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Prominent Syrian Cleric Condemns the Violence in His Nation


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The first thing American audiences need to understand is that “The Syrian people are not ISIS. We need to get rid of ISIS.” So stated Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, instructor at the Grand Ummayyad Mosque in the heart of Damascus. 

Invited to speak at the Columbus School of Law on Nov. 19 by its Interdisciplinary Program on Law and Religion, the well-known Muslim cleric’s remarks, “Defending Religious Freedom and the Tragedy of Syria,” were both an explanation of its current explosive religious climate and a lament for his nation’s more peaceful and tolerant history in the not-too-distant past.
Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi noted that for most of its long history, Syria had an admirable record of Muslims, Jews, and Christians living peaceably with each other.
“The religions had a tacit agreement not to proselytize each other,” he said.
That began to change under the rule of the Baath Party, which came to power in 1963. For the first time, the Shaykh explained, government security forces would monitor teachings at mosques around the country each week, making sure that Muslim clerics were not deviating from the regime’s ideological line..  
The shaykh, who has persistently advocated for democracy and human rights for Syrians to build a democratic state, “was called in for interrogation many times.”
Today, ISIS— the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—controls large swaths of Syria, bringing with it a brand of extreme Islam that Syrian natives have not seen before.
“ISIS and its like are non-Islamic. This ideology does not belong to any of the major bodies of Islam. To them, even Sunni Muslims are heretics,” said al-Yaqoubi.
Commenting upon the grisly videos that ISIS has disseminated for Western consumption, the cleric said “I hope that such tapes would prevent people from joining ISIS. Now, they see that it has no limits.”
Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi hails from a prominent scholarly family and commands a large following of students even outside of Syria. He recently signed an open letter to the leader of ISIS condemning its savagery.
“Their nationality is hatred to the whole world,” al-Yaqoubi summed up. He spoke of longing for a day in the future when the gentler Syria of the past returns.