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Iraqi Muslim family kept sacred Christian books hidden from ISIS



John Burger - published on 10/10/18

He wanted to give the message: "Not all Muslims are with IS."

At great risk to themselves, a Muslim family from Mosul, Iraq, salvaged precious ceremonial books of an Orthodox church in that city during the years when the Islamic State group ruled it by terror.

AsiaNews reports on the touching story in which an unnamed Muslim resident of Iraq’s second-largest city went scrounging for firewood one day and noticed something amid a pile of trash just left by a dump truck. He noticed the ancient Syriac script in the books and felt the tomes might be of some value.

The man asked that he and his family’s identity be protected because “sleeper cells” still exist in the city, ready to exact vengeance.

“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,” Fr. Paulos Thabit Mekko told AsiaNews. The Chaldean family and the family of the Muslim man, who can trace his ancestry back to ancient Mesopotamia, “have been friends for a long time.”

Despite the danger, the man took the books and hid them in his home. “He was scared because he knew he could be killed if he were found out,” Fr. Mekko said.

After the liberation of Mosul last year, he decided to visit his former Christian neighbor, now living in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, where the latter had sought refuge to escape IS.

“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. The priest then traveled to Mosul, where he met the two former neighbors, the Christian and the Muslim man entrusted him with the books.

“They contain the offices of the morning and evening prayers in Syriac Antiochene Orthodox rite,” Fr. Mekko explained. He then realized that the manuscripts had come from the “he Syriac Orthodox Church of the Immaculate, which had been bulldozed by ISIS authorities. He expressed his interest in going to the area where the church once stood, “to see if there are any other ancient texts in the rubble.”

Fr. Mekko said that as the Muslim man who had saved the books was about to say goodbye, he “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!”

During the three years ISIS controlled Mosul, it destroyed buildings that were considered un-Islamicic and banned music, art and books other than the Quran. In one case, it beheaded a 15-year-old boy for listening to Western pop music, AsiaNews said. After more than two years of occupation, Iraqi, Kurdish, American and French forces launched a joint offensive to recapture the city on October 16, 2016. On July 10, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced the full liberation of Mosul.

Christians in the Middle East
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