As the July 1, 2004 deadline approaches for the Coalition to hand over power to the new Iraqi caretaker government, many members of the Assyrian church are packing up to leave Iraq. Many are fearful that with the new government in place, they will face increasingly heavier persecution from the extremist Muslims around them.
"In recent days nearly 400 families as far as we can tell have filled out baptismal forms to leave the country. Our community is being decimated," said one church deacon.
The most immediate concern the Christians have is Iraq's temporary constitution, which declares that Islam is "the Official Religion of the State." They also note with apprehension that not one position on the Executive Council was given to a Christian. The one ministry post to be filled by a Christian is the "The Ministry of Emigration," which many see as an ominous message to Christians to "get out."
Unfortunately, America. - in its respect for the Islamic nature of the region - has failed to do enough to protect the non-Muslim minorities. The U.S. has worked to make sure that the temporary constitution includes a "bill of rights" that would guarantee religious freedom, but the U.S.-funded television station still offers only Muslim programming, and no Christian priests were invited to the inauguration of the new government. The Iraqi Christians fear that the new government will not promote religious freedom in reality.
"We love the Americans!" said one young man. "We are so grateful for them removing Saddam and giving us back our freedom. We do not want their effort to be a failure if the dictatorship of Saddam is replaced by the dictatorship of Islam."
"We are having to take care of daily cases of harassment of Assyrians by Muslims," said one priest. "Our women are accosted on the street and intimidated to start dressing according to Islamic tradition, our business are being burned, and the constant harassment is because of the attitude of appeasement toward Muslims," he continued.
Moderate Muslims are also intimidated by the extremists around them, fearful about going against the religious leaders who exercise so much influence. A 34 –year-old Muslim translator named Zainab criticized the extremists:
"You see, this is the problem! This is our enemy! It is this 'black mind' that is the cause of all our troubles. It is not the Americans. They have come, they have given of their lives. We see them every day, working so hard with us to make things better. It is the 'black mind' that wants to destroy everything!
"It is the religious leaders that create this 'black mind'," she continued. "As you can see they are crazy! Can you imagine any religious leaders that would teach you to kill your son if he does not believe like you? Can you imagine any religious leader that would say a woman is worth only a 10th of a man? Can you imagine any religious leader that would ignore all Saddam did for 35 years of terror and condemn those who came to liberate us?
"Maybe 30% of the people are either those connected with Saddam and these with the 'black mind'. It comes from Islam. The vast majority of the people, of course do not think like this, but the 'black mind' intimidates them so they are afraid to say the truth."
"I am a Muslim but somebody must speak the truth."
Please continue to pray for the people of Iraq. Pray for the Christians, who are working to establish a network of "safe houses" in their community for those who stay. Pray that the power of God would enable them to be bold for the Good News of Jesus Christ in a land that desperately needs to hear it. Pray for the Muslims who are willing to seek a better way than dictatorial Islam. Pray for the soldiers, especially those who do know Christ, that they would be able to be a light to the common people of the land. Iraq is still a spiritual battleground, and the battle is not yet over.
[Excerpted from K-House eNews]