Editor's Note: Based on erroneous information from IslamOnline.net, the original version of this article misrepresented Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti's current position and residence. The story below has been corrected.
A former West Texas imam is calling on Muslims to take up arms in defense of Palestinians in Gaza. Sheikh Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, who was director of the Islamic Center of South Plains in Lubbock, Texas until the summer of 2008, participated in an online chat, "Fatwas on Gaza," at the web site IslamOnline.net.
El-Shinqiti is believed to have left the country long before participating in the chat, but the web site still lists him as the mosque director. In the chat, he encouraged readers to fight - or if they can't, to send money to those who are fighting - in response to six out of the eight questions posed to him in the online chat. When asked what can be done to help the people in Gaza, El-Shinqiti emphasized war over sending food or medicine or other supplies that might directly help people:
"For Muslims who have access to the battlefield, their duty is to join the resistance to defend the oppressed. For those who don't have access to the battlefield, their duty is to use all possible ways of lending support for the oppressed such as donation, the media, communication and first and foremost du'a'."
Taking El-Shinqiti's advice would mean joining forces with Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. Israel's incursion into Gaza is in its third week, prompted by a new wave of rockets sent by Hamas into Israeli cities. The fighting has left more than 900 Palestinians dead – most of them Hamas fighters - yet Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israeli towns.
U.S. law prohibits providing material support to Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. Last November, five men who worked with a Dallas-area charity were convicted on 108 counts of illegally supporting Hamas.
While El-Shinqiti's speech is well within First Amendment protections, said Bob Blitzer, who served as the FBI's domestic terrorism chief in the 1990s. The line is crossed when the suggestions advance into providing instructions on how to join the fight or whom to contact.
El-Shinqiti never mentioned Hamas by name.
But in response to a reader's question, he said Hamas "resistance" was not the problem:
"The oppression of the Palestinian people did not start today. It started six decades ago. And if we suppose that the resistance stops now, the oppression will continue, in the form of an ugly occupation and starving siege.
What the world does not know, because of the Zionist propaganda, is that 70% of Gazan people are refugees from other parts of Palestine that were swallowed by the Zionist state, and they have been living in desperate situation for decades. Moreover, the indigenous Gazans themselves have been under occupation since 1967.
Therefore, what is needed today is to stop the oppression, not to stop the resistance."
Attending rallies and issuing statements of support are important, he wrote, but:
"anyone who can move from expression to action in support the oppressed Gazan people, he or she has to do so.
Allah asks Muslim [sic] to use their own souls and their property in the defence of the oppressed: "And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who being weak are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men women and children whose cry is: Our Lord! rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help!" (Holy Qu'ran 4:75) (Emphasis original)
An Egyptian reader asked whether it would be considered suicide, against Islamic law, to try forcing open the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Such an effort likely would end in death. But El-Shinqiti said such an action was an obligation:
"It is not only allowed for Egyptians to march out to open Rafah crossing point by force, it is their Islamic obligation. Even if some of them get killed, people of Egypt have no option but to break the siege on Gaza. What would be the response to Allah Almighty if 75 million Muslims of Egypt continue watching the atrocities of Gaza, while they are the only people on earth who can break the siege?"
Women should be a part of the fight, too, he said. "The role of Muslim woman is this crisis in exactly the same like the role of men. The consensus of Muslim scholars is that if Muslims are attacked in this lands, women can join the battlefield if this is applicable," or they should engage in financial and political support.
Previously, El-Shinqiti expressed some fairly open-minded views, including an acknowledgement to the local Lubbock newspaper that he didn't feel comfortable earlier in his career teaching at a strict Wahhabi school in Yemen.
"I am totally against punishing someone for apostasy," he told the newspaper. Forcing others to say they believe a certain way "can only make them hypocrites, but not believers."
However, in past writing, El-Shinqiti has defined "holy war" as something rooted in the Torah and used originally by Jews:
"Thousands of innocent people, including women and children, were indiscriminately slaughtered in order to prepare the ground for the Israelites' entry into the Holy Land. These Israelite wars of extermination were not in any sense justifiable self-defense, but an offensive war at the order of God – a God Who is presented in the Torah as a warrior."