In A Former ISIS Stronghold, Muslims Celebrate Christmas with their Christian Neighbors

The holidays are past. Perhaps your tree is still up, more needles falling every day. Perhaps you’ve already packed up the ornaments and candles, the platters and serving utensils. Maybe you miss the busyness and the parties, or maybe you’re glad for the respite and the quiet.

Our friends in Iraq celebrate the holidays, too. In many Christian communities, some of them almost as old as Christianity itself, they string up Christmas lights and share meals together. They attend church services. There are Santa and snowmen decorations outside stores.

In Bartella, one small community near Mosul, Christians attended a Christmas service, while unbeknownst to them, their Muslim neighbors gathered outside, waiting for it to end.

When the parishioners left, they were greeted with a celebration—flowers, music, balloons.

Here, where ISIS spread violence and division, Muslim neighbors handed each Christian a flower in order to “reconcile and to break the barriers built by ISIS.” As one Muslim man noted, they want “to make clear for our Christian brothers that we welcome their faith.”

In the southern corner of Iraq, in Basra, Muslim photographers went into a Christian church to take pictures, so they might share the rituals and traditions of Christmas with the Basra people. “We wanted to see the church from inside,” one photograph commented, “since we had only heard of it.”

A family returns to see their home in Bartella. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

The holiday season is mostly past. It’s easy to slip into our own routines, the well-worn paths of daily life. But we have the opportunity to be like our Muslim friends in Iraq, to take a step toward others, not away. To celebrate differences rather than become more divided. To learn about someone else’s beliefs rather than make assumptions. To bring peace with us, wherever we go.