by Jerry Alatalo
After recently listening to an interview of Grand Mufti of Syria Dr. Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun by Father Dave Smith, the Syrian leader’s words were moving, so the interview became the focus of this post. In Islam the Grand Mufti is the highest official of religious law, so Dr. Hassoun is one of Syria’s most prominent religious leaders. Father Dave is known as the “boxing priest” for his years of entering the ring as a since-youth boxing enthusiast, surprising people by being an atypical Catholic priest who punches others for sport. Both men have been involved in working for an end to the war in Syria begun in 2011 – ongoing, and recently entering the fifth year.
The war has resulted in over 200,000 men, women and children perishing, widespread destruction of towns and cities, millions of refugees leaving Syria to surrounding countries or internally displaced, and what observers unanimously agree is the world’s largest and most difficult humanitarian disaster. The long war in Syria for this writer has been the most heart-breaking issue of all to post on in over two years in this space. While Father Dave Smith, Grand Mufti Hassoun, numerous religious/spiritual leaders from around the world, United Nations officials, peace activists and others have worked to end the war in Syria, one wonders seriously – at this point where the violence and harm has seemed to gone on longer than forever – how those men and women maintain their sanity.
In addition, especially when referring to the men and women religious leaders who’ve worked to end the war, one wonders how they hold on to their faith. Because, for the Syrian people, the war in Syria has been as brutal, gruesome and destructive – physically and psychologically – as it gets. Father Dave’s interview of the Grand Mufti was originally posted over at ingaza.wordpress.com, the blog of peace activist Eva Bartlett, who has worked with Father Dave Smith in Syria. She has spent considerable time in recent years living and traveling in Palestine and Syria reporting on events, so for those interested in first-hand, informed and accurate narratives about the region please visit her blog.
Human beings have something in common that came with each of us as we entered this world at birth, and that is the ability to have compassion or feeling sorrow and sympathy upon becoming aware of others’ hurt and suffering. However one perceives of God, pray the trials and suffering of Syrians – of all people in the Middle East – soon come to an end.
The meeting between Father Dave Smith and Syrian Grand Mufti Dr. Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun was the first between the two, and their talk centers on the Grand Mufti’s personal spiritual perceptions, not specifics of the war in Syria. The reason for sharing the words of the Grand Mufti is the hope that somehow his perceptions can become transferred/delivered to leaders and decision-makers with the capacity to influence events on the ground in Syria, and that the message he conveys profoundly moves those leaders to take right action and hasten the end of the war.
In relation to the Syrian conflict, the most relevant statement the Grand Mufti made during the interview may have been: “Those who are killing in the name of God do not know God”.
In a sense, one could describe this post as a message in a bottle urging peace in Syria and the Middle East.
After Father Dave asks the Grand Mufti where he was from and his “boxing record”, he learned that he’s from the Syrian city of Aleppo and that volleyball and swimming, not boxing, were two sports he participated in during high school. The priest then found out that the Grand Mufti had just turned 66 years-old, and Father Dave paid him a compliment: “you still look very fit”.
Interpreter for (His Grace) Grand Nufti Dr. Hassoun:
“He actually believe(s) in the power of love, and hatred is something that his Grace does not know or believe in, even for his enemies – he prays for them”.
Father Dave: How would you describe your work?
“His Grace believes that he is a messenger, and he does not ask the community or society a reward for it. His only question or request would be from God almighty, that God would be happy with the work of his Grace. His brother and sisters are actually not only those who are residing in Aleppo, it is the 7 billion others who reside on Earth”.
“They are two different kinds: the first is actually believers, and his Grace would always pray for the good and success of those believers, and happiness for them. (The) others are patients who did not find the way yet. So, for his Grace we always treat those in a similar way to a doctor in the hospital when he has a patient. For those who do not like his Grace, nor God, he is one of his Grace’s patients. So it is the duty of his Grace to give him medicine, and sympathize with him. Because God is actually the one who will judge that person, not his Grace”.
“For that reason his Grace will not believe that there are many religions – there is only one religion, and in this religion there are only two words: sacredness of God and dignity of human beings. The 7 billion human beings on this Earth are creations of God, whether they are believers or non-believers. But at the end of the day, it is God almighty that created all of them. So, it’s his Grace’s duty to serve them and look after them. In the mosque, in the church, or in the hospital, it is the duty of his Grace to look after them”.
“And God on the judgment day would be the one to ask whether they had become believers or non-believers. If his Grace would have access to the devil, he would basically preach that devil to be a believer. But whether the devil would actually decide to stay as it is…”
Father Dave asks if he is talking about Islam, or a particular form of religion.
“His Grace believes that actually there are different religions. Abraham has one, Moses has one, Jesus has one, Muhammad has one – but they all have one God. So the belief inside a human being is one. You can say that God almighty has (visualized?) in Jesus Christ, or you can tell me that God almighty is actually Jesus Christ, or Jesus Christ is the son of the almighty. This is your perception of God. His Grace’s perception of God is that we are the unity, you have God almighty as one, who does not basically have other forms”.
“It is actually the light and the spirit of God that basically fall on and has been transmitted to messengers like Abraham, like Moses, like Jesus, like Muhammad (PBUH). Well, this is actually God’s wish to be transmitted in this format. The beautiful thing about those five messengers is that we’ve been asked to believe in all of them, and none of them has said “do not believe in others”. The reason why his Grace loves Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is because it’s the commandment of Prophet Muhammad to say to all Muslims “You are not a Muslim or believer until you believe in all the messengers who came before me”. “
“It’s the commandment of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to believe in (the) Bible, and the Old Testament, and the virginity of Mary the Virgin. And that the spiritual great-grandfather for his Grace is Abraham, and that his cousins are Moses and Jesus. So we are all related to one family irrespective of which ways that lead to this family. The goal is the divinity of the God. And for that reason – his Grace said that yesterday when he received you – God does not exist in churches, in mosques, but God exists in the heart of all human beings”.
“When you love somebody you love because the power of God almighty is transmitted in the heartbeats of each human being. Without God’s power, you would not have the presence of that human being. So, even that Jew is my brother, even if he was not nice to Jesus Christ, and did not beliieve in Jesus Christ, nor Prophet Muhammad. This means that he is a patient and it’s his Grace’s duty to treat him, and not to kill him. Those who are killing in the name of God do not know God”.
Father Dave: He is a beautiful man and an inspiration to us all. Thank you.
“His Grace wishes that you can transmit his best and warmest regards to all Australians whether they are Christian or Muslim clerics. Even to the Jewish Australians, even the Australians who are non-believers. They are all our brothers and sisters, and we hope that we can collaborate to renew this belief for those who want to believe, to take the hands for those who lost their way back to the right track. His Grace would tell you, them, and to himself – may God lead us to the right path. Amen”.
(Thank you to Father Dave Smith at YouTube)