Palestine: A Liberation Theology Response

Colonialism is not a thinking machine, is not a body endowed with reason. It is violence in the state of nature and can only bow to greater violence. – Frantz Fanon[1]

Before the dust had even settled on the Palestinian resistance’s incursion into southern Israel, mainstream media outlets were expressing outrage at the acts committed by Hamas and other “Islamic extremist” organisations. As if by involuntary knee-jerk reaction, liberal Muslims immediately answered the call from the media and politicians to condemn these acts, decrying the loss of innocent lives and seeking to distance their Islam from that of these terrorists.[2] It seems that for such individuals, a free Palestine is only desirable until Palestinians actually try to free themselves and never if it damages their reputation and status among their white masters.

This is but the latest instance where Muslims have been asked to voice their opposition to violence in the post-9/11 era, whether it occurred in Western contexts, or in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim-majority world. Never mind whether this was the indiscriminate brutality of groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh, or instead resistance to colonial occupation (most notably in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir).[3] Many Muslims, particularly those who wanted to be recognised within elite circles in the West, gladly took up the politics of condemnation, situating themselves as the enlightened voice of a “real” Islam that conveniently fit liberal notions of non-violence.

Rather than taking a top-down approach, [achieving justice] requires listening to oppressed groups and working in solidarity with them to resist oppression.There is clear precedence for this approach within the Quran and Sunnah.

Muslims have seen the successive genocidal acts of the Israeli state go unpunished and so should expect little from the so-called “international community,” which joins Israel’s citizens in cheering the murder of the land’s native population from the pulpits of its press conferences and news reels. Their hypocrisy and lack of moral integrity is expected, but what about these liberal Muslims who claim to be on our side? How have they been able to distort Islam, with all its liberative imperatives, into a religion that condemns the very act of liberation? Why are we required to start our political analysis at a point which presents the Israelis as the victims? And, most importantly, how do we reclaim the spirit of resistance to oppression that has been ever-present throughout Islamic history?

This alternative theology of liberation prioritises the experience of the marginalised and oppressed, no matter where they may be in the world and, indeed, whether they are Muslim or not. Based on God’s hatred for oppression (ẓulm), Muslims are required to establish justice in all times and places. As the Quran reminds us:

O you who have faith! Be maintainers of justice and witnesses for the sake of Allah, even if it should be against yourselves or [your] parents and near relatives, and whether it be [someone] rich or poor, for Allah has a greater right over them. [4:135]

However, to achieve this justice, it is not sufficient to rely solely on canonical texts, such as the Quran and hadith. These must be combined with an accurate understanding of material conditions, i.e. geopolitical and socioeconomic dynamics as well as the lived reality of the marginalised. Rather than taking a top-down approach, it requires listening to oppressed groups and working in solidarity with them to resist oppression.

There is clear precedence for this approach within the Quran and Sunnah. We are often told that the majority of the early followers of Islam were from among the marginalised groups in society, such as slaves, the poor and women, but few identify the revolutionary implications this has for us as believers today. Part of the reason that these groups identified with the new faith must surely be because they saw it as a challenge to the status quo. As Islam evolved into a religion of power in subsequent centuries, this spirit of resistance was increasingly neglected (though never entirely eliminated), with greater emphasis placed on social order and stability.[4] God, however, shows that He is not a neutral observer of worldly events but consistently stands with the dispossessed. One of the most obvious examples of this is concerning his aid for the Children of Israel. The Quran states:

We desired to show favour to those who were dispossessed in the land, and to make them leaders, and to make them the heirs and to establish them in the land… [28:5-6]

In the same way that God recognised the oppression that the Children of Israel were subjected to by Pharaoh, it is our duty to identify who the dispossessed are in our time and work, just as God is, to support them and aid their quests for liberation.

Rather than immediately condemning Hamas for their offensive on 7 October and participating in the futile politics of condemnation,[5] this approach requires us to provide some context. The majority of Palestinians (and many other historians and political commentators) will tell you that in order to interpret the resistance’s actions, a basic understanding of past events in historic Palestine is necessary. The 1948 Nakba, or ethnic cleansing of the native population, which paved the way for the creation of the Israeli state; continuous Israeli belligerence against the Palestinian population and neighbouring Arab states; the failed peace process, which has served to legitimise Israel’s occupation (with the complicity of the Palestinian Authority); and Israel’s blockade of Gaza since 2007, turning it into a concentration camp for millions, are just some of an extended timeline of events through which Palestinians have had their fundamental human rights and their right to self-determination denied.[6] Indeed, any genuine engagement with the history of modern Palestine will lead to one conclusion: Israel is a settler colonial project that uses Zionist ideology to justify an apartheid regime through which Jews are considered superior to an oppressed native non-Jewish population who must be either annihilated or transferred.

Rather than looking to challenge the imperial relations that allowed for the creation and preservation of the Zionist state or Israel’s settler colonial reality, [the liberal circles’] response accepts the pre-existing power structure and seeks to find a solution from within.

Although a liberal may acknowledge some of these realities, their proposed solutions require a complete dehistoricisation of the Palestinian cause. Rather than looking to challenge the imperial relations that allowed for the creation and preservation of the Zionist state or Israel’s settler colonial reality, their response accepts the pre-existing power structure and seeks to find a solution from within. The inevitable dead end of appealing to the humanity of your oppressors is clearly shown by the failure of the so-called peace process. Ultimately, for the liberal, peace and order take priority; questions of justice are purely incidental.[7]

Building on a liberative, rather than liberal, understanding of Islam, the parameters through which we judge Palestinian resistance to the status quo are completely different. Rather than emphasising peace (in the superficial sense of the absence of violence), the key question we must answer is, is there an oppressive status quo and, if so, how do we change it? It would therefore be more appropriate to ask who is oppressed, who is oppressing them and what is the most effective means to challenge these conditions? Such an approach does not mandate pleading with those in power for handouts and acknowledges the necessity of the dispossessed being agents of change. As Assata Shakur, the famous African American revolutionary, said, “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”[8]


Regarding the oppressor, it is obvious that those who are part of the Israeli state institutions, whether it is politicians, the army or the judiciary, etc., directly uphold the oppressive system. It is almost ridiculous that members of an occupying army would be conflated with civilians in the count of civilian Israeli deaths being reported by politicians and the media. Yet, the average Israeli civilian is also far from an innocent bystander. Again, if we start history on 7 October, then yes, it seems unfathomable that people going about their normal lives would be targeted. However, Israeli society is heavily militarised, whether this be through military service, support for the occupying forces or settler violence.[9] This is further bolstered by the reality of occupation infiltrating all elements of Israeli society, from industry to university research[10] and the overwhelming support for fascist violence in Israel, whether it be through indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza, ethnic cleansing in the West Bank or the denial of Palestinians to their history and right to live on their land. While it goes without saying that not all Israelis agree with the policies of their government, the very structure of the society, organised as it is around the oppression of the Palestinians (whether this be through labour exploitation, the redirection of natural resources or shameless violence), means that all Israelis are complicit.[11] This is of course in addition to the very fact that every Israeli lives on land that has been stolen from the native Palestinian population, who have been gradually pushed into ghettos in Gaza and the West Bank, refugee camps in neighbouring countries or further into the diaspora.

While it goes without saying that not all Israelis agree with the policies of their government, the very structure of the society, organised as it is around the oppression of the Palestinians (whether this be through labour exploitation, the redirection of natural resources or shameless violence), means that all Israelis are complicit.

Frantz Fanon, speaking in the context of France’s presence in Algeria, explained how colonialism is an inherently violent phenomenon. The very organisation of its society is a form of violence perpetrated by the coloniser against the native. In Towards the African Revolution, explaining the violence perpetrated against European civilians, he states:

Every Frenchmen in Algeria is at the present time an enemy soldier. So long as Algeria is not independent, this logical consequence must be accepted… The Algerian experiences French colonialism as an undifferentiated whole, not out of simplemindedness or xenophobia but because in reality every Frenchmen in Algerian maintains, with reference to the Algerian, relations that are based on force.[12]

We see this same relationship of force in Occupied Palestine today: when Israelis live on land that was taken from Palestinian families that had lived there for centuries, it is violence. When they use up the majority of that land’s natural resources, it is violence. When they control the natives’ means to sustain life, it is violence. The very existence of the settler is a form of violence. Every Israeli is complicit.[13]

Although liberal Muslims may recognise that the Israeli blockade of Gaza or the apartheid system in the West Bank is wrong; ultimately, they prioritise peace and order at all costs. A liberative Islam, on the other hand, recognises the violence inherent in the status quo (as Fanon points out), and places not just a right, but a duty on Muslims to rise up against it and establish justice on the earth. Returning to the aforementioned verses [28:5-6], is there any more evident form of dispossession than to remove people from their land and claim it as your own?

From this standpoint, the abolition of the Israeli settler colonial state that oppresses the native Palestinian population is a legitimate liberation struggle. Contrary to the deceptive claims that Islam means peace (again, in the form of the absence of violence), the Quran clearly recognises that violence is one of many methods that can be used to establish justice:

Permission (to fight) is given to those upon whom war is made because they are oppressed, and most surely Allah is well able to assist them. [22:39]

This may be uncomfortable for us and certainly goes against liberal sensibilities that praise non-violence. However, the colonised do not have the luxury of engaging in superfluous moral posturing, as historical examples such as the IRA in Ireland, FLN in Algeria and ANC in South Africa show.[14] Nor do they have to meet standards of propriety to appease an outraged (but ultimately disinterested) liberal and foreign audience. Indeed, the Quran tells us that whether we like violence in the abstract or not is irrelevant:

Fighting is enjoined on you, and it is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you… [2:216]

Therefore, if violence is a viable option to achieve the objective of liberation, then it is sanctified in the Quran – why should those living comfortably in their homes and not directly affected by the conflict have the right to be the moral arbiters of the methods that the Palestinians use? Their violence will never outweigh the violence perpetrated against them (something the months since the 7 October operation have made abundantly clear).[15] Rather, in addition to doing whatever forms of praxis we can in our own contexts, such as engaging in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and direct action initiatives, we should not be intimidated into avowing support for those resisting oppression with their lives.[16] The Palestinians, and their native resistance movements, guide us in this regard. When they tell us that this is the means to achieve justice, we listen. When they tell us that calls for a ceasefire must be accompanied by an end to the occupation, we listen and we support them in any way that is possible. As Farid Esack, a Muslim theologian that fought against apartheid in South Africa, says:

When peace comes to mean the absence of conflict on the one hand, and when conflict with an unjust and racist political order is a moral imperative on the other, then it is not difficult to understand that the better class of human beings are, in fact, deeply committed to disturbing the peace and creating conflict.[17]

There is no greater crime than oppression and no greater political ambition than freedom. The Palestinians, through their resistance, give us the opportunity to recover Islam as a religion of the oppressed and a religion of liberation. They are already bearing witness to this with their lives. What remains is for us to resist calls to condemn the means they use and have the courage to support them, and all those dispossessed on the earth, in their quest for liberation, by any means necessary.

Sharaiz Chaudhry has recently submitted his PhD at the University of Edinburgh, which employed an Islamic Liberation Theology framework to understand how British Muslims combat economic exploitation. He has previously completed Masters degrees in Middle East Politics and Islamic Law and runs a radical, decolonial community education project called Revolutionary Reading Room. He can be found on Twitter @sharaiz_710.

*Cover photo credit: Joe Piette- 

[1] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington, Reprinted, Penguin Classics (London New York: Penguin Books, 2001). 48.
[2] This liberal trend is present across Muslim communities, from politicians (such as Ilhan Omar in the US and Sadiq Khan in the UK) to religious leaders. For example, a group of British Imams including neo-traditionalist voices such as Timothy Winter’s (Abdul Hakim Murad), condemned “Hamas killing civilians in Israel” and pleaded with Israel not to collectively punish Palestinians for their crimes. See: ‘UK Muslim Leaders Call for Restraint by Israel and Condemn Hamas Attacks’, Hyphen, 19 October 2023,
[3] Israeli propaganda, which has been popularised by Western politicians such as France’s President, Emmanuel Macron seeks to equate Hamas with ISIS, even proposing the mobilisation of an international coalition to fight the Palestinian resistance group. See: ‘In Israel, France’s Macron Proposes Anti-ISIS Coalition against Hamas – Al-Monitor: Independent, Trusted Coverage of the Middle East’, 24 October 2023.
[4] See: Hamid Dabashi, Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire (Routledge, 2008).
[5] For a powerful collection of essays on the insidious nature of this politics of condemnation and Muslim resistance to it, see: Asim Qureshi, ed., I Refuse to Condemn: Resisting Racism in Times of National Security (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020).
[6] See: Nur Masalha’s, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought 1882-1948 (Washington D.C.; Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992); The Palestinian Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory (London/New York: Zed Books, 2012); and Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History (London: Zed Books, 2018); Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001); Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2007); Ilan Pappé and Noam Chomsky, Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010); Gideon Levy, The Punishment of Gaza (London: Verso, 2010); Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, Second edition (London: Pluto Press, 2014); Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine (London: Profile Books, 2020).
[7] This liberal impulse is not by any means limited to the Palestinian issue. The same liberals (Muslim or otherwise) uphold power relations by, for example, calling for more racial and gender diversity in positions of power, without critically analysing the way in which these structures will always oppress the majority.
[8] Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography (Chicago, Ill: L. Hill Books, 2001).
[9] At the beginning of the year, well before Hamas’ operation, Netanyahu announced plans to make it easier for Israelis to gain gun permits. Since October 7th, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir promised, in addition to further relaxing gun licensing laws, to provide 10,000 free weapons to settlers in the West Bank. See: ‘Netanyahu Announces Plans to Arm Israelis after Jerusalem Attack’, Al Jazeera, accessed 4 November 2023; ‘Israeli Civilians Take up Arms in the West Bank after Hamas Attack’, euronews, 24 October 2023,
[10] Israel was the tenth largest arms exporter in the period between 2018 – 2022 and also specialises in providing other repressive governments with surveillance technology, tried and tested on the Palestinian populace. This is partly why Palestinians have called for a global boycott on Israeli academics, who work at institutions where many of these technologies are developed. See: ‘Reporters Without Borders Demands Israel Stop Exporting Spyware’, Al Jazeera, accessed 4 November 2023,; FAIR, ‘10 Largest Arms Exporters in the World’, FAIR (blog), 30 March 2023,.
[11] Classical juristrs of Islamic law generally adjudge that individuals are responsible for their actions, with an exception only made for those groups that are considered unable to differentiate between right and wrong, such as children and the mentally ill.
[12] Fanon’s views became more nuanced over time as French settlers began to identify with the Algerian resistance and he moved away from his sweeping condemnations. Until now, however, there is very little evidence that a similar trend is occurring in Israeli society. For more, see: Peter Hudis, Frantz Fanon: Philosopher of the Barricades, Revolutionary Lives (London: Pluto Press, 2015), 85–91.
[13] The Israeli people are not a monolith but it is noteworthy that voices that actively oppose settler colonialism are few and far between. When families of those Israelis taken captive expressed discomfort at the government’s decision to indiscriminately bomb Gaza it was not because of humanitarian concerns for the Palestinians, but rather the safety of their own. Indeed, many expressed full support for Israel’s stated objective to “destroy Hamas” and whatever annihilation this would entail – they just wanted it delayed. Several cultural trends, such as the viral social media craze to dress up as Gaza’s dead to mock them, writing messages on bombs, or genocidal war anthems topping the music charts highlight the level of dehumanisation Palestinians suffer from in Israeli society. See: Rory Carroll, ‘“Is There a Plan?” Families of Israeli Hostages Demand Answers from Netanyahu’, The Observer, 28 October 2023, ‘TRT World (@trtworld) • Instagram Photos and Videos’, 29 October 2023,; ‘A Pro-War Song Which Has Been Condemned as a Call for #genocide Has Topped the Music Charts in #Israel for Several… | Instagram’, accessed 7 December 2023, .
[14] This view is perhaps most eloquently summarised by Fidel Castro, who said in the midst of the guerrilla war against the US-backed dictator Fulgencia Batista: “To the question about the fact if armed struggle is the only path to liberation, I would answer that, at least in our country, we have no other path… Imperialism… is hanging people with a rope that can only be cut by armed struggle. Revolutionaries didn’t choose armed struggle as the best path, it’s the path that the oppressors imposed on the people.” See: Fidel Castro Interview. Guerrilla Revolution, 2013.
[15] It is widely accepted by human rights and non-governmental organisations that in the aftermath of the 7 October operation, Israel has committed countless war crimes, indiscriminately bombing civilian areas, including hospitals, schools, mosques and universities.
[16] In addition to those resistance groups motivated by Islam, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, this also includes secular groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
[17] Farid Esack, ‘In Search of Progressive Islam Beyond 9/11’, in Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism, ed. Omid Safi (Oxford: Oneworld, 2003), 85.