The Role of Muslim Scholars in the Syrian Uprising

The Case of Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi

Shaykh Muhammad “Abul Huda” al-Yaqoubi al-­?Hasani is among the leading scholars of Damascus. Until recently, he was an instructor at the Grand Omayyad Mosque as well as a preacher at the al-­Hassan Mosque. He speaks about half a dozen languages, including fluent Arabic, English and Swedish.

On 6th May 2011, Shaykh al-­Yaqoubi delivered a daring Friday sermon at the al-?Hassan Mosque on the topic, “The Syrian Uprising: The Problem and the Solution” [1]. As a consequence of his open criticism of the Syrian Government, he was banned from public speaking, teaching and religious activities [2].

Shaykh al-­Yaqoubi, after having lost his freedom to teach, attended a conference in Istanbul in July, led by Syrian opposition leaders, clerics and thinkers. His speech there was warmly received [3], and Al-­Jazeera TV subsequently interviewed him [4]. It was noted that the Friday after his first appearance on Al-Jazeera on the 12th of July, over fifty thousand people attended demonstrations in the streets of Damascus.

Al-­Jazeera Worldwide TV channel (broadcast in English) also interviewed Shaykh al-­?Yaqoubi on 16th July [5], and there was a much longer interview on Al?Jazeera Mubasher TV in Arabic on 19th July on the topic “The Role of Religious Scholars in the demonstrations in Syria” [6].

On Wednesday 3rd August, there was an event not widely reported in the media outside Syria. A massive demonstration started from al-­?Hassan Mosque in the affluent district of Abu Rummaneh in Damascus, the very same mosque that Shaykh al-­?Yaqoubi preached at before his dismissal from public speaking. The mosque is located only 500 metres from the presidential palace and residence, adjacent to both the Chief of Staff Offices and the Air Force Command Centre. The Swedish, Saudi, Turkish, Qatari and US embassies are also located in that area.

Shaykh al-­Yaqoubi’s interviews on Al­Jazeera and other TV channels have led crowds (a large proportion being from his congregation) to the streets in highly sensitive quarters of Damascus. The Shaykh possesses sound integrity and respect among the Syrian people hence many are inspired by him to take part in the ongoing demonstrations throughout the country. This illustrates that the Syrian people are not afraid of the regime and furthermore highlights the indispensable function of Syrian religious leadership in the opposition.

[1] (English subtitles)
[3] (English subtitles)
[4] (English subtitles)

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