In an unprecedented fatwa issued Thursday, senior Muslim clerics declared Hamas “illegitimate” according to Islamic law.

The fatwa, a religious edict, rebukes Hamas for its reign of corruption and terror against Palestinian civilians in Gaza and rules that believing Muslims should not “pray for, join, support, finance or fight on behalf of Hamas.” The edict was authored by the Islamic Fatwa Council, a trans-sectarian body based in the Iraqi religious capital of Najaf.

A spokesperson for the Islamic Fatwa Council said the ruling was inspired by Whispered in Gaza, a series of animated video testimony by Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip, produced by the U.S.-based Center for Peace Communications, which exposed Hamas oppression and brutality within its territory.

“We have seen what Gaza is subjected to under Hamas rule and the atrocities, in our view, which it has perpetrated against Palestinians,” said Fatwa Council spokesman Sheikh Muhammad Ali al-Maqdisi in a recorded statement posted to the Council’s website.

A source close to the Islamic Fatwa Council told ALL ARAB NEWS that the Whispered in Gaza series, viewed by millions in Arab and Muslim countries, sparked a public outcry about Hamas brutality in Gaza and prompted hundreds to ask clerics for an official view of whether Hamas is fit to rule.

Grand Ayatollah Fadhil al-Budairi, who chairs the Islamic Fatwa Council, said support for Palestinians must exceed repudiation of actions by Israel.

“We do not accept that any harm be done to [Palestinians], whether by Israel or Palestinian governing elements, be they Hamas or others,” al-Budairi said. The chair is a prominent critic of Iran and Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy terrorist group based in Lebanon.

Maqdisi, the Council’s spokesperson, also advised Hamas to “seek peace, and urge those who support you to earn the embrace of your fellow citizens and end this senseless killing.”

The issuing of the fatwa underscores growing Arab and Muslim rejection of Hamas  rule over Gaza, which Palestinians within the Strip consider “not much different than an occupation.”

The edict has spawned widespread reactions in Arab media, including enthusiasm from opponents of Iranian hegemony in countries where Iran-backed militias dominate. In Lebanon, for example, the anti-Hezbollah Central News Agency praised the fatwa, the catalytic nature of the Whispered in Gaza series and Ayatollah al-Budairi’s principled stance in opposing harm to Palestinians regardless of the perpetrator.

The ruling was also welcomed in Ramallah by official outlets of the Palestinian Authority, which lost power in Gaza in 2007 after a bloody coup by Hamas.

An article on a ruling Fatah party mouthpiece hailed the development as “unprecedented,” noting Palestinian expert Ghaith Al-Omari’s view that the fatwa “represents a direct challenge to Hamas legitimacy and undermines its claim to represent Islam.”

ALL ARAB NEWS asked Joseph Braude, president of the Center for Peace Communications, which produced the Whispered in Gaza series, to share his assessment of the fatwa.

“It’s a significant blow to Hamas’s claims to legitimacy,” Braude said. “It may also open the door to legal action against the organization, its members and their assets in numerous Arab and Muslim countries. Meanwhile, it emboldens Palestinians in Gaza who oppose Hamas rule and want a different and better future.”

Though other armed Islamist groups including al-Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram have previously been proscribed through fatwas, this ruling marks the first time Hamas was accorded such treatment by an accredited Islamic legal body.

The Islamic Fatwa Council is unusual in that it breaches the sectarian divide in Islam: alongside a revered Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah in Najaf, its broad leadership includes the Sunni grand mufti of the Iraqi governorate of Wasit and a prominent Sufi cleric in the Punjab region of Pakistan. In January, a delegation of the Islamic Fatwa Council to Mecca, led by Ayatollah al-Budairi, met with Muhammad Al Issa, secretary general of the Saudi Muslim World League – a clear signal of Saudi support for the Council’s views.

The fatwa notes its concurrence with prior rulings by the Council of Senior Scholars of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates Fatwa Council that designate the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, as “defam[ing] Islam and operat[ing] in opposition to mainstream Islamic unity, theology, and jurisprudence.”

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