GUEST POST: Abdullah al-Muheisini Weighs in on Killing of Alawite Women and Children

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Abdullah al-Muheisini Weighs in on Killing of Alawite Women and Children

By Sam Heller

With Syria’s advancing northern rebels poised to strike into heretofore safe regime strongholds in Lattakia and Hama, jihadist evangelist and fundraiser Abdullah al-Muheisini has weighed in on the permissibility of killing Alawite women and children via a ruling published on Twitter.

Syria’s northern rebels recently captured the city of Jisr al-Shughour, Idlib – a strategic crossroads in Syria’s northwest – and are now positioned to both consolidate their hold on this corner of the country and push further south and west into regime territory. This means that Alawite towns, including the coastal Alawite heartland, may now be in jeopardy. Though some of this talk is undoubtedly bluster, some rebels are now threatening to move on Alawite mountain villages in Lattakia, including the al-Assad family home of al-Qardaha. The head of the powerful Salafist militia Ahrar al-Sham Hisham “Abu Jaber” al-Sheikh, for example, has expressed the hope that the “wave of purification” that swept the “filth” from Jisr al-Shughour reaches “the mountains of the Nuseiriyyah [derog., Alawites].”

In anticipation of rebels’ capture of Alawite or mixed areas, al-Muheisini has ruled that it is generally impermissible to kill Alawite women and children. (Al-Muheisini’s tweets are translated below.) He argues against those pushing for rebels to respond to the regime’s mass murder of Sunni women and children in kind. He says that the religiously sanctioned principle of reciprocity or response in kind does not allow rebels to kill women and children, which is forbidden and which the Prophet Muhammad was himself known to discourage. He also rules against killing Alawite women and children as a deterrent to the regime, saying that the regime doesn’t care about Alawite civilians and that this “will only increase the regime’s criminality and barbarity.”

Yet taken as a whole, al-Muheisini’s verdict should not be considered encouraging, particularly when considered with the coda of tweets he added immediately after (also translated below). In the main ruling, for example, he does not rule out captured Alawite women’s subsequent execution for apostasy. Nor does he rule out the killing of women and children who bear arms, the justification with which Ahrar al-Sham argued against Human Rights Watch’s allegations of massacres of Alawite civilians in an August 2013 Lattakia offensive. Most obviously alarming, though, is his assertion in one of his follow-on tweets that – even though the mujahideen may spare Alawite women and children – “we will exterminate their men.” (Al-Muheisini actually uses the verb أباد/abad, which is frequently used for “exterminating,” to take one example, insects. When modified with the Arabic word for “collective” – جماعي/jama’i – the resulting term, إبادة جماعية/ibadah jama’iyyah, is the common Arabic translation for “genocide.”)

Al-Muheisini, a Saudi now roaming northwest Syria, should not be treated as fringe or irrelevant. Though often seen as close with Jabhat al-Nusrah, he seems to maintain strong relations with an array of Islamist and jihadist factions and to serve as an influential dealmaker. Their robust Twitter presence notwithstanding, jihadists are not the sum total of Syria’s rebel forces. But in large swathes of Syria’s Idlib-centered northwest, jihadists (like Jabhat al-Nusrah) and jihadist-variants (like Ahrar al-Sham) are ascendant. With nationalist rivals either stamped out or sublimated, this hardcore often exercises effective control of rebel-held territory. In this more extreme northwestern milieu, al-Muheisini is closer to the rebels’ center than one might like – for example, he sat on the shari’ah committee of “Jeish al-Fath,” the operations room/coalition of Islamist brigades that captured Idlib City in March.

Moreover, al-Muheisini apparently doesn’t even represent the rightmost wing of non-ISIS rebels and jihadists on this issue. Jabhat al-Nusrah shari’ah official “Abu Osama al-Ansari,” for example, replied to al-Muheisini to say that Alawite women have fought or incited against the rebels and should be treated as combatants unless proven otherwise. (He argued, in addition, that al-Muheisini understated the degree of scholarly consensus on the execution of female apostates. His tweets are also translated below.)

Al-Muheisini’s verdict would be problematic even if we could expect it to be universally binding, a real constraint on rebel and jihadist footsoldiers, which likely isn’t the case. But the fact that al-Muheisini speaks for a not-inconsiderable segment of northern rebel forces – and may in fact be a sort of jihadist liberal on this, more dovish than some – is obviously reason for concern. It remains to be seen if energized rebels can actually realize the regime-shaking gains some are envisioning, or if the regime will rebound and drive them back. But if rebels and jihadists drive into heavily Alawite areas, the prospect of atrocities seems real and ought to be alarming.

Abdullah al-Muheisini’s original tweets (hyperlinked references added):

There’s an important matter about which I’d like to speak, given the mujahideen’s need for [this discussion], and particularly in this advanced stage of the jihad in al-Sham (Syria): the matter of #The_Verdict_on_the_Alawites’_Women_and_Children. The coming battles, God willing, will be in the heart of the regime’s strongholds, in Alawite villages, which is a new development on the field of Syrian jihad. And so today we raid the Nuseiriyyah (derog., Alawites), with God’s grace and blessing, and thanks to the mujahideen, the lives and blood they have sacrificed.

And so I wanted to clarify this extremely important matter, as, in a war in the Alawites’ villages, women and children fall into the hands of the mujahideen. So what is the verdict on them?

To go into detail on this matter – that is, the verdict on the Alawites’ women and children – we say:

First: The basic principle on the killing of infidels’ women and children generally is that it is legally impermissible. For it is reported in the Sahih [authoritative collections of the Prophet’s sayings and actions] that a woman was found killed on one of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) expeditions, and the Prophet condemned that and discouraged the killing of women and children. [Al-Imam] al-Nawawi said: “The ulama [scholars] have agreed on forbidding the killing of women and children if they have not engaged in combat. If they did engage in combat, then the consensus of the ulama says: let them be killed.”

Second: Some may justify the permission of killing the infidels’ women and children with the ayah [Quranic verse]: “And whosoever transgresses against you, may you transgress likewise against him.” [2:194, Surat al-Baqarah] The reply to that is twofold: First, the symmetry of punishment in God’s saying, “May you transgress likewise against him,” refers specifically to what is not [religiously] forbidden. So it is not correct, for example, to commit adultery with the female relative of someone who committed adultery with your female relative on the grounds that it is like treatment. This rule of like treatment, therefore, is not unbounded. So it is not permissible to act according to the ayah without restriction and without referring to what the [Divine] Legislator excepted, what He designated as, in itself, taboo, and to which He forbade a response in kind. So it is not permissible to respond to treachery with treachery, or a sin cannot be met with a sin. As it says in the hadiths [Prophetic sayings]: “Repay the trust of one who trusts you, [but] do not betray one who betrays you.” As [Muhammad] al-Shoukani said, “These hadiths indicate that it is not permissible to kill women and children in any circumstance, and that is [the conclusion] at which Malik [ibn Anas] and [Abdul-Rahman] al-Awza’i arrived.”

As for [the killing of Alawite women and children] being considered by some to be a means of deterring the regime, we say: “The regime doesn’t care about anything like that. The regime doesn’t pay attention to that, and it isn’t concerned with it.” Rather, [killing Alawite women and children] will only increase the regime’s criminality and barbarity… And so, my friends, we rule: Killing the Alawites’ women and children is forbidden.

The commanders of the battle for Jisr al-Shaghur adopted this fatwa and, praise and thanks to God, the mujahideen did not lose [anything]. Rather, with their victory, they won people’s hearts. [Here is] a picture of the some of the Alawites’ children. Look how the mujahideen treated them. [Here al-Muheisini includes a Harakat Sham al-Islam/Jabhat Ansar al-Din-branded photo of, apparently, captured Alawite children smiling and posing under a tree.] Spread this, so that people might know that we are guides, not tyrants.

A note: Some might say that Alawite women are apostates. We say: This is a different matter from the one about which we’re speaking. Our discussion regards the matter of killing. As for the matter of the apostasy of Alawite women, then that relates to the disagreement over the killing of female apostates. And all the opinions on this matter recommend that she be called on to repent – that is, called to Islam. This is in addition to the disagreement over whether the Alawites are original infidels or apostates…

Mujahideen, we fight with values, principles, and limits with which we have been guided and commanded by our True Religion. We are not bandits or vampires, and we are not among those who are pleased or rejoice at the spilling of blood. Our jihad is da’wah [a call to God] before it is combat.

And God is all-knowing and the source of all knowledge, the wisest and most sound… And peace be upon [the Prophet].

Abdullah al-Muheisini’s subsequent tweets (hyperlinked references added):

There is no doubt that the previous is with regard to those who do not bear arms and fight or inform [to the regime]….

Some say, “They killed our children.” I say, We will exterminate their men, with the permission of God the Powerful and Almighty.

One might say, “Then what should we do with [these women and children]?”

I say, We’ll use them to get our women and our children out of the tyrant’s jails, that is, if the tyrant cares for his people…

One might ask, “What about killing them if the regime has used them to protect itself?” The Prophet, peace be upon him, was asked about this and said, “They are of them.” So it is permissible to bomb them if [the regime] has protected itself with them. If a city is liberated and [women and children] are found, on the other hand, no.

Jabhat al-Nusrah shar’i Abu Osama al-Ansari’s reply (hyperlinked references added):

[I have read the] tweets under the title, #The_Verdict_on_the_Alawites’_Women_and_Children, written by Sheikh Abdullah al-Muheisini. Some of them are not quite right, may God forgive us and him.

Have the Nuseiriyyah’s women not fought us, in one form or another? Or incited against us, Sheikh?

Their women are combatants unless it is proved otherwise.

Likewise, the prohibition on killing them is not because of the sanctity of their blood, as was resolved by the scholars. Rather, [the reason for the prohibition is so that] Muslims’ interest in taking them as slaves and selling them not be squandered.

And also, the consensus is that apostate women are to be killed. No one disputes that but the Ahnaf [Hanafis].

Sheikh [Muhammad] ibn al-‘Uthaymin’s fatwa [religious verdict] on their killing is well-known.

And here is the Nuseiriyyah’s response to you:

[Screencap of Facebook post by Ruba Kamal al-Assad:] “To the Syrian Arab Army: After you liberate Jisr al-Shughour, whose liberation is now only a matter of time, kill every old man, child and woman you encounter on your way. Pay no attention to the flowers or the rice with which you will be showered as you enter the city. Every grain of rice or flower contains a volcano of hate – if they could, they would make them shells or rockets that would fall on your pure heads. March on and don’t live any humans in [in the city]. The hatred there is deep-rooted, even in [the buildings’] stones. May God have mercy on the souls of the martyrs of the massacre of Jisr al-Shughour.”

Sam Heller is a Washington-based writer and analyst focused on Syria. Follow him on Twitter: @AbuJamajem