For the first time in Iraq modern history, a cultural magazine devotes an issue to discuss the identity of Iraq Christians and the challenges facing them with an elite of intellectual and Christians religious figures inside and outside the country with feedback from Muslim intellectuals.
The 14th issue of Masarat titled “Christians of Iraq: Glorious Past and Mysterious Future” comes after Masarat had published an issue about the Jews of Iraq preceded by two issues about “Al-Yezidi in Iraq” and ” sabean mandaean in Iraq” as a part of Masarat for Cultural and Media Development. MCMD Project of studying religions in Iraq.
In his introduction titled “Mesopotamian Salt”, Chief Editor “Saad Salloum” warns from the danger of altering the identity of the Middle East into a solo identity and the loss of the advantages of variety and multiplicity which was once the core of civilization as the land of Ibrahimi religions. That is due to the absence of Christianity from the map of the Holly book. Salloum presented some worrying statistics of the shrinking numbers of Christians in the Middle East adding that: “the land where Christ was born is furthest from peace today and the failure of national state attempt in the Middle East left the region in loss and then it wasted its civilization. Every Christian leaving is sending out a dangerous message about the shrinking of demographic size of Middle East Christians and a sign of their close vanishing and the transformation of Middle East vital societies into plain colorless rocks”.
Will the instability and exclusion culture turn Christianity into an extinct sect? Will they take the path of Iraqi Jews who were forgotten after the first generation was departed? Is what’s happening today the clearest historic sign of Christianity extinction in Iraq and the disappearance of the oldest Christian group in the Middle East?
Such questions raised in the introduction motivates one’s mind to wonder about Christianity future in Iraq in the dominance exclusion culture whichâ€“according to Salloum- depends on selective memory and bias superior reading of history, forgetting that Islam greatness cannot be accomplished without Christianity. Suryani researchers helped Islamic civilization enter its “Golden Age” in Iraq in which Iraq became a universal capital. Their translations of Greek legacies to Arabic was the bridge that transported old age knowledge to the middle ages and thus Arabs role on the international stage is not worth mentioning without such precious efforts.
salloum ends his introduction pointing out that Christian identity’s transformation into a defensive one has resulted a counter extremism and a clinging to an opposite identity. An identity living the isolated gateway culture, escaping to safe geographic sites and experiencing a cultural escape to the roots of other identities as the collective identity fades away. No longer does the feeling of collective identity leads to safety, which will always threaten with division and cracking unless the identity question is raised again and this time on a citizenship level.
Across two pages, the magazine published a map of Christiansâ€™ distribution in Iraq (drawn by Dominican Father Joseph Omi in the 60s of past century). The main file then starts with Doctor â€œSuha Rassamâ€ article, originally written in English, about â€œthe roots of Christianity in Iraq until the rise of Islamâ€ which discussed the origins of Christianity in the Land between the Rivers and the establishment of the Church of the Orient. Archbishop â€œLoius Sakoâ€, head of Kirkuk bishops wrote an article asserting the role of Christianity in the establishment of Islamic civilization, pointing out their contributions in translations, theology, and literature.
(Christian Sects in Iraq) written by theology specialist and researcher â€œKhoshaba Hanna al-Sheikâ€ laid out a map of Christian sects in Iraq and the political currents representing each sect. Following that was an interview with Cardinal â€œEmanuel Dulliâ€ about the relationships between religions in Iraq and the rooting of Christianity in Mesopotamia before Arabs arrived to the land. Dulli discussed that when Arab entered Al-Hera which was under Sassanid rule, Christians welcomed them because they believed in god. Still, Muslims imposed taxes on them. The Cardinal also pointed out those Christians ancestors â€œlived in greater persecution than todayâ€™s Christiansâ€. South of Iraq was almost all Christians and Kildanisâ€™ were of the first to become Christians. When Islam came, Kildanisâ€™ were the first to become Muslims as well, which is something I mentioned to Mr. Sistani when I met him so he laughed and said: â€œwe also are Kildaniâ€. The Cardinal also mentioned the condition in which he met Mr. Sistani and his relationship with Muslim religious figures.
Then came the material of archeologist â€œAbdul Ameer al-Hamdaniâ€ about (Christians in South of Iraq) to speak in detail about people, convents and churches, especially convents of Hera, Najaf, Koufa Waset, Misan, Ahwaz and Basra along with maps of the areas.
Karrem al-Ezzawi; a writer specialized in the literature of father â€œAnistaz al-Karmaliâ€ wrote the story of establishing (Loughat al-Arab: Arab Language) magazine, pointing out the role of Fathe al-Karmali as a pioneer in Iraqi journalism.
Philosophy professor â€œFaisal Ghazi Majhoolâ€ an article about father â€œYousef Hobbiâ€ the dean of Babel al-Hibriya University (who dies in 2000) talking about his life, writings and translations which made him one of the most prominent current Christians intellect.
Masarat, then, interviewed Father and Doctor â€œYousef Toumaâ€ (The most prominent Dominican Fathers in Iraq) and using his rare experience in the challenges faced by Christian immigrants, the issues of Christian identity and the future of Catholic church in Iraq were discussed, as well as the nature of stereotypical vision on Iraqi Christians and the majority and minority perspective in Iraq. Father Touma preached that the end of dominant nationalitiesâ€™ age demanding the majorities not to be over dominant. The interview also discussed the issues of writing Iraq history, overlooking of Christiansâ€™ role and the importance of establishing balanced studying courses in a multi religion and multi-sectsâ€™ country.
Doctor â€œSaad al-Malehâ€ wrote about (the role of Iraqi Christians in the rise and development of modern Iraqi music). Al-Maleh is the general manger of Suryani Cultural and Art affairs in Kurdistan territory. In his article, he wrote in detailes about the pioneer role played by Christians in music in modern Iraq as a link to their historic role in this art starting with Sumer, Babel and Assyria, and passing by Sassanid and Islamic late and modern ages.
The file included a prolonged interview with head of Christian Endowment Council where Christian sects and religions under the endowment councilâ€™s responsibility were discussed. It also discussed basic issues like â€œthe future if Christian presence between inside and outside immigrationâ€ as well as a brave issue about the relationship between religions in Iraq following the collapse of Saddam Housenâ€™s regime. The third issue discussed was conflict between religious identity unified through church and national or ethnic identity expressed by the speech of political parties representing Christian sects.
Historian â€œTarek al-Hamdaniâ€ wrote about the role of missionaries in the cultural rise of Iraq since it first came out in the 17th century. The article is an attempt to prove that missionaries, also considered great statesâ€™ means of rule, was an important method of awakening the mind. Missionaries have made unique accomplishements which opened new horizons on European reality to Iraqi intellects, and thus was a main source of cultural spread affecting Iraqi intellects since the end of 19th century.
â€œFouad Khazanjyâ€ wrote about Christian cities in Iraq focusing on four of them: Kushkar (the first Christian city in Iraq), Kutefsoon (Currently Suleman Bek), Rasafa (the name of a forgotten Suryani cityâ€ and Karbala (the church that resisted the sand).
The file ended with an invitation to renovate Arab Christian role through the study written by general law professor â€œFaez Azeez Asaadâ€ in which he tried to provide a new vision on Arab Christian history using Arabic references, both Christian and Islamic, as well as Greek, Suryani and Roman references. He assured that if Muslim Arabs have led the Arabic rise in military, Christians have led that rise culturally and artistically. Doctor Asaad pointed out that the shrinking role if Christian Arabs is because military and political elite are in charge and they are imposing inclusive systems opposing the liberal thinking which was the base of Arab rise. Another reason is the growth of closed national currents and extreme Islamic currents that does not apply the concept of equality. The study clarified how Arabic Christian existence was denied since the fall of Baghdad in 2003 through the racist and sectarian distribution.
The book of the issue â€œthe Christians of Baghdad between the Past and the Futureâ€ carried the contribution of father â€œButros Haddadâ€ (the last kildani historians alive) who laid out the history of Baghdadâ€™s Christians till present time, bringing up their role, churches, convents and flags. The issue was closured by an article by civil activist â€œHanaa Edwardâ€ (No value for home when we lose value of humansâ€ where she talked about the impact of immigration on Iraqi Christians all over the world which creates difficulties in creating an identity. She said that only the third generation had managed to merge but when it does, it loses its authentic identity and an important part of the culture.
Also, Masarat included the traditional categories devoted to creative figures of Iraqi Christians. Art category included two articles: the first one about artist “Wisam Zako” and the second about “Roosh Benjamin”. Novels category discussed “the American Granddaughter” written by “Ina’am Kujaji”. Poetry discussed the experience of death in the works of the late poet “Sarkun Polus”. Both studies introduced a socio-cultural vision of Iraqi Christians identity through poems and novels. The magazine published four poems by poetess “Vivian Slewa” and the issue included rare picture of Iraqi Christians that is nearly one hundred years old.
*Masarat: An academic and cultural magazine issued by Masarat for Cultural and Media Development. MCMD
The first issue of Masarat was published on 9 April 2005.
Saad Salloum, a writer and a journalist is the editor in chief of Masarat