Ibrahim Ezz

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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"A Palmyra prison detainee passes through several phases, including periods of starvation, lack of medicine and torture; other periods may pass quietly."

Ibrahim Ezz grew up in a conservative Damascus neighborhood before moving to Masaken Barzeh, a relatively modern precinct populated by a mixture of people who came from several Syrian regions. He went to secondary school there only to be arrested at the age of 19 on charges of political activism opposing the regime.

Ibrahim faced his first year in Palmyra prison in 1984. "Most of the prisoners were of the same category - mainly Sunni Muslims who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, a few Alawites, Druzes, Christians and some Kurds. One could say that Palmyra prison was sectarian in nature. Most of the jailers were Alawites. "

A Palmyra prison detainee passes through several phases, including periods of starvation, lack of medicine and torture; other periods may pass quietly and monotonously. One of those unforgettable periods was in 1987, when the country was going through an economic crisis. They pressured us by withholding food, giving us only half a loaf of bread a day. We stayed like this for about three months during cold winter. Tuberculosis cases spread in large numbers among prisoners."

At the end of 1987, inmates with light sentences and those who were about to end their detention period were transferred to Sednaya prison in the Damascus countryside. After a time, some Sednaya prisoners filed a malicious complaint against Palmyra prisoners on the grounds that they still insisted on their religious beliefs. As a result, the regime started a severe campaign of torture against them.

During his 20 years in prison, Ibrahim had many discussions and read a lot of books that dealt with Islam and jurisprudence. He saw many contradictions between what was taken from the Tradition (Sunna) and what was revealed in the Holy Quran. He concluded, therefore, that Islamic heritage and jurisprudence books should be revised and reintroduced in ways appropriate for current times. This continued up until he finally came to consider himself a Qur’ani; that is to say, he advocated extracting rulings, legislation, and everything that pertained to religion solely from the Holy Quran, and not from the Tradition.

"We have something called a moderate, temperate Islam. We lived by this model in Syria before 2011. But the fact is that now you cannot discuss or criticize anything, and you are held accountable for any sectarian ideas. In fact, one would have to call it Islam under threat and repression. When this repression ends, it will return among other things, to its truth and to its starting concepts, the concepts of militancy and incitement to Jihad in order to establish the Islamic State. This applies to both the books of Shiia and Sunni jurisprudence, which are the same in terms of principles but that have differences concerning the sanctification of Ali and the House of Mohammad, which are upheld in the case of Shiism.”

Ibrahim believes two important events contributed to the rise of religious currents within the region: on the one hand, the fall of the leftist movement that had provided an intellectual alternative to tyranny, and on the other, the victory of Khomeini's revolution in Iran.

"Syria witnessed conflicts between the regime and religious movements in the mid-1970s but what contributed to the escalation of confrontations in the late 1970s was the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran," he says.

Ibrahim changed his understanding of the concept of religion during his long imprisonment. He now believes that it is only possible to implement Islamic jurisprudence under the rule of a strong Islamic state, something that this Islamic state had already imposed, even though this by itself is wrong. However, all this is presently not applicable at all. In addition to all this, he strongly believes that the idea of Jihad and the restoration of the Islamic state by force is unrealistic. Therefore a Muslim person must live now without interference in the matters of others and in their way of life, whatever the type of government.