Grand Mufti of Syria: A Sunni and a Shia, a Salafi and a Sufi

Much of the war in the conflict-ridden Muslim nations is still being waged as part of the gravest sectarian slugfest in Islamic history—Shia-Sunni divide. Syria has remained the current hotbed of this fierce battle. But surprisingly, the Grand Mufti and the highest Islamic authority in Syria— Shaikh Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun—maintains that he is both “Sunni and Shiite” at the same time.

Shaikh Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun
Shaikh Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun

 “I am Sunni in practice, Shiite in allegiance. My roots are Salafi [righteous], and my purity is Sufi [saintly]”, he said, as reported in an Arabic media outlet (1).

However, in his recent visit to India on September 25, the Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic has warned against the radical Islamist creed—Wahhabism. He cautioned Indian Muslims, particularly the madrasa students, about the “external calls of Jihad from Wahhabis”. Expressing crucial concerns over the ‘sectarian terrorism’ playing havoc across the Muslim world, Shaikh Hassoun averred that it would endanger even India’s secular and pluralistic social fabric.

Notably, the Grand Syrian Mufti was on a two-day visit to the capital of India, Delhi, along with Syrian ambassador to India, Riyadh Abbas and his political adviser Mazen Nasri. Extolling India for its ‘multicultural polity’, Shaikh Hassoun tried to draw a parallel and a close resemblance between India and Syria. He has pointed out that Syria is being targeted as it is “much like the Indian republic”. “The only country in the Arab region which has 25 different sects” and which is the “first secular country in the Middle East”, he said in an exclusive interview with India Today.

One of the significant appeals Shaikh Hassoun made to Indians was to ‘steer clear of mercenaries and infiltrators’ and ‘stay unified against the Wahhabi extremism’. This was also endorsed in the statement of the Syrian ambassador to India, Riyadh Abbas, when he said, “Wahabism is the enemy of people and Islam and Indians should not take calls of Wahabis”.

Tellingly, the Syrian Grand Mufti’s advice to the Indian government to act cautiously while dealing with the ‘ideological onslaught of Wahhabism’ came at a critical juncture. But it appears that many analysts have overlooked its significant ideological dynamics. They failed to assess as to why the topmost Islamic authority in Syria cautioned the Indian Muslims and their madrassa not to pay heed to ‘external calls of Jihad from Wahhabis’ and why there should be a serious deliberation of all religious heads on this issue to safeguard India.

In fact, Wahhabism is not a mainstream Islamic sect like Sunni or Shia. Rather, it is an extremist ideology based on an exclusivist takfirist theology propounded by the medieval theologian, Sheikh Ibn Taimiyah and promulgated by the 18th century orthodox Islamist ideologue, Sheikh Ibn Abdul Wahhab Najdi. In his celebrated work in Arabic, “Kitab al-Tawhid’ (book on Monotheism), Najdi wrote: “Islam of a man can never be accepted, even if he abandons polytheism, unless he shows hostility towards the disbelievers and infidels, not only in his/her words but also in actions”……. “Kufr and Islam are opposed to each other. The progress of one is possible only at the expense of the other and co-existences between these two contradictory faiths is unthinkable”……“The honour of Islam lies in insulting Kufr (disbelief) and Kafir (disbeliever). One who respects the Kafirs, dishonours the Muslims. To respect them does not merely mean honouring them and assigning them a seat of honour in any assembly, but it also implies keeping company with them or showing considerations to them. They should be kept at an arm’s length like dogs………”

Such exclusivist writings created the virulent theology of takfirism— declaring a Muslim apostate or beyond the pale of Islam—and thus justifying the wanton killings of innocent civilians across the world. An objective reading of Islamic history unravels this widespread global and historical phenomenon.

The 14th century radical Islamist jurist Ibn Taimiyah’s famous Fatwa of Mardin, which is mentioned in 28th part of his book, Majmu’a al-Fatawa, justified the massacre of the non-combatant civilians of Mardin—a town located on the border between Syria and Turkey. The ISIS’ mouthpiece Dabiq (Issue 6, page 40) has also quoted this pernicious fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah as theological justification for assassination of the moderate Muslim scholars and civilians declared ‘apostates’ in its view.

But in a sharp rebuttal to this ferocious fatwa of Mardin, the mainstream Muslim scholars, particularly the Hanafi and Sufi scholars of his time refuted Ibn Taimiyah. They countered one more fatwa issued by Ibn Taymiyyah which encouraged those engaged in “jihad ma’alkuffar” (war against the infidels).

Now, contrast Ibn Taimiyah with the present-day chief Islamist jurist and the ideological icon of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood)—whose fatwas are authoritative for the global Wahhabi-Salafi community—the Qatar-based Salafist cleric, Shaikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi. In fact, Taimiyah’s fatwa of Mardin is synonymous with Qaradawi’s clerical call to kill the Syrian armed forces, civilians, religious clerics and even the common citizens which he calls ‘ignorants’ and “illiterates”. He blatantly states that it is permitted [in religion] to target “anyone who supports the Syrian regime” (2).

Interestingly, Qaradawi is the first contemporary Islamist jurist who justified suicide bombing as a war tactic in ‘certain circumstances’. He gave this fatwa in his worldwide exposure via Al-Jazeera television through his weekly program “Sharia and Life” (al-Shari’awal-Hayat). Qaradawi’s fatwas justifying the violent jihad and suicide bombing provided theological legitimacy to those fighting the Kuffar (infidels) and Murtaddin (apostates). His fatwas also promoted and legitimized martyrdom operations referring to them as “a higher form of jihad for the sake of Allah”, as Al Arabiya reported (3).

Notably, the Qatar-based Salafist jurist, Qardawi opined that “he was not alone in believing suicide bombings as legitimate form of self-defence for people who have no aircraft or tanks”. “Hundreds of other Islamic scholars are of the same opinion”, he said.

The equivalent of Al-Qardawi in Turkey Sheikh Hayrettin Karaman, an Islamic jurist also known as ‘Erdoğan’s chief fatwa-supporter’, has approved of the torture, abuse and the mass purge of the innocent civilians in Turkey. Karaman has issued several religious edicts (fatwas) endorsing the wrongdoings of the Turkish President and absolving his responsibilities. He wrote several articles in the Erdoğanist newspaper, Yeni Şafak declaring the purge and persecution of the Turkish civilians as “lesser crimes” (4).

Much like Yusuf al-Qardawi in Qatar and Sheikh Karaman in Turkey, the political theologians and Takfirist-Wahhabi preachers in India have also provided untenable theological underpinnings justifying certain acts of terror. They have long been calling for ‘jihad-e-Kashmir’ and ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’ (jihadist expedition against India) through the religious sermons. The staunch Wahhabi preacher in Kashmir, Maulana Mushtaq Veeri regularly delivers sermons filled with an extremist provocation in the Valley’s Salafi mosques. Scores of his hate speeches are catching the imagination of the young Kashmiris towards Islamic State. Similar to his exclusivist underpinnings, the popular Salafist cleric in Malappuram, Shaikh Shamsudheen Fareed has also promulgated an extremist religious rhetoric in Kerala. They are on the path of Zakir Naik, the controversial Islamist preacher banned in India, who is reported to have made several notorious speeches justifying suicide bombing ‘a war tactic’ (5).

Given the Grand Syrian Mufti’s word of warning about the “external calls of Jihad from Wahhabis”, Indian government should act cautiously to safeguard the internal security. As an urgent task in this context, political Islamist outfits in South India pledging an allegiance to the Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood must be scrutinised. The Kerala-based radical Islamist outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) is a fresh case in point. PFI, which claims to be an NGO, pledges an allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin). It has also alleged links with terror activities like chopping of a Christian professor’s hand in Kerala’s Idukki and running the ‘Islamic State Al-Hindi Module’. A case was busted in which PFI planned to target prominent people and places in South India by involving the outfit Islamic State Al-Hindi, as the NIA report on government table revealed (6).

Over the past few years, the Muslim Brotherhood’s movement, inspired by Sheikh al-Qaradawi, has been massively funded and supported in India’s Salafist circles particularly in Kerala and the Malabar coastline. This has systematically been pursued in a bid to indoctrinate the gullible Keralite Muslim youths into the theocracy of the two political Islamist ideologues: (1) Syed Qutub, the Egyptian theologian and the leading member of the Ikhwan who conceptualised other insurgent Islamist outfits in Egypt and (2) Maulana Abul A’ala Maudoodi whose writings politicized the Islamic doctrines and practices to an extent that he viewed every spiritual belief and act of Islam with a political outlook. Such an extremist ideology which turned Islam from being a peace-based spiritual faith into a religion of political dominion has created chaos in the West Asia. But more deplorably, now it appears to play havoc in India at the behest of Qatar.

Regrettably, the Muslim Brotherhood continues to woo the gullible Muslim youths in South India. But while the radical thoughts of the Ikhwan are spawning across the South Asia, the mainstream Indian Muslims are worried about the vulnerable pluralistic ethos they pride themselves in. Given this, it is the pressing need of the time that India strengthens the spiritual Muslim centers like Khanqahs and Dargahs (Sufi shrines) as quality education centres, so they can rescue the young and impressionable Muslim minds from being misguided. Given the meagre resources they have, they cannot undertake this gigantic task. But do they have the option to do nothing, just stand and stare?

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Regular columnist with New Age Islam, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. He can be reached at

Courtesy: New Age Islam



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