Iraqis in uproar after Grand Mufti issues anti-Christmas fatwa

Religious leaders call for removal and prosecution of Sunni cleric

An Iraqi youth dressed as Father Christmas hands over gifts to children at the Church of Mar Jacob al-Muqataa in the predominantly Iraqi Christian town of Qaraqosh, in Niniveh province some 30 kilometres from Mosul, on December 25, 2018.  / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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Iraqi Christians condemned on Sunday a fatwa by prominent Sunni cleric Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Al Sumaidaie banning Muslims from engaging in Christmas and New Year celebrations.

The ruling by the Grand Mufti comes days after the cabinet's approval to make Christmas day an official holiday across the country.

"December 25 will now be a holiday for residents of the predominantly Muslim country, not just the Christians as it had been for decades," the government announced on Christmas eve.

"It is not acceptable to take part in the New Year celebrations or to congratulate Christians during Christmas," he said during Friday prayer.

His statement caused uproar among many Iraqis, who called for him to be removed and prosecuted.


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"If you join Christians in their celebrations, it would mean that you believe in their doctrine," the Mufti told Muslim worshipers in Baghdad. And doing so, he added, can threaten social cohesion and fuel hatred.

In response, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Cardinal Luis Rafael Sako, said that "a man of religion should call for tolerance, love and equality and not to create a divide and incite hatred in society".

Cadrinal Sako demanded his prosecution.

The head of Iraq’s Sunni Endowment authority Abdul Latif Al Heymem described the statement as “offensive, irrational and unacceptable.”

“It does not represent the Iraqi Sunni Endowment authority, which works towards establishing a national unity,” he said, adding that Christians have deep historical roots in Iraq.

TOPSHOT - Iraqi youths dressed in Father Christmas suits walk through the streets of the old city of Mosul as they distribute gifts, on December 26, 2018. Iraq on December 10 marked the first anniversary since declaring victory in its three-year war against the Islamic State (IS) group, which had left the country's former second city and the jihadists' capital in ruin. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
Iraqi youths dressed in Father Christmas suits walk through the streets of the old city of Mosul as they distribute gifts. AFP

“Such reckless and irrational statements will result in hatred, incitement and the rejection of other religions. It does not represent the joint co-existence among Iraqis of all nationalities and sects, whether Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen," said Shiekh Al Heymem.

The development follows a visit to Iraq by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to celebrate Christmas mass in solidarity with the region's Christian minority, many of whom over the years have lost family members and homes to armed groups.

Cardinal Parolin celebrated mass in the Altahera Syro-Catholic Cathedral in Qaraqosh, which was overtaken by ISIS in 2014.

The Vatican official said that Christmas is a celebration for all and its message is “addressed to every person of good will”. He also stressed the importance of collaboration between Christians and Muslims for peace in Iraq.

Iraq's Christian numbers have been dwindling since the 2003 US invasion, after which attacks by terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS increased.