Photo of the beheaded statue of Abul Ala al-Maari sent by Mohammad Ibrahim.
For more than a year, jihadists from the Al Nusra Front have been attacking statues of Abul Ala al-Maari – a 10th century poet – across the Idlib region of northwestern Syria. A few days ago, this armed group, listed by the United States as a terrorist organisation, carried out an attack on a bust of the philosopher in Maarat al-Nu’man, the town where he was born.
There are several theories to explain the attacks. The philosopher could have been targeted because he is wrongly believed to be related to the ruling Assad family, and is revered by Shiite Muslims for being presumably a member of the family of Imam Ali and therefore a relative of the prophet Mohammed. Another theory is that some of his works have been considered to be heretic. It is also possible that the attacks were carried out in a systematic campaign to destroy statues as part of an attempt to impose radical Islam.
Abul Ala al-Maari (973-1057) is a Syrian poet and philosopher who was born and who died in Maarat al-Nu’man, south of Aleppo. A defender of social justice, the philosopher, often called a pessimist, believed one should not conceive children in order to save them from the pain of life. In “Risalat al-Ghufran”, the main character visits paradise and meets heathen poets who have found forgiveness. This work, which could be considered as a forerunner to Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, remains controversial in the Muslim world. In 2007, the Algerian Ministry of Religious Affairs banned the work from the International Book Fair in Algiers.
In one of his poems, he writes:
Faith, disbelief, rumours spread,
Koran, Torah, Gospels
Prescribe their laws…
Lies at every generation
That one hastens to believe and record.
Will a generation distinguish itself, one day,
By pursuing the truth?
There are two types of people on Earth:
Those who have reason without religion,
And those who have religion but lack reason.
Those men are rushing towards decomposition,
All religions are equally strayed.
If one asks me, what is my doctrine,
It is clear:
Am I not, like others,
“The bust has survived three big battles”
Ala’ddine (not his real name) lives in Maarat al-Nu’man.
The jihadists from the Al-Nusra Front came during the night to the street where the bust stood. They took it down from its pedestal and chopped off its head. They were well prepared as they carried this out without being noticed by people from the military council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is posted on the other side of the road.It’s a shame because this statue has survived three big battles. The FSA are scared of confronting fighters from the Al-Nusra Front because they are already fighting on two fronts: against the Kurds and against the Syrian army.I don’t think the jihadists actually know this philosopher’s works. Above all, they think he has Persian origins (which he hasn’t). Before this incident, there were several times when they fired shots at this statue. If his works bothered them, they would have attacked the museum right next to the statue. They also destroyed steles in cemeteries because they believe erecting steles or tombstones are against the rules of Islam. I can’t see how being able to find my grandfather’s tomb is against Islam.Photo of the statue, sent by Mohammad Ibrahim.The Al-Nusra Front fighters act like they own the place. I myself saw a fighter order a Christian woman to wear a headscarf on a street in the Aleppo district of Saif al-Dawla; he even gave her a headscarf. It’s forbidden to smoke when they’re around. They ask that women, even those covered with headscarves, not wear trousers. I think they feel they are in a position of power, so they are starting to unveil their own objectives which are not always in line with those of the revolution.
“Tensions between Jabhat al-Nursa and the Free Syrian Army are escalating”
Mohammad Ibrahim is a Syrian activist living in Maarat al-Nu’man.
The Al Nusra Front doesn’t hide the fact that it wants to destroy all the statues [politicians, historical and religious figures, etc.] erected on Syrian soil.For now, no one has reacted because the city is deserted. From having 150,000 residents, there are now only a few fighters originally from the city, and others from outside. At the beginning of the uprising, a few committees were formed to protect the city’s historical and cultural heritage, but as time went by, people just focused on surviving.Photo of the Maarat al-Nu’man museum opposite the statue of Abul Ala al-Maari, sent by Mohammad Ibrahim.Many elements of Abul Ala al-Maari’s works are preserved in the city’s museum, but the most precious items are hidden at the home of one of the important members of the FSA’s military council.The jihadists are mostly foreigners. They openly claim to be part of Al-Qaeda. The Al Nusra Front rules by force, and it must be acknowledged that a sizable part of the population adhere to their ideas because they have achieved the best results on the ground and have the financial means to help the people. But tensions between the Al Nusra Front and the FSA are escalating. Today, even during joint operations, the two groups don’t mix, which wasn’t the case before.