Almost 200 Iraqi Christian families filed a lawsuit against the head of Iraq’s Shia Endowment, Sheikh Alaa Al-Mousawi, on charges of incitement of sectarian violence against Christians after he used rhetoric reminiscent of extremist group Daesh and called for religious minorities to either convert to Islam or be killed.
Al-Mousawi, who is in charge of the government body which maintains all of Iraq’s Shia holy sites, including mosques, Huseiniyas and schools, sparked anger as he declared Christians to be “infidels” during a religious sermon he gave in southern Iraq, according to local media.
The senior government appointed Shia cleric described the Christians as “infidels and polytheists” and stressed the need for “jihad” against them. He has also said that “Jews and Christians” must be fought and killed if they do not accept Islam, with the same fate awaiting Zoroastrians as well as Sabians, another Iraqi religious community.
In a video from the religious sermon, Al-Mousawi can clearly be seen inciting against Christians and other minorities:
Either they convert to Islam, or else they are killed or they pay the jizya [a tax on non-Muslims.
Many have accused him of imitating the rhetoric of Daesh extremists by stating that Iraqi Christians must either convert to Islam, pay a religious tax on non-Muslims known as the jizya, or else be killed.
In 2014, Daesh imposed the exact same conditions on Christians in Iraq’s northern provinces, forcing more than 100,000 to leave their homes in fear for their lives. One of the oft-cited reasons behind the western intervention against Daesh was the risk they posed to not only Christians, but other religious minorities including the Yazidis.
Senior European Christian leaders denounced Daesh for threatening Christian communities in Iraq – one of the country’s oldest communities – with clerics such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, adding an Arabic “N” to his Twitter profile in solidarity with Iraq’s Christians.
So far, no western official has commented on one of Iraq’s most senior government Shia clerics issuing the same threats as Daesh, despite Iraq being a key ally in the fight against the extremist group that has persecuted all religious groups in the war-ravaged country since 2014.
Al-Mousawi has responded by sending a delegation from the Endowment to the Babylonian Christian Movement to mediate the lawsuit and the allegations that his comments have mirrored Daesh’s extremist rhetoric.
Iraq’s Shia clerical establishment as well as its numerous Shia jihadist militias have long been accused of religious extremism, having perpetrated numerous sectarian atrocities against the Sunni Arab community as well as other minority groups.