In recent weeks Hamas has been making conspicuous efforts to brand the Palestinian struggle, and in particular the struggle for Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, as "a battle of religion and faith" between Muslims and Jews, rather than a national struggle. These efforts were especially noticeable during the month of Ramadan (which ended in late April). This is because Hamas, like other terror and jihad movements, stresses the perception – articulated in many statements by its officials and articles in its press – that Ramadan as the month in which Allah grants the Muslims great victories, as exemplified by the Battle of Bader (in 624 CE), the conquest of Mecca (630), the conquest of Andalusia (711), the Battle of Ain Jalut (1260) and the "Ramadan War" of 1973 between Israel and the Arabs. Another facet of this perception is the belief, which jihadi organizations aim to instill in their followers, that history repeats itself, so that such victories are possible in the future as well. Indeed, over the years these organizations have sought to create the impression of increasing their military activity during the month of Ramadan, and often managed to achieve this in practice as well. For example, on April 8, 2023 the Hamas mouthpiece Al-Risalah published an article listing the terror attacks carried out by the resistance during Ramadan, and on April 11 it published an article by Kamal Khatib, deputy chairman of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which claimed that the Muslims will recapture Jerusalem "just as Mecca was conquered by Muhammad and his followers."
Since Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the perception of the struggle against Israel as a religious one has always been part of its ideology. Hamas' Covenant, from 1988, which was drafted by the movement's founder, Ahmad Yassin, and contains many antisemitic motifs, states: "It is necessary to establish in the minds of all the Muslim generations that the Palestinian issue is a religious issue, and that it must be dealt with as such."
Another reason for Hamas' current efforts to highlight the religious aspect of the struggle for Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa may be the recent tightening of its relations with Iran and Hizbullah, as well as Hamas' and Iran's desire to present themselves as following in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad and the great Islamic military leaders, and to incite their followers to take action against Israel. An April 8 article in Al-Risalah stressed that this year has seen a pronounced turning point in the activity of the resistance, which "realized the slogan of uniting the fronts," i.e., acted in concert with its allies in the resistance axis, led by Iran.
This report reviews Hamas' recent efforts to establish the struggle for Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa as a religious one, as expressed in statements by its officials and in articles in the movement's press.
Hamas Officials: The Struggle For Palestine Must Be Declared A Struggle Of Religion And Faith
In an April 7, 2023 speech he delivered via zoom at the "Conference of Islamic Clerics in Support of the Blessed Al-Aqsa and of Confrontation with the Zionist Aggression," Hamas leader abroad Khaled Mash'al called "to declare the campaign for Palestine a campaign of religion and faith." Possibly in order to avoid accusations of antisemitism, Mash'al clarified that "we are not fighting the Zionists because of their religion but because of their crimes and aggression." Nevertheless, he repeatedly called this a religious war and likened it to wars waged by the Muslims throughout history. Mash'al urged clerics and politicians "to declare undisputedly that this is a religious campaign," because "it is the campaign of [the Prophet] Muhammad, prayer and peace be upon him, and the campaign of Al-Isra Wal-Mi'raj. It is a campaign for the Muslims' first direction of prayer. It is the campaign for Palestine, the land of [divine] prophecies and missions. It is the campaign of 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattab and Salah Al-Din. It is the campaign of [the first] conquerors, of the Companions of the Prophet and of those who follow their path, and the campaign of 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam… who fought for Palestine because he knew this was the legacy of 'Umar. This is [also] the legacy of the Prophet, Allah's prayer be upon him…"
Other Hamas officials described Israel's actions in Jerusalem as "a religious war" against the Muslims and Christians. For instance, on April 14, at a Gaza conference titled "The [West] Bank is the Shield for Jerusalem," Hamas' leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, described "the aggression of the Israeli occupation" against the Muslims in Al-Aqsa as "a religious war" and stressed, "If this isn't a religious war, then what is?" Hamas spokesman 'Abd Al-Latif Qanou' warned of "an unprecedented religious and regional war" if Israel continues its "aggression and crimes" in Al-Aqsa.
Hamas Mouthpiece: This Is A Religious War
At the start of the month of Ramadan, the website of Hamas' mouthpiece Al-Risalah devoted a special section, titled "The Religious War," to numerous articles about the struggle for Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.  The articles highlight the traditional Islamic perception of the month of Ramadan as a month of Muslim victories.
Banner of the website's special section on "Religious War" (Alresalah.ps, March 23, 2023)
One of the articles featured in this section celebrates the attacks carried out by the resistance during Ramadan, and especially on the anniversary of the Battle of Bader, which also took place during this month. Titled "On the Anniversary of the Battle of Bader… the Unification of the Fronts Bodes Well for Palestine," the article highlights the significance of Ramadan in Muslim tradition as a month of decisive battles and victories in the history of Islam, such as the Battle of Bader. It claims that, just as the Battle of Bader constituted a turning point in the history of early Islam, the recent declaration by the resistance axis, led by Iran and Hizbullah, about the unification of the arenas of struggle will lead to a turning point in modern Muslim history.
The article states, "The great Battle of Bader took place on the 17th day of the month of Ramadan in the second year after the Hijra [624 CE]. This was a tremendous event, for it made the difference between the breakthrough and continuation of the da'wa [dissemination of Islam] and [the alternative option, namely] its murder while still in its infancy. [Thus,] it separated between truth and falsehood.
"During the course of Islamic history the month of Ramadan was, and still is, the month of conquests and decisive victories. This year Ramadan saw a significant turning point in the performance of the resistance, which converted into deeds the slogans about uniting the arenas [of struggle] and caused the Zionist enemy to experience unprecedented distress.
"Furthermore, during this blessed month the struggle of truth against falsehood saw a series of impressive campaigns and operations which have become examples to emulate, from the Battle of Bader, which was the greatest battle during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, to [the subsequent] Muslim battles up until this day, [including] the victory of the resistance in Gaza in the 'Sword of Jerusalem' Battle [Hamas' name for the round of fighting in Gaza which broke out in May 2021, during the month pf Ramadan] – and that is not the end of it.
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"According to documentation by the [Palestinian] Mu'ata Center [which follows the activities of the resistance], since the start of 2023 the occupation has suffered 19 fatalities, and 133 people have been wounded, as a result of resistance operations in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the most recent of which was yesterday's Operation Tel Aviv [the car-ramming attack on the Tel Aviv promenade on April 7, 2023], in which one man was killed and several others were wounded, and which was carried out by a Palestinian from Kafr Qasim inside occupied Palestine.
"Prior to this [also on April 7, 2023], a shooting attack was carried out in the Jordan Valley, in which three female soldiers were killed. This took place before 'Israel' could recover from the shock caused by the dozens of rockets fired at it from South Lebanon, which targeted the settlements in occupied northern Palestine…
"During this blessed month [of Ramadan], the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades used to surpass others in jihad, and it still does. History has recorded rounds of attacks – which drew inspiration from the Battle of Bader and the Battle of the Horns of Hattin – and were crowned with victory and success…"
Deputy Chairman Of Islamic Movement In Israel (Northern Branch) In Hamas Mouthpiece: The Identity Of Jerusalem Is Islamic
In his article in the Hamas mouthpiece Al-Risalah, Kamal Al-Khatib, deputy chairman of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, linked the Islamic conquest of Mecca to the future Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, while stressing that Jerusalem is Islamic and nothing else. Titled "The Anniversary of the Conquest of Mecca – A Hopeful Sign for the Conquest of Jerusalem," the article said: "The exalted [city of] Mecca is the sister of the noble city of Jerusalem, the [Grand] Mosque in Mecca is the brother of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, since Muhammad's Night Journey was from Mecca to Jerusalem and he ascended to heaven from Jerusalem. Just as Mecca once fell under the rule of the tyrants and leaders of the Quraysh [the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad], Jerusalem is now under the rule of the Sons of Zion, hostage to their dreams and subject to their tyranny. Jerusalem, which was honored by the Prophet when he prayed at its Al-Aqsa Mosque, has had no identity except an Islamic one since the day [the second Caliph], 'Umar [Bin Al-Khattab], stood on its mountain, said 'Allah Akbar' and received the keys [of the city] from Sophronius. From that day until today Jerusalem has been Islamic and nothing else, even if the Crusader conquest stole it for 90 years and the Zionist occupation has been stealing it for 72 years [sic].
"Moreover, the Prophet [Muhammad] once had a dream – and the dreams of prophets come true – in which he saw himself entering Mecca with his Companions, [and then] entering the Kaaba, taking its keys and circling it with his Companions. Later he described this dream to his Companions, and they understood that they would enter Mecca, and were overjoyed. And what the Prophet saw in his dream [eventually] came true in every detail. The Prophet [also] declared… that the Islamic caliphate would descend and move its seat to Jerusalem… He placed his hand on the head of [his Companion 'Abdullah] Ibn Khawala and said: 'If you see the caliphate moving to the Holy Land, [it is a sign that] the earthquake, the disasters and the mighty events are drawing near. At that time the Day of Judgement will be closer to the people than my hand is to your head.' I am convinced that, Allah willing, the words of the Prophet will come true, just as his dream came true.
"When he heard that the conqueror Salah Al-Din had taken and liberated Jerusalem [a few months] after conquering Aleppo, the preacher Ibn Al-Zaki declared joyfully: 'The conquest of Jerusalem in the month of Safar [the second month of the Muslim year] heralded the conquest of Jerusalem in the month of Rajab [the seventh month of the Muslim year]… Today we hear tidings that, just as Jerusalem was purged of the Crusader conquest, it will also be purged of the Zionist conquest, Allah willing. And just as Mecca was conquered [by the Prophet and his supporters], we await the conquest of Jerusalem, Allah willing.
"Imagine Jerusalem as it is today: shackled, broken and sad, with crows screeching in its streets and the usurpers arrogantly doing as they please in it. When the day comes, this same Jerusalem will see songbirds chirping and the arrogant and insolent [usurpers] punished. This is the same Jerusalem and the same mountain where [the caliph] 'Umar said 'Allah Akbar,' and in the future his descendants will say it there too. This is the same Jerusalem that was conquered by Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan in 1967. He entered Al-Aqsa and defiled it, and then called headquarters on his wireless and said 'Temple Mount is in our hands' [sic]. And now the world will hear that Al-Aqsa will never be a [Jewish] temple or a [Jewish] place of worship. It will be only a Muslim mosque, and nobody else has any right to a single grain of its soil.
"If Mecca was the place where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his victory sermon after its liberation from the Arab infidels and polytheists, and if Jerusalem was the place where the preacher Al-Zaki delivered his victory sermon after its liberation from the Crusader occupiers – then Jerusalem will also see a victory sermon delivered from the pulpit of Al-Aqsa after its liberation from the Zionist occupier. [The sermon] will be delivered by the caliph and imam of the Muslims, who will declare to the world, to the whole world, that the era of evil and oppression is over and the era of justice and compassion has begun. Tomorrow will not be slow to come. Our salvation is very near, so rejoice."
 On the perception in Muslim tradition of Ramadan as the month of jihad, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10508, Ramadan – The Month Of Jihad And Martyrdom, February 28, 2023.
 On the connection between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, see e.g., MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10468 - Hamas Leader Abroad Khaled Mash'al: The Muslim Brotherhood Founded The Hamas Movement, Helped Plan The Al-Aqsa Intifada, Funded The Palestinian Resistance Factions – February 7, 2023.
 For an English translation of the Hamas Covenant, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3867, The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement – Hamas: From the MEMRI Archives, May 26, 2011. It should be noted that, in May 2017 Hamas issued a policy document which stated that the movement is not hostile the Jews because of their religion but is fighting against the occupation and the Zionist enterprise. The movement leaders stressed, however, that this document does not replace the covenant but is meant to adapt the movement's ideology to the present era. This language was apparently meant to present Hamas as a pragmatic, non-extremist, movement and improve its global image, while maintaining its commitment to its Covenant. On the 2017 policy document, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1313, Hamas Policy Document: Palestinian State In 1967 Borders Is 'National, Agreed-upon and Joint Formula' By Hamas, PLO – Yet Armed Struggle Will Continue, And Palestine Extends From River To Sea, May 5, 2017.
 On the warming of relations between Hamas and the resistance axis, led by Iran and Hizbullah, see MEMRI reports: Special Dispatch No. 10562 - Lebanese Media Reports: On The Evening Before The April 6, 2023 Rocket Attack On Israel, Iranian Qods Force Commander Esmail Qaani Visited Lebanon, Met With Officials From Hizbullah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad – April 13, 2023; Special Dispatch No. 10100 - Hamas Political Bureau Head Isma'il Haniya's Visit To Lebanon Sparks Criticism In Country: He Is Embroiling Lebanon In Regional Conflicts In Service Of Iran – July 27, 2022.
 "Al-Isra Wal-Mi'raj" is the Prophet's Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad made this journey upon his winged steed, Al-Burak, and ascended to heaven during a single night before returning to Mecca. The Muslims mark the anniversary of this event on the 27th of the month of Rajab.
 During the first few years of Islam, Muhammad and his followers in Medina faced Jerusalem for prayers, rather than the Kaaba in Mecca.
 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Muslim caliph (586-644), is considered to be the founder of the Muslim empire and the first Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem. He took full control of the Arabian Peninsula, fought the Byzantines and conquered Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. Circa 638 he signed the Covenant of 'Umar with Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, which, according to Muslim tradition, is the covenant of the surrender of Byzantine Jerusalem to the Muslim conquerors. The covenant set out the relationship between the Muslim regime and the non-Muslim residents of the city, who were accorded protected status.
 Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyoubi (1137-1193) was the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt and one of the most famous military leaders in Islam, who conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders on October 2, 1187.
 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam (1882-1935) was a Syrian Muslim cleric who led a struggle against the Italian, French and British control of Syria, Palestine and Lebanon, and against the Jewish settlement in Palestine. The Hamas movement considers him a role model and a source of inspiration, and its military wing, the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, is named after him.
 Palinfo.com, April 8, 2023.
 Hamas.ps, April 14, 2023.
 Hamas.ps, April 7, 2023.
 Alresalah.ps, March 23, 2023.
 The victims of the terrorist attack in the Jordan Valley were not three soldiers but two sisters and their mother; the sisters were shot to death in the car while their mother, who was driving, was badly hurt and subsequently died of her injuries.
 The Battle of the Horns of Hattin took place on July 4, 1187 in the Galilee between the forces of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and a Muslim army commanded by Salah Al-Din. The Crusaders suffered a crushing defeat, which soon led to a Muslim recapture of all the territory of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
 Alresalah.ps, April 8, 2023.
 Sophronius the Sophist was the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventh century, at the end of the Byzantine period and the beginning of the Muslim period after the Arab conquest of Palestine.
 These words were actually said by Mordechai "Motta" Gur, who commanded the brigade that entered the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967.
 Alresalah.ps, April 11, 2023.