Syrian Scholar Mohammad al-Yaqoubi is a prominent Syrian religious figure from amongst the well know Sufi leaders who held the position of Imam in the al-Hasan mosque in Damascus.
He was removed from the position once in 2010 before being reinstated, and was removed again from July 2011 as a result of his support for the demonstrations in Syria and his condemnations of the Assad regime and call for imprisoned demonstrators to be released, which he announced from the Friday pulpit. He was also banned from any public activities including teaching. In clear opposition to the position taken by a minority of other senior Sunni religious figures in Damascus, he denounced claims that the demonstrations were linked to foreign conspiracies, stating that “The problems our people have been facing for 40 years are domestic and the Syrian people are seeking freedom and reform of the whole political and economic systems”.
While now in exile – he has been involved promoting the cause of the Syrian demonstrators in the international news media in both English and Arabic, having appeared on al-Jazeera and the BBC amongst others, and has taken part in conferences in Turkey regarding the issue of Syria.
The Islamic nature of the Syrian uprising has been commented upon by both news media and also the political classes, with the Assad regime in particular using the bogeyman of “Islamic extremism” to both strengthen its support base amongst the Alawite sections of the society and try to engender support from abroad.
It is in that context that the recent comments of al-Yaqoubi take a more significant meaning – giving a brief overview of the Political Vision for Syria as many in the opposition see it, in the most general of terms:
“We should remember that the worst tyrants of the Arab World in our modern history did not rule in the name of Islam but in the name of secularism and democracy. There first victims were not the secularists but Muslims who were suppressed and Islamic movements which were banned. Why then “Islamists” are feared and prevented from reaching power. It was not “Islamists” who supported these oppressive regimes; rather the seculars, while the “democratic world is helping these regimes stop the Islamic tide and applauding to them: France supported Ben Ali’ in Tunisia; USA supported Mubarak in Egypt; and the EU supported the Assad’s regime. It high time we proved that Islam is more tolerant towards its opponents than the fake democracies of the West which protect the secular and eliminate the religious under the claims of fighting extremism. All we are doing is replacing one alleged extremism by another already proven extremist. It is time for Islam to present its vision and solutions to the political, social and economic and crises in the Islamic World. For anyone who is trying to predict the future of the Middle East, I say, wait to see the Islamic choice being embraced by our people as the only guarantee to a better future. To all of that we see the start coming from Syria.”