Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Iraq: An Iraqi Pastor Speaks.

Date: Wednesday 4 June 2003
Subj: Iraq: An Iraqi Pastor Speaks.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


Christianity Today Magazine's June edition features an editorial entitled, "The Mother of all Liberties". This editorial most correctly comments that, "Religious freedom and democracy hang in the balance for Iraq's 22 million people."

The editorial goes on to say, that unless full religious freedom is forthcoming in Iraq, then a "costly military victory will be incomplete." It also notes that Christians are worried that a new Shi'ite-dominated regime could eliminate even the limited freedoms they had under Saddam Hussein. (Link 1)

Their concern is well founded, as the threat to religious liberty in Iraq is very real. An Iraqi pastor who recently spoke to the WEA RLC describes the situation for Christians in present-day Iraq as frightening.

AN IRAQI PASTOR SPEAKS

"After the terrible regime of Saddam Hussein there is now a power vacuum in Iraq that many groups are trying to fill. Unfortunately, many of these groups would like to have an Iraq without any Christian presence at all. We feel the pressure growing every day and we are really afraid. Many Christians have left the country but most of us want to stay. This is our country and we love it.

"Nobody knows what the future will look like, but I see it as very important that those who have the power would guarantee religious freedoms from the very start. There is a tremendous power struggle going on behind the scene.

"A powerful Shi'a political group in Iraq plans to establish its own radio station and start broadcasting. This is a big step towards promoting the influence of that group. Mr Grebawy, head of the Centre for Public Islam has said that he has permission, "to start the broadcasts", which will be financed by Hawza, a grouping of Shi'a schools in the city of Najaf. It worries us Christians very much that the broadcast will be from the al-Hikmah mosque in the suburb of Baghdad. I understand that they have plans to extend the broadcast all over the country.

"Considering the fact that the Shi'as are about 55 % of the population, this will have a very strong impact on people's attitude towards Christians. Asked what political messages they would be broadcasting on their TV channel, Mr Grebawy said that the political content of the broadcasts would be, 'that religion is politics and politics is religion'. That sounds to me like Iran!

"Practically all Shi'a leaders are calling for the establishment of Islamic law (Shari'ah). Two key religious leaders Mr Moqtada Sadr in Kufa in the south and Sheikh Mohammed al-Fartousi in Baghdad have called for Islamic law to be applied to both Christians and Muslims.

"Another disturbing sign is that Christian women who go out without head-coverings have been threatened. Shops owned by Christians that sell alcohol have been burned down and some Christian shop owners have been killed."

These killings also have been reported by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty in an article entitled "Liquor Store Attacks May Underscore Rising Islamic Concerns" (Link 2).

A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

The Iraqi pastor interviewed, concluded with this appeal, "Many Christians in Iraq think that the door now is open to work for a multi-political, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Iraq, but that the door of opportunity will be closed in less than four months from now. If the American and British troops leave the country without a new government based on democratic principles in place, we are afraid that we will have a country that will either split into several parts or that will head straight into religious turmoil where minorities like Christians will be under attack from all sides. Both Europe and the U.S. have a great responsibility to see to it that this will not be the future of a people that has already suffered so much during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein."

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) "The Mother of All Liberties"
Full religious freedom for Iraq is not negotiable.
A Christianity Today editorial | posted 06/02/2003
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/006/27.30.html

2) "Liquor Store Attacks May Underscore Rising Islamic Concerns"
By Valentinas Mite, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, 3 June 2003.
http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/06/03062003165741.asp