By Samuel Smith , CP Reporter (Photo: Archdiocese of Erbil)Father Thabet Habib evaluates the inside of a burned out church right in Karamles, Iraq right after the town’s liberation from the Islamic State in October 2016.
Two ancient Christian texts were spared from the wrath of the Islamic State’s path of destruction in Iraq thanks to a Muslim family.
The official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions has shared the story of how two ancient Syriac Orthodox manuscripts survived during the three years in which IS (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) controlled the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Although much has been reported on how IS destroyed countless cultural and religious artifacts that existed in the Nineveh Plains for millenniums and also burned hundreds of Christian textbooks, the orthodox texts were kept safe by one Muslim family that has chosen to remain nameless who preserved the documents despite the threat of being killed.
Father Paulos Thabit Mekko recalled the story in an interview with AsiaNews.It.
According to the report, the family protecting the ancient manuscripts handed them over to a Mekko, who is from the Chaldean community in Erbil, after Mosul was liberated last year. The family asked to remain unnamed out of fear that they could be attacked by an IS sleeper cell.
Mekko is now the keeper of the manuscripts until they can be returned to their rightful owners. He believes the manuscripts were stolen from the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Immaculate, one of a number of churches and monasteries that was completely destroyed by IS.
“Recently a Chaldean from Mosul contacted me saying that he had a Muslim neighbor from the time he lived in the city 20 years ago,” Mekko explained.
The manuscripts were initially discovered by the Muslim man in 2015 near the Chaldean monastery of St. Michael.
“One day the man saw a lorry dump some rubbish,” Mekko explained. “He was in the area looking for some wood to cook and heat his home. Among the refuse, he found a couple of manuscripts in ancient Syriac script and thought they might be of some value.”
Mekko explained that the Muslim man decided to take the documents home even though he understood that he could be killed if IS were to find out that he had pulled the documents out of the trash.
The Muslim man handed over the documents when he went to visit his former Christian neighbor in Kurdistan, where hundreds of thousands of people from the Nineveh Plains fled to when IS took over.
According to Mekko, the Muslim man asked his former Christian neighbor if he knew a trusted pastor or a religious scholar who could figure out the right place for these documents and wouldn’t try to sell them.
“The latter entrusted me with the two tomes. They contain the offices of the morning and evening prayers in Syriac Antiochene Orthodox rite,” Mekko was quoted as saying.
Mekko expressed a desire to go to the old site of the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Immaculate to see if there are “any other ancient texts in the rubble.”
“[T]he Muslim man wanted to give me a message: ‘not all Muslims are with IS,'” Mekko said. “Many consider Christians like brothers and are ready to put their lives at risk to save a Christian text. What great courage!”
The story that Mekko shared is one of a number of encouraging stories of how Muslims have aided and protected Christians in their pursuit to worship in hostile countries.
Miriam Ibrahim, a Christian mother who was on death row in Sudan for charges of apostasy before her release in 2014, told The Christian Post about how her Muslim cellmate helped her by storing her Bible so that the guards wouldn’t find it if they searched Ibrahim’s possessions.
That Muslim cellmate later became a Christian, Ibrahim explained in 2016.
In 2015, Muslim bus riders in Kenya put their life on the line to protect Christian riders and thwarted an attack on the bus by the Islamic extremist group Al-Shabaab.
“The militants threatened to shoot us but we still refused and protected our brothers and sisters,” passenger Abdi Mohamud Abdi told Reuters. “We even gave some nonMuslims our religious attire to wear in the bus so that they would not be identified easily. We stuck together tightly.”