I had a really interesting conversation recently with a close friend of mine’s mother about a very contentious issue.
My friend happens to be of the same background as me and so, as a Syrian, it was inevitable that the question of religion would find its way into our conversations.
The question I was eventually asked was whether I saw myself as a muslim or a christian. While in the West, questions like these are almost regarded as a invasions of privacy, in the Middle East, it is a commonplace, often distinguishing political groups from others.
In reality, the only reason I was asked this question is precisely because of the political dynamics of Syria today. As rebel fighters continue their insurrection against the government, minority groups, especially Christians, feel the brunt of it all. In a part of the world where liberalism and secularism are under attack, it seems very difficult for Christian groups to trust any sort of ‘Islamic’ movement.
But all politics aside, the reason I brought this up was more religious than political.
The concern echoed by my Christian counterpart was that the rise of Islam would destroy all aspects of modernism, secularism, and liberalism which have been harbored by the secular regime of Assad for over 40 years, and eventually replace it all with an intolerant, exploitative system of rule.
While this fear may not necessarily be entirely unwarranted, it does much to taint the image of Islam, which has over the last two decades, earned quite the reputation in the international community.
What I sought to accomplish by answering this question posed by my friend was the distinguish Islam from political movements of Islamism, and to establish a more coherent understanding of a truer, more genuine, liberalized Islam that is, in actuality, much closer to the Christian-Syrian culture then the Mass-Sunni-Culture of Syria.
The rise of Islamism and extremist groups in the Middle East should not be attributed to Islam, but rather, to the individuals and groups which have been corrupted by their own thinking or perhaps by their own ego, or more realistically, by bribery. That way, there is more inter-faith understanding between Christians and the more educated Islamic populace.