By Saad Salloum for Al Monitor. Any opinions here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Shiites around the world celebrated the Arbaeen holiday Nov. 9. This year, Christians in Iraq participated in the Shiite ritual to attest to the coexistence and social interaction between the Christian minority and the Shiite majority in central and southern Iraq.
Youssef Touma Elias, an Iraqi Christian, took part in the celebrations and served the Shiite pilgrims who marched to the sacred shrine of Imam Hussein in the city of Karbala. However, this positive step by the members of the Christian minority conceals their deep fear and mistrust of the majority, who failed to protect them from the threats of extremists over recent years.
Basra has been a great historical example of cultural coexistence and harmony among its various religious components. However, it could now lose its rich religious diversity amid threats to its non-Muslim minorities. To preserve their religion and culture, Christian communities in Iraq have been isolating themselves.
On Sept. 19, a statue of the Virgin Mary was removed from the Abbasiya district in central Basra, as requested by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Basra Habib Hermes. Hermes described the idea of placing this statue as an exploitation of a Christian religious symbol.
In his letter to the local authorities, Hermes pointed out that erecting the statue may lead to “undesirable consequences.” He added, “If a malicious person tried to harm this statue, the relationship between the different spectrums of the people of Basra would be destabilized.”
“About 90% of Basra’s Christians have left Iraq since 2003, and only 350 families remain,” he said, pointing to the declining number of the Iraqi Christian minority.