Syrian Jihadi Clerics, Including Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) Religious Officials, Condemn Textbooks Distributed In Al-Bab For "Insulting" The Prophet Muhammad, Reject Publishers' Apology As "Inadequate"

November 28, 2021

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A textbook for first grade students on the subject of the Sirah (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad, which was recently distributed to schools in the Syrian city of Al-Bab, in areas controlled by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), aroused widespread criticism and anger for what numerous local Muslims, including many Syrian jihadi clerics, felt to be disrespectful depictions of Muhammad and his relatives. The textbook depicts Muhammad and his family members as modern-day Muslims who wear Western clothing, with the Prophet depicted clean-shaven or with a trimmed beard, while his female relatives are shown wearing hijabs that leave their faces uncovered and his young daughter is shown in a short skirt. Some residents of the SNA-controlled areas expressed their anger by publicly burning copies of the books.

The above images from the textbook illustrate the Prophet Muhammad marrying Khadijah (left), greeting his daughter Fatimah (center), and as a child with his mother (right).

The above image shows the textbooks being burned in the northern Syrian town of Jarablus.

The Istanbul-based Al-Istishraf Center for Studies and Research, which is responsible for the curriculum in SNA-controlled areas, issued a "statement of clarification" on November 25, 2021, in Arabic- and Turkish-language versions.[1] The statement notes that the Turkish Ministry of Education tasked the Al-Istishraf Center with authoring a series of elementary textbooks for local students. Discussing the Sirah textbook, the statement notes that each chapter begins with several illustrated questions about episodes in the Prophet Muhammad's life, and claims that the illustrations are meant merely to "prepare the student to enter the lesson" and do not represent the Prophet and his family members. However, the statement acknowledges that the images can be misunderstood and notes that it has recalled the textbooks, while insisting that they were intended to "glorify the Prophet in the minds of our children" and that careful examination of the books shows they were meant to increase respect for Muhammad, not the opposite.

Turkey's Gaziantep Province, which borders Syria near Al-Bab, subsequently issued a brief "media statement" in Turkish and Arabic, noting that a certain "organization" had distributed a book containing "subjects that are religiously and educationally unacceptable" in the "area of operations in Syria." The Turkish province noted that although the publishers issued a clarification and apology stating that the insult to the Prophet Muhammad was unintentional, "this matter will be thoroughly investigated by the Gaziantep Province."[2]

The Syrian Interim Government (SIG), a rebel body which governs the SNA-controlled areas in northern Syria, also issued a statement, in which it denies its involvement in the publishing of the textbooks which were alleged to "contain insults to the Noble Prophet." The statement, which was also released in Arabic and Turkish versions, declares that the SIG ordered its institutions in the Al-Bab area to remove the textbooks from circulation if the allegations are verified and to prosecute those responsible for their publication.[3]

Senior HTS Religious Officials: The Textbooks Insult the Prophet Muhammad; The Publishers' Apology was Inadequate

Many Syrian Islamic clerics, including some based in the rebel-controlled Idlib area, condemned the textbooks for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Among those who issued statements of condemnation are senior religious officials of jihadi group Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).

In a brief statement, chief HTS religious official 'Abd Al-Rahim 'Atoun aka Abu 'Abdallah Al-Shami, begins by asserting the episode's relevance for the people of Idlib, declaring that "every inch of the liberated areas is part of this blessed jihad and great revolution."[4] 'Atoun expresses sorrow about the publication of textbooks containing "completely inappropriate pictures" which are "bad manners concerning the honor of the Great Prophet," even if the insult to the Prophet was an "unintentional result of association," as the publishers claimed. The HTS cleric adds that despite its severity, this "oversight" cannot be compared to "the crime of those in the West who published drawings insulting the Prophet out of hatred for Islam and its adherents."[5]'Atoun welcomes the apologies for the publication of the textbooks as a "positive thing in general," but insists that "their clarification was inadequate." The HTS cleric calls for greater "scrutiny" in the future concerning "these important and sensitive issues," urging educators to make sure that curricula "harmonize with our religion and creed first of all, then with our history and heritage, then with our jihad and revolution," and thanks those who condemned the textbooks, stating that condemnation is the "minimum duty" in situations like these.

The poster above features 'Atoun's post as shared by HTS supporter Abu Muhammad Al-Shimali.

Another senior HTS religious official, Dr. Mazhar Al-Ways, similarly published his "observations" concerning the Sirah textbooks containing "inappropriate pictures," writing that preserving the Prophet Muhammad's honor requires "blocking the ways and excuses" to insulting the Prophet and that the shari'a accordingly forbids printing images such as these.[6] He further notes that the pictures do not conform to shari'a, since they show the women of the Prophet's family improperly covered, and that Muhammad's name is mentioned in the book without the customary invocation "may Allah bless him and grant him peace." Al-Ways acknowledges that the apologies from the publishers demonstrate that the pictures were not intended to insult the Prophet but asserts that they are still inadequate and must be followed by "clearer and more explicit" apologies, further declaring that matters such as these must be regarded with the utmost seriousness and that Muslims should "sound the alarm bell" and call for educational curricula to be "regulated according to Islamic standards."

The above poster featuring Al-Ways' post was released by HTS supporter Abu Muhammad Al-Shimali.



[1] Facebook, November 25, 2021.

[2]—55, November 25, 2021.

[3], November 25, 2021.

[4] Telegram, November 25, 2021.

[5] For HTS reactions to the publication of cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, see MEMRI JTTM Report: Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS)-Linked Bodies Respond To Reprinting Of Charlie Hebdo Muhammad Cartoons With Veiled Threats, Calls For Demonstrations And Prosecution, September 10, 2020.

[6] Telegram, November 25, 2021.

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