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M.A. Al-Habash: The Crisis in Syria

Speech at the UPF Interfaith Consultation on the Crisis in Syria
Amman, Jordan, October 11-13, 2013

Published in Dialogue & Alliance, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2013

It is my duty to extend my sincere thanks to all of the brothers who came from around the world to stand with the Syrian people in their distress and anguish. I ask God to record your coming to this conference as an expression of obedience and worship of God. As God said: “This is the best worship: to help the oppressed.”

Civilization in Syria started 6,000 years ago, and in this good earth were born religions and prophets who started spreading wisdom and light in all parts of the world. Since the time of Abraham, Syria has been a Holy Land for believers around the world and a holy destination for believers who are searching for spiritual salvation and God’s love and mercy.

But Syria was not exposed in history to the kind of injustice suffered under the current Syrian regime today, and that’s when people went into the streets to demand freedom and dignity. But the regime started shooting and killing thousands of innocent people and sent tens of thousands to prison to taste injustice, oppression and suffering.

I was working with the system in Syria as an independent deputy in the parliament for about ten years. We were working conscientiously with the complicated situation in Syria and attempted to counterbalance the regime to prevent our country falling into a dark state.

But unfortunately the regime didn’t listen to the voices of wisdom and moderation but increased the harsh repression and oppression against their people. The result was that a lot of the peaceful opposition turned to armed opposition, and many fighters from around the world came to Syria to fight this regime. The culture of hatred and criminality increased day by day.

Syria entered a dark tunnel, and the number of dead exceeds 120,000, with a greater number who have been disabled, wounded and seized. Syrians have fled to neighboring countries for fear of oppression and bombardment, and today more than 8 million Syrians are displaced at home or abroad in the largest humanitarian disaster in the world in this new century.

I do not think we disagree in identifying the cause of the disaster in Syria as the violence perpetrated by the system first and practiced by warriors after that; violence was met with violence, and the voices of dialogue, wisdom and logic were not heard.

The innocent people in Syria paid a great price because of this blind hatred, and tens of thousands of women and children have become victims of war, their only guilt being that they had been found in the wrong place.

We don’t need more debates about the Syrian tragedy, because you are following the daily news updates about the scope of the bitter tragedy experienced by the Syrians.

It must be said that the clergy have paid dearly as a result of the violent cycle of war in Syria, and I invite you to take a moment to pray for the souls of the clergy who have died as martyrs in this crazy war, including Sheikh Saeed Al Bouti, Sheikh Ahmed Sadiq, Sheikh Abdul Latif al-Shami and Sheikh Badr Ghazal. I also invite you to pray for the safety of archbishops Paul Yazigi and John Abraham, and I hope that God will help them in their plight and that they will gain their freedom.

No doubt there are many roles required of politicians and jurists across the world and in the United Nations, but we have a special responsibility as religious people to put an end to violence and war in Syria.

Let me make some specific points of appeal that I hope will help our brothers in Syria.

The injustice experienced by the Syrians is not narrowly focused. Weapons are blind and do not differentiate between people of different religions. Among the martyrs killed in this crazy war are Christian, Sunni, Shi’ite and Alawite clerics; the killers did not differentiate between religions. This is true of both the regime and the opposition.

The campaigns of displacement were aimed at every moderate voice, whether Islamic or Christian, and we appeal to our brothers in Syria to preserve our historic diversity based on tolerance and brotherhood. At the same time, we cannot blame those who decide to exit their houses to preserve their lives when threatened by dangers, but we encourage those who have been internally displaced to return home as soon as they can.

Almost all Syrians are moderates and centrists; they do not support the war and destruction but instead seek reconciliation and coexistence. I would say that the majority in Syria is a silent majority that has nothing to do with this war and is not a party in this conflict.

The extremists of the regime and the opposition pose a real threat to the life of all Syrians. What is needed is a unified position to outlaw violence in all its forms and to invite everyone to lay down their arms and engage in the dialogue of reason and logic.

The only possible way for the salvation of Syrians is dialogue and a peaceful solution, and we encourage the Syrians to go to Geneva II under the auspices of the United Nations and to form a unified government for the Syrians under international supervision that excludes weapons, fighting and incitement to murder.

We call for the departure of all strangers who entered Syria to participate in the war, especially when they increased the pains and suffering of the people; the people have tasted the greatest scourge and harm from the actions of these groups.

These statements are accepted by consensus among the wise people of this world. I appeal to the clergy gathered today in this noble organization under the shadow of the Almighty Allah, who said: “O ye who believe, enter into peace all, and do not follow the steps of Satan.”

We call via this conference for disarmament and dialogue between the different factions in Syria that gives priority to the voice of reason and wisdom.

We make a parallel call for the departure of both fighters and participants in the fighting in Syria, as a part of a program of forgiveness.

We invite the Universal Peace Federation to

  • engage in humanitarian relief and charity in Syria and its neighboring countries.
  • hold meetings in Amman, Beirut, Turkey and Iraq with NGO relief personnel to promote coordination among themselves and secure access of international and humanitarian support to those affected by the conflict.
  • participate in Geneva II as an observer in order to promote relief and reconciliation efforts between the Syrians.
  • heed the Iranian president’s call to facilitate dialogue between the Syrians, recognizing the position of Iran and its impact on the Syrian regime.
  • launch programs to promote a culture of peace in Syrian society to counter the culture of revenge and sectarian hatred.
  • engage in effective relief activity through international forums and NGOs.
  • publicize in the media the martyrs among the clergy who paid the price for calling for tolerance and love.

In conclusion, we are here to do what our religions and our prophets command us, to call for tolerance and rejection of war and to ask God to extend His mercy and salvation to all Syrians.

Dr. Muhammad Al-Habash was a member of the Syrian parliament from 2003 to 2012. He was director of the Institutes of the Holy Qur’an in Syria (1990-2001) and khatib (Friday speaker) of the Zahraa Mosque in Damascus (1981-2011). His academic degrees include a B.A. in Islamic Law from Damascus University, a B.A. in Arabic Literature from Beirut University, an M.A. in Islamic Studies from Karachi University, and a Ph.D. in Qur’an science from the University of the Holy Qur’an-Khartoum. He is author of more than 50 books in the fields of Islamic culture and dialogue of civilizations. He is currently associate professor of religious studies at Abu Dhabi University and an adviser to the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue.