Baptists and other Christians in Baghdad say they are living in fear following an attack on a Roman Catholic Church in the Iraqi capital that left more than 50 Christians dead.
The massacre occurred Oct. 31 when al-Qaida-aligned gunmen attacked worshipers from Our Lady of Salvation Chaldean Catholic Church in central Baghdad. The assault left at least 58 dead – the majority of them worshippers, including two priests – and another 75 wounded.
Tony Peck, general secretary for the European Baptist Federation (EBF), reported that the pastor of the Baptist church in Baghdad informed him that the “Christian community is now very fearful for its safety” and that “some of the Baptist believers are talking about moving away from Baghdad to North Iraq, others to Jordan and Syria.”
EBF is one of six regional bodies affiliated with the Baptist World Alliance.
Baptist churches in the Middle East are affiliated with the EBF.
Peck feared that “this very understandable response would leave the Christian church in Iraq even weaker than before.”
It has been estimated that since the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003, approximately half the Christian population has fled Iraq, leaving an estimated 550,000 Christians. Many of those who remain are increasingly harassed and often experience violence.
News reports suggest that part of the motivation for the attack was the plan by a pastor in Florida to burn the Quran, Islam’s holy book, in September. The pastor abandoned his plans under pressure.
“It shows again how Christians in the West must be wise and considerate in the way they engage critically with Islam,” said Peck.
In the wake of the attack, Baptists in Baghdad are considering changing the day of worship from Sunday to Friday, the traditional day of worship for Muslims, and a practice already adopted by Christians in several Muslim-majority countries.
“We deeply regret the unjustifiable murder of Roman Catholic Christians during worship last Sunday in Baghdad,” said Raimundo Barreto, BWA’s director of freedom and justice.
“We affirm our profound solidarity with the Christian community in Iraq as they mourn those who lost their lives. We assure our brothers and sisters in Iraq of the prayerful support from the larger Christian family around the world,” Barreto stated. “As followers of Jesus Christ, we advocate for true and lasting peace in that region. We call on Christians all over the world to diligently work to prevent any escalation of violence, by not repaying evil with evil, but by overcoming evil with good.”
Peck asked the Baptist pastor in Baghdad to assure Christians in that city of the prayers of the worldwide Baptist family.
A spokesman for the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, said the ayatollah condemned the Baghdad attack.
“His eminence condemns the criminal action against our Christian brothers,” said the spokesman, according to AFP (Agence France-Presse).
AFP also reported that a leading Egyptian cleric in Cairo called the attack a “heinous act.”
Through a spokesman, Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, said that “Islam and Muslims have nothing to do with such acts, which harm Islam and violate Islamic precepts.”
Having claimed responsibility for the attack in Baghdad, al-Qaida in Iraq threatened to attack other Christians in the Middle East, including those at a festival in the ancient city of Luxor, Egypt.
Associated Press reported that Egypt increased security for a festival sponsored by the Coptic Church in Egypt, which will be attended by some 2 million Coptic Christians.
EthicsDaily.com staff contributed to this news story from the Baptist World Alliance.
Editor’s Note: EthicsDaily.com has long sought to advance common ground between goodwill Christians and Muslims. To learn about the EthicsDaily.com documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” click here.