Syria's population is approximately 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. Among
Muslims, 74% are Sunni; the rest are divided among other Muslim sects,
mainly Alawites (accounting for 10% of the total population) and Druze
(6%), but also a small number of non-Druze Ismailites and Shiite, which
has increased dramatically due to the influx of Iraqi refugees since
Islam, the third Monotheistic religion, was started by the Prophet
Muhammad, a descendant of a long line of prophets, including Jesus,
Moses, Abraham, and David (Peace be upon them). Muhammad (P), had,
through the Angel Gabriel, the revelation of the Koran, the word of
Allah (The word 'Allah' translates into 'The GOD'). Islam spread like a
field on fire, and was soon taken as the main religion of Syria.
are several Christian communities, who, on a whole, constitute approx.
8 - 10% of the Syrian population. Christianity in Syria is divided into
three parts: Catholic Churches, Orthodox Churches, and the Protestants.
The Catholic Churches are divided into the following: Greek Catholics,
Syrian Catholics, Armenian Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, Maronite
Catholics, and Latin Catholics. All have their own Patriarch, although
the highest position is the Pope in the Vatican. The Orthodox Churches
are divided into Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Armenian
Orthodox. These Churches also have their own patriarchs although the
Armenians are under the guidance of a Patriarch in Armenia. Protestants
are few and are under the guidance of a Thinodus (A level of
Priesthood). Their representation in the academic and economic life of
Syria far exceeds the percentage of their population.
Christianity in Syria is strongly recognized and National holidays
include Christmas, New Years day, and Easter. The Armenian Orthodox
Church celebrates Christmas on the 6th of January. As for Easter it is
celebrated on two different dates, the customary Western date
(celebrated by the Catholic Churches, Protestants and Armenian
Orthodox), the other date is celebrated by the Syrian and Greek
There is also a tiny Syrian Jewish community that is confined mainly to
Damascus; remnants of a formerly 40,000 strong community. After the
1947 UN Partition plan in Palestine, there were heavy pogroms against
Jews in Damascus and Aleppo. The Jewish property was confiscated or
burned and after the establishment of the State of Israel, many fled to
Israel and only 5000 Jews were left in Syria. Of these, 4000 more left
after agreement with the United States in the 1990s. As of 2006, there
are only a few hundred Jews left in Syria.
The Omayyad Mosque:
This Great Mosque stands at the heart of the Old city at the end of Suq
al-Hamidiyeh. It was built by the Omayyad Caliph Al-Walid Ibn Abdul
Malek in 705 AD when Damascus was the capital of the Arab Islamic
It was constructed on the site of what has always been a place of
worship: first, a temple for Hadad, the Aramean god of the ancient
Syrians 3000 years ago; then, a pagan temple (the temple of Jupiter the
Damascene) during the Roman era. It was later turned into a church
called John the Baptist when Christianity spread in the 4th century.
Following the Islamic conquest in 635, Muslims and Christians agreed to
partition it between them, and they began to perform their rituals side
When al Walid decided to erect an impressive mosque suited to the
grandeur of the Arab state "whose like was never built before, nor will
ever be built after" as he is reported to have said, he negotiated with
the Christian community of Damascus, and undertook to construct a new
church for them (St. John's) and allot several pieces of land for other
churches, if they relinquished their right to their part of the Mosque.
They agreed. It took ten years and eleven million gold dinars, as well
as a huge number of masons, artists, builders, carpenters,
marble-layers, and painters to complete. It became an architectural
model for hundreds of mosques throughout the Islamic world.
Prominent features of it are the three minarets built in different
styles; the upper parts of which were renovated during the Ayyūbid,
Mameluke, and Ottoman eras. The mosque has a large prayer hall and an
enormous courtyard. The interior walls are covered with mosaic panels,
made of colored and gilded glass, portraying scenes from nature. The
dome is grayish-blue, celebrated for its magnificence. The prayer hall
contains domed shrine venerated by both Christians and Muslims, the
tomb of St. John the Baptist.
St. Paul's Church
It commemorates the memory of St. Paul, whose name was Saul of Tarsus,
charged by the Romans to persecute the Christians. As he approached the
village of Daraya, a burst of blinding light took his sight away, and
he heard Jesus Christ ask him "Saul, why do you persecute me? This was
a vision of faith.
He was taken unconscious to Damascus, attended by Hananiya (St
Ananias), Christ's disciple, and became one of the staunchest advocates
of Christianity. His Jewish peers decided to kill him, but he hid in a
house by the city wall. The church is located at the site of his
escape. He traveled to Antioch, Athens, and Rome, after a brief stay in
Jerusalem, and continued to teach the gospel until he died.