Father of the Nation

 Interview with Sheikh Hassun in Damascus, Summer 2013

Interview with Sheikh Hassun in Damascus, Summer 2013

A once welcomed guest can quickly become a persona non grata when political winds change. A red carpet was rolled out when the Grand Mufti of Syria Sheikh Ahmad Badr Al -Din Hassun was traveling through Germany in 2007 for eleven days. The Muslim communities and associations listened to his words as well as the German Bundestag. Three years later, in May 2010, the Syrian Grand Mufti was invited again to Germany. Deutsche Welle even praised him as "one of the most important representatives of the Euro-Arab inter-religious dialogue". The Syrian high dignitaries discussed in a relaxed atmosphere at the CDU - affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation with the Chairman of the Foundation, Hans-Gert Pöttering. The CDU politician showed himself as the great admirer of Syria and the Mufti in his welcome speech. "This step for an open and constructive dialogue between religions and cultures will be one far beyond the borders of Syria and the Arab-Muslim world, reaching beyond appreciation and bringing mutual respect", Pöttering praised his important guest. The talk about the clash of civilizations with a voice of reason made Hassun an important interlocutor. Ahmad Badr Al -Din Hassun quickly became the mainstream media’s darling during his visits to Germany. He was the "broker" and the "builder of bridges", hailed as the "cosmopolitan face of Islam", "the Mufti in the world of mankind".

This was more than three years ago. Today Ahmad Hassun is the Grand Mufti of a country sinking in a bloody war since two and a half years. One-third of the country is destroyed; more than 100,000 Syrians estimated dead. The German media that once celebrated him does not acknowledge him anymore. The "builder of bridges" became overnight a "regime supporter". The red carpet in Germany is now being rolled out for others - for those who supposedly speak for the so called "revolution" in their country.

In a hotel in Damascus Mufti Hassun sits at the end of a long conference table and takes a sip from his glass of water. His bodyguards are discreet but visible from the front door of the conference room. A camera crew scurries outside with countless cable carriers packing the gear. A few minutes ago Hassun sat on a small platform and discussed the chances of a national reconciliation with invited guests. The debate was recorded and will be broadcast in a few days in the Syrian public television.

But now he takes the time to greet a visitor from Germany. He is happy and immediately points towards the empty seat next to him with a welcoming gesture. Sheikh Hassun radiates dignity; he speaks softly and uses his words carefully. He is aware of his influence. The Grand Mufti is a man who can "set fire and extinguish fire" with his words, the German mainstream news magazine Der Spiegel wrote once in a rather bizarre interview in 2011; bizarre because Der Spiegel journalists tried to corner Hassun in vain. You could call the actions of the Hamburg news magazine as impious. The interview was conducted in early November 2011, about a month after the youngest son of the Grand Mufti, Saria, was killed in Aleppo by a hit squad. Immediately after the attack on Saria, Hassun publicly declared the renunciation of vengeance and retribution; he even declared his willingness to forgive the murderers if they laid down their weapons. Nevertheless, this could not stop the German journalists from drawing Hassun as a kind of "regime servant" - mind you the same Grand Mufti who the German media celebrated frantically earlier on. But the winds change fast with us, therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Spiegel editors not only ignored Hassun`s reminder of a rebellion which did not exist, but also dismissed the fact that foreign terrorists would bring violence to the country as a "conspiracy theory". Today they are a bit smarter and even the mainstream media must sheepishly admit that Syria has become a magnet for international terrorism.

Hassun hails from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, a once jewel of the Middle East. Today, large parts of his hometown lie in smoking ruins. The so-called "rebels" have a hunger blockade built around those “stubborn” parts of the metropolis that do not want to concede to the “revolution”. "I had five sons, now only four". Meanwhile, the background of Saria`s assassination is well known and the members of the death squads were arrested and interrogated. The 21 year old Saria studied at the University of Aleppo. It was a well-planned contract killing. The men who carried out the cold blooded murder did not know who the target was. They received from their clients only a communique with the car plate number. It was after the murder that they learned from the TV news that the victim was the youngest son of the Grand Mufti. The two perpetrators come from the area of Aleppo, the clients from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Each perpetrator received 50,000 Syrian pounds - about 260 euros as a reward. How cheap. Sheikh Hassun pleaded to the judge telling that he forgave the perpetrators. On the same day he received a text message on his mobile phone that read: "we do not need your forgiveness". This topic has not left him cold, even not two years after the death of his son. In our conversation the Grand Mufti shows restraint, even if the subject hurts.

Sheikh Hassun is 64 years old, but you cannot see a single gray hair on his head. He looks much younger. And he is a stranger to anger. During his visit to Germany some journalists wrote about the "smile" of the highest Sunni cleric in Syria. His smile is not a cheap act, but shows his true character. Sheikh Hassun is surrounded by constant danger. He is on the top of the mercenaries` death list. To the powers involved in the Syrian war, he is a dangerous man. This sounds paradoxical. His good nature and his readiness to forgive are a constant nuisance to the mission of Sunni extremists, also to the Gulf States and the West, who support the terrorists with money and weapons.

Hassun debunks the story of the alleged "popular uprising" in Syria as a cheap fairy tale. Information is circulating in politics and media about plans in which Syria ceases to exist as a nation state. Instead, the country with a long history would be split in various religious entities. The talk among other things is about an Alawite state on the coast, a Kurdish region in the north and a kind of Sunni caliphate in Damascus. The approximate two million Syrian Christians only have the opportunity in these simulations to pack their bags. The basis of such ideas to crush the Syrian nation-state is the assumption that one can no longer expect to have a secular state in which Sunnis (about 70 percent of the total population), Shiites, Alawites, Christians and Druze live together. The "Syrian uprising" was portrayed as a rebellion by the allegedly "oppressed Sunni majority" demanding its rights. The logic of many Western politicians: In a country with 70 percent of Sunnis, this quota should also apply to politics and business, everything else is brutal oppression. And they call this sectarian idea “democracy”. There is a considerable nuisance when this theory is shut down by the highest Sunni authority in the country, therefore, they try to hush him now in the West, and kill him in Syria. And Sheikh Hassun keeps on smiling. He is not afraid of death, but all the more for his country. "I am not only the Grand Mufti of the Sunnis", says Hassun and pulls on his beard. "I feel as the Grand Mufti of all 23 million Syrians, not just the Sunnis, but also the Shiites, Alawites, Christians and Druze. There is no other way than that of reconciliation". When he says this, he spreads his hands out as if embracing his country. And the fact remains: No matter if you speak with Sunnis, Shiites or Christians in Syria, Sheikh Hassun has been for long the father of his country. His schedule is full, he mourns with Christian families for their fallen sons, he consoles in his speeches those who have lost their belongings and family members in the war.

Sheikh Hassun spreads confidence. His eyes sparkle and he smiles broadly when he talks about how his country can rise again from the ashes of war. He reaches out to his counterpart during the long conversation again and again. It is not without concern though when he comes to Germany for a speech. He talks about his visit to the Turkish-Islamic communities. Many Turks there were German citizens, says Hassun. He wondered about why they spoke almost exclusively Turkish. Hassun asked them whether they saw themselves as Turks or German – they had German passports after all. "We are, of course, Turks" was the reply. "If that is so, then why don`t you go back to Turkey?" Hassun answered the puzzled Turkish community members. You cannot read about such debates in the German press. "Such an attitude causes problems!". Hassun shakes his head. He could not understand the mentality of many Muslim communities in Germany.

Sheikh Hassun has developed a seismographic sense for religious conflicts. Only a secular state could be a guarantor of peace and balance, he's convinced. European support to the enemies of Syria is almost self-destructive, for the poison of religious hatred knows no bounds; it is decomposing and destructive. And it seems that Hassun is right: Especially some big Sunni organizations in Europe openly declared their solidarity and support for the "rebels" in Syria. The German politicians who shook the hand of the Grand Mufti three years ago now support the so-called "armed opposition" - in reality an army of brutal mercenaries from around the world. And even CDU man Pöttering quickly changed sides in 2011, as it was clear that the U.S. wanted a regime change in Damascus. You could describe Pöttering `s behavior as spineless; nevertheless, Sheikh Hassun is too polite to say that. He has a clear message to Germany and Europe: "Help yourself by helping Syria. Because this war will spread, it will come to Europe through Turkey. And if we are still alive, we will remind you of our words". But this warning is likely to fall on deaf ears in Europe. Hassun does not give up. He never seems to lose patience, he smiles instead in a friendly way and explains everything one more time.

Only when Sheikh Hassun talks about his murdered son, Saria, his eyes become weary and it takes him a lot of power to preserve his demeanor. In this issue he is aware that he is a role model. But he is not only the Grand Mufti of Syria, a close confidant of President Bashar al -Assad and an important moral authority of his nation; he is also simply a grieving father.