After the Pigeons Departed

February 15, 2014

Last month, the Marwan Hadid Brigades declared responsibility for the firing of six rockets into Lebanon (Hermel region) in retaliation to Hizbullah's involvement in Syria. Marwan Hadid, who died in 1976, is a figure most Syrians have forgotten and only a few historians are aware of. He belongs to what might be termed the prelude to the Muslim
 

Brotherhood revolt of the 1980s. Born in Hama in 1934, Hadid grew up in a politically active family. His older brother was a prominent member of al-hizb al-‘arabi al-ishtiraki (the Arab Socialist Party), which would subsequently merge with the Baath Party. After graduating from high school, he moved to Egypt where he studied agriculture at the University of Ayn Shams in Cairo. It was during these years that he was introduced to the Muslim Brotherhood and was fully converted to their ideology. In 1963, Hadid returned to Syria, shortly after Baath supporters in the Syrian army had seized power. In April 1964, Hadid took part in the first major stand against the new Baathist government when he organised a sit-in at the Sultan mosque in Hama. Prime Minister Ameen al-Hafiz and General Salah Jadid ordered an armed force to shell the mosque, to the dismay of Hama residence. Hadid, along with others was arrested. When he was subsequently released he made a decision, not fully sanctioned by the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, to organize violent attacks against the government. Hadid continued his underground activity until June 1975 when he was arrested. A year later, he died in prison due to health complications allegedly resulting from the torture he had previously suffered.
 

In the 1960s, few Syrians sympathized with Hadid’s cause and even less were willing to adopt his path. Today, Syria is home to thousands who believe, as Hadid once did, in armed resistance as the only possible means to bring down the Syrian government. The story of Hadid is one of the many fascinating, yet invariably tragic, connections between figures and events in Syria’s modern history and the Syrian Uprising. The relevance of Hadid’s legacy cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of a very different religious legacy that dominated Syria until 2011: the legacy of Ahmad Kaftaru, the Grand Mufti of Syria.

Each Friday morning, Kaftaru that appealed to these more rural Damascenes, and they made sure that he was always invited to their weddings and funerals. Due to his very busy schedule he would often ask Bashir al-Bani, a Damascene scholar and the Orator of the Grand Mosque of Damascus, to attend these events on his behalf. Al-Bani was a close relative of mine who I highly admired for his spiritual and ecumenical views. Because he knew that I enjoyed listening to him, he would often invite me to drive him to these events, which took place almost exclusively in towns and villages across the Ghouta. With time, I fell in love with this place and decided to buy a piece of land a few kilometres from where Kaftaru death in 2004, many Ghouta residents continued to visit the Abu al-Nur mosque on Friday. The morning lessons were now given by Bashir al-Bani and this continued until al-Bani died in 2008.would give a lesson at Abu al-Nour mosque in the neighborhood of Rukin al-Din. Buses carrying his followers from Irbeen, Saqba, Hamurieh, al-Malaiha, and other towns in the Ghouta would arrive early and block the narrow streets around the mosque. They would come as families, often carrying along sandwiches and tea flasks as though heading to their weekly picnic. There was something about Kaftaru lived, mid-way between the villages of Shabaa and Dier al-Asafeer. By 1997, a house had been built on this piece of land and it too became a place where al-Bani and his students often visited. After Kaftaru's The green belt encircling Damascus, known as the Ghouta, is one of the principle strongholds of the rebels fighting to topple the Syrian government. The Ghouta that I came to know after I completed my studies in the US and returned to Damascus in late 1993 was not only where Kafaru’s house was situated, but also where the majority of his followers originated. Ahmad Kaftaru came up with the idea of opening the Asad Institutes for the Memorization of the Quran. Under the cover of these institutes, almost every mosque in Damascus, and subsequently in other Syrian cities could suddenly hold various forms of religious instruction. In short, Kaftaru wanted the society reformed.is of course known to be the religious scholar who believed that the ideal strategy to interact with Hafiz al-Asad was to embrace rather than confront. And so, for example, rather than opt to encourage religious instruction, which was largely illegal during the 1980s, Kaftaru constituted the antithesis of Hadid’s approach to Baath rule. Hadid wanted the government overthrown, whereas Kaftaru 

 

By the eve of the Syrian uprising, numerous families in the Ghouta had deeply absorbed Kaftaru's would eventually defect and leave the country. Mohammad Habash, Kaftaru's movement tried in vain to keep the reformist approach alive. He even helped organize the National Dialogue Conference, which was held in July 2011 under the patronage of the Vice President, Farouk al-Sharaa. However, Habash would eventually conclude that this conference and other similar events organized by the regime were only tactics that aimed at buying time while the security option was being fully implemented by the government. reformist approach. The brutal repression of protesters in Daraa, which became overwhelmingly clear in April, coincided with the first demonstrations to be held in the Ghouta; and by January 2012 most of the towns and villages I once visited with al-Bani were under the control of armed rebels. In late January, the government hit back with a large offensive. Over 2000 soldiers and fifty tanks stormed into the walnut orchards of the Ghouta. The rebels withdrew from the towns, but the army failed to retake the area completely. The way in which the Syrian government opted to interact with the Syrian Uprising had succeeded in undermining the logic of the reformist approach. Suddenly, Marwan Hadid was being cloned all over the Ghouta, and the path of reform became the path of cowards and traitors. Even the children and relatives of Kaftaru son-in-law and one of the most important leaders of Kaftaru's 

 

Kaftaru's home in the Kaftaru was once a place where the representatives of various sects and denominations, from both Syria and other countries, would meet and have warm and friendly conversations in the presence of the Grand Mufti. At times al-Bani would bring me along to attend some of the fascinating events that would take place at Kaftaru's home, from lunch with Cardinal Martini, to a dinner with Robert Schuller, and spiritual meditation at dawn with Mohammad Ali. It was quite natural to see Alawite religious figures visit Kaftaru, often with their children, as one would visit an old friend. Attracted by the serenity of the place, pigeons, in surprising numbers, sat on the terrace and the grass outside of the house. It all seemed as though it would never change. Nine years after his death, and not too far from where his home once stood, chemical weapons were used against innocent civilians. Children died during their sleep, but the pigeons had long departed.

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The views & information contained in these posts & articles are strictly those of their authors who are solely responsible for their accuracy and should not be regarded as representing the Centre for Syrian Studies or the University of St Andrews.

 

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