Iraqi Christians worry about freedom of religion, rise of fundamentalism

May 16, 2003

While most Iraqi Christians joined the celebrations following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, they are now expressing concern and anxiety that freedom of religion will be curbed in favor of Islamic fundamentalism.

Fearing a Shiite-dominated government, Christian leaders are calling for a new constitution that will guarantee minority faiths the right to 'profess our faith according to our ancient traditions and our religious law, the right to educate our children according to Christian principles, the right to freely assemble, to build our places of worship, and our cultural and social centers according to our needs,' the Chaldean Church said in a statement.

'I'm afraid for my people,' said Bishop Ishlemon Warduni, leader of the Chaldean community that represents about 80 percent of Iraq's 800,000 Christians. (The remaining 20 percent is comprised of Syrians, Assyrians and Armenians.) 'During the war we were not afraid like we are now. All Christians are in danger,' he said in an article in Religion News Service.

'We have a 2,000-year history in Iraq--and that is now threatened. The fanatics would see us gone,' he said. The danger seems most pronounced in Shiite strongholds in southern Iraq where Muslim clerics are calling for an Islamic republic. Under Saddam Hussein Christians were allowed freedom of worship but not to seek converts or give their children Christian names. There are increasing reports of Christian girls and women being harassed on the streets for not wearing veils and liquor stores, usually run by Christians, have received threatening notes.

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