Jabhat al-Nusra And The Druze of Idlib Province: Implementation Of God's Law
19 February 2015
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
While most analysis of the Druze in Syria focuses on their positions in
Suwayda province- where they constitute the majority of the population- as
well as Jabal al-Sheikh in Damascus/Quneitra provinces, it should be
remembered that there is also a Druze community in the Jabal al-Samaq area of
Idlib province, more widely known as Jabal al-Zawiya. This community consists
of numerous villages, whose names can be found here. Unlike their
co-religionists in the south, these Druze have no capacity for the formation
of self-defence militias analogous to the banners of 'Jaysh al-Muwahhideen'
('Army of the Unitarians/Monotheists') or 'Forces of Abu Ibrahim' (named
after Druze figure Abu Ibrahim Ismail al-Tamimi). The Druze in Jabal al-Samaq
are therefore dependent for preservation on the good-will of whichever
external actors are present in their areas.
During the high-point of the influence of Jamal Ma'arouf and his Syrian
Revolutionaries Front [SRF] in 2014 following the withdrawal of the Islamic
State from Idlib province, there was some attempt to engage in outreach to
this Druze community, best illustrated in an al-Aan TV report that featured
Ma'arouf talking to Druze locals and ostensibly affirming a non-sectarian
vision for Syria. "We are one," he declares at one point in the video, while
acknowledging Druze concerns about problems of extremism and criminality
among rebel groups.
It should be noted that this apparent SRF tolerance for local groups of
minorities that cannot be seen as having an active role in the civil war is
not unique. For comparison, despite prior reported Northern Storm Brigade
attacks on Yezidis in north of Aleppo province that are said to have led to
clashes with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Northern Storm today
tolerates a tiny Yezidi community that works inside Azaz town (no more than
ten individuals), and in accordance with the group's current neutral stance
towards the PYD, leaves any Yezidi villages alone. In contrast, the bulk of
sectarian animus is unsurprisingly directed at Alawites and Shi'a.
In Idlib province, however, the SRF has since been routed at the hands of
Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), with Ma'arouf forced to flee to Turkey in exile. JN's
attitude towards the Druze- an offshoot of Shi'a Islam- is hardly going to be
conciliatory, and in line with JN's assertion of an increasingly hardline
Islamic face of governance in its Idlib proto-emirate (cf. the execution of
women on charges of 'prostitution', the crackdown on opponents in Kafr Nabl
etc.) are some notable reported developments concerning the Druze of Idlib
province. First, JN reportedly destroyed the tomb of the Druze Sheikh Jaber.
Second, adocument has emerged of a meeting between JN officials and
proclaimed Druze village representatives who have converted to Sunni Islam,
agreeing on the implementation of Shari'a and Sunni Islamic supremacy:
"Statement on the first meeting for the villages of the mountain [Jabal- i.e.
Attendants of the session:
Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi [the Tunisian]: area official
Abu Hafs al-Homsi: Shari'a official of the area
Abu Muhammad and Abu Khadija: Administration guys.
Representatives of the area [NB: names blocked out but villages listed,
compare with the first listing of Druze villages in Jabal al-Samaq]:
The representatives of these aforementioned areas have disavowed the Druze
religion and have said that they are Muslims of the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamaat
[Sunnis]. And an agreement has been made between them on one side and the
representative of Jabhat al-Nusra (Sheikh Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi) on the
other on what follows:
a) Implementation of God's law in the aforementioned areas with focus on the
(i) Searching of the idolatrous tomb-shrines, destroying their structures and
flattening them on the ground.
(ii) Securing of places for prayer in all the aforementioned villages in
which there are no designated places for prayer; teaching of the Qur'an,
aqeeda [creed] and jurisprudence therein for the youths and children.
(iii) The obligation of wearing hijab according to Shari'a for women outside
(iv) No display of gender-mixing in schools.
b) Choosing of two persons from each village for the organization of matters
concerning services, aid, and oversight of contraventions under the stead of
The beginning of that operation is to be implemented before the appointment
of the next meeting.
Reminder: Any person in the Jabal region and aforementioned villages who
contravenes/disagrees with these issues will expose himself to penalty
according to Shari'a and censure.
Meeting adjourned until 1 February 2015."
These regulations imposed on the Idlib province Druze by JN are of some
concern when one also considers that there is a growing JN presence and
influence in areas like Azaz where other minorities are to be found. Were JN
to gain sufficient strength to take over Azaz from Northern Storm, it is
certainly possible that the group would attempt to assert supremacist
authority over the area's Yezidis as well. In any case, news of the latest
developments as regards the Idlib Druze only make the SRF's guarantees of
protection ring hollow and cause further concern among Syrian Druze about the
rebels, even as there are signs of increasing resentment in Suwayda province
about conscription into the Syrian army.