Among the many muhajireen who have come to Syria are those who assume the role of clerics and intellectual commentators. Currently, one of those figures in the northwest of Syria (Idlib and its environs) is Sheikh Abu Anas al-Masri, who is an Egyptian muhajir and is most notable for being a strong critic of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which broke ties with al-Qa'ida and is currently the main insurgent group in the northwest. Previously imprisoned by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, he issued a fatwa in August warning people not to join Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham amid a recruitment campaign the group launched. He also urges for the forcible expulsion of the Turkish presence from the northwest of Syria.
On 1 October 2019, I conducted an interview with Sheikh Abu Anas al-Masri regarding his life and views on the present situation in Syria. We also discussed as the global jihad and situation of al-Qa'ida more generally. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your life in hijra [migration] to Bilad al-Sham [Syria] and the jihad?
A: Praise be to God and prayers and peace be upon the granted mercy and granted blessing Muhammad, whom his Lord sent before the Hour as a messenger and warner in guidance and the religion of truth, to make it supreme over all religion even if the idolaters hate it and it sufficed in God as witness.
As for what follows: God blessed us as He has used us to work for His religion and in jihad in His path in the most noble and holy areas on the dividing line of confrontation in the last age between the Ummah of Islam and others of the 'original disbeliever' creeds from the atheists and people of the Book, along with the 'renegades' who had the ruling of Islam and removed it from themselves and became content with the so-called freedom by which they have broken off from servitude to God and fallen into the servitude of multiple deities.
God- Almighty and Exalted is He- established us on the jihad of al-Sham since the end of the first quarter of 2013, and I joined some of the factions to work in the field of da'wa and religious education. Then I joined Jabhat al-Nusra at the end of the same year such that I became responsible after a few months for the Shari'i Committee for Jabhat al-Nusra in the al-Sahel [Latakia/coastal] area at the time so I had a direct and in-depth overview during this time, part of which was the battle of Kessab [in north Latakia in spring 2014]. It was pregnant with surprising, startling and fruitless events and issues as well as the painful big issues. This made me abstain totally and completely in working through the factions, such that the course of independent work in the field of da'wa and education began. This included work with some of the charitable foundations through their simple educational projects in the camps.
Then my affair became established as an imam and preacher and teacher of specific Islamic sciences in an independent capacity.
God has decreed for us since the beginning of the age activity of thought and documentation but it began in openness and spreading since the middle of 2016 thorugh commenting on the current events in al-Sham, which angered many of the factions operating and in particular Jabhat al-Nusra, from which I separated at the end of the first third of 2014 because of the administration corruption and general dysfunction resulting from the lack of competency of the leaders and amirs at all levels leading it. This became apparent to all people after that and the ring of the predominance of corruption in Jabhat al-Nusra continues to broaden until this hour of ours such that no one in the liberated areas is no longer unaware of the corruption of those who lead Jabhat al-Nusra and at the minimum they seek for this replacement of them: at the level of the head or the following levels of the amirs, Shari'i officials, administrative officials, judges and jokers [play on 'cadres'].
Q: How do you assess the situation in the field of al-Sham generally?
A: The situation in general in the field of al-Sham after around eight and half a years:
. For us as people of a heavenly 'Islamic' creed we from which we set forth in every direction, we consider that all matters are proceeding according to divine Sunan that cannot be changed or altered, which makes us feel and implants in our ourselves that the One who sets these Sunan in motion is the same One who set them in motion in the prior ages since the beginning of the creation. And it makes us think that what appears to the people today will change according to these known Sunan. And we in our hearts are certain and assured that victory will be for a side not expected by the majority following the events but there are still stages of necessary causes in order for there to be the definitive victory.
For we consider that matters have proceeded since the beginning of the revolution and proceed according to the following:
. Deviating from the defined responsibility and corruption of those who have borne the position of responsibility, except for a few who are not known.
. Satan and his helpers who have deserved the torment have gained authority over those who deviate from the path and responsibility.
. The occurrence of types of fitnas [tribulations etc.] through which the people separate into types and varieties.
. There remains a side not abandoning its desired responsibility despite the fitnas (the side of the good people) but they are dispersed and do not know each other and no one knows them.
. Conflicts and confrontations are managed. Their result is the coming together of the good but they are few, oppressed and poor, fearing the people will snatch them away.
. From them is constituted a sect by the decrees and management of God without endeavour and hurry.
. They undertake their responsibility in the best way, not being harmed by those who have disagreed with them or forsaken them, until victory comes to them, which those who have entrusted and employed them cannot reject.
In this way the people in al-Sham have deviated such that a side has been blaspheming against the Creator and the remaining side hears and does not pay attention.
. God has willed by His will and according to His decrees to save the oppressed believers.
. The revolution arose for any reason it arose for God is the causer of all causes.
. And great fitnas have come for the people to distinguish a side in Paradise and a side in the Fire.
. Satan has brought his helpers from the original disbelievers of the Jews and Christians in the form of an advisor who wants to reform the world and internally harbours the desire to repress the religion.
. He has gone behind most of the people in al-Sham in their various types and dragged them into love of money, rank and authority, so they have been blinded by wealth and authority.
. The factions have been constituted and have obeyed the supporters and have signed what Satan and his helpers want. They have also sought it and gone out from the management of their Lord for them so they have gone astray and lost in the lobbies of politics they cannot take up competently after they have not taken up competently the cause of their force and might and it is the law that their Lord placed for them.
. So they are now perplexed, afraid, divided and astray, thoughtlessly carried behind the shayateen of Jinn and men. They cannot return to what they were upon to begin the course of correction and they cannot stop themselves.
. Factions, politicians, leaders, amirs, Shari'i officials, defeated, used and employed for whosoever drags them to failure in this world and the Hereafter, drawing for them their path and writing for them their constitution and making them worship their laws without any opposition or discussion.
. And factions affiliated with the affiliated with the factions. You see them looking for security, salvation, safety, food, protection of the women and children: weak people who proceed behind the factions affiliated with the enemies and increasing for them the going astray, weakness and deviation from the true cause of salvation.
. And the soldiers of God and His allies are present and in large numbers and are preparing for the day of the clash between truth and falsehood.
. God will make tem encounter each other in order to establish in them in the wall of protection and they can distinguish between guidance and error.
. They will gather themselves for the decisive day on which God will establish through them the proof for all people and divided them into two: a side in Paradise and side in the Fire.
Q: Why have the factions lost some of the areas recently? What is the reason for the lack of unity among the factions?
And why only recently?! For three years the factions have been losing areas beginning with Aleppo and then Sharq al-Sikka, al-Ghouta, the entire south, and then what you are speaking about from the countrysides of Hama and Idlib recently. All that in succession.
And its reason is that these factions do not possess the decision-making on any of the levels and this has very many lines of evidence and the general mass of people, even the simple ones, have come to realize it in what has happened and its culmination has been the event of Khan Sheikhoun in its open and extremely disgraceful for all the factions.
But what the masses of people and their classes, even the educated of them, cannot do is see the betrayal of these factions against God and His religion and the people: the great betrayal as clear as the Sun. And it is as though there is a psychological illness in the minds and hearts of the people. The fact of the matter is that there is a necessary connection between acknowledging the complete betrayal and the loss: therefore they do not want to acknowledge the betrayal despite the fact it is as clear as the Sun.
A betrayal by a cause and it has a result, and the toll is all this that we see from defeat that has been and defeat that is and defeat in the future because the reasons for defeat are present and the reasons for victory are lacking.
The cause of this betrayal is the fact the leaders of the factions, its amirs and seniors from the Shari'i officials and administrative officials engage in this world in all its meanings: the dollar, gold, authority, women, children, cars, homes- all that have been offered to them by the shayateen of men and beautified by the shayateen of the Jinn: "Beautified for the people is the love of desires from women, children, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of tis worldly life, but with God is the best return" (14) [Qur'an 3:14]. So the hearts in the chest have been blinded before the blindness of the sights, so they have gone astray in the darkness of desires, then they have become blind to the causes of victory. So the time has come for these people devoted to desires to be patient over the commands of God in adversity and to be firm on the separation of acts of disobedience in tribulation. And the time has come for these people to go forth to death in the path of their religion and establish the law of their Lord and Ummah and land even as they fear the cut off their livelihoods that are spent upon them by Turkey- the trustee of the international community and guarantor of implementing its decisions that are biased against the Ahl al-Sunna in al-Sham, the first of which is barring them from being ruled by their religion, law and desire of their Lord. So you see them going forth to what Turkey and the supporters want such that they have become servants in the meaning of the word to Turkey, the supporters and payers of money.
. So surely the time has come for the one concerned with desire- desire for money or seeking security- and surely the time has come for the one weak of faith to see with his sight the force of God absent from his senses? For he sees with his very eye the force of America, the West and Turkey, so he prefers the desire of the West over the desire of God, but the West and America do not want good for us at all.
So only defeat comes from the likes of these factions, and on every occasion defeat will come from them just as defeat has come from them on every occasion and victory will never come from them.
The time has come for the factions to bring us a victory even as they may resemble each other in oppression in all its categories and types, for their prisons are filled with oppression and people oppressed and I am an eye witness to that for I was imprisoned for five and a half months in the prisons of the Hay'a and I fled from the prison after the Russian bombing of the Idlib central prison and it has been six and a half months since I got out: that is, it has been a year since I as arrested and they could not declare to me an accusation while the prisons are filled with these grievances of oppression.
And each faction of the factions has a prison in which they imprison the weak without judgement and punish by whims and in the prisons are many women.
And in our prison there came upon us shameful acts and by the One who raised the heaven without a pillar, surely the time has come for these people to acquire some sense and knowledge?!
For the loss is attached to them and will not be separated from them.
So these are some of the reasons for the failure and breaking and defeat and there are many and were it not for dear of prolonging we would mention what we can mention throughout the past year and before it from acts of oppression, not to mention eating the wealth of the people in falsehood, customs duties and taxes that are imposed on the displaced and farmers even though they are in a state of poverty and weakness and the factions are adding misery to their misery.
So has it been for these people to be steadfast in war or be victorious in the field of the clash?!
Only evil and defeat come from these people. This is so regarding the factions' loss of land.
As for the issue of lack of unity, it has a dimension of faith and creed that is the reason for the lack of coming together. For God- Almighty and Exalted is He- the Creator who knows the one who has been created, says: "And they still differ, except the one upon whom your Lord has mercy" (Hud) [Qur'an 11:118-9].
And many of these factions have abandoned the reasons for the coming down of mercy upon them as they contravene the command of God and the Sunna of the Messenger of God (SAWS) and they have treated with disdain the matter for which the mujahideen wage jihad and that is that the affair should belong in its entirety to God.
For God (Exalted and Lofty is He) says: "And My mercy has encompassed everything so I will write it for those who are pious and give zakat and those who are believing in our verses, who follow the Messenger the illiterate Prophet" (al-'Araf) [Qur'an 7:157-8].
And likewise the lack of unity of the factions is a natural thing, because every faction has its beliefs and thought differing from the other, so among those is the one of religion, and among them the secularist and among them the materialist who has no zeal except to attain the dollar, and among them the one who himself hopes to return to the embrace of the regime and among them the one who is close to Turkey and among them the one who is close to America and among the one who looks towards Qatar and among the one who considers attaining democracy and the like. So surely the time has come for the generals to come together?
And when there is the call to come together and merge, you find the call devoid of the basis upon which it is possible for them to come together. Even when you see those of them that have come together, soon enough the coming together is dispersed for lack of concord and resemblance
But we believe that the cause of this this dispersal and separation in the first instance is disobedience against God and taking up their religion as sport and play and being loyal to the enemies of God and giving friendship, affection and support to the enemies of God.
And God knows best.
Q: What is the best strategy for the jihad in the field of al-Sham in the long term? Was the advice of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri regarding the field of al-Sham correct?
A: Dr. Ayman has long experience and is a wise man despite some of the areas we see that are unintentional, for he is a man and men are inevitably afflicted by shortcoming, and the fact of the pressure upon him is very great and we trust in him as a Muslim man we reckon to be of the just and the mujahideen and monotheists.
So we consider his advice in its place for fighting the regular armies is not appropriate in our state of affairs for multiple reasons and [because of] the hired factions that Turkey has employed and istahmarathum and it is a term meaning that it has ridden them like the donkeys that have gone on the path that has been laid out for them and they have been dragged towards: for the issue of incinerating the mujahideen from the Sunni monotheist youth is a very important aim for the international community in order to break the will of the Ummah in steadfastness on the meaning of its religion. So the leaders of the factions have been determined upon this tactic and have made it a strategy they will not abandon which makes you predict the extent of the betrayal of these factions and their participation in incinerating its youth and pushing the Islamic factions by different means to participate in some way in incinerating the eminent of the fighters. And we have seen how they have pushed the Wa Harridh al-Mu'mineen operations room [operations room including factions like al-Qa'ida-loyalist Hurras al-Deen] by all means such that it participated in the Hama countryside battles, and were you to ask them today what is the toll of your battles there they would inform you only of the numbers of the martyrs. And God is our reliance and He suffices as trustee.
As for the strategy that the hakeem of the Ummah al-Zawahiri spoke of, it is the appropriate strategy for the mujahideen in all the fields of jihad like ours in this stage of ours and it is guerrilla warfare, even if takes a long time.
And we consider Syria to be appropriate for the likes of this war that can bleed the most powerful and wealthy of the armies, so all the more so for a shabby army that the Russians field, and the Russians experienced guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan and God willing they will soon be burnt in guerrilla warfare. And God is predominant over His affair.
Q: What is your position on the so-called Salvation Government and the Turkish presence in Idlib and its environs?
A: Of course we do not consider the Salvation Government to have any wilaya [guardianship] or legitimacy in the liberated lands for the so-called Salvation Government is a very ugly face for Jowlani and his ugly faction. Jowlani established it so America should be pleased with him and I think he has come very near to what he wants from obtaining this contentment by which he has become nearer to disbelief than he is to faith.
For from relinquishing the name of the Islamic Emirate that concords with the will of God who says: "He is the One who sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of Truth in order to make it supreme over all religion even if the idolaters hate it" (33).
To being keen to appear uninterested in establishing the open hudud [Shari'i punishments] and applying the law, to legislative acts that concord entirely with the West in taking up taxes and customs duties and ending with keenness to appear ready to remove all of his clothes and outward appearances of his religion so that the West should be pleased, like handing over the wanted individuals even if they are Muslims to their disbelieving people and the examples of that are many. For the Hay'a wants to convince us that its leaders are trustees of affairs and this dark corrupt face (the Salvation Government) is the Shari'i ruling authority that has wilaya and has the right to be heard and obeyed.
So when we demand of it its obligations like implementing the law and establishing the hudud they say we are oppressed!! And the oppressed has no wilaya. So in spoils they are trustees of matters, and in penalties they are oppressed. There is no power or force except in God.
As for the issue of the presence of the Turks in Idlib and its environs:
The Turkish army is in our view an apostate sect because it is a force for a secularist government that permits legislating in the sovereignty of God the Creator of the Universe without recourse to the Exalted. Meanwhile you have Erdogan the apostate who calls for secularism and does not allow anyone to infringe on his sovereignty and he is a temporary and considered sovereign and not authentic, for sovereignty belongs entirely to the Lord of the Universe: God the Creator who sent Hs Messenger and sent down His book 'the Qur'an': teaching us in it the rulings He wants in His sovereignty.
And this ruling is what the 'ulama [scholars] of the Ummah have agreed upon generation after generation: that whoso legislates in the sovereignty of God has disbelieved in God and the one who does that and claims after that that he is a Muslim is called in the law an apostate and the apostate in our religion by consensus must return to Islam before power is gained over him or the sword, meaning he is to be fought.
And by consensus of the people of Islam the apostate has no safety guarantee and if safety has been contracted for him it should be as though it has not been contracted and so according to that we consider the presence of the Turks in the liberated area to be an occupation by a disbelieving enemy and it has been obligatory to repel him by fighting. This is from the door of the religion and the law.
Also the Turks are trustees of the international community and the UN and the joint guarantors in the joint partnership with Russia and Iran in implementing the international decisions that are biased against the Ahl al-Sunna [Sunnis] through the associations of Astana and the Sochi pact. And it is the contrived means to enter upon us with a new different form to apply all the biased international decisions like Geneva established on the plan of six clauses (or the Anan plan) and 2254 and referring back to Geneva as well and the 2118 decision that goes back to the same point of reference: Geneva. And the plan of six clauses that establishes for Bashar his right to remain and also grants for the Bashar government to lead the political process in its entirety as a foundation for any negotiations or reconciliations.
Also we consider according to that that the Turks are those who direct the deviant factions and lead them to implement the international plan to prevent Islam from ruling the Muslims in their lands and stopping the jihad that calls for the liberation of the land and implementing the Shari'a of al-Rahman [The Merciful: God]. And regrettably the factions have become like a puppet in the hands of the Turks. They cannot mobilize without the permission of the one who pays for the wages and the fuel of the cars.
So they have incinerated the Syrian youth in political battles and enabled the Russians and Bashar regime in our land by double-dealing steps the details of which all the people know and praise e to God even the ugly face of Turkey has become apparent to very many of the people who saw how Aleppo and Sharq al-Sikka were lost by the deed of Turkish double-dealing.
And they have seen how Turkey foiled beneficial wars by mobilizing its followers as in the battle of Marwan Hadid. Despite all that we see that Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and its dark ugly face (the Salvation Government) cooperate with the Turks in what contravenes our religion, running behind support and contracting support.
There we do not acknowledge the so-called Salvation Government and we do not acknowledge that Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham has wilaya over the liberated area even in predominance for its neglect of all the open signs of our religion and the rights of our Lord upon them in their wilaya. And we only considered for the sword for the Turks and repelling them in fighting until they leave the land of Islam.
Q: How do you assess the situation of the global jihad today? Has the Qa'ida al-Jihad organization [al-Qa'ida organization] died?
A: The global jihad today is in a state of taking root. You may not see an appearance for it but it is striking in its roots in the land and is making a firm foundation. And there are very great fruits in multiple places in the land.
Before you were born, there was no jihad!!!
Now you are nourished with, work and earn from the news of the jihad and words about the jihad. Is it not so?!!
The jihad now in all parts of the world is the most important news in the media, both in private and public.
And its impact in secret and which the seniors of the enemies know is very terrifying because if you know that the global economy will collapse and the fuel is in the process of becoming barren and the reasons by which our enemies are supreme is in the process of decline and [so] our enemies know that and fear reaching a stage in which we will have supremacy inevitably. And so long as the jihad is on fire in any part of the world the matter for us is positive and for them negative. Therefore the followers of the true religion are in a much higher psychological state than the enemies of the Ummah and whoso goes with them from the deviants. For they consider the ascent that is in accordance with the Sunan of destiny and they see for their enemies the descent and decline also in accordance with the Sunan of destiny that no one can contest without being destroyed and annihilated by them. This is in the dimension that is only seen by the one who considers the Sunan for the long years and compares between multiple experiences over the passing of years of his short life.
As for what is apparent today:
The Taliban has defeated America.
And in Somalia an ascending jihad no one can stop.
And in Algeria firmness and stability are on a certain situation.
And in Yemen despite the multiplicity of wealthy sides and supported by the entire external world, the jihad makes its way.
And in Mali and the African Sahel, the news of damage inflicted on the followers of France is uninterrupted and on the weak collaborationist governments extensive.
And in al-Sham there will soon occur by the power and force of God what has not been in consideration and the table will be turned on all by the permission of God and the jihad will soon come upon the Jews if God wills. This is what we think, and God- Almighty and Exalted is He- is with the thought of His servant.
As for the al-Qa'ida organization, we consider that the honest founders of the organization were ennobled by God in that He granted them a big victory as they caused a huge commotion in the world that shook the global system and its dream of irreversibly destroying the spirit of Islamic jihad. And God has supported the organization such that it has become a very strong idea they cannot destroy even if they succeed in annihilating the persons who constitute the framework of its system. And the power of the idea has come from its cohesion with the true will of God in the age and place and situation and praise be to God the idea has been revived again and spread and the prior predecessors from the organization have died but the idea has remained!!
But we think that those who lead the organization now have begun to relinquish parts of the idea therefore we have the right to say that the organization that has the strong victorious idea has died in reality or has almost died as a response to your question.
But the idea has remained and spread and will spread by the power and force of God but not in the spirit of the organization whose founders were killed, but rather in a spirit and framework that is greater y the command of God (Almighty and Exalted is He) and the honest of the organization who remain and whom America has not been able to kill will retain their standing and grace but we consider that they have not been able to develop themselves to go outside the framework of the organizations to the framework of the Ummah, so you see them clinging to the name and the same followed procedures since the beginning of the organization therefore we see they commit serious errors and there is a decline in the level of implementation and strong weakness in the levels of trust between the organization and the multiple groups of mujahideen youth on the global level, besides repulsive errors by the organization that have led to the incineration of many of the mujahideen youth through implementing organizational decisions completely removed from wisdom and correctness and guarantee of success like multiple failing tazkiyas and like types of oppression that have occurred for groups that love the organization because the organization only listens to its men even if they are oppressors and not qualified. And regrettably on multiple occasions they have been oppressors and deviants and despite that the leadership of the organization has shown no regard. And with the oppression occurs the decline and loss of the protecting company. But this is the Sunna of God: just as everything has a beginning so it has an end so it should be known that the first without beginning is He alone, the Last without end: He in His exaltedness.
Q: Do most of the muhajireen in Idlib and its environs support Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham?
A: I say to you and with all certainty that only all those who are beneficiaries support Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. Were it not for the presence of the border crossings that Jowlani has been keen to control, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham cannot survive.
The reality is that Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham today only includes deviants in religion and those who have been duped from the young youth and newly affiliated who rejoice in a little bit of money as a salary and to them the priests who call themselves Shari'i officials come, filling their heads with ideas that can only enter upon adolescent youth.
And you know that from the address of the priests like Farghali and others. For it is an imaginary address based on false promises that they are the people of God and His elect and the sons of God and His beloved and that victory is their allly inevitably and the adolescents do not weigh matters on their correct balance. And emotion rules among them as well as material and psychological gifts that blind their insights before their sights.
Therefore the priests strive always to shout in this address so as to preserve their young affiliates so they can work as amnis and fighters.
As for the muhajireen they are of two types.
The first remains in the Hay'a and I can say to you that the people of my skin- the Egyptians- who remain in the Hay'a, all of them are of the beneficiaries and deviants whose deviation has a link with the faith, such as fear of cutting off of livelihood, or using the Hay'a as a cover of protection besides God (Almighty and Exalted is He). Therefore I am certain that the Hay'a will do away with these people in a first step required of it regarding the muhajireen.
So you will not find one better than they to be sacrificed without a cry from a protector or defender of these failures. And this will be an appropriate reward as they have sought livelihood in the resentment of God and being silent about the falsehood and they have sought protection far removed from the protection of God.
As for the muhajireen besides the Hay'a I affirm to you that they resent the Hay'a very much and think that the Hay'a is a strong reason of the reasons for the retreat of the jihad and they hope the Hay'a will fall and collapse so that a Sunni Islamic jihad can begin without deviation in it and without deviants or hypocrites having trusteeship over it.
And they know that in the Hay'a's collapse there will be two camps and no third and they know that America and its follower Turkey are preserving Jowlani and his faction until today because they are the most capable of repressing the mujahideen and Jowlani and his Hay'a the deviants have been content to undertake this despicable role in return for the small remains of this world.
It has remained for me to say that this view of the muhajireen is not just their view only but also it is the view of all the other groups in what is called the liberated area besides the areas of Shield and Branch [north Aleppo countryside areas with extensive Turkish presence], for all the groups in Idlib and its environs see the deviation of the Hay'a and its government and see today the obligation of being rid of them such that every faction of the Islamic factions that is close to the Hay'a and dealing with it is a contaminated faction of which groups of the people and of the muhajireen are wary as they are wary of the Hay'a. And God is predominant over His affair but most of the people do not know.