The terror-laden flight of Christians and Yazidis from Mosul and, more broadly, from Iraq and Syria, is a tragedy of near inestimable loss. Their story of being driven from their ancestral lands due to their faith has been well chronicled. But another loss in Mosul has drawn much less notice internationally. It may ultimately prove to be the most grievous loss of all.
The name “Mosul” means “connecting place” in Arabic. Indeed, for more than a millennium Mosul has been a place where Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and others have connected peacefully. There have been periods of conflict, but there have also been more than a dozen centuries filled with small acts of neighbor love and Good Samaritanism. As Iraqi Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I and others have noted, these acts have accreted to form a unique and shared mosaic of interfaith commerce, education, and art. It is why there were monasteries and libraries filled with thousands of books considered historic and important to Mosul as a whole, as well as jointly valued cultural landmarks for ISIS to burn down. It is also why—largely unreported—some of the Sunni Arab Muslim residents of Mosul continue to undertake dangerous acts of kindness on behalf of their few remaining (and even departed) neighbors from different ethnic and religious groups.
For centuries, the Christians of Mosul have in many ways been even more connected to their Muslim and Yazidi neighbors than to their Christian brothers and sisters worldwide. At a time when relations between Christians and Muslims are increasingly flaring into open hostility around the world, the people of Mosul—Christian, Yazidi, and Muslim together—stood as ancient and enduring testimony to the possibility of loving our neighbors of different faiths.
Alarmingly, this testament may be lost even before it is recognized outside Mosul. While in our global Christian communion we have decried the work of ISIS as a tragedy against Christians, we have not yet recognized the work of ISIS as a serious blow to interfaith peace globally. Were ISIS to be defeated and order restored, but were Christians and Yazidis only re-provisioned and resettled to safer lands, we would still have lost something precious beyond worth: A connecting place.
Reconnecting Mosul and other similar interfaith communities in Iraq and Syria will require all of us. First and foremost, it will require the people in these communities themselves—the displaced and those who have remained—to be willing to bear one another’s burdens and together work through their pain, uncertainties, and concerns on a path to repentance and reconciliation, with the full support of their global faith communities. It will require the global Christian communion to reconnect with Middle Eastern Christians—both those remaining in the region and those who have relocated—and affirm that their efforts to follow Christ and love their different-faith neighbors in the cradle of Christianity are of great importance to the wider church. Finally, it will require Christians and Muslims around the world to connect and cooperate in an unprecedented joint mobilization of resources in support of these reconnection efforts.
Creating a welcoming environment for Mosul’s Christians and Yazidis to return to their homes and reconnect with their Muslim neighbors may seem utopian. At present ISIS is formidable. Those who fled Mosul harbor deep distrust of their former neighbors and even of Kurds who came to their rescue, only to withdraw and leave them undefended in the face of the ISIS invasion. National security forces are notably weak. But as Rabbi Michael Lerner writes, “Sometimes the only truly ‘realistic’ position is precisely to be prophetic and utopian.”
Our moral imagination is always imperiled by acts of terror. We reject terror by thinking and acting in hope and love according to the full exercise of our faith, and by calling on others to do the same. We need connecting points like Mosul more than we yet realize, to guide us into a future where an increasing number of Christians will live as minorities in cities and countries around the world.
- Let us commit to personally study and build upon the history of Christian/Muslim cooperation in connecting places like Mosul, which testify to the love of neighbor to which we are jointly called by the best of our faith traditions.
- Let us ask Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and the diaspora to share their experiences of both cooperation and persecution so that the global Christian communion, the Muslim world, and the entire international community can learn how to sustain, support, and integrally restore minority faith populations to newly peaceful, vibrant, and cooperative interfaith communities.
- Let us challenge Christian and Muslim congregations and aid organizations as well as international NGOs and government agencies to undertake initiatives of reconnection, not only refugee or resettlement or coexistence projects, on behalf of the entire population of Mosul and the many other places in Iraq and Syria that need this type of help, with the goal of learning how to act together as agents of reconnection and reconciliation in these and other seemingly intractable cases of displacement.
In sum, let us call upon all parties to uphold and promote the free exercise of faith in all the connecting places of the world.