A number of clerics (mashayakh) have come to Syria from outside and joined the insurgent side during the civil war. One such cleric is Sheikh Abu al-Yaqdhan al-Masri, who is originally from Egypt and was initially a member of Ahrar al-Sham. On 12 February 2020 I conducted an interview with him about his life in jihadi work and his outlook on the current situation in northwest Syria.
Q: Can you talk in summarised form about your life in jihad?
A: Praise be to God and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God. I am the poor servant striving for [/in need of] the pardon of his Lord: Abu al-Yaqdhan Muhammad Naji, an Egyptian from Alexandria. I am 48 years old. I sought 'Ilm by the grace of God at an early age and worked in da'wa through the mosques and we established an abode for memorisation of the Noble Qur'an and I carried out charitable works through the establishment of a charitable association to care for the poor and orphans until the rise of the Syrian Revolution, so I migrated to al-Sham out of a desire to follow the example of the muhajir Ibrahim (prayers and peace be upon him) and in support of the oppressed whom this tyrant Bashar al-Assad has oppressed: that man who has been helped in the killing of this oppressed people by the Iranian occupation and the Russian occupation. And God (Almighty and Exalted is He) says: 'And if they seek your support in the religion, you must support them' (al-Anfal 72), for Islam is not defined by geographic borders.
And I only desire Islam for myself as a homeland. Al-Sham and the Nile Valley are the same in it.
And whenever the name of God is mentioned in a land, I have counted that abode as the essence of my homeland.
And I have worked through the granting of success by God and His grace in Shari'i work in the jihad of al-Sham so I have continued to give Friday sermons in the land of al-Sham and I have provided commentaries on books of 'Ilm for the students of 'Ilm and I have worked in the judiciary and I have participated in the writing of jihadi articles through different media platforms and I have taught in the preparation camps and I have provided oversight as a Shari'i official of many operations rooms of the expeditions with incitement to fighting. And I ask God (Almighty and Exalted is He) to write for us the reward of migration and ribat and jihad in the blessed land of al-Sham.
Q: When did you migrate to al-Sham and what has been your work in al-Sham since your arrival? And with which side are you affiliated currently?
A: I migrated to al-Sham in 2013 and my work has been connected with the Shari'i aspect in its different forms. I joined Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya when I arrived to Syria as I worked with them in the Shari'i sector in the city of Aleppo for around four years then I joined the merger of Syrian factions in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham after the fall of Aleppo city and I remained with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham for two years then I have been working in da'wa in the military sectors in an independent sense until the present time.
Q: How do you generally assess the current situation in the field of al-Sham?
A: The regime of Bashar al-Assad fell since the beginnings of the Syrian revolution and we are facing a Russian-Iranian occupation supported by militias from Lebanese Hezbolla and Rafidite militias from Iraq, and with the forced displacement and trickery of the reconciliations and the betrayals the Syrian revolution has become confined to Idlib and some of the countryside areas of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia, so in this small portion of the liberated Syrian north the best of the mujahideen of the muhajireen and displaced and the inhabitants of this area who reject the rule of Bashar al-Assad have gathered. And Russia and Ira have worked to weaken the spirit of jihad and the revolutionary soul through the conferences of Astana and Sochi and have undertaken military campaigns to gnaw at large areas of the liberated region beginning with the battles of Sharq al-Sikka then the battles of Shirq al-Tariq in order to seize the two international highways- M4 and M5. And currently they are continuing their military works to destroy the mujahideen and God (Almighty and Exalted is He) says: 'And they will not stop fighting you until they turn you away from your religion if they can' (al-Baqara 217). So the conflict between truth and falsehood is the past Sunna of God, and we undertake the Shari'i obligation in fighting the disbelievers and defending the lands of the Muslims, as we thus strive for the pinnacle of Islam, realizing the hope of the Messenger of God (SAWS) when he said: 'And by the One in whose hand my life is, were it not for the fact that there are men from the believers whose souls are not content to be behind me, and I should not find that on which I may convey them, I would not stay behind a squadron raiding in the path of God. And by the One in whose hand my soul is, I would like to be killed in the path of God, then revived, then killed, then revived, then killed, then revived, then killed'- narrated by al-Bukhari. So God (Exalted and Lofty is He) commanded us to fight and defend our honour and holy sites and promised us one of two good things we should not mind whichever of the two we attain: victory or martyrdom: 'Say: Are you awaiting for us except one of the two good things?' (al-Tawba 53); 'And whoso fights in the path of God and is killed or overcomes, We will bring him a great reward' (al-Nisa' 74).
So either a life that makes the friend joyful, or a death that enrages the enemy.
Q: Why are the factions losing many areas? What are the reasons for the failure in defending the areas? How are these problems to be resolved?
A: There is undoubtedly shortcoming in preparation for this battle of fate and the leaderships were deceived by the delusion of long-term ceasefires so they were preoccupied with civilian administrations of the liberated area at the expense of military preparations from fortification, war manufacturing, military development and increasing the number of fighters and their competency in financial terms. And the solution lies in the factions returning to the military option and true interest in military force and not relying on international understandings.
Q: What is your position on the Turkish role in the region? If Turkey intervenes in a deeper sense in Idlib and its environs do you think that this will save the Syrian north from the regime and its allies?
A: Turkey is a secular state striving to realize its interests in the area and is a partner of Russia and Iran in the Sochi agreement that is leading to putting an end to the Syrian revolution, and its interests may overlap with the interest of the Syrian revolution in some aspects that must be exploited. As for Turkish intervention in a deeper sense in Idlib, it will not have a great impact in the military scene as nine Turkish observation points have now come within the control of the Assad regime and they did not prevent the fall of those areas.
Q: What is the future of the jihad in the field of al-Sham?
A: The future is unseen and only known by God, and God has taken upon Himself al-Sham and its people, as proven in an authentic chain of narration on the authority of the Prophet (SAWS): 'Indeed God has entrusted al-Sham and its people to me.' And on the authority of Abu Abdullah al-Shami, he said: I heard Mu'awiya giving a sermon and saying: Oh people of al-Sham, al-Ansari- meaning Zayd bin Arqam- narrated to me that the Messenger of God (SAWS) said: 'And a sect of my Ummah will continue fighting upon truth until the command of God comes.' And I consider you to be those people oh people of al-Sham.
And the one who considers the current situation sees a collapsed regime in Damascus, for the Assad regime is suffering from military break-up and a great economic crisis and security breakdown and administrative deterioration, while we in Idlib possess human and material resources that enable us by the grace and force of God to reach Damascus, and we are only lacking fear of God (Almighty and Exalted is He), giving the bow to the one who knows how to shape it and activating those powers.
Q: Any last words you direct to the Muslim masses?
A: It is our fate that we exist in a time in which Islam has been eliminated from the administration of life, and there is no power or force except in God the Lofty and Almighty. And indeed God (Almighty and Exalted is He) asks us about this religion:
What will you say to my Lord when He asks us about the Shari'a whose meanings we did not protect?
And who will respond when the Habib says to us: 'You made my Sunna disappear and God revives it'?
And if we do not restore it to the religion of God as a storm, the exposition will vanish after the land that we give.
So let all of us support the religion from his place as far as he can, and the 'ulama of the Ummah must make clear to the people and clarify to them what is being contrived against their religion. For if the knowledgeable one speaks in dissimulation and the ignorant is unaware, how will the truth be known? And as has been said:
Oh 'ulama of the religion, oh salt of the land! Who will reform the religion if the salt has been corrupted?