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Issam al-Attar: A life of courage, resistance and advocacy

Issam al-Attar; Credit: Social media

Issam al-Attar was a Syrian national figure who stood against political tyranny and military coups alongside many of his Syrian comrades. Widely known as a beloved preacher and profound thinker for most of his life, al-Attar was also known in recent years for his supportive stance towards the Syrian revolution. He wrote articles, delivered sermons, and participated in television interviews emphasizing the necessity and importance of the revolution. He offered advice and support to Syrian activists and politicians while at the same time refusing to engage in the opposition political formations.

Born in Damascus in 1927, in the aftermath of the first Great Syrian Revolution, al-Attar hailed from a prominent Damascene family with a long-standing scholarly tradition and inherited a legacy of religious education and oratory at the Umayyad Mosque that had stood for several centuries.

al-Attar developed a fluent and eloquent Arabic tongue. He began public speaking during his primary school years

From his early years, al-Attar stood out as an exceptional figure even within the Syrian Islamic movement. He engaged with a variety of political trends and groups, at times agreeing, or disagreeing, with the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood in an attempt to unify Syrians over fundamental demands aimed at shaping the country post-French colonialism. Al-Attar also supervised Al-Manar newspaper, which was published in Syria.

Growing up in such an environment, al-Attar developed a fluent and eloquent Arabic tongue. He began public speaking during his primary school years, often chosen by the school administration and teachers to represent students and speak on behalf of the administration before guests.

Al-Attar played a key role in uniting scholars under one true agreement. In 1955, a conference was held in Damascus, attended by all senior Syrian scholars and Islamic politicians. Al-Attar, only 28 yrs old at the time, was unanimously chosen as the Secretary-General of the Islamic Conference Council. Thus, in the early stage of his youth, he held leadership positions, believed in reformist goals, and was one of the strongest advocates for democracy and human rights, akin to his belief in religious tolerance across all societal spectra.

With the onset of the revolution in Syria, he advised Islamists to have open-mindedness, to read reality correctly, to reject despotism, to refuse foreign intervention, and to confront major global challenges

His culture and education were characterized by diversity and interest in various scientific and intellectual fields. He read extensively, preferring books on philosophy, history, and politics, and had a significant impact on university circles through his participation in debates and lectures.

Al-Attar also authored several books, including: Our Islamic Country and the Power Struggle; Spiritual Crisis; Islam’s View on Alliance with the West; Faith and its Impact on Individual and Social Upbringing; Words; Revolution of Truth; Remnants of Days; amd Departure.

Finding himself at odds with the ruling political parties in Syria, al-Attar subsequently moved to live in Germany and resigned from his work in the Muslim Brotherhood to dedicate himself to Islamic work and advocacy in Europe among Arab and Muslim students coming for studies.

Al-Attar supported all of the Arab revolutions from their inception. With the onset of the revolution in Syria, he advised Islamists to have open-mindedness, to read reality correctly, to reject despotism, to refuse foreign intervention, and to confront major global challenges.

al-Attar preferred to remain a national figure contributing to unifying voices and fostering people’s solidarity for the sake of their homeland

He received many national figures at his home in Aachen, Germany, as a serious symbol of national interaction among different segments in the face of the Syrian regime to build a country that unites Syrians despite their differences in orientations, ideas, and backgrounds.

Al-Attar refrained from engaging in any disputes or conflicts that occurred within the political opposition ranks between Islamists or secularists. Instead, al-Attar preferred to remain a national figure contributing to unifying voices and fostering people’s solidarity for the sake of their homeland.

His stance towards the rest of the Arab Spring revolutions was similar; he supported the Tunisian revolution, issued a statement supporting the Egyptian revolution, and called on his people in Syria to engage in a peaceful revolution far from sectarianism and without relying on foreign support.

Syrian authorities arrested al-Attar several times due to his political opinions, and he was eventually exiled from Syria in 1980

Young Issam al-Attar had opposed the rule of Syrian President Adib Shishakli, who came to power through a military coup in the early 1950s. Shishakli, a military man inclined towards using force against his opponents, faced opposition from politicians during that period, including al-Attar. When his freedom was restricted, al-Attar sought refuge in Egypt to avoid arrest.

He also vehemently opposed the rule of the Ba’ath Party in Syria from the moment it came to power in 1963. Consequently, Syrian authorities arrested al-Attar several times due to his political opinions, and he was eventually exiled from Syria in 1980.

Al-Attar continued his opposition to the Assad regime from where he was living in exile. In 2011, he helped to found the “National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change” which aimed to overthrow Bashar Assad’s regime. 

Al-Attar also survived several assassination attempts while living in exile, including one in 1963 while he was at the residence of his wife’s family. In Germany, he was constantly on the move as the German government informed him of armed individuals attempting to kill him. After many failed attempts to eliminate al-Attar, his wife Binan was assassinated instead by a death squad sent by the Assad regime on 17 March 1981.

Despite facing many challenges and difficulties, al-Attar persisted in his struggle for religious and political causes until his last moments.

Al-Attar passed away in Aachen, Germany on May 2, 2024, at the age of 97. His memory will remain immortal in the hearts of many believers and activists as a symbol of Islamic advocacy and political struggle.

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