Friday, July 22, 2005

The Syrian version of “I believe in …. because….”

One thing you’ll find apparent in Syria, is how the vast majority belong to the “believers’ community”. You can rarely find people who question their own faith , at least not openly. The question “Is there a God?” has no necessity to be asked. You are most likely to be born to a family that tells you there’s a God. Your teachers and classmates at school know that there’s a God too.

Usually, when you ask people around the world about their religion and why they believe in it, you'd expect an in-depth answer like this:
"I believe in [fill in the religion you want] because it offers me so much peace of mind, it gives me strength, and it makes me closer to [Insert the higher power you want].

On the other hand, after a long and productive conversation in Syria, you'd receive an answer in the vein of this model:
"I believe in [fill in the religion you want] because this religion and that religion are completely wrong. I have all the evidence to proof my assertions.That being said, my religion is the correct one, because the rest are wrong. Besides, it's the religion of my parents, and they can't be wrong".

I have received this kind of reaction for almost all my life, whether online, or in real life. The interesting thing is that these kind of answers don't pertain a certain sect or religion, because I have received them from Christians, Sunnis, Alawites, and Druz.

The fascinating thing is that those methods - of proving others wrong - used by these people could be used again to prove their own religion wrong. The method they use to argue about other religions consist of historical facts, changes in the holybooks, burning old manuscripts, and influences from pagan or former religions. All these methods could be applied to all religions and sects of Syria, (Whether you and I like it or not).

Of course, proving everybody else as a "wrong believer" is the easy way out to prove the dilemma and the skepticism of your own faith. This actaully shows a lack of faith, lack of confidence, and lack of the general knowledge about one's religion.

I am also surprised how people know and learn about the "others'" religions even more than they do, or care to, about their own. Can't believers go deeper inside their own religion and find out why they belong to that religion, instead of knowing why they don't belong to other religions?

Religions in Syria nowadays serve less and less religious purposes. They've become more of a card of identity, that enables you to say "I'm this or that", "I can get married to this and that", and "I don't prefer to hang out with this and that".

I don't like to generalize so much, but I'm trying to shed some light on some of the Syrian mentality. This entry was sort of an introduction (to prepare some sectarian people) to accept that there will be some info, that they might not like, about other religions. I Do hope that the information that will be provided later about the various sects of Syria won't be held against the people of those certain faiths.

Lastly, our purpose as the youth of Syria is to pinpoint our mistakes and hypocrisies in order to grow and to improve our society. Please, keep that in mind.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Syrian "Devil Worshiper"??

It is time again to talk about a not-very-well-known minority in Syria. Izedism or Yezidism "يزيدية", is an ancient eastern religion that could be traced back to the old days of Sumerians and Babylonians in Iraq. Most of the followers of the faith live in Iraq, while a few thousands live in Syria and Turkey. The people who follow Izedism are called “Izedis”.
I tried to find a definition for the word “Izedi” and almost all the sources defined them as “One of an Oriental religious sect which worships Satan or the Devil.” Also, most of the people who know about the existence of Izedis call them “Devil Worshipers”.

This definition might be shocking to most of us. But what kind of rituals do they have that could prompt someone to call them such name?
Izedis, like Christians and Muslims, are monotheists, meaning that they believe in One God. However, Izedism disagreement with the other monotheistic religions evolves around Lucifer. Lucifer to Christians and Muslim is a fallen angel who disobeyed God, and then he became the source of all evil, the Devil. On the other hand, Izedis believe that Lucifer had sinned and disobeyed God, but at the end he repented his sins and he returned to God as an angel. The worship of Izedis is centered on that Angel who they call “Melek Taus” or “Peacock Angel”. Their most sacred place, which is a burial place, is located in Lalish, Iraq.

According to some sources, Izedis rever and are influenced by Prophet Mohammad, The Quran, and the Bible. Nonetheless, the influence of Zoroastrianism "زرادشتية"is more apparent than the influence of any other religion.

According to an article written by George Katn and published on, Izedis make up to 2% of the Iraqi population. That article also shed some light on the immense persecution Izedis have received through out history.
In Syria, most Izedis live in Al-Jazira to the northeast of Syria, while a small number of them live in Aleppo city, in the northwest of Syria.

Izedis are probably one of the most persecuted minorities in the Middle East through out history. It is not only that they have “strange” belief, but also because of the ethnic background of most Izedis, which is the Kurdish ethnicity. That makes them an ethnic minority and a religious one as well.

Izedism is still a very secretive community, and there are many missing links about their history and faith. Their reverence of the Bible and the Quran could be a cover-up story, or it could be not precise, to say the least. Reconciliation with the majority, at the expense of ones rituals and history, is not a surprising thing for a minority to do.

All minorities, at certain periods of their history, have somewhat adapted to the language and religion of the majority to decrease the level of persecution they had been receiving. Being openly different would risk their survival.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Syrian Jews

The history of Jews in Syria is not very different than the history of the big Jewish community. There was alot of direct and indirect persecution to the small Syria Jewish community.

I have visited many Syrian websites trying to know more about the Jewish history. Most of them pointed out that Jews might have migrated from Spain during the Spanish inquisition and persecution to Jews. However, that contradicts the point of view of Syrian Jews, because many of them believe that their religion and history is traced back to 2500 years ago in SYria.

It is also important to mention that many Jewish scientists and businessmen were close to some Caliphates during the Omayyad dynasty rule of Syria in the 8th and 9th centuries. The most profound relationship with Jews and Muslim rulers was established in the tolerant Omayyad rule of Andalusia in Spain.

At the beginning of the 20th century some Jews, as well as many other Syrians, have migrated. Most of them migrated to New York.

After the Syrian independent from the French mandate, Jews started having hard time, because there were many restrictions on them leaving the country or joining military or political affairs.

During the early and mid 90's Most of the Jews of Syria were given permission to leave the country; however, the permission strictly forbids them to go to Israel.
No matter how much going to Isral was prohibitied, some 1262 Jews managed to migrate to Israel in an undercover operation according to the Jerusalem Post (October, 1994). On the other hand, most of the other Jews migrated to New York City, USA. And most of them live in Brooklyn, and they are said to be managing many businesses especially in the Jewlery district in NYC.

Why did the government give permissions to Jews is abit confusing. Online sources mention that the US put pressure on Syria to give more freedom for Jews, especially after the Madrid Peace conference in 1991. It's even rumored that Syria received some cash for every Jewish person it allows to migrate.

I have met two Syrian Jews and they talked about the whole story of their immigration and the Syrian government. Both of their views were so contradicting.
The first one said that a person from the Syrian intelligence had visited every Jewish house in Damascus and tried to convince them NOT to migrate.

The other person didn't stop bashing the government, because he believes that he was forced to leave the country where he used to have a great wealthy life managing his father's factories and business.

According to an estimated census by Rabbi Huder Shahada Kabariti, the spiritual leader of the Syria Jews, There are 150 Jews living in Damascus, 30 in Aleppo and 20 in Kamashili. There are also two synagogues still open in Damascus, while the big Synagogue of Aleppo got deserted in 1994 according to the Associated Press, (January, 2000)

Religions Introduction

Syria is mostly a muslim country; however, if you look closely, you'll find many other religions and minorities and even many different sects of the majority. Almost every sect or religion has survived persecution and oppresion for years.

Not many surveys or censuses about the demographics and population of Syria exist. The few that are availble might not be 100% accurate, including the information that is provided by the CIA world factbook which happens to be the sole source for many websites and encyclopedias.

-Sunni muslims make 74% of the population while the Hanafi and Shafii schools of Sunni faith are dominante.
-Alawite muslims are said to make 10% of the population.
-Christians, 10% (including various Catholic and Orthodox sects and a minority of Protestants)
-Isamilites, Druz, small community of Yazidis, and handful of Jews make up the rest 6% of the population.

Religiously, Syria is fairly moderate, whether with its Islamic or Christian sects, compared to its neighbors. And surprisingly, there's no official religion of the state, making Syria one of very few secular countries in the middle east. Whether the state is indeed secular or not, it is a topic that I will discuss later.

In the next entries, I will discuss certain sects and religions seperately, and I will talk briefly about their history.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Beginning

Welcome to "The Hidden Gates of Damascus." I want this blog to be a gate from the point of view of a native and of an international traveler. I want it to be a place where I can share my own thoughts and feelings about Syria with Syrians and non-Syrians. I would also like it to be a place where all poeple can share their views about Syria, even if I don't agree with them.

Syria has a rich history with many people from different backgrounds, religions, sects, and cultures. For this reason, we have a very unique society that has emerged from the ruins of many past empires. Even these empires were made up of many different races and cultures.

Throughout our history, we have lost or forgotten many things, and at the same time, we have adapted new ideas. In the present, we still continue to leave many things behind that should not be forgotten.

In this space, I'm going to share information about Ancient Syria, the recent history of Syria, and most importantly, the cultural structure of the society and the recent events that are shaping the mentality of the Syrian youth.

Some of the topics I will be covering include, but are not limited to: the mainstream religions, the lesser known religions, Syrian Atheists, Arabism, Nationalism, musical culture, controversy within the media, problems among youth, freedom of expression, and relationships with the surrounding countries.

I would love this blog to become an interactive forum for Syrians and non-Syrians whatever they may believe. And I hope that we could all share information with each other to create a clearer image of the real Syria.