Syria’s rebel judges apply merciful Sharia justice

Piotr Zalewski reports: Imam Mohammed Drbal had just received a call from his wife. She was panicking and wanted him to come home, he explained. With shells beginning to rain down again, Drbal figured the day’s caseload would be a light one. “People didn’t sleep well because of last night’s shelling,” he said. “Because of today’s, they’ll be afraid to leave their homes.” The artillery barrage was coming from a nearby airbase, the only regime stronghold between Aleppo and the Turkish border not to be overrun by the rebel Free Syrian Army. The bombardment was unlikely to reach this part of town, according to Drbal. And if it did, he deadpanned, “We’re all here together, and in this together.” His fellow imams jiggled inside their beige thobes, struggling to contain their laughter.

Drbal and his fellow clerics comprise the tribunal that has replace the Assad regime as the law in Tal Rifaat, 20 miles north of Aleppo. Two months ago, after the authorities fled, a pair of imams who had led the town’s anti-regime protests founded a council to resolve local disputes and fill the growing security vacuum, and set up shop in a local school. “We couldn’t have double standards and competing interpretations of Islamic law,” said Drbal. “So scholars, locally respected people, decided to meet in a single council.”

Drbal and his colleagues made no bones about the fact that the post-Assad justice dispensed by their court was based on Islamic sharia law. “We are ruling on the basis of sharia,” explained Seraj al-Halabi, one of the men. “We have lawyers, judges and former army officers,” said al-Halabi, himself a veterinarian, “but all of us are Islamic scholars.” Everyone has the right to have his or her case heard by the council, he added. “We are ruling in every area of the law.”

Still, claimed al-Halabi, theirs was not an ordinary Islamic tribunal; the imams were focused as much on delivering justice as on promoting political reconciliation. “We are not here to practice Islamic law like in Saudi Arabia, cutting off heads and hands, but to help run the city and to restore order,” he said. “Sharia seeks solving problems, not creating them. And we are trying to figure out the best solution, the solution that will be most moderate and merciful.” [Continue reading…]

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