| 8 December 2021, Wednesday |

Syria’s Assad scraps top Muslim cleric post

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree abolishing the position of the country’s top Muslim cleric and expanding the powers of a government ministry in charge of religious affairs.

The new decree, which went into effect on Monday, effectively forces Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun, who was appointed grand mufti by Assad in 2004, to retire.

According to the official SANA news agency, his prerogatives will be incorporated into a council under the ministry of religious endowments, or waqf, which already oversees Islamic affairs in Syria.

According to SANA, the Council on Islamic Jurisprudence will now determine the lunar calendar and make rulings on religious rituals and rites.

The news agency did not elaborate on the reasons for the move, but it follows years of government efforts to broaden state oversight of religious affairs.

In 2018, Assad issued a decree limiting the mufti’s previously unlimited term to a three-year renewable period.

It also increased the waqf minister’s power by allowing him to name the mufti, who was previously appointed by the president.

The legislation sparked outrage, with many on social media accusing the government of interfering in religious matters.

Others claimed it was a method of policing religious discourse in order to “fight extremism.”