The West puts conditions; the East helps: Syrian Grand Mufti

Syria’s Grand Mufti on India’s support for the country, the threat to Islam today, and the Kashmir issue

Published - October 04, 2017 12:15 am IST

Srinagar:10/02/2017:Syria’s grand mufti (head priest) Dr. Ahmad Bader Eddin Mohammad Adib Hassoun in Srinagar. PHOTO/THE HINDU

Srinagar:10/02/2017:Syria’s grand mufti (head priest) Dr. Ahmad Bader Eddin Mohammad Adib Hassoun in Srinagar. PHOTO/THE HINDU

Grand Mufti Ahmad Bader Eddin Mohammad Adib Hassoun is the highest Islamic authority in Syria. The Islamic scholar, who openly supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, wields considerable influence over the entire Levant. In a rare visit to India, Mr. Hassoun held a series of meetings with different sections of society besides visiting temples and Islamic centres in Delhi and Lucknow. In an interview in Srinagar, Mr. Hassoun spoke about the Syrian war, the difference between the West and East in their attitude towards Syria, and issues before the Islamic world at the moment. Excerpts:

Syria is going through difficult times. Is peace on the horizon now?

We are at the gates of victory. We are highly thankful to, and appreciate the role of, India, Russia, China, and Iran. All these countries stood by Syria against the scourge of terrorism. Those who claim that there is a sectarian war going on in Syria should also probe what stokes fighting in places like Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine. Would they also term these struggles as sectarian ones? I am inviting all of you to visit Syria and see the reality with your own eyes. People need to read again about Syria.

What role could India play in restoring order there?

Syrians would like to thank India for keeping its embassy open in our country even when there was pressure from Britain and the United States to close it. These countries exerted pressure on other countries too to close their embassies. India stuck to its position on Syria all along. It’s because our relations date back to the days of the ancient Silk Route. I pray this continues. Syria is rebuilding itself. We will not rely on Western countries, which destroyed it. Two weeks ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told all Syrian ambassadors in a rare meeting that we should not rely on Western countries but should look towards the East. The West puts conditions if they extend any help. On the other hand, the East not only helps, but also sees Syria as a partner. This is the difference between the East and the West.

On behalf of the government of Syria, I request Indian companies and businessmen to visit Syria. A lot of Chinese, Russian, and Iranian companies are already there. India has advanced technology in many fields and bilateral visits are the need of the hour and should be considered actively by both sides. Besides, we require an engagement between Muslim scholars here and there to see for themselves that there is no sectarian divide. People are one there and belong to one nation.

You have held an extensive tour of India this time. What was the prime purpose of your visit?

It was to deliver the message of Syria. Europeans are trying to describe it (the war in Syria) as a sectarian or religious war. In reality, it’s a war against colonialism. It started with the war in Iraq. Then they tried to divide the Levant and Lebanon along religious lines, which is what we have prevented. American and European air forces came from the Mediterranean seas to target Iraq, but Syria faced them and prevented them from going over its territory. Later, they gathered 3.5 lakh terrorists and mercenaries to enter Syria to destroy it and cooperated with some Syrian people who don’t represent any opposition. Such people are settled in Riyadh, Istanbul, Cairo and Europe. The healthy opposition should stay within the country and should not wield weapons against the government. Gandhiji could achieve his objectives without holding or giving any weapon. If they were the real opposition, they should not have destroyed their own country and brought outsiders and external forces under the pretext of changing the regime, especially when the government was an elected one. This is what they have tried to do with Indian leaders in the past, including (former Indian Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi.

During the tour, you met Muslim and Hindu scholars and visited temples and Islamic centres. How fruitful were the meetings?

I tried to spread one message to all the people I met in (different) parts of India, including Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist scholars — that we all are one ummah or one nation and not sons of different sects or madhab (religions). I asked them to keep this nation strong and said, ‘Don’t fall prey to extremism.’ The diversity that India enjoys reflects its rich culture. I visited an Islamic institute in Lucknow and similar institutes of Buddhists and Christians — this is the real wealth that India possesses. The more India increases it, the more it will make Indian culture richer. Almighty Allah wanted to see the universe like this. We should make it a happy universe and allow people to enjoy their lives. And see all as one family. I found this example in India — in universities, mosques and temples.

What poses a greater threat to Islam today: extremism or sectarian divide?

The most dangerous thing we face is that some Muslims don’t understand real Islam and start issuing certificates to non-Muslims. They do not represent the majority of Muslims. Today, terrorism and Islam are seen together, which is wrong. If Islam preached terrorism, over 1.5 billion Muslims would not be practising it and living together with Hindus, Buddhists and Christians across the world. The real Muslim is one who facilitates a life, not one who terminates it. All those who show the way towards happiness are our brothers, irrespective of their religion.

How can Muslims fight the extremism prevalent in many parts?

Only a culture of dialogue will help to end extremism. Besides, the Western media needs to stop misrepresenting the truth about Islam. We should also seek those who sponsor the extremist ideology. There are ideological sponsors and financial sponsors. There are countries exporting this ideology to the outside world. Who has given weapons to these extremists? This question needs to be posed to the U.S., France, especially Germany and Britain. All of Britain’s mosques are occupied by the extremists. If a scholar or imam is tolerant, he is kicked out of Britain. We need to seek them in Tora Bora (Afghanistan), in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), in Manhattan (U.S.). We condemn the violence inflicted in places like London, Spain, etc. We have been warning not to let this fire spread to Syria and the region because this will reach the sponsors too. We are cooperating with India to reach the sources of terrorism.

In your meeting with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, you described her as a role model and raised many an eyebrow in Kashmir and outside. What was the context of your reference?

When I saw Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, I wished that all Indian women, irrespective of their religion, should also learn to have a bigger role in life and work towards safeguarding their nation. Ms. Mufti is an example by virtue of her ethics and work. I have never met Ms. Mufti before. I was happy that an Indian woman has a role in politics. This Indian subcontinent has produced people like Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi. I wish Ms. Mufti becomes more than an example for Indian Muslims.

Prophet Muhammad has made it clear that education is a requisite for both men and women. If we educate women, it will spread to the entire family and society. An educated woman serves not only her family but the whole of humanity and the nation. The mother of all Muslims, Hazrat Khadijah, was the biggest merchant in Mecca. Hazrat Fatima Zahra was an orator and produced poetry. Ayesha, the mother of all Muslims, would deliver the best speeches. All Muslim women should be like them. I asked Ms. Mufti too to follow these great women and learn from Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi. My advice to all women in India is to protect their country.

You choose to visit Kashmir, which too is going through a rough phase of conflict.

The sons of Kashmir should unify and say a big no to those who wish to divide it. Kashmir is also a part of ummah . Kashmir’s power stems from India’s strength. There are powers who want to divide Kashmir, weaken Kashmir, and weaken India. I pray to Allah to guide leaders in the continent. BRICS was created to join the economy and the people. It could be replicated in the entire Indian subcontinent. It’s not difficult if honest people are there and intend to have peace for their future generations. If Bangladesh, India and Pakistan join hands, they will emerge as the biggest economical power. India’s culture is a treasure for the whole world. Indian culture has taught us about diversity and unification. It has preserved Muslim, Buddhist and pre-historic heritage sites, which is difficult to recreate otherwise. We need to learn from India how to hand down to next generations real treasure and not hatred.

I wish Kashmir develops soon. The Almighty has made it beautiful with awesome weather. The sons of the soil should spread love and peace all over the world. The powers that want to divide and weaken India and Kashmir won’t achieve it. I could see India emerging as a great power in the Indian subcontinent. But don’t let the Europeans divide you again. Some of them are with Pakistan and others are with India. They love neither India nor Pakistan. They are afraid of any unification.

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