The respected Aussie imam smeared by the Assad regime
I suppose “Aussie imam” Â means Muslims who have settled behind enemy lines.
“Respected” sounds imbecilic. ‘Respected’ by whom?
A citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center shows a wartorn Syria.Â Source:Â AP
THEY are two Syrian-Australian brothers whose fates illustrate the shifting, bloody complexities of their homeland’s brutal civil war.
The younger is dead, killed in a rocket attack. His elder brother has been dragged unwittingly into the propaganda battle being waged by the Syrian regime.
Speaking to a visiting WikiLeaks Party delegation at a meeting in the state-run radio and television compound in central Damascus last week, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi made a series of unsubstantiated allegations against the older brother, Fedaa al-Majzoub.
The respected Sydney-based Islamic cleric played a role in the kidnapping of more than 100 civilians during a massacre in Syria last August, the minister claimed.
“Since you are from Australia, I would like to tell you that the jihadist sheik Fedaa al-Islam al-Majzoub is responsible,” Mr Zoubi said.
At least one of the WikiLeaks delegates, Jamal Daoud, repeated these allegations yesterday, despite admitting he had not received any evidence to support the minister’s claims.
“We don’t have evidence,” Mr Daoud said. “I did not receive anything. I did not follow it up.” Follow up these claims and you soon learn that, in Syria, the truth is hard to find – just one casualty of the conflict in which about 130,000 have died since March 2011.
Sheik Majzoub is a prominent political opponent of the Syrian regime.
According to his father, Hassan, he has spent the past few weeks in Paris and London helping to organise the UN-backed “Geneva II” peace conference that aims to bring the warring sides face to face later this month.
Friends, security analysts and senior law-enforcement sources believe the attempt to paint him as a war criminal may be politically motivated to undermine an opponent whom the government may yet face across the negotiating table.
This, like the kidnapping allegation itself, may be impossible to prove. What is known is that, before the Syrian conflict began, Sheik Majzoub was one of Australia’s most respected, moderate, Islamic academics.
The 45-year-old, whose health is understood to be poor, comes from a family that was once close to the Syrian regime. His family moved to Australia in 1985.
He spent more than 15 years teaching at various universities overseas, ultimately working for the Syrian Ministry of Islamic Affairs before receiving his PhD in Koranic Sciences in 2008 at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University.
In doing so, he was following family tradition. His grandfather, Muhammad Majzoub, was an internationally renowned Islamic scholar. The family, from the Latakia region of western Syria, were well-respected as a result.
It was this family connection, Sheik Mazjoub’s friends believe, that led to him receiving an invitation to join the Syrian National Council, which presents itself as an official opposition to the regime of President Bassar al-Assad.
Leaving behind his family and work in Australia, including a high-profile role as a vice-president of the National Imams Council, the sheik has spent much of the past few years travelling between Syria and Turkey.
His family and friends, many of whom live in southwest Sydney, receive only irregular contact from him by telephone and internet but insist he dedicates his time to humanitarian work.
Keysar Trad, a Muslim community spokesman who has worked closely with the sheik for years, said: “The man wouldn’t know what to do with a weapon if you gave him one.”
Despite this, Sheik Majzoub has certainly played a political role in the uprising, and is known to have met rebel military commanders in the Latakia area around the time the massacre took place.
The Australian is not aware of any evidence that he was involved. It has not been possible to contact the sheik himself, who is understood to be in Istanbul.
What is known is that, at some point, Sheik Majzoub’s younger brother, Mustapha, followed him to Syria.
Like his elder brother, Mustapha was a popular preacher, although he did not share his brother’s formal qualifications and is understood to have followed a more conservative, hardline interpretation of Islam.
Both men reportedly were subsequently subject to passenger movement alerts imposed by Australian law enforcement authorities, although security analysts say neither has appeared on their radar of potential extremists.
Tamer Kahil, a Sydney doctor, said he met Mustapha in Turkey and the two men discussed how he might help to distribute money raised by the Syrian community in Australia to refugees displaced by the conflict.
Like Mustapha, Dr Kahil also travelled into Syria, where he worked briefly at the Dar al-Shifa Hospital, while it was under attack by government troops.
“If I had no commitments here, I would have stayed there,” Dr Kahil said. “When I saw what is happening there with my own eyes, I feel like leaving everything.
“Everyone who goes there sees a child being harmed or buried in front of their parents. It just motivates them to help.”
Facebook posts left shortly before he died, however, suggest Mustapha also spent time on the battlefield.
“I met brothers here who from the first instance you might think they are too merciful or weak however on the battlefields they are lions that roar,” his last such post states.
In August 2012, Mustapha was killed in a rocket attack, the exact circumstances of which remain unclear.
In doing so, he became the first Australian known to have died in the Syrian conflict. Others, including at least one suicide bomber, have followed, and senior police and intelligence officers have spoken publicly of the potential for other Australians to become radicalised by the violence.
About 200 Australians are thought to have travelled to Syria since the conflict began, half of whom are understood to have had played a role in the fighting itself.
It has not been possible to establish how closely the two brothers worked, if at all, inside Syria, although Sheik Majzoub attended his brother’s funeral.
Their father, who left Syria with his family in 1985, continues to insist both sons returned only to take part in humanitarian work.
A family friend described Hassan Majzoub yesterday as being “heartbroken about what is happening in his country”.