Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Syrian Muslim Brothers and the Syrian-Iranian Relationship

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Syrian Muslim Brothers and the Syrian-Iranian Relationship

Article excerpt

The 'Alawis of Syria are part of the Shi'a stream; this has led to an alliance with Iran, the center of Shi'ite Islam. This alliance aggravated the oppositionist Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), whose members have been in exile since 1982. According to them, the alliance is a stage in a Shi'ite scheme to take over the Sunni countries, including Syria. However, during the past year the MB has changed their strategy, and we are currently witnessing a rapprochement between the Brotherhood and Damascus.

The purpose of this article is to examine the attitude of the Syrian Muslim Brothers towards the 'Alawi regime as a sectarian Shi'ite regime and as a part of a Shi'ite/Iranian scheme that intends to take over the Sunni world.

The Muslim Brothers of Syria, the prominent opposition to the current regime, are a Sunni Islamist movement, while the 'Alawis, the current rulers of Syria, are defined as Shi'ites. This brings to the surface the old Sunni-Shi'ite schism wherein each accuses the other of deviation from the true path of Islam. The situation in Syria, in which a Shi'ite minority rules over a Sunni majority through the secular Ba'th Party, is considered unacceptable by the Sunni Muslim Brothers, who believe that this situation ought to be changed - even by the use of force. The Muslim Brothers believe that Syria should be ruled by Sunni Shari'a (Islamic law) and not by the heretic Nusayris, as the Shi'ite 'Alawis are called. As a result of the violent Muslim resistance to the secular Ba'th regime during the 1960s and against the secular, sectarian Asad regime during the 1970s and 1980s, many Brothers were killed and imprisoned while the Brotherhood's leadership left Syria and has never been allowed to return. Today the Syrian Muslim Brothers reside in London, under the leadership of 'Ali Sadr al-Din al-Bayanuni.

The Nusayris of Syria

The 'Alawis, the dominant elite of Syria, were known up until the 1920s as Nusayris. The term Nusayris is derived from the name Muhammad ibn Nusayr who lived in the ninth century. Ibn Nusayr claimed that 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, was divine, and he placed him above the Prophet Muhammad. The Nusayris also believe in the Trinitarian concept of 'A.M.S. ('Ali. Muhammad. Salman.).1 They believe in the transmigration of souls, and they resort to religious dissimulation, or taqiyya. Since the 13th century they have inhabited the mountain region known after their name, Jabal al-Nusayriya (the Nusayriya Mountain) in northwest Syria and in the Hatay region in southern Turkey.2

For centuries, the Nusayris, though considered an extremist Muslim sect, were ill-treated by the local Syrian Sunnis and by successive Sunni governments, which considered them to be heretics outside of Islam. The Nusayris lived in isolation in their mountains, and their encounters with the local inhabitants, both Muslims and Christians, were rare. They did not cultivate their lands and lived by raiding neighboring villages and robbing travellers, which earned them a negative reputation.

At the beginning of the French Mandate period in Syria (1920-1946), the group changed their name to "'Alawis." Some researchers, such as Daniel Pipes, say that the French gave them this name in order to win them over to their side.3 Others argue that the Nusayris were the ones who wanted to change their name to "'Alawis," meaning the adherents of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, which made them more closely tied to Islam.4 Adopting the name 'Alawis and obtaining fatawa (legal opinions) that related them to Shi'ism were supposed to help them integrate with the Syrian Muslim population and end their heretic status. As Nusayris, they were regarded as an outcast sect, but as 'Alawis, and the adherents of 'Ali, they were part of Shi'ism and thus part of the Muslim community. Although during the French Mandate and the struggle for independence, Sunni nationalists had put national solidarity above religious allegiance and recognized the 'Alawis as fellow Arabs, there were still many who referred to them as "Nusayris," implying that they were disbelievers and extremists who are related neither to Sunni nor to Shi'ite Islam. …

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