On November 17th, Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Interfaith Office of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and a FAN partner, invited members of the Washington faith community to a presentation by and conversation with Sheikh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi who addressed how Islamic scholars are countering ISIS ideology, why some Syrians have gravitated toward groups like ISIS and what to do about it. Sheik Al-Yaqoubi is classified as one of the most influential 500 Muslim figures in the world. He is fluent in Arabic and English, an advocate for democracy and human rights, and a supporter of the right of the Syrian people to seek freedom and build a civil democratic state. He has been critical of Islamist extremism and is the only Syrian scholar who signed an open letter from a group of Islamic scholars from around the world denouncing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed head of the Islamic State and deconstructing ISIS ideology from the perspective of the Qur’an and Islamic scholarship. As one of the earliest Sunni scholars to denounce the atrocities of the Assad regime, he was forced to leave Syria in June 2011.
In brief, Sheik Al-Yaqoubi described the good relationship between Christians and Muslims, who lived and worked side by side, not proselytizing or making their differences divisive, in pre Assad Syria. ISIS existed all this time, but not in the way we know them today. With Assad came repression. Muslims rose up against oppression, not against the Alawites, seeking freedom after 50 years of oppression. Muslims are now fighting ISIS, knowing it is impossible to build a state based on religion. Also, Islam forbids beheading and the kinds of atrocities committed against those not involved in the fighting. He believes that ISIS is attracting youths from a number of countries because of the inaction of the West to fight the regime and because of the economy factor, that is, ISIS pays its recruits. He also does not foresee removal of Assad by military force, but he must be forced to come to the table. He must not be replaced by ISIS.
Through our peacemaking efforts, FAN will work together with groups like the ISNA and people like Dr. Syeed and Mr. Al-Yaqoubi to further educate our members with the hopes of building respectful relationships with all of God's brothers and sisters.