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Lightning through the Clouds

Lightning through the Clouds
'Izz al-Din al-Qassam and the Making of the Modern Middle East

This is the first English-language book-length biography of ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam, sometimes seen as a “Che Guevara of the Middle East”; understanding him is a key to understanding the region, particularly Palestinian nationalism.

May 2020
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272 pages | 6 x 9 | 7 b&w photos, 3 b&w illus., 3 b&w maps |

Lightning through the Clouds is the first English-language life-and-times biography of ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam, a preeminent figure who helped to reshape the political and religious landscape of the region. A Syrian-born, Egyptian-educated cleric, he went from the battlefields of World War I to join the anticolonialist fight against the French in Syria. Sentenced to be executed by the French military, he managed to escape to Palestine, where he became an increasingly popular presence, moved by the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Outraged by British rule and the encroachment of Zionism, he formed a secret society to resist the colonization of Palestine first by the British and then by Jewish immigrants from Europe, once again taking up arms and advocating for a moral, political, and military jihad as the only solution. His death at the hands of Palestine Police in 1935 drew thousands to his funeral and sparked the 1936–1939 Arab Revolt.

His influence continues to be felt in the region; for example, the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas organization is named the ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Al-Qassam is either revered or reviled, depending on the observers’ perspective, but he is without doubt a fascinating and historically significant individual whose influence on the past, and our present, makes this examination of his life both important and timely.

  • List of Figures
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Note on Transliterations
  • Maps
  • Prologue
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Guide
  • Chapter 2. The City of a Thousand Minarets
  • Chapter 3. The Soldier Shaykh
  • Chapter 4. Exile to Haifa
  • Chapter 5. Workers and Villagers
  • Chapter 6. The Tip of the Thread
  • Chapter 7. Nahalal, 1932
  • Chapter 8. With the Qur an as a Passport
  • Chapter 9. Memorial
  • Conclusion
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendix. Ikhwan al-Qassam
  • A Note on Sources
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Mark Sanagan
Toronto, Canada

Mark Sanagan is a historian of the modern Middle East, a senior fellow at the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History at the University of Toronto, and a manuscript editor for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.


“A welcome scholarly publication...Sanagan’s choice of narrating the social history of Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam as the representative of resistance in the modern Middle East offers a valuable contribution to both the biography of the iconic hero and the historiography of Mandate Palestine during its middle period. The study would benefit scholars and students of history, religious studies, and Middle East and cultural studies.”
Arab Studies Quarterly

Lightning through the Clouds is a thoughtful study that makes a virtue of the lack of detailed, credible information about the life of 'Izz al-Din al-Qassam, taking it as an opportunity to produce a social biography that sets his likely life activities in the social, political, economic, and religious context of late Ottoman and early Mandate Syria, as well as Mandate Palestine. It is an important investigation into the life of a key but poorly understood middle-Mandate figure, whose image lives but has been produced largely by the needs of the various people who invoke him. And as a study of the Mandate in its middle period, told from the perspective of Haifa rather than Jerusalem, it offers a critical new perspective on the overall history of Mandate Palestine.”
Andrea Stanton, author of "This Is Jerusalem Calling": State Radio in Mandate Palestine

“This is an elegant, well-written social biography on an individual who, despite his centrality to Palestinian history, until now was quite absent from the professional historiography on Palestine. This biography is thus a welcome and urgently needed contribution that fills an unacceptable lacuna in the historiography of the country.”
Ilan Pappé, author of The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca