Day for Tolerance and Reconciliation in Syria

Dr. Siham Youssef is a writer, researcher and novelist, she told Syria Times newspaper about the religious tolerance in Syria, which the dirty war will not be able to undermine.

In the context of the escalating political pressures on Syria in particular, and on the countries of the Middle East in general, believed to be one aspect of the clash of civilizations, Islamic and Christian feelings of the Syrian people merged in one mold to realize one aim and target. Thoughts united to protect the country from the repercussions of these pressures, sanctions and siege. In order to maintain this unity of destiny we, in Syria, are capable of religiously coexisting in harmony, unity and peace, of living together and sacrificing the most valuable things we have. This is not a privilege of the present, rather, our history is full of glorious examples that confirm this fact Dr. Siham Youssef said

* Did not the Syriac Jerusalemites call the Moslem leader Omar Ibn al Khattab, al Farouk, “the just saviorò because he saved them from the Byzantines?

* Did not the Rashidi caliphs vow to protect peace and security of the Christians of the Levant and protect their churches, homes and properties keeping, in Damascus alone, more than thirty churches open for worship? No wonder, Syria was the cradle of early Christianity, and from it, St. Paul moved to the world to spread the new faith. Aren’t these signs of Arab Moslems respect to their brothers, Christian Arabs?

* Were not the Christians loyal to the Islamic Umayyad Empire when they worked in its departments?

* Did not the Umayyad caliphs trust them and grant them high ranks, and give them the authority to manage their financial affairs?

* Did not the Christians of several nationalities translate the books of philosophy, biology, astrology, medicine, engineering, and mathematics from Greek, Persian, and Latin into Arabic, to enrich Islamic libraries?

* Did not Christians excel in medicine, biology and philosophy, and were trusted by Moslem caliphs as well as the commons, in the past and in the present?

* Did not Christians fight side by side with their Moslem counterparts to achieve the independence of Syria and have the same destiny of being killed and hanged for this cause? The Martyrs of the 6th of May 1916 are examples of this joint strife for the same national cause. Dr. Siham explained.

“I will tell you a story about religious tolerance in Syria,” Dr. Youssef said : In an article published in Beirut, researcher Ghassan al Shami wrote about a visit he made to the Grand Mufti of Syria, he said: “I visited the late Mufti of Bilad aSham Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro, to talk about tolerance in Islam. The Mufti told me this story: “A European ambassador asked me how many Christians are there in Syria? I immediately said: seventeen millions. (This is the total population of Syria). Surprised by the answer, the ambassador asked the question again. I repeated the same answer. He said that he asked the same question to other people and was given a very smaller figure. I said I am the Grand Mufti and I know the real number .We Moslems cannot confirm our belief in Islam unless we recognize that Jesus, son of Mary the virgin, is a true prophet whom God, the almighty, devoted a full chapter in the Holy Quran to honor him and his mother, and devoted another chapter to honor their dynasty. This is the true Islam.

Dr. Youssef said that the three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam came from one source and call for the respect and dignity of man. This is what is meant by the religious unity in Syria, which does not differentiate between Moslems and Christians.

To highlight national unity in Syria, the Central Department of Postage had issued several stamps about a number of Christian locations;

- Cathedral of St. Simeon, north of Aleppo, four issues: 1959,1961,1968 and 1969.

- Church of Qalb Lozeh in the dead cities of Idlib 1962.

- Monastery of the Lady in Saidnaya, north of Damascus 1955,

- Church of St. Paul in Bab Keissan in Damascus 1968.

- In 1999 the department issued a stamp titled (Two Thousand Years Of Fraternity) with photos of the Umayyad mosque and several churches As background. The department was not satisfied by issuing stamps that memorize local places, rather it issued stamps that memorize some world Christian personalities. In 1977 it Issued a stamp bearing the photo of archbishop Hillarion Capucci behind the Israeli prison bars, with a caption saying: ‘In memory of the detention of Archbishop Capucci 1975-1977. In 1998 it issued a stamp bearing the picture of Mother Theresa, and in 2003 ,in the occasion of the visit of pope John Paul II to Damascus, it issued a stamp with his picture and the Umayyad mosque as background, with a caption saying: 25th Anniversary Of The Nomination Of The Holy Pontiff. Dr. Youssef stressed.

Finally, Dr. Siham Youssef  said For all what had been said, although these are no more than excerpts of our daily life in Syria, we can say proudly, that Syria is a country of religious cohesion and Islamic ≠ Christian fraternity and coexistence, and that on the road of love and peace we will continue our march.

Interviewed by: Haifaa Mafalani