Britain's Daily Telegraph reports the deaths of Sabah Gazala and Abdul Ahed who were shot and killed by two Islamic gunmen within ten minutes in separate incidents in Basra on 8 May. Like a number of Christians in the city and in other parts of Iraq they were involved in the sale of alcohol, jobs forbidden to Muslims but permitted to Christians under Saddam Hussein's rule. In recent weeks such vendors have faced severe threats from Shia Muslim conservatives seeking to impose defacto Islamic law (which bans alcohol completely) in Iraq in the chaotic wake of the victory of coalition forces in the country. Many Christian shop owners have been forced to close, others to defend their premises with metal bars across the windows.
In Basra, Baghdad and across Iraq some Christians are beginning to suffer harassment, threats, intimidation and even violence at the hands of conservative Shia Muslims who want to impose Shari'ah law on both Muslim and non-Muslim alike. On Friday 2 May Moqtada Sadr, one of the main Shia leaders in the country openly declared in a sermon in Kufa that "The banning of alcohol; and the wearing of the veil should be spread to all and not only to Muslims."
Last week in Basra the Los Angeles Times reports that Shereen Musa, a Christian woman, was pelted with vegetables to chants of "Shame! Shame!" as she walked with her mother through a market, simply because her head was not covered in accordance with the Shari'ah. "Everyone was laughing at me, and I was crying," Shereen said, "When I had to walk back through the same place someone saw a cross on my neck and said: 'Oh, you're a Christian. You'll suffer a terrible fate.'" Some Christian families like Shereen's have now begun to leave Basra to return to the traditional Christian heartland around Mosul.
In Baghdad Christians are "terrified" and "hesitating to come to church" as services at one Chaldean church in the city are drowned out by Islamic prayers and teaching broadcast by loudspeaker from a new mosque across the street. Elsewhere, shopkeepers selling western-style magazines with advertisements containing pictures of women considered unacceptable by many Shia Muslims have also been threatened and intimidated.
Christians are fearful for their future in an Iraq which seems to be slipping into the hands of Muslim extremists who want an Islamic state under Shari'ah. Both the Vatican and the US Committee for International Religious Freedom have issued statements expressing their concern that religious liberty should be guaranteed for all in the future Iraq. Iraqi Church leaders from all the major denominations have similarly issued a joint statement asking that the new Iraqi constitution "recognise our religious, cultural, social and political rights consider Christians as Iraqi citizens with full rights" and "guarantee the right to profess our faith according to our ancient traditions" a clear indication of their concern. Said one Christian man in Baghdad "It is going to be like Iran all Christians are afraid now."
Barnabas Fund is encouraging its supporters, Christians, Muslims and all people of good will to lobby the American and British governments (as the two main representatives of the coalition in Iraq).
Please write, fax or e-mail urgently drawing attention to the fact that Christians are beginning to face violence and discrimination at the hands of conservative Muslims in the new Iraq and strongly calling on the coalition to :-
1. Take every possible measure to protect the Christian minority in Iraq and prevent them from becoming the victims of Islamic extremist violence.
2. Take urgent action to prevent the defacto enforcement of Islamic law by extremists in Basra, Baghdad or any other part of the country.
3. Ensure that the future Iraqi state, government and constitution is democratic and represents all groups in the country (Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Assyrian Christian, Turkomen and others).
4. Ensure that all groups are represented in the discussions concerning a future Iraq (including smaller groups such as Assyrian Christians and Turkomen) and that discussions are not simply dominated by the big three (Sunnis, Shias and Kurds).
5. Ensure that religious liberty is preserved in the country and that (although Muslims may be free to follow Shari'ah teachings as a matter of personal faith) Shari'ah will not be imposed on either Muslims or non-Muslims as part of the law.
6. Ensure a swift, but stable, transition of power to a new Iraqi government which should be democratic, accountable, representative and in full control of the country's resources.
Remember to be polite but clear in what you are asking. Request that your concerns be registered. Ask for a reply stating what steps are being taken to (1) safeguard the rights and freedoms of Christians in Iraq, (2) ensure that they have a fair say in the planning the future of their country, and (3) guarantee that their rights and freedoms will not be eroded in the new Iraq.
Please write to the American President and the British Prime Minister at:
President George Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Fax: 00 1 202 456 2461
Salutation: Dear Mr President,
The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street