Photo of the destroyed mausoleum in the city of Tal Maruf, sent in by our Observer Mohamed Issam.
Jihadist fighters have destroyed a mosque in northern Syria, which to them represented a heretic form of Islam. These jihadists, who are part of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as ISIL) attacked the mosque after taking over the Kurdish city of Tal Maruf in late February.
The city of Tal Maruf is home to several religious institutions: a mosque, a mausoleum containing the tombs of five imams, and an institute of Arabic and Islamic studies. These structures were all built by followers of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. Prior to the Syrian war, Tal Maruf drew students from all over Syria as well as neighbouring countries who wished to study Naqshbandi, a branch of Sufism popular among Arabic, Kurdish, and Turkish Muslims.
ISIL, which has links with al Qaeda, is a jihadist group operating in Syria and Iraq. It is based on an extremist interpretation of Islam and considers Sufism to be heresy.
A photo of the damaged mosque in Tal Maruf, published by the site
The ISIL’s signature is sprayed on the mosque wall.

“I saw Korans that had been thrown to the ground and burned”

Mohamed Issam is a historian who lives in Tal Maruf. His house is located right across from the mosque that was destroyed.
The jihadists entered the city at night and attacked the mosque in the early morning hours. I could see them from my house. They wrote insulting messages on the walls and on the mosque door before setting it on fire, leaving the Korans inside to burn.
Pages of burnt Korans in the mosque debris.
The mausoleum is 900 metres away from my house. I did not dare go out of my house to see what was going on from up close, but I did hear several explosions and I concluded as a result that they used heavy weapons, such as mortar rounds, to destroy the monument. I saw large smoke plumes. After the jihadists left, I went to the mosque and assessed the damage done. I saw lots of Korans thrown to the ground.
The destroyed mausoleum. One of the towers fell onto the neighbouring cemetery.
The room where Cheikh Ezzedine Khaznavi is buried.
Although I don’t follow Sufism, as a Syrian and a researcher, I fear deeply for the many Sufi monuments and mosques in Syria. Tal Maruf is not an exception, and other cities will suffer in similar ways if they haven’t already.
The mausoleum prior to its destruction. Photo sent by our Observer.

“These Sufis oppose Bashar Al Assad, too!”

Tal Maruf is located in al-Hassaka province, one of the Kurdish regions that has seen intense fighting these past few months between EIIL fighters and members of the armed branch of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, known as YPG. Redor Khali, who lives 20 kilometres away from Tal Maruf, is close to the YPG.
The ISIL fighters only stayed a couple days in Tal Maruf because they are fighting on several fronts in the region, in particular against the YPG Kurds but also against the Jabhat Al Nusra islamists. They are constantly changing positions.
In three days, they pillaged and burned many houses, stores, and government buildings, including the city hall. It’s a sort of collective punishment borne by all Kurdish cities that fall to the ISIL [when the fall of Tal Maruf was announced, the fighters said they were avenging their comrades that died in battle in the city of Tal Brak].
Islamic extremist groups consider Sufism to be a heretic branch of Islam, and in particular view the culture of mausoleums as a form of paganism [Editor’s Note: When they claimed responsibility for the mausoleum’s destruction on Twitter, the jihadist group described the site as belonging to a “pagan cult”]. They have no qualms about destroying Sufi mausoleums or mosques, even if that involves burning the Koran, the sacred book of all Muslims!
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira (@SarraGrira).