Slain Syrian cleric’s burial at Damascus Ummayyad Mosque sparks controversy

By Reuters Staff
March 26, 2013

People and officials attend funeral prayers for a senior pro-Syrian government Muslim cleric Mohammed al-Buti and his grandson Ahmad al-Buti, killed in a mosque explosion on Thursday, at Umayyad Mosque in Damascus March 23, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

Syrian dignitaries have buried a divisive pro-government cleric at the capital’s ancient Ummayyad Mosque, choosing a site near the famous Muslim warrior Saladin and sparking outrage among Syrian opposition activists.

Mohammed al-Buti, the government-appointed imam of the ancient Ummayyed Mosque, died in a bomb attack last Thursday night on a neighborhood mosque that also killed at least 49 others.

The 84-year-old cleric had been considered a scholarly figure with standing throughout the Arab world, but became controversial when he threw his weight behind President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s two-year-old revolt.

In a speech he branded Assad’s opponents as “scum” and he also called in his last two sermons for a general conscription in the army to fight the rebels.

Syrian officials buried Buti last Saturday on grounds beside the tomb of the Saladin, heralded as a heroic warrior in Islam for pushing back the Crusaders in the 12th century. The Ummayyad Mosque is Islam’s third most important landmark.

The decision grated with the mostly Sunni Muslim opposition that is fighting Assad, who is from the minority Alawite sect that has dominated Syrian politics for more than four decades.

Read the full story by Erika Solomon here.
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