Questions About Syria for the Muslim World
It has become a mainstay to begin articles on the Syrian conflict by stating the current score of the dead and displaced. For the record, we are now more than three years and perhaps 200,000 dead into the Syrian conflict.
Approximately half of the Syrian population has become external or internal refugees, and no real end is in sight. The UN has done its best to address the carnage, and has achieved its usual nothing. Early calls for Western intervention to prevent the bloodbath that was already under way became less frequent after President Obama backed away from his red line about the use of chemical weapons.
The allies of the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia, must be pleased with how things are going. No-one has a clear idea about what might bring the conflict to an end, so fresh thinking is needed.
The Syrian war has real causes, in the sense used by international relations theorists, but these have long since given way to a competition for power between five basic groupings, including three motivated by Islamist doctrines:
- The Alawite government understands that if it loses control, not only will it lose its privileged position in Syria but its people will likely be massacred. Alawites are questionably Muslim and regarded as heretics by Sunnis, so if they lose control, their fate will be similar to that of Christians in other Muslim countries. Iran backs the Alawites for its own reasons.
- The secular opposition has lost control of the anti-Alawite forces and has largely been side-lined.
The war is thus testing the strength of three groups of jihadis; the jihadi factions all claim the righteousness of their cause based on their interpretation of what Islam demands, yet, curiously, each of their ideologies includes a proposition that is clearly incompatible with Islamic beliefs:
- The most obviously problematic of these is the Iranian Shi’ites who back the incumbent Alawite government. They believe that if they can cause enough global chaos they can compel Allah to submit to their will and reveal the “hidden imam.” This notion turns on its head Islam’s central precept, that man’s obligation in this world is to submit to Allah’s will; Allah does not submit to the will of Man, or a man, even if he is an ayatollah. The Iranian approach must be recognized as contrary to Islam and should be rejected by all real Muslims, specifically including Shi’ites.
- The Muslim Brotherhood was established in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna to reverse the abolition of the caliphate four years earlier. Muslim Brothers need to consider a single question: Could such a profound change in the structure of the Muslimummah as the abolition of its titular head happen against Allah’s will? There are only two possibilities. If the answer is “Yes,” then Allah doesn’t even control the structure of Islam and cannot be all that powerful. This is not to mention that it falsifies the most commonly appearing phrase in the Quran: “Allah is able to do all things!” (Pickthall interpretation) which should include maintaining His followers’ organizational structure.However, once one rejects, “Yes,” the alternative, “No,” means that Allah wanted the caliphate abolished – perhaps because the age of jihad is over – so by seeking to reinstate it, the Brotherhood is in fact in rebellion against Allah’s will. The Brotherhood is thus kufr. It is possible to add epicycles to the Brotherhood’s ideas, that the abolition of the caliphate was a test of Muslims’ willingness to sacrifice to re-establish it, but to make this claim they would have to work from their desired outcome backwards, rather than looking at reality as it presents itself. When al-Banna asserted that this is what Allah wanted, he was presenting himself as a prophet, a clear rejection of Islam’s belief that there can be no prophets after Muhammad.
- The third jihadi faction includes various Salafi groups. There are several groups fighting one another as well as the other factions, so it is quite clear that the issue isn’t doctrine. Their objective, to be attained by use of more or less violence, is to return the Muslim world to the glory days when the Prophet Muhammad walked the earth. It is easy to understand why they regard this period as glorious. It is less easy, possibly impossible, to see how they can reestablish the glory of that moment without the Prophet’s presence. Clearly, to the extent that the presence of the Prophet is what made that era so great, it is not possible to return to it. Their goals are thus impossible to achieve by their own standards or require them to denigrate the Prophet in ways well in excess of what would produce rioting if a non-Muslim did something similar.
Muslims need to ask themselves whether any of these groups actually represents what Allah wants of them. Since each of their ideologies includes an idea that is incompatible with the basic teachings of Islam, the answer must be “No!”
Syria is the first Muslim country to face this war of all against all, but it is unlikely to be the last. The Syrian war has always threatened to overflow into Iraq and Lebanon, where the same groups would fight one another. Egypt is being rocked by a three-way conflict involving a “secularist” faction, the Brotherhood, and various Salafi groups. Something similar is in the works in Libya and Yemen, and possibly Saudi Arabia. Do the peoples of these countries want what is happening in Syria to happen to them? If not, they have to join arms against the ideas of all three jihadi factions. Fathers must forbid their sons (and the occasional daughter) from joining the fighting. Imams must rise to the occasion and recognize that Allah doesn’t want what is happening in Syria, so it is their obligation to help stop it.
There is an even deeper question that must be addressed: It follows immediately from the existence of two sets of revelations, an earlier Meccan and a later Medinan one that Allah changes His mind. Might He have done so again, in 1924 or more recently? What would that mean for Muslims today? I leave that for a future article.