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Moaz al-Khatib

Ahmad Mouath Al-Khatib Al-Hasani (Arabic: أحمد معاذ الخطيب الحسني‎, born 1960) is the ex[1] president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. He is also a former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.[2]
Khatib originally studied applied geophysics and worked as an engineer and manager for several large oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell's Syrian division,[3] for six years. He is a member of the Syrian Geological Society and the Syrian Society for Psychological Science. He was previously President and remains Honorary President of the Islamic Society of Urbanization.[4]
 

Early life and career 

Born in 1960, Khatib comes from a well-known and notable Sunni Muslim Damascene family. His father, Sheikh Mohammed Abu al-Faraj al-Khatib, was a prominent Islamic scholar and preacher at the Umayyad Mosque, as were his paternal forebears.[3]
Khatib originally studied geophysics. He spent six years working as an engineer and oil engineering manager for Royal Dutch Shell Syrian division and other petrol companies in the country.[3] He is also a member of the Syrian Geological Society and the Syrian Society for Psychological Science, and was president of the Islamic Society of Urbanization. His status as the former imam made him a key figure in Syria's Sunni religious establishment.[3]
 
Khatib also established the Islamic Civilization Society, and taught Sharia (Islamic Law) at the Dutch Institute Sheikh Badr al-Din al-Husni in Damascus, and Daawa (Call to Islam) studies at the Tahzib Institute for Sharia Sciences. He traveled internationally to teach, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Turkey, the UK and USA.[5]
 
The Syrian journalist and writer Rana Kabbani, a long time friend of Khatib, said "Over the years, we have had a very intense political conversation about what needed to be done in Syria, long discussions about what was wrong with the society and what could be done about it. He was my window into Syria at a time when I couldn't physically go there." Kabbani continued to say "He comes from an area in the old city of Damascus, a part of the city that was noted for its advocacy against French colonialists, producing freedom fighters. It was a traditional Damascene Muslim scene, a devout Sunni area with a long history of resistance. He cared very deeply about the victims of the 1982 massacre [in the Syrian city of Hama]. He was always seeking for ways to house or educate those [survivors] that the state wanted killed or banished."[6]
 
Sunni Muslim intellectuals and Western-based analysts like Kabbani are not the only favourable voices for the surprised rise of the President of the National Coalition Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution. Asked on EsinIslam of his Awqaf London about the leadership style of Dr. Ahmad Al-Khatib, the London-based African graduate cleric and former researcher at Damascus University, Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Abdul-Fattah Adelabu, who used to attend lectures with Syria’s new leader of opposition said: “As far as I know Sheikh Moaz Al-Khatib back in our days when we used to sit side-by-side attending lectures of our Grand Sheikh Abul-Qadir Al-Arnaout at Mazzah Failat and Jami’ Az-Zahra Mazzah Jabal early 1990's, he was not just trustworthy, he was a reliable scholar on his own rights and of proven records.”[7]
 
Calling on all the Muslims, particularly, the clerics to support him and pray for his success, Adelabu described Dr. Al-Khatib as “so lovable, humble and knowledgeable.” The Nigeria-born Damascene graduate noticed Sheikh Moaz was as surprised as the circle of the Ulamaa (the learned) and Du’at (the preachers) to be chosen to steer the future of Syria with such responsibilities. Sheikh Adelabu claimed that he had heard from Dr. Al-Khatib direct that his leadership would not settle for anything than to see his people free from oppression, mischief and dictatorship.[8] Al-Khatib used to publish a monthly statement about his religious and political views on his website "Darbuna" before the Syrian authority forced him to stop publishing on it.

Political and religious views 

Al-Khatib has been described by The Guardian and The Economist as a moderate Islamist,[4][9] though Al-Khatib has accused the West for propping up Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt, explaining that "the collapse of the Egyptian regime is the beginning of the international regional system's descent..." and that "the collapse of Egypt itself is an enormous Israeli desire [emanating] from its frightening project to split the region into repugnant sectarian entities." He also made claims that some European countries are committing ethnic cleansing of Muslim minorities.[10]
 
Al-Khatib is a supporter of Qatar-based Egyptian Sunni Muslim cleric and preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He even placed al-Qaradawi on equal footing with the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation marked beginning of the Arab Spring. He referred to al-Qaradawi as "our great Imam". Khatib has also referred to Shia Muslims as "rejectionists" and stated that the Shi'ites "establish lies and follow them", on occasions when he spoke to an Arab public. Analysts thus suspect him of adhering to some sectarian anti-Shia (and thus anti-Alawi) resent.[10] In an interview with Al Jazeera he said it would be better if Alawites would convert to Shia Islam, so they could follow a clear and structured faith.[11][12] In stark contrast to his speeches and statements in Arabic, on other occasions in the west al-Khatib in 2011 stressed, e.g. during an interview in the Netherlands with Paul Rosenmöller, that all creeds will need to be respected within Syria.[3]
 
He was imprisoned several times for his criticism of the Syrian government during the ongoing armed uprising against President Bashar al-Assad before he fled the country and settled in Cairo. Khatib himself is not allied to any political party and is often considered as a moderate Sunni Islamist who has called for political pluralism and strongly opposes sectarian divisions among Syrians during western-based interviews.[3][5]
 
In October 2012, he was critical of the role Salafist militants had played as the civil war violence escalated, saying their prominence had allowed western and other countries to portray the uprising in Syria as "extremist".[5]
 
Khatib is an active proponent of political plurality, including equality for women.[13]
In his statement to a crowd near Damascus soon after the Syrian uprising in 2011, he said “My brothers, we lived all our lives, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, and Druze, as a one-hearted community. And with us lived our dear brothers [Christians] who follow Isa [Jesus], peace be upon him. We should adhere to this bond between us and protect it at all times.” Adding that “Any garden is so nice if full of flowers of all kinds." After being elected president of the National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition he said “I say to you that Alawites are closer to me than many other people I know,” and “When we talk about freedom, we mean freedom for every single person in this country.”[14] In a November 2011 interview, Khatib did call for Sunni scholars and Islamic Sharia law to form the base of any future Syrian political and judicial system.[3]

Involvement in the Syrian revolution 

In July 2012, al-Khatib fled Syria following multiple periods of imprisonment.[4]
On 11 November 2012, al-Khatib was elected as the President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a coalition of opposition groups that was formed on the same day.[15][16][17] The coalition has since been recognized as the legitimate government of Syria by a number of countries.
 
Al-Khatib has not ruled out negotiating with President Bashar al-Assad, noting that dialogue did not mean "surrendering to the regime's cruelty" but was instead the "lesser of two evils."[4]
After being elected President of the coalition, Khatib called on world powers to fully arm the Free Syrian Army.[18]
Moaz al-Khatib has also called on the US to reconsider its Autumn 2012 decision to list the foreign and Syrian fighters of the Al-Nusra Front, as a foreign terrorist organization. Khatib condemned the listing of Al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, Khatib instead publicly stressed that the Al-Nusra Front is a major military force and ally in the rebellion to topple the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.[19]
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