Iraq has been shaped by religious and ethnic diversity for thousands of years. The majority of the population currently consists of Shia or Sunni Muslims. Several Christian groups (Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Armenians) as well as the Yazidi, Kakai, Shabak and Zoroastrians have strong historical ties to areas in and around the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Areas of southern Iraq are also characterised by similar religious diversity. Sabaean Mandaeans have traditionally lived in the south but some have in recent years settled in the north. Several of the Iraqi religious communities are also linguistic minorities.
The number of religious minorities in Iraq has decreased since 2003, and to an even greater extent since 2014. The size of the Christian and Yezidi communities in particular have decreased and continue to do so. Many have fled from war or from persecution by extremists and terrorist organisations such as ISIL. Certain Muslim communities such as the Shabak were targeted by ISIL. Some areas, such as Iraqi Kurdistan, are safer for religious minorities than others, such as the Sinjar region.
In 2019, civil society activists organised an excursion for persons of different faiths.
The inter-faith excursion to Lalesh and Alqosh was organised by a group of Yazidi civil society activists, in close cooperation with the Inclusive Citizenship project. The excursion was a part of a two-day workshop on inter-faith dialogue. The local office of an NGO (Norwegian Church Aid) helped with the practical arrangements.
Travelling together by bus, the group visited religious sites with special importance for two different religious minorities.
Lalesh is the holy city of the Yazidis.
I'm a Muslim, and this is the first time I’m visiting the holy temple in Lalesh. It feels great to be here!
Lalesh is an important holy place in the Yazidi religion. Many of us Yazidi visit Lalesh, and we want others to visit this place, too.
The Yazidi identify themselves as a religious community with a long history in the Sinjar region of what is now northern Iraq. Lalesh is their holy city, located in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many Yazidis make a pilgrimage to Lalesh at least once in their lifetime. Some visit more often to take part in annual religious celebrations.
The Yazidi believe that Lalesh is the cradle of humanity. They believe in one God and his seven angels. Elements from nature are also central in their beliefs. The sun is the most important symbol and is referred to as ‘the light of God’. Some elements in Yazidi religion have parallels with Christianity and Islam.
We are very happy to receive visitors to Lalesh. Our doors are open to everyone, whatever their religion, ethnicity, or creed. In our religion a human is a human, regardless of their affiliation.
Baba Chawish is the representative of the Yazidi religion in Lalesh, acting on behalf of the head of the Yazidi religion, Baba Sheik. Baba Chawish is assisted in his role by volunteers, like the woman who baptises Yazidi visiting Lalesh on pilgrimage.
In 640 A.D. the Christian monk Hormizd built this monastery in the mountains close to the city of Alqosh.
The monastery has been subject to a number of attacks throughout its long history. The church is named after Hormizd, the monk who founded the monastery.
Unfortunately, we usually don’t explore important sites of other religions or cultures because no one is there to tell us about them.
Alqosh is a place of importance to both Caldean and Assyrian Christians in Iraq, and today it is mainly inhabited by Christians. The town has many church buildings, and also a monastery built in the 19th century.
I am now inside a Christian church. It is a great feeling! And I learned about its history.
"Someone who has a wish can close his eyes and walk towards the cross. If his hand touches the cross, then his wish will come true."
Section 12 text
The old Jewish shrine in Alqosh is currently being rebuilt as a historical site.
"This place is the shrine of Nahom, considered to be one of the biblical prophets."
One point of the trip is to convey a message to the world. Religious diversity has always been a part of Iraqi society and will continue to be so. Therefore, we must learn about the different traditions in our society.
Increased knowledge about different religions, visits to religious sites, and personal encounters with people of different religious backgrounds are several ways of preventing ignorance and group hostility. Inter-faith excursions like this journey combine all of these strategies.
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