We woke up to a beautiful day in Antakiya. Antakiya is one of the biggest cities close to the Syrian border and is located in Hatay province which is at the most southern tip of Turkey . The city played an important role in the anciet Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Today it is beautiful modern city. After having a typical Turkish breakfast with olives, feta chees,Lahmajeen ( a kind of bread), Wara Inab ( leaves of grape vine) and other delicacies - we left the city for one of our most eventful days because it included our first entry in to Syria
I felt a little nervous from the moment I woke up. We had just completed breskfast when our host were there to pick us up. Once everyone had gradually come down from their hotel roomd we left. We drove in the city for a while and then exited the city towards Reyhanli, the small town on the border in which we passed most of yesterday.
A few kilometers out of the city we passed an army camp where former soldiers of the Syrian Goverment are being housed in a tent city. They have been given special asylum by the Turkish government. These soldiers escaped from having to serve the oppressive regime. Many of them who tried to escape were killed. If the regime were unable to get hold of them they would then go after their family members and kill them. Now, soldiers who plan to escape first have to arrange for their family to leave safely and then they only can they follow.
We entered Syria through Cilvgozu border post. This area is controlled by Jaishul Huriaya (Thr Free Syrian Army) and Ahraarus Shaam Islaami. Upon entering the border we saw streams of people moving towards the Turkish border with their bags and a few items that they could carry in their hands. Within meters from the border the first site that we saw was a refugee camp. There were approximately 1000 tents, all seemed fairly organised. People were sitting in their tents and looking at people passing by while others were involved in menial activities.
We came to a point where we were asked to change our vehicle. We were moved into a green minibus. At this point I didnt pay much attention to who the driver was, but as the day continued I started to chat to him. We came to the town of Sarmada. Its very primitive and it felt like we were going back in time. We then continued to the city center and main road of the town.
At this point I was still feeling a bit apprehensive about my first entry into Syria, but gradually I was starting to get absorbed by my surroundings. Here was a bustling town with people speeding on motor bikes, cars turning this way and that way, trucks carrying loads and people living their lives. Life was almost normal with people buying and selling, building renovations on the go and people moving around. But then as you move deeper into the town you start to see abandoned and damage homes -it is then that one+ realises that life can never be normal after you have been bombed and attacked and that people are merely existing and going through the motions of life. One gets the feeling that everyone is waiting for something to happen.
We visited a camp where the orphans and widow's of the Shuadaa (martyrs) are being kept. We spoke to a lady with 6 children. She lost her husband in the war 4 months ago. She narrated to us her story: The Asaad Regime had attacked their village. Her husband resisted and clashed with the forces. In the process he lost his life. After burying her husband she then traveled north to Turkey with her children. Not having anyone that she knew and without any money, she found it very difficult to survive. Not sure as what to do, she returned to Syria and then was directed to this particular camp. 3 months of what was to be her Iddah period she passed searching for a safe and suitable place. With tears rolling down her checks she spoke about her husband. She said : 'He was a brave man. He gave his life for others to be saved. He was killed simply because he was a reciter of 'Laa Ilaha Ilalallah Muhammedur Rasulullah'. This war is simple: a war between the Muslims and the disbelievers (The Alawites).
We then visited another camp and other relevant places. As time went on I started to chat with our taxi driver. His name was Abdullah. He told me that this conflict has brought many closer to Allah. He said: ' Its two years now that I am growing a beard. Before this I wasnt really interested in religion and was just passing through life. This war has brought a greater awarness of Allah in my life."
While we went from place to place in our taxi our driver played many Nasheeds on his CD player. The theme of these Nasheeds was sarifice ones life for the sake of Allah and the virtue of those who gave their lives in the path of Allah. I was amazed at the effect these Nadheeds have in building up courage and motivating a person.
I moved to the front of the minibus to be closer to Abdullah the taxi driver. I started to talk to him, asking him all sorts of questions. He told me that he was part of The Free Syrian Army. He said that this was no army in the true sense of the word but rather civilians that are forced to pick up arms to protect their Iman. He told me that he has been in combact with Syrian Goverment forces several times and when the Goverment forces see people with breards and they immediately attack them by cutting off their necks with chain saws."
As we continued with the planned itinerary for the day, I continued to ask our driver questions. The next thing I asked him was about where they were receiving weapons and arms from. He replied that they only had one avenue of attaining weapons . i.e the booty from the Alawite forces that they kill.
He said that he had lost three close family members so far and that he was not afraid. He told me that tomorrow at 5 am after Fajr they are going to launch an attack.
By late afternoon we completed out programme for the day and were brought back to the border. I was totally over awed by the bravery of Abdullah. He seemed to fear nothing, not even death. This left and indelible impression in my heart of what a Mujahid( Religous fighter) is like.
When it was time to change cars and return to Turkey I greeted Abdullah, gave him a hug and asked him to make dua for me because I was now convinced that this war is a war for the protection of Islam and that it has now produced men who are fighting truly for the sake of Allah.