Syria: The truth about Presidential Decree Number 16

GHASSAN KADI* discusses the issue of Decree No. 16 issued by the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar al-Assad, which has seen the country in the past few weeks engulfed in heated arguments, misinformation, confusion and worrying signs of increasing sectarianism.

Syrian Flag(October 4) – Much has been said around Presidential Decree No. 16, but in reality, nothing has been said about its actual contents and context. When I began reading criticisms of it, they gave the impression that the Decree is handing over the Executive authority of Syria to the Clergy.

Videos made and posted by Syrian activists expressed grave concern that Syria was following the footsteps of Saudi Arabia in imposing Shariah law on the streets of Syria. There are countless posts reiterating that they against the imposition of Shariah dress on Syrian women and other similar concerns and linking this to the Decree. There was also confusion about the origin of the Decree and a great deal of criticism of the Minister of Awkaf (Muslim Religious Endowments – The Awkaf Ministry deals with and manages the family trust funds of Sunni Muslims – ed.) as the man allegedly being behind it all.

This soon developed into a wave of paranoia and fury that dragged in many normally sombre and serious analysts and activists into supporting the outrage and expressing deep concern and even anger against the government.

I observed all these developments with great concern, not knowing if they were based on any reasonable foundations, because I did not really see the actual wording of the Decree in question. The confusion relating to the origin of the Decree, among other things, made it difficult to Google it, however I finally managed to find it.

To begin with, and contrary to the statements of many its critics, it is a Presidential Decree and not one originating from the Minister as these critics claimed. It is a 37 page document comprised of 7 sections and each section is divided into chapters. As I sat down to read it, I began to doubt if it was the actual document that the whole uproar was about. I therefore decided to write an Arabic extract of the main and relevant points it mentioned (see below–ed.). The extract was quote-unquote based so that I do not use my own words. The emphasis was on matters of political power and religious power, whilst matters relating to financial management and the like were skimmed through very briefly.  The link provided herein is for the Arabic post I made. I am not going to translate this to English and I apologize for that. Those who are interested in an English translation can use online translators and whilst these services have their limitations, they are nonetheless good enough to relay the main underlying context.

In brief, the Decree does not separate the State from the Sunni Muslim institution, this is true. However, it puts the religious institution under the hand and authority of the Civil Government. This in my humble view, is a bold presidential step towards secularism. The Decree imposes regulations for religious activities, teaching, preaching and other related matters, to ensure that extremism, namely Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood, are kept out and that Muslims are taught that they can be good Muslims and good Syrian citizens at the same time.

Sadly, experience has taught us that if religious institutions are left alone, they can be infiltrated by prejudiced fanatic zealots who can in the future, potentially reignite the fire. If anything, Decree Number 16 takes precautionary measures to ensure this doesn’t happen.

I did not see in the Decree any allusion to the imposition of Shariah code dress on women, and quite frankly, I did not see anything in it that justifies the outrage.

As I was in the beginning wondering if I was reading the actual document that had caused the outrage, I ended up wondering if the ones doing the outrage have read it at all or even bothered to try to google it and find it.

The War on Syria has not finished and over the years I have written many articles about directions that the enemies of Syria took it in order to morph the war and reshape it in their favour. What we now need is rationality and education. It’s a good start to have faith and confidence in the leadership and Decrees of the President, but this trust can be further bolstered by actually looking at facts and discussing the Decree for what it says and not by attributing it to the words of some extremist clerics and making judgements made on totally irrelevant criteria.

تحليل المرسوم التشريعي السوري رقم ١٦ بشأن وزارة الأوقاف

غسان قاضي

Analysis of Syrian Presidential Decree No. 16 on the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments)

GHASSAN KADI* [Google translation from the Arabic]

(October 3) – In order to clarify matters related to the safety and security of Syria as it has been entrusted since the beginning of the war, I have had to shed some light on the presidential decree concerning the Syrian Ministry of Awqaf.

The decree is known as Presidential Decree No. 16. Contrary to what is rumoured about being issued by the Ministry of Awqaf, it is already issued by the Presidency and bears on its page the signature of President Bashar al-Assad.

The decree contains 37 pages and consists of 7 sections containing 115 articles. Below is a summary of the controversial items and articles today.

The first section contains one article, which is a series of definitions related to the Ministry of Awqaf.

The second section is entitled “Defining the functions of the ministry and the competences of the minister.” It consists of two chapters.

Article 1 deals with “religious guidance and guidance.” It gives the ministry the task of “supervising religious activities … fighting extremist religious thought …” and “protecting national unity from the dangers of this ideology and drying up its sources … such as Wahabism,” It calls for “the development of forensic education … in order to prepare an elite of religious scholars … who provide the appropriate alternative to extremism, deviant ideas, and Takfiri … and to emphasize respect for all other religions. And raise the spirit of homogeneity among the people of the homeland.”

The same article states: “The proper religious guidance (Islam as revealed by God) and the reform of the sources of religious discourse … and the supervision of the Asad institutes for the memorization and interpretation of the Koran … and supervision of women’s religious affairs … and control programs Religious activities in all media … in coordination with the relevant ministries”, “holding conferences and symposia … and participating in religious events of other religions.”

The second chapter of the first chapter defines the powers of the minister and clarifies that he is “the supreme authority of the ministry and has the right of guidance for its employees and those entrusted with religious work … and the acceptance of grants ….”

Chapter 3 contains 9 chapters. The first chapter of Article 6 of the decree defines what is the “Higher Scientific Scientific Council” to be established, which is headed by the Minister of Awqaf; the Mufti of the Republic is a member along with 36 members, five of whom are women named by the Minister. Article 7 of the decree states that “representatives of all Christian denominations shall be added to the membership of the Council. They shall be nominated by the Patriarchs when discussing inter-religious issues and concerning the promotion of national unity … Decisions shall be taken by unanimous vote of the members present and, The president’s side.”

Article 8 (d) specifies that one of the tasks of the Higher Juristic Scientific Council is “to follow up the fatwas and rulings of the Shari’a and the extent of their impact on the lives of the people, so that they are conservative on the principles of religion, respectful of the mind and consistent with reality.” Under Article (8), “the relationship of affection and deepen the roots of citizenship between Muslims and Christians and the fight against phenomena of discrimination under the banner of religion.”

Chapter III Article 2 states that “the pillars of religious discourse” are “analysis instead of indoctrination” and that “belonging to Islam does not conflict with belonging to the homeland and citizenship … and focus on the moral aspect of advocacy … and depth In understanding the texts … and spreading the culture of moderation … and adopting the method of dialogue .. and belonging to Islam and not to the doctrine … and work to correct the concepts and terminology … and awareness against myths and deviant ideas …. And respect for human rights.”

Article 10 concerns the penalties to be imposed on violators of the aforementioned teachings.

Chapter Three defines “the conditions and principles of the commissioning of Islamic religious work”. Chapter four defines “duties and prohibitions on those charged with religious work.” Chapter five is the chapter on “disciplinary sanctions” to be imposed on religious duty holders in the event of their deviation from national and moral constants And similar. The sixth chapter deals with holidays, the seventh with cash allowances, and the eighth by the end of the service of those charged with religious work.

Chapter Three Article 9 Article (a) states that “the General Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic shall be appointed and his functions and powers shall be determined by decree upon the proposal of the Minister for a period of three years, renewable by a decree.”

The fourth chapter deals with the organization of legal education. It should be noted that Article 42 stipulates that “the number of hours of cosmic materials shall not be less than half the number of hours of legal subjects.”

And the fifth chapter of the first chapter Mali and entitled “the development of real estate endowment and investment.” It is noteworthy that the call for the formation of the “Supreme Awqaf Council” headed by the Minister and civil experts.

The second chapter of the fifth section is administrative under the title “Department of Endowments” and all its articles and items related to administrative and judicial matters. And the third chapter under the title “assets of the replacement of real estate Waqf”, and the fourth section “the provisions of rental and investment properties Waqf.”

Section VI is also a technical director entitled “Directorates and the people of endowments in the administrative units.” The seventh and final section deals with the final provisions. What is noteworthy is Article 110, in which we see that the decree “prohibits the wearing of Islamic religious clothing or the use of Islamic religious attributes and titles other than the qualified persons who are authorized to do so in accordance with instructions issued by a decision of the Minister.”

This is what the decree contains politically, religiously and lawfully. I chose this trend to focus on the reactions we see today.

It is true that I do not see in the decree what is consistent with the principle of separation of religion from the state, but it places control on the clergy and the religious establishment by the secular civil state.And whoever wishes to investigate, he will seek for himself and for himself.

I invite everyone to reason and trust in the wise leadership. I call on all those who have stood in the face of the currents that have been killed, flattered and raped by reason of their own minds and their duty to stop asking themselves if there is any doubt and fear in the presidential decree. I also ask everyone to read the text of the decree in their own right before being drawn to the opinions of others, and I do not exclude my opinion from the opinion of others, and my respect and appreciation to all faithful sincere. Decree-Ministry-Awqaf_.pdf

*Ghassan Kadi, a native of Beirut of Syrian origin, is an analyst of Middle East affairs and the author of An Epic of Integrity: The Chronicles of the War on Syria (June 2016). Visit Intibah and Ghassan Kadi’s website.

Leave a comment

Filed under West Asia (Middle East)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s