Youth

Shia clerics denounce Hizbullah's use of underage recruits in Syria

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

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Children from Imam al-Mahdi Scouts attend the funeral procession of Mahdi Hassan Abu Hamdan, a teenager fighting in the ranks of Hizbullah who was killed in Syria.  [Photo via Hizbullah-affiliated Sada al-Shohada Facebook page]

Moderate Shia clerics who spoke with Al-Mashsareq denounced Hizbullah's continued recruitment of Lebanese teenagers to fight in Syria, pointing out that many young fighters are returned to their families as corpses.

No party or group has the right to conscript them, they said, in the aftermath of a series of funerals Hizbullah held for five young fighters that began on July 8th.

The funeral procession held for 16-year-old Mahdi Hassan Abu Hamdan between his Bekaa Valley hometown of Taalbaya and the southern suburb of Beirut sparked tremendous anger among moderate Shia.

Hizbullah announced his death on its Facebook page, Echo of the Martyrs (Sada al-Shohada), which features numerous photos of teenagers and youth killed in Syria since Hizbullah became involved in the fighting there.

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Teenager Mahdi Hassan Abu Hamdan, killed in Syria while fighting in the ranks of Hizbullah, is lauded as a martyr on a party website. [Photo via Hizbullah-affiliated Sada al-Shohada Facebook page]

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Shia women hold a photograph of teenager Mahdi Hassan Abu Hamdan, a Hizbullah recruit killed in Syria.  [Photo via Hizbullah-affiliated Sada al-Shohada Facebook page]

'No right to recruit minors'

Military conscription "is the exclusive right of the Lebanese state, and Hizbullah and other parties and groups do not have the right to recruit adults, let alone minors", religious expert and scholar Sayyed Ali al-Ameen told Al-Mashareq.

Armed groups that recruit minors do so out of their need for fighters, he noted, and not based on religious ruling.

The preservation of human life "is a divine duty", al-Ameen said, noting that Islamic law prohibits killing and bloodshed.

Pulling minors off the battlefields and sending them to schools and universities will be a "revival for them and their communities", he said.

Clerics and scholars can help put a stop to this practice, by pointing out that it violates religious tenets and warning of the danger and harm it brings, he said.

Many clerics are keeping silent on this matter, however, "because they are intimidated by the power of the parties that do so", al-Ameen said.

It ultimately falls on the Lebanese state to prevent this from happening, he said, as the state is the only party "empowered to enforce the law upon its people and on its territory".

Militarising the Shia community

Hizbullah is thrusting more youth into the battles in Syria "not because it is short on fighters, but rather because this is a logical outcome of its militarisation of the Shia community", said political activist Luqman Salim.

After years of indoctrination, the community "now acquiesces to sending its children and teenagers to fight, as if they are going there to carry out paid work", he told Al-Mashareq.

"We have been repeatedly saying for many years that Hizbullah is militarising the Shia community, based on our witnessing of the recruitment of children and juveniles, and their subsequent death in Syria," he said.

Children from Imam al-Mahdi Scouts attended the funeral of Mahdi Hassan Abu Hamdan, where they played military funeral music and sang the party’s songs.

These children have not yet reached puberty, Salim noted, "yet they are unfortunately already being trained on the culture of death at funerals".

Parents who allow their children to fight in the ranks of Hizbullah typically fall into three categories: veteran soldiers, whose children are already militarised, those driven by financial and social destitution, and the powerless, Salim said.

He said he does not think the recruitment of children stems from a "shortage of fighters, but rather from a distinctive culture, peculiar logic and contentiousness that the party is trying to propagate".

The economic factor, "which contributes to parents acquiescing to the conscription of their children for 600,000 Lebanese pounds ($398), in a country in which the unemployment rate is 30%", also is considerable, he added.

As for Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, he said, this group serves as the "incubator that prepares them for the culture of death".

The Shia community "needs generations to reverse what the party has done to the children", he said.

Martyrdom documents

Most parents of youth killed in Syria "are very angry, but they cannot express their anger and grief", said Salman Suleiman, a close observer of the issue of child recruitment who asked to use a pseudonym out of fear for his safety.

"Handing over the administration of the affairs of Shia to Hizbullah, and the miserable conditions parents are living under in their hometowns have enabled Hizbullah to recruit children," he said.

Young people are being recruited to fight in Syria for sums ranging between $400 and $1,000 a month, he said, "and in exchange, their parents must sign a document by which they give up the lives of their children for martyrdom".

"What is most painful about this was seeing, at the funeral held for teenager Mahdi Hassan Abu Hamdan [...] children taking part, dressed in military uniform," Suleiman said.

"They are the ones who are sent to fight in Syria and elsewhere," he said.

Instead of "celebrating earning a high school diploma, [Abu Hamdan] was brought back to Lebanon in a coffin", he said.

"It is enough to take a look at the party’s social networking sites to realise the magnitude of the tragedy of the childhood that is being slain in Syria."

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Hello ... Apparently these so-called moderate Shi'a clerics haven't read the Jihad and defense verses [in Quran.] ... How about the narrations and religious decrees issued by previous clerics? [Those in which they stated] that if enemies and infidels attack Muslim territories, endangering people's honors, murdering innocent people, and looting their possessions, then it is obligatory to all Muslims to defend themselves. Pay attention to the "all" clause! This means all who have the ability to defend, including women, men, elderly, young, adolescent, etc. The literature of your article is anti-Islam, and without a shred of doubt in accordance with the whims and wishes of foreigners, colonizers, and colonialists. That is if we don't want to say that you are the enemy's mercenaries!!

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It is clear as to who are the ones who wrote this article. I would love for them to write the names of those moderate scholars, so that we too could find out who these scholars are.

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Unfortunately, they’re criticising the participation of young people who are in their prime and not criticising the old cowards who are not doing their national duty. The problem is not in ages; this is a weak argument because young people are required to pray, fast, perform hajj and jihad, as per our holy religion. The problem lies in the meanness of those who criticise. Anyway, if the defence of our existence requires us to offer children who are not old enough as per the Shariah, we won’t spare our souls and children!

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Hahahaha! Who are those who are talking? Those are rejected by Shias. And martyr Amro is 18, not 16 (he was born on May 17th, 1999).

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