The Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue

The Iraqi capital Baghdad has recently witnessed the establishment of a national interfaith body.  Following the success of the  “Initiative for Muslim-Christian dialogue”, the Al-Khoei Foundation, the Order of the Dominican fathers in Iraq and the Massarat Foundation, have launched the “Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue” to encompass all other faiths in Iraq.

In 2010, the Initiative for Muslim-Christian Dialogue grew in the aftermath of the attack on Our Lady of Salvation, Syriac cathedralof Baghdad. A Muslim delegation visited the Cathedral and this was followed by exchange visits between Muslim and Christian leaders.  This Initiative worked to create a spirit of peaceful coexistence and to build bridges between Muslims and Christians in Iraq in order to foster a culture of harmonious co-existence through the promotion of religious values of peace and dialogue.

The committee included:

– Sayed Jawad al-Khoei, Assistant Secretary General of the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation and its director in Iraq.

– Father Ameer Jaji Regional Deputy of the Dominican Fathers in the Arab world.

– Mr. Saad Salloum, President of the ‘Massarat’ Foundation for cultural and media development.

The Committee organized many joint activities, which included exchange visits between Muslim and Christian theologians to discuss obstacles facing the promotion of religious harmony and coexistence in Iraq.  Joint prayers were also organized for readings of their respective religious scriptures in churches and mosques. Seminars, workshops, exchange visits between school children were organized to promote a culture of harmony and sharing between religious communities and within society at large.

Through these activities, many common themes were uncovered which included; the need for an open and interactive dialogue between representatives of the Abrahamic faiths to promote peaceful coexistence and interfaith harmony and to build and foster the concept of equal citizenship in Iraq. The Committee felt that there was a need to strengthen civil peace through promoting a “culture of dialogue” within civil society and the institutions of the State. In this context, it was felt that the term ‘minorities’ should be dropped in favour of the term ‘components’ because the former implies discrimination practiced by the majority against the minority, but the dialogue must be between equals.

From this common vision, the Committee felt the need to work towards establishing a national body, which is inclusive of other faith groups, and to move the dialogue from a Muslim Christian one, to a dialogue between all faiths in Iraq.

On the 7th of February 2013, the Committee met in the holy city of Najaf to mark the Global Week of “Harmony Between Religions”. After further deliberations the Committee decided to establish “The Iraqi Council for Interreligious Dialogue” in Iraq.

Patriarch Louis Raphael the first Sako was visited by the Committee to congratulate him for taking up his new post as the head of the Chaldean Church in the world, and to brief him on the Council’s work program and its goals. The Council also visited the president of the Mandaean community, Shaikh Jabbar Sattar Al Hillo,  to offer him congratulations on the Albenjh celebrations, and to request him to be a founding member of the Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue.

The Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue was officially launched on the 14th of March 2013 in Baghdad.

This initiative will work to create a safe space for dialogue between faiths, and promote peace and reconciliation in the region, which is plagued by conflicts, and fuelled by extremist interpretations of religion.

There are fears that the Iraqi pluralistic identity may transform into a singular identity as a result of the migration of its components, and the disintegration of the social fabric due to political power conflicts. The Iraqi Council for Interreligious Dialogue will work towards preserving the pluralistic nature of Iraqi society and to utilize religion as part of the solution and resolution of conflicts. The Council feels that this step is vital in order to protect the identity of the country’s pluralistic nature and the diversity of its ethnic, religious and cultural heritage, which is a source of enrichment for future generations.

The circle of dialogue must be expanded to include intellectuals, academics, civil society activists as well as religious scholars to ensure that the freedom of belief and of thought is protected and defended in line with the Iraqi Constitution, international conventions, and with religious teachings. The practice of discrimination must be addressed whether it is on the basis of religion, creed, colour, race, or sex. Iraqis will need to work together to build a unified and democratic Iraq where the state maintains neutrality and promotes equal opportunities for all its citizens. It is hoped that the achievement of these goals would make Iraq’s experience an inspiration for other countries in the region.

The Council takes this opportunity to assert its financial independence, as it will depend exclusively on the financing of its activities from the contributions of its members and donations.