British Mandate period and an inevitable meeting
ground for Islamic and Arab nationalist opposition to the Mandate.
This meeting ground was specifically salifi,"32"
and most typified by the well known principal of the Madrassa
Islamiya, the exiled Damascus notable, Arab nationalist and
salifi sheikh, Kamal al-Qassab."33"
Al-Qassab was a friend of Rashid Rida and Shakib Arslan and
he had played a major role in the short-lived United Syrian
Kingdom. It was al-Qassab who rallied the Syrian National Congress
to directly confront French claims in Syria in March 1920 and
who inspired the people of Damascus to seize arms and march
out of the city to meet French forces in the battle of Maisalun.
In the early 1920's al-Qassab and al-Qassam became allies in
a controversy some of the Palestinian 'ulama. The controversy
was sparked by their criticism of the custom in Haifa and its
twin city, Acre, of Muslim mourners chanting the takbir
("Allahu Akbar") and then the tahlil ("La ilaha il-Allah")
.out loud and listening to Quranic recitation while accompanying
their dead in procession to the cemetery. Both al-Qassab and
al-Qassam denounced the practice as bidaa (hateful innovation),
according to the sunna of the Prophet. Sheikh Muhammed Subhi
Khuzeiran al-Hanifi al-'All, who was president of the shari'a
court of Acre and the Mufti of Acre, Sheikh Abdullah al Jazzar,
issued fatwa describing the practice as permitted. In
the subsequent controvesy the Acre sheikhs denounced both al-Qassam
and al-Qassab as wahhabiya heretics, a standard accusation
in any polemic between the orthodox 'ulama and the salifiya
since the pre-modern doctrines of the Nejdi Sheikh Muhammed
Abdul Wahhab (to which the reformist salifi doctrine bears a
certain similarity) had been universally condemned as heresy
by the sunni 'ulama in the early 19th century. "34"
Al-Qassam and al-Qassab responded with a crushing pamphlet,
Criticism and Declaration in Refutation of Khuzeiran's Delusions,
"35" quoting in their favour
the views of the four schools of jurisprudence, with supporting
With. They also reproduced fatwas they had taken from leading
'ulama at Al Azhar and in Damascus condemning the popular practice
and commending instead that God's name be invoked in silence
when following a funeral cortege in order not to distract the
mourners from mediating with full concentration upon death.
Since al-Qassam's name precedes al-Qassab's on the pamphlet
and al-Qassam was far better trained as an 'alim (al-Qassab
was a "strong man" in Damascus notable politics in his youth
and only took up serious religious studies later in life, according
to Shawish), we can assume the pamphlet was largely his work.
The arguments that al-Qassam marshalled are so overwhelming
that it is difficult to understand the motives of the Acre sheikhs.
None of the many favourable fatwas collected in Cairo and Damascus
by al-Qassam and al-Qassab for publication were taken from salifiya
'ulamd but Shawish believes this was a tactical decision on
the part of the authors. Al-Qassam and al-Qassab suggest in
their pamphlet that the Acre sheikhs sought to "ingratiate themselves
with the general public" by practising the bidaa. Here there
may be a hint of professional job protection at work, for the
lower 'ulama frequently found employment as Quran reciters and
professional mourners at popular funerals. Al-Qassam was also
opposed to other popular innovations in the practice of Islam,
such as the pilgrimage by women to the shrine of Khidr at the
foothills of Mount Carmel to sacrifice sheep in gratitude for
the recovery of a child from illness or a son's graduation from
school. After making sacrifice the women would perform tribal
dances around the shrine. Al-Qassam preached in the mosques
of Haifa against the practice and he called upon the people
to sacrifice directly and secretly to God."36"
These controversies concerning practices of popular religion
suggested to some observers at the periphery of al-Qassam's
jihad movement that the salifi current was the abiding influence
on his thought. But the imperative for the reform of popular
religious practice and the revival of Islam in the late 18th,
19th, and early 20th centuries was by no means exclusively Fundamentalist
or Sal2f2. "37"
In the early 1920's al-Qassam met the Algerian Sheikh Mohammed
bin Abdul Malik al-'Alami. He receives no mention in any of
the published biographical accounts of al-Qassam, but both Shawish
and at-Tantawi are aware of his existence though they identify
him as Moroccan.
According to both Shawish and at-Tanukhi, it was Sheikh al-'Alami
who arranged permission for al-Qassam's wife and daughters to
leave Syria and join him in Palestine. Al-'Alamihad called upon
al-Qassam in Haifa and told him he had "some close friends"
among the North African officers serving in the French army
of the Levant occupying Syria who could intervene with the French
authorities to secure the release of his family. Al-Qassam refused,
saying he would trust in God and ask nothing of collaborators
(Shawish's version; "Unbelievers", according to at-Tantawi).
Sheikh al-'Alami was pleased with this reply, according to at-Tantawi,
and in both versions of the story, he arranged for family to
be reunited. Neither Shawish nor at-Tantawi have anything more
to say about Sheikh al-'AIami.
25) At_Tantawi, op. cit., p. 2. Bernard Lewis, The Emergence
of Modern Turkey, p. 224.
26) Hanifi; al-Hafian; 'Ebu; at-Tantawi, op. cit., Ch.
23, pp. 4-5.
27) Zeine N. Zeine, The Struggle for Arab Independence
(Beirut: Khyats, 1960), pp. 34-40; Stephen Longrigg, Syria and
Lebanon under French Mandate (London: Oxford University Press,
1958), pp. 74-76.
28) The only Alawite opposition to French authority came
from a local brigand Sheikh, Sali al-'Alt, who clashed with French
forces in the Spring of 1921. By October 1921 Sali had surrendered
(Longrigg, op. cit., pp.120-121; also, Shawish). According to
all his disciples from the Sahyoun mountain period, al-Qassam
never served with Sheikh Sali, although this is not apparently
part of official Syrian Baathist history, and is reported by Ghneim,
op. cit., p.181
29) Sharuish Papers and interview; al-Hafian; see Ghneim,
p.181, for standard treatment of alQassam's alleged service with
30) Hanifi; Shawish Papers. Hanifi also served in the Ottoman
31) 'Ebu; Abdul-Malik.
32) Shawish notes that the orthodox 'Mama of Syria refused
to register as "Syrian" and insisted on registering as "Ottoman"
during the earliest years of French occupation. This is also confirmed
by Farid Troublsi, great-nephew of Sheikh Abdul Qadar al-Maghrebi
33) Besides al-Qassab and al-Qassam, the faculty included
such prominent Syrian exiles as Hani Abu Muslah and Rashid Bey
Baydunus, according to al-Khatib.
34) SEI, s.v. "Wahhabiya". According to Hanifi,
Sheikh Khuzeiran had been a classmate of alQassam at A1 Azhar.
35) Muhammed 'Izz-id-Din al-Qassam and Mohammed Kamel al-Qassab,
Al naqd mal bayan ft dafa' 'awham Khuseiran (Damascus: the Authors,
36) Atif Nourallah, private interviews, Beirut, January
and March, 1974. Nourallah's uncle was a Haifa notable and a patron
37) Al-Khatib; Shawish; Nourallah. For reformist currents
in the turuq and particularly the tijaniya, see Trimingham, Sufi
Orders, pp. 106-110.
The Islamic Quarterly, London
Second Quarter 1979