By Firas Choufi
Druze in Syria’s northernmost district of Idlib didn’t wait for al-Nusra Front and ISIS to become stronger before announcing their neutrality. As a minority of about 30,000 people living in poor villages, the Druze felt it necessary to do so. The 14 Druze villages host about 50,000 refugees, both opposition and loyalist, who have fled clashes in neighboring towns.
Yesterday, a story titled “18 Druze villages announce their conversion to Islam in Idlib” was posted on Saudi websites. Druze officials in Lebanon and Syria refused to comment, not only to preserve secrecy, but also because it was hard for them to connect with people in the district due to phone network outages. However, these officials realize that the Druze in Idlib are in a tough situation.
Lebanese MP Talal Arslan was the only one to comment. He found the incident unusual, telling Al-Akhbar, “Druze, like other Muslim sects, believe in the message of our Prophet Mohammad.”
Most Druze residents in Idlib work in agriculture, whether harvesting olives or cumin. Their villages are located about 14 kilometers away from the city of Idlib, which is controlled by the Syrian army, while the road leading to the villages is under opposition control.
Several sources said, “Since the beginning of the crisis, the villagers of Kaftin, Bireh, Maara al-Ikhwan, Kfarmas, Tlitita, Qaleb Lawze, Kfarkila, Abrita, and Jadein hosted refugees in their homes who had fled from neighboring towns. They didn’t distinguish between opponents and loyalists. Some of the men there slept on rooftops, leaving the homes for refugee women and children, while no sectarian troubles ever took place.”
Other sources said, “The Free Syrian Army (FSA) didn’t enter these villages and didn’t threaten its people because they knew that their relatives were living decently there. They avoided clashes because they wanted to preserve a safe haven for their families.”
All that changed when ISIS took the lead, leaving a few villages under the control of FSA remnants, while the ISIS Sharia committee managed villagers’ daily lives.
Sources also revealed that ISIS “usually demands majority-Sunni villages to declare their allegiance with a carrot and stick policy. Those who announce their allegiance to ISIS escape harm, while opponents are systematically killed, tortured, and deprived of their land.”
According to sources, at the beginning, ISIS emirs treated Druze villagers well, knowing that they didn’t side with the regime. The situation recently changed, and the Sharia committee demanded the Druze to “announce their Islam.”
Other sources claimed, “The committee had Druze khalawats, or places of worship, add domes and minarets to become official mosques, and ordered residents to respect the Islamic dress code for both men and women, and had men trim their moustaches.” It is reported that most residents abided by the committee’s resolutions.
The same Muslims who fought crusaders alongside the Mamluks and rebelled against the French mandate have been forced once again to proclaim their Islam for the sake of a “state” whose only idea about Islam is beheadings.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition