Religious leaders are hoping that their call for mutual respect between Muslims and Christians will increase tolerance as tension between the faithful, especially in Iraq, is undergoing “considerable escalation.”
The recent targeting of churches in Iraq by pamphleteers commanding them to convert to Islam or leave was cited as one of many examples of how the religious intolerance in Iraq is “getting worse,” according to Canon Andrew White of the Iraqi Centre for Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace.
Individual Christians and churches in Mosul and Baghdad were picked out by followers of an Iraqi militant group during a mass leaflet distribution effort two weeks ago, according to Canon White.
“The leaflets stated that Christians must convert to Islam, leave Iraq, or face the consequences,” he said this week, speaking from Jerusalem.
The plea for interfaith unity, made last weekend during a conference in Tripoli, comes at a time when around 10 per cent of Iraq’s estimated 800,000 Christians have already fled the country, according to the Washington Times.
In a recent report on an Iraqi congregation the Rev Saad Hanna, a priest at Mary Jacob Church in the Dora section of Baghdad, told the Washington Times the departure of “terrified” Christians has drained the church of two-thirds of their parishioners.
“The cries from Christians in Iraq are increasingly desperate,” Canon White said, adding that security guards outside St George’s Anglican church in Baghdad were recently forced to open fire on a group of suspected attackers, causing the suspects to flee.
Speaking at the Tripoli conference senior Muslim cleric Lhabib Belkhoja said Muslims should work to confront challenges to prove Islam is a religion of love and tolerance, according to Ekklesia news service. Papal representative Mgr Berluggi said respect was at the core of dialogue between different religions.