Fatwa threat against Iraqi Christians – Convert or leave

December 20, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

Iraq, December 18, 2012: A radical Muslim cleric has issued a fatwa threatening Iraqi Christians with death unless they convert to Islam as the country’s prime minister urges them to remain in their homeland.

The ultimatum was issued by Ayatollah Ahmad Al Hassani Al Baghdadi on 13 December on Egyptian television. He called Christians “polytheists” and “friends of the Zionists”, and said that “their women and girls may legitimately be regarded wives of Muslims”.

Christians in Baghdad said the fatwa could spark alarm in the capital, where there are now very few Christians remaining.

The pronouncement casts a shadow over the re-opening of a Baghdad church that was the scene of a bloody massacre on 31 October 2010; around 58 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the siege by al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq.

At the inauguration ceremony on Friday (14 December), Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said:

I urge the EU countries to refrain from encouraging Iraqi Christians to emigrate… we lived side by side in harmony and enjoyed good relations without any conflicts.

He is urging Christians to remain in Iraq “so the East will not be emptied [of] Christians just as the West is not emptied [of] Muslims”.

The Baghdad church siege was the deadliest recorded attack against Iraq’s Christians, who suffered a huge surge in threats, kidnapping and murders following the US-led invasion in 2003. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq; the number of Christians has fallen from 1.5 million in 1990 to perhaps as low as 400,000 today.

Many of those who fled the more dangerous areas such as Baghdad and Mosul went to the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

At a conference in Washington earlier this month called The Status of the Christian Communities in Iraqi Kurdistan: Challenges and Opportunities, a panel of experts concluded that Christians are well treated there compared to other parts of the region.

Dr Herman Teule, director of the Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Radbound University in the Netherlands, said that Christians in the Kurdish region were involved in politics and were benefitting from government programmes designed to help build homes for Christian refugees and repair damaged churches.

Robert A. Destro, director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at Catholic University of America, said:

It’s a question of relative acceptance and relative freedom. It’s nothing like we have here. There’s a continual struggle for survival. That having been said, it is much easier, for example, in Iraqi Kurdistan because the Christians are not perceived as an invading Western force.

– barnabas team

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