ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An Iraqi Christian Church on Friday denounced a prominent national Sunni cleric's recent fatwa that prohibited followers from partaking in New Year's celebrations, pointing out that such declarations fuel hatred and threaten social cohesion.
"It is not permissible to celebrate the New Year or congratulate it or participate in it," read the Facebook page of a religious organization run by Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi al-Sumaidaie on Thursday, quoting him directly. The cleric repeated his statement during his Friday sermon.
Sumaidaie himself is the self-styled Grand Mufti, or highest religious authority of all Sunnis in a country, of Iraq. The pronouncements of the holder of such a post, though not legally binding, hold significant sway over public opinion and behavior.
Although New Year’s celebrations around the world are primarily secular, they are sometimes associated or confused with Christian observances, in large part due to the holiday's proximity to Christmas.
Sumaidaie attributed the basis of his proclamation to senior religious clerics, including Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a 14th-century scholar of Islamic jurisprudence.
Jawziyya considered congratulating Christians on their various festivals to be an act of "Shirk," one of the gravest sins a Muslim could commit, meaning the deification or worship of anyone or anything besides the Islamic god, Allah.
"These understandings are false, malicious, and far from the correct workings of religions," the Chaldean Catholic Church said in a statement in response to Sumaidaie.
The patriarchate denounced the Sunni cleric's fatwa, stating that a religious leader's duty is to foster and propagate "brotherhood, tolerance, and love," instead of breeding "division and rebellion."
The church also called on the Iraqi government to take action against this type of speech "and to prosecute its promoters, especially when it is issued from official forums."
Iraq's Christian community, which was estimated to have been around 1.5 million in 2003, has significantly dwindled over the years due to constant war, civil unrest, and persecution.
In 2014, when the so-called Islamic State (IS) emerged in Iraq, tens of thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes, with many seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region. The jihadi group killed Christian civilians, forced some to convert to Islam, and destroyed or desecrated churches.
"Today, our peoples need to deepen common denominators in order to contribute to achieving coexistence" and should avoid "inciting hatred," the church added in their statement.
Many other Iraqis denounced Sumaidaie's pronouncement as well.
Iraq's Shia Marja, or leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has previously ruled that it is not permissible for Muslims to celebrate Christian holidays if the purpose of the holiday was to promote Christianity.
Editing by John J. Catherine