NEW DELHI: The Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun walks into the room, a smile on his face, eyes alight with hope, as he puts the war on Syria into a perspective. His 21 year old son was killed in 2012 while getting into a car in Aleppo, and when I first met the Grand Mufti a year later in Damascus he spoke of this with a tear rolling down his cheek. It was also towards the beginning of the attack on Syria with the trouble having started in Holmes that I visited when it was under attack by the rebels and insurgents that the Syrian Army was beating back, but with heavy casualties as it involved almost hand-to-hand warfare.

The Grand Mufti carries peace with him and is this amazing mix of politics and religion, even as he decries all divisiveness in religion. He is here at the invitation of the Art of Living Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and addressed the gathering at the Yamuna banks. He spoke at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, at Jamia Hamdard, and also visited the Akshardham temple saying that his visit had brought him knowledge and peace.

Excerpts from an interview with Seema Mustafa

On Syria today: Frankly when they moved in with all their plans I never for a moment believed that they would be able to succeed in their conspiracy to break Syria into pieces, or take over control. This all began after the visit of US (former Secretary of State Colin Powell) when he placed many conditions before President Assad, and he did not agree.

But we never imagined that our Arab brothers would take the US side in conspiring against us. We had excellent relations with Turkey, we would tell them even then not to convert the country into a religious state, to remain secular. But Erdogan, a member of the International Muslim Brotherhood, thought otherwise. We were the only country in West Asia that in completely secular, where no one goes by his or her religious or sectarian identity. We are all equal and the same. For instance, if you speak of ---smiles---say the Armenians you will find them all over, in the government, in the Army, everywhere (He does not say it as Syrians rarely speak of the Shia or the Sunni but the same is true of the Sunnis in Syria). We only believe in Syrian citizenship and that is what they all want to change.

The idea was not to change the government, but to destroy the secular thinking in Syria, this was their real enemy. They started the war in Holmes because it is home to many sects, and it is representative. They failed and then moved into other towns soon after on the borders.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar came from one side, Turkey and others----we had terrorists fighting our Army from 112 countries. We caught terrorists from 60 different nationalities.

We met some of them. Asked them why did you come here to fight in Syria

They said they were told that the regime in Syria is massacring Muslims.

Did you find that, we asked

No, they said.

Then why did’nt you go back to where you came from?

Because we would be butchered if we left, was their answer.

Reasons for the attack on Syria: We have nothing against the American people, or the Jewish people. But we are against the policies followed by their governments. We are against those who occupied the Palestinian land, and displaced four million Palestinians. No one has agreed to their rights.

This is one of the main reasons why they attacked us. The reasons are:

  1. We are secular and they do not like that as it comes in the way of their divisive policies;
  2. We defend Palestinian rights, and israel sees this as hostile;
  3. We do not bow to US imposed conditions but insist on our interests as a sovereign country. Washington does not like this as it has control over all the major Arab governments here and we are not yielding.

Russia-US agreement on Syria: Iran and Russia are supporting us not because of us. Iran knows that if Syria falls, it will fall sooner than later. Russia knows that if the western powers under the US gain control of Syria, they will tackle Moscow next.

There is an agreement between the US and Russia but that is because the Americans can read the writing on the wall, they know that Syria is winning this war. You should ask, why did they not have an agreement in Yemen, in Libya, in other countries they have attacked…..

Indian connection: The mercenaries coming into Syria through Turkey are not just doing it for money, but are completely brainwashed.

They want to establish an Islamic state, a caliphate and they have been made to believe that if they start this in Syria it will spread across the region immediately.

A Caliphate from Agra to Istanbul, this is their (extremists) way of thinking.

I met an Indian doctor of British origin. The British government had spoken to President Assad who had agreed to set him free. A week before he was due to be released he committed suicide in his cell. An independent panel of doctors from Lebanon and other countries certified his death as suicide.

I met his mother. I asked her why had her son come to fight here. She said he had been incited by a mosque in London.

The war will soon be ending, and we will need to rebuild our country. We would like India to help us with that. We will not take help from the US, from Europe and from many of these Arab countries. But we will take help from India because you never closed your embassy in Damascus, and did not allow the US and Saudi Arabia to pressure you to take a stand against Syria.

Pressure on him from the Sunni world: I have always been under pressure. As I have a different point of view to all. I think religious organisations in the world are taking too much interest in politics. The messengers of God did not come here to make policies, they came here to make good human beings so that they could then make good nations. After all the Prophets and other good men refused offers to become Kings, they were never the rulers. Today most of these rerligious persons lead king sized lives.

I fight against this. A man of religion has to be a servant to all, whether they believe in him or not. He has to give strength to those who believe him, and convince those who do not. Religious institutions should not spread hate.

My problem is not Sunni or Shia. I am not a Sunni or a Shia Mufti. I represent the Republic of Syria, and everyone living in Syria are my people, of all religions or no religion at all, atheists.

That is why in Syria we all have the same values. This media likes to distort all this, particularly the big media and the religious channels that have come up.

I met a delegation of Jews (Israel) in Europe and I told them you are building a very dangerous country in this world. This will close the horizons for your children, they will fall back in all walks of life.

We are for humankind, not for religious sects and communities.

On Saudi Arabia: This is the beginning of the end for Saudi Arabia.

Even God has deserted the regime.

They used their petrol money to buy weapons---they are bombing Yemen 300-400 times and no one is reporting that, the world is mute. Because if a television channel reports the truth the Saudis move against it, and so does their friend the US and they shut down the channel.

But history will teach them a lesson. They will come to a pitiful end.

On Refugees: BBC and CNN and others are all showing this, how many thousands have fled Syria. Those who have gone will soon come back, as soon as the war stops.

But we faced this 15 years ago during the wars here. We received 10 lakh Iraqis in Syria, we received six lakhs Lebanese, before that we became home to 600,000 Palestinians. We shared our homes with them, we shared our food, we did not pitch a single tent but no one reported that like they are reporting the tents that have been put up for Syrians by these western benefactors.

I tell the west, stop lying to the people. You have created this war, you have attacked our people, you have pushed them out of their homes.

You come and visit us in 2017, you will see the birth of Syria as a young country.