Sheikh al-Bouti, the Syrian Sunni cleric who stood by Assad

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While most of the Muslim Sunnis in Syria have risen up against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a prominent Sunni Muslim scholar took a different route by supporting the Syrian regime.

On Thursday, that man -- Sheikh Mohammed Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti -- was killed at the age of 84 in a suicide bombing that targeted a mosque in Damascus.

Al- Bouti held weekly sermons at the historic Ummayyad Mosque and in recent months, Syrian TV has carried his weekly addresses live. Bouti also had a regular religious TV program.

The sheikh belongs to a Kurdish tribe that is spread across Syria, Iraq and Turkey. He was born on the Boutan Island of Turkey in 1929 and headed to Syria with his father at the age of four. Once a little older he went on to study religion in Damascus

Al-Bouti started his career teaching at a secondary school in Homs in 1958 and 1961, he was appointed as part of the Shariah faculty at Damascus University.

In 1965, Bouti moved to Egypt where he received a doctorate in Sharia law at al-Azhar University. He headed back to Syria, and where he was once a faculty member, he progressed into the respected position of vice dean at the College of Islamic Law at Damascus University in 1975 and in 1977 became dean.

Bouti then retired but continued to lecture and write about Islamic affairs. He has authored more than 60 books and was a prominent religious reference in the Muslim world, holding the presidency of the Scholars Union for the Levant region.

Bouti was a vocal supporter of the Syrian regime since the early days of Assad's father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad.

Following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, Bouti criticized anti-regime protests and urged demonstrators not to follow "calls of unknown sources that want to exploit mosques to incite seditions and chaos in Syria."

He said “most of the protesters do not pray” and criticized prominent Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi for playing “demagoguery that opens the door of sedition.” Qaradawi has supported revolutions in several Arab Spring countries. But despite his open support for Assad, al-Bouti was reported to have issued a Fatwa, or a religious edict prohibiting the killing of protesters.

In a recent study of the top 500 influential Muslim scholars in the Islamic world by the Jordan-based Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, al-Bouti, came in 27th place.

A Facebook page that claims to represent Bouti has 46,387 “likes.”

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