Photo: Reuters
No politics. Mosque
Photo: Reuters

'Re-education' for West Bank mosque preachers

Palestinians Authority fearful mosque preachers incite against Fatah-run body. Their solution: Switch out or arrest Hamas preachers, or write sermons for others as part of three-tiered front against Hamas

Last Friday's sermon in one of the mosques near Ramallah, the sheikh opened with the words, "Today we won't talk politics; we will talk about issues of religion." As basic as this comment may seem to an outsider, those familiar with internal Palestinian politics understood that this was a veiled attack aimed at Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's government and his policy on religion, sermons, mosques, and the way they are run.


Ever since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, the PA has taken a series of steps against their religious rivals. PA officials are waging an all-out war against anyone suspected of belonging to Hamas' armed organizations, either directly or through providing them monetary support.


The second front of the PA's struggle against their rivals targets Hamas' outreach organizations meant to convert Palestinians to a more religious way of life through community-centered activities and charity. On this front, the PA aims to dismantle such outreach organizations or to transfer them to Fatah control. To this end, the PA is taking action against Hamas' control of orphanages, community centers, health clinics, and groups for religious learning, among others.


The PA's third front against Hamas is the re-education of mosque preachers and close supervision of mosque activities. Within this framework, dozens, some claim even hundreds of imams associated with Hamas have been ousted in recent years, with increased intensity in recent months.


Sermons are now given by moderate imams associated with Fatah. Only during the war in Gaza were they allowed to denounce the fighting in order to allow the population to let off some steam. However, under regular circumstances, the imams are restricted to speak of religious topics only, such as: fasting, haj, prayer, interpersonal relationships, monetary issues, etc.


Pre-written sermons

A preacher in one of the mosques near Ramallah said to Ynet, "We receive a memo every so often from the Ministry of Religious Affairs stipulating the subject of that week's sermon. It is forbidden for us to stray from this. Often, the memo even goes so far as to remind us of the basic lines the sermon should take. We have stopped with politics a long time ago."


It is well-known in Ramallah that Fatah's security apparatus is keeping a close watch on prayer services, sermons, and general mosque activity. Israel has taken positive note of these surveillance activities.


Insubordinate imams are arrested from time to time. Hamas claims that some of them are even being tortured during interrogations. Recently, Hamas claimed that some 50 imams were ousted from their position for allegedly being too closely associated with Hamas. They were replaced with imams belonging to the salafi movement, who are opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.


One small, yet important detail, is that al-Qaeda is the most prominent military arm of the salafi jihadist movement. In the eyes of the PA, however, this risk is preferable over granting a free hand to Hamas supporters to spread their ideas.


'War against Islam'

At the head of Fayyad's Waqf and Ministry of Religious Affairs is Sheikh Mohammad al-Bawatna, a senior religious official considered one of Hamas' most bitter enemies.


A senior Hamas official in the West Bank confirmed, "The sermons were an opportunity to spread our world view to hundreds and thousands of believers every week. However, because of the many television channels - most of which, or at least the major ones, support Hamas' stance against the Palestinian Authority – this action taken against the imams and mosques doesn't have a large effect on the masses. This step is mainly perceived as a war against Islam waged by the PA. In the long run, this will cost the PA dearly, not Hamas."


פרסום ראשון: 02.24.09, 14:36
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