One of the most devastating aspects of the Islamic State’s assault on the Middle East has been the war waged against Christian heritage, culture and tradition. It has become a central mission for ISIS — to eradicate any trace of Christianity from the region.
But amid the violence and destructive chaos, some heroes have emerged. One such individual is a Muslim man from Iraq, who reportedly risked his life to save some precious ancient Christian texts from certain destruction.
During the city of Mosul’s brutal occupation at the hands of Islamic State militants, the unnamed Muslim man instructed his family to keep two Syriac Orthodox books safe from the evil hands of the patrolling ISIS militia. After Mosul was liberated in July of last year, the man presented the manuscripts to a representative of the Chaldean community in Erbil, pleading that the family’s identity be kept anonymous because ISIS “sleeper cells” still operated in the city.
Fr. Paulos Thabit Mekko is now the keeper of the sacred documents. He will look after them until the rightful owners are located.
“Recently a Chaldean from Mosul contacted me saying that he had a Muslim neighbor from the time he lived in the city 20 years ago,” the priest told Asia News.
The clergyman said that both his family and the family of the Muslim man “have been friends for a long time,” despite the Islamist militants’ best efforts to divide the two communities.
The priest recalled how, in 2015, the Muslim man had traveled to an area near the Chaldean monastery of St. Michael when he spotted something out of the ordinary.
“One day the man saw a lorry dump some rubbish,” Mekko said. “He was in the area looking for some wood to cook and heat his home. Among the refuse, he found a couple of manuscripts in ancient Syriac script and thought they might be of some value.”
Setting aside the obvious danger he would be in should he be found in possession of such overtly Christian materials, the man decided to take the documents home.
“He was scared because he knew he could be killed if he were found out,” the Fr. Mekko noted.
The priest explained that a number of months later he was visiting his Christian neighbor in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan when he was informed about the presence of these ancient texts.
“He told him that he had some ancient Christian manuscripts at his home and if he knew a priest or a trusted man to whom he could hand them over. Someone who would not try to make money from them,” Fr. Mekko said.
“I went to Mosul a few days ago where I met the two former neighbors, the Christian and the Muslim. The latter entrusted me with the two tomes. They contain the offices of the morning and evening prayers in Syriac Antiochene Orthodox rite.”
When he laid eyes on the documents, this expert scholar and Chaldean priest knew exactly where they were sourced.
“The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Immaculate,” he said, “which was completely bulldozed by the jihadis.”
The priest said that he is desperate to “go to the area to see if there are any other ancient texts in the rubble” so they can be rescued and preserved.
“As he said goodbye after giving me the manuscripts, the Muslim man wanted to give me a message: not all Muslims are with IS. Many consider Christians like brothers and are ready to put their lives at risk to save a Christian text. What great courage!” he said.
But Iraq, resilient as it has been, is not out of the woods just yet. A recent report in Foreign Policy Magazine suggests that the Sunni Islamic State fighters are re-entering the country by teaming up with the Shiite militant group, the “Popular Mobilization Force” (PMF).
The incentives of such an arrangement appear to be very clear for both sides.
“Factions of the PMF, for their part, get to expand their footprint into Sunni areas,” highlighted Vera Mironova and Mohammed Hussein at FP. “Islamic State fighters, meanwhile, can re-enter Iraqi society. Whatever the end result, it is likely to be bad for Iraq.”
Please continue pray for this war-torn nation.