Friday, September 08, 2006


Jihad and the various forms it takes in Arabic has many meanings, both secular and religious, among them, “to wage holy war against the infidels,” according to my dictionary. It also connotes devotion, concentration and exertion toward a cause which has nothing to do war. It is also a name, both Muslim and Christian. I met a Syrian Christian monk today named Jihad. He lives with five monks and three nuns at Deir Mar Mousa al-Habashi, which means the Monastery of Saint Moses, the Ethiopian. The monastery is doubly unconventional: it is home to men and women, and it is ecumenical, both Syrian Catholic and Syrian Orthodox.

This tiny religious community, perched on the side of a cliff in the desert north of Damascus, is one of the few remaining of thousands of Byzantine monasteries once spread across the harsh landscape of the Eastern Mediterranean. The monastery is said to have been founded in the 6th century by an Ethiopian prince who refused the crown to become a monk and then hermit in Syria. It was abandoned by the middle of the 19th century, but brought back to life in the 1980s by an Italian Jesuit named Paolo, who was ordained a priest in the Syrian rite.

The monastery church features outstanding 11th century frescoes, as well as an 11th century inscription of the Arabic words, which precede every recitation of the Qur’an: “In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate.” In the restored church, the inscription is repeated in a dedication to its reopening. Brother Jihad said the words resonate in Christianity as well as Islam. One of the missions of the monastery is to foster interfaith dialogue. Small numbers of Muslims come to pray in the monastery church, according to Brother Jihad, as they do at important Christian shrines throughout the Middle East. The church floor, which is not original, is covered with colorful Persian carpets, an Islamic aesthetic.

Today, the first day of the Syrian weekend, bus loads of Syrians, a few Europeans, and one American visited the monastery. It was impossible to tell how many Muslims were among them.


Blogger joecharro said...


Loved the cartas! Can taste the legumes all the way back here in our Valley home!

Godspeed, hermano!
Joe C.

3:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home