“We reject every thought that comes from outside the country, from people we do not know. … We reject the thoughts of al-Qaeda. Syria is a country where moderate Islam prevails,” Khatib stated at the gathering. The Syrian opposition leader criticized those who he said were making small details of Shariah into major issues. Khatib was apparently addressing members of Syria's Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra, or the al-Nusra Front, who have drawn harsh reactions due to some of their radical practices.
Khatib called on the al-Nusra Front to ignore influence being applied from outside the country. The group has recently confirmed its allegiance to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Qaeda's Iraqi wing had also said the new alliance would be called “The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”
Noting that al-Qaeda in Iraq can be divided into three groups, Khatib said: “The first group is composed of real mujahids [fighters] and most of those are liquidated. And the two other groups are affiliated with Syrian and Iranian intelligence. I ask my brothers [in the Nusra front] to change their name and speak about the love of God through good words.”
Besides asking the al-Nusra Front to cut off all relations with al-Qaeda in Iraq and change their leadership, Khatib also demanded the Syrian Islamist group to preach to people in a positive way, without forcing them into particular religious practices.
“If you want to preach to people, do it in a good way. I ask [al-Nusra] to change their goals and not focus on the details,” said Khatib. The opposition leader said that rather than acting by force, such as requiring women to wear headscarves, the group should simply convey their messages. “Religion is advice,” he added.
The conference, titled “Islam and Transitional Justice,” brought together many members of the opposition coalition in addition to Islamic scholars to discuss the issue of justice in Syria and share ideas about the post-Assad transition process.
“We need a revolution in religious thought, not just against injustice. To be able to understand the real message of Islam, we need a revolution in people's perceptions,” said Khatib.
The opposition coalition head also pointed to the importance of the conference for discussing ways to restore justice in the post-Assad era. He said the transition should occur in such a way that no one will be treated unfairly. He described Syria as a center of the wisdom, full of scholars, and said that the country's thinkers, without interference from the outside, can work out ways to give everyone their rights.
For his part, the vice president of the coalition, George Sabra, said the new constitution will be just and will not discriminate against anyone. “There will be no difference between a Muslim and a Christian and between an Arab and a Kurd,” Sabra declared. He said justice could be only restored with just punishment, adding that they were not going to punish criminals based on a vendetta.
The prime minister of the Syrian opposition's interim government, Ghassan Hitto, also stressed the message of Islam for a transition to a new system in which justice and equality exist. “People will be given compensation for their losses during the war. The Ministry of Justice will be restructured and there will be fair trials,” Hitto stated.
Khatib calls on pilgrims to donate for Daraya
While in İstanbul, Khatib also visited a campaign that seeks to raise donations for the Syrian suburb of Daraya, commenting, “Those who will visit the holy lands [of Islam] this year should also donate for the people of Daraya the amount of money they will spend to make their pilgrimage.”
Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that has been one of the main battlefields in the wider capital, is also seen as the epicenter of the revolution, which began with peaceful anti-government protests there.
The donations campaign, which is sponsored by 13 exiled officials from local councils of different Syrian cities as well as the members of the opposition coalition, aims to raise funds to rebuild the neighborhood. Daraya has strategic importance for the Syrian revolution due to its proximity to the capital and the palace of Bashar al-Assad.
“If every Syrian sets aside from their salary just a small amount, we can gather that money to give it to those in need of aid. If I were able to make a fatwa, I would ask all Syrians to save some money from their salary [to do so],” Khatib added.
Underlining the importance of unity in Syria, Khatib said the Syrian people continue to this day to express the sentiment “We are one body.” He recounted that this was chosen as the theme to protests held after midday prayers last Friday in Syria.