Syrian Christians and Muslims: from common wounds a future of peace

SIRIA_-_testimonianza_caritas_rifugiatiokDamascus (AsiaNews) – A lunch bringing together Christians and Muslims became an opportunity to share experiences of war, suffering, divisions and also to discover that despite differences in faith, no family was spared by the conflict.  It also became an opportunity to  discover that the same families can start a journey of reconstruction capable of building bridges on the ruins and achieving a peace that comes from the depths of hearts. This is what emerges from the testimony given to AsiaNews by Sandra Awad, head of Communications for Caritas Syria, 40, married and mother of two children, in the context of the “Share the Journey” initiative launched by Caritas Internationalis. A challenge for a country now in its eighth year of war, but which never ceases to hope for a “reconciliation” that knows how to “embrace the whole country”.

Here, below, the testimony she shared with AsiaNews:

When we received an e-mail notifying us about the topic of the new campaign held by Caritas Internationalis and other NGOs “Share the Journey”, which encourage local communities to receive and welcome refugees and help them integrate in the new society, we felt confused. How can we adopt this campaign in Syria? Which part of the society could be considered to be the host? And which part could be considered to be the new arrivals? Inside Syria, we don’t have refugees. Although the majority of people has become displaced, we are all one aching society who suffered from a long war, which did not exclude any family from its bad impact…

We felt that this campaign is not convenient for the Syrians inside Syria, therefore, we didn’t do a big effort to participate in it, till the day we received an e-mail from Caritas Internationalis inviting us to share a meal with refugees, as part of this campaign.

We finally decided to participate in this action and organize a meal with some displaced people from our beneficiaries from different religions. We started to plan for this event to have place on June 23, in the hall of the Orthodox Cross Church. Beside beneficiaries, we invited also many bishops and priest of the Catholic church.

We had a lot of worries about this gathering. What the reaction of the Catholic bishops would be when we invite them to an Orthodox Church? How would invited beneficiaries interact with each other during this event? They are a mixture of the Syrian society, Muslims, Christians, Alawite, Druze… We are a country which has been suffering from war for almost eight years, distance and separation between people has become wide, we are divided now, the east and the west, the city and the country side, the ones who left the country and those who stayed in it. Everyone is aching, and the hearts are filled with hatred and pain.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ASIA NEWS. IT 

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The Other al-Baghdadi — and the Christians Fighting for Freedom in Syria

by ANDREW DORAN October 10, 2017 4:00 AM

syriacThey are a moderating force in the region, like the Jews before them and the secular Muslims who fear they might be next. Raqqa, Syria — The soldiers of the Syriac Military Council sit on a rug in an abandoned home in the urban wreckage of the caliphate’s capital, perhaps 200 yards from ISIS, drinking tea and chain-smoking. The predominantly Christian unit is a small but symbolically important part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have encircled ISIS and are slowly closing in.

The Syriac officers point out that those who’ve joined their ranks — including Muslims, both Arabs and Kurds, foreigners, and other Christians — are a symbol of the Syria for which they are fighting: a federated Syria, an alternative to Baathism and Islamism. “For the first time in our history, we are fighting for each other,” says one Syriac commander. A few moments later, a Muslim soldier in the Syriac unit enters the room, unfurls a prayer rug, kneels toward Mecca in the south, and prays. He then rises and sits beside the interpreter, and a lengthy debate about the interpreter’s unruly hair ensues. Their tension-relieving banter doesn’t even pause for the small-arms fire and artillery outside; they take no notice.

The Syriac officer points to the interpreter, Ibrahim, as another example of their diversity. Ibrahim, like the late caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is originally from Iraq. Ibrahim is a convert to Christianity, but he was born into one of the last Jewish families of Baghdad — a community that numbered well over 100,000 in 1948. His ancestors arrived in Mesopotamia 26 centuries ago, when thousands of Jerusalem’s citizens were taken into captivity in Babylon, modern-day Iraq. The Psalms recall the heartbreak of that exile: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL REVIEW 

 

Rebuilding Aleppo means rebuilding links between Christians and Muslims

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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

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 

SYRIAN THEOLOGIAN: MINORITY IN SYRIA IS DEMOCRATS, LIBERALS OF ALL RELIGIONS

In the Arab world today, secularism, democracy and liberalism are the real minorities, writes Dr.Najib Awad, associate professor of Christian theology and the director of the International PhD Program at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.

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In this article, originally published in Arabic in Lebanon’s Al-Mustaqbel daily, Awad makes the case for a new definition of minitory, “one that transcends religion, sect and ethnicity.” In Syria, he says, democrats, liberals and secularists are being “minoritized,” not due to religious affiliations or convictions, but because they are trying to develop a value system that differs from the prevalent norms.

Rooting his argument in French philosophy, Awad argues that “anyone who refused to shape their life and values according to the norms created and enforced by the Syrian regime was transformed into a ‘minority.’” 

Translation courtesy of Syria Direct’s Gavi Barnhard.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, both Syrians and international observers have been discussing the future of its minorities. Specifically, there is a new discourse among non-Sunni Muslims in Syria, primarily among Christians and Alawites, in which these groups do not identify with the Syrian people, but rather as minorities.

Syrian Christians have begun to reduce themselves to mere minorities in need of protection from the inevitable persecution that is to result if the regime falls. Even social media in these Syrian Christian communities indicate the prevalence of this minority discourse. Western and Arab countries that support the revolution see the Christians and the Alawites in Syria as “minorities” and reduce this complicated issue into a simple matter of “protection.”

From my observation, it doesn’t seem that anyone can actually explain what they mean by “minorities” in the Syrian context. It seems to me that everyone is working with the assumption that there is a single, agreed-upon meaning, however, I’m not sure that they realize that the meaning varies depending on its political, sociological and philosophical connotations.

In sociology and anthropology, “minority” can be defined by ethnicity, race, gender, sex, or age. However, the term carries very different meanings in a philosophical context. In modern philosophy, French philosopher Gills Deleuze and French psychiatrist Felix Guattari suggest that the term ‘minority’ suggests a state of flux, a process of becoming or happening: something which people transform into, or become, due to specific social, intellectual and ethical factors that “minoritize” them.

FULL ARTICLE FROM SYRIA DIRECT 

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 

Syria Christians, Muslims may meet in summit

Christians and Muslims in Syria massAFP – Christian leaders from Syria and beyond are planning a summit involving Muslim representatives in a drive to use faith to spur peace efforts, the World Council of Churches said Thursday.

“We plan to have parallel consultations when the Geneva II meeting happens, so we can mobilise both Church leaders and other religious leaders for a commitment to a peace process in Syria,” WCC head Olav Fyske Tveit told reporters.

Asked whether he aimed to get Muslim clerics from inside Syria on board, he replied: “We’ll see what’s possible. But of course we’ll invite them, and other major Muslim partners, who come from the opposition of course, but also from neighbouring countries.”

The so-called Geneva II negotiations are meant to be based on talks in the Swiss city in June 2012, where world powers called for a Syrian transition government.

But the warring sides failed to agree on whether President Bashar al-Assad could play a role, and amid spiralling fighting the plan stalled.

In a renewed effort to hold Geneva II, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on September 28.

Moves for a parallel faith summit followed talks among Church leaders, including from Syria, at a closed-door WCC meeting Wednesday attended by Brahimi.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FRANCE24.COM