The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.
The November 15, 2021 decision by the Syrian regime, headed by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, to abolish the position of Grand Mufti of the Republic, was met with vociferous criticism from jihadi elements in the country. The authority previously entrusted to Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun has now been delegated to a 44-person Council of Jurisprudence Scholars consisting of 11 Sunnis and 13 Shi'ites, as well as Ismailis, Druze, and Alawis.
In response to the decision, independent Egyptian-born, Syria-based jihadi cleric Abu Shu'ayb Al-Masri (Talhah Al-Musayyar) wrote that while usually it is secularism that calls for separating religion from the state, now people who purport to represent religion seem to be advocating a secular state.
Independent Syrian jihadi cleric Abu Yahya Al-Shami reacted to the news with a statement saying that the purpose of the decree is to "abolish the symbolism" of the position of Grand Mufti. He contends that the newly appointed Council of Jurisprudence Scholars includes members who are hostile to the principles of Islam. His statement is also critical of the actions of the opposition forces and claims that they have not succeeded in establishing a unified religious authority that represents the Syrian revolution and is capable of resisting this step by the regime.
The HTS-linked religious body known as the Supreme Fatwa Council was also critical of the decision. In a statement it issued on November 19, 2021, it maintains that for a long time now the Assad regime has intended to abolish the position of Grand Mufti as part of its plan, and a corresponding Iranian plan, to harm the Sunni majority in the country. A further reason that the Supreme Fatwa Council, founded in 2017 and comprised of 30 clerics, may have released its statement could be its desire to respond to the contention made by Abu Yahya Al-Shami that the revolution lacks a religious authority.
The statement from the council also says, "Like everyone we have followed the reports about the cancellation of the position of Grand Mufti of Syria, the firing of the criminal Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun and the creation of the new hypocrisy council which includes the greatest criminals from all the denominations." The statement harshly criticizes Hassoun and accuses him of "granting a religious seal of approval to the murder of peaceful citizens, among them women, the elderly and children [and] the destruction of homes atop their occupants," and also of "the distortion of verses from the Quran."
The statement further asserts that by means of the position filled by Hassoun, "the accursed regime was able to realize all its crimes and its ethnic character, under the patronage of a sheikh [and the position of sheikh] is highly-regarded by the Sunnis." Moreover, the statement maintains that, "the Syrian regime always sought to take this decision to abolish the position forruling on religious issues, in accordance with the aspirations of the occupation forces," and that with this decision, the regime has moved into "the manifest stage of the Safavid project [a pejorative reference to Iran], which seeks to transform Syria into a little Nusayri [a derogatory term for the Alawite sect] state and whose goal is to present the Sunnis as a small and oppressed minority." Thus, according to the statement, this step "removes the final fig leaf that it [the regime] has been hiding behind, which constitutes a slap in the face of the sheikhs who are loyal to the regime and must now reevaluate, before it's too late."
The statement asserts that, "The jihadi revolution – ever since it moved out of the mosques – wisely chose to stress that Islam is the source of authority, preserved its identity and established institutions of religious law and science, among them the Supreme Fatwa Council in Syria. In this way the members of the revolution and their people who stand firm have become a protective armor for the rest of the Sunnis in the country."
In conclusion, the members of the council call on "all the Sunnis, even those in the occupied areas [i.e. areas controlled by the regime], to be on the alert [for plots] which are woven against them and to preserve what remains of their religion." They also urge them, "to take action, for every action is likely to contribute to the disruption of these projects, as happened in the time of Hafez Al-Assad when the Syrians protested against his aspirations to amend some of the clauses of the constitution in 1973, until they compelled the criminal to cancel the amendments that he had made. We say to the people of the revolution: We must continue on the path of jihad and unite the ranks until the liberation. This is the only guarantee for the preservation of the Sunni Islamic identity of Syria, which will remain the land of the believers and the tent of the Muslims, and falsehood and its adherents will be defeated."
 Telegram.me/aleppo144, November 18, 2021.
 See MEMRI JTTM Report: Syrian Jihadi Cleric: Syrian Rebels' Lack Of A 'Unifying Religious Authority' Is Their 'Biggest Problem', November 18, 2021.
 Telegram.me/Iftaa_sy, November 19, 2021.