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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 2005.


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.



There 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 Orthodox.



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.


Religious Monuments:

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 Empire.


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 by 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.