Damascus Journals

Exploring the Religions of Syria

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A December 2004 trip to Damascus by HobWahid

Sayyidna Zeinab Photo, Damascus, Syria More Photos
Quote: Syria is a patchwork of religions, and religion is an important part in determining identity. Each region of Syria is like a new country with its own religions and customs. Sunnis, Shia, Alawis, Druze, and Christians all call Syria home and contribute to its unique culture. Explore them.

Exploring the Religions of Syria

Overview

Bosra Photo, Damascus, Syria
Quote:
Bosra: Roman and Muslim ruins as well as a perfectly preserved Roman theater.Sayyidna Zeinab Shrine: Shia pilgrimage site that will leave you in religious awe.Deir Mar Mousa: A hidden monastery tucked deep in the mountains. A spot of pure religious tranquillity.Sayidnaya and Maaloula: Syria's Christian heartland. Visit monasteries and learn some Aramaic.Jebel Arab: The heart of Syria's most mysterious and misunderstood sect, the Druze.Quick Tips: All of these sights are doable as day trips from Damascus and in fact the only one that I would actually suggest spen...Read More

Maaloula

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Attraction | "The Churches of Maaloula"

Maaloula Photo, Damascus, Syria
Quote:
Maaloula is Sayidnaya’s older and slightly more isolated sister. Located deep in a crevasse in the Anti-Lebanon mountains, Maaloula has been isolated and protected from the turmoil of the Middle East for centuries, as is evidenced by the fact that it is one of the few places on Earth where Aramaic (the language of Jesus) is still spoken by the population. It is a place of deep religious history, home to one of Syria’s venerated saints, St. Thakla, but even if you aren’t on a pilgrimage, the charm of the town itself is enough to warrant a visit. The houses, most of which are painted a light blue, climb of the sides of the mountains and push back into the deep ravine after which the town is named....Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 4, 2005

Maaloula
Maaloula
Damascus, Syria

Christmas Among Monks

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Story/Tip

Deir Mar Mousa Photo, Damascus, Syria
Quote:
I consider myself an okay Christian, more spiritual than ritual. I don’t usuall spend my Sundays at church but make my appearances on Christmas, Easter, and various other holidays, but after a week of traveling around Syria during Christmas, I was ready to give up my worldly possessions and become a monk. I developed a whole new appreciation for my religion and discovered things in myself that I had never thought possible, and I owe it all to a Syrian Christians and the most magical and spiritual Christmas I had ever had in my life.It was late December, and winter in Syria was in full swing. A biting cold was in the air and the clouds were flirting with the idea of snow (yes, it does...Read More

Bosra: Where Muhammed Met Buhira

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Story/Tip

Bosra Photo, Damascus, Syria
Quote:
About an hour and a half to the south and east of Damascus lies the small city of Bosra. Not to be confused with the headline-grabbing city of the same name farther east in Iraq, this Bosra is an ancient city dating back to Roman times, and a city with a rich and complex history. Once an important center for the Nabateans (the guys who built Petra), Bosra was finally conquered by the Romans in 106 AD and was immediately made the capital of the newly established Provincia Arabia. Under the Romans, it flourished as an intellectual, agricultural, cultural, and trade capital, even producing the only Arab Roman emperor in history, Philip The Arab, who took power in 244, a...Read More

The Shia Shrine of Sayyida Zeinab

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Story/Tip

Sayyidna Zeinab Photo, Damascus, Syria
Quote:
If you spend any amount of time around the maHatat Hijaaz (The Hijaz Railway station) and Martyrs Square, as I did, because it is where I lived, you will undoubtedly notice a few things. One is the small number of touts asking you if you want a shaghala (lit. “female worker”, fig. “prostitute”), as this is Damascus’ not-so-secret red light district, where brothels disguised as hotels are frequented by Saudi patrons. The second is the insane number of hotels flying Iranian flags and sporting Farsi names like bustaan or faradoos. In front of these hotels, day and night, you will see buses pulling up, spitting out clouds of smoke, and dropping of loads of hunched over ...Read More

Sayidnaya: Christians, Muslims, and Mary

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Story/Tip

Sayidnaya Photo, Damascus, Syria
Quote:
In the mountains to northwest of Damascus lie the towns of Sayidnaya and Maaloula, the centerpieces to Syria’s Christian heartland. The first one you come to is Sayidnaya, the larger and more visited (by Syrians) of the two due simply to Notre Dame du Sayidnaya, a legendary chapel known since before the Crusades for its holy miracles and its painting of Mary allegedly done by St. Luke, but there are plenty of other convents, monasteries and churches to be found as well.Getting to Sayidnaya is an easy minibus ride from Damascus and lakes little over an hour. It’ll drop you in the center of town from where you can climb the hillside to the Convent. The structure of the conve...Read More

Jebel Arab: Land of the Druze

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Story/Tip

Qanawat Photo, Damascus, Syria
Quote:
The Druze are the Mormons of the Middle East, or perhaps the Scientologists, members of a sect that most people know nothing about and about whom all sorts of wild stories have come about. The Druze arose out of Ismaili Shia Islam in the 10th century under the ruler of the Fatimid Caliph Hakim. The Druze believe that Hakim was the incarnation of God and the religion grew out of that, drawing heavily on Christianity and Plato. They maintain all the prophets of Christianity and Islam but have a large streak of Gnosticism. For centuries the Druze community was persecuted for their beliefs that most considered to be heretical. Thus they practiced the Islamic doctrine of taqiyyeh, concealing one’s...Read More