Just before Christmas, Iraqi politicians made some amazing changes: cementing Christmas Day as a national holiday and establishing a committee to return stolen properties to their rightful Christian owners.
On 16 December 2020, Iraq‘s parliament passed a bill making Christmas Day an annual national holiday in the majority-Muslim country. In 2018, the government had established a national holiday for Christmas on a year-to-year basis.
On Christmas Eve, Iraq’s President, Barham Salih, a Sunni Muslim, thanked parliament for passing the bill when he spoke while attending Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Baghdad. “[The government] must make serious efforts to enable Iraqi Christians to return, and to live a secure and dignified life in their homeland,” he said. “Their religious and cultural rights must be protected. As the country’s history shows, they are a major and important part of Iraq’s people.”
Restoring homes and justice
Making Christmas a fixed national holiday is not the only good news to come from Iraq recently. Another Iraqi politician is taking steps to make sure that Iraqi believers are able to return to their homes in peace.
As Iraqi Christians have returned slowly, they have encountered challenges such as lack of basic services and security. Sometimes, if their homes had not been destroyed, they find them occupied by strangers.
“With an increase in tribal and sectarian divisions we see the seizure of Christian properties in Iraq, especially in the capital Baghdad,” a local source told Open Doors. “Those who seized these properties know very well that a Christian, being a minority, cannot risk themselves and complain; even if they come to complain their complaint will not be settled easily within the courts,” the source said.
A popular and powerful Shia cleric and politician, Muqtada al-Sadr, has now announced that he is establishing a committee that will look into these cases with the aim to redress and restore justice. Christians can contact them if their property has been seized illegally in recent years.
The Iraqi government are listening to Christian leaders
Rami, a spokesperson for the Open Doors Hope for the Middle East campaign said, “Action to resolve this widespread issue would protect Christians’ right to property, contribute towards reconciliation and enable better living conditions – all of which are essential for Christians to remain and flourish in Iraq.”
Rami said it isn’t surprising that Iraqi Christians would rather wait and see what comes of these promises than celebrate too soon. “We urge the Iraqi government to drive this committee forward in 2021.”
Late last year, Open Doors published a report highlighting the key role local faith communities play in rebuilding communities post-conflict. “The government listening to Christian leaders is a good way to incorporate minority Christians in Iraqi society,” Rami continued. “Local faith leaders have the trust of those in their community and the knowledge and skills built from years of responding to physical and spiritual needs.”
- Praise God for these amazing developments in Iraq!
- That believers would begin to feel the effects of these new changes and benefit from them
- That Iraqi politicians would continue to support Christians as they return to the country.
NOT ALONE. NOT FORGOTTEN. NOT EVER
Every HK$400 could give a Bible to three believers from a country where Christians face extreme persecution.
Every HK$550 could give biblical training to a believer in the underground church.