Syria's Assad reveals new 'standardised' version of Qu'ran

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has revealed a new version of the Qu'ran which standardises the Islamic holy book in order to prevent against "distortion" and "misleading" teachings, according to Syrian state television.

The country's SANA news agency confirmed that Assad ordered the creation of the new book, which it described as a "new standard version".

The Syrian dictator, reviled by many Muslims in the Middle East for the deaths of thousands of Sunni Muslims at the hands of regime forces during the four-year long civil war, appeared on state television on Monday with the Minister of Awqaf (religious endowments) Mohammad Abdul-Sattar al-Sayyed and members of the Ministry's Permanent Committee for the Holy Qu'ran Affairs.

"We truly need such acts at this critical stage of distortion and misleading when it comes to the Holy Qu'ran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him)," the President said, as quoted by the news agency.

According to the report, Quranic letters are to be simplified and sketched according to "accredited standards" set by Quranic scholars. The scholars involved in creating the new book were not named.

The state agency confirmed that, after 27 revisions in five years, this new version would be printed and used as the official version of the Qu'ran in Syria. Al-Sayyed also confirmed that Assad has requested an audio version of the new book.

Dr Jon Hoover, associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Nottingham, says that it is difficult to predict how controversial the new version of the holy book will be without knowing the finer details of how it will be altered within the country.

"I would have to see this new edition of the Qu'ran to judge its significance. It is impossible to tell what the project has done with the Qu'ran," he cautions.

"As for a secular, Alawite president ordering and being in involved in a project like this, I would not give it too much significance," Hoover adds.

"Bashar Assad and his father have always worked closely with Sunni clerics in a kind of exchange where the clerics get to have the upper hand in religious education, and the Assads and Alawis in politics."

The Assad family belongs to the minority Alawite sect, which has predominantly featured in past Syrian regimes but has a population of just two million in the country, under a tenth of the total population.

Since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011, approximately 230,000 people have been killed in intense clashes across the country, with a series of moderate and radical Islamist groups, such as the Nusra Front and Isis, vying for control of vast tracts of territory in a bid to topple the Assad regime.

More than 11 million people, over half of the country's entire population, have been forced to flee their homes because of intense clashes.