Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered the release of a new “revised” version of the Quran with an updated and controversial tafsir, or interpretation, in order to correct “distortion” and “misleading” lessons, state television reports.
The president, currently involved in a brutal war in a vicious civil conflict, authorised the publication of the “new standard version” of the Islamic holy book.
He announced the change on television with Mohammad Abdul-Sattar al-Sayyed, the Minister of religious endowments (Awqaf), and members of the Ministry’s Permanent Committee for the Holy Quran Affairs on Monday.
Official state reports indicate the new version will contain simplified letters standardised by official “accredited standards” set by Quranic scholars. Media reports coming out of Syria are vague but it is not thought that the Quran itself has been changed but rather the tafsir agreed by classical Islamic scholars has.
“We truly need such acts at this critical stage of distortion and misleading,” the President told state media.
The new version will be printed and distributed throughout the now-fractured state.
Assad and the pro-government Syrian religious establishment have long argued that hardline extremists supported by Saudi Arabia and espousing Wahabism have distorted the message of the Quran and Islam itself. On the other hand, Assad’s opponents have accused him and his secular supporters of being the real enemies of Islam.
Meanwhile, associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Nottingham Dr Jon Hoover cautioned that it was hard to assess how controversial the new version may be without examining it.
“I would have to see this new edition of the Quran to judge its significance. It is impossible to tell what the project has done with the Quran,” he told Newsnight.
He also said there was not likely to be “much significance” that Mr Assad, a member of the minority Alawite Syrian community, had been involved in the project.
The president and his father, Hafez Assad, developed close ties with the Sunni religious elite, allowing them the upper hand in religious matters in exchange for political hegemony.
Meanwhile, President Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, continues wage a brutal war against his enemies who are backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Hundreds of thousands are estimated to have died in the bitter four-year conflict that has fractured the local region and created millions of refugees.