Teacher, Preacher, Soldier, Martyr

Rethinking ʿIzz al-Dīn al-Qassām

In: Die Welt des Islams
Mark Sanagan McGill University

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When Shaykh ʿIzz al-Dīn al-Qassām died in a gunfight with the Palestine Police Force in November 1935, the Government of the British Mandate for Palestine was ill prepared for the public outpouring of popular support and inspiration the imām from Haifa’s death would give to Arab Palestinian political aspirations. Al-Qassām soon became a powerful symbol in the nationalist fight against the British colonial power and subsequently the State of Israel. Al-Qassām remains a potent figure in Arab nationalist, Palestinian nationalist, and modern “Islamist” circles. The purpose of this paper is thus twofold: first, to provide an overview of the current state of the historiography on al-Qassām; and second, to add to that historiography with a recontextualized narrative of al-Qassām’s life and death. This latter part of the paper aims to fill some of the gaps with additional sources and place the findings alongside contemporary historical scholarship on political identity and nationalist movements in Palestine and the wider Mashriq. This article contends that the claims made on al-Qassām by contemporary Palestinian, “Islamic” nationalists have silenced the multiple contexts available if one considers the entirety of al-Qassām’s life. Viewed in this light, it is possible that al-Qassām never considered himself a “Palestinian” at all. 

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