Theology and power in the Middle East: Palestinian martyrdom in a comparative perspective

Meir Hatina*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Jihad (holy war) and self-sacrifice constituted a formative ethos for Palestinian Islam in its struggle against Israel from the early 1990s onward. They became important components of politics of identity, aimed at infusing metaphysical values into Palestinian life, while also positing a political alternative to the PLO. This paper focuses on a formative manifesto titled 'Readings in the Laws of Martyrdom' (Qira'a fi Fiqh al-Shahada). Disseminated by the Islamic Jihad in 1988, the manifesto laid down the ideological foundations of martyrdom in Palestine. With the passage of time, Palestinian 'suicide attacks' became unprecedented in scale, distinctive thereby from similar phenomena in other conflicted areas such as Lebanon, Kashmir, Chechnya, Turkey and Sri Lanka. The discussion evaluates the role of the Palestinian manifesto in the radical Islamic orbit. For this purpose, two other formative texts are also examined. The first is 'The Absent Duty', issued in 1981 by the Egyptian Jihad movement, which was responsible for President Sadat's assassination. The second is 'Manual for a Raid', issued by the al-Qa'ida organization, containing instructions for the perpetrators of the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. A comparative analysis of the three texts reveals common themes as well as variations that reflect the particular context in which each Islamic group was active.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)241-267
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Political Ideologies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
55. The momentum of the peace process in the early 1990s, however, engendered a rapprochement between Hamas and Iran. Hamas sought to expand strategic support for the armed struggle in Palestine, while Iran wanted to acquire a foothold in the Sunni world. Nevertheless, the political partnership was limited, mainly due to reservations displayed by Hamas, the product of its Sunni roots and close affinity with the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world, and the fact that it received financial support from the wealthy Gulf states, rivals of Iran. Hatina, op. cit., Ref. 30, pp. 113–119.


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