Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Christians in Syria: between a rock and a hard place?

Christians in Syria apparently fared well under the Assad regime, as they were accorded a good measure of religious freedom. They have not been involved in the protest movement. Until last year there was a long record of peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians in Syria.  In fact Christians have been part of Syrian society since New Testament times. St. Paul stayed at Straight Street, Damascus. The Church of Antioch at one time was very influential.

Today Christians are a religious minority, perhaps representing about ten per cent of the population.  President Assad belongs to the Alawite Muslim minority in a land that is predominantly Sunni Muslim.  Some have suggested that this is one of the reasons why Christians have been sympathetically treated.

Now violence on the streets and heavy gunfire has prevented Christians attending church services.  In some areas there has been a growing anti-Christian hostility by militant Islamic factions.  Some church buildings have been burnt down. A number of Christians have been killed.  People are dying frequently on the streets in Syria.

Christian leaders fear that some Islamic militants wish to implement laws and practices that would threaten their liberty and make life far more difficult for Christians.  Syrian Christians therefore are concerned that a revolution and regime change could bring persecution and the implementation of harsh penalties and restrictions on them.

One Syrian sheikh in exile in Saudi Arabia has threatened all those who oppose the revolution and has said that they will be "torn apart, chopped up and fed to dogs".  This has been seen as an implicit threat to the Christian community.

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