SHAFAQNA – If Syria continues to be at war – a war which has claimed too many of its sons and daughters not to remain an open scar on the region, Syrians as a whole have remained hopeful, united in their prayer that peace will soon heal their broken land.
A beautiful and rich ethno-religious mosaic, Syria is home to many different religious communities: Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis, Druzes, Christians, Alawites.
While radicals have over the past few years made every effort to fragment, divide and isolate those communities, in view of cultivating hatred and fear, Syrians have found in their respective differences a strength which transcends them all.
And because they have recognized in their respective faiths, worship, and beliefs, the seed of the same love and injunction to peace, Syrians of all ethnicities and faiths came together this Christmas to celebrate God, by standing together in prayer.
In a twist of fate, this Christmas came to coincide with Al Mawlid al-Nabawi (The Prophet Muhammed’s Birthday). As Joseph Nasrani a Syrian Christian told Shafaqna in exclusive comments: “Even the Heavens are aligning … If ever there was a sign that we all are worshiping the same God, only differently and according to different traditions that would be it. Christians and Muslims have lived together for centuries without animosity … it is Wahhabism which came to disrupt this unity, it them [ISIL aka Daesh] who came to breed hatred where there was harmony. I refused to let darkness taint the history of our beautiful Syria … I refuse to hate my fellow Syrians in the name of a vengeful religious monstrosity. Who are we to pass judgement on faith when all our prophets endured hardship for the Truth to shine?”
A young woman, Sarah Haddad, an art student turned rights activist explained how this year Syrians – including the expat community, have made a point at celebrating Christmas and Al Mawlid al-Nabawi together, using this opportune religious overlapping to seal interfaith tolerance. “people have this vision of Syria, and the middle East in general where communities are divided by this visceral religious hatred! People have been brainwashed into believing that Muslims and Christians are at each other’s throat all the time, looking to impose their beliefs on one another. Its really sad …. really, really sad because it could not be further from the truth. Syria has always been about peaceful cohabitation and religious harmony. Islam and christians and Muslims have lived side by side for over a thousand years … literally. Syrians account for the first Christians and the first Muslims. Do people know this at all? Have people looked at our buildings? They tell our common religious history, they speak of the faith and traditions we share … they speak of Syria.
Being Syrian means being all those different communities at the same time. It means that our identity is not one, but multitude – there, is the bound we share, and which makes us unique!”
Echoing some of Haddad’s comments, The Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation issued the following message this December: “Despite the ongoing war in Syria and the bad situation that its people are going through, Christmas Festive Spirit in Damascus are shining and spreading love and hope all over the city.”
Syria, which is one of the oldest countries in the world – the homeland of Jesus Christ, and home to some of the oldest Christians and Muslims communities faces today a war which seeks its complete annihilation. from its history, to its culture and even its soul, Terror’s armies are working to lay waste a land which still speaks Jesus’ language: Aramaic.
“Before the Black Flag came to claim Syria, my country was a crossroads for all nations and all faiths,” said Mathan olikara, an IDP from Homs.
Mathan Olikara, a Christian from Homs was forced to relocate in Damascus in 2012 after war came to ravage his city. A civil engineer with three sons and a daughter to care for, Olikara and his wife have live in a two-family house upstairs a Shiite Muslim family. This year both families got together this Christmas to share a meal, a prayer and a common dream for peace.
“Since we moved here I have shared with my neighbors every Eid, Christmas, Easter and other religious festivals. Our Scriptures speak of the same holy names, the same prophets, and so naturally we understand each other. Religion is meant to bring communities closer together, not torn them apart. My story is not the exception in Syria … it is the rule,” said Olikara.
His neighbor, Dr Muhammad Sulaiman is adamant the world has gone mad over this infamous war of civilization in between Islam and Christianity. “there is no war … no religious crusade here! War was imported into our land by a group of fanatics who do not understand the first thing about God or religion. Syria is at war not with its people but those who are trying to force us into theo-fascism. Our Scriptures call upon us to protect the people of the Book (Jews and Christians). And so by definition Islam cannot preach violence against other faiths, not without renouncing its Covenant with God.”
This year, as ISIL armies have stood on the outskirts of Damascus the mood has nevertheless been joyful, punctuated by street parties and parades.
Murad Gazdiev, RT’s correspondent in Syria told the channel how by walking across the city he found “an overall feel of hope that things will take a turn for the better in the near future.”
“I feel great, I feel safe here thanks to the army and the police that my family can walk the streets in peace,” Gazdiev reported a man saying. “Things are changing and I think that this year will be better for us all,” said another bystander.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians have sought refuge in Damascus from religious persecution in other parts of the country. Barricaded under in the Syrian capital Syria’s Christians have vowed to protect their land and their traditions from the furious onslaught of radicalism. Beside them, Syrian Muslims: both Sunnis and Shiites, have too, pledged their lives to the defense of Syria.
In Damascus this Christmas, the scene was a joyful one – streets filled with laughter, children dressed in Santa’s hats or adorning angel wings. This Christmas the fury of ISIL was a world away …
By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna