DAMASCUS — Reports from across Syria—and increasingly coming in from many areas including Aleppo, Qalamoun, and Reqaa—lay bare massive crimes being perpetrated against the Syrian people in the name of Islam from areas under Salafist control. A recent German domestic intelligence service annual report described Salafism as the fastest growing Islamic movement in Syria. Based on interviews conducted by this observer recently in Damascus, it is evident that mainstream Salafism, with its emphasis on adherence to the Koran’s principles and standards for correct behavior towards humanity, is being deeply subverted in the Syrian Arab Republic by forces organized from outside this country.
The Salafi methodology or Salafist movement, historically respected among scholars of Islam, is a school of Islamic thought among Sunni Muslims named after the “Salaf” or “predecessors” among the earliest Muslims, who are widely considered examples of Islamic practice worthy of emulation. The Salafist movement is often described as related to, or even synonymous with Saudi Wahhabism or at least a hybrid. Salafism has become widely known among Muslims only since the 1960’s with some attributing this phenomenon is partly a result of the Zionist occupation of Palestine and other projects of Western hegemony which has led to revising some claimed interpretations of Islam more common during periods of history when Islam was threatened. Salafism presents to its followers a literalistic, strict, puritanical interpretation of the Koran. Particularly in the West, and increasingly in Syria, some Salsify Jihadis espouse violent jihad against the public, even Muslim civilians, as a legitimate expression of defending Islam.
Though Salafis claim to be Sunni Muslims, some scholars this observer interviewed in Damascus’s Omayyad Mosque and Sunni Sheiks based in Damascus are of the view that Salafis are a sui generis sect, and are thus apart from traditional Sunni Muslim Koranic interpretations and practice. One professor of Islamic studies expressed, perhaps a minority view, that Salafis and Wahhabis are essentially the same. The basis of this claim is that Salafis do not acknowledge or follow any of the four schools of thought to which other Sunni Muslims adhere. Rather, they have their own beliefs and laws, their own leaders and social systems, and practice religion with strict and widely rejected extremist practices as well as committing crimes targeting civilians, including fellow Muslims, for political and financial reasons.
One currently ascendant Salafist group in Syria, among more than 1,000 others competing for weapons and fighters, is “Daash”. The word is an acronym with its letters standing for “the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” Daash appeared on the scene here recently, about a year ago, and some local observers believe it arrived via Iraq with large amounts of funding from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, the latter of which also facilitates its weapons, supplies, and access to the north of Syria via Turkish territory. Daash membership figures have recently inflated partly because it currently pays its recruits nearly four times the going gunman wage here, or approximately $500 per month, as it competes with Jabhat al Nusra and others to impose some of its frankly bizarre interpretations of Islam.
Damascus is awash in tales coming in from Daash controlled areas around Aleppo and elsewhere of a sheath full of recent Fatwa’s and orders posted on walls of what is expected of the local Salafist occupied areas. It operates—as recent reports indicate, many of which have been verified by Sunni Islamic scholars and Sheiks from Damascene mosques—with brutality to enforce its will on the civilian population. A Sunni law student from Damascus University Faculty of Law compiled over the past few weeks some research on the subject and she reports example of spreading Salafist edits which she labels, “An insane frontal assault on Islam by criminal acts against Muslim and others of the Book.”
On November 27, a young lady arriving at the Dama Rose hotel reported to this observer that currently in parts of Raqaa and Aleppo and other Daash controlled areas, if a man from Daash covets something such as someone’s new car or someone’s wife, he must now only say “Allah Akbar” three times and the personal property or the targeted women belongs to him and the man can beat the wife and rape her with impunity. This latest fatwa obviously causes serious problems within Daash and other affected militia, especially in Raqqa and Allepo. The young lady from a prominent Dasmascene Sunni family reported that Daash members are currently taking gas, oil, and bread at will from non-Daash villages for distribution to members of their cult of approximately 5,000 members and reportedly growing. Also according to recently televised reports it is now permissible for Daash members to rape any woman who is not Muslim as well as Muslim women who support the Assad government.
Some recently reported Salisfist practices spreading in Syria include, but are not limited to the following:
- Females in Daash controlled areas of Aleppo and elsewhere are being prevented from wearing jeans and sweaters and must wear only the Islamic dress Abaya and Barkaa while forbidden from putting on any make-up or now, as of two weeks ago, to even leave their homes without a male escort. Some women in parts of Aleppo and Raqaa now refer to their neighborhoods as Tora Bora, Afghanistan, given the similarities of repression between Taliban and Salafist treatment of women.
- As of November 15, force is used to prevent smoking and use of arguila (water pipes) by men and women in some villages.
- Some barber shops for men are being shuttered in order to prevent the shortening of hair and ‘modern’ haircuts. Barrettes for young people are also forbidden.
- It is now forbidden in Daash areas to display any sign or advertisements for cosmetics and skin care products in women’s hairdressing shops. Violators are subject to penalties of 70 lashes. Any business that employs women must have two work-day shifts, one for men and a separate one exclusively for female employees.
- No women’s clothing can be displayed in shop windows. Tailor shops must be closed to men in the event of the women’s presence in the shop until she leaves. The Daash militia has long prevented women from seeking medical attention from male Doctors. Recently Daash has put into place prohibitions against women visiting doctors of either sex, and it is not permissible for a woman to wear orthodontic devices such as teeth braces because straight teeth might attract men and in any case their bodies are under the stewardship of their husbands or fathers only.
- Daash has proclaimed that women who swim in the sea are in fact committing “adultery” — even if they wear a hijab because as with many other languages, Arabic nouns are gender specific, and “sea” is masculine and when the water touches the woman’s vaginal area she becomes an ‘adulteress’ and must be punished. Daash militias also forbid women from eating certain vegetables or even touching cucumbers, carrots, or bananas, due to their phallic imagery, which may tempt women to deviate and it is also unacceptable for women to turn the air conditioning on at home during the absence of their husbands as this could be used as a sign to indicate to neighbors that the woman is at home alone and any of them could commit adultery with her.
The Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm in its November 15 edition reported that Daash variety fatwas regard women as strange creatures created solely for sex. Daash considers the voices of women, their looks and presence outside of their homes an “offense” with some Salafists regarding women in general “offensive.”
Among the practices permitted by Daash is the widespread acceptance of wives lying to their husbands concerning politics. Daash believes that if the husband forbids her from being supportive of their agenda and control of Syrian villages in Aleppo and Raqaa for example, she may then, through dissimulation support them while pretending to be against them.
During interviews in Syria, one religious advisor to Daash opined to this observer that marriage to ten-year-old girls should be allowed in order to prevent girls from deviating from the correct path, while another prohibited girls from going to schools, even those located close to their homes and another fatwa states that a marriage is annulled if the husband and wife make love with no clothes on. Some Daash fatwas also sanction the use of women and children as human shields in violent demonstrations and protests, as these are by them as jihads to empower Islam.
Yet other fatwas accepted by Daash forbid Muslims from greeting Christians and even forbidding Muslim cab drivers from transporting Christian priests while criticizing Egypt’s Al Azhar, considered by many to be one of the oldest and most prestigious Islamic universities in the world for withdrawing its fatwa that instructed women to “breastfeed” male acquaintances, thereby making them relatives and justifying their mixed company.
Men are now being physically assaulted by Daash milita on the street if they are clean shaven or wear tight trousers. Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction can, however, watch pornographic movies, provided that the participants in the porno flicks are Islamists. It is being reported currently that in some Daash areas, it is now permissible to rape any woman who is not Muslim as well as Muslim women who support the Assad government.
Education is focused on boys and in Daash area schools in Syria, a country long acknowledged to have among the highest quality of education, both in elementary and secondary levels, are being run like the Pakistani madrasas, and education is limited to memorizing every word of the Koran while severely limiting any education in the sciences or secular subjects.
Last month, Daash issued another anti-Islamic “fatwa” that says that “all those who support Bashar al-Assad , even the word , or who are in favor of the National Coalition or agree to a dialogue with him must have his head separated from his body including the beheading of all members of the coalition favoring Geneva II or dialogue.”
One much respected Sunni Sheik from Tripoli, Lebanon currently residing in Damascus and with whom this observer has become friends over the course of many visits to Syria, is Sheikh Abdul Salam El Harrach, Symposium Coordinator of Muslim Scholars in Akkar, north Lebanon. Sheik Harrach has run afoul of Daash and is a strong supporter of the Hezbollah led Resistance to the Zionist occupation of Palestine and an advocate for the Syrian people. He favors dialogue and is hopeful about Geneva II while hoping that recent encouraging Iran-US efforts to settle some regional problems will bear fruit for Syria.
Sheikh Harrach argues that the Syrian people must decide in the coming Presidential election who will be their leaders, not other countries who are sending militia to create chaos while too often turning a blind eye to current Salafist un-Islamic criminal campaigns which include widespread thefts of Muslim property in areas they currently occupy in Syria. As a result of his political stances, the Sheikh has been targeted for assassination more than once by Daash/al Qaeda types and is rumored to have a large bounty on his head from Jabat al Nursa, Daash, and others in Tripoli who oppose Sunni-Shia rapprochement in the Levant and globally.
One assassination attempt, which wounded his son Wael, took place in the north Lebanon town of Aaat during a Ramadan Iftar event held in tents outside his home. Some blamed the March 14th coalition and extreme Islamic elements. Sheik Harrach explained that the assault on his son, and other armed attacks are perpetrated “against the background of incitement against Sunni Muslim from extremist elements who have the support of some of the security services, stressing that he is targeted because of his support for the reform and development in Syria under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad and because of the standing and support for the resistance and his outright rejection of the U.S. and Zionist project for Lebanon and the region. ”
To his credit and in solidarity with the people of Syria, Sheik Harrash vows to continue working with the growing Sunni and Shia joint resistance to Daash and like-minded Salafist militia until they are expelled from Syria. He insists that if someone wants to learn about Islam they need only come to Syria to study and not fall victim to “Islamic instruction” from foreign Islamists seeking establishment of a Levant or global Caliphate.