The Legacy of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin: From Gaza to the Heart of Palestinian Resistance

Since the ousting of Muhammad Mursi from the Egyptian presidency through a military coup in 2013, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has maintained a distance from Hamas, viewing the Palestinian organization as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. This article explores the life and influence of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founding figure of Hamas, shedding light on his early years, the formation of Hamas, and its impact on the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.

Born in 1936 (some sources mention 1938) in the village of Al-Jura, on the outskirts of Al-Majdal, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin grew up in a modest family. Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by his grandparents, particularly his renowned scholar grandfather, Sheikh Muhammad Yassin, who imparted religious education in Quran, Hadith, and Islamic jurisprudence.

Despite facing a permanent injury during childhood, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin’s passion for knowledge persisted. In 1952, following the Nakba tragedy and the displacement of over 500 villages by Israel, Yassin and his family sought refuge in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza. He continued his education at Al-Sharafiyah Madrasah, a religious school in Gaza, where his unfortunate injury occurred. However, his physical limitations did not diminish his eagerness for learning.

Returning from studies in Egypt in the 1960s, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin became an imam and religious teacher in various mosques and schools in Gaza. His charisma and accessible preaching style attracted a loyal following. In response to the growing sentiment against Israeli occupation in the 1980s, Sheikh Yassin, along with other prominent figures, founded Hamas in December 1987 during the First Intifada.

Hamas aimed to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, as outlined in the 1988 Hamas Charter. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin emphasized coexistence, stating in 1988, “The best solution is to let all Christians, Jews, and Muslims live in Palestine in an Islamic state.”

Under Sheikh Ahmad Yassin’s leadership, Hamas evolved beyond a purely militant organization, engaging in social and educational activities. Yassin’s establishment of the Al-Moujamaa Al-Islami charity in the early 1970s provided essential services to those in need. Additionally, the organization’s involvement in mosque construction, medical facilities, schools, and Islamic workers’ unions demonstrated a multifaceted approach to community development.

While Sheikh Ahmad Yassin did not explicitly disavow previous Palestinian resistance movements, he criticized their perceived inefficiency in countering the Israeli occupation. He and his supporters believed that Hamas’s more robust and militant approach was the most effective path to Palestinian freedom.

In 1989, Israel arrested and sentenced Sheikh Ahmad Yassin to life in prison. However, eight years later, he was released as part of an agreement with King Hussein of Jordan. Despite his deteriorating health, Yassin remained unwavering in his rejection of the Oslo Accords, viewing them as a substitute for jihad and resistance.

Israel considered Sheikh Ahmad Yassin a threat to its efforts to curtail Hamas, leading to multiple attempts on his life. In December 2003, an airstrike targeted Yassin’s residence, causing only minor injuries. However, on March 22, 2004, after morning prayers at the mosque he had founded, Yassin was killed in an Israeli rocket attack.

His death triggered strong reactions from Hamas and Palestinians, vowing retaliation and reevaluating their political approach. Several nations condemned the assassination, with Arab leaders expressing support for the Palestinian cause.

Sheikh Ahmad Yassin’s life journey, from a disabled young man in Gaza to the spiritual leader of Hamas, significantly impacted the Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation. His legacy endures in the ongoing struggle for Palestinian self-determination, and his vision for a free, sovereign Palestinian state based on Islamic principles remains influential within the region.