NEW YORK (PIX11) – The former leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has called for Muslims all over the world to protest Friday in support of Palestinians as Hamas continues its war with Israel.
“[We must] head to the squares and streets of the Arab and Islamic world on Friday,” Meshaal said in a recorded statement sent to Reuters.
He went on to say, in part, “To all scholars who teach jihad for the sake of God and who preach the fighters and martyrs, to all who teach and learn, this is a moment of application [of theories], so that words are not just words.”
Meshaal’s mention of jihad has left some concerned about violence. Some people on social media interpreted the statement not as a call to protest, but as a warning.
“The leader of Hamas just called for a Global Day of Jihad this Friday. Do not leave your homes that day unless there is an emergency. Avoid public transit. Avoid airplanes. Avoid public events,” said political commentator Joey Mannarino.
TV host Brother Rachid said Meshaal’s message will lead to violence.
Sheikh Saad Jalloh, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, explained the meaning of “jihad” in an interview.
“The word jihad means struggle, or struggling,” he said.
That struggle has a variety of meanings and levels, he explained, and can sometimes refer to struggling against opposition to Islam. However, he pointed out, “Islam means ‘peace.'”
The NYPD told police officers who are scheduled for duty on Friday to report in uniform, the department confirmed with PIX11 News on Thursday.
Rallies for both sides of the conflict have been held across the city in recent days. Pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators went head-to-head in Times Square last Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Community Center released a statement about what it’s calling “General Mobilization Day,” saying while there aren’t any known threats against Jewish institutions in the U.S., it will remain on high alert.
“We have taken proactive steps that are both visible and not visible to community members out of an abundance of caution. This includes increasing the number of security guards (all of whom are former law enforcement officers) and liaising closely with our partners at NYPD,” the center said in the statement.
Israel’s military told some 1 million Palestinians on Friday to evacuate northern Gaza and head to the southern part of the besieged territory, an unprecedented order applying to almost half the population ahead of an expected ground invasion against the ruling Hamas militant group.
The U.N. warned that so many people fleeing en masse would be calamitous. Hamas, which staged a shocking and brutal attack on Israel nearly a week ago and has fired thousands of rockets since, dismissed the order as a ploy and called on people to stay in their homes.
More than 2,800 people have been killed on both sides of the conflict, including at least 27 Americans. The number of missing Americans rose to 14, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday.
This story comprises reporting from PIX11’s James Ford and The Associated Press.