“The Middle East is abuzz with talk of ‘Shiitization,'” by Andrew Tabler

Catalytic Converters By ANDREW TABLER 
New York Times Magazine
April 29, 2007
The Middle East is abuzz with talk of “Shiitization.” Since the war in Lebanon last summer, newspapers, TV news channels and Web sites in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have reported that Sunnis, taken with Hezbollah’s charismatic Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah and his group’s “resistance” to Israel, were converting to Shiite Islam. When I recently visited the semi-arid plains of eastern Syria, known as the Jazeera, Sunni tribal leaders whispered stories of Iranians roaming the Syrian countryside handing out bags of cash and macaroni to convert families and even entire villages to Shiite Islam.

Much of the buzz is surely propaganda from the region’s Sunni governments, which are known to whip up fears of Shiite plots when it suits them. But there are signs in Syria of a possible shift. Over time, could this predominantly Sunni country change its religious orientation — solidifying its ties to Iran and creating strong repercussions throughout the Middle East? Pinning down facts is complicated not just by Syria’s restrictions on the press but also by growing Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq, which has made normally hospitable Syrians wary of prying questions about sectarian issues. Furthermore, Syria is an authoritarian state that strictly enforces Ba’athism — a secular ideology that subsumes sect and religion under a pan-Arab identity. In most of the Arab world, meddling in sectarian issues is discouraged. In Syria, it is illegal.

Although the regime of President Bashar al-Assad hails from an obscure offshoot of Shiism — the Alawites — Syria is nearly three-quarters Sunni, with Alawites, members of other Muslim sects and a considerable number of Christians making up the rest. The country’s leading Islamic institutions reflect conventional Sunni beliefs and traditions. Over the last five years, however, Iranian donors have financed the restoration of half a dozen Shiite tombs and shrines in Syria and built at least one Shiite religious school near Damascus; the school is named after Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Meanwhile, Iran and the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq now sponsor a number of Arabic-language Internet portals as well as satellite TV stations broadcasting Shiite religious programming into Syria.

Direct inquiries into Shiite numbers in Syria raise more questions than answers, as the sensitive topic gives observers complex incentives to round up or down. When I asked Sayyid Abdullah Nizam, leader of Syria’s Shiite community, to estimate the size of his flock, he put it at less than 1 percent of the population of 19 million. Asked the same question, the leader of Syria’s Sunnis, Grand Mufti Sheik Ahmad Badr Eddin Hassoun, replied carefully; he said that 6 to 8 percent of Syrians now adhere to the “Jaafari school,” the school of Islamic jurisprudence followed by mainstream Shiites in Iran and Lebanon.

It was only when I met an actual convert that the mufti’s words began to make sense. Louay, a 28-year-old teacher in Damascus wearing jeans, a wool sweater and a close-cropped beard, seemed the epitome of the capital’s Sunni middle class. Yet within the last year, as Hezbollah rose to national prominence in the Lebanese government, he — along with his mother — began practicing Shiite Islam. He changed the wording of his prayers and his posture while praying, holding his arms at his sides instead of before him, and during Ramadan he followed Shiite customs on breaking the fast. In many Middle Eastern countries, his conversion wouldn’t be possible — it would be considered apostasy. The Syrian regime restricts its people’s political liberties, but unlike most other ruling dynasties in the Arab world, it allows freedom of religion. “In Saudi Arabia, they ban books on other faiths,” Louay said. “In Syria, I can buy whatever book on religion I want, and no one can say a word.”

Politics, it seems, is only one of the attractions of Shiism. In addition to Louay, I spoke with four other Syrian converts, who asked not to be identified for fear of harassment by Sunni fundamentalists. Louay and the others all spoke of religious transformation as much as of Hezbollah. “Half the reason why I converted was because of Ijtihad,” Louay said, using the Arabic word for the independent interpretation of the Koran and the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. Suddenly the mufti’s enigmatic answer became clearer. Ijtihad is practiced more widely by Shiites of the Jaafari school than by Sunnis. These Shiites believe that, on all but the largest moral issues, Muslims should interpret their faith by reading holy texts and reasoning back and forth between them and current issues. Many Sunnis say they quietly practice Ijtihad in everyday life as well, but conservative Sunnis do not encourage individual interpretation of the Koran.

For Louay, the difference is immense. “Take the Internet. Some conservative Sunni sheiks say the Internet is haram,” or illegal, he said. “If I go back to Jaafar al-Sadiq” — the eighth-century founder of the Jaafari school — “I will not find a ruling on it. So instead I use my mind to sort it out. On the Internet, some things are positive, some negative. I choose the positive for myself.”

Americans might find it surprising that the man Louay looks to for more current and oftentimes liberal guidance on controversial issues is Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. For four decades, Syrians had to rely on advice from the local Sunni clerics who appeared in state-owned media. With the advent of satellite television and the Internet, however, Louay said he is now able to keep up with his favorite scholars across the Islamic world. You could easily draw a comparison with the way Protestants in Europe were able to follow the likes of Martin Luther after the introduction of movable type.

Even if Shiitization is at this point as much a rumor as a confirmed fact, the subject is highly charged. It is part of a much larger discussion among Washington’s Sunni allies about the rise of a “Shiite Crescent” — an Iranian-backed alliance stretching westward from Iran to Syria to Lebanon that could challenge the traditional power of Sunni elites. With its Sunni masses and minority Tehran-backed regime, Syria is the weak link in the chain. Many Syrians say they are worried Iraq’s sectarian strife might spread to Syria; the execution of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, at the hands of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, infuriated many. The conversion of Syrians to Shiism could create still more conflict.

Meanwhile, the regional politics are becoming ever more delicate. Damascus is reportedly unhappy about Iran’s recent dialogue with Saudi Arabia over the future of Lebanon; Tehran, in turn, is rumored to be questioning Assad’s recent peace overtures toward Israel. Both sides denied a rift when Assad visited Tehran in February. But only days later, a group of Syrian intellectuals and parliamentarians loyal to Assad lambasted an Iranian deputy foreign minister in scripted fashion in a closed-door (but widely reported) session. The point of contention? Their unhappiness with what they saw as Iranian support for the Shiitization of Syria.

Andrew Tabler is a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs and the editor in chief of Syria Today magazine.

Comments (71)

Joshua said:

I am pasting these comments from the last post, because they were made in response to this article, which Norman brought our attention to in the comment section. It is worth reading the last 10 or 15 comments of the last post as they contain an interesting argument about the MB, National Salvation Front, and Hama.

Bakri said:

This attempt to spread Shi’ism in Syria is not new ,the initiator of this policy was hafez asad’s brother jamil,it’s said that he studied in Qom in Iran and founded an iranian backed militia called al Murtada whose aims was to propagate Iranian’s regime propaganda in Syria.

Joshua said:

Bakri, Jamil al-Asad did have delusions about playing a religious role. At one point in the 1980s he encourage people to see him as the Mahdi and entertained a much larger persona for himself. Hafiz had the wisdom to send him off to France, insisting that he return only when he had abandoned his ambition to become a Messiah.

Hafiz was smart enough not to try to cross the religious establishment, as both his brothers frequently did. He understood the delicacy of religion in Syria. Rather than try to convert Sunnis to Shiism, which would have inflamed the Syrian population even more than it was already inflamed by having an Alawite president, he encouraged Alawites to Sunnify and become more main stream. He set the example himself by going to mosque, admonishing leading Alawite shaykhs to renounce publicly any exaggerated devotion to Ali, and to observe the five pillars of Islam. Even if many Alawites understood Hafiz’s religious observance to be motivated by politics, so what? The point is that he was not trying to take Sunnis out of the fold. On the contrary, he sought to make Alawites behave more like Sunnis.

Tabler, whose article is published above, is a good journalist. He undoubtedly scoured the country looking for converts to Shiism and could only track down a few. The one person he was able to interview, converted for philosophical reasons. He does not sound like he was railroaded or did it out of ignorance. It is only natural that some small number of Syrians should change their confession. I am sure that one could also find Shiites or Christians who have converted to Sunni Islam, if one looked. In the Middle Ages there were many more Shiites and Christians living in Syria than there are today. Sunnis have clearly won the conversion game. There are no significant number of conversions going on in Syria today. It is hard enough to marry across religious lines in Syria, not to mention convert. Anyway, the freedom to chose one’s religion is perhaps a good thing.

April 29th, 2007, 6:55 am


ausamaa said:

“Much of the buzz is surely propaganda from the region’s Sunni governments, which are known to whip up fears of Shiite plots when it suits them”

Andrew Tabler.

April 29th, 2007, 8:43 am


Ford Prefect said:

Ausamma quoted the most important sentence in the entire article.

By the way, if a Sunni would like to convert to Shia, would would he/she do different?

April 29th, 2007, 10:09 am


bilal said:

Great article and thank you Dr. Landis & Norman for bringing it up to our attention.
I totally agree with you Dr. Landis that Hafez realized the danger of converting Sunnis into Shiite to the point he did not allow it and took several severe actions against his family when they tried to. Now unfortunately the inexperienced Bashar is committing this huge mistake. The difference between himself and the great experienced Hafez is that Hafez always tried to win the support of the Sunnis where Bashar see them as enemies. We all remember what Bashar has said in the famous meeting of the Baath command members that Hariri is a great threat to Syria because he is consolidating the support of his own sect where we all know that all Lebanese politicians get the support of their own sect like Jumblat, Berri, Frenjieh, Nasserallah, and Gaegae… So why when the Sunnis get united this is a threat to Syria?
The shiitisme is a great danger for Syria and unfortunately is happening with direct support from Iran with the direct blessing and protection of Bashar.

April 29th, 2007, 10:20 am


Bakri said:

Shia’ism ,specially as it’s teached by the iranian regime can not be accepted by the syrian people because one of their common practice is cursing in the vilest terms the first 3 Khalifs ,most of Sahaba and the Prophet Mohamad’s wife.

April 29th, 2007, 11:16 am


Diino said:

Im from Al Jazeera, I have friends who converted to Shiism. Morever it is not a lie that there is a kind of srpeading the Shiite Ideas and theology in my region. This is happening also in Qamislo, they give “the newly converted” food and money and there is no question about it.

Alwaites are just a sub-sect of Shiism, so why not.

April 29th, 2007, 1:41 pm


ugarit said:

Bakri said: “one of their common practice is cursing in the vilest terms the first 3 Khalifs ,most of Sahaba and the Prophet Mohamad’s wife.”

Please give us a reference to this accusation.

April 29th, 2007, 1:44 pm


ugarit said:

Bilal said: “The shiitisme is a great danger for Syria and unfortunately is happening with direct support from Iran with the direct blessing and protection of Bashar.”

How and why do you think that [shiitisme] is a great danger to Syria?

Is it more dangerous than Salafi’s?

April 29th, 2007, 1:45 pm


Bakri said:

Ugarit ,no need proof it’s a known fact….

Ugarit ,the most important salafi sheikhs are damascene ,it’s not an imported ideology.Salafism and Sufism are both trend of sunnism .And today may be 50 % of syrian sunnis are salafis.

April 29th, 2007, 1:58 pm


Ford Prefect said:

I would bet (sorry for the haram reference!) that those 50% of Syrians Sunnis don’t know (nor would they care) what the heck is the difference between a Salafi and Sufi.

April 29th, 2007, 2:17 pm


Bakri said:

FP,this is what i tried to explain to Ugarit ,that salafism and sufism have always co existed in sunni islam.

April 29th, 2007, 2:27 pm


bilal said:


For several obvious reasons that maybe this media is not the propper place to discuss it. The people who are converting mostly due to some ideology but the regime is encouraging it for political reasons. That is a big problem.

April 29th, 2007, 3:38 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Shiite,cimmit KUFR, as they say Ali is Wali of God, Alawite are definitely infidel as they say Ali is God.
in Israa Surah, the last Ayah, it says very clear that God has no Wali.
God has no son,no equal no Wali, God is not human.
In judaiism,jews believe the same thing, but to them ethnicity is more important than faith, jews are guilty of ethnicity, and this is the main difference between Islam and jewish Ideas.

April 29th, 2007, 3:41 pm


Joshua said:

Perhaps Salafism and Sufism have always been present in the greater Islamic community, but they have not coexisted in happy brotherhood.

Salafis accuse Sufis of idolatry because of their reverence of Muhammad and their Shaykhs. Sufis accuse Salafis of being too puritanical and of foreclosing a personal and mystical relationship to the divine, which Sufis strive for.

The great middle ground of Sunnism has long found an accommodation with Sufism — one needs only read al-Ghazali — but it is a delicate accommodation. The growing popularity of Salafism threatens to undo this accommodation. Many of Syria’s most prominent Sunni Imams come from Sufi backgrounds – Nakashbandi, Rifa’i, etc. — but today they tend to down play and obscure this connection for fear of running afoul of Salafi strictures.

The embrace of narrow forms of observance and puritanism in Islam has pushed Sufi traditions to the sidelines, just as it has created greater barriers between Shiites and Sunnis and between Muslims and Christians.

It is common to hear Syrian Sunnis argue that the Syrian population is predominately Sufi in outlook and sensibility. This is meant to reassure Syria’s none Sunnis that Salafism is not the dominant strain of Islam in Bilad ash-Sham and that even an embrace of the MB would not mean undo discrimination or persecution of other sects or Sufis.

But if 50% of Syrians adopt a Salafist outlook, as you claim, what does this mean for Sufism, not to mention non-Muslims and heterodox sects, such as the Druze and Alawis? Will they be recognized as believers or Muslims? Will their practices be protected and even embraced as legitimate expressions of religion, or will they fall outside the limits of religious respectability?

You say that Shiites are dangerous. Shiites not infrequently show the same fear of Sunnis. This cycle of recrimination is all too evident in Iraq, where it is leading to the break-up of the country.

How will Syria avoid similar problems? What is the answer in your opinion?

April 29th, 2007, 4:04 pm


SimoHurtta said:

With the advent of satellite television and the Internet, however, Louay said he is now able to keep up with his favorite scholars across the Islamic world. You could easily draw a comparison with the way Protestants in Europe were able to follow the likes of Martin Luther after the introduction of movable type.

The truth in the spread of Protestantism in Northern Europe was that it was a convenient method for the earthly leaders to take the wealth and power of the Catholic church. The then mostly illiterate and uneducated population of Sweden, England, North Germany etc took what was served from the rulers, not because their religious believes and needs. Though that time the Catholic Church was rather “corrupted” the process was certainly not started by a grass root movement lead by ordinary people.

The new system gave the states in Northern Europe + GB a way to control until present days the new state religions. For example in Finland the President still nominates the bishops. In Sweden they are now separating the church and the state (I am not completely sure how far the process has moved on) and in Finland there is mild discussion about it. The state collects the state church’s taxes in Finland form the members.

Religion, state and later democracy have lived in symbiosis in Western countries for a long time. Believing that western democracies are secular and the religion and the government are separated is a misapprehension.

Maybe the state churches in Protestant countries have made the people so secular as they are nowadays. Churches and religious movements where the priests have earn their living by activating the members are also in Finland more “vital” than the State Church. 🙂

April 29th, 2007, 5:28 pm


Bakri said:

Dr Landis,It’s no so simple in Syria…firstly we should discern moderates and extremists in both groups…
Unlike the saudi salafis ,Syrian salafi sheikhs are in general moderates and open minded.Even a more extremist than average syrian salafis,al Albany was proud to claim that his master was the sufi sheikh and famous historian Ragheb Al Tabbakh of Aleppo.
Ali al Tantawi who was an important salafi sheikh from Damascus had moderate opinion on sufism(whose daughter was murdered by the syrian moukhabarat in Germany ,wife of Dr Isam Attar the brother of Dr Najah Attar)in reality most of salafi syrian sheikhs have no reprobation towards sufism because all of them had sufi teachers.
And it’s not rare to see in Syria ,Sufi sheikh asserting a Salafi creed amongst them are Sheikh Mohamad al Hamed,Said Hawwa from Hama,Sheikh Abdulkader Isa of Aleppo…and i think that most of the syrian sheikh of today are following this centrist path.
The grandfather and father of Ali Al Bayanouni were important Naqshbandi Sufi sheikhs.
My 50 % assertion,better to forget it ,it’is only a quick estimation but what i wanted to say is that sufism is more difficult to practise in Syria of today and what threaten sufism is modernity and …in the past decades most of syrian citizens were inhabitants of the old city inside every quarter there was several zawaya or sufi lodges and every week there was spiritual gathering….today it’s more difficult in modern damascus or modern aleppo to perpetuate zikr.

April 29th, 2007, 5:31 pm


ugarit said:

Bakri said: “…,the most important salafi sheikhs are damascene ,it’s not an imported ideology.Salafism and Sufism are both trend of sunnism .And today may be 50 % of syrian sunnis are salafis.”

So now we’re back to xenophobia. Importation is wrong? Islam itself is an importation into Syria. I hope that you do realize that. In most cases there’s nothing wrong with importing ideas. Shiism is not some alien ideology. Let’s not forget that one the most important Islamic civilizations was the Fatimid’s and they were Ismaili Shiite’s.

April 29th, 2007, 5:44 pm


Joshua said:

Bakri, Many thanks for this very interesting explanation and for naming the sheikhs you consider exemplars of Salafism.

There is a great deal of confusion about Salafism. Many of us – me included – tend to associate it with Wahhabism and the takfiri groups that have gotten so much attention.

How do you define Salafism? And why are the sheikhs you mention Salafist? How do you contrast them to Hassoun, Kaftarou and Habbash, who have found support from the regime for their “ecumenicalism?” What are the primary tenets or behavior that separates these two groups and the trends within the Syrian Islamic environment that they represent? Many of us do not really understand the subtleties of this debate. A short analysis of this subject would do us all good. Thanks, Joshua

April 29th, 2007, 5:55 pm


youngsyria said:

found this on angry arab:
“The operational mistake that middle east experts keep making is the failure to recognise that backward societies must be left alone, as the French now wisely leave Corsica to its own devices, as the Italians quietly learned to do in Sicily, once they recognised that maxi-trials merely handed over control to a newer and smarter mafia of doctors and lawyers. With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the middle east should finally be allowed to have their own history—the one thing that middle east experts of all stripes seem determined to deny them.”

The middle of nowhere

April 29th, 2007, 6:30 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Wow, Ahmad, that was truly impressive. Amazingly, I was listening to Strauss’ Sprach Zarathustra when your comment popped up. With the volume up high, nothing could complement that music better than hearing about an evil bent on controlling the world. Next, I am reaching to Dante’s La Commedia for further solace.

Anyway, while I don’t have a dog in this race (of what happened in Biblical times that is transcending to W’s little brain), I am, nonetheless, a certified geophysicist who studied satellite imagery and remote sensing until I got my professor to think that I learned something deserving of a Master’s degree.

I can assure our beloved readers here that no scientific satellite imagery exists showing a river between Kuwait and the Red Sea. Even the Emir of Kuwait is having a hard time showing up – although he had requested it many times and paid dearly for his portrait.

But I am sure I missed seeing that river, as there was a bar next to the Remote Sensing lab where I worked that opened real early (which might explain what some people say they saw in satellite images – not you of course).

I have a quick question, though, so I can research the topic further: did that river, in your opinion, exist during the Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, or Cenozoic era of Plate Tectonics?

April 29th, 2007, 8:53 pm


norman said:

Thanks Joshua for your input ,
Reading the exchange above and the various sects of Islam makes me more convinced that Syria should only be secular where people are treated and evaluated for what they do not for what they believe in or which family they come from , people beliefs are between them and their God .

All Syrians should be equal in responsibilities and privileges no matter what God they pray to.

April 30th, 2007, 12:48 am


norman said:

Print this page

Time is running out for Chirac in Hariri probe

04/29/2007 09:48 PM | By Patrick Seale, Special to Gulf News

President Jacques Chirac of France, who leaves office on May 16, may be about to lose the last battle of his 12-year presidential career.

He had vowed that the assassins of his close friend, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, would be tried and sentenced by an international tribunal created specially by the UN Security Council and endorsed by the Lebanese government. Hariri and 22 others were killed on February 14, 2005 in downtown Beirut by a vast explosion.

When Chirac went to Beirut to attend the funeral, he is thought to have given a private pledge to Hariri’s family to punish the killers. On that very day, he put forward the idea of setting up an international tribunal and has been campaigning for it ever since.

But time is running out. With barely two weeks to go before Chirac leaves the Elysee Palace, a violent controversy over the proposed tribunal has for months paralysed not just the Lebanese government, but the whole Lebanese political system. Meanwhile, a divided Security Council has so far failed to act as Chirac would have liked.

Hariri’s murder has led to a bitter feud between Chirac and the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad, which he suspects of complicity in the crime. Some would say that Chirac’s personal “obsession” with Hariri and his anger at Syria have affected his judgement. He seems to have refused to recognise that, so long as the Arab-Israeli conflict remains unresolved, Syria has vital security interests in Lebanon, where it cannot tolerate a hostile government, or the influence of a hostile external power.

Syria’s Lebanese allies have denounced the tribunal as a political machination aimed at bringing Lebanon into the sphere of influence of the United States and Israel. Accordingly, they have sprung to Syria’s defence. Cabinet members representing Hezbollah and Amal – two predominantly Shiite movements close to Syria – have withdrawn from the government thereby making its decisions invalid.

President Emile Lahoud, another of Syria’s allies, has refused to put his signature to the text setting up the tribunal. Yet another Syrian ally, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, has refused to call the chamber into session to approve the project, while opposition members have for weeks been camping in large numbers outside the seat of government in Beirut in an attempt to bring down the government of Fouad Siniora.


Conversely, Syria’s opponents in Lebanon – backed by France and the United States – see the proposed tribunal not simply as a means to avenge Hariri but also as a way to assert Lebanon’s sovereignty by excluding Syrian influence altogether from Lebanese affairs.

The controversy is, therefore, political rather than legal. It is as much about the ambitions of external powers as it is about the internal struggle for power.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was recently in Damascus in an attempt to persuade Syria to help resolve the Lebanese crisis by giving way on the tribunal. President Bashar is thought to have answered that the matter was a purely Lebanese affair. On a recent visit to Beirut, Ban’s legal adviser, Nicolas Michel, also failed to persuade Lebanese politicians to patch up their quarrel and end the paralysis of their country.

To break the impasse, French diplomacy has been attempting to persuade the UN Security Council to override local objections and set up the international tribunal under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – the Chapter which allows the Council to resort to coercive measures if it determines that the situation constitutes a threat to international peace. But a number of Council members, notably Qatar, China and Russia, have indicated their disagreement.

The trouble is that the assassination of Hariri – heinous though it was – cannot in law be credibly described as a grave international crime requiring judgement by a UN-created tribunal, on the model of the tribunals set up to try the perpetrators of the genocide of Tutsis in Ruwanda or those guilty of “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia.

Nor can the quarrel between pro- and anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon be described as a menace to peace of global proportions.

It will be recalled that on April 7, 2005, shortly after Hariri’s murder, the Security Council passed Resolution 1595 setting up an independent commission to investigate the crime. This, in itself, was a bold departure from international practice. Moreover, the commission’s first chairman, the German magistrate Detlev Mehlis, failed to provide convincing evidence to support his allegations of Syrian guilt. His successor, the Belgian judge Serge Brammertz, has been notably more prudent and less provocative in his recent reports. He has requested a further year in which to continue his investigations.

In the meantime, Chirac and his wife Bernadette are preparing to move from the Elys̩e Palace to an apartment in Paris loaned to them by the Hariri family Рonly the latest example of the close ties between them.


Last February 25, at a ceremony in memory of Hariri, Chirac described his friend as a “visionary statesman” whose death had left an “incurable wound”. Friends of Lebanon can only hope that the wound to Lebanon’s institutions can be cured and that the crucial question of Lebanon’s relations with Syria – of vital importance for both countries – can be settled on a basis of mutual understanding and respect.

Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs.

April 30th, 2007, 2:01 am


Bakri said:

Dr Landis:How do you define Salafism? And why are the sheikhs you mention Salafist? How do you contrast them to Hassoun, Kaftarou and Habbash, who have found support from the regime for their “ecumenicalism?” What are the primary tenets or behavior that separates these two groups and the trends within the Syrian Islamic environment that they represent?

Wikpedia’s definition of salafism seem reliable :
Salafism (Arabic: سلفي “predecessors” or “early generations”), is a generic term, depicting a school of thought that takes the pious ancestors (Salaf) of the patristic period of early Islam as exemplary models[1]. This Sunni-branch of Islam is often referred to as “Wahhabism,” a derogatory term that many adherents to this tradition do not use. Wahhabism is a particular orientation within Salafism. Most puritanical groups in the Muslim world are Salafi in orientation, but not necessarily Wahhabi[2]. Salafism is not a sect per se but describes a simplified version of Islam, in which adherents follow a few commands and practices[3].

Hasoun and Kaftaro but also sheikh al azhar Tantawi in Egypt for example,such sheikhs are called shoyoukh al sultan ,they have lost popular credibility and are considered as tool of the dictatorial regimes.

The separation between salafis and sufis is not easy in Syria because this division was never translated into a public debate ,apparently, both groups respect each others and it’s not rare to see salafi sheikhs to join sufis in their ceremony for mawled al nabawi.

April 30th, 2007, 3:00 am


Joshua said:


If I understand you correctly, the difference between the good shaikhs and bad shaikhs is not doctrinal but political. The Shuyukh al-sultan have lost credibility because they cooperate with the regime, not because they deviate from doctrine. All of the shuyukh al-sultan have close Sufi connections as well.

I guess my confusion about the use of Salafi to describe shaikhs who belong to Sufi traditions is that I have always understood Salafism as a doctrine which looks down on Sufism.

Let us set the Wahhabis aside, who clearly reject Sufism. The Wahhabis do not tolerate the visitation of saints shrines, tombs, or any form of Sufi practice. In their battle against what they defined as shirk or idolatry, they forbade any celebration of the profit Muhammad’s birth, etc. As one site writes:

“The followers of Abdul Wahab (1703-1792) began as a movement to cleanse the Arab Bedouin from the influence of Sufism.”

Here is another quote by a Wahhabi:

Sufism could be briefly summarized as being the antithesis of “Wahhabism”.

Here is what Salafis of the Wahhabi variety have to say about Sufism:

What is a Sufi and What is Sufism?

Sufi: a follower of Sufism

Sufism: a sect that has introduced many innovated practices and beliefs into the religion of Islam while claiming to be mystical

Sufism was not known in the time of the Prophet (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) or his Companions, nor was it well known in the first three generations after them. It first appeared in Basrah in Iraq, where some people went to extremes in worship and in avoiding the worldly life, something which is admonished in the Quran:

“The Monasticism which they invented for themselves; We did not prescribe it for them.”

Sufis belong to the Illumist school of philosophy which holds that knowledge and awareness is brought about in the soul by spiritual exercises. Orthodox Islam holds that one can achieve true knowledge and awareness through the acts of worship that exist in the Quran and Sunnah.

Sufis believe that their teachers are also a source for legislation in worship, as they will order them to carry out acts of worship that have no basis in either the Quran or the Sunnah. The extremists from amongst them often claim that Allah dwells within His creation (i.e. in people’s hearts, internal organs etc.). Consequently, they ascribe to their Sufi teachers attributes and powers which only belong to Allah, such as the knowledge of the unseen.

Salafis, who follow the Quran and Sunna of the prophet, his companions, and the rightly guided Caliphs must have a hard time squaring this with Sufism which appeared as a school of Islam after the early period of Islam, as the author of the previous quote points out. He gives historical and doctrinal reasons why Salafis cannot be Sufis.

My confusion comes from the fact that Syrians, who call themselves Salafis also embrace Sufism.

The source of this confusion may be that Syrian Salafis are referring to the movement associated with Muhammad Abdu in the 19th century, which is called the Salafi movement and which has little to do with the puritanism of Wahhabism, although both set out to purify Islam of the innovations that were built up over the centuries and to return to the pure sources of its Golden Age.

Here is a short note on the web which recounts how Muhammad Abdu revered Ibn `Arabi, on of the greatest Sufis, and should not be confused with the Salafi movement of Arabia.

Concerning Muhammad `Abduh

Someone wrote of Muhammad `Abduh:

He was regarded as a leading purist Sunni as opposed to those Sufis who used to control the lower uneducated class.
Purist? Muhammad `Abduh gave a fatwa which caused furor among the purist Sunnis, permitting the donning of fedoras and top hats by Muslims.

During my last visits to Egypt I got the impression that muslim brotherhood, jamaa islamiya and what the hostile West brands : “fundamentalists” all are anti-sufi and pro Mohammad Abdu.

Muhammad `Abduh in the very beginning of Tafsir al-Manar (1:18) calls the Sufi Shaykh Muhyi al-Din ibn `Arabi: “al-Shaykh al-Akbar” (the greatest Shaykh).

It seems the labels purist and anti-sufi seem just as slipshod as fundamentalist.

GF Haddad ©

April 30th, 2007, 3:25 am


qunfuz said:

What the moderate Arab world is
In the second of two pieces examining Iran’s rising regional role, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb* argues that attempts by “moderate” Arab leaders to whip up popular fear of Iran are US-orchestrated and aimed to keep in-check regional resistance to US-Israeli plans


Not only does the notion of an Iraq-inspired model of Shia empowerment fail to stand up to scrutiny, but the so-called “Shia crescent” that Iran allegedly seeks to fashion out of it is an equally unsound proposition denoting a sectarian enterprise defined by an exclusively Shia alliance, an all-Shia constituency, and a regional agenda that caters solely to Shia communal interests.

Judged by these criteria, the regional alliance of which Iran and Hizbullah are part, bears little, if any, resemblance to a Shia crescent and much more to a cross-sectarian strategic front, consisting of state and non-state actors, which commands the support of the vast majority of both Shias and Sunnis in the region based on its political and military confrontation to the US and Israel.

This quadripartite alliance is not confined to Shia actors such as Iran and Hizbullah, but also incorporates the Sunni movement Hamas and a predominantly Sunni Syria, led by a secular Baathist state. Although many proponents of the Shia crescent theory insist, nonetheless, on counting Syria as a Shia state on account of its Alawite regime, such an attempt is an overstretch given the highly disputable classification of Alawism as Shiism among Shia clerical circles. In fact, it was not until 1973 that Alawites were deemed to belong to the Shia sect by Imam Musa As-Sadr, who did so as a political favour to President Hafez Al-Assad. The inclusion of Hamas and Syria in this alliance, means that it cannot be considered Shia or even Islamic in character and composition, but more accurately regional.

Yet, this has not prevented Arab leaders from trying to stoke fears of an Iran-led Shia power grab in the region. Besides the now infamous “Shia crescent” spectre raised by Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egypt’s President Mubarak accused Shias of paying allegiance to Iran before their own nation-states while Saudi officials have also publicly expressed concern over Iran’s cultural and political influence in the region. To a large extent, this scare-mongering rhetoric has failed to strike a chord among Arab Sunnis, despite reports to the contrary in Western and some Arab media. Though Sunni-Shia tensions cannot be discounted, they are far less the product of the ascent of a Shia power in the region like Iran, or the looming threat of a Shia crescent, than of concrete crises in Iraq, and to a much narrower extent, Lebanon.

The current Sunni-Shia rift is fundamentally a political one that has been fuelled by the ouster of Sunni leader Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the institution of an American-backed, Shia- dominated state. Sunni rage was further ignited by the Iraqi government’s highly incendiary execution of Hussein in December last year. While Iran is not feared as a Shia power as such, its support for the Iraqi government and its alleged links with Shia death squads in Iraq has earned it the reproach of many Sunnis and soured Sunni-Shia relations overall. In a similar vein, the crisis in Lebanon between the Siniora government and the Hizbullah-led opposition, has been interpreted by some Sunnis in the region as a flagrant Shia-instigated power struggle which has derailed Hizbullah from its loftier campaign of resistance to Israel.

Having said all this, the scope and intensity of sectarian tensions should not be exaggerated. Even in Lebanon, where the Sunni-Shia divide is only second to Iraq in its rancour, two-thirds of Sunnis do not support Sunni attacks against Shias in Iraq, while almost three-quarters of them do not view the Shia crescent as a reality, according to the findings of a Beirut Centre for Research and Information (BCRI) poll. In the region as a whole, Sunnis do not appear to be anywhere near as concerned as their leaders about Iran’s rise as a regional powerhouse and its attendant sectarian implications. A joint survey conducted by Shibley Telhami and Zogby International in November 2006, revealed that only six per cent of a general sample of respondents from the predominantly Sunni countries of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and UAE, in addition to Lebanon — states dubbed as “moderate” by the Bush administration — regarded Iran as the greatest threat to their security, despite the fact that significant majorities in each of these countries viewed Iran’s role in Iraq as negative. What these findings imply is that while the vast majority of Sunni Arabs are highly critical of Iran’s policy on Iraq, they do not draw generalisations about Iran’s Middle East policy on this basis. In other words, they do not see Iraq as the lynchpin of an incipient Shia crescent led by Iran that imperils their security. In fact, any misgivings Sunni Arabs may have about Iran and Hizbullah appear to be outweighed by the perception of these two strategic players as bulwarks against US hegemonic designs and Israeli territorial ambitions in the region.

As reported by the Telhamy-Zogby poll, 80 per cent of respondents see Israel and the US as posing the greatest threats to their security. Such fears have been prompted by the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” that is defined in part by doctrines of pre-emptive war and regime change that aim to reshape the face of the Middle East region. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, with threats to do the same in Syria and Iran, have combined with its orchestration of the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon last summer and the international embargo it organised against the Palestinians, starving them of needed funds, to create an image of the US as not merely a civilisational threat to Arabs and Muslims, but increasingly an existential one.

In this connection, Iran’s right to nuclear power is supported by 61 per cent of Arabs, according to the results of the Telhami-Zogby poll, although half of all respondents in the survey suspect that Iran’s nuclear programme is intended for weapons manufacture. For the majority of “moderate” Sunni Arabs then, a nuclear- armed Iran is a desirable counterweight to US and Israeli military dominance in the region. This is further evinced by the fact that President Ahmadinejad was ranked the third most popular leader in the Sunni Arab world, as reported by the Telhami-Zogby survey, in light of his renowned defiance of the US and his highly inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric, which, while not sitting well with all Iranians back home, wins him much kudos in the Arab world.

Support for Iran also owes itself in large part to its longstanding sponsorship of popular Islamist resistance movements in the region — Hizbullah and Hamas. Although Arab regimes castigated Hizbullah for its abduction of Israeli soldiers in July 2006, with Saudi Arabia condemning Hizbullah’s actions as “irresponsible adventurism”, popular Arab support for the movement reached its zenith in last summer’s war, given the scale of the Israeli offensive and the resistance’s ability to defeat the militarily superior Israeli army. As a consequence, the stature of Hizbullah’s secretary-general, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, was elevated to heroic proportions in much of the Sunni Arab world, earning him the title of the “new Gamal Abdel Nasser” for his showdown with Israel. In the Telhami-Zogby poll, Nasrallah was ranked the most popular leader by Arab respondents, while in a BCRI survey commissioned by Kuwait’s Al-Qabas newspaper in December, Nasrallah emerged as Sunni Kuwait’s preferred leader, with 40 per cent of Kuwaitis expressing their preference for him over other Sunni leaders.

In keeping with the growing tide of anti-Israel sentiment, Sunni Islamist movements, including Muslim Brotherhood wings in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere, lent their full support to Hizbullah’s war effort, while Al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman Al Zawahiri, jumped on the anti- Israel bandwagon in support of the resistance. In turn, Arab regimes, which had previously underestimated Hizbullah’s endurance and military strength, were compelled to considerably tone down their earlier rhetoric in a desperate bid to salvage what remaining legitimacy they had left with a staunchly pro-resistance Arab public.

What facilitates the appeal of Shia Islamic actors like Iran and Hizbullah to an Arab Sunni audience is their embrace of the core principles of a once predominately Sunni Arabist movement. Arabist slogans such as resistance to occupation, the liberation of Palestine and the struggle against imperialism for regional independence, resonate well with the Sunni Arab street. While Hizbullah’s Arab nationality somewhat mitigates its Shia identity, the notion of a Shia-Persian power becoming the standard bearer of Sunni Arab causes, appears more paradoxical. But judging from the level of Sunni Arab support for Hizbullah and Iran, it appears as though the perceived restoration of Arab pride and dignity that these two strategic players have bought about overrides national and sectarian considerations.

In effect, the much promoted “Shia crescent” theory appears to be far less of a political reality, or widespread social concern, than a card played by “moderate” Arab regimes to whip up fears among their Sunni publics within the context of a wider, US-orchestrated campaign to enlist the support of Sunni Arab regimes in demonising and isolating Iran. Since these regimes are unwilling to forgo their alliances with the US, they feel compelled to invent an enemy to counter- balance and deflect attention away from the US- Israeli threat, on which they cannot deliver, with the purpose of winning back some popular legitimacy via an imagined threat called “Shiism”.

While the spectre of a Shia-Iranian security threat is one concocted by Arab leaders, the Iran- Hizbullah model is a very real political threat to the popular legitimacy and regional influence of Arab regimes. What the “moderate” regimes of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia fear is not so much the strategic threat posed to them by a nuclear-emboldened Iran, or even a Shia conversion campaign in their Sunni heartland, but rather, the model of political empowerment represented by Iran and Hizbullah. Arab alarmism is therefore not directed at the export of religious or cultural Shiism but, more significantly, at political Shiism as defined by its anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist, pro-resistance identity. That the US supports Saudi efforts to play a more active role in resolving regional disputes, in a last ditch attempt to eclipse Iran’s regional soft power, is indicative of the recognition by both parties of the extent of Iran’s influence and appeal among Sunni Arabs. And it is precisely because Iran does not act like a Shia power, with distinctly Shia objectives, that makes it such a formidable challenge to the US and its Arab allies. For the US-allied moderate states, the gravest threat to the longevity and stability of their regimes is a strategic regional alliance that cuts across the Sunni-Shia, Persian-Arab and religious-secular divides.

In effect, the new fault lines dividing the region are not between Arab-led Sunnis and Persian-led Shias, nor between democrats and autocrats, a la yesteryear’s Bush doctrine. Nor is the now fashionable “extremists” versus “moderates” schema an apt depiction of reality. Today’s fault lines centre on ideological and strategic orientations. On one side of the divide lie Arab regimes, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as recently elected governments, all of which have earned their “moderate” epithets by dint of their alliances with the US and their moderation vis-à-vis Israel. Whether authoritarian or democratically elected, these governments are fully buttressed by the US, and are therefore widely accused of ceding their nation’s sovereignty and lacking popular legitimacy.

On the other side of the divide sits the strategic front represented by Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, formed in response to the US- Israeli axis and thus essentially a reactive alliance. As a defensive front, whose central objective is to actively resist US and Israeli political intervention, security/intelligence infiltration, and military occupation with a combination of cultural, political and military means, the most suitable designation for this coalition of forces is the “resistance and mumanaa front”. While only Hamas and Hizbullah are currently engaged in military resistance, the term mumanaa — derived from the Arabic word “to prevent” and which connotes all forms of non-military resistance, confrontation and rejection — refers to the politically confrontational stands assumed by Iran and Syria. Though none of the actors that constitute this front actually label themselves as such, they often characterise themselves as being part of a “resistance camp”, ” mumanaa front”, or “circle of steadfastness” that “rejects hegemony and defeat” and seeks “justice” and “dignity”.

In the final analysis, a potential wide-scale attack by the US on Iran — which would most likely involve Israel and engulf Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territories, and possibly Syria as well — would only serve to further unify Sunni-Shia ranks, as exemplified by the July 2006 war. In such a scenario, Iran would unleash the Shia Iraqi resistance in full force, thereby eliminating the main source of Sunni antagonism towards it. For Hizbullah, greater participation in strategic decision-making would become of negligible significance in the face of a US-Israeli offensive on the movement and its regional allies. Unfettered by concerns for national unity and internal stability — which would cease to exist in the midst of a regional war — Hizbullah would devote itself exclusively to its “resistance priority”, thereby regaining any Sunni support it recently lost. Thus, the launching of yet another chapter of the “war on terror” would only serve to radicalise the people of the region beyond the level achieved by the so-called “Iraq effect”, while promoting the popular standing of a resistance and mumanaa front in the Arab world and beyond.

* The writer is a leading Lebanese expert on Hizbullah and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment Middle East Centre. She is the author of Hizbullah: Politics and Religion, Pluto Press.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Al-Ahram Weekly Online : Located at: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/842/op12.htm

April 30th, 2007, 4:05 am


ausamaa said:

DEBKAfile Exclusive: White House now holds that Israel suffered a “strategic defeat” in the 2006 Lebanon War

April 30, 2007, 9:21 AM (GMT+02:00)

This view was leaked hours before the Israeli Winograd panel published its harsh criticisms of the Olmert government’s conduct of the war Monday, April 30, in Jerusalem. It represents another of the grave setbacks Israel has suffered in the wake of its failed management of the Lebanon war. President George W. Bush’s original judgment directly after the hostilities ended was quite different: “Hizballah attacked Israel; Hizballah started the crisis and Hizballah suffered a defeat in this crisis,” he said.

The revised view was not conveyed to the Israeli government; it was part of a warning Washington delivered to the Turkish prime minister Tayyep Erdogan, Sunday, April 24, to call off his planned offensive against PKK rebel bases in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan. The US message to Ankara reportedly cautioned the Turkish army to beware of landing itself in a situation similar to Israel’s predicament in the Hizballah war, i.e. Israel was confident of a swift victory and instead suffered “a strategic defeat.”

DEBKAfile’s Washington sources report:

The White House’s redefinition of the Lebanon War’s outcome is not just a factor in the foreign policy fallout dogging the Olmert government ever since, but a diplomatic olive branch extended to Iran, recognition that in the showdown between its surrogate and a key US ally, Tehran came off best. It is meant to pave the way for a US-Iranian understanding on Iraq and even perhaps on Tehran’s nuclear program. The Bush administration’s willingness to accept that the strategic advantage Hizballah gained in the 2006 conflict procured Iran a role in Lebanon implies its recognition of Iran’s important strategic role in Iraq. Positive ground rules are thus laid ahead of the interview projected between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the second Iraqi security conference taking place in Sharm el-Sheik this week (May 3-4).

Should an opening for a breakthrough with Iran present itself at those talks, Washington will obviously not think twice about putting Israel’s strategic interests to one side, as the party which suffered its first “strategic defeat” in war. Any US-Iran deal on Iraq will in any case probably be a package that includes Lebanon and Hizballah’s standing there..

Still, DEBKAfile’s Washington sources point out, these steps have not gone beyond diplomatic openers whose outcome is far from clear, especially as Tehran has still to respond. At the first Iraq security conference in Baghdad last month, Iranian representatives showed no inclination to jump into dialogue with America. Higher expectations this time were fueled by the sudden visit to Baghdad which the powerful Ali Larijani, who is head of Iran’s national security council and its chief nuclear negotiator, paid Sunday. It is rumored in Baghdad’s Green Zone that Larijani talked not only to Iraqi leaders but also met the new US ambassador Ryan Crocker to talk about a deal for the agenda and content of the Sharm el-Sheik conference.

April 30th, 2007, 10:02 am


Karim Crow said:

Tabler’s article, and the analysis of regional trends by Saad-Ghorayeb, point to important shifts underway in the Arab World that frequently find expression in terms of the Sunni–Shi’ah schism. Arab regimes are losing influence and prestige in the face of the emerging new reality: a Shi’ite dominated Iraq allied with a Shi’ite ruled Iran, with several satellite offshoots of significant communities (Lebanon, Gulf . . .). Authoritarian cliques are wetting their pants in anxiety, and out of disgust at American stupidity and arrogance. Talk of ‘crescent’ and/or of (Sunni) “arc” confronting it, only confuse the reality, and ultimately serve US & Israeli interests, and the Arab regimes.
On another level, the small-scale trend of individual conversions from Sunni to Shi’ah may be ongoing, but remains only a trickle. Have you ever heard of a Shi’ite ‘converting’ to Sunni doctrine-practice ? The reality is that Islam in its Ja’fari manifestation [which is an authentic alternative vision of essential Islam already present during the Rashidun era] offers more for thinking Muslims, than the low-brow emotionalist conformism of Deformist Islam (= so-called ‘Salafi’ : neo-Wahhabist) in terms of resolving the many challenges facing Muslims today.
Other than exploiting fears for political ends and regime maintenance, one has to hope that a birth-panged Middle East with a re-built Iraq and ascendant Iran, just might bring the center of the Islamic world into its own authentic space after centuries of imperialism, westernization, globalization, and American invasion.

thanks as always, Joshua, for providing good Food for Thought !

April 30th, 2007, 10:13 am


Ford Prefect said:

Josh and Bakri,
May thanks for a great and important debate. I agree with Bakri who brought up an important point: The separation between the Salafis and the Sufis in Syria is not easy. The history of the two groups can be distinctly observed in the literature until the emergence of the work and teachings of a great synthesizer (and the founder of the Muslim Brothers) in Hama by the name of Sheikh Muhammad al-Hamid – whose name I heard repeatedly in my early days in Syria.

Sheikh al-Hamid (1910-1969), I learned from by parents, and later through reading his writings and hearing from his followers, can be viewed as the single most influential synthesizer of Sufi/Salafi movements in Syria.

Sheikh al Hamid was the orphaned son of a Sufi (Naqshabandi) scholar, Sheikh Mahmoud al Hamid. His brother, Badr-Aldinne al Hamid, who was a nationalist poet, raised him. I remember my grandfather reciting many of his patriotic poems.

In addition to his brother’s nationalistic influence, at his early days, Sheikh Muhammad al-Hamid was greatly influenced by his Salfi uncle and leader Sa3eed al-Jabi.

Later on, Sheikh Muhammad came under the heavy influence of a very popular Homsi, the Sufi Sheikh Abu al Nassr Khalaf, while studying in Shari3a in Aleppo (I can’t remember the name of that famous Shari3a college in Aleppo, help anyone?)

But his Salafi uncle was greatly disappointed in his Sufi thoughts and pressured him to continue his studies at Cairo’s al Azhar.

There, Sheikh Muhammad became heavily influenced and associated with Hasan Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. I have learned (but no proof) that Sheikh Muhammad later founded the first and earliest branch of the Muslim Brothers in Hama.

So what we have in Syria is a fusion and a synthesis of both Salfi and Sufi ideas embodied together under a set of converging, but sometimes diverging, Islamic renaissance. The struggle faced in Syria at the last days of the Ottomans, the Mandate, and then the emergence of an independent Syria helped shape the sythesis of these ideas. (I will leave the subject of how Akram Hourani, also of Hama, came to establish a counter movement of socialistic ideology by courting the non-Sunnis of the countryside into an alternate view that combined with Aflaq in Damascus, gave us the Ba’ath Party).

To get a glimpse into the influence of the modern founder of the MB in Syria; the writings of Sa3eed al Hawwa can shed most light. He wrote of him: “…although he was Hanafi Sufi, he had always declared his readiness to put his hand in the hand of the fiercest Salafi to stop the ‘radda’”.

We can see as Bakri clearly indicated that the lines between the two movements are very hard to draw in Syria – largely due to the unifying work of Sheikh al Hamad.

April 30th, 2007, 10:36 am


Ford Prefect said:

The article you posted above is very telling; and even if Debka did not get all their facts right, it is likely to be true anyway.

It shows how this administration is now searching for anything that can be construed as victory in its colossal failures not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but almost everywhere.

I was watching the Sunday talk shows yesterday and it clear that there is an emerging “anti-war” mentality amongst Republican. The tone is much softer while the president is continuing to threaten (and he will) veto the latest Iraqi appropriation bill passed by Congress.

They can spin and revolve around the American Enterprise Institute and AIPAC all they want, but at the end of the day, the US administration seems to be doing exactly with the ISG report said they must do: talk and engage Iraq’s neighbors. (By the way, I suspect that there is kitchen cabinet being run the background by James Baker et. al.)

April 30th, 2007, 11:04 am


Akbar Palace said:

majedkhaldoun said:

God has no son,no equal no Wali, God is not human.
In judaiism,jews believe the same thing, but to them ethnicity is more important than faith, jews are guilty of ethnicity, and this is the main difference between Islam and jewish Ideas.


Thank you for informing us about judaism and “jewish ideas” (i.e. “…to them enthicity is more important than faith…”).

Feel free to back up your claim with whatever proof you have.

Back to reality, Jews make up wide range of ethnicities ranging from negroid Ethiopian, to Yemenite, to Syrian, to Persian, to Uzbek, to Kurdish, to Georgian, to North African, to Sefardi, Iraqi, to blond and blue-eyed European. The religion is fundamentally the same and practiced in varying degree: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform and a few in-between.

Ahmad said:

Throughout he found the Hebrew Jews as useful tool, useful idiots that he used for his own purpose. They were a nomadic tribes, mostly a gang of Hagganeh criminals, outlaws, murderers and thieves that ran from justice from the civilizations and nations states that bordered Canaan, no man land basically. They had no government, no king and no laws (neither Moses, David, Solomon, a Jewish kingdom ever existed, if you have a single prove otherwise please expose it) he found them to be the ideal kind of people he needs to carry out his clandestine and subversive activities.

Once again, Syria Comment shines an informative light on subects they know nothing about.

April 30th, 2007, 11:39 am


Mo said:

Hey Josh,

If I may jump in, as I recall (but I am not 100% sure), salafism is based on the teachings of Ibn Taymiyeh, and his followers, namely Ibn al Qaiyem (both Syrians from Dar’aa)
He has written 70+ books, starting at the age of 17 (I am talking about Ibn Taymiyeh of course). I think he introduced “takfir” of non-orthodox muslim sects based on religious text.
Anyone who would like to study the MB, Sayyed Qutb, and other wahhabi-style movements should start with this guy..
Good luck…

April 30th, 2007, 12:03 pm


Ford Prefect said:

I will leave the detail answer to Josh, but wanted to elborate on your question regarding the importance of the Hanbali figure, Ibn Taymiyaa.

You are right – most of the Salafi thoughts can be traced back to Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1329). He lived in Syria (mainly Damascus) under the Mamluk rules during the thirteenth century. But I recall that he was born in north Syria (and not Dar3aa). (Noteworthy: the Mamluks ruled over Egypt that was once a Shi3a country under the Fatimids until Saladin converted them to Sunnis).

Ibn Taymiyya ideas were actually dormant for a long time until they were revived by the Wahabbis in the Arabian Desert during the nineteenth century – more than 500 years later.

Ibn Taymiyaa had his biggest issue with Sheikh Muhiddine al 3raby (1165 -1240) who earlier settled and died in Damascus. (Has anyone been to Sheikh Muhiddine’s Tomb in Damascus? You should. Afterwards, one can enjoy the best Damascene “Tisqiyyeh” in the world at Bouz-al-Jidi.)

Anyway, Ibn Taymiyya was offended by the mysticism and the liberal use of Islamic traditions by the more “liberal” Sufis embodied by the teachings and writing of Sheik Muhiddine and Ibn Sina.

In particular, he rejected the common practices of Dhikr that was common in Sufi tradition. Sufis also introduced many rituals including the spinning “maylaweyeh,” Man, I am having a hard time typing Arabic words on company’s computer!)

In his views, instead of reciting the name of Allah many times, chanting melodic rituals during the “mawlid nabawi,” he reminded Muslim that they should be reading the Qu’ran instead. ALl other rituals and celebrations were imported idea to Islam, he argued, and that a true Muslim not only had a true faith, but also all the actions that go with it in accordance with the Qu’ran and the Hadith.

I recall reading in Albert Hourani’s “A History of the Arab Peoples” book about a meeting of a group of Naqshbandi Sufis in Aleppo who were studying the works of Sheik Muhiddine and Iby Teymiyaa argued that one represented the Haqiqa (truth) while the other represented the Sari3a, respectively.

April 30th, 2007, 12:53 pm


Joshua said:

Dear FP and others,

Many thanks for this very interesting discussion of the early MB in Syria and the role of Sheikh Muhammad al-Hamid and Said Hawwa in Hama. I have written to two academics who have worked on Salafism and Sufism in Syria as well as the Wahhabi movement to see what they have to say about this. They have promised to write back in a few days. We will see what they can add and if they can explain the connections between the various branches of Islam in Syria.

My impression is that the Saudi brand of Salafism is quite distinct from the “modernist” Salafi movement of Abdu, Afghani, and Rida’ (a Syrian from Tripoli)which was primarily concerned with reinterpreting Islam in the post-enlightenment context of the modern world. Many of the modernizers, like Abdu, had spent time in the West or had studied in modern schools and read western works of philosophy and history. They shaped the Damascene and Syrian intellectuals of the early 20th century more than anyone else. Qasimi, Jaza’iri, Kurd Ali and many more.

They called for returning to the Salaf as a way to break away from taqlid and a way to re-open the door of ijtihad in order to modernize Islam. Abdu and his companions were interested in explaining how the Quran foresaw modern medicine, Darwinism, etc.

This is very different from the Wahhabis who were driven by the desire to clean up heterodox practice and superstition, then widespread in the Arabian peninsula.

We will come back to this topic. Best, J

April 30th, 2007, 4:04 pm


ausamaa said:

What about the “political” and motivation and justification for all those schools. Whose interests did they serve,who supported them, who adpoted them and reaped the benifit of their advance? Was Wahabisem adopted to counter the influence of the Hashimits for example?

And speaking about the currently proclaimed myth of Shieatization, I just can not but feel sorry for the hundreds of thousands of millions of Sunni Muslimes who are now being cajuled by some to accept the fact that the Shieats wants to convert them. And what if they convert, what is the danger in that anyway. The creators of this Myth must be laughing themselves to death that their lie may be catching some attention. What a joke? What a diversion?

April 30th, 2007, 4:41 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Thanks Joshua. Now I know why you insist on having the word “religion” next to Syrian politics and history under the Syria Comment banner! If I want your attention next time, I sure now know how to grab it!

While waiting for the responses from others of this topic, I agree with you that the Salafi Wahabis are totally distinct from the Syrian brand. One must understand the emergence of the MBs in Syria in the context of their struggle in Syria – totally unrelated to what happened in the Arabian Desert.

In fact, it is very interesting to see how the ideas of Salafis and Sufis have been morphed and “Syrianized” to offer quite a unique religious and political approach.

The discussion of the emergence of Syrian Salafi/Sufi ideology and the subsequent MB as a political movement must also be viewed in the context of what was happening in Hama and how the various landowners (the Kaylanis and the Azms) transformed themselves to match the raging national aspirations of Syrians to be modern and independent during the Mandate and afterward.

What is fascinating, from a historical perspective, is how this transformation happened and how the Syrians were able to merge the two into one ideology. Very interesting subject indeed.


April 30th, 2007, 5:10 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Breaking news from our neighbor Turkey. The Turks value their secularism more than anything else. Syria is not far from that line of thinking. (I am posting the whole article in case the publisher removes the link).


Turkish PM makes appeal for unity
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has appealed for national unity in the row that has erupted over the disputed election of a new president.

He said an “atmosphere of stability and tranquillity” was essential.

Mr Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK party has put forward Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul for president. But the army has hinted it may block him.

Last week Mr Gul was backed in a vote in parliament, but the constitutional court has been asked to annul the vote.

It says it hopes to rule on the petition before the next round of the vote is due to take place on Wednesday.

As many as one million people marched through Istanbul on Sunday, opposing Mr Gul.

They were supporters of Turkey’s secular values.

Markets fall

The president is traditionally a key upholder of the country’s separation of religion and state.

Mr Gul has Islamist roots, and his wife wears the headscarf, which is very controversial in Turkey and banned from universities and public offices.

He says there is no question of him withdrawing from the presidential election.

The powerful military has said it is ready to act to preserve Turkey’s secular values.

Turkey’s currency and stock market have tumbled amid fears the army may intervene, which could undermine the country’s attempts to join the European Union.

April 30th, 2007, 6:38 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

there is no document that prove anything before 800 B.C.,also do not forget that the jews extremely exagerate and glorify their prophets, who is intelligent enough?,with scientific mind to believe that the sea split and the jews pass thru,safely,scientifically this is impossible to happen,the wind that may cause that, would have to come from the back but again,the people would fly from the wind, this is the big lie, as other lies,if you are an army general and work for pharoan,and saw that ,I am sure you will turn against your boss and believe in mosses religion,to see the split and follow the jews is more stupid, what really happend is what mentioned in Quran,( in Shuaraa”) that there was explosion in the sea,and vulcanic activitie erupted, that cause masses of water to move over ,exactly as tsunami, and the masses of water were like mountains of water,moved over and drowned the pharoah troops who were in low land, while the jews were on high mountenous area,so they were saved,infact Quran mentioned that moses and the jews cross the sea when it was quiet(suret Taha) ( wa jawazna bika albahra RAHWAN),rahwan means quiet,as water receded.

April 30th, 2007, 7:17 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

wow Ahmad, you are extreme.
how could you criticise something and you never read it?
the jewish stories are Israeliat, the prophet mohammad said some are true and some are not. scientific Islam ! is that what Jamal Albanna is advocating?,you have to talk to him.
the jews who left with Moses ,I believe, were only 6000 person,where did you get 400,000?
Also I believe Moses was buried east of Jordan river, he never crossed to palastine,his tomb claimed to be in palastine,is a lie just like the new story about mary,jesus and james tomb that we heared recently.the jews has empty tombs, they claim that someone is burried in three places, the funniest story I heared from jews,is the conversation between Easau and jacob,while they were in the abdomen( Uterus)of their mother, they claim that easau pushed jacob up and told him that he has to come out first.
according to some stories, solomon mother Bethsheba, was not a jew, she is from northwest syria, of course his father King David, saw her from the roof of his palace, ordered her to come to his palace and slept with her, later he arranged for her husband (Uriah)to be killed,in the battle, she was number 100, God rebuked him then forgave him, some jew believe he commited adultary, as a king with super power, he allowed himself to violate the law of judaiism,
one of the lies also that Cane killed his brother then he fled to yemen and married a girl from there, if Adam and family were the first to be created ,how come he married to a girl from yemen, this story is in the first page of the bible,and torah.

May 1st, 2007, 12:20 am


Akbar Palace said:

Ahmad challenges the lone forum “Khazar” and requests proof despite his indoctrination from his “formative years” in the madrassa:

Mr. Akbar, Please enlighten us and shine your abundence of knowledge about this subject matter. We need no copout commnet, just the facts.

Please direct us to sources, website etc, where we can evaluate evidence for the existance of a Jewish Kingdom, Moses, David and Solomon.

Ahmad –

There is ample factual evidence there was an Israelite people living in Palestine over 2000 years ago. And for hundreds of years. Tons of archeological evidence, mosaics, ancient hebrew inscriptions and artifacts. King Herod’s fortress home Masada where Jewish Zealots were held up for 3 years before killing themselves before falling into the hands of the Romans (Josephus, “The Jewish War”). The second temple of Jerusalem. The Dead Sea scrolls, Meggido, Nazereth, Beit Lehem, Hatzor, Beit Shean, so many ancient towns, and so many ancient Israelite artifacts and inscriptions. There is NO DOUBT (except for a few brainwashed Jihadists) about a “Jewish Kingdom” in Palestine.

We are in desperate need of your information and should you have this evidence, we may give cash rewards.

Please don’t send cash. Save it a go to a Barnes & Noble.

We can name all of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, we have monuments that they had created, documents of their actions, treaties they signed, mention of them by other nations and their tombs (sometimes their corpses too). We know the names of the Kings of Persia (the King of Kings), as with the Egyptians we have the monuments, documents, etc. We can repeat this with every ancient state in that area, even small city states such as Ugarit and Tyre, but when it comes to the illustrious King David and his even more venerated son Solomon, not a single shred of evidence.

Thanks to the Eygptians and the Moabites:

Shishak’s City List

Pharaoh Shishak (945-924 B.C.) invaded Israel and Judah in 925 B.C. and carried off the treasures of Jerusalem’s temple. The Bible records the attack from Judah’s perspective (2 Chron 12), but Shishak’s list gives much greater detail including the names of 150 cities, most of which cannot be located today. Scholars debate how to read this inscription, but most agree that the following cities are mentioned: Taanach, Beth-Shean, Rehob, Mahanaim, Gibeon, Beth-Horon, Megiddo, and Arad.



Not one monument, not one egotistical carving declaring that either King defeated an enemy or dedicated something to YHWH, not one document (Israelite, Babylonian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Hittite or other nation) mentions either King. Even Hiram of Tyre, supposedly a good buddy of Solomon, never mentions ol’ Sol at all. When it comes to evidence of either King, as the saying goes, the silence is deafening! It’s almost as if they never existed!

There is plenty of evidence Ahmad, you just don’t want to acknowledge it. But that’s OK, there are still those of your ilk who don’t ackowledge the Holocaust.

Not one record found ever that mentioned Jews, Jewish Kingdom, Israel, Jerusalem, Temple, Jewish King, even those of David and Solomon.

Like I said, there are basements and warehouses FULL of evidence that there were “Jews” and “Jewish Kingdom”, and a “Jerusalem”, and a “Temple” many “Jewish Kings”, and even a “David” and “Solomon”.

So disturbing this fact, so convincing that the claims Jews make are fraudulent, that it is practically impossible if a Jewish Kingdom of any sort or shape, no matter how small, in fact did exist, it would have been mentioned in those Archeological State records and others. Not one mentioned ever, this now convinced all respected Jewish and Israeli archeologists that the whole claims and history of the Jews was a fraud made in Babylon.

Read. Learn. Modernize. Welcome the 21st Century. Do not fear.

The objective evidence, however, points to a different conclusion. Proof of the existence of Israel as a nation and its warring with Egypt exists on a temple wall at Karnak, site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. The pharaoh Merenptah is depicted as warring with Israel. This is “the oldest known visual portrayal of Israelites” (Frank Yurco, “3,200-Year-Old Picture of Israelites Found in Egypt,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1990, p. 22).


“Israel” and “House of David”

The results show that two strata at Tel Rehov are safely dated to the 10th century BCE. One stratum was destroyed in heavy fire. The date of this destruction fits very well with the reign of Shishak, the Egyptian Pharaoh who invaded the Land of Israel around 925 BCE. Shishak’s invasion is mentioned both in the Bible (Kings I 14:25) and in his monumental inscription at the temple of Amun at Karnak in Upper Egypt, where Rehov is mentioned among many other places conquered at that time.

Shishak’s military campaign was recorded in stone relief on the southern wall of the Amun temple, listing the names of the places he raided in ancient Israel and the Levant. The name Rehov appears on this list after the term “The Valley,” most likely referring to the Beit She’an/Jordan Valley, and before the name Beit She’an. This sequence of place names at Karnak fits the local geography in the region of Tel Rehov very well indeed, according to the Science article.


Other scholars are skeptical that the foundation walls discovered by the archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, are David’s palace. But they acknowledge that what she has uncovered is rare and important: a major public building from around the 10th century B.C., with pottery shards that date to the time of David and Solomon and a government seal of an official mentioned in the book of Jeremiah.


A few pics:


May 1st, 2007, 12:30 am


norman said:

I wish you can look at the future and try to improve it .

That will be more helpfull to all , Arabs and Israelite (Hebrew).

May 1st, 2007, 1:43 am


trustquest said:

Add on to the Sufi Salaf subject, personal observation:
Sufism is more common in cities than in countryside or villages in Syria. The interaction between the two is dynamic and in the last 50 years, the oil rich country of Saudi Arabia has influenced other countries in the region and to some limits vise versa. When Tentawi prosecuted in Syria and runaway to Saudi Arabia, his teaching start to show more strict practices than what you could expect if he were in Syria, however the salafis there enjoyed his fresh ideas. The purities of Islamic religion inside the profit land kept influencing other countries due to the rich oil state status and its effect as we have witnessed and as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east. Additionally anyone went to Saudi Arabia to work there came back with some influence of Salafi tradition.

May 1st, 2007, 1:59 am


Philip I said:

Very interesting discussion. It helps you to understand better some of the deep cultural roots in in the region.

Of course religion and politics in the Middle East are hard to separate. But Hafez Assad recognised that religion is the “opium of the people” so left it well alone except when it threatened to turn militant. At the same time, he actively encounraged and exploited “militant” groups like Hizbollah and Hamas operating outside of Syria for political ends.

While we must study and understand our cultural and religious roots (always fascinating) we must understand that injustice and humiliation, inflicted on people from outside the region or within it, lead many to turn to religion for relief and for answers. However, organised religion, blind faith and unquestioning young minds are very predictable and their collective energy can be easily exploited by leaders for political ends. What we see today is not regular armies but religious militias being used to start or fight conflicts. This makes the whole region more unstable and therefore provides further opportunities for foreign powers to divide and rule and then intervene. So it is a vicious circle unless all the militias can be united in their purpose (a pipe dream).

The comment posted by “YoungSyria” above who quotes from an article by the respected military historian Edward Luttwak is interesting. Luttwak is a Romanian Jew and he has this to say: “Western analysts are forever bleating about the strategic importance of the middle east. But despite its oil, this backward region is less relevant than ever, and it would be better for everyone if the rest of the world learned to ignore it”. His article is fascinating with a lot of truth in it, but leaves you wondering if this is a novel and rather naiive attempt to deflect world attention from the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

May 1st, 2007, 5:11 am


Zenobia said:

FP asked: (Has anyone been to Sheikh Muhiddine’s Tomb in Damascus? You should. Afterwards, one can enjoy the best Damascene “Tisqiyyeh” in the world at Bouz-al-Jidi.)

actually….. I went to the tomb of ibn arabi two years ago… (it was coincidently a block up the street from my aunt’s house in the mosque right in the middle of the market street.
I was hoping some sufi revelation would come to me – but nothing happened.
so,…… what is “Tisqiyyeh” and “Bouz-al-Jidi” ???????????

May 1st, 2007, 6:34 am


Ford Prefect said:


Glad you went there. I agree, you will not see many Sufi artefacts or revelations there. Sufiism is internal and mystical. Also sorry for interjecting a thought about “food” within a very interesting cultural/religious discussion.

Bous-al Jidi is a hole in the wall store serving traditional Damascene food – “Tisqiyyeh” being one of them (I know it has bread, chikpeas, yougurt, etc.) Yummy! When you go back again, make sure you try it. (Note: a bottle of peptobismol will probably be helpful!)

BTW, you can have Tisqiyyeh in many places in Damascus including all the major hotels. But younger Damascenes like to go at 2am to that place and have their “breakfast”.

May 1st, 2007, 8:04 am


Ford Prefect said:

I don’t get it. Many journalists, scientists, academics, comedians, politicians visit Syria Comment searching for the ultimate answer (which is 42, by the way!) When you present an argument or some relevant facts, why do you sometime have to resort to insulting, foul, or racist language?

There are millions of people who believe in the same things you are denying. They just cannot be that wrong. Even if there were, the human race is forever indebted to their contributions in medicine, science, arts, and literature.

Finally, many words exist in the English language today to convey all sorts of intentions, even lies, without being construed as offensive or racist. Have you not watched Fox News or heard Shooter Cheney lately? They offer many good examples.

May 1st, 2007, 8:57 am


nahed Al-husseini said:

I believe this issue of shiitization is amplified as part of rhetoric campaign directed for specific purposes. There are individual cases in Syria, but this does not me mean that the whole country is converting. Things have to be put in perspectives. The escalation between the US and Iran is tremendously related to this notion.

May 1st, 2007, 10:17 am


youngsyria said:

Philip I ;
“His article is fascinating with a lot of truth in it, but leaves you wondering if this is a novel and rather naiive attempt to deflect world attention from the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

yes, there is a lot of truth in it, but lots of errors too. nevertheless, his article represented a new opinion to me, and its objectives are practical. what catch my eyes are those

“middle east experts keep making is the failure to recognize that backward societies must be left alone”

“With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the middle east should finally be allowed to have their own history—the one thing that middle east experts of all stripes seem determined to deny them.”

“we should therefore focus on the old and new lands of creation in Europe and America, in India and east Asia—places where hard-working populations are looking ahead instead of dreaming of the past”


its amazing how you break others superstitions basing your argument on science, and add some scientific explanation to your superstitions. nobody ,in my schooling days, told me that our moses story differ then that of jews!! I thought the see split!! and Im sure that my “tarbiya islamyyah” teacher said nothing about explosion in the sea,volcanic activities , tsunami and liquid dynamics.

you can explain 90% of the superstitions in any religious text (Muslims , Christians, jews, Hindu, buddhist..etc) by science. WHY??!! because its cheesy , non-specific and when you are trapped you can say its symbolic.

May 1st, 2007, 10:22 am


youngsyria said:

Ford Prefect;

I’m sitting on my pc somewhere in southeast-Asia, and you come and remind me about Bous-al Jidi. thats offending man.

yella Im going now to search for some filthy noodles..bye >(

May 1st, 2007, 10:29 am


Ford Prefect said:

I am sorry about a name that I have not invented and not sure where it came from – but believe me there is hardly any meat at that place. It is all vegetarian, and it is quite good!

Noodles anywhere in Southeast Asia are yummy too, enjoy. I am going now to Leiscester Square to find some. Thanks for the reminder. 😉

May 1st, 2007, 10:36 am


Akbar Palace said:

Holocaust!!! The entrance plaque at Auschwitz state that 80,000+ or – persons perished. That was the biggest concentration camp. Out of this number count how many Gypsies, Poles Slaves and other Nationalities, also how many under this WWII environment died of deceases and injury, natural death, stress etc. What would you do with millions of corpses that died, you keep them exposed? No one have time for burial ceremony, they found way to control the situation. Six million!!! Even reputable Jews at that time ridiculed it. I don’t have time for all that.

Ahmad –

Here is a picture of the entrance to Auschwitz. It says: “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work will set you free”). If 80,000 wasn’t enough for you, rest assured those that died here number over 1 million. Mostly Jews, but certainly not just.



Look Ahmad, I wouldn’t wish this type of tragedy on my worst enemy, and I certainly don’t believe using the Holocaust as a hammer against any criticism of Israel is productive.

OTOH, I think you need to do a little reading, open your eyes a bit, and see the world from a different vantage point. I hope you are not indicative of the average Arab person, but I fear you are. I hope one day we’ll be able to face Life’s challenges together, Arab and Jew, instead of spilling blood in a pool of bigotry and intolerance.

I am optimistic.

May 1st, 2007, 12:30 pm


Mo said:


The issue is much more controversial, I will await more info before commenting..
No one disagrees with you on Bouz el-Jidi though! The one near the British Council is excellent as well!

May 1st, 2007, 2:32 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:

Ahmad and Imad Makhlouf where the same person = Metaz/SSRP. he keeps slipping through the cracks.

May 1st, 2007, 3:11 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Turkish court declares president election invalid

May 1st, 2007, 3:54 pm


why-discuss said:

What a big fuss.. what is wrong if a sunni becomes a Shia, he is still a moslem. Imagine if the christians would become hysterical if a catholic becomes greek orthodox or protestant.. I find this issue out of proporion. If you remove the political context, it’s absurd.

May 1st, 2007, 5:23 pm


Eli Winstein said:

Thank you, what a relief to have a decent moderator here. Peace from Israel to you all.

May 1st, 2007, 5:59 pm


Webloggin - Blog Archive » Al-Masri Killed By Sunni Tribesmen said:

[…] There’s talk of the “Shiitization” of the Middle East, Sunnis converting to Shiites, something new, something true, go read it. The Sunni tribesman who killed al-Masri might take exception to this news. […]

May 1st, 2007, 6:09 pm


Omar said:

Really, What a big fuss.. why not Shiaa becomes Sunni. he is still a Moslem
why their is not such a things that Shiaa becomes Sunni.
some people are absurd.

May 1st, 2007, 7:47 pm


ausamaa said:

Why Discuss,

Come on, this is a VERY IMPORTANT issue! We should spend as much time as we can exploring it. Then, perhaps we should move to the issue wether Napoleon converted to Sheit or Sunni Islam when he arrived in Egypt. He converted to Islam as some believed then. Right?

What other things do you suggest we discuss with the same zeal? The Winograd Committee report and the ongoing upheavel in Israel? The coming Sharm El Shiekh conference? The escalating “Peace” in Iraq? The material shift inside the US on issues relating to Iraq War? Larijani’s visit to Sistani? The crisis in Turkey?

Come on, really, those are small issues. Let us shelve them and concentrate on those frightening Shiiat Corps who are trying to overrun the small 270 million-strong Sunni enclave in the Arab World.

May 1st, 2007, 8:15 pm


Atassi said:

Press freedom around the world in decline: watchdog

1 May 2007
Agence France Presse
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007 All reproduction and presentation rights reserved.

NEW YORK, May 1, 2007 (AFP) –

Press freedom around the world deteriorated last year due to coups, attempts to stifle political opposition and regulate use of the Internet, a leading watchdog said in a report Tuesday.

US-based Freedom House outlined what it said were particularly troubling trends in Asia, the former Soviet Union and Latin America, in a report that warned that democracy as a whole would likely suffer.

“Press freedom is like the canary in the coal mine,” the group’s executive director Jennifer Windsor said in a statement.

“Assaults on the media are inevitably followed by assaults on other democratic institutions. The fact that press freedom is in retreat is a deeply troubling sign that democracy itself will come under further assault.”

The report, released ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Thursday, said that coups, insurgency and states of emergency in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Philippines and Fiji had all taken their toll on press freedom.

And while Asia had two of the world’s most restrictive governments in North Korea and Myanmar, Freedom House pointed to recent improvements in Nepal, Cambodia and Indonesia.

China, Vietnam and Iran were meanwhile continuing to jail journalists and cyber-dissidents, while Russia was aggressively trying to marginalize the independent media and planning to regulate use of the Internet, it said.

The study, entitled Freedom of the Press 2007, also noted a deterioration in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil either due to state action or deteriorating security environments.

“The records of Venezuela and Russia are appalling, all the more so because of those countries’ impact on their regions,” Karin Karlekar, managing editor of the press freedom survey, said in a statement.

The group blamed the decline on coups, drives to neutralize political opposition, violence against journalists and laws brought in to enable governments to punish the press for critical reports.

The group also expressed alarm about the situation in the Middle East, where recent progress had stagnated, it said. Libya, Syria, Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority were singled out for their “extremely restricted” media.

But the organization also noted improvements in countries including Italy, Nepal, Colombia and Haiti, due to greater overall political openness and an improved security environment.

The survey, which first appeared in 1980, gives countries a score out of 100 to reflect restrictions on their media. Iceland and Finland shared the top spot with nine points, while North Korea came last with 97.

The survey gave 74 countries out of the 195 included the “free” rating and 63 the “not free” label. The remainder were considered “partly free.”

May 1st, 2007, 8:19 pm


youngsyria said:

Ford Prefect;
I know what Bous-al Jidi is, and I ate “tasyyaee” there. speaking of food. the best tasyyee-aleppo-style is at a restaurant near as-sabeel park. forgot the name but they have more than one shop next to each other. WARNING: high cholesterol content, can couse instant heartattack.

May 1st, 2007, 9:02 pm


ausamaa said:

On another similarily important subject, is it bouZ al Jidi or bouS al Jidi?
Who the hell wants to “bous” a “Jidi”?

May 1st, 2007, 9:18 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

what has been said in this forum about sofiism and salafist, completely surprise me,my understanding of sofi as people who believe in mystical power, psychological ideas, make them do things that take their mind to different level,they believe it make them close to God,salafist they deal with reality,physical life

May 2nd, 2007, 2:57 am


Ford Prefect said:

Excellent catch, thanks! It is BouZ al Jidi (BouZ as in “mouth”). The last thing anyone wants to do is to “bous” a goat before or after Tisiiyee!

Youngsyria, when in Syria, should I care about cholesterol? The only remedy needed is Peptobismol!

BTW, if I am in Halab, it will be impossible to choose anything as a favorite. I usually order everything they have! Even the plates are edible. Aleppo is a city that knows something about good food. Not to be missed and thanks for the tip.

May 2nd, 2007, 9:21 am


Ford Prefect said:

What you indicated regarding Sufis and Salfis is correct but only part of the picture. The whole picture is much more complicated as both movements have social and political dimensions as well. I

I dare to say that Syria’s Sunnis are more Sufis, in practice than Salafis. Syrian Sunnis love their Sufi rituals and they tend to be more drawn to mystical beliefs (Nidr to “have a boy newborn”, healings by visitng a maqaam, Lailat al quadr, etc.) than say the Saudi Sunnis. If and when Salafis flare up, it is usually in response to an external radical event such as women liberation.

Islamist movements, such as the MBs and HA, along with their militant offshoots, are usually more inclined to be composed of Salafis than Sufis. But remember that even Khomeni was a Sufi before he turned into an Islamist.

May 2nd, 2007, 9:54 am


bakri said:

Ford Perfect ,the overwhelming majority of syrian muslim brotherhood members are not salafis.
And their leader ,Ali al Bayanuni belong to Tariqa al Naqshbandiya ,Isa al Bayanuni was one of the most important sufi sheikhs of Aleppo and friend of Sheikh Abu al Nasr.

In an interview Ali Sadreddin al Bayanuni confirm that the sufis trend represent the majority in Syria.

MA: How powerful are the Salafis inside Syria?

AB: Their influence is limited. Salafism has weak foundations in Syria, as the majority of Sunni Muslims subscribe to Sufism.


In general sufism is a sunni matter but gnosticism of Suhrawardi and Ibn Arabi,who were sunnis have influenced persian shi’aism specially since the 17 th century with Mir Damad and Sadreddin al Shirazi…Iran before the 16 th century was a sunni country and some of the most important sufi sheikhs were from Bilad Faress as Omar and Shihabeddin Suhrawardi,Mawlana Jalaleddin al Rumi,Shamseddin al Tabrizi,Attar,al Halaj ,Abu Hamed al Ghazali,Abdelkader al Gilani,Abu Yazid al Bistami….
As for Sheikh al Islam Ibn Taymiyya he praised the first generations of Sufis as Hasan al Basri, Al Bistami,Al Gilani and he was then praised by Sufis. some have argued that he was himself a Qadiri.Btw the first sheikhs of sufism are Hanbalis the same mazhab of Sheikh al Islam and amongst them is the famous sufi Mansur Hussayn Al Hallaj.

May 2nd, 2007, 3:02 pm


bakri said:

In addition to what i said above…the Ottoman sultans greatly revered Ibn Arabi and it was Sultan Selim who rehabilitated his name and ordered the construction of the complex that we see today in Salhiyeh after this date any sheikh who dared to attack Ibn Arabi was severely punished.

May 2nd, 2007, 5:47 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Sorry for the late reply. I appreciate your feedback above. Your facts regarding Sheik Muhiddine are accurate.
Regarding the MBs, like you said earlier in a previous post, the line between Salfis and Sufis in Syria (and particularly in Syria) is hard to delineate. All Salafis in Syria have their roots as Sufis.

The issue I am trying to highlight, however, is of a slightly different nature regarding the Brothers. It is the issue of their political (and some time military) activism, not the religious orientation of its members.

Sufis esoteric beliefs stand at diametrically opposed end from the exoteric activism of the Salafis. Studying the MBs political activism, one can find more active Salafi elements (and not people) than Sufi ones.

Otherwise, I am in agreement with your analysis above. Thanks.

More on Ibn Taymeyya later when Dr. Landis revisits this important topic. It is my favorite.

May 4th, 2007, 1:49 am


bakri said:

Ford Perfect,

The idea that sufis are politically indifferent is not accurate.

May 4th, 2007, 9:10 am


SyriaComment » Archives » “The Difference Between Wahhabis and Muslim Brothers,” by David Commins said:

[…] This is the first part in a series of articles I will post on the relationship between Salafism and Sufism in Syria. The idea to commission different experts to write on this subject is a result of the questions raised by commentators on this earlier post on Islam in Syria, here (read the last 15 comments of the post). […]

May 8th, 2007, 11:10 pm


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