Written by L. Barkan
Alongside their efforts to enforce authority and order and maintain security, the Islamist organizations in Syria's liberated regions and their associated legal authorities also work to enact the shari'a, in an attempt to give these regions an Islamic character. To this end, they enforce shari'a law in matters of dress code, behavior during Ramadan, smoking (which is forbidden according to Salafi beliefs), and more – the ultimate goal being the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria. With regards to shari'a penalties, there is often a contrast between moderate statements and the harsh penalties actually imposed, which occasionally spark rage from the residents, who see these trends as foreign to the moderate religious character of Syrian society.
The following are examples of the organizations' actions to enact shari'a law in the areas under their control.
A military judge for the shari'a authority in Aleppo said in a video posted May 23, 2013 on the authority's Facebook page that the authority rules according to the Islamic shari'a, whose foundations are the Koran, the Sunna, the ijma' (consensus of religious scholars), and logical deduction. He added, however, that the authority does not implement shari'a penalties at this time except in cases of armed robbery, "because there is no ruler today, and because we are currently in dar al-harb [lands not under Muslim rule]." A clerk for the shari'a authority, Abu Al-'Abbas, says in a video that the shari'a authority has banned smoking in its building and requires women who enter it to dress in a modest, shari'a-compliant fashion, but stresses that this authority has never arrested anyone for smoking, listening to music (also forbidden according to the Salafiyya) or violating the Salafi dress code.
In recent months, the shari'a authority in Aleppo has been trying to unite with another legal authority operating in the city – the United Legal Council – in order to create a single legal authority that would ultimately enforce the shari'a but in the interim would rely on the Arab League's Unified Penal Code. The United Legal Council was established in December 2012 and deals with a variety of legal and civil matters. Some examples of its activity that have appeared on its Facebook page are: capturing two women who ran a prostitution ring; destroying tobacco; operating a rehabilitation prison, and selling medicine from pharmacies that have shut down. It met with the Aleppo shari'a authority in August 2013 to sign a unification agreement, but eventually did not do so due to the shari'a authority's insistence that it be in charge of the judicial process. The text of the agreement, as posted on the United Council's Facebook page, states that the Islamic shari'a would be the sole source of legislation.
In March 2013 the Emir of Jabhat Al-Nusra in the city of Tel Abyad in the Al-Raqqa Governorate told the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which supports the Syrian regime, that all the brigades in Tel Abyad had agreed to implement the shari'a in Syria via the local shari'a authorities, and that Jabhat Al-Nusra was willing to oppose any armed element attempting to prevent this. The article stated further that the emir had told Al-Akhbar explicitly that Jabhat Al-Nusra was "fighting a jihad war" in Syria in order to establish "an Islamic state with the Koran as its constitution," so as "to end the oppression of the people" and turn to shari'a law, but that "non-Muslims like Christians would enjoy personal liberties in Islamic Syria.'" The reporter related that, during the interview, the emir noticed a citizen holding a cigarette and told him that smoking was forbidden.
The Shari'a Legal Council in the Idlib Governorate, which was established in January 2013 and has taken control of 12 shari'a courts in the region, posted status updates on its Facebook page indicating its Islamic orientation. For example, a post from February 13, 2013 reads: "The United Legal Council in the Idlib Governorate announces that it will enact Allah's law in the land, and will judge according to what Allah sent down [i.e., the Koran]...in order to defend the religion and [people's] souls, money, land and honor." On August 18, 2013, the head of the council wrote on Facebook: "We want an Islamic state, and we will not accept a substitute. [When we say] 'Islamic state' we mean enacting Allah's law in all domains of life, both religious and worldly. Enacting [shari'a law means] that Allah's religion prevails in the land [and binds] everyone, in justice and equality. The repeated objections by some people to the establishment of an Islamic state sometimes stem from misguided good intentions, and [sometimes] from bad intentions, as [in the case of] the secularists, who admit this and who carry no weight in the ongoing debate."
In November 2012, photos of what appears to be the headquarters of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (the name given to the religious police in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia) in Aleppo were posted on the internet. In addition, a video was posted showing a man who was said to be a Saudi driving through the streets and calling people to pray. The director of the information office of the Al-Tawhid Brigade – one of the large forces fighting in Aleppo – told Sky News Arabia that this authority is connected with the brigade's "Revolution Security" and that its role is to handle all of society's needs, in the domains of aid, healthcare, orphans, martyrs and prisoners. He denied reports that the authority has issued a ban on women driving (like in Saudi Arabia) which sparked public criticism.
All the Islamist organizations have warned against eating during the fast. The shari'a authority in Aleppo issued a communiqué for Ramadan stating that anyone eating during the fast without shari'a justification commits a grave sin, and that anyone doing so in public deserves to be penalized by a judge. In addition, the authority called on Muslims who had a justification to eat, as well as on non-Muslims, to do so behind closed doors, and determined that café owners must close their businesses during the day to respect the sanctity of the month.
The United Legal Council in Aleppo published that the penalty for public violation of the Ramadan fast would be one year in prison, in accordance with an article of the Unified Penal Code. This announcement sparked online criticism, with opponents claiming that it ignored the harsh situation in Syria. The head of the Shari'a Legal Council in the Idlib Governorate wrote on this council's Facebook page that anyone caught eating during the fast without justification would be imprisoned until the end of Ramadan. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also warned that it would imprison anyone eating during Ramadan until the month was over. And indeed, the oppositionist website Zamanalwsl.net reported that ISIS had arrested and imprisoned several hundred people in the Al-Raqqa Governorate, some of them for eating during the Ramadan fast.
The shari'a authority in Aleppo issued a ban on eating croissants on the grounds that Christians bake them in the shape of a crescent – the symbol of the Islamic caliphate state – in order to eat them during their holidays and rejoice in their victory over the Muslims. In the announcement, the shari'a authority called to "stay away from the infidels' food and refrain from emulating them in food or dress, and to eat Arab and Islamic baked goods instead of croissants."
The shari'a authority in Aleppo's croissant ban
The shari'a authority in the Al-Fardous neighborhood in Aleppo published a ruling in early July 2013 forbidding women to move about in immodest clothes and wearing makeup. In a clarification video filmed later, members of the authority reiterated that this behavior was forbidden according to Islam, but stressed that they would not prevent women from wearing immodest dress and would not penalize them for it, and that they did not wish to harm anyone or to imprison women, but rather to make them a model of modesty and purity, and to protect them. It should be mentioned that the shari'a authority in Aleppo denied publishing such a ban, which indicates that there are disagreements even within the same organization in the same city on this matter.
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