The Country That Is the World: Syria's Clashing Communities
World Affairs 13 Jul 12
The population of Syria is so inharmonious a gathering of widely different races in blood, in creed, and in custom, that government is both difficult and dangerous.
The mufti recounted with fondness a drive he made with his wife from Montreal via Toronto to New York in 1994. Somewhere past Niagara Falls, the couple stopped at a McDonald's. All the seats were taken. "I was dressed like this," the mufti said, pulling at the lapel of his robes, "and my wife was in hijab." An American man, aged about sixty-five, got up and offered them his table. When the mufti declined, the man insisted, "I'm an American, and I can go home and eat. You are my guest."
The gesture impressed Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun, who became grand mufti, or chief Sunni Muslim religious scholar, of Syria eleven years later: "A good human being is a good human being. I don't know if that man was Jewish, Christian, or Muslim."
Mufti Hassoun belies the stereotype of the Muslim clergyman. He has preached in the Christian churches of Aleppo, Syria's second city, and he has invited bishops to speak in his mosque. His official interpreter is an Armenian Christian. "I am the mufti for all of Syria, for Muslims, Christians and non-believers," he says, an ecumenical sentiment placing him at odds with more fundamentalist colleagues among the religious scholars known as the ulema.
The contrast with many other Sunni Muslim clergymen is stark. Another Syrian mullah, Sheikh Adnan al-Arour, broadcasts regularly from Saudi Arabia with a different message: "The problem is actually with some minorities and sects that support the regime ... and I mention in particular the Alawite sect. We will never harm any one of them who stood neutral, but those who stood against us, I swear by Allah, we will grind them and feed them to the dogs." Another Sunni preacher, the Egyptian Sheikh Mohammad al-Zughbey, went further: "Allah! Kill that dirty small sect [the Alawites]. Allah! Destroy them. Allah! They are the Jews' agents. Kill them all ... It is a holy jihad."
Read the rest of the essay in the July/August edition of World Affairs.
© Charles Glass 2012
Join the mailing list to receive details of new articles and upcoming events
middle east - general
Feb 13 / Dec 12 / Nov 12 / Sep 12 / Aug 12 / Jul 12 / Jun 12 / May 12 / Apr 12 / Mar 12 / Feb 12 / Jan 12 / Dec 11 / Nov 11 / Oct 11 / Sep 11 / Aug 11 / Jul 11 / Jun 11 / May 11 / Apr 11 / Mar 11 / Feb 11 / Jan 11 / Dec 10 / Nov 10 / Oct 10 / Sep 10 / Aug 10 / Jul 10 / Jun 10 / May 10 / Mar 10 / Jan 10 / Dec 09 / Jun 09 / Jan 09 / Aug 08 / May 08 / Apr 08 / Mar 08 / Feb 08 / Sep 07 / Jul 07 / Jun 07 / May 07 / Mar 07 / Oct 06 / Aug 06 / Jul 06 / Jun 06 / Mar 06 / Nov 05 / Oct 05 / Sep 05 / Aug 05 / Jun 05 / May 05 / Mar 05 / Feb 05 / Jan 05 / Dec 04 / Nov 04 / Oct 04 / Sep 04 / Aug 04 / Jun 04 / Apr 04 / Dec 03 / Nov 03 / Oct 03 / Sep 03 / Jul 03 / Jun 03 / Apr 03 / Oct 02 / Jul 02 / Jun 02 / May 02 / Apr 02 / Jan 02 / Dec 01 / Oct 01 / Mar 01 / Jan 01 / Jun 00 / Feb 00 / Aug 99 / Jun 99 / Apr 99 / Feb 99 / Nov 98 / Jul 98 / Mar 98 / Feb 98 / Sep 97 / May 97 / Sep 83 /