The claim that the ideological founder and master of Baathism, Michel Aflaq, died a Muslim is certainly a personal and, more importantly, a divine matter. The rumor about Aflaq embracing Islam is similar to the rumor that the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had become more pious during his final years. He sought to adorn his reputation as he prayed by claiming that he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Furthermore, he added the Islamic Shahada [creed] that ‘there is no god but Allah’ to the Iraqi flag and imposed his religious calling through his speeches and televised statements. It was an attempt to repair the broken relationship between the Baathist ideology and the Islamic camp that saw a lot of bloodshed during many years of struggle for power. When the Baathists weakened and the fundamentalists rose to the surface, the relationship improved. Conferences were held that referred to the relations and articles were written by fundamentalists in glorification of the Baath party. An Islamist writer turned against his previous position as he said, “Undoubtedly, we were wrong to describe the Baathist ideology as atheist simply because it is secular.” From my experience of close relations to Baathists in the last decade, I had learnt that the Baath ideology rejects atheism and does not accept a neutral attitude towards it just as the case is with national social thought. If you ever ask a Baathist about the slogan of one Arab nation with an eternal message, he would not be able to proclaim a message other than the one that the Arabs had formerly delivered to humanity that is the message of Islamic civilization.
Therefore, when Aflaq’s family declared that their leader had embraced Islam before his death, it is not an attempt to gain points in afterlife, but rather an attempt to keep up with the existing status quo by marrying Baathism to political fundamentalism.
It is inconceivable that Aflaq discovered Islam in the last days of his life given that he has written more books than the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna on the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and given that he was more knowledgeable of Islam than most Muslim intellects were. Not only this, Aflaq died in 1989 in Baghdad without declaring that he, the Orthodox Christian Baathist Socialist, had abandoned his religion and ideology and became a Muslim. One must be stupid to believe such claims.
Islamic writer Dr. Mohammed Abbas had previously refuted the claims put forward by Dr. Mohamed Emara who had supported rumors about Aflaq’s embracement of Islam and made a heroic story out of it. Dr. Abbas, in response to Dr. Emara’s book said, “In the book by Dr. Emara, I was surprised by the fact that he had included the ridiculous rumor that stated that the undisputed leader of nationalism, Michel Aflaq, had embraced Islam and that he was buried in accordance to the rules of Islamic Shariaa. I consider this issue absurd in the same way that I regard the issue of Napoleon or Hitler embracing Islam absurd.”
Undeniably, we know the value of Aflaq as a great thinker even if we disagree with some of his ideas. He died, leaving behind a significant intellectual legacy that will always remain a part of Arab political history perhaps for a thousand years to come. When one of his family members or his friends who belong to the fundamentalist camp claim that Aflaq converted to Islam, we then realize that this is an unconvincing story and an insignificant one even if it is true. The man has passed away and it is not important to us whether he embraced Islam before he died or not. What we see at present is a state of the re-coloring of forces on the ground within temporary alliances. When this comes to an end, we could find others who claim that Aflaq embraced an entirely different religion.