03/31/2006, 00.00
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Syrian soldiers to be taught religion after 40 years

by Jihad Issa

The Imams will be allowed to hold classes in the barracks of the Military Academy. The regime wants to avert the fundamentalist threat posed by the Muslim Brothers. Bishop Batikha has called for the "application of reciprocity for Christians".

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Imams will now be able to go to barracks to talk to soldiers about religion. The government of Damascus has abolished a ban imposed way back in 1963, when the Baath party triumphed and asserted the secular nature of the state. Since then, it is forbidden even to open any of the country's 8,000 mosques outside the hours of prayer, or to use loudspeakers that could be heard outdoors.

The government decision could well be a response to leaders of the Muslim Brothers, who have expressed confidence in their chances of seizing power in Syria, if the regime of Bashar El Assad were to fall and free elections are held. Both the Minister for the Defence, General Hassan Tourkoumani, and the Army Commander, General Ali Habib, talked about the inclusion of religious teaching in the study plan of the Military Academy, as a "response to the thirst for God in the barracks". But they asked soldiers to reject all forms of religious fundamentalism that could crush reciprocal respect and co-existence.

The two military officials were speaking during a round table discussion about "Syria facing international challenges", organized in Damascus with the participation of the Greek-Melkite Bishop, Isidor Batikha, former Patriarchal Vicar in Damascus. He called for the "application of the law of reciprocity between Christians and Muslims". Another participant was Syria's grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Hasoun, who underlined the "fundamental role of religion in the battle against secularization and laicism". The two generals also pointed out to soldiers the urgent need to revive the perennial values of religion, because "a society without God will find itself in conflict with history and society".

The grand Mufti, Ahmad El Hassoun, told AsiaNews the initiative was a "response to fundamentalism, because a fundamentalist is one who is ignorant of God". He expressed his desire to see Syria overcome its current crisis with the West.

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