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The Mujaheed Sheikh – Dr. Nizar Rayyan: The Spiritual Mentor of Iz A-Din Al Qassam Brigades

Sheikh Dr. Nizar Rayyan  – one of the most prominent leaders of Hamas in Gaza – was killed in an air strike in the Gaza Strip, the first such attack in its six-day-old offensive. The air strike killed Nizar Rayyan along with nine other people, including his wife and three children, Hamas said. Another 25 people were wounded. Israeli security sources reported that the house was also used as an arms cache, a communications headquarters and concealed a tunnel opening.[1] Israeli military sources also confirmed that Rayyan, who was considered the Hamas leadership’s liaison with the group’s military wing, was killed in an attack on his north Gaza home. Hamas sources confirmed his death and published on its Arabic web site a call for “mass rallies of wrath”, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to protest his killing.[2] 

Prior to striking Rayyan’s house the IDF warned his family about the imminent attack and urged them to evacuate the place, but they refused to do so hopping that the underground shelter (loaded with arms and ammunitions) would eventually protect them. Prior to the attack the Israeli army held deliberations regarding the legality of striking homes used as weapons storages when sufficient warning is given to the residents. It has been decided that this falls within the boundaries of international law and is therefore legitimate. Most of Hamas’ leaders have gone into hiding since the Israeli operation in Gaza began, but Rayyan recently pledged not to leave his house under any circumstances. Sheikh Rayyan was an outspoken advocate of renewing suicide bombings against Israel and the legality of using Muslim women for suicide attacks. He also sent his son to carry out a suicide attack in the community of Eley Sinai in 2001 in which two Israelis was killed, and was behind the bombing in the Ashdod Port in March 2004 which left 10 Israelis dead. Two days before his killing, Rayyan delivered a sermon at a Gaza mosque and call on Muslims everywhere to pray for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. “We do not need money or weapons, we only need your prayers. We can handle the enemy ourselves.” Sheikh Rayyan was popular within Hamas ranks mainly within the Qassam military wing and was in the very special liaison position between the political leadership in Gaza and the military Qassam Brigades as the late Abd Al Aziz Rantissi that was killed by Israel in a similar air strike in 2003.Rayyan, as a radical Islamic scholar and activist was known as a bitter rival to the secular Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. 

Sheikh Dr. Nizar Rayyan-“The Fighting Sheikh” of Hamas

Sheikh Rayyan was a senior Hamas leader in Gaza and former member of the Islamic University’s board of trustees in Gaza known as a traditional Hamas strong hold and symbole. Hamas used the Islamic university laboratories for research and development for Qassam rockets investing efforts in extending the range and lethality of the rockets acquired by Hamas in Gaza Strip. Based on these facts the laboratories were destroyed in an Israeli air raid during “Cast Lead” operation on 28 December 2008. 

Hamas website published an interview conducted by the Jordanian newspaper “Al-Sabil” with the Hadith lecturer at the Islamic University, Nizar Rayyan. In the interview, he was also described as a member of Hamas’ political leadership. Within the interview Rayyan was asked to recount the details of his participation in the fighting against the IDF forces in the Jebalyah region as the military commander.[3] In August of 2005, the UAE (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES) newspaper “Al-Halij” published an article regarding a press conference convened by Hamas prior to the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip. Hamas leaders and spokesmen, including Nizar Rayyan, attended the press conference.[4] 

Nizar Rayyan was among the most prominent and active and members of the Hamas local leadership in Gaza. Simultaneous to his activities within the Iz A-Din Al Qassam Brigades, Riyan was a lecturer in Islamic Sharia studies at the Islamic University in Gaza, and a former senior member of the Reform Party “Al Islah ”, which is identified as a Hamas front organization, which participated in the recent elections. Rayyan studied at the Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Saudi-Arabia and was influenced by religious scholars and teachings from the Islamic University in Al-Medina, such as Al-Qarni and others. Due to his religious and political position, Rayyan was regarded as the spiritual leader of Hamas’ military wing-Iz A-Din Al Qassam Brigades in Gaza.[5] 

His position regarding suicide attacks was manifested when Rayyan justified in 23 January 2002 suicide attacks against Israeli civilians within a Fatwa (religious Islamic edict) issued by the Lebanese Islamic scholar Sheikh Faisl Mawlawi.[6] In a Hamas rally on 23 June 2003 Rayyan stated in front of a mass crowed in Gaza:” All of Palestine will be liberated by our Mujaheedin (Muslim fighters) and their guns and not through fruitless political negotiations. Our campaign with the enemy will continue and will not stop at the borders of Gaza strip even after their retreat (from Gaza). Haifa, Beit Shean and Tabaria (Israeli cities within sovereign state of Israel before 1967) are our lands and with God’s will, we will celebrate in (the Israeli city of) Ashkelon”.[7] 

On 15 June 2007, a few days after the Hamas military coup taking over Gaza, Dr. Nizar Rayyan openly declared that the secular era in Gaza has ended and Islam will triumph over the Infidels.Rayyan promised to turn the headquarters of the National Security Forces (of the Palestinian Authority) in Gaza into a big mosque and to deliver a sermon at the presidential headquarters. In addition, he said: “In a few hours, the secular era in Gaza will end without leaving a trace… Today heresy ends. Today the struggle is between Islam and the infidels, and it will end with the victory of the faith.[8] 

Ahmad Abd al-Rahman, one of Abu Mazen’s advisors, said that there was a military coup raging in the Gaza Strip which had been planned by the Hamas leadership against Palestinian legitimacy and against the democratic process through which Hamas gained rule. “ This is a message for the Arab world, let everyone know that these kinds of [radical Islamic] organizations use democracy to gain power and become stronger, and after that they carry out a coup against it. This is a message for the Arab world, from the Pacific Ocean to the [Persian] Gulf.” He named the Hamas leaders who were responsible for the coup among them Nizar Rayyan”.[9]

On 15 June 2007 the Palestinian Al- Ayyam newspaper posted on its front page a noticeable headline: “The Secular Era in Gaza Has Ended; Islam Will Triumph Over the Infidels”, reporting Sheikh Rayyan’s declaration regarding the internal strife between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza.The Hamas official Nizar Rayyan promised to turn the headquarters of the National Security Forces in Gaza into a big mosque and to deliver a sermon at the presidential headquarters. In addition, he said: “In a few hours, the secular era in Gaza will end without leaving a trace… Today heresy ends. Today the struggle is between Islam and the infidels, and it will end with the victory of the faith. [Once victorious], Hamas will open its arms to the members of the security forces, so that they will return to the faith, [for] Islam is generous with infidels [who repent]. We hold the truth and they [represent] falsehood… How can we not fight against those who desecrate the sanctity of Allah, execute clerics and sell out the Palestinian cause – those who blasphemed in houses of worship, burned mosques, Korans and [Islamic] education facilities and executed jihad fighters? We will hold dialogue with these [people] only through the barrels of our guns.”[10]

Sheikh Dr. Nizar Rayyan and Sheikh Dr. Abdallah Azzam – A striking similarity

Sheikh Nizar Riyan was an ideological product of Saudi-Wahabbi influence through his studies at Islamic University in Al-Medina.[11] Sheikh Rayyan was directly influenced by a series of Saudi Whahabbi-Salafi scholars and teachings including: Sheikh Nasir Al Omar, Sheikh Safar Al Hawali, Sheikh Abdullah Al Amin Al Shanqiti, Sheikh Ahmad Hamdan Al Ghamidi, Sheikh Mussa Al Qarni, Sheikh Muhammad Al Duwaysh and many others. His exposure to the Saudi-Wahabbi Jihadi School and to the Muslim Brotherhood zealotry is striking in its similarity to identical process underwent Sheikh Dr. Abdallah Azzam, the Palestinian origin Islamic scholar who became Osama Bin Laden’s spiritual mentor.[12] 

In 1982 Rayyan received his BA degree in religious principles from the Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University. In 1990, he received an MA degree with honors from the Sharia department in the Jordanian university in Amman, with a specialization in Islamic tradition. In 1994, he received a PhD degree with honors from the university of the Qur’an in Sudan, with a dissertation topic of: “future of Islam: objective analysis”. Has been serving as a lectureron Islamic tradition in the religious principles department at the Islamic University in Gaza simultaneously to his terror activities. Sheikh Rayyan also presided as chairman of Hamas’ Sharia committee that served as a source of authority in matters of Islamic law.

Sheikh Rayyan activities in Gaza Strip

Rayyan gained his popularity while being active within the framework of the Da’awa social-economic educational system and infrastructure of Hamas in Gaza promoting the ideas of Jihad in Palestine. He was previously arrested several times both by the Israelis and by the Palestinian Authority, due to his major role within Hamas and an outspoken opposition to any peace with Israel. Sheikh Rayyan wrote many articles and religious edicts in several Islamic newspapers and websites, assisted many Palestinians students from Gaza to learn in Islamic universities in Jordan Sudan. The Sheikh greatly influenced the founder of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the late Salah Shihada (killed by Israel in an air strike on 22 July 2002), and was a spiritual guide to him. After Shihada was killed by Israel, his last will was published on the Qassam Brigades website in which Shihada wrote, among other things, that he wishes that his body purgationand burial will be conducted by one of the two: Sheikh Nizar Rayyan or Abd al Aziz al Kajak.[13] Another Hamas high-ranking leader inspired by Sheikh Rayyan was Dr. Abd Al Aziz Rantissi who was among the founding members of Hamas in 1987,held the same position of liaison between the leadership of Hamas in Gaza and the Qassam Brigades (the very same position Rayyan held until his was killed). After Sheikh Yassin killing by Israel, Rantissi became the De Facto leader of Hamas in Gaza until he was killed by Israel in an air strike (17 April 2004). 

Sheikh Rayyan was considered one of the fierce opponents to the Islam Shia’ school and allowing any Shia’ foothold in Palestine, although Hamas is very much backed and supported by Iran. He warned the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) activists that their admiration of the Iranian revolution and their alliance with it might cause youths to convert to Shia’, while noting Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin’s statement on this subject: “The Shiite and us – a convergence of interests, not a pact”. Rayyan refused to give an interview to a reporter from the Al-Mannar channel in Gaza, stating that he is a religious cleric following the path of the ancient fathers and would not talk to a television station representing religious false forbidden innovations. Sheikh Rayyan was supportive of suicide attacks and preached vigorously in its favor encouraging Palestinians to carry out suicide operations, including an fanatic unprecedented personal example, when he agreed to send his son, Ibrahim Rayyan, age 14, to carry out a suicide operation during which he was killed by the Israeli army, after a successful penetration into an Israeli settlement that killed 2 Israelis in 2001. Similarly, the Sheikh thought of the idea to camp out on roofs of houses in Gaza that Israel threatened to bomb from the air, and as such to prevent their bombing. In 2006 it was Dr. Rayyan, who cynically initiated to use the Palestinian civil population as a human shield to protect Hamas’ targets and homes against Israeli air strikes, knowing the sensitivity of the Israeli army in avoiding civilian casualties. Hamas used this fact in their terrorist build up of infrastructure during the recent temporary cease fire.

The radical Islamic Da’awa and Jihad integrated concepts
As embodied by Sheikh Dr. Nizar Rayyan

The Da’awa sermon preaching in Gaza mosque
The Da'awa sermon preaching in Gaza mosque

Night field visit with Iz A-Din Al Qassam Brigades terrorists 
Night field visit with Iz A-Din Al Qassam Brigades terrorists







[6] FATWA, issued on January 23, 2002 on IslanOnline by Sheikh Dr. Faisal Mawlawi justifying and permitting suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.  


[8] Fears in PA: Gaza May Turn into Taliban-Style Emirate, MEMRI Special Dispatch Series No.1633, June 26,2007 

[9] Al-Jazeera TV, June 15. 


[11] , see also , and

[12] Jonathan Fighel, “Sheikh Abdullah Azzam:Bin Laden’s spiritual mentor”27 September 2001.ICT web site