Sunnis vs. Shiites in Syria Widen War Zone

The final 2012 US presidential debate highlighted Syria repeatedly as one of the hottest spots in the world. Syria’s civil war began in March 2011, reportedly as a peaceful secular protest movement against the rule of the minority (11%) Alawite Muslims, who form a branch of Shiite Islam. But many in the Sunni Muslim majority (74%) of Syria joined the protest, and they were brutally repressed by the Assad regime. The resulting war is now the most violent of all conflicts to arise from last year’s Arab Spring, with about 33,000 killed so far, including 2300 children. It is a war of Muslim against Muslim, Sunni against Shiite, and increasingly, jihadists against jihadists.

Both Sunni and Shiite jihadists see Syria as the key to conquest of the Middle East, and ultimately the world, by their brand of Islam. Sunni Saudi Arabian extremists are funding the Syrian rebels, recruiting foreign Sunnis—including al Qaeda operatives—and pushing more moderate Syrian Sunnis into an increasingly jihadist stance. Jihadist Shiite Iran and the jihadist Shiite Hezbollah party in Lebanon—Syria’s western neighbor—are training pro-Assad forces in Syria to beat back the mostly Sunni rebels. Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbor, is about 80% Sunni and is now striking back at Syria every time violence crosses its border. The US has sided with the Sunni rebels but is reluctant to arm them due to al Qaeda infiltration of their ranks. China and Russia have resisted US pressure and blocked UN resolutions against the Shiite-backed Assad regime. Syria is Russia’s long-time client and receives 10% of Russia’s arms sales. This regional war could escalate, since both Obama and Romney have stated they are willing for the US to intervene if WMDs are found in Syria. Certainly this is a volatile crisis with worldwide implications.

We cannot forget that caught in between the warring jihadists are innocent civilians, including the 11% of Syrians who are Christian—mostly Catholic and Orthodox. Before the war Christians in Syria had possibly more freedom and stability than in any country in the Middle East (according to Operation World). Pentecostal and evangelical radio stations have been reaching many Muslim as well as Christian listeners. But now Christians are among the many innocent civilians who are fleeing for their lives from the widespread, unpredictable violence. (See testimony of an indigenous minister and other news sources below.) Let us pray for this strategic nation at this critical time.

PRAY WITH US: Father God, You are all-wise and You have established the outline of world history from beginning to end. The false god Allah is nothing compared to You, and will fall with all his power shattered. You are God of Arabs and Jews and all peoples. You are God of Ishmael and Isaac alike. You said of Ishmael, “he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” That has been true of his descendants, for Arab is at war with Arab as well as with Jews. And yet You also said of Ishmael, “I will surely bless him: I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.” You would only increase his numbers so you might bless the Arabs with a great harvest of souls for Your Son Jesus Christ.

So that is what we pray for. In the Syrian city of Damascus, where Saul went to persecute Christians and came back pursuing Christ, we ask for radical conversions of Muslims. In Syrian Antioch, the first Christian missions base, we ask for more powerful missions to be sent back there. Protect, empower and increase the Christian remnant in all of Syria, as You have done in so many persecutions elsewhere. In the midst of these tribulations in Syria, which are shaking the entire world, let there be great demonstrations to the world of Your power to save, deliver and heal. Keep dividing Islamic kingdoms so they will not stand. Set a sure course for the rise of governments which will let their people “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness,” as You have commanded us to pray. And let Your people restore biblical faith and the grace of God to a people who have come under deep darkness and deception, for Your light is greater. Let the fullness of the Gentiles come in, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Christian Aid quotes an indigenous minister:”Last night I received a phone call to get some families out of Syria because they were in danger,” he says. “Their village had been looted and burned. They had escaped with nothing but their lives. They had gathered near the border of Lebanon, but couldn’t cross because the road was guarded. This has been a normal practice of both the government soldiers and the rebels. As they approach a village, the people know they need to flee or get killed. There is no police protection because all who are loyal to the government are busy fighting…Pray for the Believers in Syria. Their only protection and security is the Lord. We take food to some of them, but it is never enough. They are in grave danger in Syria, but there is no place for them in Lebanon or Jordan or Turkey or Iraq. Pray for them, as they cry out to our Lord, because He is enough.”

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