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Profile of a professor who was prepared for martyrdom

By Said Ghazali and Donald Macintyre
Friday, 2 January 2009

Nizar Rayan, described as a "courageous lion" for choosing to remain in his home knowing it would be attacked, was unusual even by the standards of a movement that boasts of the number of PhDs it has in its ranks.

A professor at Gaza's Islamic University who taught Hadith [the Prophet Mohemed's sayings] and took his doctorate at Sudan's Um Dorman university, he frequently wore combat fatigues and took part in training – sometimes fighting – with younger militants. In 2001, he reputedly sent one of his sons on a suicide mission, in which two Israeli settlers were killed in Gaza.

He was the author of 10 books on genealogy and one, entitled Medina Became Dark, about the life of Mohamed, which is widely read in Saudi Arabia. The library in his house, close to the Kholafa mosque beside a large square in Jabalya, was destroyed yesterday. It was said to contain 10,000 books. Mr Rayan was also unusual among Palestinians in making full use of the permission in Islam to have up to four wives.

At the same time, he was one of the most senior figures in Hamas, who appears to have acted as a link between the group's political and military wings. He was a member of its ruling Shura council and had been a member of its political bureau.

Born in 1956 to a family which before the 1948 war lived in what is now the Israeli city of Ashkelon, he spent some time in hiding during the later Yasser Arafat years, only to resurface after the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian President.

At that point, he appeared openly to chat with journalists in the Beach Hotel alongside the Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, during the then discussions on a ceasefire, of which he was a strong opponent.

Yesterday, a Hamas website called for a "day of anger" following his killing. In characteristically ferocious language, the website called for demonstrations against his death, saying: "His blood is the fuel for the volcano. His martyrdom will urge thousands of mujahedin to revenge." At noon prayers yesterday, shortly before his death, he told thousands of worshippers inside the mosque and outside on the square: "I swear by Allah. They [the Israeli army] will not enter Gaza because they are not men. They are cowards."

Asked yesterday why at least his family had not left when the Israeli army issued the warning that his house was going to be destroyed, his son-in-law said only: "He wanted to be a martyr."

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