Elie Elhadj | Ph. D., Author London
April 17th, 2009

Re: ‘Syria is ...

Religious moderation is Syria’s distinctive characteristic. The cultural heritage of the Syrians reflects the evolved cultures of the East and the West over the long sweep of history. Of particular significance is the tolerant attitude of the average Syrian towards other religions and ethnicities. In a Middle East afflicted by religious dogma, extremism, bigotry, discrimination, and violence in the name of God the Syrian society is a refreshing model of tolerance and moderation.
A moderate climate, a well diversified natural resources endowment, and a strategic location at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa have combined to make Syria a cradle of nearly three dozen different civilizations over the past twelve millennia. The interaction among these civilizations arguably evolved into the earliest models of settled agriculture and urbanized societies, the earliest forms of alphabet and writing, and, significantly, the invention of Semitic deities plus the monotheistic faiths.

Might Syria be true to its heritage of religious creativity? Might Syria produce the future Muslim Martin Luther; or, at the very least, might Syria succeed in separating religion from the state; thus, setting an example for the Arab world, like Kemal Ataturk’s success in separating Islam from the Turkish State following the First World War?

State secularization and Islamic reform are important for two reasons. The first is to set free peoples’ creativity and intellectual reasoning. The hold of the ulama class on Muslim minds is the worst form of slavery. Continued control by the clerics will continue to manacle Muslims to seventh century laws and dogma of the Arabian Desert. Unless this control is ended the Arab and Muslim peoples will sadly remain intellectually barren, trapped in poverty, the object of ridicule and exploitation by the developed world.
To join the ranks of the developed world is to manumit the Muslim mind from the spell of the ulama. Such would free people from the debilitating demagoguery of the belief in predestination, fate, superstition, and psychotic explanations of the evil eye and the machinations of angels and djinn. Release from the ulama’s hold would end personal status laws that reduce women to chattel. Release from the ulama’s influence would also mean becoming free to study the historicity of the Quran and the Hadith scientifically without the fear of being persecuted under blasphemy laws.

The demand for the clerics’ services should be reduced. Muslims can learn from the European experience. Had it not been for separating Christianity from the European state, for ending the tyranny of the church’s clergy, the industrial revolution might not have happened when it did and Western modernity might not have become what we see today. Muslim governments ought to separate religion from the state, institute modern laws and judicial systems, and emphasize in the educational curriculum and public discourse the peaceful and creative parts in the Islamic creed. Separating religion from the state does not mean, however, relegating the religious preferences of individuals a secondary role. The relationship between God and man is a personal matter and must be respected.
The second benefit from state secularization and religious reform is to sharpen the fight against jihadism and terrorism. Release from the control of extremist clerics, who preach violence, martyrdom, and intolerance against other religions and Islamic sects, like what the Saudi Wahhabi clerics teach with impunity, could reduce jihadism and terrorism. Is it a coincidence that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers who committed the September 11 murders, along with Osama Bin Laden and many of his lieutenants, are all Saudis? This is not to imply, however, that 9/11 was a state-sponsored atrocity.

Attempts at secularization and modernization in independent Syria date back to the country’s first coup in 1949, led by General Husni Al-Zaim. During his short four-and-a-half-month rule, Husni Al-Zaim set in motion fundamental changes akin in some respects to the Ataturk reforms in Turkey. For example, literate women were given the vote; the process of breaking up the awkaf (or religious endowments) and of substituting modern civil, criminal, and commercial codes for the Muslim Shari’a law was advanced (Patrick Seale, The Struggle for Syria, 1986, 58).

Syria’s successive governments since independence from the French mandate in 1946 maintained a drive towards modernization. However, religious reforms have been lacking. Shari’a courts, for example, still hear cases involving personal status, family, and inheritance disputes of Muslims (non-Muslims follow their spiritual courts). Further, although Syria’s constitution is the only constitution in the Arab world, apart from Lebanon’s, that does not make Islam the religion of the state, it specifies, however, that the president must be a Muslim.
While it is safe to say that most Syrians are conscious of the threat Islamist extremism poses to their way of life and age-old religious and ethnic harmony, the forty-year old rule by the “secular” Baath Party has been timid in effecting serious religious reforms. The caution may be attributed to the government’s inability to confront hostilities from two quarters simultaneously; namely, Washington’s political hostility towards Damascus plus the opposition that religious reforms could provoke, especially among the orthodox element of Syria’s Sunni population. Orthodoxy has been on the rise alarmingly in the recent decades as a reaction to political frustrations at home and from abroad.

To fortify against Washington’s pressure, the government projects an image of Islamic piety in order to benefit from Islam’s injunction that Muslims mus t obey the Muslim ruler blindly. God orders in 4:59 of the Quran: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” Further, the Prophet Muhammad was reported as saying, according to Muslim’s Hadith collection, “He who obeys me obeys God; he who disobeys me, disobeys God. He who obeys the ruler, obeys me; he who disobeys the ruler, disobeys me.” Abi Dawood and Ibn Maja, also, quoted the Prophet in their Hadith collections as ordering the faithful to hear and obey their ruler, even if he were an Ethiopian slave.

For Syria to embark upon a serious program of secularization and religious reforms, the government needs to concentrate all of its resources to confront domestic religious opposition to secularization and religious reforms, without foreign distractions. Good relations between Washington and Damascus could go a long way towards enabling Syria realize its religious reforming potential.

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75 Responses to the Article

Elie Elhadj Says:


You state that “this economic system was destabilised by the period of plagues and then the Mongol invasions”.

What have the plague and the Mongols to do with Sharia’s treatment of women in the modern age as chattel. The plague and the Mongols did not make today’s ulama proclaim that marrying nine year old girls is legitimate. The plague and the Mongols have nothing to do with sanctioning the mut’a and the misyar marriage contracts. As was discussed above, Sharia’s mistreatment of one half of society today finds its roots in archaic personal status laws that implement 2:228, 2:282, 4:3, 4:4, 4:11, 4:24, 4:34, 18:46…

How does one reconcile these verses with the Prophet’s reported fine treatment of Khadija? How does one reconcile the Prophet’s respectable treatment of Khadija with those unflattering attributions to the Prophet such as:
“Most of those in hell are women” (according to Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and Al-Tirmithi.
Women’s “lack of intelligence” is the reason a woman’s testimony in an Islamic court of law is equal to half that of the testimony of the Muslim male” (according to Al-Bukhari and Al-Tirmithi).
The reason women are prohibited from praying and fasting during menstruation is due to their being “deficient in religious belief” (according to Al-Bukhari, and Al-Tirmithi).

Do you really believe that the plague and the Mongols inspired the fatwa just mentioned above issued in May 2007 by the dean of the Hadith faculty at the Al-Azhar University that to avoid breaking the Islamic rule that forbids the genders from being alone together, a woman may breastfeed her male co-worker a total of five times. What inspired this ludicrous fatwa is the tradition reported by Abi Dawood and Muslim. Are these traditions true?

Please let us deal with the hard facts, not tangents here and tangents there, and not at apologists’ pontifications.

ayman hakki Says:

I meant that you may “object less” to my scotch, while sipping Perrier.
But I admit that I would put it aside gladly to hear Waseem; he’s smart.

You’re avoiding challenging my good Muslim bad “Aarabi” construct & I refuse your saddling me with a good Islam vs. bad Islam construct.

The breast feeding fatwa was ridiculous, but there are equally ridiculous Christian and Jewish positions on day to day issues.

People: The issue isn’t about us, it is about Syria; can Syria’s mosaic nature capture both traditionalist Muslim Syrians (Waseem) and non-traditionalist Syrians (Elie, Alex & I)? If yes…great, if no…too bad.

Alex accuses Waseem of saying I’m better than you, because…
Elie accuses Waseem of supporting out dated Islamic misogyny…
I accuse Waseem of being a closet Wahabi Qutby sympathizer…
And Waseem accuses us of a “Good” Islam “bad” Islam construct…
All of the above contradictions may or may not be true, and they all make us brighter –not duller– if they are not personal in nature.

There’s a place for us all in Syria, a Syria that’s not fascist Attaturk Turkey but a spiritual Muslim Syria. I know this seems like a contradiction but it’s not. During the Ayoubi Dynasty Ibn Arabi (who actually may have hinted that he was God) was not only tolerated but protected by Saladin’s son. If something as controversial as Ibn Arabi’s “Wihdat al Wojood” concept can be tolerated in 13th century Syria, can’t we tolerate our much smaller 21 century disagreements?


ayman hakki Says:

As for the communism of Sayed Qutb. When I was reading him (at the Hraki Mosque) our teacher, who I think was Ustaz Aayti, told Rodwan Anan and I that Sayed Qutb was educated in The Soviet Union and began his spiritual journey as a dedicated Communist. He then read the Koran, and wrote his lovely book “In the shadow of the Koran”. I never agreed with all his convictions, but the majority was sound. The fact that he was very sharp makes his arguments (and yours) powerful but not infallible. Since only God is infallible we should be humble in our argument…time will tell whose right and whose not.

Maysaloon Says:

Yes I do stand by what I have said. In my opinion there is far too much intellectual tummy-rubbing take place here, and yes, in the articles which do call for the “separation of religion and state” there is the theme I have mentioned. As for being against Pan-Arabism and Pan-Islamism, again, these are things which our forefathers at the eve of independence from colonialism would have rejoiced in, and did, yet today we treat them as a dirty word and head in the opposite direction. In fact, just as you selectively quoted parts of my post, please refer readers back to the entire text, which I thought summed up my position on this adequately. So again, I stand by what I said. Good to know you are not angry…for your information neither am I.

Maysaloon Says:

My point on the Mongols and the plague were in fact to correct your previous comment concerning the Mihna and the alleged stifling of intellectual thought in the Muslim countries during the Middle ages. I certainly did not intend that to explain the symptoms you mention today, for which the answer is quite clear and resounding. It is colonialism which has introduced these problems. The damage caused by colonialism was not just through occupation, but also in the subsequent absence of the factors which would have prevented the situations you mentioned.

You later say:
As was discussed above, Sharia’s mistreatment of one half of society today finds its roots in archaic personal status laws that implement 2:228, 2:282, 4:3, 4:4, 4:11, 4:24, 4:34, 18:46…

I say: These are not “archaic personal status laws”, this is the Qur’an. As a Muslim, I find these laws there for a reason, the interpretation, application and perception of these is for those who put in the effort to learn the Qur’an and the Hadith. Since they are many, pick a nice short one (for brevity’s sake) and I am happy to discuss it and go through with it, along with any contradictions you think there are.

Then you say:
How does one reconcile these verses with the Prophet’s reported fine treatment of Khadija? How does one reconcile the Prophet’s respectable treatment of Khadija with those unflattering attributions to the Prophet such as:
“Most of those in hell are women” (according to Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and Al-Tirmithi.”

I say: The Prophet lived his life according to the Qur’an, utterly. There is no contradiction between the verses that he was dictated and between his application of these amongst the people he lived with.

As for what you said about the saying of the Prophet, yes, there is this hadith and there are thousands of others. What do you want me to do with it? There is a discipline called Hadith studies, which actually teaches the student the context and full understanding of each Hadith, as a Muslim, I do not take one hadith and run off with it, I need to understand it and if I do not, I can ask those who have studied this more than I and I can then understand it from them. I recommend you do the same. There is nothing wrong with this hadith, the Prophet said it and under the context that he did, it is of course correct.

Give me hard facts by all means, but don’t try to swamp me or refer to specific comments I make in differing contexts, it then makes it hard to keep this discussion useful.

So again, the plague and the Mongols was my response and correction to your allegations on Islamic attitudes to Medieval philosophy and science and to what you think triggered the decline of the Muslim peoples. As for the ridiculous fatwas you mentioned, then my answer is the same as it has been in earlier responses. Colonialism and the corrupt secular rulers of our countries. My gripe with your position is that you are recommending an aspirin for somebody with a stomach ache (for want of a better example). We must identify the illness, then make prescriptions.

Maysaloon Says:

Tomayto or tomato, I really don’t see the distinction you are trying to make. Anyhow, of course we can tolerate our 21st century arguments – as long as they are well made…

In the end we are all fallible. Everything I have said or done that is right is from Allah and all the mistakes are mine alone.

jad Says:

standing by what you wrote or not, we both know that what you wrote about secularism in not true because secularism doesn’t mean anti-religion on the personal level or to despise other people’s religions the way you describe it, It’s also redundant to be offended by secularism and write an essay defending Averroes, forgetting that he was the first philosopher to come close to secularism in his ideas while he was a Muslim in the 12th century not the 21st.
I don’t know where you live but how about that country you live in decides to become politically religious and rejects secularism? Are you going to be happy being the minority where you have to live by other religious rules or are you going to reject the system?
Since you are that much consumed by religion, could you please tell us, in case the Syrian’s majority (60%) rejects secularism as the right choice for a healthy political system, what is the alternative? Are we going to replace it with an Islam ruled society? In that case and in the spirit of your comment that Islam came to correct Christianity and Judaism how are you going to correct me as a Syrian Christian, in what means and what if I don’t want to be corrected? What are you going to do to ‘fix’ my wrong beliefs when I refuse your rules? What will happen to the ‘Christians familial law’ we gain couple years ago in Syria? Are you going to abolish that and replace it with Sharia law? Do you think of any of those questions when you project your personal religion as a political system on the Syrian religiously mixed society?
How about other Syrians, the Shia, the Alawite, the Druzes, the Ismaelis and the Yazidis what will happen to them? How God’s political system would work on all of us?

Maysaloon Says:

I can see why you are confused. You have mixed up a lot of what I have written with a lot of your assumptions. I would only like to point out that Averroes is *not* what you think of him and neither am I. If you read my comments as closely as I am sure you have read the comments which suited your opinion, you would note that I am not saying the things you mention.


ayman hakki Says:


The warning of our prophet against the Aarab had no tomato-tomato ambiguity. Al Saud and Abdul Wahab were Aarabis by any definition. They usurped the care of the sacred grounds of Islam by force from ahl-al-beit. There reform movement was as you indicate needed but I would like to enroll you in the possibility that they went too far. Banning Al Mawled al Nabawi is just as silly as celebrating it excessively. Destroying the Tomb of Mohammad (peace be upon him) was as symbolically frightening as glorifying it. Had another invading force done this under the pretext of “Min al Turab Ila Al Turab” would you have accepted it? You believe that the Koran and the hadith are mostly infallible and yet you ignore the warning against the same people who now claim to speak for us all, do you support that?

The distinction between good Non-Arabi Islam and bad Militant mujrem Islam is clear. Though many issues may bind all Islamic schools of thought (including what to me is abhorrent Wahabism) the difference is one; tolerance…or in Arabic an even better word; Al Samaha. This tolerance is the hallmark of our God our very own distinctly Islamic “Rahman Al Raheem” by any definition and it was (pre-seventh century) the hall mark of our religion. Jad, Elie, Alex and my personal favorite Dr. Zaki Fteyha (my Jewish chief resident at Al Mouassat hospital in Damascus) would be welcome in Ibn Arabi’s Damascus and not welcome in Awlad Al AArabis Kingdome. Good Islam vs. bad Islam…NO, but good Islam vs. Wahabi Islam…absolutely. Have you ever been to Saudi Arabia Waseem?


Maysaloon Says:

Thank you for taking the time to clarify your position concerning the Aarab. Yes, you are correct, the Prophet Peace and Blessings be upon him had no tomato-tomato ambiguity in this regards and he has warned us of them – I agree with you one hundred percent.

One small thing – I take it you are also aware of the warnings regarding alcohol both in the Hadith and in the Qur’an, and also with regards to the way you say your wife dresses, and, I might add, with regards to raising arms against fellow Muslims in, say, Iraq for example? Or with regards to overeating? I do hope you are just as zealous in adhering to the other warnings in our most beautiful of faiths as you are when it comes to protecting yourself from Aarabi fitna?


PS. I have in fact lived in Saudi Arabia. I have also lived in the West. I can categorically confirm to you that the ideology of the West is far more dangerous than that of any crazy Wahhabi (it has killed far more people and destroyed far more lives).

Jad Says:

With all due respect, I think there are some facts you have not considered in my ‘assumptions’ and you didn’t even explain what are my misunderstanding of Averroes secularism philosophy that beside me all over Europe consider him as a secular philosopher.

I also appreciate if you take time to enlighten all of us what is wrong with the secularism that I and lots of Syrians strongly belief in as the best political choice for our Syrian society but this time I’m asking for more than three ‘judgmental’ lines and more clear explanation.
Also, what are the alternatives you can introduce to unite all of Syrians around other than a religious political system? So ‘I’ in particular see how wrong I was translating your lines.

Thank you

ayman hakki Says:

“I take it you are also aware of the warnings regarding alcohol both in the Hadith and in the Qur’an, and also with regards to the way you say your wife dresses, and, I might add, with regards to raising arms against fellow Muslims ”
Dear Waseem.

After reviewing the Koran carefully and coupling my old review with my recent review of the Harvard study on the beneficial use of alcohol (in moderation) in the prevention of strokes and heart attacks, it becomes clear that “Ijtinab” al Khamer is a valid yet not absolute dictum. If you compare Tahreem Lahm al khanzeer (and the unbelievable coincidence of the outbreak of swine flu) the issue becomes clearer. I had my surgery because I was addicted to food, but I was never addicted to alcohol. A single scotch is not only acceptable islamically it is protective cardiovascularily. But, I promise to not impose my view regarding alcohol on you, if you agree to avert your eyes from my wife’s dress choice and my occasional drink.

Waseem, we can argue day and night about what is truly Islamic vs. what is interpretive but we cannot afford to disregard the big picture: Aarabi Islam bad…non-wahabi Islam good. Islam is the religion of Al Rahman al Raheem and He not so some backward cleric will be judging me on the gates of heaven. Only then will we know for sure whether you or I are right, and I’ll leave it at that.

As far as Elie’s Syrian unification question…it is imperative that we address this issue with a modicum of heart. The non-Sunni 40% of Syria must be encouraged to freely contribute to Syria’s un-tethered revival, and my take on Islam is compatible with this inclusive vision. Secularism is a great tool when it’s not an excuse to attack religion.

Waseem, heed the Prophet’s injunction on the hypocrisy that permeates all Aarabi hearts. Aarabi Islam is not only cumbersome it is downright subversive; it is al Nifaq in its most obvious form. If you lived in Saudi Arabia and saw them in Southern France you’ld understand my point, and sayidna Mohammad’s point (peace be on him).

As far as raising arms against Muslims; it’s an egg vs. chicken debate; 9/11 was a Wahabi inspired act of “Jurm” and what followed after it is equally inexcusable. I’m not defending George Bush’s “Ijram,” I’m just saying his “Jurm” was an act of obtuse messianic aggression that does not in any way justify Wahabi actions. Both are wrong and we Syrians know it. Our job is to unite and find the middle road between them.

offended Says:

Yes I do stand by what I have said.

Wassim, as I don’t possess the same arsenal of rude expressions that you do, I only going to draw your attention to a simple observation; what you wrote in Arabic here describes your own style of debate very well:

استخدام اتفه و ارخص العبارات

Maysaloon Says:

With regards to your first paragraph. Let’s just agree to follow what Allah and the Prophet have asked us to. I think that would leave us both happy :)

I say this to you with the utmost of humility and honesty, you have not got a clue what you are talking about…

ayman hakki Says:

Secular versus Religious; a post copied and pasted here from “The Middle East Open Forum” blog, with the permission of the author.

The fundamental distinction between democracy and theocracy resides in sovereignty, i.e. the source of law. Clearly every organized society needs laws. The Greeks of Plato and Aristotle were the original proponents of democracy wherein sovereignty resides in elected officials. This was a bottom-up approach to law giving [1]. On the other hand, in theocracy, dating back to ancient polytheistic Egypt, sovereignty resides in divine law, i.e. top-down approach.
Modern day democracy had its intellectual justification in the works of Hobbes, Hume and Locke in the eighteenth century [2]. It was revulsion at the religious wars that ravaged Europe for a couple of centuries that finally led intellectuals to conclude that the theocratic basis for government is fundamentally flawed. These intellectuals provided the impetus for secular democracy in which sovereignty resides in the people. The impact of their intellectual work is seen in the democratic institutions of the post revolution French Republic and the American constitution.

But a careful look at many present day governments shows that the question of sovereignty is not black or white, i.e. it is neither totally secular nor religious. At the risk of being quantitatively inaccurate it is helpful to view the sovereignty scale shown above as an indicator of the balance between the secular and the religious in the make up of any country’s legal framework. The two 100% extremes are rare in the modern world but one can site example:
Communism (100/0 blend): At its inception communism in Europe viewed religion as distinctly evil and a threat to society. Sovereignty in communism was exclusively secular and the state was hostile to manifestations of religiosity. Interestingly, after several generations of communist rule and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, religion emerged as a thriving force in Eastern block countries. The conclusion to be drawn is that regardless of the effort to squelch religion, it plays an important and indispensable role in the lives of people.
America (90/10 blend): The founding fathers concentrated legislative powers in the hands of elected representatives. But the US constitution also protected religious freedom of individuals. The separation of church and state (establishment clause) prohibits the government from promoting religion. Nevertheless, the influence of religion is small but measurable. For example issues of right to life, stem cell research and same sex marriage are deeply religious issues. In addition, one of the hallmarks of the US constitution is the protection of minority rights and the curtailment of tyranny by the majority. This protection derives from the Christian ethic of tolerance.
Turkey (98/2 blend): After the fall of the Ottoman empire, Attaturk devised a new secular constitution that purged religion (Islam) from practically all aspects of legal and civic life. The constitution went as far as prohibiting personal attire that might be a manifestation of religion such as women’s head cover. The system worked well for several decades, but extreme secularism eventually was met with resistance by deeply religious Turks. The result has been the ascendancy into power of the Islamic Party of Erdogan.
Saudi Arabia( 0/100 blend): In this country the sovereignty resides in divine law, the Koran. At least that is the intent. In practice, however, the Koran is not a constitutional document setting the legal framework of the state. Therefore, the Saudi legal system is a combination of human interpretation of the Kuran in addition to a historically disputable set of precedents and quotes that date back to the seventh century C.E. This has led not only to rigid and regressive legal code but to outright contradictions within the religious framework. Consider for example the Saudi law that requires the stoning to death of adulterers. There is no such requirement in the Koran. In fact, the Koran explicitly describes the marriage restrictions imposed on adulterers in addition to the social ostracism to be imposed on them , clearly signifying that they are not to be put to death for this sin. The current Saudi law of stoning is based on tradition that derives from Judaic law that was practiced by Jewish tribes at the time of the Prophet.
Iran (20/80 blend): Iran on the sovereignty scale falls close to the theocratic end. It has some trappings of democracy in the sense that it has an elected parliament and president. But effective power resides in the Iranian clergy who vet candidates prior to elections and allow only those who subscribe to the clergies’ notion of fitness to serve. The clergy also monitor legislation and block laws that they consider to be “inappropriate”.
Egypt ( 80/20 blend): Egypt has a predominantly secular government. But Egyptians are deeply religious just as their fellow Turks. This religiosity has become the source of power of the Muslim Brotherhood who are officially banned as a party but hold considerable number of seats in parliament. If the Egyptian government were to allow all parties to participate in free elections it is safe to say that the Muslim Brotherhood will gain even more seats and sway the sovereignty scale decidedly towards theocracy.
Israel (20/80 blend): In spite of the myth being promulgated in Western media about Israel being a democracy, the fact is that Israel is a theocracy. Israel certainly has an elected parliament and hotly contested politics. But in Israel, Jews enjoy exclusive legal rights by virtue of their religion. Muslim and Christian Palestinians are denied rights that in any other country would be considered to be discriminatory and a violation of their basic human rights.

The ideal blend of secular/religious sovereignty for each country depends critically on its cultural, religious and social structure. The misguided notion of the Bush administration to push Jeffersonian style democracy on the Middle East failed to account for crucial differences between those societies and that of the US. After the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq the US sent constitutional scholars to help draw up constitutions that would be suited for those countries. One of those scholars was Noah Feldman who understood the importance of tailoring the constitution to the specific needs of each society. In his book[3] he wisely proposes a secular/religious blend that could be described as 50/50 for countries such as Iraq. His approach is basically correct as described in a previous essay[4] but the question becomes how far to swing towards one end or the other of the sovereignty scale.

In conclusion, there is no unique blend of secular/religious on the sovereignty scale that is applicable to all states. It is fair to say that neither extreme is viable. Experience in Turkey and elsewhere shows that, for the foreseeable future, religion plays an important part in the lives of citizenry. However, the legal space allocated for personal religion in each country must depend on the specifics of culture, demographics and religious make up of that country. It is also safe to say that this blend can and should evolve with time as conditions change.

Basil Hakki

[1] Basil Hakki “Of Democracy and Religion”, http://www.middleastforum.com, March 3, 2007.
[2] Mark Lilla, “The Stillborn God”, Knopf, New York, 2007.
[3] Noah Feldman “The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State” Princeton Univ. Press, N.Y. 2008.
[4] Basil Hakki “Noah Feldman: The Islamic State”, http://www.middleastforum.com, April 2

Elie Elhadj Says:

Dear Ayman,

Thanks for this interesting article.

Mr. Hakki’s concluding remark is important: “The legal space allocated for personal religion in each country must depend on the specifics of culture, demographics and religious make up of that country”.

This statement means that for best results, law making should be left to the majority of the community, or to the majority of the community’s representatives.

I believe that not only the Greeks, Hobbes, Hume, and Locke advocate the supremacy of the people; The Prophet Muhammad, too, sanctifies the verdict of the community or the community’s majority. According to Ibn Maja, Abu Dawood, and Al-Tirmithi, the Prophet reportedly said: “My community reaches no agreement that is an error”. Further, the Prophetic statement, according to Ibn Maja, specifies that in the event of disagreement, the opinion of the majority must prevail.

Why has Consensus of the ulama, not the consensus of the community, become a source of Sunni law? The answer is that before the advent of electricity, computers, telecommunications, and modern polling techniques, gauging the opinion of the Muslim community in its far-flung lands was a practical impossibility. So, a caucus of religious experts was needed. The ulama were the obvious choice. Their specialist knowledge qualified them for the task.

In the modern age, however, electricity, computers, telecommunications, and modern polling techniques have made referendums on specific issues simple just as they made the election of community representatives easy. Modern technology has rendered the consensus of a narrow and un-elected caucus like that of the ulama obsolete. It may be said that modern technology has enabled the prophecy: “My community reaches no agreement that is an error” to become a reality.


ayman hakki Says:


Well put, if you get the chance, go to http://www.middleastforum.com and post a comment. It is my Uncle Basil’s blog and it is very thoughtful.

I’m going to take the liberty of copying and pasting your response above, as a comment on his article. He’s very interesting; at seventy he looks like he’s thirty and in way back in 1964 his name appeared in Who’s Who in American Science as the “first American of Arab origin in Who’s Who in American Scientists.” (google him and you’ll see).

There so many people like you and my uncle in Diaspora it’s gratifying, but at the same time it is frustrating…if you know what I mean.


Elie Elhadj Says:


Thanks for your heartening kind words.

I have posed the following on middleeastforum.com:

“Dear Mr. Hakki,

I am grateful to Mr. Ayman Hakki for posting the second comment above under the name “anonymous”, which I had posted in response to your excellent article on creativesyria.com: The Democracy/Theocracy Blend.

I would like to take this opportunity to add that the implications of the above mentioned Prophetic Hadith can be far reaching especially as relates to Islamist politicians and rulers who proclaim that elections, including those to legislative assemblies are alien to Shari’a.

Modern technology has enabled the prophecy: “My community reaches no agreement that is an error” to become a reality.

Let free and fair elections be adopted in the manifestos of Islamist political parties and implemented in countries ruled in the name of Islam.”


ayman hakki Says:

Dear Elie.

Though I believe the Hadith you mentioned is correct in spirit, I feel that it’s inaccurate in a way; a true majority (even an electronic and scientifically poled majority0 may be in error when it is not educated on an issue and follows its prejudices. Look at women driving in Saudi Arabia for example, would you trust a Saudi majority vote on that one?

My beef with Hadith (in general) is that at Mohammad’s death they were reportedly less than 5000 thousand Hadiths, and the Hadiths of Abu Hurairra alone are over 20,000 in number. It would all be fine and dandy had the prophet (peace be upon him) himself not enjoined his followers “not” to record his saying. He reportedly feared that it would one day attain the status of Godliness; a status he made clear he reserved only for the Koran (a rather prophetic statement in itself.)

The fact that I’m basing my argument against Hadith on a Hadith makes it more confusing. Elie, you’re better versed at this than I am (and I thank you for joining this debate.) So please give us a sense of what you believe to be right and wrong with my Hadith disparagement, a disparagement I don’t make lightly because I’m a Muslim who believes in God (but who can do without everything I know about Wahabi-inspired Islam.) I’m an Ibn Arabi Muslim not an awlad Aarabis one.

I don’t think a majority of uninformed umma is infallible and I would not want my fate decided by that umma (or any other). Give me the rule of law, and checks and balances and I’ll be OK, give me umma majority judgment…and I’m out’ a there. 50/50 secular / religious also scares me so give me a respectful secular government that says religion should be in the heart not the law.

Ayman Hakki

Elie Elhadj Says:

Dear Ayman,

I agree with your reservations on the veracity of certain Hadiths. In addition to the points you mentioned, and notwithstanding the reported integrity of the six collectors (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abi Dawood, Al-Tirmithi, and Al-Nasai) and the care that they must have taken to ensure the credibility of the thousands of attributers and the authenticity of the hundreds of thousands of Prophetic traditions that grew over more than 200 years, it remains impossible to know with absolute certainty whether every word and comma in every attribution by every memorizer was perfectly authentic and reliable and in the true chronological order in which the Prophet had announced and acted. What is known, however, is that during the first two-and-a-half centuries following the death of the Prophet, the generations of Hadith attributers and collectors were witnesses to momentous doctrinal, legal, and political conflicts. Aside from the great Arab conquests, which established one of the world’s largest empires in a relatively short time, major intra-Muslim conflicts erupted during that era. There were four civil wars, seven state capital cities, and numerous violent political and religious rebellions. These events spilled rivers of blood and divided the nascent Islamic nation into many factions and sects. Under such circumstances, it is fair to say that some attributors, not to mention the collectors, had financial, political, career and other personal interest in the outcome, or they might have simply forgotten what was said or heard.

Additionally, the six canonical collectors lived under Abbasid rule during the turbulent decades of the 800s. The Abbasid Hadith transmitters, upon whom the six collectors relied, were in turn reliant on transmitters who had lived for almost one hundred years under the rule the Abbasids’ great nemesis, the Umayyads. Abbasid politics and fervent hatred of the Umayyads could have played a role in choosing or ignoring attributers, as well as altering certain attributions considered pro-Umayyad.

Nonetheless, for Islamist politicians and rulers the six canonical collections must be beyond doubt. As such, for the Wahhabis along with other Islamists, for example, the Hadith quoted above (My community reaches no agreement that is an error) should stand. It follows that when the Saudi regime and its likes declare that elections are against Shari’a, they would show themselves as hypocrites and exploiters of Shari’a picking what suits them and discarding the rest. If, on the other hand, they would deny the authenticity of this Hadith, what would be left of the whole corpus of the Hadith, which they claim to be an indispensable part of their system of existence?


jad Says:

Dear Dr. Elie,
Could you please take a look at this SYRIAN CREATIVITY and give us your input, Thank you

سورية اول بلد بالعالم يسمح فيه للمسيحي بالزواج من اثنتين

المحامي ميشال شماس : ( كلنا شركاء )
25/ 05/ 2009
أثار سخطاً وجدلاً واسعاً

لجنة حكومية أعدت مشروع قانون للأحوال الشخصية السوري

بتاريخ 7/6/2007 اصدر السيد رئيس مجلس الوزراء القرار رقم 2437 قضى بموجبه تشكيل لجنة مهمتها إعداد مشروع قانون الأحوال الشخصية السوري، و بتاريخ 5/4/2009 انتهت اللجنة المذكورة من إعداد مشروع القانون المذكور، وقد جاء المشروع جامعاً في أحكامه جميع الأديان والطوائف واحتوى على 665 مادة. وخص المشروع الطائفة الدرزية بالمادة 619، وخص الطوائف المسيحية من المادة 620 وحتى المادة 655، ومن المادة 656 وحتى المادة 665 للطائفة اليهودية.

وعُلم أن رؤساء الكنائس المسيحية في سورية فوجئوا بمشروع القانون، إلا أن المفاجأة الأكبر بالنسبة إليهم كانت في حرمان الكنيسة من الإشراف على عقد الزواج وتنظيمه وجعله من اختصاص موظف يعينه وزير العدل، بينما أبقى المسائل المتعلقة بانحلال الزواج وأثاره من اختصاص المحكمة الروحية لكل طائفة، وأضاف إليها أحكاماً تتناقض كلياً مع الأحكام الخاصة بالطوائف المسيحية. وقد وصف رجل دين مسيحي الأحكام المتعلقة بالطوائف المسيحية الواردة في المشروع بأنها تنسف العقيدة المسيحية، ورأى فيه مشروع فتنة. وقد أجمع جميع من أطلع عليه من المسيحيين على رفض الأحكام الواردة في المشروع باستثناء بعض الأحكام المتعلقة بأسباب بطلان الزواج والتطليق.
فمشروع القانون الجديد نص في المادة 627 من المشروع: ( لا يتم انعقاد الزواج إلا بوثيقة رسمية صادرة عن موثق يعينه وزير العدل. بعد إبراز الوثائق المنصوص عليها في المادة 76 والتحقق من أهلية الزوجين )). أي لم يعد للكنسية أي دور بشأن مراسم عقد الزواج.
وخلافاً للأحكام الكنسية التي تحرم الاقتران بأكثر من امرأة في وقت واحد ، فقد شرعن مشروع القانون المذكور تعدد الزوجات للمسيحيين حين سمح للزوج المسيحي الزواج بزوجة ثانية، وهذا ما يفهم من نص المادتين 639 و640، فالمادة 639 نصت: ( يجوز لكل من الزوجين أن يطلب التطليق بسبب زنى الزوج الأخر، أو زواجه الثاني، أما المادة 641 فقد نصت : ( 1- تسقط الدعوى بانقضاء ستة أشهر من تاريخ العلم بوقوع الزنى، أو الزواج الثاني. 2- ولا تقبل الدعوى إذا صفح الزوج عن المخطىء، أو كان الزنى والزواج الثاني برضاه). وهذا ما يتناقض مع المادة 624 التي نصت في فقرتها الأولى ” 1- لا يجوز لأحد الزوجين أن يعقد زواجاً أخر مادام زواجه قائماً” بينما حافظ مشروع القانون على الأحكام الخاصة بطائفة الدروز لجهة عدم تعدد الزوجات كما جاء في المادة 619 بند 2-لا يجوز تعدد الزوجات في آن واحد..؟؟ وهو أمر لا يمكن أن تقبل به الكنيسة ولا المسيحيين أيضاً. خاصة في ظل مطالبة الكثير من السورين بمختلف انتماءاتهم الدينية بمنع تعدد الزوجات.
والغريب أن مشروع القانون في المادة 625 منه حظر على المسيحيين الزواج أكثر من ثلاث مرات ” التزوج في المرة الرابعة بعد التزوج ثلاث مرات وحصول المفارقة باطل”. فماذا يفعل الرجل المسيحي إذا توفيت زوجته في المرة الأولى بحادث سير، وكان زواجه الثاني باطلاً، أو توفيت امرأته لسبب من الأسباب في المرة الثالثة.
كما ألزم مشروع القانون المرأة المسيحية بالعدة الأمر الذي لم يكن معمولا به عند المسيحيين على ما نصت عليه المادة 626: ( لا يجوز العقد على من انتهى زواجها إلا : أ- بوضع الحمل المستبين.ب- بعد سنة لغير الحامل من تاريخ انتهاء التطليق أو وفاة الزوج). بينما نصت المادة 248 من نفس مشروع القانون أن عدة المرأة المسلمة للمتوفى عنها زوجها إن لم تكن حاملاً بمضي أربعة أشهر قمرية وعشرة أيام من يوم وفاته، وثلاثة أشهر للمرأة المطلقة..! وأبقى مشروع القانون على عدة المرأة فيما يتعلق بطائفة الدروز على حالها وهي أربعة أشهر تبدأ من تاريخ الطلاق أو التفريق أو وفاة وتنتهي عدة الزوجة بوضع حملها. مع العلم أن المرأة باستطاعتها أن تعرف إذا كانت هي حامل أم لا بفضل التحاليل الطبية.
ومشروع القانون ميز بين المسيحيين والمسلمين حين حدد للمسيحيين طريقتان فقط لإثبات الزواج، بينما أجاز للطرف المسلم إثبات الزواج بشتى طرق الإثبات وفقاً لنص المادة 630 ( 1- لا يجوز إثبات الزوجية إلا بالوثيقة أو بالإقرار القضائي. 2- إذا كان الزوج مسلماً جاز أثبات الزواج بشتى وسائل الإثبات الشرعية ).
وفي المادة 38 منه استخدم معدوا المشروع كلمة ذمي بدلاً من كلمة مسيحي في الفقرة الثالثة : 3- تجوز شهادة الذمي إذا كانت الزوجة كتابية حين الضرورة .. ولكن لا يثبت الزواج إذا جحده الزوج المسلم ويثبت إذا جحدته الكتابية. وفرضت المادة 620 على المسيحيين بوجوب” 1- إشهار الخطبة . 2- يصدر وزير العدل قراراً بالتعليمات التنفيذية اللازمة لذلك 3- لا يجوز عقد الزواج إلا بعد خمسة عشر يوماً من تاريخ إشهار الخطبة”.
وأبقى مشروع القانون على بطلان زواج المسلمة بغير مسلم، وزواج المرتد عن الإسلام أو المرتدة ولو كان الطرف الأخر غير مسلم. أما زواج المسلم بغير المسلمة باطل ما لم تكن كتابية.
ونصت المادة 325 من المشروع بند 3 – إذا اسلم الزوجان معاً كان القاصر من أولادهما مسلماً سواء أكان مولوداً بعد الإسلام، أم قبله. وأما البند الرابع منها فنص على أنه إذا أسلم أحد الزوجين كان دين الصغير هو الإسلام على أن يبقى له حق اختيار الدين عند بلوغه سن الرشد خلال شهر من بلوغه، بينما المدة في القانون الحالي هي سنة من تاريخ بلوغه سن الرشد. وذلك خلافاً لأحكام المادة 129 من كتاب قدري باشا المنصوص عليه في قانون الأحوال الشخصية السوري الحالي، التي نصت حرفياً: (( إذا أسلم أحد الزوجين وكان بينهما ولد صغير أو ولد لهما قبل عرض الإسلام على الأخر أو بعده يتبع من أسلم منهما إن كان الولد مقيماً في دار الإسلام سواء كان من أسلم من أبويه مقيماً بها أو في غيرها، فإن لم يكن الولد مقيماً بدار الإسلام فلا يتبع من أسلم من أبويه)). ومعروف أن مفهوم دار الحرب والإسلام قد سقط نهائياً على يد كمال أتاتورك عندما أنهى الخلافة العثمانية .وأما المادة 293 فنزعت حضانة الأم غير المسلمة من حضانة الطفل عندما يبلغ أربع سنوات من عمره. فهل يعقل نزع هذا الطفل من حضن أمه؟ أية قسوة هذه ؟
كما نص المشروع وخلافاً لما نص عليه القرار 60ل0ر بأن إشهار الإسلام يتم في المحكمة الشرعية وليس في دار المحافظة. وبدون حضور رجل الدين الذي يتبع له طالب الإسلام، ويمتنع سؤال طالب الإسلام عن سبب إسلامه أو الباعث إليه.
واللافت في هذا المشروع أن الأحكام المتعلقة بالطائفة الدرزية بقيت كما هي منصوص عليها في المادة 307 من قانون الأحوال الشخصية الصادر بالمرسوم التشريعي رقم 59 لعام 1953.
ونص مشروع القانون في المادة 21على إنشاء نيابة عامة شرعية لها حق التدخل في بعض قضايا الأحوال الشخصية أو رفع بعضها إذا لم يتقدم أحد من ذوي الشأن وذلك في كل أمر يمس النظام العام. وعبارة النظام العام هنا مطاطة يمكن تحميلها الكثير، كما يجري في مصر في قضايا الحسبة.
وفي سياق أخر أبقى مشروع القانون في المادة 44 منه على زواج الصغيرة والصغيرة بقولها ( إذا ادعى المراهق البلوغ بعد إكمال الخامسة عشرة أو المراهقة بعد إكمالها الثالثة عشر وطلبا الزواج يأذن به القاضي إذا تبين له صدق دعواهما واحتمال جسميهما. بينما المادة 82 تمنع توثيق عقد الزواج أو المصادقة عليه ما لم تتم الفتاة الخامسة عشر عر ويتم الفتى السابعة عشر من العمر وقت التوثيق. مع العلم أن هناك مطالبات كثيرة بمنع زواج الصغيرات وتحديد سن الزواج لفتى والفتاة بسن البلوغ وهو ثمانية عشر.

والسؤال الذي يطرح نفسه الآن بصدد هذا المشروع وما قد ينتج عنه من ردود فعل نحن بغنى عنها، هو هل يتحمل الوطن هكذا مشروع ؟ فإذا كان متعذراً في الوقت الحالي قيام تشريع زواج مدني على أساس قانون مدني واحد فوق الطوائف مع ترك حرية الاختيار لمن يرغب من المواطنين مباركة زواجهم عن طريق المحاكم الشرعية والروحية والمذهبية،فلماذا لا نترك المفاعيل الدينية للزواج كما في شروط عقده وانحلاله وفسخه للمراجع الدينية لكل طائفة؟. ثم نعمل معاً على سن قانون أحوال شخصية موحد لجميع الأديان والطوائف ينظم مسألة الآثار والمفاعيل المدنية المتعلقة بالزواج وما ينتج عنه من أثار تتصل بالحضانة والمسكن ونفقة الزوجة والولد الصغير والكبير ونفقة الأقارب والولاية والوصاية والإرث والوصية والأشياء الجهازية ..الخ وذلك على أساس المساواة التامة بين الرجل والمرأة سواء أكانوا مسلمين أم مسيحيين أم دروز أويهود وفقاً لما نص عليه الدستور السوري ولاسيما المادة 25 منه فقرة 3 ” المواطنوان متساوون أمام القانون في الحقوق والواجبات. وكذلك المادة 35 فقرة 1- حرية الاعتقاد مصونة وتحترم الدولة جميع الأديان”، وبما ينسجم مع العهود والمواثيق الدولية ذات الصلة.
نحن لا نطلب الحق في ممارسة الشعائر الدينية فقط ، بل نطلب حق التمتع بمبدأ المواطنة الذي يساوي بين المواطنين على اختلاف مشاربهم السياسية والدينية والمذهبية والعرقية..الخ. فنحن السوريين بجميع أطيافنا وانتماءاتنا كنا ومازلنا شركاء في هذا الوطن منذ آلاف السنين، شركاء في الحلوة والمرة، شركاء في الدفاع عنه،وسنستمر كذلك.. فما الذي يمنع بعد كل ذلك من أن نشارك في بناء هذا الوطن على أساس الكفاءة وعلى أساس الاعتراف بالآخر وحق الاختلاف معه…وعلى أساس القبول بهذا الآخر وحقه الإنساني دون حدود فقهية وتشريعية.؟؟
باختصار.. نطمح إلى بناء وطنٍ يكون لجميع أبنائه، يرتكز أولاً وأخيراً على مبدأ المواطنة الذي يتيح لجميع المواطنين التمتع على وجه الخصوص بحرية الفكر والعقيدة وسائر الحريات العامة والخاصة بصرف النظر عن الدين أو الجنس أو العرق أو اللون..ونطمح أيضا إلى نظام يحمي المعتقدات الدينية والفكرية والسياسية، وإن اختلفت، نظام يكون على مسافة واحدة من جميع مكونات الشعب دون تفضيل فريق على أخر..

المحامي ميشال شماس – كلنا شركاء

This is the lovely law, ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Elie Elhadj Says:


Thanks for the link to Syria’s proposed new personal status law.

Reading the proposed law is depressing and saddenning. The proposed law is an embarrassing development for a country eager to portray itself as progressive and modern. The proposed law retains from the existing law its cruel and humiliating treatment of women. The proposed law violates women human rights.

The use of words like “dhimmi” (for Christians) is offensive and “nikah” (for marriage) is vulgar.

That Syria’s women parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, Baath Party officials, university professors, and other learned professionals and intellectuals will continue to suffer under the proposed new law; just as an example, the indignity of having one half of the voice of a man in a Syrian Shari’a court, even if the man is an illiterate vagrant, is scandalous.

Where are the respect, faithfulness, and devotion that the Prophet had accorded his wife Khadija, as we have been told, during their 25 years of marriage until her death in 620?

It is with deep retgret that an opportunity appears to have been lost to finally modernize this most important of laws that could help usher Syria into the modern age. Instead, a supposedly “secular” Baath government works on promulgating a personal status law that should make Islamists everywhere rejoice. This law is certainly not an illustrious page in the reform agenda of a supposedly “secular” political party.

It is incumbant upon Syria’s enlightened women and men today to demand a modern secular personal status code that would abolish Shari’a courts altogether and that would equally apply to all Syrians irrespective of their religious or sectarian colours; Sunnis, Alawites, Druzes, Christian, and Jews instead of this primitive retrogressive code.


jad Says:

Dear Dr. Elie
Thank you, I appreciate your views and explanations.
I had the same impression when I read the proposed law and to be honest I couldn’t believe what I am reading inside it. It’s frustrating that the government approach something that important with this superficial and ignorant way.
I did contact many people so far and the worst part is that none of the Christian official churches in Damascus has been invited to share writing or even to consult writing such shame.
I also start a petition regarding this huge step backward and I will post it on every Syrian news site I know, it is unacceptable that we throw all the progress we did since the Ottoman in the garbage and borrow some Taliban law to rule us. It is disgusting.
I also just read this
Hopefully it’s true though I doubt until we read anything from the government about the matter.

eatbees Says:


You seem to miss the fact that Syria is a one-party police state.

Maybe that should be reformed first, before we get into the sensitive question of the role religion should play in the political life of a free people.

gry hazardowe Says:

gry hazardowe…

Models Galore, A Cruise Ship Entertainer And A Gry Kasyno Dealer: Meet The Ladies Who Law Lets Gry Kasyno Dealers Accept Personal Tips…

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