"Tradition of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians must not be destroyed!" (Press release)

Kurdish military protecting civilian facilities of Christians in North Iraq. Photo: Kamal Sido/STP

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has condemned a call by Iraqi Arab-Sunni Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Al Sumaidaie, who stated that Muslims should not be allowed to participate in Christian celebrations of Christmas and the New Year. "The tradition of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians must not be destroyed by radical Muslim preachers," stated Kamal Sido, the STP's Iraq expert, in Göttingen on Thursday. "There have been attacks by fanatical Muslims against Christians, but Muslims in Iraq and many other Islamic countries have participated in Christian celebrations for centuries."

"Religious dignitaries should promote tolerance, equality, and peaceful coexistence – not hatred and intolerance," Sido emphasized. A few days after the Iraqi government's decision to make December 25 an official national holiday like in Iraqi Kurdistan, Al Sumaidaie had stated (in Baghdad) that Muslims were not allowed to celebrate the New Year or congratulate each other on the occasion of Christian festivals. Al Sumaidaie had stated that Muslims who took part in Christian festivities were stating to believe in Christian teachings. With this statement, Al Sumaidaie had triggered a wave of indignation in Iraq. Many Iraqis demanded him to be dismissed as Grand Mufti, emphasizing that he was trying to spread a radical Islamist ideology and, thus, supporting the destructive ideology of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS).

In Iraq, the number of Christians has fallen from 275,000 to about 150,000 since 2015. Today, most of these Christians are living in Iraqi Kurdistan in the north of the country. As in many states in the Middle East, the Christian Assyrians/Aramaeans/Chaldeans in Iraq are suffering from the worldwide conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. They live in constant fear of attacks by radical Sunni Islamists.

Header image: Kamal Sido/GfbV

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