Posted by Wordsmith on 26 December, 2016 at 10:35 pm. 1 comment.



— With every year, Christmas in Baghdad is marked with more festivities than the year before. Is this merely a celebration of joy or a deep expression of solidarity with the threatened Christian minority?

Commercial streets such Karada, al-Mansour, Palestine and Zaytouna are adorned with Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Zawraa park in the center of the capital is hosting a giant Christmas tree, offered by one of the businessmen, while commercial malls and stores are displaying trees that are bigger than usual.

Sama mall, a large shopping complex in the Karada area, set up a 7-meter-high (23 feet) tree, while displaying toys and New Year’s decorations for sale.

In this context, Sama mall staff officer Ammar Hussein said the sales are high despite the declining purchasing power given the financial crises and the austerity plan by the Iraqi government.

“Muslims are buying Christmas trees among other related goods. The shops are frequented by both the poor and the rich,” Hussein told Al-Monitor, stressing that “Muslims love to share this holiday season with their compatriots” and the “injustices done to the Christians are not caused by Muslims but by those who hate Iraq.”

Mohammed and his veiled wife, Umm Youssef, were among the buyers in the mall. They purchased a small Christmas tree and some gifts and took pictures with their children in front of the giant tree.

“This is the most joyful time of the year,” Mohammed told Al-Monitor. “We do not need proof of coexistence. We are one people. We like to celebrate Christmas like the rest of the Islamic holidays,” Umm Youssef said.

In previous years, Christians used to fast with Muslims during the month of Ramadan. They also suspended public celebrations in 2012, when the Christmas holiday coincided with Arbaeen (Arbaeen means “40” in Arabic; it takes place on the 40th day after the anniversary of the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein bin Ali in 680), which is the saddest event for Shiite Muslims.

Christian and Muslim clerics also take part in the different occasions and events of both religions, while several Muslim politicians have also attended occasions held in churches. Despite this optimism, many question marks hang over the fate of one of Iraq’s oldest religions.

Iraq is home to some of the oldest churches in history, such as the Kukhy church in Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. Many of Iraq’s churches were destroyed after the Islamic State (IS) invaded and took over Mosul, including al-Khadra Church in Salahuddin governorate. Christians were displaced and required to pay the Jizya (protection tax), as per Sharia, imposed on non-Muslims. If they don’t wish to pay this tax, Christians have either to convert to Islam or leave.

Many Christian activists believe that many of them are leaving Iraq along with other minorities in the country. In this context, Walim Warda, the coordinator at the Hammurabi human rights organization, told Al-Monitor, “If things continue down this path and the authorities fail to provide guarantees and protection for Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq, they will eventually leave the country.”

Near Mosul:

The predominantly Christian towns of Bartella and Qaraqosh on the outskirts of Mosul were recently liberated from ISIS as part of the Mosul offensive. The towns were heavily damaged and churches burned and defaced while under militant control. Christian communities around Mosul celebrated Christmas Day as the Mosul offensive continues.

Nearly 100 Islamic State fighters killed in Mosul on Christmas

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