In Iraqi Kurdistan on Christmas, Christians and Muslims pray together

After several years of war, displacement and oppression due to the rise of ISIS, Iraqi Christians are celebrating this year’s Christmas with a message of peace and coexistence.

In 2014, ISIS took control of Mosul, a city with a significant number of Christians.  ISIS started writing the Arabic letter ن (abbreviation for Nazarene – Christian) on the doors of Christian houses, warning them to leave the area, which led to a massive displacement of the Christian population.

As a result, thousands of Christians left their homeland in Iraq and fled to the Kurdistan region.

Five years later, Christians in Sulaimani, Kurdistan —  estimated to number more than 1,500,000, and representing 6% of the country’s population — celebrate Christmas in the local churches, hoping to see peace spreading in Iraq and the world.

The priest approaches the altar in a Christian church in Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan

“The message of this event is the message of peace,” the church’s priest, Ayman Aziz Hormuz said. “Today, in this country and in the world, we need peace, coexistence and respect for each other. We pray to God this Christmas brings better days and an end to the wars and violence that are going on,” Hormuz added.

Each year, starting from Christmas, Christians in Iraq celebrate the birth of Jesus for several days, gathering and praying inside the local churches.

A couple pray together in a church in Sulaimani

Iraq is a war-torn country, having experienced very harsh times for the last decade. The wars have been devastating, and the Iraqi people, including the Christian minority, have suffered a lot. More than 50,000 civilians have died, and more than 5,000,000 people displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration figures.

“In Christmas, of course, we hope peace spreads across the whole world, and especially in Iraq, the injured Iraq,” said Samira Hanna, a Christian woman from Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan. “I send blessings to our martyrs, and I ask God for immediate healing of the injured ones. We want a life full of peace and freedom. We pray to God for world peace and coexistence,” she continued, and then started lighting the candles.

Praying alone

In the multiethnic and multireligious city of Sulaimani, where Kurdish Muslims are the majority, all people from different religious and ethnic groups come together on Christmas. Many Muslims visit the churches and pray with the Christians.

“Christmas is the day of Jesus’ birth. Merry Christmas to all Christian brothers and sisters. Merry Christmas to Muslim brothers and sisters, to all Kurdistani people,” said Sabah Pitros, a Kurdish Christian. “I hope this Christmas brings blessings and happiness, and that all the sorrows of the nation end. Muslims in Iraq, especially the Kurdish Muslims, are the best ones to live with Christians. They never differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian. We all live equally in Kurdistan. We all live together. We are all Kurds,” Pitros added.

A young Kurdish girl shows up for Christmas

Azad Ali, a Kurdish Muslim who visited the Church to say Merry Christmas to the Christians, said: “Iraqis and the Kurds went through hard times. We all suffered a lot. The past several years have been full of catastrophes. Maybe what we all need is to stop a bit, thinking about how much peace we need, and spread love.”

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