Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree that effectively abolished the position of the republic’s grand mufti, without giving reasons for the decision.
The decree issued on Monday delegated to the Council of Jurisprudence Scholars tasks that were previously entrusted to the mufti, including setting the start and end dates of the holy month of Ramadan and declaring religious decrees or fatwa.
The decree also abolished Article 35 of a law regulating the power of the jurisprudential council and the work of the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs under the grand mufti, and strengthened the power of the council, headed by the minister of endowments.
The decision effectively forces Syria’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, the highest Islamic authority in Syria, into retirement.
The has been wide speculation among the public around the reasons for al-Assad’s decision. It came days after Syria’s Jurisprudence Council issued harsh criticism of Hassoun’s interpretation of a set of Quranic verses during the funeral of famous Syrian singer Sabah Fakhri, who died earlier this month.
Delegation of senior powers
The grand mufti is regarded as the most senior Sunni Muslim representative in Syria and issues religious edicts on behalf of the Syrian government.
Hassoun has held the position of grand mufti since 2005, after the death of his predecessor Ahmed Kuftaro in 2004. He was known for being a staunch supporter of the government since the start of the civil war and was pictured on numerous occasions with al-Assad.
In 2016, Amnesty International published a report that revealed Hassoun was deputised by al-Assad to approve the execution of up to 13,000 inmates in Saydnaya prison over a five-year period.
At the height of the anti-government protests in 2011, Hassoun’s 22-year-old son Saria was shot and killed in Aleppo in an incident that was blamed on “terrorists” by the Syrian government.