Traditional wisdom says that a fish rots from the head down. In other words, when a government or other organisation is dysfunctional the problem can generally be traced back to those at the top. The opposite must also be true – that when the head has integrity and wisdom, vitality and strength has to flow down to the rest of the body, and if that’s the case then the ongoing presence of Syria’s Mufti – Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun – bodes well for the rest of Syria.
I realise that many people label the Mufti as a hypocrite and a man of violence. I can only assume that those who make such accusations have never met him.
I still remember back in 1986 when my friend Mordechai Vanunu first published the truth about Israel’s secret nuclear-weapons factory, hidden under the Negev desert. There was no shortage of media commentators at the time who were depicting Morde, not only as a traitor but as a sophisticated foreign spy! Obviously these people did not know the man who was a part of my church – someone I shared meals with and prayed with.
I feel the same way about the Mufti. I have met him on quite a few occasions now, I have shared a meal with him and I have spoken with him at length. I am not easily fooled as to the character of a man and believe that the Mufti is exactly as he presents himself – a man who is full of love for all people and whose great desire for his country is for healing and reconciliation.
Dr Hassoun’s behaviour after the murder of his son, Saria, should have removed any doubts people had about his character. No one fakes their feelings at the funeral of their child, and the Mufti preached forgiveness during his son’s eulogy!
Dr Hassoun offered forgiveness to those who had killed his boy and appealed to them to put down their weapons and re-join their country. And lest anyone think we was somehow deranged by grief at the time, the Mufti stayed true to his offer when, a year later, two of the killers were caught. He went to the court and offered them forgiveness in person, and asked the judge to forgive them too!
The character and integrity of the man cannot be doubted, and indeed his love and integrity shine through in the interview he did with me. Further, his words humble me as a Christian.
Consistent with the teachings of Jesus, the Mufti refuses to hate anybody, but prays for his enemies (Matthew 5:44).
Rather than dehumanise his enemies, he speaks of them as being ‘patients’ for whom he is responsible, echoing the sentiments of Jesus when he was challenged over His open attitude towards sinners – “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:31).
And likewise the statement of the Mufti that I have taken as a title to this article – “those who kill in the name of God do not know God” – echoes the teachings of the Apostle John who wrote “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
When the disciples looked to Jesus for an example of how a good Jew should live he told them a story, but it wasn’t a story about a good Jew but about a good Samaritan – a man from a different race and religion altogether! If today’s followers of Jesus want to know what a good Christian looks like, I don’t think they need to look any further than Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun – the good Mufti!