Gazans debate Hamas 'Islamisation' signals

Human rights groups and critics say some in the Islamist Hamas group, which rules Gaza, are exerting pressure to impose Islamic law on the public.

Men cannot go topless on Gaza beaches, owners of clothes shops are told to remove mannequins displaying lingerie and some couples complain of being asked for marriage papers as they walk in the streets.

Human rights groups and critics say some in the Islamist Hamas group, which rules Gaza, are exerting pressure to impose Islamic law on the public at a time when others seek to engage with the Western world.

Hamas, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in fighting in 2007, denies plans to impose Islamic laws.

But Gazans say bearded men who identify themselves with the Ministry of Religious Affairs are advising people to follow Islamic values, stop smoking and stick to conservative forms of Muslim dress for men and women.

“People from the Virtue Campaign of the Religious Affairs Ministry came and said mannequins were a provocative source of temptation,” said clothing-store owner Saoud Al-Rayes.

“They said if we did not remove the mannequins which display underwear, they would confiscate them,” Rayes said.

The Hamas-run government denies any bid to impose Islamic law, but a recent decision by the Hamas-appointed chief justice ordering women lawyers to cover their hair has revived fears.

Ahmed Abu Khaled said three young men had approached him recently as he went for a swim without a T-shirt on a Gaza beach.

They told him that was wrong and urged him to stick to Islamic and moral values. “They were polite but I did not think I could argue,” he said.

Taleb Abu Shaar, the Minister of Religious Affairs, said the campaign of his ministry was “cultural and educational”, to spread public awareness but not to force people to do things.

“The campaign is in line with our religion and traditions. We see some dangers threatening youth and some wrongdoings, and our role is advise and to warn our people against bad things,” Abu Shaar told Reuters.

“Some people exaggerate the campaign in order to accuse the government to stir fears in society.
We do not force people to do what they dislike,” he said.

Boys and girls
Sharia is the body of Islamic religious law based primarily on the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, as well as the words and actions of the Prophet Mohammad. It is a legal framework that regulates both public and private life. Segretation of sex and women’s dress code is another much-debated aspect of sharia.

Human Rights groups expressed concern over decisions made by some Hamas ministers, of which some were later eased, such as checking men walking with women. Khalil Abu Shammala, director of Ad-Dameer Association for Human Rights, got complaints from people who had been stopped by policemen requesting identity and marriage papers to prove their relationship with opposite sex companions.

“The decision was cancelled after some Hamas leaders noted that its implementation angered the public,” he said.

“There were figures in Hamas calling for imposing Islamic laws ... while others felt it was not the right time ... because they were concerned about the outside world,” Abu Shammala said.

Hamas preachers have criticised some children’s summer camps for organising activities that bring girls and boys together. They included camps run for refugees by the United Nations, which supplies massive amounts of aid to the people of Gaza.

Though many criticise Hamas for trying to Islamise Gaza, some radical Islamists say Hamas has failed to implement the rule of God.

These groups had launched a series of bomb attacks against cafes and Christian symbols prompting a Hamas security crackdown.

A bomb planted under the stage at a wedding in southern Gaza Strip wounded 40 people. The attackers said the music played at the marriage was un-Islamic. Hamas said its forces had detained three “wrong-thinking” men behind the incident.

Hamas has always distanced itself from al-Qaeda-type extremism and has condemned bombings claimed by the radical group in world capitals.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has recently told worshippers at a mosque that Hamas would not let anyone take the law into their own hands “regardless of what good intentions they may claim”.—Reuters

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