- The Washington Times
Friday, June 29, 2007

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Some Palestinian political activists are encouraging the secular Fatah party, which controls the West Bank, to combat radical Islam by incorporating religious teachings that emphasize peace and moderation.

Sheik Sa’d Sharaf said he is pushing Fatah leaders to enlist religious figures to openly debate the violent interpretation of the Koran as espoused by the rival Hamas militia.

“The prophet Muhammad says, ‘Don’t kill those who don’t use weapons against you. Don’t kill a woman. Don’t kill a baby,’ ” he said.

Sheik Sharaf, who preaches in mosques, lectures at a junior college and hosts a television program from the West Bank city of Nablus, said the key to Islamist group Hamas’ success has been its ability to present itself as representing the one authentic version of Islam.

Hamas gunmen this month drove the Fatah security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas out of the Gaza Strip during six days of fighting.

Hamas was also behind dozens of suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis, including women and children, at the height of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

Sheik Sharaf described Hamas’ advocacy of violence as a “cynical” policy that prompts harsher responses from Israel, causing unnecessary suffering.

Another prominent Palestinian, Mohammed Dajani, has established a religious movement called Wasatia — a term from the Koran meaning “centrism,” “balance” or “moderation.”

Unlike Sheik Sharaf, who hopes to moderate Fatah with religion, Mr. Dajani believes that a new political party is needed to fill a vacuum between Fatah and Hamas.

Although a secular party, Fatah militants are as deadly as Hamas. A radical offshoot of the group, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, has also boasted of dozens of suicide bombings inside Israel.

“We are undergoing a social, religious, economic and a political crisis,” said Mr. Dajani, who also teaches political science at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem.

“We feel that this crisis will not be addressed without the rise of a new party — a middle-ground Islamic party supporting tolerance and calling for dialogue. This is the only solution.”

Alongside quotes from the Jewish holy book, the Talmud, and the New Testament, the Wasatia Web site quotes the Koran as saying “we have created you a midground nation” and ascribes to Muhammad the saying: “The best way to run affairs is moderation.”

Mr. Dajani said he wants to change pre-school and elementary school curriculum teachings on “jihad,” which he says extol violence and discourage interfaith coexistence.

“Religion is being hijacked and misrepresented,” he said in a recent interview with a Jewish peace group. “Palestinian society is moderate, but being pushed to extremism and fundamentalism. This is not the Islam we were raised on.”

Sheik Sharaf, who wants to reform Fatah by creating a religious branch within the organization, acknowledges that politicians in the Fatah movement have largely ignored efforts.

“[Fatah] doesn’t understand the danger. They are ignorant in this,” he said.

But he also believes that in the two weeks since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza and their public executions of Fatah members, more Palestinians have become disillusioned by the Hamas brand of Islam.

“I want to prevent the misleading of the people,” he said.

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