Syrian-Kurdish Sunni cleric, Muhammad Said Ramadan al-Buti killed in Damascus last week. Photo: AFP
AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands – Last week prominent Syrian-Kurdish Sunni cleric, Muhammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, was killed with 41 others while delivering a religious lesson to students and his grandson at a Damascus mosque.
Buti, 84, was deemed one of the main vocal supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, remarkably opposed to the ongoing anti-regime revolution in Syria. He considered the rebels “mercenaries,” linked to a “foreign agenda.”
Immediately after the incident, the Syrian regime issued a statement accusing the opposition forces of assassinating Buti. But opposition forces denied responsibility for the bomb attack on the mosque.
The rift between Buti and the opposition is deep-rooted. During the Muslim Brotherhood’s armed rebellion against the regime of the former president Hafiz al-Assad (1979-1982), Buti stood by Assad and condemned the Brotherhood. Since then, he was deemed a senior supporter of the regime.
Although he constantly opposed the current uprising, many observes excluded the involvement of the opposition’s forces in Buti’s assassination. They say that, because Buti was a prominent Sunni cleric and thinker, he would not have been killed by an opposition with good ties across the Sunni world, and many Sunni fighters in its ranks.
In addition, Buti had lately become more critical about the regime’s massacre of civilians.
A few hours before the attack, Buti had explained in a filmed interview with Syrian television that the only reason preventing him from leaving Syria was his family in Damascus.
“Many have tried to convince me to leave the country and protest the brutality across Syria, but how can I leave my children and grandchildren behind to face an ambiguous destiny,” Buti told the television. “I’m very weak at the moment, and I submit myself to God the Almighty.”
His comments – that his only motive for staying was his family – raised fears among authorities of a potential defection, and its demoralizing effect on Assad supporters still remaining in Syria.
It was in order to eliminate that possibility that the Assad regime intended to assassinate Buti, activists say.
On Saturday, a large crowd of Syrians participated in the funeral of the slain cleric, amid a remarkable presence of security forces. Clerics, associates and relatives of Buti mourned his passing, and carried his white-draped coffin in the Omayyad mosque in Damascus, where Buti used to preach for many years. The Mufti of Damascus, Abdulfattah al-Bezem, called al-Buti “a symbol of truth” and “a martyr of the Syrian nation.”
At times, Buti enjoyed both support and criticism by the Kurds.
His Arabic version of “Mem u Zin” introduced Arab readers to a prominent Kurdish love story, gaining Buti a lot of support among many Kurdish intellectuals.
However, in 2003, he angered the Kurds when he criticized the cooperation of Iraqi Kurds with US troops against the Saddam Hussein regime.
“I am a Kurd, but I would rather put my identity under my shoes when I see my peers fighting my religion along with the enemies of God,” Buti said in a speech in Damascus in April 2003. “I do renounce my belonging to this ethnicity that disappointed me and my ancestors.”
Afterwards, Buti was deemed by the Kurds as a traitor to his nation, and many Kurdish activists launched a campaign against Buti’s statement entitled, “The Kurdish people deprive you of your Kurdish identity.”
Buti was born in the Kurdish city of Cizre, now a Turkish city, in 1929, and in 1933 migrated to Damascus with his father. He studied Islamic law in Damascus, and in 1965 obtained a PhD in Sharia and Islamic science from the prominent Al-Azhar Al-Sharif University in Egypt. He was later appointed the dean of al-Sharia College at Damascus University.