United is the only way to defeat terrorism, extremism and occupation which is creating the spring well of terrorism.
According to media reports 58 were killed and 75 more injured after Al-Qaeda extremists in suicide vests raided Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Church in Baghdad, Iraq during evening mass on Sunday.
The deaths and injuries occurred after Iraqi Special Forces backed by U.S. troops entered the church while Al-Qaeda extremists held clerics and worshipers hostage in the central Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. Witnesses say the insurgents began killing guards outside a stock exchange in Baghdad before going to the church. Two young priests and a deacon were killed during the raid.
“I cry for my country that was the best country in the world. They killed these people and for what? Just because they were praying at church. Who killed them? I think who killed them, doesn’t believe in God. If they believed in God they would have never killed these people,” said Pastor Hanna Sullaka of Lutheran Church in Warren and Dearborn during an interfaith gathering at the Islamic House of Wisdom (IHW) in Dearborn Heights on Monday.
According to various sources, the Christian population in Iraq was at 800,000 before the United States invaded in 2003 . As a result of the continuous terrorist attacks against Christians from the resulting destablization of the country, that number has decreased to 550,000. Sullaka says it’s a fact that Christians are on the verge of extinction in Iraq and several have fled to Iraq’s bordering countries to avoid religious attacks.
More than half Iraq’s Christans left the country particularly after the U.S. invasion in 2003. Those who remain are less than three percent of the population which was more than seven percent in the 1980s according to various news sources.
Some Iraqis criticized their government for not having better security at the church, and believe the incident may have been prevented if there was better security available. In response to the series of attacks on Christians, the Iraqi federal police and army have guarded the fronts of churches during mass for two years. But no security was outside the church that Sunday.
To raise awareness of the plight of Iraq’s shrinking Christian population, the St. Toma Syrian Catholic Church of Farmington Hills is holding a demonstration outside the United States Eastern District Court of Michigan, 231 Lafayette Blvd, Detroit Michigan 48226 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 8. According to St. Toma priest Father Toma, more than 1, 000 are expected to attend the demonstration.
Father Toma said the future of Iraqi Christians is uncertain and 55 churches have been bombed and more than nine priests killed since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. “Christians are terrified of going to church to pray,” he said.
Syriac church official Monsignor Pius Kasha told McClatchy Newspapers the attack is the deadliest in Baghdad since before the March elections.
Other religious leaders at the interfaith event Monday which was held to honor the victims of the barbaric attack, spoke out against terrorism in Iraq. Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, the spiritual leader of the IHW, called the church raiders people without faith, dignity or spirit.
“The innocent victims of this tragedy that happened in the church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad was an attack by a terrorist. This aggression is for people who have lost their faith, their dignity, their spirit and they choose to act as anyone but human beings. Obviously we condemn what they did. We condemn terrorism in general. We hate terrorism,” he said. Elahi says those who practice acts of terrorism in the name of Islam in reality are the worst enemies of Islam and add fuel to the fires of Islamophobia.
Sullaka says the Christian Iraqi community in the United States has been effective in helping Iraqi Christians but can become more powerful if they join forces to create effective strategies for peace. Sullaka says to do that American Christian Iraqis must first put their differences aside. “We can’t say he’s orthodox, he’s Syrian, he’s Chaldean. We have to be one heart. We can become strong, we can get hold of Congress and all parts of the world,” Sullaka said.
During the interfaith event Sullaka also encouraged different faiths to come together.
“We will all pray together, please, raise your right hand all together and pray and say Lord Jesus or the Prophet Moses, Muhammad, together, come on, together, and pray to make peace,” he said.
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Michigan Executive Director, Dawud Walid encourages Iraqi Americans to continue praying for their families in Iraq. “CAIR-Michigan strongly condemns the terrorist attack in the Baghdad church. No faith supports such violence against civilians and we pray for the day that Iraqis can worship in peace and no church can be attacked in that historic land,” Walid, also a speaker at the interfaith event said.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Public Affair Council (MPAC) of Washington D.C., a public service agency working for the civil rights of Muslim Americans, released a statement immediately after the massacre strongly condemning the killing of hostages on Sunday.
“The Quran calls for the protection of human life, all houses of worship and religious minorities and yesterday’s attack is an affront to the teachings of Islam and the rich religious diversity if Iraq,” the statement read.
“This violence is not acceptable,” said MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati. “Violence is continuing to drain valuable resources from Iraq, and it is forcing its people to live in fear and with constant strife and devastation. This is one of two incidences of extremists groups attacking other houses of worship. The Qur’an clearly states that the attack on human life and houses of worship is not acceptable.”