Brave Gazan Imam Kidnapped for Defying Hamas: The Cost of Resistance

Before Hamas launched a deadly surprise attack on Israel that claimed the lives of 1,200 Israelis and the subsequent offensive by Israel against the terrorist group that left over 23,000 Gazans dead, Hamas and its leaders were already unpopular among the vast majority of Gazans, according to a report by the Arab Barometer

Nevertheless, any attempt to show dissent against Hamas in Gaza has proven to be deadly, with human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemning the group for brutally cracking down on dissent, especially after Gazans protested against the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip in 2019.

Recently, another Gazan has paid the price for failing to follow Hamas’s orders after the group kidnapped an imam named Mohammed Mushtaha from his home on December 30th of last year. His son, Ala Mohammed Mushtaha, told the story of how Hamas kidnapped his father through the American internet news outlet The Free Press.

In his story, titled “Hamas Kidnapped My Father for Refusing to Be Their Puppet,” Mushtaha said that around twenty masked men busted their home’s front door and kidnapped his father. One of the kidnappers dragged the imam by his head while another grabbed his beard.

My younger brother tried to intervene and reason with the kidnappers, but they beat him. I have a medical condition that makes it hard for me to breathe, so all I could do was watch as the horror unfolded.” Mushtaha added. 

He then told a brief story about his father, a respected imam in Gaza. Mushtaha and his family have been living in the Gaza Strip for generations, long before Hamas took power, winning the 2006 Palestinian elections by a landslide and taking over the strip a year after due to increasing conflicts between them and Fatah, who currently rules the West Bank.

According to Mushtaha, his father was forced to resign from his Ministry of Islamic Affairs position. He finally returned to work after three years, first as a mosque servant, then a mosque guard, then an employee of the ministry before eventually being appointed as a mosque imam. Mohammed Mushtaha, according to his son, has a doctorate in sharia from the prominent Al-Azhar University in Cairo and is well-respected by his peers. 

However, Mohammed’s arrest was not the first time he and his family had trouble with the ruling Hamas authorities. In 2016 and 2019, Ala Mohammed Mushtaha and his younger brother were arrested at least ten times, where they were severely beaten and humiliated. His father had also been beaten multiple times by Hamas, once nearly blinding him, to keep him in line.

His father was forced to do things for Hamas, such as delivering Friday sermons approved by Hamas and allowing the group to use the mosque as a clandestine weapons depot to stash equipment and even money.

Sometimes they’d bring a large, wrapped-up prayer rug, which they said had been donated—except my father wasn’t allowed to open the rugs; only special volunteers were allowed to open them or transport the rugs in and out,” Ala Mohammed Mushtaha said. “My father had to open and close the doors and allow the sacred space to be used as a warehouse for Hamas. What choice did he have? It’s a bitter truth that Hamas thinks of mosques as the property of their regime and that they store weapons there.

Mushtaha and his family fled Gaza City on October 20th, after Israel launched a massive attack against Hamas in retaliation for the October 7 attacks orchestrated by the terrorist group. They moved from place to place until they settled at the home of Ala Mohammed Mustaha’s sister in Rafah several weeks ago.

Hamas put enormous pressure on imams like Mohammed Mushtaha to persuade Gazans that their only choice is “the resistance.” However, Mushtaha flat-out refused Hamas’s demands after they approached him and ordered him to go to a school where thousands of displaced persons were sheltering and urged them to stand with the “resistance” and trust Hamas. 

To this day, Mohammed’s whereabouts remain unknown. But Ala Mohammed Mustaha hopes that sharing his story could provide his father some protection.

I don’t know where my father is. I don’t know if I will ever see him alive again. My hope in telling this story to the public and putting my name to it is to somehow offer my father a measure of protection,” Ala Mohammed Mushtaha said. “Hamas may wish to release him and show the world that they would never harm an admired mosque preacher. God alone knows the future, but what I know is that under no circumstances would my father want to become a propaganda tool.

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