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Muslim Brotherhood Issues New Covenant That Gives Hope – OpEd

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The Muslim Brotherhood has issued new Covenant. It is being praised widely on the Gulf TV stations by Christians such as Michel Kilo and others. They say that the Muslim Brotherhood has now embraced the notion that political authority emanates from the people and not from God. Human law should be the arbiter of human affairs and not divine law. Sharia is finished for the Muslim Brothers, who state that they embrace equality of all citizens without distinction between religions or gender. Although they neglect to state it outright, they leave open the possibility that a Christian, Alawi, or Druze could have the constitutional right to be president of Syria.

A dirty “Google translation” of the most important paragraphs of the new charter give this:

This iCovenant and Charter has a national vision, and common denominators, adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and provides the basis for a new social contract, establishes the relationship between national contemporary and safe, among the components of the Syrian society, with all its religious, sectarian, ethnic, and intellectual trends and political rights. Adhere to the Muslim Brotherhood to work to be Syria’s future:

1 – A modern civil state, based on a civil constitution, emanating from the will of the people of the Syrian people, based on national consensus, established by a constituent assembly which must be freely and fairly elected, and protect the fundamental rights of individuals and groups from any abuse or excesses, and to ensure equitable representation of all components of society.

2 – State of deliberative democracy, pluralism, according to the highest conclusion reached by the modern human thought, with a republican parliamentary system of government, which the people choose their representatives and governed, through the ballot box, in the elections free, fair and transparent.

3 – State of citizenship and equality, where all citizens are equal, with different ethnic backgrounds and religions, sects and attitudes, based on the principle which shall be the basis of citizenship rights and duties, any citizen access to the highest positions, based on the bases of the election or efficiency. As even where men and women, human dignity and to be eligible, and enjoy the full women’s rights. …

7. A state that respects the institutions, based on the separation of powers, legislative, judicial and executive branches, the officials in the service of the people. ….

9. State of justice and the rule of law, no place for hatred, where there is no room for revenge or retaliation .. Even those who contaminated their hands with the blood of the people, of any class they are, it is entitled to fair trials before impartial judiciary free and independent. …

There are only a few phrases that raise some concern. One is the statement, that the new state will be “committed to human rights – as endorsed by heavenly religions and international conventions – of dignity, equality, and freedom of thought and expression…. equal opportunities, social justice, and to provide basic needs to live decently. …”

Here the covenant defines human rights to be “as endorsed by ‘heavenly religions”  — كما أقرتها الشرائع السماوية والمواثيق الدولية – – The definition of human rights provided by the “heavenly religions” is a bit problematic. The “heavenly” religions are the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Their divine books were revealed from the heavens by God. The other religions of the world are defined by Islam to be “non-heavenly.” See my article:

“Islamic Education in Syria: Undoing Secularism,” by Joshua Landis in Eleanor Doumato and Gregory Starrett, Eds., Teaching Islam: Textbooks and Religion in the Middle East, London & Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007, pp. 177–196.

Here is a quote from the section of my article that deals with the “non-heavenly” religions of the world as they are defined in Syria’s school texts that are used to instruct all Syrian Muslims in the principles of religion.

Atheists and Pagans

At the very bottom of the hierarchy beneath the revealed religions of the “people of the book,” are the belief systems of the rest of humanity, who are categorized as “Atheists and Pagans.” Only one paragraph is devoted to them in the twelve years of Syrian schooling and it is tucked away in the ninth grade religion text under the subtitle, “Islam Fights Paganism and Atheism.” It explains that “pagans are those who worship something other than God, and atheists are those who deny the existence of God.” Islam must fight these two belief systems because they “are an assault to both instinct and truth.” We are told that these belief systems “contradict the principle of freedom of belief.” This is because “Islam gives freedom of belief only within the limits of the divine path,” which “means a religion descended from heaven.” Because pagan religions were not revealed by God, they are considered an “inferior” form of belief that reflects an “animal consciousness.” How should Muslims deal with these peoples who comprise half of humanity? Students are instructed that “Islam accepts only two choices for Pagans: that they convert to Islam or be killed (9:128).” The Islam of Syrian texts does not have a happy formula for dealing with non-believers. Perhaps in recognition of this failing, the ministry of education has buried a mere six sentences on the subject into the middle of its ninth grade text.

But the new Muslim Brotherhood covenant does not define human rights only by reference to the revealed religions, it also references “international conventions.” If the MB is serious about accepting humans to be the source of national government and laws and not God or Sharia law, this is very important. The Syrian opposition is struggling to come up with a “national” agenda that all Syrians can sign on to. The weakness of Syria’s sense of national political community has been its greatest shortcoming. Maybe Syria is becoming a nation?

Only a few months ago on December 4, 2011 Zuhayr Salim, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood denounced Syria’s borders and argued that no such state should as it is a “colonial” creation that defies the reality of the Islamic Umma. Here is the interview

“To hell with Syrian [identity]! We do not recognize Syria”
Interview: Zuhayr Salim, Speaker of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria:

KURDWATCH, December 4, 2011—Zuhayr Salim (b. 1947) ….

Zuhayr Salim: We are seeking a state under the rule of law. Every person who lives in Syria or was born there must enjoy the same rights, regardless of whether he is an Arab, Kurd, Muslim, Christian, Sunni or Alawi. This stance will not change. Everyone must be convinced that he is equal. So, for example, an Alawi cannot think that he has more rights than a Sunni. And an Arab cannot think that he has more rights than a Kurd. And vice versa. That is a patriotic approach. ……

Zuhayr Salim: To be Arab is not an expression of citizenship, but rather an expression of identity.

KurdWatch: Why don’t we forgo the label »Arab« and speak only of Syrian identity?

Zuhayr Salim: No, no. To hell with Syrian [identity]! We do not recognize Syria. Who created Syria? Sykes-Picot. Is that true or not?

KurdWatch: Yes, that’s true.

Zuhayr Salim: You and I do not recognize Sykes-Picot. You [Kurds] feel that you have been treated unjustly by Sykes-Picot. We also feel that we have been treated unjustly by Sykes-Picot. Syria is a temporary phenomenon, a state that exists only temporarily. Our goal is the creation of a state for the entire umma. A Kurd will be ruler in this state, for he will be supported by a people that numbers anywhere from thirty-five to forty million.

KurdWatch: Are you talking now about an independent Kurdish state?

Zuhayr Salim: No, about an Islamic state for everyone. Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Circassians, and all others will live there……

The Muslim Brotherhood’s new covenant is an important document that should help make past statements by the Brotherhood about the Umma, Sharia Law, and God’s rule on earth outmoded.

Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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