Father Dave interviews the Grand Mufti of Syria – Dr Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun
Father Dave Smith:
“On the evening of April 25th 2015, I had the great privilege of spending half an hour one-on-one with Dr Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun – the Grand Mufti of Syria.
Dr Hassoun is a man I have come to deeply admire since I first met him two years ago. I appreciate that he is a controversial figure on account of his support of the Assad government, but I believe him to be a true man of peace, and someone who embodies the hope for reconciliation of his fractured country.
In this interview Dr Hassoun share with us something of his own understanding of Islam as a faith that embraces all Abrahamic religions through affirming the legitimacy of all the prophets of Judaism and Christianity as well Prophet Muhammad.
Whether or not we all agree with Dr Hassoun’s theology, the contrast between the Mufti’s understanding of Islam and that of his takfiri counterparts could not be more stark!
I pray for the welfare of this man every day. I believe that his ongoing spiritual leadership in Syria is a shining beacon of hope for the future.”
SEE ALSO: The real Syrian moderates: voices of reason
“…Mufti Hassoun calls his Greek Orthodox counterpart, Bishop Luca al-Khoury, his cousin and brother. “Our grandfathers, 1,400 years ago, were one family. My grandfather embraced Islam and his remained Christian.” He maintains that he, as Grand Mufti, serves the Syrian people, period. “In Syria, there are 23 million Christians, and 23 million Muslims. My title is Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic, not the Mufti of a particular denomination.”
In the media war on Syria, which insists sectarianism—which the Syrian people reject—this declaration is significant: in Syria, the ancient cultural fabric is rich and secular.
Unlike the Saudi Mufti – who has reportedly said “all churches in the Arabian Peninsula must be destroyed” – Mufti Hassoun is open-minded and committed to unity of people (not only the Syrian people) – to the point of making light of some religious institutions’ use of power: “God, is not a Christian or Muslim or a Jew. God is for all of us. Jesus was not a Catholic, nor an Orthodox, nor a Protestant. And Mohammed was not a Wahhabi, not a Sufi. We as religious clerics have divided you into sects, so that we become leaders of each sect. We whisper in the ears of politicians: if you support us, we will repay the favor.”
While Dr. Hassoun does not wield his influence in such a way, it is rare that a religious authority figure so candidly speaks of this potential abuse of power over their people. So what does he whisper in people’s ears? He’s not shy about it, he doesn’t whisper:
Forgiveness. Understanding. Unity. Love. And like Shaaban (and most Syrians), solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for liberation, and resistance to Israeli occupation, to extremism, and to the foreign invasion of secular Syria. At an Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran in January 2015, Hassoun urged Muslim leaders and scholars to unify, and highlighted, “the most dangerous thing we witness today is the use of religious jargon by people who do not know Islam, and the most dangerous is the name ‘Islamic Caliphate’.”
Mufti Hassoun stresses the love and humanity aspects above all. “Syrian Sufism is a type of ideology that is based on loving others. Loving… no others. We believe there are no ‘others’, we are all human. American people are wonderful. I tell the Syrian people: ‘Don’t blame the American people for what their government does, nor for what the Democratic or Republican parties do. Most of them are representatives for corporations, not for American people.’”
In our meeting, he relates some personal anecdotes from his past travels in the States, including the following.
“Eighteen years ago, I was in a car travelling from Montreal to New York, and on the way we stopped in a small town at a McDonald’s. My wife was with me, wearing her headscarf. There were no empty seats in the restaurant, so we decided to return to the car. A man and his wife stood up, he taking his sandwich with him, and invited us to take their seats. These are the American people.”
When stressing the need for forgiveness, the Mufti speaks on the assassination three years ago of his 22 year old son, Saria, who “had never carried a weapon in his life,” gunned-down after leaving his university. In a public address at the funeral the next day, Mufti Hassoun, while weeping, forgave the gunmen and called on them to lay down their weapons and re-join Syria. The following day, he received a text message saying the assassins would kill him as they had killed his son.
A year later, when two of the gunmen were caught, the Mufti went to speak with them. Again bestowing his forgiveness and asking only to know why they had murdered Saria, Mufti Hassoun learned that the assassins were simply following orders from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and were paid for their dirty work, one thousand dollars per person. Embodying the forgiveness he preaches, the Mufti asks for their pardon and release. “The judge said, ‘It is not only your problem, each one of them has killed tens of people.’”
In recent years, Sheikh Hassoun has been invited to the US, and has been unable to visit. “The Grand Mufti of Syria is unwelcome in the United States,” is what he was told by a US official in the Amman embassy, after an interrogation which the Mufti later joked was like an interrogation with the FBI.
Mufti Hassoun asks Bishop Khoury, “If you ask the American embassy for a visa, how much would they give you?” “Five years,” is Khoury’s answer. Both have visited and spoken in Russia in recent years. “Wherever we spoke, our message was the same.” Their political ideas are aligned. Khoury receives a visa, Hassoun does not. Sheikh Hassoun: “He is a religious leader, as I am a religious leader. Why do they differentiate between us? It is a part of the project to separate Christians and Muslims here. They want to drive Christians out of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq. They want to evacuate these countries of Christians.”
Mufti Hassoun is unambiguous in naming the real reasons behind the manufactured devastation in Syria.
“First and foremost, it’s to safeguard the interests of ‘Israel’ in the region, and secondly it’s over gas pipelines which are supposed to run through Syrian territory. This will only happen if there is a weak Syrian state.”
He observes, “If the Syrian government would agree to give a monopoly to France to extract gas from Syria, then you would find Hollande visiting Syria the next day. If the Syrian government would give the monopoly to America, Obama would declare President al-Assad as the legitimate ruler of the Syrian people.”
He shifts the conversation, rightly-so, to Erdogan’s Turkey and the nefarious role Turkey has played since the beginning in attacking Syria.
“Turkey is warring on us, with financial support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and political support from America, Europe, and Britain. Drones cross our borders daily, providing coordinates for the terrorists as to where to strike. Last week, (39) Turkish tanks and (about 600) commandos crossed the border into Syria, driving 30 km into an area held by terrorists to retrieve the remains of an Ottoman Sultan buried in Syria. That tomb has been surrounded by Da’esh terrorists for some time now and hasn’t been demolished. On the other hand, the terrorists destroyed and removed any trace of my son Saria’s tomb two months after he was buried.”
So what does the Mufti, like Syrian authorities and the people, say is the solution?
First, stop the flow of arms, an international effort. “If the American government would like to find a solution for the Syrian crisis, they go to the Security Council; they issue a resolution under Chapter 7 on a total ban of weapons from Turkey to terrorists in Syria. In one week this would be over.”
Beyond, this, Mufti Hassoun has a more radically-moderate notion: De-radicalization. “The real problem is the madrasas, which are being supported financially by the Saudi petro-dollars, and by the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology. Send our Sufi Islamic clerics to mosques in Europe and elsewhere, with a special program to rehabilitate the societies that the terrorists are influencing.” This may never happen, but the idea addresses the wave of those non-paid mercenaries flooding to wage their mistaken and brainwashed notions of holy war.
The proposition was sent in a letter by the Syrian Parliament (within the framework of Security Council resolution 2170—and 2178, 2199) to the US Congress, with a second point which addresses the paid mercenaries flitting from NATO-destroyed country to NATO-destroyed country: “Real collaboration in fighting terrorists. Within Resolution 2170, the US can impose on Turkey to stop the trafficking of terrorists and weapons to Syria, and stop Saudi Arabia and Qatar from funding those terrorists.”
“What they have done to Syria these past four years is cause unbearable pain,” Mufti Hassoun said.
In April, 2014, he explained to the peace delegation I was then with that he “had sent thirty messages to Muftis in the Islamic world,” as well as to the Pope, to visit Syria. “It’s not enough only to pray. Come to Syria.” He’s still waiting….”