Aleppo’s Shaykhs on the Battle Front

Syria is a land with an abundance of traditional Islamic scholarship, which forms an essential part of society and its religious heritage. Sufi Shaykhs, Muftis and Imams are numerous in every town and city and play an important role in many different aspects of peoples’ daily lives. They are deeply entrenched in Syrian society through their students, their followers, their family members, their friends, their neighbours, their acquaintances and the people they work with. As such, they have suffered under this regime just like anyone else, and together with the rest of the Syrian people they have faced the genocidal campaign of mass destruction that Assad unleashed upon the country. As a result, many have been killed, many more imprisoned, while others were forced to flee the country. All of this has happened to the very top of Syrian religious scholarship as well as local preachers, in every major city and countless of towns and villages. Mosques have been amongst this regime’s favourite targets.

In their struggle for truth and justice they spoke out during the Friday preaches, appealed to regime officials, resigned from their posts, gave various verdicts in support of the people against the regime, joined them in their demonstrations, assisted with humanitarian relief, and supported their activism in general. Those who were forced to leave the country continued their struggle from abroad, appearing in the media, speaking at conferences, raising funds, working with exiled activists and politicians and uniting the opposition. This did not happen massively at once, the extent of their involvement differed between them; many have not been involved from the beginning, actively or more passively, or even at all. This is natural and does not affect the overall path that the community of religious scholars in Syria has taken. Unfortunately, however, most people remain unaware what role scholars such as Shaykh Krayyim Rajeh, Shaykh Usama and Shaykh Sariya al-Rifa`i, Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, Shaykh Mahmoud al-Husayni, Shaykh Moaz al-Khatib and many others, with many more who remain unnamed, have played in this revolution.

Despite the brutal repression, arrests, torture and killings, people continued their peaceful protests for months on end. When the army was sent in and soldiers and officers consequentially began to defect, an armed resistance was born. Together with the people, the scholars of the revolution by and large supported what was to become the Free Syrian Army and continue to do so up to this day. As much as there is a lack of awareness of the role that traditional Syrian scholarship has played in this revolution, there are many more misconceptions about the role of religion in the armed resistance, particularly because of the religious extremism and foreign origins wrongly yet too often associated with it. The real religious effort however has come from these traditional Syrian scholars, guiding and assisting the armed side of the revolution not much different from the peaceful side. They maintained relations with officers in the FSA, seeking to aid them with verdicts, advice and means, seeking to unite them amongst themselves and with others. More directly, they have continued to lead their own communities as these came to join the armed resistance, whether with the FSA or independently, and there are numerous battalions that sprung up this way throughout the country. Some of those have been in the making long before this revolution started even. Others joined existing battalions and brigades.

Naturally, some of the Shaykhs actually participate in battles on the front lines as well. They lead, they fight, and they offer guidance. The following footage shows this unreported fact of the Syrian resistance. I’ve not made any attempts to collect these particular images, but simply came across them as I was going through various videos from the front lines in Aleppo. There, nearly every brigade and many battalions have local Shaykhs that accompany them, as has been confirmed by members of the FSA as well as journalists who met them in the city. Going through the thousands of available videos from the city alone, not to mention all the videos from other parts of the country, should result in numerous of such findings.

First are two old videos that were posted before:

In Aleppo’s Sayf al-Dawleh neighbourhood, an armed local Shaykh stands together with fighters lead by the Commander of the Halab al-Shahba Brigade, who speaks for his own brigade as well as Liwa al-Tawhid, in response to regime claims that they had taken the neighbourhood.

This is the same Shaykh, also in Sayf al-Dawleh, as he is meeting with Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Agedi, who would become the head of the Aleppo Military Council.

After the battle for the Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, a Jazeera reporter accompanied a local Shaykh, who is an Imam and preacher in one of Aleppo’s mosques and who took part in this battle, as he explains how the acts of the regime inside the mosque prompted the need for its liberation.

This video was released two days ago, it comes from the eastern countryside of Aleppo where the formation of the Jund al-Haramayn Brigade is announced. A local Shaykh stands with the brigade’s leader who reads out the announcement, and leads in the oath that is taken. Roughly: to fight in God’s way, for the freedom of the people, for the blood of the martyrs, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Allahu Akbar.

Finally, this is the video the top picture comes from. It shows a local armed Shaykh in the old city’s Sabaa Bahrat neighbourhood instructing a group of fighters how to behave during battle. He tells them that victory comes from God, not weapons, turn injustice into justice, do only the permissible and leave the prohibited, to be united, citing the example and command of the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him not to be extreme, no to harm a tree, a child, a woman, to be merciful for the Prophet is a mercy to the worlds, that he did not want to fight disbelievers, but the disbelief itself. May this way the angels descend upon us, Allahu Akbar. [This video needs a proper translation and to be re-released with subtitles.]

Now there may be some phobics who might take the above footage on top of the story as proof for their claims that the armed resistance, the opposition, the revolution itself is a plot by religious extremists [using trendy terms such as Jihadist, Salafist, Islamist and so on] to overthrow the so-called secular Assad regime, as Assad himself would have had us believe from the very beginning. Unlike Assad and his supporters inside Syria however, they are unfamiliar with and uninterested in Syria’s actual religious traditions. Listening to what these Shaykhs have to say would suffice. Actual Assadists on the other hand know very well that those Shaykhs are the same people they have dealt with in all sorts of ways for decades. They are Syria’s Sunni scholars.

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