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Interview with

Sh. Muhammad al-Yaqoubi

Interviewed by Syria Comment - 2013

Edited and shortened by OmarKN

Edited and shortened by OmarKN

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Kind of fatwas the Shaykh has issued during the Syrian uprising:
For example: 1) Legal ruling on killing POWs of the army of the Assad regime in Syria; 2) Fatwa forbidding the kidnapping of foreigners; 3) Legal ruling on suicide car-bombing; 4) Getting the permission of parents before going on jihad; 5) The prohibition of killing prisoners in Islam; 6) Fatwa on saying “Allah-u-Akbar” aloud in mosques; 7) Ruling on the use of explosives to kill army officers when their family members might be killed with them; 8) Ruling on detonating a bomb in the car of an army officer who has his children with him; 9) Ruling on fighting the regime in inhabited areas; 10) Ruling on using land-mines in inhabited areas; 11) Ruling on a woman who loses her husband and requests a divorce.

Posted by Matthew Barber, 2013-05-30 ,[1]


Here are some of the highlights from the interview. For the complete edition, please refer to the source page. [1]

Most of the topics are of utmost importance, as they show the minhaj (methology) of the Shaykh, which is according to the Islamic tradition. It is essential reading for the Muslims as well as interested Non-Muslims in and beyond Syria.


- Jabhat al-Nusra, et. al.
- (They go) against mainstream Islam
- The damage they do to Islam
- Syria should be a democracy?
- Creating an “Islamic state”?
- Consider the non-Muslim vantage points
- Movement for Building Civilization
- Not going to execute or exclude others
- government (has to) be inclusive
- Corruption & Wahhabi doctrine
- Not working underground in secret cells
- Nothing good from secret cells
- Prepare the people before making a change
- When uprising was peaceful, the regime lost
- They won’t care about finishing off the regime
- Why regime has no legitimacy
- Sheikh al-Bouti’s relationship
- (Not) to “islamize” the law
- ʿAlawites and Druze = People of the Book
- When we say non-Muslims, X mean th. have to be killed.
- Defending the rights of minorities
- Saudi sheikhs issued fatwas X
- Prisoners of war are to be protected.
- I never give a fatwa for the killing of anyone.
- Teaching in the Sheikh al-Akbar (Ibn ʿArabi) Mosque
- Absorbing their emotion, their anger + transforming it
- Revenge is not cured by further revenge; violence => violence

No one would deny that they [Jabhat al-Nusra] had some sympathy from the oppressed—not from all Syrian people; wise Syrians were always aware of the fact that these people are alien in their ideology. Probably the majority of them are foreigners—their ideology is alien to the Syrian religious culture… but one could say they had some sympathy, because they made some achievements, though we never sympathized with them; we made it very clear that car bombs are forbidden and such. But now, they lost—morally—their reputation… because no one wants a new Afghanistan in Syria, no one wants such… Now that people see the need to get rid of them, they see them as a burden, as a cause of harm.

that Jabhat al-Nusra is al-Qaida?

I’m not surprised. The ideology is the same. The ideology is against mainstream Islam. And I would stress that this is a sect now. This ideology does not represent 1.5 billion Muslims and it is contrary to the rulings of the four Sunni madhabs on jihad, on going against oppressive rulers or non-Muslim rulers, and on contracts and truces between countries. It’s not about whether I like the U.S. or don’t like it—this is something else. I may agree with U.S. policies or disagree with U.S. policies, but I cannot legally put any Muslim country at war with the U.S. There is not a single Muslim country at war with the U.S. now (or the UK, or France, or any of these “Western targets” of al-Qaida). So legally, I have to say that when they [Westerners] visit us, we have to safeguard their property and respect their freedom; when we visit there or live there we have to respect the same; Muslims don’t stab in the back. So there’s no justification for their ideology at all.

from what I read, there was a conflict between al-Qaida in Iraq… and al-Nusra in Syria. So they didn’t want to give allegiance to the Iraqi wing of al-Qaida…

Regardless, they all represent the Devil, I believe. The damage they do to Islam is much worse than that done by any outside force or group or anything that could be imagined, and it’s our responsibility as religious leaders—doctors of the law, theologians—to explain what Islam is. I’m not afraid… I’ve been known, probably, quite well, for criticizing Western policies in the past, but now I ask for Western intervention [because of the extremists]. [smiling] Because we really have to see what’s right and what’s wrong. Ok, I can criticize Western democracy—this is my right, just as many Western and American professors and politicians criticize Western policies.

Do you believe a new Syria should be a democracy?

Of course! We had the earliest democracy in the Middle East, after independence from France in ’46; we had a Christian prime minister, Fares Khouri; we had a very smooth political system… it was interrupted by some military coup d’état…

So do you believe in creating an “Islamic state”?

Syria is an Islamic state. People are talking about an “Islamic state”; if you mean a state “ruled by shari’a,” let me tell you that 80% of the rulings of the laws in Syria now are based on shari’a. These people who are calling for [Islamic] reform are ignorant. Even the civil law, taken from the Napoleonic corpus of law, intact in 1949 and taken from the Egyptian civil law with some modifications—85% or more of it is compatible with the shari’a.

I believe the future of Syria has to be looked at from different points of view, creating a unique opportunity between all members of Syrian society, and all religious and ethnic groups. We need to consider the non-Muslim vantage points. Consider yourself for a moment a non-Muslim Syrian citizen who is looking at the future of Syria. We need to look at how others see it, why others are afraid of us. It doesn’t mean that if I’m a Muslim, or a Muslim scholar, or a Muslim thinker, or a Muslim leader who happens to lead the uprising, that it should then be shaped or framed as in a religious way, or that I alone decide on the future of Syria. This is one point that I believe should be quite important.

We agreed to call the movement Tiyaar Binaa’ al-Hadara, Movement for Building Civilization. Some people wanted to call it “Islamic civilization.” I said no, just “civilization.” I specifically did not want it to have the name “Islamic” to keep it inclusive. Islamic civilization was also built by Christians, Jews, and others. But of course, included in its principles is that Syria is an Islamic state: the president should be a Muslim. Regardless of whether we achieve this or not—because this is the democratic process—the idea was to offer an alternative to Ikhwaan and Salafi political power.

I don’t mind starting a political speech without “In the name of God.” Here I am in politics—I can mention the name of God on the way there, in my heart, as much as I wish, but now I am at a political event. However, some politicians around the Arab World do so, like Hosni Mubarak used to when he began speeches. It’s a cultural feature. Yes, it’s a cultural thing, but sometimes it shapes your discourse; we don’t want to shape our discourse that way. [By this] we are not running away from our religion! But we don’t want to threaten others. We don’t want others to believe that we are going to establish a shari’a-based state that is going to execute or exclude others. I believe we still have a huge margin of the Syrian people who are afraid to rebel against the regime, just because they are afraid of the future.

Even if he is, I don’t mind. We may have to deal with an Ikhwaani prime minister in the future Syria. That is democracy. But the real question is: will the government be of all one color, or will it be inclusive?

In one of them I spoke about the Tunisian uprising (and it had also recently begun in Egypt), and I spoke about corruption. I criticized Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi doctrine and at the time they were trying to beg the Saudis for good relations, so they called me for interrogation.

We don’t allow working underground in secret cells. We work in the open. We don’t need organizations, because the ‘ulema rely on the trust they build with people, through their life of uprightness, knowledge, reputation. So we don’t need, and we prohibit secret organizations. Because the moment we get into secrets, we get into the Batiniyya. They are sects which hold to hidden meanings, hidden dogmas, hidden interpretations: this leads to hidden policies and agendas. Secrecy is forbidden in Islam. Everything we do is in the open; we don’t have a secret organization.

And I haven’t seen any need for or good come from secret cells or organizations. It’s very dangerous and people are brainwashed. We are ‘ulema. People come to us; if they don’t like us they go to another scholar—a fourth scholar, a fourth mosque. No one is forcing them to attend a particular mosque; they can choose for themselves. People like scholars of different styles, but at the same time, we work for the same Islam.

But if a change is to be made, it has to happen by consensus of the representatives of the nation. Not by a small group. The Ikhwaan acted on their own. They didn’t consult with the ‘ulema. You know from the history of revolutions that you must prepare people before making a change. If there is oppression, you have to prepare people so that they accept the change or call for a change.

The regime was betting on something, taking a chance. As long as the uprising was peaceful, the regime would be losing. We heard verified statements that some security and military officers started selling arms in Dera’a, in the south. And in another instance, I heard (something I can’t verify) that people were offered weapons deals. The other statements that can be verified claim that they left Kalashnikovs and other weapons, for demonstrators to carry, in order to justify the regime’s actions. In Bashar al-Assad’s most recent interview, he said that this is a war. And when he calls this a “war,” he has considered it a war from the beginning. A “war” means he’s not dealing with “people” (who are demonstrating, who are defending their honor); in a war he can resort to any means necessary. So they wanted it to turn into a war.

These people, especially foreign fighters, and including some of the extremist Syrians (I’m sure they will find some to brainwash and recruit) they won’t care about finishing off the regime or not; all they are interested in is their military activities, training, building secret cells, in order to move to other countries and to work against U.S. interests and some other countries. Someone drew my attention to this after having been inside and talking to some of them. He came back out with this impression. He said they don’t care whether the regime collapses or not; they are just building their own organization, cells, and strategic planning for future work. I believe that in the end, this will force the West to intervene, in order to get rid of them.

Why? Because the regime has no legitimacy, so why would you defend the regime? Why doesn’t it have legitimacy—in a theological sense? First of all, because the president went against his duty. I told you before: his job is to protect the country, protect the people, protect honor, protect wealth, protect sanity, and he did not perform this duty, at all. He had an opportunity to make reform, to bring criminals to justice. He formed a committee to study the case of Dera’a, Douma, and later on Lattakia, and the results of this committee’s analysis never came out. So it is very obvious that he is not on the side of the people; he is on the side of the criminals. So such a president, along with his assistants, has no shari’a backing or support for continued leadership of the country. Besides, from a shari’a point of view, let’s say there’s a controversy about him. He should resign, and hand leadership over to others—if the cause is right. If the cause is right, and there is a controversy, all that people are asking for is that he be removed. Ok, let’s bring someone else. Why not? Why is he sticking to the chair so? We see that the whole conflict will be solved by him being removed. So remove a nation (killing 100,000 people), or remove a single person from the presidency. It’s very obvious.

The image of Hafez al-Assad was so dirty that anyone who would shake hands with him would be rejected by people. And Sheikh al-Bouti’s relationship helped his image. It helped a lot. And then he prayed at the funeral of Hafez al-Assad himself, and he appeared on TV crying. And I saw him swearing that Hafez al-Assad was a Muslim.

Let me first say that I don’t have an agenda to “Islamize” the law after the uprising succeeds; the law in effect would be applied for all citizens and I don’t think the law discriminates now.

In terms of legitimacy, in the Hanafi school we consider them like the People of the Book. I didn’t know that. The Hanafi school has considered Magians as People of the Book. And similarly in the fatwas of the Hanafite scholars, such sects as the ‘Alawites and Druze are considered like the People of the Book, in a way that is quite simple, but which also has restrictions. Which scholars and in which period? I’m referring to scholars of the Ottoman period. I know you’re thinking about Ibn Taymiyya and others.

What I told them was that we teach theology in a class on theology: who is a Muslim, who is not. Who is a believer, who is an unbeliever—this discussion takes place in every religion. In Christianity: who is baptized or not baptized, who is entitled to salvation and who is not; it exists in every religion. But to have it in a political or a social law, this is different. When we say they are non-Muslims, it doesn’t mean they have to be killed. If we go to the books of politics: kitaab al-siyaasa, or kitaab al-jihaad, or kitaab al-whatever, or the books of fiqh, you’ll see that the muftis agreed on them living, agreed on giving them full rights. These were Ottoman muftis after Ibn Taymiyya; the Ottomans didn’t exterminate them. Now they had restrictions on them, which they [the ‘Alawis] considered oppression. Because they considered their religion falsehood, they were not allowed to proselytize for it.

I will rise to defend the minorities’ rights, even before defending the majority’s rights, because we don’t want anyone to be oppressed in the name of Islam.

For example, Saudi sheikhs issued fatwas saying that women and children of the Nusayris should be killed. I said no. Around ten months ago or so, I was consulted for a fatwa on a military operation. Someone had planned an operation to kill a regime general, who was responsible for torture and such. He happened to be an Alawite. Anyway, they had put a bomb …

There is no way to kill a captive. Prisoners of war are to be protected. They tried to give examples …

This is why I never give a fatwa for the killing of anyone. A fatwa is more dangerous than a weapon itself, when you put it in the hand of angry people. In my last statement on kidnapping being forbidden, I said “a fatwa is a dangerous weapon when put in the hand of an angry man fighting on the ground—you will never know the extent of its effects.”

I was teaching al-Ghazali’s book Ihya’ ‘ulum ad-Din. Al-Ghazali is one of my favorites. And as a Sufi, I was teaching in the Sheikh al-Akbar Mosque, Ibn Arabi’s mosque [formally the “al-Salimiyya Mosque” after the Ottoman caliph]. I have very strong spiritual ties with him, and I was teaching Sufism there. I long for these places that have so much spirituality, such fragrances of history. Being there lets me perform a great service for Islam, which is a real honor for me. To continue teaching is the most significant role I can perform.

I listen to so many angry people, receiving their anger; I try to absorb their emotion, their anger, and to transform it and produce something good from it. I tell them, “As Muslim believers if you’re going to treat your enemy in the same vengeful way that they do, you’re no different from them.” As Muslims, we’re unique for our mercy, for our pardoning, for our love, the love we have toward others. In the midst of anger, it is very difficult to control one’s emotions. I’m proud that through my talks, discussions, fatwas, that I’m spreading this orientation. We don’t have enough resources and support, and someone said to me, “In order to be popular, you need to be radical.” [smiling] I said, “I’m not going to change.”

People need a guiding voice, we must embrace them, direct them in the right way, offer them solace. You know, the focus must not be on taking revenge. Revenge is not cured by further revenge; violence merely begets violence. The best way to treat it is by showing more love, showing mercy. This is what we can offer. If we were to really show it, no one could match Muslims in our mercy, but unfortunately, it’s disastrous now. We have to make a huge effort to heal hearts, to heal people’s hearts after the uprising.

"In any case, what Westerners call civilization, the others would call barbarity, because it is precisely lacking in the essential, that is to say, a principle of a higher order."
René Guénon, East And West, 1924

صلّى الله على سيّدنا محمّد و على آله و صحبه و سلّم

The blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions, ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ) .



Related texts
link-in A Life According to the Sunna of Profet Muhammad ﷺ Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi

  1. Syria Comment » Archives Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi Interviewed by Syria Comment - Syria Comment

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