Sheikh Ahmad al-Sayasneh became a beloved spiritual leader of the peaceful revolutionaries in Dara’a at the beginning of the revolution and was eventually forced to leave Syria after one of his sons was killed and his entire family was targeted as enemies by the Assad regime.
Sheik al-Sayasneh, now 80 years old, spoke to Syriawise from where he is currently living in Doha, Qatar.
Syriawise: After all these years of experience and knowledge, how would Sheikh Ahmad al-Sayasneh like to introduce himself to the Western audience?
“I was detained and threatened by Assad’s intelligence to stop preaching the ideals of the revolution and eventually realized that they would kill me if I did not”Sheik al-Sayasneh
Sheik al-Sayasneh: I was born with cataracts in 1945 and lost my vision due to improper treatment by the midwife. I attended elementary school in Egypt and acquired a BA in basic religion in Saudi Arabia in 1973. In Syria, I was assigned as a teacher in my specialty and from the beginning began to criticize the regime’s violations, bribery, and their policies in the country. Assad intelligence took me in for questioning many times. In 1978, I was assigned to preach at Al-Omari Mosque in Dara’a. The Assad regime was unhappy with all my preaching sessions at the mosque as I used to criticize them and spoke freely about everything. They want all religious preachers to not interfere in the daily life of Syria and talk only about religion. And they tried to pressure me into conforming without success. In 2009 I was stopped from preaching but went back at the beginning of the uprising. I was detained and threatened by Assad’s intelligence to stop preaching the ideals of the revolution and eventually realized that they would kill me if I did not. After my release, my family and I managed to leave Syria with the help of the Free Syrian Army.
“I also assured Sheik Al-Hajari that nothing would stand in the way of achieving our common goals and that we would work together with them to overcome any obstacles they may encounter”Sheik al-Sayasneh
Syriawise: Last week you spoke to Sheik Hikmat Al-Hajari, the spiritual leader of the United Muslim sect in Suwayda and encouraged the people of the plains (Dara’a) to work with the people of the mountains (Suwayda) to further the implementation of UN Resolution 2254. What does your version of that implementation look like in light of the fact that Russia and Iran are also pushing for an implementation of Resolution 2254 that includes Assad remaining in power?
Sheik al-Sayasneh: I have been following the events in Suwayda ever since the reignition of the revolution there and was asked by many people to speak Sheik Al-Hajari. When we spoke last week, he was happy to hear from me. I greeted him and assured him of our support for him and everyone in Suwayda. I also assured Sheik Al-Hajari that nothing would stand in the way of achieving our common goals and that we would work together with them to overcome any obstacles they may encounter and any differences of opinion between us.
“our focus should first of all be on achieving freedom in Syria so that all Syrian voices can be heard equally”Sheik al-Sayasneh
Syriawise: We are now in the 12th year since the Syrian Revolution began in Dara’a in 2011 and the political situation there has become very complicated. Four different countries now occupy Syrian land and religious extremists continue to terrorize the free Syrians living in northern Syria. Is there any solution away from violence that can bring an end to this desperate status?
Sheik al-Sayasneh: My idea from the first day was to avoid violence. But the Assad regime is not afraid of God so their actions are not restricted by any moral values or religious standards. Everyone knows that. I told the people that we didn’t want the world to see our revolution as a violent one. But after about four or five months they were forced into taking up weapons in order to defend themselves from the merciless violence of the regime. The Assad regime targeted everyone: Women, children, and the elderly, entire families even as they slept in their beds.
As for those militant groups in northern Syria, I say our focus should first of all be on achieving freedom in Syria so that all Syrian voices can be heard equally. This needs to be followed up with democratic elections. Whether the government elected by the people ends up being a religious one or not, the most important thing is that it must govern Syria democratically. The terrorizing or domination of Syria’s citizens must not be a part of the new government.
“The differences in visions and agendas among Syrian opposition groups fueled the divisions that caused the revolution to fail in achieving its goals, as well as interventions and efforts to dominate and control by some Arab countries”Sheik al-Sayasneh
Syriawise: The Syrian opposition outside of Syria has busied itself for more than a decade with forming groups and holding many conferences, meetings, and discussions but has not managed to bring about any changes for those still living in Syria. What do the opposition leaders in Dara’a whom you are still connected to think about the opposition living in foreign lands and are they ready and willing to work with them in the event that Assad is finally removed from power?
Sheik al-Sayasneh: I want to be frank with you here. Working with the opposition outside of Syria is ineffective and useless. whether the Syrian National Coalition or other organizations. Working with them is not fruitful at all. I know this because I have attended many conferences with them and they all have their own agendas according to the countries they are aligned with. The differences in visions and agendas among Syrian opposition groups fueled the divisions that caused the revolution to fail in achieving its goals, as well as interventions and efforts to dominate and control by some Arab countries in the region. This is what led us to where we are today. We don’t want anyone on the outside dictating what we should do. All decisions must be made by those still living in Syria. I believe there is divine wisdom at work in delaying the victory of the revolution.
“I tell them [Syrian people] not to let despair overwhelm their hearts. We went through many hardships in the past and were able to overcome them and this ordeal will pass as well, God willing”Sheik al-Sayasneh
Syriawise: With the living conditions for those inside Syria continuing to deteriorate on a daily basis, is it fair for those of us living in safety in other countries to expect them to remain steadfast and continue to risk their lives and the lives of their families with their demonstrations?
Sheik al-Sayasneh: The economic status of Syria is very miserable and painful now and this is the reality. I wish to convey a message to our people to be patient and firm regarding their principles and truth. Recently I was interviewed on TV and a comment was made by the interviewer about how he believes the people of Syria have lost their faith and all hope for a better life.
I tell them not to let despair overwhelm their hearts. We went through many hardships in the past and were able to overcome them and this ordeal will pass as well, God willing. This is just a passing summer cloud.
But the Syrian people are not totally blameless. They chanted and clapped their hands for those in authority for decades which only served to increase their tyranny and injustice.
Syriawise: At the beginning of the revolution, you resumed preaching at Al-Omari Mosque and were much loved by the people of Dara’a. Do you miss being able to preach at Al-Omari and do you dream of going back there someday?
Sheik al-Sayasneh: Your question has triggered many things inside of me and opened many wounds. I wish and pray to God that before I die to be able to bow down and pray at least two times at Al-Omari Mosque because this mosque is connected to my life and I love it too much. I swear sometimes I feel physical pain from being separated from this mosque and ask God to respond to my fervent wish to return.