On January 1, 2013, Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, published this letter to the Christians of Syria. In it, he invokes the long history of coexistence and cooperation between Muslims and Christians in Syria and calls upon members of both faiths to unite under the banner of the Syrian revolution.
I wrote this letter before I left Damascus. I put it away, thinking I would publish it one day.
Wherever I go, government officials ask me about the Christians. I answer that they live among us in harmony and love, not as a favor to them but because our religion and morals demand it. This is how we have lived, and this is how we will remain.
Yesterday I was visiting a refugee camp of 27,000 Syrians with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I have never felt such love and warmth as I did upon hearing thousands chanting in one voice: “one, one, one, the Syrian people are one.” Hearing this chant, which became popular at the beginning of the revolution in 2011, made me realize that the Syrian people will be great no matter what they do, defying death, steel, and fire while preserving their compassion for one another. Syria’s most generous sons sacrifice their lives to give life to the rest.
I decided to publish this letter as a gift to the Syrian people, particularly the Christians among them. It is also a gift to the memory of our loyal friends who have passed away: Prime Minister Faris al-Khoury and Muhammad Bahjat al-Bitar; the martyr Bassel Shehadeh, a loyal son of Damascus who lost his life defending Homs; the dear loving sister Hind Aboud Kabawat; and to all of those who foster love and security and who bring tranquility to people’s hearts; to the historic alleys of al-Sham that welcome people, where lemons cry and jasmine dances, I dedicate this letter.
This letter was originally written in response to attacks on a church in Alexandria and, before that, on a church in Baghdad. These events made me feel that Christians were living in fear, although later it appeared that the Egyptian regime’s interior minister had given the order to blow up the church. The Christians then remembered that immoral regimes are the ones who create discord in society. They also destroy love and harmony and create hatred among people, then put themselves forward as the only solution.
Everyone is free to follow the religion that pleases them, but who would allow the murder of innocent worshippers praying to their god? The Christians of the East are the essence of Christianity as it remains on earth, and some of them live in real worry. Some people do not understand their feelings, and there are others who capitalize on their concerns for their own purposes.
It is no secret that some political regimes, in their cleverness, turn sects against each other. This is usually accompanied by the enacting of special laws and the suppression of institutions. In many countries, only remnants of tired regimes and individuals who call themselves rulers remain. Hypocritical secularism dominates these regimes, which employ false piety and artificial tolerance devoid of spirit and life. These regimes seek out points of weakness, finding their targets in sectarian differences, which they incite and exploit. The narrow thinking of these regimes, which tests the fabric of society, religion, culture, and morals, facilitates the eruption of these issues. Ignorant clergymen help to incite people further. I wonder how long the ordinary criminals, who are victims of repression, oppression, and humiliation, will be punished while criminals from within the elite go unpunished.
I sometimes feel more fear than that which Christians experience. I fear an imminent earthquake if thinking people do not become aware and take precautions. Christianity was the first to open its doors to Islam, and harming any of Muhammad’s (peace and blessings upon him) Christian friends was prohibited. I cry whenever I remember the story of the Prophet’s cousin, Jaafar Ibn Abi Talib, who brought al-Najashi to tears with the story of God’s words about the Virgin Mary, peace and blessings upon her.
I shiver whenever I picture the blessed feet of Jesus Christ walking the same land we live on. I take great pride in the fact that Syria is the only place in the world where the language in which the spirit of God spoke to the people of the earth still lives on. It is unfortunate that most people are ignorant to the fact that Syriac is the language of Jesus Christ, peace and blessings upon him. Dr. Adnan al-Khatib, God rest his soul, wrote about the Arabism of the Syriacs, proving that they are true Arabs with strong roots in a glorious history. A senior church clergyman once said that Eastern churches are warmer than Western ones because they lived among the Muslims.
We have lived together as one in good times and bad, respecting each other’s religion and identifying in each other a vital human component that made Syria the mosaic of the world and one of its masterpieces. Coexistence also made Syria one of the finest places on earth, not only in terms of sectarian tolerance and compassion but also in terms of love, security, and tranquility. Defending the dignity, blood, wealth, life, and property of Christians is tantamount to defending our own dignity, blood, wealth, and property. It is shameful that any of them would meet harm among us.
Syria is very proud to claim someone like Faris al-Khoury. Commenting on General Gouraud’s declaration—“we have returned, Saladin,” made standing upon Saladin’s grave—Faris al-Khoury told his students that “Gouraud wanted to use religion to divide Arabs and wanted the Christians to believe that France had come only for their sake.” Gouraud, who claimed that he was the defender of Christianity on earth, all of whose inhabitants believe that it was blessed and honored by Jesus Christ, blessings and peace upon him, rudely forgot that he was the stranger and an odious occupier.
Christians cooperated with Muslims in a significant way in reaction to this, demonstrating their deep regard for the harmony in which they had lived together. They wrote an important petition disassociating themselves from the occupiers that the spiritual leaders and heads of the two sects submitted to the prime minister, Ala al-Din Droubi. This act confirmed the existing solidarity and hindered efforts to incite sectarianism.
Coexistence is part of our morality and our duty toward God, who ordered us to be kind and live in harmony. Justice among people is the foundation of religion, and justice still exists in our society. We love each other; our elderly treat the young with tenderness; we share in everything, good and bad; we share our neighbor’s joy and cry for his sorrow; we open our doors to them, as they do to us.
O Muslims, O Christians, we will remain thus in spite of the actions of the cruel and the envious. We will remain thus despite the clergymen who would ignorantly and foolishly incite hatred among ordinary people. The religions of Islam and Christianity are innocent of their crimes.
Injustice, corruption and brainwashing by the powerful have made many young people from different parts of society want to immigrate. To the venerable patriarch, every Syrian Christian, all Eastern Christians, Muslims, and all those who love Syria: in my name, and within my human and official capacities, and also in the name of those who love goodness and justice, I say that we all live by God’s mercy; if we have mercy on each other, the mercy of the heavens will fall on us. Our cultural diversity enhances us.
For the sake of the children; the innocent and the martyrs of God’s houses; those who know naught but purity; those whose hearts are filled with serenity and fairness; for the sake of the smiles of the coming generations and the hopes of boys and girls, unite! O Christians, please do not leave, stay with us.