How much Islam does Gaza desire?

The Islamisation of Gaza under Hamas is something I’m hearing and seeing. But is it what the people want?

The following story by leading local journalist Fares Akram – whose father was murdered by the Israelis during the January warwrote the following story for Xinhua news service a few days ago:

Four men showed up suddenly at a Palestinian Telecom service center in Gaza City. One of them, a bearded young preacher, started talking to the customers about Islamic virtues.

The move caught the eyes of the mobile company’s (Jawwal) employees who failed to stop the garrulous heralds from poking into the subscribers.

The event was part of a campaign the Islamic Hamas movement has just launched in the Gaza Strip, aiming at fighting any scene contradicting with the Islamic law and promoting people’s awareness of the Islamic virtue.

A bright-faced speaker, dressed in black T-shirt and jeans, talked loudly to the customers about a series of behaviors the Palestinian residents in the impoverished coastal Strip must follow or give up.

The employee of Hamas’ ministry of religious affairs showed a poster of Satan looking at a girl wearing a headscarf but a tight shirt and pants.

“This is a 100 percent devilish dress,” the man said about the clothes most of the Gazan girls wear. “The Satan promoted to her that this is a legal Islamic clothing.”

In Islam, woman has to wear a long, dark, and loose robe with a headscarf that also covers the neck.

Salah Abu Saqer, the supervisor of the campaign, said his ministry “aims at bringing the people back to their good morals and true religion.”

He confirmed that the preachers will not use force in their campaign “which is amicable, based on advice and peaceful guidance.” Abu Saqer added his ministry seeks Hamas government’s ratification of the campaign’s goals.

Hamas has been controlling Gaza since 2007 after it routed forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and ousted his secular Fatah party. As a result, Israel and Egypt have maintained the closure of their borders with the enclave, slowly devastating Gaza economy and increasing poverty and unemployment rates.

With high-quality colorful posters and sheets, the four young men, mostly wearing Jilbab (Arab gown), continued their walking from shop to shop, focusing on stores that show photos of celebrities and models.

They would talk to the storekeepers and urge them to stick the new posters to the walls and fronts of their stores. They also recommend them to remove the mannequins “because they look like a human body that only lacks soul,” said Bassel al-Madhoun of the campaign’s field team.

Sami Ajour, a women’s clothing shop owner, is unhappy with the step Hamas has taken. He claimed that the preachers had come to his shop earlier and forcibly removed the mannequins.

“How will the people know that this is not only a lingerie store?” he wondered. “This is my only source of income and I don’t know what shall I do.”

But Mohammed al-Ja’ouni, who sells Islamic uniforms for women, explained the Islamic standards for the mannequins. “I put loose garments on them and let them only show their face and hands. When the plastic model wears seductive cloths, it elevates the man’s sexual drive.”

One of the posters encourage people to watch seven satellite channels, including Hamas’ al-Aqsa television. Other posters of cartoon images alert people from “evil friend,” such as drugs, smoking and pornographic websites.

Some small leaflets have warned people from English words that appear on kids and girls’ shirts by explaining their Arabic meanings. Among the words were “vixen, nude, pork, Cupid, brew, vice and charm.”

Jameel Sarhan, program director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), said that his group “is closely observing the ministry of religious affairs’ campaign and will take a position along with similar rights groups against any violation of general freedoms.”

Sarhan recalled that the basic Palestinian law “emphasizes the respect of human rights, personal dignity and anything the society needs.”

The campaign was launched one day after Taher al-Nounou, a Hamas spokesman, denied reports that the Islamic movement was going to restrict general liberties in Gaza.

“The reports try to convoy an unrealistic image of the situation in the Gaza Strip,” al-Nounou said.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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