MCC Photo/Silas Crews

Syrian refugees Iman, left, and Fatima look over drawings of their homes that were destroyed in Syria. They now live in Lebanon where they participated in an art therapy workshop, sponsored by MCC, in 2014.

The Qalamoun region straddles the highway from Damascus to Homs in central Syria. Long known for their hospitality, the people of Qalamoun responded with open arms when families displaced by violence elsewhere came seeking refuge. In addition to welcoming the displaced families into their shops, homes and schools, they immediately began organizing efforts to provide food and hygiene items to their new guests. As more and more IDPs arrived, and the need for humanitarian support quickly became evident, they formed a local interfaith network of distributors and coordinators to respond to the crisis.

The purposeful inclusion of both Christian and Muslim partners in this effort facilitated not only a successful relief distribution, but also helped to establish trust and cooperation between different faith groups. This trust became very important when Islamist militants appeared on the scene.

Qalamoun’s location has made it an attractive target for both the government and opposition forces. When Islamist militants arrived in 2013, Christians were in grave danger. Qalamoun’s Muslims responded by helping to evacuate members of the Christian community to other villages for safety. Similarly, they defied the militants to attack them when the militants entered a Syrian Orthodox church. As the armed personnel approached, the Muslim residents of the community were resolute: “If you wish to defile this church and harm these people,” they stated, “you will have to kill us first.”

A historically diverse host community in Qalamoun continues to provide an example of how Muslims and Christians can not only live together, but thrive together. As many communities in Syria fall prey to the vicious cycles of hate, Qalamoun serves as a beacon of hope.

Adapted from Riad Jarjour and Andrew Long-Higgins, “Humanitarian assistance and social cohesion in Syria,” Intersections, Fall 2014, 6-7.

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