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Sheikh Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Deen Hassoun
Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun
Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun
Grand Mufti of Syria
Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic

Syria's grand mufti Badreddine Hassoun, the most senior Muslim authority, was appointed by Baahar al-Assad. Knowing he must capture the attention of both Sunnis and Shia alike, Ahmed Badr al-Din al-Hassoun has created a unique legal personality for himself with religious overtones. Mufti Hassoun told Al-Arabiya in a 2007 interview, “I follow all sects of Islam. I am Sunni in practice, Shiite in allegiance. My roots are Salafi, and my purity is Sufi." He remained loyal to the Syrian regime, calling upon Syrians to remain united and fight against foreign-backed enemies.

Bashar al-Assad is fequently seen alongside Syria's Grand Mufti at the start of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan. The Eid prayers typically take place an hour or two after sunrise. In previous years, Assad had been seen attending them early in the morning.

The Grand Mufti Hassoun, who is based in the northern city of Aleppo, is widely reviled by the Syrian opposition for his open support of the regime and hostility to the protesters. This was in contrast to many other Sunni clerics throughout the country, who expressed opposition to the regime.

The Grand Mufti is the source from which Sunni religious authority flows in Syria. The Government selects moderate Muslims for religious leadership positions and is intolerant of and suppresses extremist forms of Islam. Just two days before the September 11 attacks, Syria's previous state-appointed grand mufti, Ahmad Kaftaro, described "the heroic suicide operations" as "a natural and legitimate reaction that must be blessed in so far as we reject the Zionist crimes against out people of Palestine."

Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun was born in Aleppo, Syrian Arab Republic, in 1949. His father, Muhammad Adeeb Hassoun was also a clerics (sheikh). He has five children and ten grandchildren. Hassoun studied at the University of Islamic Studies, where he graduated as Doctor in Shafi'i jurisprudence. His Ph.D. thesis is an encyclopedia of Imam Shafi`i. He also wrote an encyclopedia of Fatwa literature. He was appointed mufti of Aleppo in 2002. Hassoun took office as Great Mufti of Syria in July 2005 after the death of Ahmed Kuftaro.

Hassoun is a frequent speaker in inter-religious and intercultural events, and his pluralistic views on interfaith dialogue (between different religions or between different Islamic denominations) has sparked criticism from stricter visions of Islam. El- Hassoun is a member of Syria's parliament and of the Higher Religious Council of the Syrian Arab Republic. A scholar and internationally-renown preacher, he is married with five children.

Some viewed the Mufti as a moderating influence in the country, and as someone with the political leverage to bring various religious leaders and civil society activists together in dialogue. He had backed the country's leadership throughout the uprising, echoing the government's claim that the unrest is the result of a foreign conspiracy.

Damascene Sunnis did not like the Mufti because he hailed from Aleppo. The Muslim clergy in Aleppo had a reputation for being the most corrupt in Syria, enriching themselves through embezzlement and the theft of public funds. Opposition activists in Aleppo frequently mention the expensive cars driven by the Mufti's sons and complain that the Mufti is very wealthy while his father was from a modest village.

In July 2005, the Government appointed Sheikh Ahmed Baderedin Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Aleppo, as the new Grand Mufti of Damascus. Sheikh Hassoun was known for his encouragement of religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. Since being appointed to his new role, Sheikh Hassoun called on Muslims to stand up to Islamic fundamentalism and has urged leaders of the various religious groups to engage in regular dialogues for mutual understanding.

Despite its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, the Assad regime had to contend with a rising tide of Islamist activity due, in part, to its pandering to the Sunni religious establishment in order to shore up its legitimacy.

Syria backed attacks on Scandinavian embassies in Damascus as violent protests erupted in February 2006 over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. The Danish Embassy was attacked (along with the Swedish and Chilean missions housed in the same building) and the Norwegian Embassy was torched. Several days before the demonstrations Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otri instructed the Grand Mufti Sheikh Hassoun to issue a strongly worded directive to the imams delivering Friday sermons in the mosques of Damascus, without setting any ceilings on the type of language to be used. Hasson complied with the order. Sermons based on these instructions were delivered, criticizing the publishing of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, and condemning the actions of the Danish, Norwegian, and French governments.

On January 15, 2008, he addressed the European Union Parliament. His speech to the Members of the European Parliament was on the subject of intercultural dialogue. He stressed the value of culture as a unifying rather than a dividing force. Dr Hassoun’s address was to a formal sitting of Parliament as the first speaker in a series of visits by eminent religious and cultural leaders in 2008, which has been designated the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. Opening his address, the Grand Mufti stressed that "really there are no separate cultures, there is but one single culture" in the world, namely "the culture of mankind". Indeed, he said, "we, in our region, do not believe in a conflict between cultures". The Grand Mufti is known for his call to discard all barriers among all sects, shades, and opinions to attain unity.

Reporting on a 19 January 2010 meeting between Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun and a George Mason University delegation, London-based daily Al-Quds al-Arabi attributed remarks to the Mufti that sparked outrage in certain conservative Islamic circles. The article quoted the Mufti as saying, "If the Prophet Muhammad asked me to disbelieve in Christianity and Judaism, I would disbelieve in him, and if he ordered me to kill people, I would tell him that he was not a prophet."

Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Zuheir Salem issued an official statement to LevantNews.com asking the Mufti to admit his mistake and apologize. On January 27, Abu Basir al-Tartusi, a Syrian Salafi cleric living in London, posted a threatening criticism of the Mufti, accusing him of being a "heretic" and "henchman" of a repressive regime: "You, Hassoun, are the mufti of tyrants. You are the mufti of the sectarian Ba'athist regime that is suppressing the Syrian people with iron and fire . . . I would like to say to you: be prepared for your doom. Nobody has dared to slander or insult the Prophet without facing grave punishment in the religion and the hereafter."

Defending himself in a 22 January 2010 Friday sermon in Aleppo, the Mufti denied having made such remarks, claiming he had simply informed the students that the Prophet commanded Muslims to respect all religions and not to kill people. He reportedly told his congregation that he reminded the students that "before you were Americans and before I was Syrian, we had been brothers in God."

By March 2011, Syrian authorities announced a string of reforms in an apparent bid to appease the increasingly angry demonstrators. Ahmed Badr Hassoun, Syria's state-appointed Sunni Mufti blamed the "strife" on some "infiltrators" and "corruptors." He told Al Jazeera television, siding with the ruling party, "What happens requires that people reconcile together and not goad them against each other ... what's happening in Libya, do you want it to happen in Syria?"

He told the German publication "Der Spiegel" in November 2011 that "It is well known that I generally support the president's policies. But when I feel the need to criticize and correct, I do so. Take, for example, the need to improve the living conditions of poorer classes and the treatment of dissidents. There is an old guard in our government circles. These people are impediments and must be isolated."

As the Syrian uprising turned more violent, one victim in a spate of assassinations in October 2011 was Saria Hassoun, the 22-year-old son of Syria's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun. Saria Hassoun was injured in the attack and succumbed to his injuries after being admitted to Idleb National Hospital. The shooting occurred outside Ibla University on the Idlib-Aleppo highway. Also killed with Saria Hassoun was Mohammad al-Omar, a professor of History at Aleppo University. Assassinations have become a near-daily occurrence, especially in the central province of Homs, where academics and officials are targeted in a tactic reminiscent those used by the Muslim Brotherhood in their armed uprising between 1976 and 1982.

The following passage was leaked from the eulogy he gave for his son Saria: "The moment the first (NATO) missile hits Syria, all the sons and daughters of Lebanon and Syria will set out to become martyrdom-seekers in Europe and on Palestinian soil. I say to all of Europe and to the US: We will prepare martyrdom-seekers who are already among you, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon. From now on, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

On 12 January 2013, Ahmed Hassoun gave a defiant message. "The land of Sham (Syria) will not be humiliated ... "Those who want Syria to be an arena for their own agenda against the will of its people, I say to the Arab League and to the United Nations that Syria has angels ... that will fly over it until resurrection day".

Bashar al-Assad made his first appearance in public after being sworn in as Syria's president for a third term, attending prayers at a Damascus mosque on 28 July 2014 to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid. Assad was filmed by Syrian TV on Monday at the prayer in al-Kheir mosque in the capital with Syria’s grand mufti, Mohammad Hassoun, and senior officials in the government. In the September 2015 Eid, Assad appeared standing in prayer, flanked by Prime Minister Wael Halaqi and Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun.

On 10 April 2015, the Mufti issued a fatwa on SANA, the State-owned television station, to “annihilate all Syrians who are not in the government controlled areas.” According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, “over the four days following the fatwa, barrel bombs reigned down on Aleppo.” A massacre of more than 100 people took place over those four days. 89 civilians were martyred, including 22 children and 11 women.”

The Grand Mufti told Russia Today on 13 November 2015 "I think if Assad steps down, this will result in a breakup of Syria. The reason they want President Assad to go is not to restore democracy. They just want to divide Syria into a number of small countries.... They say there should be a new government in Syria. But the government they want will be essentially a neocolonial government."

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Page last modified: 19-12-2015 19:03:10 ZULU