The writer 'Abu al-Waleed al-Hanafi' who is active on Telegram has been producing a series of lives of various figures he considered to be the prominent 'martyrs' of the Syrian revolution/uprising. The latest biography he has produced is of a person called Abu Abd al-Birr al-Iraqi (who, as his nickname suggests, was originally from Iraq). According to Hanafi, who primarily relies on the testimony of three individuals who knew the sheikh, Abu Abd al-Birr was a strong opponent of the Islamic State, denouncing it as an organisation of Khawarij. He ended up becoming the general Shari'i official for Jabhat al-Nusra (which was then Syria's al-Qa'ida-affiliate) in the 'north sector' (i.e. north Aleppo countryside). Interestingly, he made 'hijra' ('migration') to Syria twice: the first time he joined Jabhat al-Nusra in al-Tabqa in Raqqa province, but then he returned to Iraq. He then went back to Syria after connecting with someone on Twitter and arriving in north Aleppo countryside via Turkey, with the ease of crossing the border at the time being noted. Abu Abd al-Birr opened a Shari'i institute in Raqqa and was supposedly known for his piety, command of standard Arabic (fusha), and his keenness to participate in fighting. He was eventually executed by the Islamic State on 31 May 2015 CE in Raqqa after being captured in fighting in north Aleppo countryside between the rebel factions and the Islamic State. He had supposedly turned down the Islamic State's offer for him to go back on his stance against the Islamic State. However, to conclude, the author notes the limitations of his own biography in terms of sourcing and amount of information: most of those who knew Abu Abd al-Birr well inside Syria are now dead, and he could not contact the man's contacts and family in Iraq.
Below is the original biography with my translation.
Lives of the outstanding martyrs of the Syrian revolution
Sheikh Abu Abd al-Birr al-Iraqi- Hussam [sic: Bassam] al-Abbasi
Gathered and prepared by Abu al-Waleed al-Hanafi
Ramadan 1442 AH
Dedication: To Sheikh al-Zubair al-Ghazi Abu Abd al-Rahman, who established the blessed schools of Dar al-Wahi and nurtured them from his effort and exertion and upon which has arisen the best overseers, so they chose for them the best male and female teachers and provided them with the best curricula and courses, such that they have matured and the benefit in them has become abundant,, so they have filled a great gap in the liberated areas. May God grant him the best reward, and make it complete and perfect.
Praise be to God the mighty Creator, who arranges the affair and divides the provisions, and prayers and peace be upon the completer of the noble aspects of ethics, the Hashimi prophet sent as a mercy to the one who is guided and with striking of the necks of the one who has disbelieved, and on his family and companions who cling to his Sunnas that are immune to slipping, and on whoso has followed them and has proceeded on their guidance till the Day of Judgement. As for what follows:
This is the biography of the knowledgeable, patient mujahid Sheikh who resisted the destructive ideology of the Khawarij and their terrible error, the judge Sheikh Abu Abd al-Birr al-Iraqi Bassam al-Abbasi (may God have mercy on him).
And I have relied in documenting his life on the testimony of his brothers and students, and they are:
- The brother Abu Mujahid al-Shami
- The brother Abu Amro al-Shami
- The brother Abu Obeida al-Shimali
His birth and upbringing:
The sheikh- may God have mercy on him- was very quiet and rarely spoke about anything of his life that preceded his hijra. And that is because he spent a great portion of his life pursued sometimes by the Rafidites and at other times by the Khawarij. And therefore we do not know anything significant about his life before his Hijra to Bilad al-Sham. And all we know about him is what some of his brothers mentioned in that he was a children's doctor and laboratory guy, and that he was earnest in seeking 'Ilm and had high zeal to obtain it; and that he continued for more than 10 years without sleeping except sitting and not wearing clothing of sleep, to remain prepared to flee at any moment because of the Rafidites' pursuit of him. Then he was hunted by the renegade gang of al-Baghdadi after he rejected joining it despite the multitude of worldly enticements that they put to him, and among them that he would be the general official responsible for the judiciary in the claimed state of al-Baghdadi or the wali of the city of Mosul.
We also know that he was married, and God provided him with a daughter, and when he undertook his second Hijra, his wife was pregnant and gave birth to a boy after that, and the sheikh was martyred and God did not decree for him to carry his child between his arms or be blessed with smelling him and kissing him.
His first Hijra:
Abu Abd al-Birr came as a mujahid muhajir to al-Sham at the beginning of the Shami jihad in 2012, and he joined Jabhat al-Nusra in the town of al-Tabqa, and he continued there until the Dawla organisation announced the rise of its state so he engaged in a number of debates with them, and he said to one of the muhajireen mujahideen from al-Jazeera: there is a great fitna coming from the Dawla organisation. So the muhajir condemned him for that, then Abu Abd al-Birr disagreed with some of them in al-Tabqa concerning dealing with the Dawla so he left Syria and returned back to Iraq.
And as is well-known, the fitna of the Dawla organisation was among the greatest fitnas that befell the mujahideen in the land of al-Sham, for in the time in which the Shari'i officials of the Dawla were declaring takfir on the majority of the mujahid factions and nurturing their soldiers on that, the factions were nurturing their soldiers on the basis that the Dawla organisation are brothers to us and we differ with them in their politics, and therefore when the fighting broke out between the Dawla organisation and the factions, a great number of the soldiers rejected the fighting and considered it a fitna fighting.
Also some of the Islamic factions delayed very much in declaring the Kharijism of this organisation and fighting it, so there resulted from that great massacres that the organisation committed and in which it acquired mastery in the practice of the killing of the mujahideen from the Free Army, as it did in the al-Uyun hospital in Aleppo before its withdrawal from it. For it left behind in it at the end of 2013 eighty corpses from the fighters of Liwa al-Tawheed.
His second Hijra:
Then his second Hijra was at the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015, and the reason for his coming was the discussions held between him and the brother Abu Amro al-Shami.
The brother Abu Amro says: I got to know the sheikh through Twitter, for he had an account in the name of Bandar- subsequently deleted- and after I followed him for a long time I began to speak with him on his private account, so I got to know him myself and my relationship with him solidified, and he informed me that he was a children's doctor and laboratory guy, and that the Rafidites harassed him because he defended a woman whom a Rafidite wanted to attack, so a quarrel erupted between them in which the woman's honour was preserved, and the complete separation was occurring with the Khawarij. So he asked me: is there a way through which I can reach you? So I said to him: if you can reach Turkey you have arrived. So he said: this is an easy matter, then I connected him with the son of my maternal uncle, so when the sheikh came to Turkey, it so happened that my phone stopped working and it remained in repair for four hours, so when I opened it afterwards I was surprised as the sheikh was informing me that he managed to enter Syria and that he was currently in the town of Tel Ref'at, and his entry was a wonder in facilitation. For he entered from the crossing and no one from the two sides opposed him, and he was intending to bribe the Turkish police so as not to enter in a regular sense and be compelled to show his papers, so no one noticed him.
And when he entered from the crossing, he asked a taxi to take him to Tel Ref'at, so when he arrived, he asked for the house of any person affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra, so the people guided him to the house of Abu Mujahid al-Shami.
Abu Mujahid says: I was tempted by the Dawla organisation and deceived by its slogans and taken in by its clothing and forms, and despite the fact I was in the Jabha, I hated it because it was fighting the Dawla organisation, and one day I was in the house with some of my brothers, and behold there was a knock at the door, so I opened it, and behold a person with shaven beard and moustache, wearing a short overcoat and cloth trousers. He asked me: is there someone here from Jabhat al-Nusra? So I called me brother Abu Faruq, so he came and Abu Abd al-Birr knew him by himself and asked him to connect him to the Internet, so he contacted his family and informed them of his arrival. He also contacted Abu Amro al-Shami and informed him that he had arrived in Tel Ref'at. Then we accompanied him to one of the bases of the Jabha, so when the meeting was held in it, he observed some of the Shari'i books in the base, so he began speaking about that, so the amir of the sector perceived from his words that he was of the students of 'Ilm. Then the central department asked him to be with them. So he said: I rather came to fight the Khawarij and expose the doubts about them and uncover their manhaj and expose their corruption. Then it was that the sheikh was able by his wisdom and knowledge to change my beliefs regarding the Dawla organisation and convince me of their corruption and error, and indeed of the obligation of fighting them, even as I previously considered the one fighting them to be of the collaborators. So God guided me at his hands and I began researching the ahadiths of response to the extremists, and the sheikh had a great role in strengthening the mujahideen, advising them, raising their awareness and warning them of the fitna of the Khawarij. So many of them came to be on guard against the danger of this ideology, and prior to it we had been suffering from the defection of a number of members of al-Nusra- four or five- and their joining of the Khawarij. The sheikh was also appointed as judge in the Kafr Ghan court.
Abu Amro says: after the sheikh reached Tel Ref'at, he then went to Kafr Ghan. Then a brother came to him and took him to Azaz, and then I brought with myself one of the brothers and I headed to Azaz, and there we sat with the sheikh, and his words were seizing the assemblies of the hearts as love for him entered the heart without seeking permission. And our sitting with the sheikh continued for more than two hours. His words in it were in fus-ha, and on the following day we accompanied the sheikh in a tour of the da'wa offices, and I agreed with him when I spoke to him previously over Twitter that he should come and open a general Shari'i institute not limited to a faction or side.
His appointment as general Shari'i official for the north sector:
The sheikh was appointed as general Shari'i official for the north sector in Jabhat al-Nusra, and he began da'wa and Shari'i work, so he ascended the sermon pulpit in the Grand Mosque in the town of Tel Ref'at. Then he established an institute to raise the level of the students of 'Ilm- and it was not for the beginners- and he made the institute closed and secret, for he was very cautious, indeed even the students themselves did not know where the institute was located, for he was moving them to it through a car whose glass was covered with what obscures vision. Then he would take them around Tel Ref'at so they should falsely suppose that the institute was in a far-away place and he would bring them back in the very same manner. And many of the students were surprised after that when they came to know that the institute was inside the town of Tel Ref'at, and in view of the determination of the sheikh and his strong in making them memorise and acquire knowledge, many of the students were unable to continue, and only those with high zeal remained in the sheikh's institute.
The brother Abu Mujahid says: the sheikh would give lessons from his memory, and most of his words were in fusha, and he rarely spoke in 'amiya, and he was keen for the students, so they feared him and admired him just as he was admired for his intense keenness for the truth and the force of his personality by all the youth of al-Nusra from amirs, amnis and personnel, for he was one not taken by the blame of a blamer in striving for the sake of God and he did not disregard wrongdoing or mistake, but rather he was undertaking the right of God in clarification, restoring right to its proper place, and his renown spread because of that, and it was as though he took to heart the words of God Almighty: 'And as God has taken the covenant of those who were given the Book so you should make it clear to the people and not conceal it'- (Surat Al Imran: 187). And from the capacity of the knowledge of the sheikh benefited a number of the mashayakh and judges among them Sheikh Abu Mujahid al-Masri and Sheikh Qasim al-Hallo (may God accept them both), Sheikh Abu Suleiman al-Dimashqi and others besides them, and Abu Suleiman al-Dimashqi and others besides them. And Abu Mujahid used to consult him in some of the Shari'i matters, and say: indeed he is knowledgeable.
Abu Amro says: after preparing the institute, the sheikh put in place a curriculum, and his objective in that stage was memorisation and emphasis on that, and the youth received from that care, and he was interested in ending the courses quickly to move to another stage, such that once he explained the whole of al-Bayquniya in one session after the Maghreb prayer until 9 p.m.
And the subjects that he taught in the institute: aqeeda, jurisprudence, hadith terminology, and principles of jurisprudence.
Sheikh Abu Abd al-Birr was magnifying the rituals of God and had very intense love for the Messenger of God (SAWS) as he venerated and revered him, and he would straighten up on his hearing his name.
Abu Amro says: he would often sleep in my house and he would sleep sitting, and in his room was the laptop from which he would read, until his eyes should overcome him. So I asked him once a question, and I mentioned in it the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him), so he straightened in his sitting then he responded to me, and he said to me: if you want to mention the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) in a question, inform me before that so I should straighten up. So I asked him again without notifying so he became angry. And he said: Did I not ask you to inform me so I should straighten up? And he used to read the Qur'an intensely, and we benefited very much in the sheikh and he raised for us our spirits very much.
Abu Obeida says: and in teaching he sought help in the means of clarification, and God brought him wide knowledge and he had a beautiful method in teaching that hardly bored the listener.
Abu Mujahid says: and his recital had impact on the hearts, with tears flowing from the eyes. For many of the brothers would cry when they prayed behind him.
And Abu Obeida says: he would stay up in the light out of love for the mosques, and always gave advice. And his first sermon in Tel Ref'at was about the five necessities (preservation of religion, self, honour, mind and wealth) and the obligation of the people's coming together upon them. And it was a high-level sermon that many of the masses did not understand, so the sheikh was asked to make it lighter and easier.
The sheikh very much hated the Khawarij, and the thing that pained him most about them was the distortion of the picture of Islam, and the turning away of the people from it, and presenting a bad model of Islamic rule.
And this is what the enemies of Islam desire most in order to say to the people after it: do you want Islamic rule? This is Islamic rule: a black picture tainted with blood, and extremist thought enamoured with takfir of the people and oppressing them and shedding their blood, and haughtiness and arrogance against God's creation, with stupid hostile policies that replace the enemy with the friend and a narrow, closed horizon.
And God knows that the religion of Islam and its ruling are innocent of the crimes of the Khawarij and the monstrosity of their deeds and the contemptible nature of their crimes, for it is a religion of justice, and mercy without over-indulgence, and determination without excess, a religion of preserving the dignity of man and preventing wrong-doing, oppression and tyranny, and it has given each person of right his right, and it has make vanity and haughtiness among the despicable aspects of ethics, and mildness, gentleness and humbleness among the noble aspects of traits and qualities, a religion that preserves for the people of precedence and virtue their place, and does not do injustice to their right without them, and men have not had a bounty in rule as they have had under the rule of Islam that the best of those sent- Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him)- brought.
Abu Amro says: we once mentioned the Dawla organisation, so the sheikh began to cry, and said: these people have turned the people from immorality to hypocrisy. And he means by that their ugly method that has made some of the people pray without ablution and some of the women wear the hijab in fear of them only without the beauty of obedience and delight of responding to the command of God and His Messenger (SAWS) entering their hearts. And he forbade the youth from getting into matters of takfir, for these are matters on which the mujahideen in general should not speak, but rather it is of the specialisation of the muftis and judges, otherwise terrible evil and great corruption occur.
The brother Abu Obeida says: and he had discussions with Dr. Tariq Abd al-Haleem concerning the takfir of the Mu'tazalites, and the sheikh considered them not to be people of kufr.
The sheikh did not have anxious concern for taking on dangers in the path of God, but rather he was happy when he felt that he was being exposed to danger in the path of God.
Abu Amro says: we were once in Tel Ref'at and the aircraft of the Nusayri regime carried out a raid and the explosion caused a hufe sound, so the sheikh laughed and said: this is jihad and steadfastness is present if God wills. And a short time after he came, the army, supported by the Rafidites, assaulted a number of the villages in north Aleppo countryside such that it reached the village of Ratyan and Hardatnayn and it seized them, and the factions mobilised there, and the support came out to resist the aggression and recover the villages that had fallen into the hand of the enemy. And the sheikh was determined to go out to the battle, so it was said to them: There are no weapons. So he said to me: Give me your weapons. So I said: And am I to stay without weapons? So he searched and found in the base the PKC machine-gun so he handed it to me, and took from me my rifle and we entered the land of the battle. And during it the machine gun stopped working. So I said to the sheikh: take it and go out from here and give me my rifle. So he said: No by God. Are you deceiving me? But rather you should go. So I tried a lot but his stance was rejection, so I went out and the sheikh remained until the battle ended and the mujahideen recovered most of the villages that the enemy had taken,
And Abu Obeida says: I tried to stop him from going out to the first battle of Ratyan, so he got angry, and said: I do not sit with the people, and the decree of God is right. Then he entered with the first inghimasi contingent.
And the sheikh hated internal fighting and he warned of its danger except in right, far-removed from arbitrary whims and desires.
Abu Obeida says: the sheikh participated in fighting the sowers of corruption and the campaign of redressing grievances, and he made clear to the youth that fighting these people differs from fighting the regime, for they have not gone out from islam, and therefore one should refrain from the defeated one and the one who throws away his weapons, and one is not to deliver the coup-de-grace to the wounded, but rather one should treat him well.
The rabidity of the Khawarij in north Aleppo countryside intensified, and a number of villages fell in their hands, and a number of the factions realised the danger of the fall of the northern countryside so sent aid there, and the mujahideen were mobilised from the various factions to launch the attack on the Khawarij, and a little before the battle Sheikh Abu Abd al-Birr stood inciting, encouraging and reminding them of the greatness of the reward of the jihad against this renegade sect, so the flame of enthusiasm lit up in the hearts of the mujahideen, and the sheikh did not wish to be content with merely inciting then sitting on the back lines but rather he wanted to back up his words with deeds and for his deeds to prove the truth of his words. So he determined to enter with the personnel assaulting, but the command of the Jabha there wanted to prevent him from doing so out of fear he would be killed and so the field would lose a man of the people of 'Ilm and piety, so the warehouses of weapons were locked so that the sheikh should not take weapons by which he could proceed to the battle. So whenever the sheikh asked one of the administrative officials about the weapons, he would say to him: the key is not with me. So the sheikh's anger intensified on that, then he brought an axe and went with it to the warehouse of weapons and he struck the lock with his axe and then destroyed it. Then he entered the warehouse and took a rifle and pocket and went to join the inghimasis. So he performed an inghimasi operation with them but God Almighty did not destine conquest, and it was decided to withdraw from the land of the battle. And during that the sheikh's glasses fell, and the sheikh had a weakness in his eye of five or six degrees, so he got lost on the way, and he was surrounded by personnel of the Khawarij who took him prisoner. And he was taken to the town of al-Bab, where he was imprisoned, and the sheikh concealed his identity from the Khawarij and gave them a false name, and they thought he was a fighter like the rest of the fighters affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra. But some of the youth- may God guide them- on account of the intensity of their painful emotions for the sheikh, filled the world with screaming and wailing for the sheikh, so the Khawarij knew of their truth, so he was dispatched to Raqqa and there discussions were held between him and the Khawarij, and they offered for him to go back on his thought, but he refused and remained steadfast on the truth, so the Khariji judiciary ruled for his neck to be struck, so he was killed in Raqqa while patient and awaiting (may God have mercy on him). And his martyrdom was on 31 May 2015 CE, and some of the news about him in prison arrived via a prisoner who was with him from Marea', then he was released later.
Abu Amro says: the sheikh had students in Iraq. So one of them asked for his advice on joining the Dawla organisation but the sheikh forbade him strongly from that, so the student showed compliance with the sheikh's order, and he had strong love and reverence for the sheikh.
Then the sheikh was surprised by this student as he joined the organisation and was appointed as a Shari'i official in it, and when the sheikh was imprisoned, I contacted some of his friends in Iraq and informed them, so that friend informed that student, so he set up a delegation and headed from Iraq to Raqqa to prevent his being killed, which pushed the criminals to rush to kill him (may God have mercy on him).
Abu Mujahid says: and years later God determined that a family of my relatives should leave the city of Raqqa, and they told me that after the sheikh was killed, the smell of musk continued to go out from the place upon which his pure blood flowed for three days, and God is witness to what I say, and on the pact of the narrator, and he is a man trusted by me.
So this is what I have been able to gather from the life of Sheikh Abu Abd al-Birr al-Iraqi (may God have mercy on him), and perhaps the reader should request an excuse for me, for most of those who know the sheikh have been martyred (may God have mercy on them). Also I was not able to reach the sheikh' contacts and relatives in Iraq, for the contact of the brothers with them was cut after the killing of the sheikh. Also they asked the brothers in the last contact with them to burn the sheikh's passport. So they did that. And this simple extent is what I have managed to obtain, and our consolation is that if we do not know the details of the efforts and jihad of the sheikh, this does not harm him. For God the Blessed and Almighty has known them and He is the Exalted who does not make the reward of the one who has done good deeds go to loss. And here we remember the words of Omar (may God be pleased with him) and a letter was written to him about the conquest of Nahavand: 'So when al-Bashir came to him he said to them: 'Rejoice oh Amir al-Mu'mineen in a conquest by which God has made mighty Islam and its people, and by which He has lowered disbelief and its people. He said: so he praised God Almighty and Exalted is He. Then he said: Did al-Nu'man send you? He said: al-Nu'man awaited oh Amir al-Mu'mineen. He said: So Omar cried and returned. He said: And who informed you! He said: so-and-so and so-and-so, until he counted for him many people, then he said: And others, oh Amir al-Mu'mineen, and you do not know them. So Omar said as he was weeping: It does no harm to them that Omar does not know them, but God knows them.'