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The revolutionary matriarch of Hamas

Mariam Farhat, a newly elected Palestinian legislator, advocates an Islamist vision.

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Although a political newcomer, Mariam Farhat has credentials Palestinian voters couldn't deny: The mother of three militant sons who died in the conflict, she is seen as the mother of all martyrs - and heard as the matronly voice of Hamas.

Now, with Hamas set to take over the Palestinian Authority (PA) following its election landslide in January, Mrs. Farhat won a seat here in Gaza City and has emerged as one of the leading women in the Islamic Resistance Movement - as Hamas is formally known - and could become a force for change that is bound to be welcoming to some and worrying to others.

As a member of the Palestinian legislative council - and someone who could be tapped as a cabinet minister - Farhat says she would rewrite Palestinian school curriculum to remove "infidel" influences. Farhat, in an interview at her home, also says that she will call on Palestinian women, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslim, to wear hijab, or covering, as instructed by Islam. She also says that armed resistance is the only way for Palestinians to face off with Israel.

"We know nothing about our own country. We teach the students infidel materials, so why not make changes so we can teach them according to Islamic principles?" asks Farhat, the widow of a police officer and mother of 10, who wears a tightly pinned white head scarf.

"In our schools, religion is totally ignored, so we will encourage studying the Koran and teach Islamic culture in our classrooms," she says while one of her sons kneels in prayer in the adjacent room.

Striving for an idealized Islamic state and looking askance at Western influences, Farhat expresses sentiments characteristic of Hamas's roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1929. But not everyone who voted for Hamas - nor its lawmakers-to-be - shares her view.

Even amid the top echelons of Hamas, many observers see a developing divergence between those who want to encourage moderate Muslim values and those who would make Islamic Revolution-style changes.


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