Muhammad al-Habash Resigns from all Religious Activities

Muhammad al-Habash has been forced to resign from all his religious activities by the Ministry of Awqaf.

Muhammad al-Habash, a public intellectual, religious authority, and member of parliament, goes many steps further than most liberal Syrian Imams in proposing a reinterpretation of teh Qur’an. He argues that Islam is not the only path to salvation, that women are the equals of men, and that holy texts must be interpreted in the light of modern day requirements.  For example he has called for abandoning corporal punishment, such as cutting the hands off of thieves. In his view, such commands are to be merely taken as a message that theft is forbidden in Islam. He was one of three imams who spoke up in support of the government ban on the niqab. His liberal interpretations have been met with considerable opposition, as one can gather from reading this post at “Marifah.” All4Syria has reported on this story in Arabic.

It is suggest that he was forced to resign by the Minister of Awqaf because Habash’s wife, Asma’ Kaftaru, the daughter of the former Grand Mufti Kaftaru, has been critical of the minister. There are other conjectures as well.

الشيخ محمد حبش يستقيل من كافة نشاطاته الدينية بوزارة الاوقاف

واوضح المصدر أن الوزارة قد انهت عمل محمد حبش بالحقل الديني نهائياً ..
لكن المفارقة التي فاجئت البعض ان وزير الاوقاف السوري د.محمد عبد الستار السيد قد عين بدلا منه عميد كلية الدعوة في مجمع الشيخ أحمد كفتارو د. بسام عجك المشهود له بالكفاءة العالية والخلق المستقيم وهو أحد تلامذة الراحل كفتارو .. والذي كان يخالف الدكتور الحبش بكثير من الفتاوى والآراء ..
وفسر مصدر مطلع على خفايا التيار الاسلامي في سوريا لكلنا شركاء هذه الخطوة من (الوزير الصارم ) على أن يوصل رسالة أنه لا يستهدف نهج الشيخ الراحل أحمد كفتارو ..عن طريق اقالة صلاح كفتارو وغيره وانما يريد تنظيم التعليم الشرعي بمباركة الشيخ العلامة البوطي …الذي تربطه علاقة طيبة بالوزير الحالي.

من الأسباب التي دفعت محمد حبش للاستقالة : اتهامه بالسلفية ؟ !

واحد من ثلاثة علماء دين ومشايخ في كل سورية تجرؤوا ان يعلنوا تأييدهم لقرار منع النقاب في قطاع التربية والتعليم.
وكانت ( كلنا شركاء) أول من كشف عن قرار وزير الأوقاف عزل حبش عن إمامة وخطابة مسجد الزهراء في منطقة المزة، وكانت أول من كشف أن حبش، عضو مجلس الشعب عن مدينة دمشق، قد قدم استقالته من كافة نشاطاته الدينية التي تتبع لوزارة الأوقاف السورية.
وفيما لم تعلن الوزارة عن سبب العزل، نقلت مصادر مقربة من الوزارة أن السبب هو الاحتقان الذي شاب العلاقة بين الطرفين (حبش والوزارة) على خلفية اغلاق مقر مركز الدراسات الاسلامية الذي يرأسه الحبش ومقالات للسيدة أسماء كفتاور وهي زوجة الحبش انتقدت فيه بشكل غير مسبوق وزير الاوقاف الحالي متهمة إياه بعدم الحكمة في التعاطي مع الحقل الديني ..
إلا أن مصادر أخرى سخرت من تفسير تعيين الدكتور بسام عجك، خلفاً لكفتارو بأنه لا يعني استهداف نهج الراحل أحمد كفتارو من قبل وزارة الأوقاف. وقالت أنه ربما يكون الاستهداف الظاهر هو لعائلة الشيخ كفتارو، لكن فكر الشيخ كتفارو ليس بعيداً عن هذا الاستهداف لأن الشيخ العجك، ورغم كونه عميد كلية الدعوة في مجمع أبو النور، إلا أنه لا يمثل فكر الشيخ أحمد كتفارو، والدليل أن أعداد المصلين يوم الجمعة في مسجد الزهراء تناقصت بشكل كبير بعد عزل الشيخ حبش.
وفي سياق ذو صلة علمت كلنا شركاء أيضاً أن أسماء كفتارو، زوجة الشيخ حبش، قد طالها قرار منعها من السفر منذ قرابة الأربعة أشهر، وهو الاسلوب الذي يلجأ له النظام السوري لابتزاز المثقفين والاعلاميين، فيما تردد في أوساط وزارة الأوقاف أن الوزير شخصياً قد طلب من المخابرات هذا المنع.

This is from Habash’s resume: Damascus – Syria 1962

Degrees Diplomas:   Ph. D. In Islamic Law
* B.A. In Arabic Lit.                             Beirut Univ.
* B.A. In Islamic Studies                      Islamic Call College.
* The High License in memorizing the Holy Qur’an and mastering reading it.
* M.A In Islamic Studies                      Univ. of Higher studies-Karachi.
* ph. D. In the sciences of the Quran     Univ. of the Holy Quran-Khartoum.

Jobs Positions:
•    Prof. at the University of Damascus
•    Director of the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus
•    President of the association of Arbab Al-Sha‘a‘er (the league of scientists)
•    Member of the High Council in the International Islamic University -Islamabad
•    He was elected as a Member of Syrian parliament 2003 (independent)
•    He was elected three times as an administrative committee in Syrian parliament
•    He has a daily T.V. programs on four satellite channels

Paul Heck of Georgetown University has written an interesting and short article about Habash’s important role in supporting ecumenicism and tolerance in Syria.

Paul Heck, “Muhammad al-Habash and Inter-religious Dialogue.” (Here are a few excerpts)

…..His central theological point is not simply that Islam can exist amicably alongside other religions, but that its own message is one of religious plurality.  Remarkable for being based entirely on Islamic sources (e.g. Q 4:123-124), his argument underscores that Islam did not come to abrogate other religions but to confirm all religion as submission to the one God, Creator and Judge of all, who rewards and punishes according to good works, not religious affiliation…. Although viewed with some suspicion by local Christian leaders, al-Habash’s position, meant to counter sectarian tension within Syrian society, looks to reinforce a national unity that embraces all religions and is not monopolized by any one; his inter-religious engagements thus have specific national implications….

His vast scholarly erudition allows him to highlight long forgotten rulings which, even if not enjoying a preferred status (arjah), still legitimately represent Islam and speak more appropriately (aslah) to the conditions of today’s world – a way for Muslims to be reconciled to contemporary life as Muslims.  One example of this is his ideas on women in Islam, a reading of the religious heritage that does not reject but rather challenges — not without controversy — the claim that traditional Muslim attitudes towards women are the only ones recognized by Islam.  This type of reflection has potentially important ramifications for the relation of Syrian law to international agreements: A recent treatise by al-Habash demonstrates that Muslim values do indeed conform with the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, highlighting that human rights and equality of women are not reducible to western constructions but belong to the human heritage universally……

Comments (9)

majedkhaldoun said:

Mr. Habbash is an excellent shaikh,he is not gone forever,he will be back,what is going on is power struggle,and who is your friends among the people in power.
Mr. Habash does not call to interpret Quraan according to modernity, but rather to interpret Quraan correctly,for example Niqab is not Islamic mandate,in Quraan it says clearly that women to cover their chests,no where it says to cover faces,if that is what is meant in Quraan God would have said so.
The problem in interpreting Quraan,is that it was done by non arabic persons such as Bukhari and Turmizi,they both learned arabic language as a secondary language,when we say God is Rubbo al alameen,it means God is one and the only one,while interpreting it word by word it says God is God of the universe.
there are several interpretatations has to be corrected.

September 12th, 2010, 12:46 pm


LeoLeoni said:

This is all a game played by the regime. The regime has been doing it for years. They use the conservatives along with the security apparatus to crush the political and religious reformers. Once the reformers, liberals, and the voices of reason are crushed, then they security apparatus moves against the conservatives and sweeps them out.

When Hafez came to power in the 70s, he allied himself with the merchants and some of the conservative elements promising them to move away from the radicalism/socialism of his predecessor Salah Jdeed. After consolidating his power in the 70s, he turned against the conservatives and the merchants and by the early 80s the Muslim brotherhood were crushed and the merchants of Aleppo and Damascus had no more political power. The period of 80s and 90s saw economic stagnation as well as the elimination of all personal and political liberties.

After Bashar came to power, he promised liberalizing the country. Those few months in 2000 were called Damascus spring. It didn’t last long until the regime decided to halt any progress towards liberalization and freedoms. The arrests began again. Then in 2003, with the beginning of the Iraq war, the regime started to give more room for the conservatives and other radical religious elements to operate in order to destabilize the situation in Iraq. By 2005, with Rafic Harriri’s assassination and pressure piling, the regime felt very threatened and decided to use the religious card once again to consolidate power. Posters of “God is protecting Syria” alongside pictures of Bashar were seen in almost every main street in Syria. At the same time, a group of reformers, including but not limited to academics, members of parliament, human rights activists, assembled what was known to be the Damascus Declaration seeking to end the emergency laws, end arbitrary political arrests, the restoration of free elections, separation of power, and political pluralism. Soon, founding members of Damascus Declaration were all arrested and charged with the preposterous claim of inciting sectarianism and weakening national morals. Only very recently, a 79 year old human rights activist and lawyer, Haitham Al Maleh, was arrested on the same ridiculous charge, convicted by a military court, and thrown in prison for another several years. Mr. Al Maleh suffers from diabetes and thyroid complications.

This is all spurious. One day the regime throws a bone to liberals and reformers declaring that they are willing to reform, curb extremism, and open the door for political liberties, then on the same day they arrest prominent activists and reformers. The tables could turn any second against the religious establishment and we have seen the same also happen to conservatives. Without genuine democracy and freedoms, Syrians will continue to live in despair.

September 12th, 2010, 7:53 pm


James said:

And the Syrian Government wonders why Syria ranks so low in the World Economic Forum’s Economic Rankings? Capricious, inconsistent behaviour like this is one reason. Presumably this is tossing a bone to the conservative religious elements, in the wake of the niqab bans etc.

More broadly however, such inconsistent actions work to diminish confidence in the Government and institutions, and if other governments and foreign businessmen lack confidence, they’ll go elsewhere, to the lasting detriment of Syria and her people.

I might be totally wrong, but rather than being squeezed out, Al-Habbash sounds like the kind of person that should be getting more international public exposure, as an antidote to the characterisation of Islam as an extreme religion, that is rife in the West at the moment.

September 13th, 2010, 3:33 am


Badr said:


Are you the same guy, who has been posting comments before under the same name? 🙂 I’m asking because of your sudden harsh criticism of the ruling regime, no holds barred.
Is it right to conclude from your comment, that the Syrian regime could enact a secular civil status law, and reform the curriculum for school education, without regard for the “palace ulama”, if the regime chooses to? This seems to contradict Mr. ELHADJ’s thesis, that no religious reform could be undertaken outside a democratic framework.

September 13th, 2010, 3:56 am


ali said:

I believe Dr Habash get prove steep to stop his working in Awqaf ministry
He need to be free to tell us what exactly he want
Thais scholar is a very famous Imam
he can correct a lot in the religious issue in Islam understanding

Great Dr Habash we are waiting now your new call

September 13th, 2010, 4:22 am


LeoLeoni said:


I am that same person. My criticism of the ruling regime is not sudden. I have written comments previously criticizing the lack democracy, transparency, and rule of law, continuous arbitrary arrests and so forth. You can refer to some of the comments I made back few years ago when human rights activists and the signatories of Damascus Declaration were being harassed and sent to prison for absurd reasons.

I am not a supporter of dictatorship or tyranny. I am a firm believer that dictatorships should not be supported all the way even if they are right on a particular issue. The reason for that is because dictatorship’s policies tend not to be consistent. Their ultimate concern is to stay in power without regards to civil liberties or laws. So what you end up is a regime that at one point would radically promote nationalism and socialism that would destabilize the country and cause an economic stagnation and a brain drain, then after few years, when it’s too late, decide socialism didn’t work and that capitalism and foreign direct investment should be promoted. Then once the reformers feel a breath of hope you see the religious card being played and turned against the reformers, returning to point 0.

A modern civil state in the 21st century is a liberal democracy. By definition, the basic tenants of a liberal democracy is a state which upholds the rule of law, separates powers, accepts political pluralism, engages in free elections, respects civil liberties, and so forth. The issue of religious reform and secularism that we have been engaged in the past few weeks are all means to this end, an end to live in a modern civil state that can protect the individuals and offer them liberty and justice. Religious codes are laws that were written more than a thousand years ago. It would be an inherent contradiction for a modern civil state to implement religious codes (in reality different codes for different religious sects) along with their special courts. I have written specifically how the religious personal status laws results in inequalities and discrimination. I don’t know if the regime is willing or not to engage in such issue, they seem to be confused themselves. I also doubt their ability on implementing such reform without infringing on the rights of religious people. But personally, I have never met anyone, including staunch religious people and conservatives, who are against such reform when they fully understand that a civil personal status law would not abrogate religious marriages. As for the palace ulama, they seem to be in conflict with each other, and in the end, the regime will support whoever allows them to consolidate more power.

September 13th, 2010, 5:25 am


Ghat Al Bird said:


September 13th, 2010, 10:49 am


Ghat Al Bird said:


September 13th, 2010, 10:49 am


Findalaawi said:

I usually lurk exclusively here – but I figured I would put in my two cents. Over the past few years visiting Damascus, I got the sense that al-Habash was regarded as a compromised political insider by the have-nots; specifically, the rapidly growing sector of society that is falling out of the middle class. Not coincidentally, it would be the same sector that is being drawn to more conservative interpretations of Sunni Islam.

Given the recent pushback against things like Niqab in schools, I am surprised to hear of this change. But likely, we’ll not know why it happened for a long time, if ever.

OK, back to lurking…

September 13th, 2010, 11:07 am


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