A more populist and militant form of Islam is increasingly finding a place in Syria, although the government is actively discouraging political forms of the faith.
The Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 3) reports that “Young Syrians are filling mosques, many women have taken to wearing the head scarf known as the hijab, and underground women’s religious discussion groups are increasingly popular despite being banned. The austere Wahhabi brand of Islam practiced by Osama bin Laden is preached in some small towns in northern Syria. Even longtime secular Baath partisans are embracing religion.”
Much of this Islamic revival is spread through a network of mosques based in conservative neighborhoods. In Damascus, the revivalists represent between 60 to 65 percent of pious Muslims, according to Samir al-Taqi, a Syrian political analyst. But other observers say the resurgence is a reaction to the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as ongoing conflicts between the Palestinians and Israelis [with the recent bombing by Israel likely to heighten such tensions].
The Syrian authorities are monitoring the movement and trying to control it. But there is the fear that a constituency is being created for Islamic leaders who might emerge if the regime falls or there is instability.