Long before the dawn of Islam, in 4th Century B.C the defeat of Persian Emperor Darius by Macedonian King Alexander was the beginning of first ‘western rule’ over Syria and after the fall of Macedonian empire of Alexander Syria became part of Roman Empire.
This was second time Syria came under ‘western rule’ and at that time the land of Syria was not just what modern ‘Syrian Arab Republic’ looks like, it was a huge area, comprising of western middle east in north starting from Turkish border near Harran and ending near Egyptian border right now where Gaza is situated covering whole of Lebanon, Palestine and parts of Jordan.
It was annexed by Roman General and Political leader Pompey in 64 B.C and Syria was ruled from Antioch ancient city which is still present near modern city Antakya in Turkey. Later on after the split of Roman Empire in middle of 4th century A.D Syria came under the rule of Eastern Roman Empire also known as Byzantine Empire.
In some manuscripts name of this province has also been found as Syria-Palaestina, it was a rich agricultural land producing good amount of wealth for the Byzantine Empire and also consisting of rich cities like Damascus, Antioch, Jerusalem, Caesarea and Edessa.
This land is also cited in religious scriptures of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Amongst the key personalities that ruled over it were Prophet Dawood (pbuh), Prophet Suleman (pbuh) and then Prophet Mosa (pbuh). All were in Syria-Palaestina, and then Prophet Esa (pbuh) (Jesus) was also in Syria-Palaestina (Jerusalem).
This gives a considerable high profile to the land of Al-sham (Syria).
During the rule of Byzantine Empire many Arab tribes settled on the border of Syria for they saw this as a good way of making their life better i.e by trade and farming while living under shadow of Byzantine Empire. Some of these settles adopted Christian faith and fought along side with Byzantine Empire against Persian and latter on they sided with the Islamic Caliphate.
Some of these tribes were actually there since long time while others came from Arabian Peninsula particularly from Yemen.
In the Pre-Islamic history, we find that both Western and Eastern empires struggled to gain control over the land of Al-Sham.
One of the reasons behind this was to project and exercise their power in the Mediterranean region, as controlling Mediterranean Sea means controlling sea trade routes between Europe and Asia.
When Islam emerged from AL-Hejaz in Arabia as a political entity and as a state, it rapidly expanded, and the land of Al-sham came in contact with armies of Islam in the time period of Caliph Hazrat Abu Bakar.
It was early 12 Hijri when Caliph made decision to send armies to Syria and the best generals of Islamic armies were chosen for Jihad in Syria under the leadership of Hazrat Abu Ubaidah Bin Al-Jar’rah and Hazrat Khalid Bin Waleed, Busra (not to be confused with Basra in Iraq) was the first important town to be captured by the Muslims in Syria by the middle of July in 634 A.D (13 Hijri) and first major battle that took place was Battle of Ajnadein in Syria in July, 634 A.D (13 Hijri) 90,000 Romans verses 32,000 Muslims, three days after the battle according to Islamic Historian Waqidi, Khalid wrote to Calpih Hazrat Abu Bakr and informed him of the battle, giving the Roman casualties as 50,000 dead at the cost of only 450 Muslims.
Then after this siege of Damascus that took place under command of Hazart Khalid Bin Waleed in which he deployed round about 20000 Muslim army, Damascus fell in to Muslim’s hand on August 20, 634 A.D (Jamadi-ut-thani 20, 13 Hijri) this was the second major event that eventually lead to the weakening of Byzantine Empire, third major event that occurred in Syria was Battle of Yarmook which continued for 6 days and took place in 635 A.D in this battle 40,000 Muslims fought with 1,50000 Romans led by King of Armenia Mahan who was leading Romans of behalf of Roman Emperor Heraclius and a decisive victory was won by Muslims.
This battle broke the Roman power in Syria, and after this battle the remaining cities fell in Muslims hands one after other including Jerusalem the pact of which was signed on behalf of the Muslims by Caliph Hazrat Umar and witnessed by Hazrat Khalid, Hazrat Amr bin Al Aas, Hazrat Abdur Rahman bin Auf and Hazrat Muawiyah .
This marked the conquest of whole of Al-Sham and then Islam was implemented there as a system of governance.
The Islamic rule over Syria continued after the 4 rightly guided Caliphs and then under Ummayad Dynasty starting from Caliph Ameer Muawiya. Damascus became the capital of the caliphate and came to be known for the centre of knowledge and Islamic culture that flourished in it. It was During the 89 years of Umayyad rule, most Syrians became Muslims, and the Arabic language replaced Aramaic.
The Umayyads minted coins, built hospitals, and constructed underground canals to bring water to the towns. The country prospered both economically and intellectually and foreign trade expanded, and people started studding and practicing medicine, alchemy, and philosophy.
After Umayyad, Abbasids took over Islamic government under the leadership of Caliph Abdul Abbas As-Saffah and Syria was then ruled by Abbasids. As the time passed Seljuks, Fatamids and Mamelukes ruled over Syria during there time each bringing some development during their respective era.
Many great scholars emerged during Islamic rule over Syria because of it being the centre of knowledge. Some of these great scholars who became prominent because of their service to spread Islam were Imam Nawwawi, Imam Ibn Taymiyah, Imam Ibn Qaiyyum and infact we see these scholars at a very front of political ups and downs in Syria.
Its worth mentioning here the name of Ali Ibn Tahir Ad-Dimashqi who was the first of Islamic scholars of Al-Sham raising his voice and making public opinion for Jihad against crusaders in 11th century A.D, another name is Al-Qadi Abdul Fadl Ibn Al-Khashshab of Aleppo he in fact fought against crusaders in 1119 A.D , and perhaps the most significant of them, was Imam Ibn Tamiyyah and his movement against Tatars and his courage for accounting rulers of his time when ever they diverted from Islamic teachings .
In the context of Islam, Syria’s significant is highlighted by the narrations of the Prophet Muhammad (saw). Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.w) said about As-Sham "Blessings to Al-Shâm, blessings to Al-Shâm, and blessings to Al-Shâm! (yâ tûbâ li al-shâm), Companions asked why and He (s.a.w.w) replied: "Because the wings of the angels of the Merciful are lowered over it."
In another narration from Abdullah Ibn Omar he said: The messenger of Allah said, I saw a pillar of the book was taken from underneath my pillow and I looked and it was an extending light directed toward As-Sham verily Iman (the faith), at the time of fitan (turmoil) is in As-Sham.
In the 16th century, in 1516 Sultan Selim I of Ottoman Caliphate defeated the Mamelukes in North Aleppo and conquered Syria, and Syria then was under ottoman Caliphate till the mid 19th century. With the decline of Ottoman Caliphate in 1918 a parliamentary government was established in Damascus and in 1920 the Emir Feisal of Hejaz , was declared King of Syria, Syria at this point of time was first time geographically defined by the natural boundaries, beginning at the Taurus mountains in Turkey to Sinai in the South.
Then came the Sykes-Picot agreement which was set up in 1916 and Syria was divided into 4 parts, and shared by Britain and France. Modern day Syria and Lebanon went to the French, while Palestine and Jordan came under British dominion according to the treaty. Syria was then divided by the French into the 4 separate provinces or states of Aleppo, Damascus, Latakia, and the Hauran.
Aleppo was later brought into the state of Syria whose capital was Damascus, in 1925, the Druze population in the Hauran revolted and moved towards the capital, which prompted the heavy bombardment of Damascus by the French, in 1939 the state of Iskanderoun was given to the Turks in order to keep them neutral during the Second World War.
In 1942 Hauran and Latakia were incorporated into the Syrian state so by this divide and rule game Syria was used to protect the interests of Colonial powers, then in 1946 French left leaving behind so called independent Syria, between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20 different cabinets and drafted four separate constitutions where none of these worked out, and then the first military coup took place in 1949 lead by Col. Husni al-Za`im.
Later on 2 more military coup took place in same year, as a result of this the multiparty culture ended. However later on Syria again re-established parliamentary system and during this time a pact was signed with Russia, communism took effect in governance of Syria, while Russia provided military and technical support to Syria, hence making it strong and using it to put a check to Turkey which was in the sphere of ‘western capitalism’.
In 1958 Syrian President Shukrial Al-Quwatli and Egyptian president Nasser announced merging of Syria with Egypt this was as a result of growing Arab nationalism and this United Arab Republic formed as a result continued till 1971. However there was no significant change in terms of the living conditions of the people.
This was a tactical move by the western powers which had propped Hafiz al Asad. A minority in position of ruling was by default dependent on external help. This resembled the policy of Colonial powers, which can also be seen in Bahrain where minority Sunni royal family rule over a Shia majority population. Being dependent on colonial powers for sustainability, these regimes naturally remain loyal to them. Bashar al Asad, to this day, continues his father’s legacy.
The Alawite regime of Syria has a record of sheer oppression. The first massacre of people of Syria by it was done in 1982, known as ‘Hama massacre’ where Hafiz Al-Asad killed about 50,000 Muslims in Syria, while crushing a revolt against his government. Today in a dark irony Bashar Al-Asad competes his father in oppression and massacre.
Since the start of revolution in March 2011, 60,000 people have been killed by the Shabiha forces of Assad’s government . This Shabiha force was established in 1980s by Namir al-Assas who was cousin of Hafez Al-Assad, its purpose was to crack down on protestors against government and Shabiha are no different then their like Baltagiya force in Eygpt whose purpose is also the same. In Syria today, apart from these 60,000 people who have been killed there are thousands being displaced and moved to neighbouring countries like Turkey and Jordan. According to UNHCR there are now more than 670,000 registered Syrian refugees and people awaiting registration in Jordan , Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. Today the revolution has reached the point, where Bashar al Asad is no longer able to suppress and end it.
Two major players that have emerged are the FSA (Free Syrian Army) consisting of ex-military officials and soldiers of Assad’s army and second are Jihadists which consist of local Syrians and many other religious entities joining from other neighbouring countries like Saudia, Iraq, Tunisia, Palestine and even from Libya.
These Mujahideen are now holding many key strategic positions like Taftanaz airbase in northern Idlib province, even in Damascus and Aleppo city some areas are under control of Jihadists and some under FSA while fight is still going on in these cities.
Islamist fighters with a group called Jabhat al Nusra recently took over all four grain compounds in those areas of Aleppo which is held by them and now they are winning hearts of local population by easing the supply of bread by opening bakeries. In order to malign their image, reports have emerged that Shabiha forces have committed massacred and blamed it on either the FSA or the Islamists. Some of Jihadists groups are openly advocating their goal of establishing an Islamic State in Syria after the fall of regime.
This goal also echoes in many of the protestors across the country. Moreover, there seems to be a consensus on a large scale that people in Syria don’t want any western intervention, be it in the name of democracy or under the guise of providing economic help by IMF, world bank and what so ever.
The Syrian Muslims have sacrificed a lot. Their efforts have had an impact on Muslims around the world, many of whom pray for the success of this revolution.
What will follow the fall of Assad? Is a daunting questioned being asked by many? And the possible scenario seems to be quite a few. One possibility is a war between various factions, similar to the one which happened in Afghanistan. Another possibility is an intervention by the western powers to prop a puppet democratic government.
While the massacre in Syria continues, we find the hypocrisy of western powers clearly exposed. In Mali, France has started a war front, approved and endorsed by the United Nation. While in Syria, the institution of UN has only served to prolong the life of the ailing regime of Bashar al Asad.
History shows that Syria prospered under the shade of the Caliphate. The colonial era brought only turmoil to the region, which has continued in the post-colonial and today’s neo-colonial era.
The writer is a Telecom Engineer and columnist on history and politics.
BDST-2135HRS, FEB 01, 2013
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