How a kidnapped Syrian archbishop described faith in pre-war Syria

Archbishop Ibrahim was kidnapped in April 2013. In his 2006 book he describes the peaceful coexistence of religions in Syria before the war.Aid to the Church in Need

The Greek and Syriac Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, were kidnapped in Syria near the Turkish border in April 2013. There are growing fears that only one of them is still alive.

The Archbishops were captured when they were on their way home from attempting to secure the release of two priests who had themselves been kidnapped two months earlier. Their driver was murdered in the attack.

Repeated interventions by senior church leaders around the world have had no success in securing their release.

Last October the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, raised the plight of the two Archbishops and said that we in the West "can't turn our backs" on the "poisonous" effects of religious tyranny in the region.

So far more than 220,000 people have died in the civil war. Four million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, mainly Turkey and Lebanon, and millions more have been displaced within Syria, forced to their their towns and villages.

Days before his kidnapping Archbishop Ibrahim told BBC Arabic that Muslims and Christians in Syria were the same boat. He said: "There is no persecution of Christians and there is no single plan to kill Christians. Everyone respects Christians. Bullets are random and not targeting the Christians because they are Christians."

Archbishop Ibrahim's 2006 book, 'Accepting the Other', described how Syrians of different faiths lived peacefully together at that time.

Aid to the Church in Need, which has pledged $2.8 million in emergency aid for the Christians of Syria, marked the fourth anniversary of the war yesterday by translating and publishing an extract from Archbishop Ibrahim's book.

Archbishop Ibrahaim wrote:

The plurality of religions and faiths does not foment an inter-religious conflict due to the fact that the common denominator of its teachings, heritages and ethics affirms the oneness of God and the multiplicity and integrity of its people.

Whenever Christians and Muslims approach the sources of divine teaching, they may feel that their common heritage is part and parcel of the universal belief of the relationship between man (the weak) and the Creator (the mighty). Christians say we have one God and Muslim say there is no God but God.

From this understanding of our common heritages derived the concept of the "Dialogue of Life" – to which we owe our peaceful coexistence and the flourishing of our communities. However, even given the rich ethno-religious diversity of our communal tapestry, it is not at all like the concept of multiculturalism that is emerging in Western society.

The "Dialogue of life" is a rather simple, spontaneous, and natural way of life – a sort of coexistence sustained by the values of solidarity, humanity, impartiality and accepting the other unconditionally. Some may argue that our "Dialogue of Life" draws on the principles outlined in the Geneva Convention. Not so, our "Dialogue" has its own unwritten codes, whose values far predate this relatively new Western concept of dialogue and coexistence.

The "Dialogue of Life" is an in-built intuition: its values have been well tried and tested throughout the centuries of our coexistence, both in situations of peace and war, with and without the presence of media and UN observers. There is no need for awareness classes, training courses or fundraising campaigns.

The "Dialogue of Life" starts with the first steps of a toddler in the neighbourhood, and carries on at nursery and schools, so that in adulthood people are well equipped with the basic skill to coexist and keep this dialogue alive and functional. Understandably, such values are not a commodity and certainly, may not have a sell-by date. However, they are not immune but in fact extremely sensitive to the fluctuations of security and law and order in our milieu. Therefore, they cannot be taken for granted, but need constant nurturing, maintenance and enhancements.

The "Dialogue of Life" reflects that we are all children of God, created in His image. We are all in the same boat, riding the same waves, facing the same reduced circumstances. We often find ourselves peddling in shark-infested, uncharted territories. Understandably, it is not necessary that all are able to reciprocate. But for us the principle of the survival of the fittest is not an option, and it cannot be spelled out who will come out on top. The "Dialogue of Life" hinges on accepting others and shuns religious or sectarian distinctions.

At this juncture of our history, when war has become a part of daily life, there never has been a greater need for this "Dialogue of Life." It remains to be seen how waterproof our treasured "Dialogue of Life" and what the limits of effectiveness might be in such reduced and perilous circumstance—especially with so many outside factions coming into our country with the object of tampering with our way of life, upsetting our peaceful coexistence.

Let us hope and pray that the profound effects of civil war will not be so great as to prevent the recovery and survival of our "Dialogue of Life" and our civilized coexistence.