Why I love the Grand Mufti of Syria
by Father Dave
There are only two people who have ever brought me to tears the first time I’ve met them.
The first was Dom Helder Camara, the late great Archbishop of Recife in Brazil – the man who said “when I give food to the poor they call me a saint but when I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist!”. Dom Helder spoke once at the Sydney Opera House while I was still in my teens, and my tears started welling up as he started to speak. The only other man who has had this effect on me was Dr Ahmad Badreddin Al-din Hassoun – the Grand Mufti of Syria.
I met Dr Hassoun for the first time a little over two years ago. We were in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus at the end of a week-long pilgrimage though the devastation and suffering of war-torn Syria. The beauty of the singing and the wondrous architecture no doubt had an effect on me, but it was when the Mufti began to speak that I felt a tingle run down my spine!
Even though he was speaking in language I didn’t understand (except via our translator) I sensed an extraordinary presence about the man. His words carried deep emotion and sincerity. I was reminded of what they said of Jesus – that He spoke ‘as one who had authority’ (Matthew 7:29) and not like their regular preachers.
It was the content of Dr address though that brought me to tears – when he told us about how the rebels had murdered his son. Saria was a gentle boy, he told us. He was never interested in politics. They sought him out and killed him nonetheless. And yet, the Mufti said, he desired only to forgive those who had killed his son and see his country reconciled!
Apparently Dr Hassoun had first made this offer of forgiveness during the eulogy at his son’s funeral, and when, a year later, the authorities caught two of the four men responsible for the boy’s death, he went to the court and personally offered forgiveness to the men, and asked the judge to forgive them too. The judge told him though that it was not his call as these men had killed many others apart from his son!
That was my first meeting with Dr Hassoun, back in 2013, and after his speech he presented me with a lovely plaque of the Umayyad Mosque. I still have no idea why I was privileged with that gift. I think he was trying to explain when he gave it to me but I couldn’t understand a word of Arabic then and wouldn’t have heard him beyond the tears anyway.
I’ve met Dr Hassoun twice since – in 2014 and now in 2015 – and my respect for the man only grows with each meeting. It was such a great privilege for me that he agreed to this private interview!
Please understand me – I’m not saying that I see eye-to-eye with Dr Hassoun on theological issues, nor am I saying that I necessarily share all his political convictions (which we didn’t discuss anyway). What I am saying is that I know a good man when I meet one, and Dr Hassoun is a good and deeply spiritual man, and an example to me as a Christian.
When Jesus tried to teach his disciples how a good Jew should live he told them a story (Luke 10). The surprise in the story was that the key character wasn’t a good Jew at all. It was a good Samaritan – a person no self-respecting Jew would think he had anything to learn from! Similarly, I think it’s time for us self-respecting Christians to discover what God has to teach us through this man – the good Mufti.