Middle East Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam

MidEastWeb Middle East

Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam  (Arabic: عزّ الدين القسّام‎, ‘Izz ad-Dīn al-Qassām) (Full name: Izz al-Din ibn Abd al-Qadar ibn Mustapha ibn Yusuf ibn Muhammad al-Qassam Numerous variant spellings: Ezzedine al-Qassam, Ezzedeen al-Qassam, Izzedine al-Qassam, Izzedine el Qassam)    Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam (1882– November 20, 1935) (Arabic: عزّ الدين القسّام‎, was a radical Syrian preacher and agitator,founder of the Black Hand movement in Palestine. His death fighting the British in Palestine kindled the Palestine Arab uprising and turned him into a Palestinian Arab national hero.

Izz al-Din al-Qassam was born in Jableh, in northern Syria some time in 1882. He was educated at al-Azhar University, and returned to become the Imam of the local mosque, preaching reformist radical Islam. Following the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911, al-Qassam declared a Jihad and collected funds for Libyan resistance. He also wrote a victory anthem. He enlisted a few dozen volunteers and set out for Libya, but was arrested and sent home by the Ottoman authorities.

Izz al-Din al-Qassam enlisted in the Ottoman army when World War I broke out. After basic training he was made a chaplain at a base near Damascus. He came home before the end of the war. 

Al-Qassam participated in the 1921 Syrian revolt against the French. Faisal I had  declared his kingdom of Greater Syria in Damascus in line with British promises to the Arabs, but then Syria was given to the French as a mandate, and the revolt was broken.  Izz al-Din al-Qassam organized a local militia to fight the French.

Izz al-Din al-Qassam was sentenced to death after the revolt failed. He fled Damascus, first to Beirut and then to Haifa. Izz al-Din al-Qassam began preaching radical Islam and resistance to British rule there.  He set up a night school for poor workers and preached to them as imam of the Istiqlal (Independence) mosque, and he would seek them out on the streets and in brothels and hashish dens. As the name of the mosque suggests, the preaching was nationalist and xenophobic.

Sheikh Qassam was a leading member of the Young Men's Muslim Association. He was associated with the Istiqlal (Independence) party, and his agitation was financed by several well-off businessman.

In 1929 Shaykh al-Qassam became the marriage registrar of Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini's Supreme Muslim Council Sharia court in Haifa. This allowed him to tour the northern villages, where he could spread agitation and build a basis for revolt among the rural populace. He delivered fiery political and religious sermons in which he encouraged villagers to organize guerilla cells to attack the British and Jews.

After the Palestine Arab riots and massacres of 1929,  Shaykh Qassam intensified his agitation and obtained a fatwa from Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Taji al-Hasani, the Mufti of Damascus, legitimizing those attacks.

In 1930 al-Qassam organized and established the Black Hand, an anti-Zionist and anti-British group, classified by the British Mandate government as a terrorist group. He recruited and arranged military training for his peasant force, and by 1935 he had enlisted between 200 and 800 men. The cells were equipped with bombs and firearms, which they used to kill Jews in the area, to steal farm equipment, to destroy Jewish planted forests and sabotage the British railways.

In the mid-1930s, Qassam decided that the time was ripe for revolt. Jewish immigration to Palestine was rising, and the world economic crisis was being felt in Palestine as well. Discontent was growing. He tried to enlist the help of the Grand Mufti, but al-Husayni was initially unenthusiastic. Toward the end of November 1935, some of the Black Hand gang had killed a British constable. Al-Qassam feared arrest, so he and twelve of his men hid out in villages and caves in the hills between Jenin and Nablus, spending ten days on the move, during which they were fed by local villagers. Two of his men got into a firefight with British forces and killed a Jewish police officer.   British police began a manhunt and surrounded al-Qassam in a cave near Ya'bad. Al-Qassam was killed resisting arrest. His death sparked a movement, beginning with a mammoth funeral in Haifa. The movement soon became the Palestine Arab uprising. The revolt was soon co-opted by the Mufti and the Husseini family and lasted from 1936 to 1939. The fighters called themselves Qassamiyun, followers of al-Qassam.

The Syrian Izz al-din al-Qassam became the paradigmatic Palestinian Arab national hero. The military wing of the Hamas, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, bears his name as does the home-made Qassam rocket. .

Shaykh Izz al-din al-Qassam is buried in the Muslim cemetery of Balad ash-Sheikh, near Haifa.

Ami Isseroff

November 12, 2008

Synonyms and alternate spellings: ;  Ezzedine al-Qassam, Izzedine al-Qassam, Izzedine el Qassam, Ezedine al-Qassam, Izz al-Din, Al-Qassam.

Further Information:

USA Credit Card - Donate On-Line - Help us live and grow

Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

Copyright 2007- 8,  MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA.

All original materials at MidEastWeb are copyright by MidEastWeb and/or by their authors unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy materials from this Web site to your Web site or to forums without permission. Please tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Please forward these materials in e-mails to friends with links to this URL - http://www.mideastweb.org and to the URL of the material. You can print out materials for your own use or classroom use, giving the URL of  MidEastWeb. For pages marked Copyright, printed material should bear this notice:

"Copyright by MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A - Middle East Resources. - http://www.mideastweb.org. All rights reserved. "

and should give the URL of the original. Reproduction in any other form - by permission only. Consult detailed terms of use and copyright information

Mideastweb: Middle East Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Issues in a Nutshell Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Brief History Zionism Zionism: Definition & brief history

Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam