Imams Hussainy and Habash on Democracy in Syria
The following remarks made by Imam Muhammad Habash, the principal "reformist Imam" of Damascus and member of Parliament, and Imam Mahmoud Abolhuda al-Hussainy, the principal reformist Imam of Aleppo, were sent to me by Karim Moudarres, a businessman and friend who lives in Aleppo. Karim attended a meeting of European parliamentarians and Syrian religious figures, recently convened at the monastery Mar-Moussa. Dayr Mar-Moussa is run by an Italian priest who promotes inter-faith dialogue. Karim also includes the sermon that al-Hussainy gave at his mosque in Aleppo, after returning from Dayr Mar-Moussa.
This is worth reading, particularly for the words of Imam Mahmoud Abolhuda al-Hussainy, because he addresses the question of democracy and Islam quite forthrightly. Not only does he explain to the European statesmen that most Syrians view their approach to democracy as hypocritical because they insist on strict separation of church and state and seek to exclude Muslim parties, but he also criticizes Syria for excluding Muslim parties. The questions he asks are important to the West and Syria in their present predicament.
Here is Karim Moudarres' letter:
I was present at Mar-Moussa Monastery when the European Parliamentarians met with Syrian Religious Figures to carry a discussion on Democracy from the Syrian religious point of view. Among many Christian and Muslim figures, Mr. Mohamad Habash and Mr. Mahmoud Abolhuda Elhussainy, M.D. were present. One side would ask the other side a question; they would answer and then ask a question in return.
The Europeans stressed that the European experience is specific to Europe and should not be exported as a model to other regions of the world. Syria should make use of its experience to develop its own system of democracy. Some European members were concerned whether Islam allowed such practices and if separation of church and state, as the foundation of a democratic system, is possible in Syria.
Mr. Mohamad Habash was asked the following: "We don’t understand the Christian / Muslim relationship which has worked very well in Syria, and we don’t understand the Jewish / Muslim relationship.
Answer: (Spoken in English): "Welcome to Syria the blessed land. Muslims call Syria 'al-sham al-sharif' meaning 'noble land'. Christians consider Syria the 'Holy Land'. Welcome to Syria.
According to the clash of civilizations, it is important to note that the Prophet called for cooperation among the people of scriptures. He introduced himself as a prophet who came after Jesus, Moses and Abraham. You read in the holy book 14 times: 'Oh Mohamad we sent you to confirm what came before'. I agree that there are some radical directions in the Islamic World, but we can also find radicals in Europe and America. The description of the clash of civilizations did not come from the Islamic world but from Mr. Huntington in the United States. He called for the clash of civilizations and the end of history. We in the Islamic World refuse this idea and call for the dialogue of civilizations. Mr. Khatemi as the president of Iran and OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) proposed to the UN in 2001 to call it the Year of Dialogue of Civilizations on behalf of 55 Muslim countries. I personally go further and call for the unity of civilizations in accordance with the profit who said: 'the profits before me are like a beautiful house and I am the last brick in the house. I am the seal of prophets.'
You can not consider yourself a Muslim without having faith that Jesus was the prophet of God, the messenger of God, the word of God and the spirit of God. We believe that Jesus is still alive until now and will return to the White minaret in Damascus where you can see it today built with no mosque waiting for his return. The Grand Mufti of Syria was asked once by the Canadian Ambassador about the number of Christians in Syria and he replied as 17 Millions since all Muslims have to have faith in Jesus.
We believe the number of radicals in Syria and the Middle East is on the rise for two reasons. First is the presence of some radical culture and second is injustice. I believe the way to arrive at Democracy is by supporting the peace process win the Middle East and getting some balance between Arabs and Israel. If we can find such balance then we will arrive at more tolerance, more cooperation, more brotherhood and more fraternity."
Mr. Habash did not ask a question.
Mr. M. Abolhuda El-Hussainy, M.D. was asked the following: "Is there hope? And how can we make hope our incentive forward?"
Answer (translated to English): "I believe nations without hope will die because desperation is the first step to extinction. As a practicing physician, I know from my clinic that people with advanced degrees of depression have suicidal tendencies. At the same time I don’t want this hope to be expressed here as mere exchange of good wishes among the members of this respected congress. I only heard some words of compliments from my brothers on the Syrian. I don’t think you are here to hear compliments but rather help get to the bottom of the problem.
First: Syrian society fully respects European societies and considers it a promising hope in the unipolar world we all know so well.
Second: Civil society must be heard in our country. You should not listen only to points of views representing the official word of the State. For the sake of being honest I say civil society is not about secular parties only but is also composed of an important majority with an Islamic focus - not to be ignored. I strongly stress that Syrian society is religiously moderate. Mr. Patrick Louis (European MP on the panel) described our society as one conforming submissively to religious law. In order to reach a better understanding of each other, I would like to emphasize the following: in separating the church from the state, Europeans have developed a secular system for regulating their governments, politics and economies. On the other hand, the church continues to preach Christian values to society.
I was happy to hear from Mrs. Patrie (European MP) how the European Society has its own individuality and uniqueness. We too are unique. In order for you to have a better understanding of the Syrian society with its Muslim majority, you have to learn that Islam is divided into two important parts:
1- A legal part focusing on government, economy, politics, and human relations.
2- Another part focusing ethics, ideology, and metaphysics.
In other word, with our part of Islamic law dealing with government, economics and politics we are capable of debating current European laws freely on the table because this part of Islamic law is very resilient and highly discussable.
As for means of worshipping God, we go to Churches to hear directives to God and you go to Mosques to hear directives to God.
This is not our problem for I would like to get to the bottom of the problem and say: hearing people like Mr. Patrick Louis calling for strong separation of church and state without knowing the nature of Islam is the main problem between the two Islamic and European societies.
It is very true to say the Islamic World is split two ways:
1- One way made the fatal mistake by calling for the implementation of Islamic laws on the rest of the world using forceful means. Such a mistake could not be farther from the heart of Islam.
2- The other way represents the majority of Muslims in calling for moderation, democracy and debate. It could not be farther away from extremism and violence. This represents the majority of Muslims around the world and in Syria.
Therefore we should not focus on the eccentric part misrepresenting the heart of Islam and generalize about the entire Muslim society without making the distinction between the eccentrics and the majority believing in "No subjugation in religion" as stated in the Qoran. Our title from the Qoran is "We honored the children of Adam" goes in line with the call to embrace the "culture of honoring humanity" as called for by the lady from Italy who spoke before me.
Now the question I would like to put forward to the European MP's: "Why do we talk about democracy while we breach democracy?" Let us be honest. The veto in the Security Council breaches democracy. Some practices against veiled women in Europe go against the heart of democracy. The European support of oppressive governments is undemocratic by itself. Banning those who would like to discuss Islamic laws from political forums is undemocratic. This is my question for I would appreciate an honest answer since we do very much believe in democracy with no exceptions of any kind.
Then on Friday, June 17, M. AbolHoda Elhussainy gave his Friday sermon from the historic Adliya mosque with a strong connection to the debate in Mar Moussa with the European MP's. Some of his sermon is interesting: It can be read here.
"Today we hear all over our Muslim World and in our country repeatedly the word democracy and promises of democracy (with an exception I should add)." "The exception says: democracy is for the seculars who declare publicly that their minds are pure from the word of God! I say from here: as long as the doors of democracy are opening we are obliged to express the spirit of Islam. It is true that there are those who misunderstand Islam and misunderstand the course of Islam for our Islam teaches us to recognize the other. Those who deviated and want to force Islamic culture on the world are no different from the enforcers of globalization, although with a different agenda. Haven't these deviators ever heard of the message of the profit to the Christian Emperor of Byzantium stating: 'Oh people of the book let us come to a word of agreement between us!' This is the culture of Islam which teaches us to be kind to those who oppose our religion and opposed our culture. God is ordering us to be kind to the opposite when he chooses not to fight us."
"Why should the followers of this culture be banned from expressing their views through official democratic means?" "We are hearing nowadays that parties will be licensed and muti-partism will start. Why did they exclude from this plan those who have their minds affected with Islamic culture? Are they a menace to be avoided? What should they do to purify themselves from this menace? Is this the cross road to future democracy? Truthfully Islam is the Imam of democracy if they only knew. We are ready to stand hand in hand with them against the extremists who do not represent Islam because we believe the extremists are distorting our image and the image of Islam."
"We don’t know if the secularists' offer is restricting us because of their ignorance of Islam or trying to irrationally intimidate our youth." "If you would like to ban those who are in favor of embracing Islamic culture from establishing Islamic parties, why don’t you at least permit the establishment of civil society committees?" "Let there be some publicly elected committees of dialogue with only an advisory role without any executive or legislative powers" "Let us discuss with each others freely, amicably, and peacefully while we try to build our new society together. Don’t perceive us as enemies but rather as partners trying to build our country together. "
"Another idea: why not establish an Islamic advisory committee to be elected by Islamic scholars for the sole purpose of discussing and advising with no members appointed by the government so it does not loose its legitimacy and independence?"
"One more idea: if those who subscribe to Islamic culture are banned altogether from forming licensed parties, why not open the door for the establishment of social reform committees: civil society committees to include scholars, scientists, and the educated elite. These social reform committees in a civil society will be kept away from power yet in touch with the people and we can expect good results. Our society needs reforming since current laws are not reforming bribery, corruption and dishonesty. Reform can be achieved by the people of reform. There are many good members of society currently working on reform using individual means yet are banned from congregating to maximize and unite their efforts. They are told: you can not gather; you can not form parties; you can not form committees. What is next?"
"Our enemy is not overseas but our enemy is ourselves, for, unfortunately, we don’t know how to build a civilization and how to initiate our renaissance."