Tuesday 1 January 2013

“Syria’s beloved Christians, stay put with us”

Khatib with Erdogan at a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey, Dec. 30

Moaz el-Khatib, leader of the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, posted a New Year Message to Syria’s Christians on his Facebook page this morning.
I have paraphrased parts of his appeal hereunder:
I wrote this article and saved it while still in Damascus, hoping to publish it at some point.
Wherever I went, government officials would ask me about (Syria’s) Christians, as if we were beasts prying on everything dissimilar.
I told everyone: Christians live with us in harmony and love – not because of international pressure but because our religion, morals and upbringing taught us to be exemplary kinsfolk and neighbors.
That’s how we lived and that’s how we shall remain.
Yesterday, I accompanied Turkey’s great Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a visit to a Syrian refugee camp of 27,000 people. Never in my life did I feel such warmth and love.
As soon as I started talking of conditions in Syria and about the hands meddling in our lives and destiny, a thunderous chant broke out spontaneously. Thousands started repeating: “One, One, One… The Syrian people are One.”
The same spontaneous and rhythmic phrase was originally belted out in Douma in March 2011 at the funeral of the first batch of the city’s martyrs.
I realized we’re okay, that regardless of their outrages, we remain a great and courageous people that defy death as well as fire and brimstone while staying interdependent.
I decided to publish this write-up on the occasion of the New Year as a tribute to all the Syrian people, chiefly the Christians among them.
It is also a tribute to two faithful but deceased friends -- (Christian statesman) Prime Minister Faris el-Khoury and (Islamic scholar) Muhammad Bahjat al-Bitar; and to whoever shed his blood to document brutality in Homs, like (creative Christian filmmaker) Basel Shehadeh. It is an accolade as well to my beloved sister, Hind Abboud Kabawat
Originally, the trigger for this article was the (1 January 2011) Alexandria church bombing and the earlier (31 October 2010) Baghdad church attack.
The two attacks justified Christians’ fears and awareness that immoral regimes -- whether local or global – saw dissent among components of a society. They alone destroy love, torpedo harmony and create hate amongst people to serve their political ends.
The bombs in the Alexandria and Baghdad churches did not only blow up worshippers but also tore the heart of every human being…
I feel at times more anxious than the Christians. I fear the onset of an earthquake if we don’t wise up.
Quite frankly, we are letting each other down as Muslims and Christians. We need to reinforce bridges between us.
Christianity was a pioneer in opening its doors to Islam and in shielding the companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
My eyes swell when I call to mind how, when Jaafar ibn Abi Taleb recited some verses from the Quran from the Chapter of Maryam (Mary), al-Najafi (the emperor of Aksum at the time of Prophet Muhammad) and Eastern Ethiopian Catholic priests in his court were so touched that they began to shed tears.
We, Muslims and Christians, have lived together in the good times and bad times. We’ve respected our individual religions. We see in each other an essential, civilized and humane component of this universe, where Syria is one of the most beautiful mosaics of religious tolerance, love, security and tranquility.
I am so proud Syria is the only place in the world where the (Aramaic) language of the Spirit of God (Jesus) survives.
Time is running short. We have to consolidate what joins us. The Holy Book says: “He has made plain for you the religion with which He charged Noah and that which We have revealed to you, and that with which We charged (prophets) Abraham, Moses and Jesus, (saying): ‘Establish the religion and do not be divided therein’.”(Chapter 42, Verse 13.)
Perhaps one of the most beautiful words of compassion were those expressed by (great Syrian Druze leader) Sultan Pasha al-Atrash in his eulogy of (prominent Syrian nationalist) Abdel-Rahman Shahbandar: “Join your hearts to ours and embrace our hearts in yours. Don’t shut the homeland’s doors in the face of any honest hard worker because the paradise of this homeland is sizable to accommodate everyone regardless of faith.”
Another example of compassion among faiths in Syria was the death of the great (Alawite leader who commanded the Syrian Revolt of 1919) Saleh el-Ali in the care of his friend, Sunnite scholar Mohammad al-Majzoub...
For the sake of Christ and Muhammad
For the sake of innocent children
For the sake of the martyrs of the houses of God
For the sake of the next generation
O Christians, don’t leave!
I beg you to stay put with us!
Moaz el-Khatib