Copenhagen summit aims for Iraq fatwa on sectarian violence

By Ra’ed Al-Bayati
A summit gathering some of Iraq’s top religious leaders in Copenhagen this week is hoped to result in a joint decree condemning violence against Christians, organisers said Wednesday.

“I hope that we will be able to produce a joint Shiite-Sunni fatwa (religious decree) against violence towards Christians,” said Canon Andrew White, head of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) and vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad.

“There is a total unity between the Muslims and Christians: we need to do something radical,” White told AFP on the sidelines of the three-day closed-door meeting that began Wednesday.

The emergency summit at a heavily guarded Copenhagen hotel, organised by FRRME and the Danish foreign ministry, comes on the heels of a string of attacks on Christians in Iraq, as well as in neighbouring countries.

It is time “to think seriously about steps that need to be taken to protect all the minority communities,” White insisted.

Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen agreed.

“Ending this spiral of violence requires Iraq’s religious communities to come together and decide that they want to reject violent extremism in all its forms,” she wrote to AFP in an email from Doha Wednesday.

“We have today in Copenhagen a gathering of religious leaders representing Shiite, Sunni and Christians,” she pointed out.

“This group of leaders has the power and influence to negotiate on behalf of the people they represent, to deny legitimacy to the use of violence and to call authoritatively for reconciliation and peaceful solutions,” Espersen said.

“They have done so successfully before, and if they decide to, they can do it again.”

FRRME, a British non-governmental group, had previously only revealed that eight of Iraq’s Muslim and Christian religious leaders would take part, refusing to divulge their identities for safety reasons.

On Wednesday, however, White revealed some of the participants to AFP, pointing out that one of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s top Sunni advisors, Sheikh Abdul Latif Humayem, was at the meeting.

Shiite leader Sheik Abduhaleem al-Zubairi, Younadam Kanna, who represents Iraq’s Assyrian community, and Archbishop Avak Asadorian, who is head of the country’s Christian Council, were also present, White said.

“We have some influential leaders here,” he said.

Hard work is needed to stem the recent wave of violence against Christians in Iraq.

In the worst such attack, militants stormed a church in central Baghdad on October 31, leaving 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel dead. Al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for the assault.

“I hope this gathering will send a clear message to the Iraqi people: that religious communities must be protected and sectarian violence in all its forms is condemned and must be brought to a halt,” Espersen said in her email.

“In Iraq every single religious community has suffered religiously motivated violence. This is not about Muslims attacking Christians, these are extremists attacking humanity,” she lamented.

White agreed.

“The majority of Muslims in Iraq are not against Christians,” he insisted, claiming that “so much of the violence, particularly from Al-Qaeda links, has come from outside Iraq.”

“We are not against each other. We are not fighting each other and we need to work together,” he said.

The Copenhagen summit also comes as Christians have increasingly come under attack in Iraq’s neighbouring countries as well.

A policeman shot dead a Christian on a train in Egypt, wounding five others, on Tuesday, less than two weeks after 21 Coptic Christians were killed in an attack on a church in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria on December 31.

“Christians are at risk in many, many Islamic countries now,” White said, lamenting that “Christianity is seen in the wrong way.”

“(It is) seen being totally aligned with the West,” he said, pointing out that people like Florida pastor Terry Jones, who last September threatened to burn a pile of Korans, were tarnishing the confession’s reputation.

France24 – Copenhagen summit aims for Iraq fatwa on sectarian violence