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Christians Uphold Long and Sacred Heritage in Syria

ICC Note:

Ten percent of Syrians today call themselves Christian. These Christians are the remains of a rich society and culture; a remnant that continues to practice its faith and traditions amongst a Muslim majority.

By: Amy Kellogg

10/30/2009 Syria (FoxNews) – The Syrian Ministry of Tourism invited journalists from Tehran to Tunis to check out its top attractions during a trip to the normally reclusive country. Fox News hopped a caravan and went along for the ride.

SLIDESHOW: A Long Christian Heritage in Syria .

When Christianity became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire, a basilica to St. John the Baptist was built on the site. In fact, reportedly the head of St. John the Baptist is buried in the mosque.

When the Muslims entered Damascus in 636 AD, Islamic places of worship were cobbled onto the site, and Christians and Muslims shared the space for prayer. In the early eighth century, with Damascus now the capital of the Muslim world, the basilica was converted entirely to a mosque at enormous cost and grandeur, with rich mosaics and precious stones. Some say it took seven years of tax to pay for the grandiose building.

Syria had temples before it had churches, churches before it had mosques, so there is a lot of historical overlap at houses of worship. The Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers has a sacred room with both Christian altars and Muslim prayer niches, as one example.

The history of the Jews in Syria has been more tumultuous. In Roman times, there were as many as 10,000 living in Damascus , by some accounts. Jews migrated to Syria after the Crusaders moved on Jerusalem . Today, there are just over 100 Jews left in Syria . Legal restrictions put on the community around the time of the founding of the state of Israel caused many to leave. That included restrictions on travel, so Jews would not visit Israel .

Today, 10 percent of Syria ’s population is Christian. St. Paul converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus , and the country just recently celebrated 2000 years since his birth, in a year-long nationwide commemoration.

In the town of Maalula , just outside Damascus , many people still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. It’s one of the very few places in the world where that tongue is still spoken. Some children don’t even learn Arabic, the official language of Syria , until they start school.

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