[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Sunday, July 12, 2009

[Visit to Aleppo]
Aleppo is the name of a distant place I first encountered reading about the Crusades and later in Shakespeare's Macbeth while in secondary school. I never imagined one day visiting Aleppo until a few weeks ago when the Grand Mufti of Syria, Shaikh Dr Ahmad Bader Eddin al-Hassoun, who is from Aleppo, invited me to visit. We met when he was in Singapore to deliver MUIS' Distinguished Visitor's Lecture and knew I was going to Syria on a bilateral visit.

As the Aleppo airport was temporarily shut down for repairs, I went by road (actually a beautiful highway) from Damascus, a journey of 4 over hours. It was a smooth ride with rather pleasant rest stops (clean toilets, cups of coffee and tea and all kinds of delightful pastries).

The Grand Mufti welcomed the Singapore delegation with the greatest warmth and hospitality. I attended Friday prayers at his mosque and was invited to address the congregation after his sermon. There was a short reception afterwards when I was introduced to the Catholic Armenian Archibishop Msgr Boutros Mariati. We then went to the Grand Mufti's house for a lunch which his wife had personally prepared. As with all Syrian meals, it was a large spread.

We then went for a quick tour of the great citadel built by Saladin which looked a little like the fortress in the Lord of the Rings. Later in the afternoon, the Grand Mufti invited me to attend Mass at the Catholic Armenian Church. Archbishop Mariati embraced us when we arrived. The Mass was said in both Armenian and Arabic. The Armenian rite is somewhat different from the Latin rite but recognisably Catholic. Holy Communion was served to the mouth with the bread dipped into wine.

After Mass, Archbishop Mariati spoke words of welcome to both the Grand Mufti and to me. I was invited to speak first. The Grand Mufti then gave a moving sermon about motherhood. At the reception, a number of ladies expressed their high regard for the Grand Mufti. A nun said that he was a mufti for all Syrians.

When the Grand Mufti was in Singapore, he impressed everyone he met with his open mind, his big heartedness, his wisdom and his spirituality. Religion serves human beings, not the other way around. Human beings are more important than temples, mosques or churches. Countries should be organised on a secular basis, not a religioius basis, so that citizens of all faiths are fairly treated. The policy of the Syrian state towards religion is not unlike what we have in Singapore.

Before I went to Syria, Aleppo seemed very far away. It is no longer so in my mind and in my heart.

Friday Prayers at Masjid Ar-Rawdah Shariff

Meeting and Lunch with Grand Mufti of Syria Sheikh Ahmad Bader Eddin

Visit to the Armenian Church

Visit to the Citadel

Remarks at the Friday prayers and the Armenian
mass in Aleppo (Video 1)

Remarks at the Friday prayers and the Armenian
mass in Aleppo (Video 2)


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