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The suicide explosion that took the life of Sheikh Mohamad Saeed Ramadan Al Bouti among 42 others in Damascus yesterday is not a Syrian crisis incident. This event commemorates a struggle that has been going for the past 35 years for Al Bouti in person and the past one and a half millennia for Islam itself.
A research long overdue, much like the explosion itself
Before I start this short journey in Islamic ancient and recent history, I would like to emphasize that I am a secular researcher. I spent 7 years in Sudan under the rule of the Islamic Front (now called the National Congress of Sudan). The Sudanese Islamic Front is one of the different faces of political Islam that conquered the Arab World during the second half of the 20th Century. The mother of all these political Islam movements is the one and only Muslim Brotherhood, who rule Egypt explicitly now, and a few other countries under different names.
This research is long overdue; specially form a person who considers himself an expert in Islamic movements in the Middle East and North Africa. The bloody events in Damascus yesterday pushed me to write this article, but this is just a step one in a series of articles on this important issue.
As for the explosion in Damascus yesterday, it is also long overdue. Al Bouti has been the sworn enemy of Salafism and Muslim Brotherhood militia since the early 80s of the past century. Read on to know why.
The term Salafism appeared for the first time in the 13th century in the teachings of Islamic controversial scholar Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Taymiyyah called for Muslims to go back to the way their great ancestors (in Arabic: Al Salaf Al Saleh, hence the term Salafism) used to understand Islam. What he wanted was to rid Islam of what he called foreign influence on Islam, which was the natural order of history, given the interaction between Muslims and the wide variety of cultures in areas conquered by the Islamic state. Ibn Taymiyyah is the God Father of the concept of Islamic Sharia rule, and the most prominent scholar whose teachings influenced political Islam movements.
In the 18th century, Mohamad bin Abd Al Wahhab, the creator of modern Salafism, Wahhabism (after him), restructured Salafism in light of modern life, and established what will later be the ruling doctrine for all political Islam movements. The turning point in Wahhabism was the alliance with Ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi dynasty still ruling the Kingdom of Saudi Arbia until today.
Meanwhile in Damascus
Damascus has always been a melting pot where various cultures and doctrines mixed to form a unique damascene form of Islam. It is worth mentioning that Ibn Taymiyyah was jailed several times in Damascus. Damascus Islamic scholars at that time did not agree with his extreme views, and they kept confronting him till he died in jail.
The damascene version of Islam was closely linked to Sufism, a mystical method that focuses on the spiritual aspects of the religion rather than the political ones. Damascus still has the tomb of Mohey El Din Ibn Arabi, one of the most prominent Sufi scholars in history, and the founder of the Akbari Sufi method. Unlike Ibn Taymiyyah and Abdul Wahhab, Ibn Arabi was a philosopher and researcher, not a salafi follower.
Damascus is also linked to the Ashaari method, a follower of which is Ibn Rushd, one of the most prominent philosophers in history of human kind.
So damascene or “Sahmi” Islam is historically different of that of Salafism and Wahhabism. This could help the western reader understand the conflict between Al Bouti and Salafi scholars. Al Bouti was not happy about the Muslim Brotherhood influence on the International Union of Muslim Sholars, headed by Aljazeera’s spokesperson, Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, so he established the Union of Sham Land Scholars.
Al Bouti vs the Muslim Brotherhood
In the late 70s and early 80s of the past century, the Muslim Brotherhood attempted toppling the Baath regime and late President Hafiz Al Assad. As confessed by their leader Riyad Al Shakfeh on the BBC, they used terrorism in their attempt. They were also backed by regional and international powers, from Saddam Hussein to the BBC itself back then. They used the media to portrait the events as a peaceful uprising (much like 2011), and a recently released CIA document revealed that the numbers of causalities in those events was extremely exaggerated.
Mohamad Saeed Ramadan Al Bouti, back then a young Muslim scholar, took the other side. The Brotherhood accuses Al Bouti of taking the side of the regime for beneficial purposes, but he explained several times that the disagreement with the Brotherhood is on the doctrine itself, not on politics.
Since then. Al Bouti became the icon of Shami Islam. He was given all the support by the Syrian regime to spread his version of moderate and fraternal Islam, to the extent that he used to appear on the national TV confronting secular researchers, like the televised debate with Dr. Tayeb Tizini in 1990. He also engaged in several debates with Syrian secular researcher Nabeel Fayyad. Those debates took the form of a book for a book, where Fayyad would write a book criticizing Islam, give it to Al Bouti in person, then Al Bouti would write a book in answer to that book*.
Therefore, Al Bouti was an example of a moderate scholar, who accepted criticism, and answered discussion with more discussion. He is known for never calling anyone infidel, and never claiming the right to judge people’s rights of life and freedom. This does not go well with the Salafi doctrine that calls for purification of the Muslim society by taking rid of all infidels. Infidels here referring not only to non-Muslims, but also to everybody who disagrees with Salafism.
The Syrian “Revolution”: A movement supported by Salafi scholars
Since the events started in Syria, Salafi scholars played an important role in calling for people to revolt. They played on the sectarian string, and incited people to support the “revolution” with money and weapons. The most important Salafi roles came from Al Qaradawi, who has a carte blanche on Aljazeera, and a Syrian Shiekh named Adnan Al Arour. Both A Qaradawi and Al Arour attacked Al Bouti several times (See this montage where both Al Qaradawi and Al Arour say that Al Bouti should be killed,
Al Qaradawi indirectly and AL Arour directly). AL Bouti never reciprocated, but he directed his speech to Al Qaradawi inviting him to a debate to figure out what is real reformation.
On March 21st, coinciding with Nowruz day, a national Kurdish holiday, Sheikh Mohamad Saeed Ramadan Al Bouti (of Kurdish origin) was assassinated in his mosque, with 42 of his students. His death was celebrated by many revolutionary pages (see here, here, and here for example, or see the picture in the frame which shows him “wanted”. This picture was published by a revolutionary page). Moreover, They are now threatening Al Bouti’s son, Tawfeek.
To us in Syria Tribune, this is not an incident related to the Syrian crisis only. This commemorates a long struggle between Al Bouti and the Wahhabi scholars, and between the damascene version of moderate Islam an extremism.
* Fayyad wrote his book “Hiwarat” (Dialogues) in answer to Al Bouti’s book “Hazihi Moshkilatohom” (These are Their Problems). On his Facebook page, Fayyad testified that he took the book to Al Bouti before publishing it, but Al Bouti refused to read it before it is published, so it does not look like censorship.