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Why is Gaza Important? Honoring a Land of Ribat | Blog


Published: December 11, 2023 • Updated: January 9, 2024

Author: Yaqeen Institute,

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Gaza and its people hold a unique place in our hearts, but what is the origin of their esteemed status? Whether in honoring the Prophet’s lineage or serving as a strategic stronghold for the defense of Muslim lands, Gaza boasts a history steeped in nobility, virtue, and honor.

Honoring a noble lineage

Gaza has been the resting place for many noble figures throughout history. Among them are two individuals who share a lineage with our beloved Prophet ﷺ. In a challenging year during 5th-century Arabia, Mecca faced severe food shortages. Responding to the crisis, ʿAmr ibn ʿAbd Manāf, a respected Quraysh leader responsible for providing food and water to pilgrims and the grandfather of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, undertook a remarkable initiative. He traveled to the Levant (al-Shām), which comprises areas in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, spending all his wealth to purchase baked cakes, which he then crumbled (hashama) to make a nourishing broth (tharīd) for the pilgrims. Being the first to feed Meccans tharīd, this selfless act earned him the title ‘Hāshim,’ the one who crumbles or breaks. In addition to addressing the food shortage, Hāshim enhanced the water supply by digging multiple wells, implemented a foster-care system in which wealthy families fostered the less fortunate, and introduced a system of two annual trade journeys to al-Shāam in the summer and Yemen in the winter—the Qur’an (106:1-5) documents these trade journeys, underscoring their role in providing provision and security to Meccan society.
Predating the advent of Islam, Hāshim’s dedication to preserving human life and fostering social solidarity left a lasting legacy. Whilst returning from a journey to al-Shām, Hāshim passed away in Gaza and was buried there. This marked the inception of the region’s esteemed status, with Gaza playing a pivotal role as a hub for Arab trade expeditions. Residents of the Arabian peninsula, including some of Hāshim’s relatives from the Banū ʿAmr ibn Kinānah tribe, were drawn to settle in Gaza, given its strategic location within that trade hub. 
During the 8th century, in the Zeitoun district of Gaza, a noble descendant of Ḥāshim was born: the esteemed scholar and founder of the Shāfiʿī school of thought, Imām al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820). The place of al-Shāfiʿī’s birth later transformed into an interdisciplinary school that, despite enduring challenges, today persists as a Qur’anic institution, intellectual hub, and library.
In this vein, Gaza has continued to honor the Prophet’s ﷺ lineage, becoming known among Muslims as Gaza-Hāshim.

A virtuous land and people

According to many exegetes, al-Shām is mentioned five times in the Qur’an, identified as “the land which We blessed.” These references include the relocation of the Children of Israel to al-Shām (7:137), the location of the Prophet Muhammad's night journey (isrāʾ) to Jerusalem (17:1), Prophet Ibrahim’s migration to it (21:70-71), Prophet Solomon’s kingdom (21:81), and the blessed lands made accessible to the people of Sheba (34:18). Additionally, the sacred Mount Sinai, by which Allah took an oath in the Qur’an (95:1), is located in al-Shām. Moreover, al-Shām is identified by several scholars as the land of gathering (ḥashr) at the end of time.
Numerous prophetic traditions also extol the virtues of the al-Shām region and its inhabitants. Across Islamic history, various collections of hadith have been dedicated to compiling reports on the merits of al-Shām in general, and Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque in particular.
The Prophet ﷺ also extolled the virtues of al-Shām, affirming, “Certainly, the home of the believers is al-Shām.” However, this esteemed status is accompanied by enduring trials, a reality persisting to this day. Moreover, the Prophet ﷺ was reported to have said, “While I was sleeping, I saw the pillar of the Book [a reference to Islam] being lifted from beneath my head, and I thought it was being taken away from me, so I followed it with my gaze. It was then placed in al-Shām. Indeed, faith is situated when tumults occur in al-Shām.” Additionally, al-Shām plays a pivotal role as the prophesied location for significant events at the end of time, including the descent of Prophet Jesus (AS) and the demise of al-Dajjāl, as indicated in several hadiths.

Safeguarding Muslim land and honor

Throughout human history, control over the lands of al-Shām have frequently passed from the hands of one group to another. The strategic, geographic location of al-Shām at the crossroads of three continents by land and two continents by sea have made it uniquely prone to conquests by competing empires. Despite its vulnerability to incursions from outside powers, al-Shām also represents a powerful gateway—one that can either stop the forces of evil from spreading to other lands, or one that can open the way for the forces of good to expand further.
The Prophet ﷺ foresaw many of these dynamics, emphasizing the continual role that the people of al-Shām (including those of Gaza and Palestine as a whole) would play in fighting for the sake of God (jihād), defending Muslim lands against invaders, and grappling with internal conflicts. The Prophet’s companion, ʿAbdullāh ibn Ḥawālah, narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said,

The matter will come to the point where you will be enlisted as soldiers: a group in al-Shām, a group in Yemen, and a group in Iraq. Ibn Ḥawālah said, “Advise me, O Messenger of Allah, if I live to see that.” The Prophet ﷺ replied, “Choose al-Shām, for it is the chosen land of Allah, where He selects the best of His servants. But if you refuse, then choose Yemen, and drink from your own basins. Indeed, Allah has guaranteed me al-Shām and its people.”

After narrating this hadith, the eminent Successor (sing. tābiʿī pl. tābiʿīn) and the Damascan Judge Abū Idrīs al-Khawlānī (d. 80/699) used to remark, “Whomsoever God takes care of, they will not be lost.”  
A selection of hadiths also extol Ashkelon (ʿAsqalān), a city now located 13 kilometers north of the border with the Gaza Strip. Such hadiths commend the city for being dedicated to defending Muslim lands, an endeavor known as ribāṭ. This Qur’anic term has garnered various contextual and interdisciplinary interpretations, but in this context, it has evolved over time to signify diverse military and/or religious establishments designed to defend Muslim territories. Such establishments were situated in perilous regions, on frontiers, along coasts, or on challenging internal routes. The Prophet ﷺ was reported to have said,

The beginning of this affair is prophethood and mercy, then it will be caliphate and mercy, then it will be kingship and mercy, then it will be rulership and mercy, and then it will turn into biting like the bite of a predatory animal. So, upon you is jihād, and indeed, the best of your jihād is ribāṭ, and the best of your ribāṭ is in Ashkelon.

Due to the close proximity of Ashkelon to Gaza, some Muslim geographers considered Gaza to be a part of it. Although al-Shāfiʿī is commonly believed to have been born in Gaza, as mentioned earlier, some biographical dictionaries also present an alternate view that he was born in Ashkelon. Acknowledging both perspectives, the eminent Shāfiʿī jurist al-Nawawī (d. 676/1277) remarked, “Both are part of the sacred lands that Allah has blessed, being approximately 80 km away (marḥalatayn) from Jerusalem.” This association between Ashkelon and Gaza led them to share the same virtue of ribāṭ.
The dedication to ribāṭ by the people of Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, including Gaza, was also emphasized by the Prophet ﷺ in the following hadith,

There will always be a group from my ummah manifestly upon the truth, not being harmed by those who forsake them, until the command of Allah comes while they are in that state.

Another rendition of the hadith includes the companions asking the Prophet ﷺ, “O Messenger of Allah, where are they?” To which he replied, “In Jerusalem and its surroundings.” Though some hadith experts doubt its authenticity, reports attributed to the Prophet ﷺ, his Companions, and the Successors affirm the existence of this group in al-Shām.
It’s important to note that Muslim scholars did not attribute the virtuous status of these ribāṭ locations to inherent characteristics of the land or its inhabitants. Instead, they associated the virtue specifically with the ongoing activities of ribāṭ in these areas. Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) clarified the origin of this virtue as follows,

The majority of the common themes found in the writings of early scholars regarding the virtues of Ashkelon, Alexandria, Acre, Qazvin, and others, as well as the reports about righteous individuals associated with these locations, assert that the virtue is attributed to these places being frontiers, not due to any specific quality inherent to the locations themselves. The categorization of a place as a frontier for Muslims or otherwise is seen as a circumstantial characteristic, not an intrinsic one. It is comparable to a zone of war or peace, a center of knowledge and faith or ignorance and hypocrisy—factors that vary based on the residents and their characteristics.

As such, many righteous Muslims and scholars intentionally selected these specific locations as their places of residence to secure the promised reward of safeguarding the Muslim lands. Among those who relocated to Ashkelon for the sake of ribāṭ were the Companion Abū Rayḥānah al-Azdī and the great-grandson of ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, ʿUmar ibn Mūḥammad ibn Zayd ibn ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿUmar, who died there during his ribāṭ, earning the appellation ʿAsqalānī. Furthermore, the tābiʿī and Mecca’s mufti ʿAṭāʾ ibn Rabāḥ (d. 114/732) devoted 40 days annually to ribāṭ in Ashkelon. Similarly, the renowned Kufan tābiʿī Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 161/778) engaged in ribāṭ on the Ashkelon coast for a period of 40 days.
The aim of ribāṭ is to safeguard Muslim lands and honor. Al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870) titled one of the chapters in his collection “A Chapter on the Merit of Performing Ribāṭ for One Day for the Sake of Allah and on Allah’s Saying, ‘You who believe, preserve, endure, and be ready (rābiṭū).’” In his esteemed commentary, the hadith expert Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (d. 852/1449), associated with his hometown Ashkelon, asserted that commencing this topic with this verse aligns with the interpretations of the early exegetes (salaf). He then referenced several tābiʿīn  who interpreted the verse as a call to persevere in obedience to God, endure the hardships of fighting enemies, and be prepared to repel any attack.
Whether through its connection to the lineage of the Prophet ﷺ, being chosen by Allah, or being honored as a location of ribāṭ, Gaza’s special status is firmly entrenched in our Islamic teachings and history.
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Notes

1 Aḥmad, al-Musnad, no. 16965.
2 Al-Ḥākim, al-Mustadrak, no. 8601.
3 Sunan Abū Dāwūd, no. 2483 Musnad Aḥmad, no. 17004.
4 Al-Tabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-kabīr, no. 11138.
5 Yaḥyā ibn Sharaf al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ sharḥ al-muhadhdhab lil-Shīrāzī, ed. Najīb al-Muṭīʿī, 23 vols. (Jeddah: Maktabat al-Irshād, 1980), 1:24.
6 Muslim, no. 1920.
7 Aḥmad, al-Musnad, no. 22320.
8 Aḥmad ibn Taymiyya, Majmūʿ al-fatāwā, eds. ʿAbdulraḥmān ibn Qāsim and Muḥammad ibn Qāsim, 37 vols., (Medina: Mujammaʿ al-Malik Fahd li-Ṭibāʿat al-Muṣḥaf al-Sharīf, 2004), 27:53-4.
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