The process of editing a piece often leads to oversimplification for the sake of word limits and the like. Here is some original content that did not make it into the final piece I co-wrote with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross for Foreign Affairs on the issue of the Druze of Jabal al-Summaq in Idlib province and jihadist interactions with them, both historically and following the Qalb Lawze massacre:
1. The Druze of Idlib have issued two statements renouncing their original faith. The first came in November 2013 as a result of pressure from ISIS, which had expanded across northern Syria in that year and, despite being thinly spread, seems to have had sufficient strength in the Jabal al-Summaq area to pressure the Druze to announce conversion to Sunni Islam. Below is the full statement translated for the first time:
“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of Truth to be over all religion even if the mushrikeen [idolators] hate it, and prayers and peace be upon the Sayyid al-Mursaleen [Master of Those Sent] and the seal of the Prophets Muhammad bin Abdullah, all his family and companions, and whoso has followed them with ihsan to the Day of Judgment. Praise be to God, we are Muslims to God- Almighty and Exalted is He- the One, the Eternal- and we are those who believe that they [i.e. the Muslims] are the most abundant in ‘Ilm [Islamic knowledge], most preferred in mind, and most abundant in guidance from the sons of our tribe in the villages of the province of Idlib whose names are as follows: Kaftin, Ma’arat al-Ikhwan, Birat Kaftin, Kafr Bani, Arshin, al-Duwair, Alata, Aberita, Jid’ain, Halla, Talatiya, Kuku, Kafr Maris, Bashanad-Laya, Banashad-Lati, Qalb Lawze, Banabel.
We affirm and testify that there is no deity but God alone, with no partner for Him, in absoluteness and unity. And we testify that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger, the Seal of the Prophets whom He sent as a guider and warner for all mankind. We disavow those who affiliate us falsely and in slander with the cursed, reprehensible Muhammad bin Ismail al-Darazi [early figure in the Druze sect], and we disavow him, his batini [derogatory term for esoteric] doctrine, responsible for the Druze creed which we declare to be kufr [disbelief] and disavow. And we declare to be disbelievers all who are on the path of his religion. And in fiqh we emulate the madhhab of Imam Muhammad bin Idris al-Shafi’i al-Qurashi [founder of the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence]- may God have mercy on him- without taqlid [slavish imitation] or ta’assub [extremism]: and it is belief in God, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, and resurrection after death, as well as belief in destiny, for better or worse. And from belief in God is belief in how He described himself in His book [Qur’an] and how His Messenger Muhammad (SAWS) was described, without distortion, obstruction, modality or analogy.
Rather, we believe that God is Exalted (there is nothing like Him, and He is the Hearer, the Seer), so there is no refrainment for the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama’at from what the Mursaleen brought, for it is the Straight Path, the path of those who have been blessed from the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs and the Just. And we believe in God, His Books and that the Qur’an is the Word of God, revealed and not created, beginning from Him and returning to Him, and we believe that He spoke in it truth and that this Qur’an which he revealed to our Sayyid Muhammad (SAWS) is the word of God in truth, and there is no word besides it and it is not permissible to say that it is a mere narration from the word of God or expression from it. Rather, if people read it or write it with that on pages, it would not be possible to disagree that it is the word of truth.
And we believe in the Last Day, and belief in all that the Prophet (SAWS) told about what would be after death, the arising and resurrection. And we believe that the doctrine of transmigration is a Hindu doctrine contrary to the doctrine of belief in the Last Day, Arising and the Resurrection at the Judgement. Further, we believe that faith is increased through obedience and diminished by rebellion, and we do not declare to be kuffar the people of qibla on the basis of disobefience and great sins as the Khawarij do. And we affirm the peace of our hearts and tongues towards the Companions of the Messenger of God (SAWS), just as God described them for him in the Almighty’s words: “And those who came after them, saying: ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and do not place any resentment in our hearts towards those who have believed. Our Lord, indeed you are kind, merciful'” [Qur’an 59:10]. And we do so out of obedience to the Prophet in his words: “And do not abuse my Companions, for by the One in whose hand my soul is, if one of you were to spend gold equal to Mount Uhud, it would not be worth one of them or even half that person.” And we believe that God said to the people of Badr and they were some 310 in number- “Know that what sins you have committed, I have forgiven you”- and [the words of the Prophet]: “No one who has given the pledge under the tree will enter Hellfire.”
And we testify that Paradise is for whomsoever of the ten for whom the Messenger of God (SAWS) has borne witness for Paradise [the tradition of the ten promised Paradise]. And we affirm what has been transmitted on the authority of the Amir al-Mu’mineen Ali bin Abi Talib (may God be pleased with him): that the best of this Ummah after its Prophet is Abu Bakr, then Omar, followed third by Othman and fourth by Ali, may God be pleased with them all. And we love the people of the House of the Messenger of God (SAWS) and we are loyal to them and affirm over then the testament of the Messenger of od (SAWS) when he said on the Day of Ghadeer Khumm: “I remind you for God of the people of my House….I remind you for God of the people of my House.” And he also said that God chose the children of Ismail, and from the children of Ismail He chose a quiver, and from the quiver Quraysh, and from Quraysh the children of Hashim [Bani Hashim] and then a prophet from Bani Hashim.
And we are loyal to the wives of the Messenger of God, the mothers of the believers. And we believe that they are his wives in the Hereafter especially Khadija- may God be pleased with her- the mother of most of his children and the first who believed in him and supported him over his affairs, and there has been for her from it the highest rank, and al-Sadiqa bint al-Sadiq [A’isha daughter of Abu Bakr], may God be pleased with them both, about whom the Prophet (SAWS) said: “The rank of A’isha over other women is as the rank of porridge” and whosoever curses one of the Prophet’s wives has committed kufr. And we follow the footsteps of the Messenger of God (SAWS) internally and externally and the following of the path of the first precedents from the muhajireen and ansar and the following of the testament of the Prophet (SAWS) when he said: “Upon you be my Sunna and the Sunna of the rightly-guided Caliphs (successors) after me so stick to them and bite upon them with your molar teeth. And beware of new developments of matters, for they constitute innovation and all innovation is misguidance.”
And we know that the truest words are those of God, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (SAWS) and we hold the words of God over the words of those besides Him from the talk of the classes of people, and we present the guidance of Muhammad over the guidance of everyone else because al-Jama’at is the gathering on the guidance of Muhammad, and its opposite is division, so upon us is what was upon the just predecessors from testifying that there is no deity but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, establishing prayer, giving zakat, fasting in Ramadan, and performing pilgrimage to the House as far as one can, jihad, coming together and the feasts. And we owe the Ummah for advice and believe the meaning of SAWS’ words- “The believer is to the believer as the edifice, strengthening each other,” and he said that clasping his hands and interlacing his fingers- and the words of SAWS: “The believers are like one body in love, mercy and compassion for one another. If one part of it is distressed, the rest of the body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.”
And our path is the religion of Islam with which God sent Muhammad, so those adhering to Islam, clean and pure of dilution, are the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama’at, among whom are the truthful, the martyrs, the just, and from them are the banners of guidance, the lamps for the darkness that have applied the transmitted virtues and mentioned good qualities, and among them are the replacements and the victorious sect about which the Prophet said: “A sect will remain openly on the path of Truth, and no one who abandons them shall harm them, nor shall anyone who contravenes them, until the Hour arises.” So we ask God the Great to place us among them and not to avert our hearts after He has guided us and grant us what mercy He has. Indeed He is the Granter. And may God’s blessings and peace be upon Muhammad, his family and companions, great deliverance.”
2. ISIS sought to phase out gradually traditional Druze religious and cultural practices following on from this statement under the guidance of an allied Saudi cleric, but the ISIS presence in Jabal al-Summaq proved to be short-lived with the outbreak of infighting between ISIS and the rebels in January 2014. This culminated in ISIS’ withdrawal from Idlib province. Officially, the November 2013 statement of renunciation of the Druze faith was never cancelled, but the presence of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) in Jabal al-Summaq allowed for the inhabitants to retain some of their customs, including the maintenance of some shrines, as SRF leader Jamal Ma’arouf pledged to guarantee rights for the Druze of Jabal al-Summaq.
However, SRF was in turn expelled from Idlib province by Jabhat al-Nusra in November 2014, giving the latter primary control over Jabal al-Summaq. Jabhat al-Nusra’s amir for the area- Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi- doubted the sincerity of the official profession of Sunni Islam, noticing, for example, that some of the shrines still remained. Accordingly, in January 2015, he had representatives of the villages issue asecond statement of renunciation of the Druze faith, with an explicit commitment to destroying shrines, teaching Islam with a particular focus on the youth, and adhering to Shari’i regulations on women’s dress and gender-mixing etc. This led to the destruction of remaining shrines, such as the Sheikh Izz al-Din and Sheikh Abu Salah shrines in Kaftin. Meanwhile, the al-Omari mosque in Kaftin, which had been previously closed by the regime’s antiquities division, had been reopened and renovated for religious use (that process already begun under ISIS).
|Ruins from the shrines of Kaftin destroyed by Jabhat al-Nusra following the second statement of renunciation of the Druze faith in January 2015 (photo from a local sent to me).|
|The al-Omari mosque in Kaftin renovated for religious use (photo from a local sent to me).|
Religious instruction includes books such as Kitab al-Tawheed by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism), “Al-Aqidat al-Wasatiya” by Ibn Taymiyya, and even books from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as per photos I obtained below.
|A book from the Qatari Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs used by Jabhat al-Nusra as part of Islamic re-education: “The Hijab and Adornment: Between Truth and Delusion.”|
|“The Creed of the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama’at”- another book used by Jabhat al-Nusra for re-education, by Muhammad bin Saleh al-Uthaymeen, who was a key Saudi establishment cleric.|
3. In the aftermath of the massacre in Qalb Lawze (which, it must be emphasized, was rooted in land disputes as Jabhat al-Nusra had been confiscating land it said belonged to people from Jabal al-Summaq working with the regime and awarding to its own members or refugees), Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi was removed from his position, though no local evidence points to a trial as promised by Jabhat al-Nusra and execution of the perpetrators of the massacre. Indeed, had a trial taken place, surely Jabhat al-Nusra would have publicised it? In any case, an interim amir was appointed from Aleppo- Abu Faysal al-Souri- and then in August, Abu Qatada al-Iraqi arrived on the scene. In theory, he is supposed to be subordinate to an Abu Abdullah from Hawiqa of Deir az-Zor, but he seems to be managing policy in practice. In this context, he delivered the speech of which I obtained a recording with the announcement in it that he is amir for the area.
4. Other rebel groups have generally ignored the issue of forced conversion even as they condemned the Qalb Lawze massacre, though Ahrar al-Sham has checked some actions on the local level, being able to dissuade Abu Qatada al-Iraqi from establishing an additional base in Kaftin beyond his one in Qalb Lawze (renamed Qalb al-Islam by Jabhat al-Nusra).