Originally published under the title "Jabhat al-Nusra/Jabhat Fatah al-Sham Statement from Jabal al-Summaq."
Syria's Druze community has borne the brunt of Al-Nusra/JSF sectarian killings and forced conversions.
As I have documented previously, the Jabal al-Summaq area in Idlib province is originally Druze, but inhabitants were forced to renounce the religion twice and convert to Sunni Islam: first in late November 2013 because of pressure from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and then under al-Qa'ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (rebranded at the end of July 2016 as the officially independent Jabhat Fatah al-Sham: hereafter referred to in this post as JFS) in January 2015.
Since JFS controls Jabal al-Summaq, with the control being absolute in the villages of the mountain itself (while Ahrar al-Sham also considers the villages on the plain to be within its own zone of influence), there has been a more thorough Islamization program than occurred under ISIS, which withdrew from Idlib province in early 2014 in the face of infighting with rebel factions. The Islamization program has included destruction of shrines and an insistence locals abide by imposed Shari'i regulations, which were reiterated in a speech last year by then Jabhat al-Nusra official Abu Qatada al-Iraqi in one of the villages (Kaftin).
Though Abu Qatada al-Iraqi was removed from his position in the Jabal al-Summaq area as his approach was seen as too confrontational, it did not mean a change in the actual Islamization policies. These policies were most recently reaffirmed in a statement distributed in Kaftin by Jabhat al-Nusra that emerged in mid-July 2016 just prior to the rebranding. The original is included below and translated. Note that it also addresses in part internally displaced persons that have come to Kaftin since Jabal al-Summaq is a de facto safe zone (though there have been a number of air-raids recently for multiple reasons). In referring to all inhabitants of Kaftin as Muslims, it is clear there is no recognition of a Druze identity among the original residents.
It should be emphasized that this evidence must be distinguished from exaggerations promoted by the likes of the pro-Assad Lebanese newspaper al-Diyar, which circulates baseless claims such as the notion that Jabhat al-Nusra leadership gave permission for members to impose extortion taxes, prevent locals from harvesting their crops and then force them to leave their villages so as to confiscate the crops for themselves. The report also contains exaggerations of random arrests, public degradation and torture following a claimed Russian air-raid on Kaftin.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
On the basis of our desire to spread 'Ilm [Islamic knowledge] and increase compliance with the law of God Almighty, noting that many of the people have been indifferent towards applying the law of God, we therefore remind the brothers who are residents of the village of Kaftin as guests [i.e. internally displaced persons] and the people of the village to comply with the law of God Almighty, make the women wear Shari'i dress and embrace modesty while going out on the streets of the village. And every girl or woman seeing in the streets not wearing Shari'i dress or not behaving modestly, the guardian of her affair will be summoned to be punished in front of the crowd.
As all those present in the village are from the Muslims, they must comply with the prayers at their times and attend the congregation in the mosque. Whoever is caught in the street during prayer or opens his shop during prayer will be arrested and reprimanded.
On the basis of the command of the Messenger of God (SAWS)- 'Convey from me, even an ayah'- and what we have seen concerning the ignorance of the youth about the commands of their religion, we have entrusted Sheikh Abu Muhammad, the imam of the Kaftin mosque, to open a Shari'i session for the youth present in the village ages 15-20, in which the manhaj of the Ahl al-Sunna will be taught in addition to teaching the book of God and the Sunna of His Messenger. We remind the people to send their children to attend lessons. Every youth who doesn't comply with lessons will be sent to a Shari'i session in one of the Jabhat al-Nusra camps for a period of 15 days.
The lessons will be on Sunday and Wednesday after sunset prayers, and the Shari'i brothers in the Jabha [Jabhat al-Nusra] will come by to track the lessons. Also the lessons for the children ages 7-14 on Sunday and Wednesday at 8 a.m. will be tracked.
We ask all to comply and help their brothers in Jabhat al-Nusra to realize compliance with God's law for what is in that which satisfies God.
And God is the One behind the intention.
Your brothers in Jabhat al-Nusra.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.