Iraqi Christians and Muslims against grand mufti’s words of hatred and divisions

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During Friday prayers, al-Sumaidaie said that it was “impermissible” for Muslims to celebrate Christmas or New Year. The Chaldean patriarch slammed such “rhetoric of hatred” that sows “divisions”. In his New Year message, he calls for openness and deeper sharing.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Iraqi Christians and Muslims have reacted with outrage to a statement by Iraq’s Grand Mufti Abdul Mehdi al-Sumaidaie, who recently said that it is “impermissible” for Muslims to celebrate Christmas and New Year since they are Christian holidays.

Al-Sumaidaie is one of the country’s most important religious figures and has close ties to the government. The controversy began last Friday, following his sermon at the end of Friday prayers in a mosque in central Baghdad. In it, the prominent Sunni cleric urged Muslims not join Christians on their holy days, noting that those who do so “believe the Christians’ religious doctrine.”

The mufti adheres to a particular brand of Islam that is inspired by Salafism. His views have incensed many people, including non-Christians. Some have called for him to be removed from office for dividing Iraqi society.

One of the first people to slam the Islamic leader’s claims is the Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, who noted that a man of faith, whatever his religion, should favour brotherhood, tolerance and love, not division and sedition.

The patriarch called on the Iraqi government to prosecute those who spread such rhetoric, especially when they do it from official platforms.

“These are misconceptions, misguided and far from the correct knowledge of religions,” Sako said. “Our people today need to deepen the common denominators in order to contribute to the achievement of coexistence, not treachery, atonement and incitement to hatred,” he added.

The Chaldean primate mentioned the issue again in his New Year message, which he sent to AsiaNews. He also praised the Iraqi government for declaring Christmas a national holiday for all citizens.

In the recent past, Christians and others have been targeted to drive them out of their land. In light of this, the mufti’s words are ominous because they can inspire “hatred and exclusion”.

Instead the prelate calls on Christians and Muslims to “open up to the other” and “deepen” what they share so that they can build a “bright future”.

Many ordinary Christians and Muslims have reacted to the mufti’s words with scorn. On social media, al-Sumaidaie has come in for criticism, with many demanding he retract his statement.

Many Iraqi Muslim clerics have also expressed support for and solidarity with Christians, chief among them the head of the Sunni Endowment Authority Abdul Latif al-Heymem who yesterday visited the Chaldean patriarchate and met Card Sako as a show of solidarity and closeness.

During their talk he said that Christians are an “essential” part of the nation, with “strong bonds” and “extended roots” that sink deep into the country’s history.

Without mentioning the mufti, he called on ordinary Iraqis to oppose those who want to meddle with Iraq’s unity and the country’s social and political fabric.

“We deplore the offensive terms” used against Christians, al-Heymem said, which “do not represent” the Sunni community and undermine “national unity”.