ASIA/IRAQ - “The extremists will not ruin good relations among religion in Iraq”, Father Nizar Semaan told Fides

Saturday, 24 April 2004

Vatican City (Fides Service) - “the situation of religions in Iraq, a year after the war of liberation, has not altered in substance. We have seen the appearance of radical and violent groups, formed mostly of extremists in the Shiite and Sunni communities but at the official level, relation among religious leaders are good and they have not been affected by the present climate of confusion and war”. This was how Father Nizar Semaan, a Catholic priest in Mosul, described for Fides the situation of the religious communities in Iraq, a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the official end of the war in Iraq.
“It should be said - he underlined - that these violent groups do not represent the authentic spirit of Iraqi believers whatever their faith. Despite their activity they have not ruined to existing profound relations between the religious communities. They try to stress differences, to inflame hearts to create tension among communities of different faiths, and also among Muslims, Shiite and Sunni, and within the Shiite and Sunni confession. But the Islamic leaders and those of the other religions in Iraq have not pronounced violent or offensive words. At the official level they continue to keep a peaceful attitude and good relations and this is most important ”.
Father Nizar explains that “these groups, some of which are sustained and infiltrated by other countries, want to destabilise the situation, create chaos in order to pursue their own political interests, relying also on the religious charter”.
“But Muslim religious leaders - he stated - lack the courage to voice explicit condemnation of violence, abductions, killings. This is part of the Islamic logic to avoid condemning Islam when addressing non Muslims. Recently we saw a good action by some Sunni leaders who wrote and open letter affirming that the method of abduction is not acceptable, but this is only a small step forward. Unless Islam openly condemns these violent acts and abductions it will lose face in front of the west. Silence encourages radical groups to take the lead and think that they are the holders of authentic Islam”.
And if the great Islamic leaders remain silent, Father Nizar said, it should be noted “in the meantime in mosques certain Shiite and Sunni preachers are inciting to hatred and violence. In this context of words which enflame hearts, to call non-Muslims ‘infidels’ (although this is a term used by Islamic theology) can only make the situation worse and create a context of which radical movements will take advantage”.
Speaking of the Christian communities the priest said, “they still have good relations with the people. They have received isolated threats, but they have not ceded to violence. It should
be remembered that Iraqi Christians share with Iraqi Muslims a common history which has always been one of co-existence. The situation varies according to the city: in Mosul, for example the Christian community received many threats, but the city governor, a Muslim and the local Muslim reassure the Christians promising to protect them. In Baghdad there is great fear but the community survives in hiding. In districts where the religious communities are mixed life is better but where there are monolithic groups (for example in the all Shiite zone) there is more danger violence. In Bassora, in the south, an all Shiite city, the situation today is calm (although here too the Christian community has been threatened), also thanks to moderate politics adopted by the British coalition troops”.
Father. Nizar concludes: “I am certain that religious will continue to make their contribution to building a free and peaceful Iraq. I am confident for the future of Iraq, which can be built following a path of an attitude of interreligious harmony. We Iraqi Christians will do all be can to see that the situation evolves in this way. Behind us we have 1,600 years of co-existence which will certainly continue in the future”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 24/4/2004 lines 56 words 643)