Islamic Studies Hamas
Chrystie Flournoy Swiney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0031


The Islamic Resistance Movement, or حركة المقاومة الاسلامية (Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamat al-Islāmiyyah) in Arabic, is a national liberation movement that employs a variety of military, political, social, and humanitarian strategies to effectuate its goal of ending the Israeli occupation. Known by its acronym Hamas (meaning zeal), it came into existence in 1987 and is based in the Palestinian Territories, notably the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Prior to 2005 it largely eschewed formal political participation, instead opting for a combination of private humanitarian outreach and militant-terroristic tactics, but after an ideological reassessment, Hamas entered politics in 2005. In the municipal elections of 2005 as well as the Palestinian Legislative Council elections of 2006, Hamas was electorally successful, gaining many seats in the former and the majority in the latter, a result that, under Palestinian law, allowed it to form a new government. Ending four decades of exclusive rule by its political rival Fatah, Hamas entered the political arena and articulated a governing platform, only to see its fortunes quickly reversed when civil conflict led to a two-headed and divided Palestinian government. In 2010 Hamas controlled Gaza, and Fatah, which the United States and large segments of the international community view as the legitimate Palestinian government, controlled the West Bank.

General Overviews

Since Israel’s founding in 1948 and particularly since Israel’s occupation of all Palestinian lands following the 1967 war, Palestinian resistance against the Israeli state has persisted. See Smith 2007 for a balanced and useful overview of the conflict from its origins to the early 21st century. Hamas, a religious-nationalist liberation movement, is one manifestation of this resistance, a resistance that Hamas has exerted since its emergence at the start of the first intifada, or uprising, in 1987. However, Hamas’s roots extend back prior to this period, indeed to the 1920s and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As a branch of this Egyptian umbrella movement, Hamas was formed by disgruntled members of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood who disagreed with the latter’s pacifistic strategies and tendencies and who wanted to try new, more aggressive methods to end the Israeli occupation. Once formed, Hamas organized itself into a formidable force in the Palestinian Territories, at first helping to fuel and organize the intifada, then creating a network of social services for the Palestinian people, and eventually entering the political sphere to try its hand at governing. Council of Foreign Relations2009 and Chehab 2007 are useful beginner’s guides to understanding Hamas. Hroub 2000 provides a useful and more specific examination of Hamas’s political ideology and goals, while Mishal and Sela 2006 assesses Hamas’s evolution through a more scholarly, political scientist lens. Azzam Tamimi’s two books on Hamas (Tamimi 2007a and Tamimi 2007b) are among the small handful of books written exclusively on and about Hamas (in which Mishal and Sela 2006 may be included). Bin Jusuf 1989 provides an assessment in Arabic of Hamas’s origins.

  • Bin Jusuf, Ahmed. Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya Hamas, Khalifiyyat al-Nash’a wa-Aafaq al-Masir. Worth, IL: al-Markaz al-‘Aalami lil-Buhuth wal-Dirasat, 1989.

    (The Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, its emergence and horizons of action.) A good introduction to Hamas and the context and political climate in which it emerged. In Arabic.

  • Chehab, Zaki. Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement. New York: Nations Books, 2007.

    A comprehensive, scholarly overview of Hamas. Largely overlaps with Tamimi 2007a and Tamimi 2007b to offer an in-depth look at Hamas’s rise and development, with particular detail on its political participation in the post-2005 period.

  • Council on Foreign Relations.Backgrounder: Hamas. 2009.

    A useful, albeit very concise and general, overview of what Hamas is, what it represents, its goals, and its popularity among the Palestinian population.

  • Hroub, Khaled. Hamas: Political Thought and Practice. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000.

    Excellent guide to Hamas’s founding and evolving political ideology, strategies, and objectives. A more detailed examination of its political beliefs and practices, as opposed to its more theological positions, which are emphasized in most other texts and articles on Hamas. However, this book also reveals the arguably inextricable nature of Hamas’s political and theological beliefs.

  • Mishal, Shaul, and Abraham Sela. The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

    This is an excellent scholarly assessment of Hamas from a political science perspective, specifically through the lens of international relations theory. Written by two Israeli experts.

  • Smith, Charles D. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. 5th ed. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2007.

    One of the more balanced accounts of the history of the Arab-Israeli and specifically the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that exists in this overpublished field. Will provide useful historical background and a general overview of the circumstances surrounding the rise and development of Hamas.

  • Tamimi, Azzam. Hamas: A History from Within. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch, 2007a.

    Similar to Tamimi 2007b though more updated. Covers part of the conflict with Fatah following Hamas’s rise to political power.

  • Tamimi, Azzam. Hamas: Unwritten Chapters. London: Hurst, 2007b.

    This is another one of the few books written exclusively on Hamas. It provides a comprehensive overview, including a full and illuminating assessment of Hamas’s decision to enter politics and its involvement in the political sphere, and includes some key documents written by Hamas in the early 21st century (see the appendixes). A helpful and more detailed account than Hroub 2000 and a much shorter and more concise book.

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