Rebuilding Aleppo means rebuilding links between Christians and Muslims

AbpShahanSarkissian

The Archbishop of Armenians in Syria’s second-largest city concluded a week-long European tour with a visit to Paris on Wednesday, in which he argued that moving on from a fierce conflict meant fostering ties between communities and faiths.

Monsignor Chahane Sarkissian witnessed first-hand the Battle of Aleppo from its beginning in July 2012 to the intense fighting under siege of Syrian and Russian forces that led to its end on 22 December 2016.

Only about a third of the 45,000 Armenian Christians lived in the city before the conflict began remain today, and Sarkissian described how those who stayed are rebuilding their lives and encouraging others to return.

“We are trying our best to open the schools and then the small and medium businesses to give the Armenian community the possibility to continue there, instead of leaving as refugees to other places, including other parts of the world,” he said.

“We are the people of this country, not just as Christian communities at an ecumenical level, but also with the Muslims. The majority of the population of Syria is Muslim, but we live with them, and we hope to continue our life inside the city and the country.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RFI

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Among Allentown’s Syrians, mostly shock over Trump missile strike

MarkMakela22

Four years ago, much of Allentown’s largely Christian Syrian community opposed President Barack Obama’s threatened missile attack to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for using chemical weapons on its own people.

They feel the same way about the attack Donald Trump launched Thursday night, people interviewed Friday suggest.

The U.S. is not the world’s policeman and has no right to insert itself, uninvited, into Syria’s internal affairs, said the Very Rev. Anthony Sabbagh, pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Allentown, which is the cultural center of Allentown’s Syrian Christian community.

“His action is not going to strengthen the Syrian government, which is protecting the Christians,” Sabbagh said. “It will strengthen ISIS, which is killing the Christians.” And not just Christians, Sabbagh added, but nonradicalized Muslims in Syria.

Sabbagh said he believes the Assad government’s explanation that the poisonous gas that killed at least 86 men, women and children in rebel-controlled Idlib Province was released when its jets’ conventional missiles hit a terrorist chemical weapons stockpile.

“Syria is fighting ISIS on its own to the end,” Sabbagh said. “Russia is in Syria. Russia isn’t stupid either. They know they have the upper hand now. They would not use chemical weapons.”

Sabbagh said he voted for Trump thinking he would let the Syrian people determine their own fate, but he’s now regrets casting that ballot. In his mind, Assad is the only leader standing in the way of Islamic terror-fueled chaos in the Middle East.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MORNING CALL 

Which Christians Are Telling Donald Trump to Keep Out Refugees?

lead_960President Trump has signed an executive order that temporarily suspends the U.S. refugee program and bars Syrian refugees. It will likely suspend immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries and bars the admission of anyone who engages in “acts of bigotry or hatred,” including “the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own.” It also allows the the secretaries of State and Homeland Security to jointly admit individuals on a case-by-case basis, “including when the person is a religious minority … facing religious persecution.”

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday, Trump clarified what this means: Christians refugees will be given priority status. “They’ve been horribly treated,” the president said. “Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.” People overseas “were chopping off the heads of everybody, but more so the Christians,” he added, “so we are going to help them.”

The announcement was met with immediate backlash from leaders of nearly every Christian denomination, along with those of other faiths. They argue that Trump’s actions do not reflect the teachings of the Bible, nor the traditions of the United States, and they have urged the president to let them get back to work—many of the country’s most prominent refugee resettlement organizations are faith-based.

If so many prominent Christian leaders reject the notion that their fellow Christians should get preferential treatment, why has this become Trump’s policy? One possible answer is that these leaders don’t necessarily reflect what their flocks believe. Even if they think an open refugee policy is in line with the teachings of Christianity, lay Americans don’t necessarily feel the same way.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY

Even Christian Groups Disagree With Republicans’ Plan To Prioritize Religious Minorities In Refugee Crisis

Syrian refugeesWASHINGTON — Christian groups that work with refugees are strongly opposed to a proposal that would in effect put Iraqi and Syrian Christians ahead of Muslims for resettlement in the U.S., even if they are also victims of persecution.

Ten House Republicans have signed on to a bill introduced this month by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) that, among other things, instructs the government to prioritize religious minorities from Syria and Iraq for refugee status. The Obama administration plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on Thursday.

As western countries determine how many people to take in from the Middle East amid an ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, the religious provision in McCaul’s proposal points to a key point of tension: the fact that most Syrians are Muslim.

This has been specifically highlighted by some leaders, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who said admitting more refugees could take away Europe’s Christian identity.

U.S. politicians who oppose accepting more Syrian refugees have been less explicitly focused on religion, but contend that it would harm national security because some of those acceptedcould be potential terrorists. In announcing the legislation, the congressman did not mention any religion specifically, but instead focused on the “threat posed by inadequate security screening procedures for refugees seeking entry into the United States,” including members of the Islamic State. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

Muslim and Christian Religious Leaders Unite to Denounce ISIS and Violence in Iraq and Syria

Muslim and Christian Religious Leaders Unite to Denounce ISIS and Violence in Iraq and SyriaIn an unprecedented demonstration of multi-religious solidarity, leaders of Christian, Muslim and other religious communities from Iraq, Syria and the larger Middle East region today have denounced with one voice all violence in the name of religion, and have called on the international community to protect religious and cultural diversity in Iraqand Syria.

Religious leaders from Sunni, Shiite, Christian, Mandean, and Yazidi communities across the Middle East today jointly issued the Vienna Declaration, “United against Violence in the Name of Religion”, at the international conference organized by the KAICIID Dialogue Centre.

This is the first time religious leaders representing so many different religions from a crisis region have come together as one to denounce oppression, marginalization, persecution and killing of people in the name of religion.

The religious leaders were united in acknowledging that the current conflict in Iraq and Syria targets followers of every religion. They jointly rejected all violence in the name of religion, and attempts by groups like ISIS to claim legitimacy for their actions within the teachings of Islam. They also condemned the serious violation of human rights in Iraq andSyria; especially against Christian, Yazidi and other religious and ethnic groups.

The religious leaders emphasized the right of all to be treated with dignity and humanity regardless of their religious tradition. Atrocities committed in the name of religion are crimes against humanity, and crimes against religion. The declaration also rejects and denounces the support or sponsorship of terrorism.

FULL ARTICLE FROM KAICIID Dialogue Centre

The answer to Islamic State: by sword – or word?

muslims-against-isis_c0-53-640-426_s561x327As world leaders try to counter the killing spree of the militant group Islamic State, better known as ISIS, they should take note of this trend: More Muslim leaders are challenging the group’s core message that faith can be compelled by the threat of violence.

The basic error in the group’s message is more than simply that terror in the name of religion – in this case Islam – is permissible. Rather, the Islamic State is also mistaken in a more fundamental way: It demands an outward conformity in behavior, such women being veiled in public or men wearing beards, as a necessary first step for a person to achieve an understanding of doctrine.

In other words, doing religion will necessarily lead to believing in it. Action somehow begets spiritual thought. And if a person does not act with certain physical signs of faith, then killing is justified.

Many religions have fallen into this trap of trying to compel understanding through coerced deeds. But debunking it is crucial to countering IS. The more Muslims stand up for the idea that faith is first from the heart – a personal commitment to the peace and selflessness that all major religions teach – the more likely is it that young Muslims will decide not to join IS.

Syrian Christian Leaders Show Hope in Time of Despair

auto_jarjour1373304046“There will come a time when there will be no more Christians in Syria,” the Syrian Presbyterian Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, former General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, warned recently onJanuary 27, 2014, at Washington, DC’s Heritage Foundation.  Jarjour explained Syrian Christians’ “stage of hopelessness” while “boxed in” by Muslim sectarian fighting in Syria’s civil war during two successive presentations by a Syrian Christian delegation.

The Heritage event and the previous day’s panel at McLean, Virginia’s St. John the Beloved Catholic Church clearly showed the “tragedy of the church in Syria” described at St. John by Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo.  Sookhdeo, chairman of theWestminster Institute and international director of Barnabas Aid, the Syrian delegation’s sponsors, described a “Gethsemane that leads to a potential Calvary.”  One-third of Syria’s two million Christians had fled the country during “perhaps the single greatest humanitarian disaster in the world today.”  During a slide show, Syrian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak at St. John noted United Nations estimates of ten million Syrians needing assistance by the end of 2013.  Food, water, and electricity shortages afflicting the Syrian population marked a “lost generation.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGIOUS FREEDOM COALITION