Peregraf- Hadri Osman
After completing prayers at Mar Yousif Church one day, Father Abdul-Ahad Uhana took a bible and went to the Rasulala Mosque. He did not go for worship, but to visit his friend of 15 years, Mullah Abdullah Said Obed, and give him the holy book as a gift.
Later, Mullah Abdullah reciprocated the gesture, giving a copy of the Qur’an to Ayman Aziz, another priest at Mar Yousif Church.
"A diverse religious life has been a bright point throughout the history of southern Kurdistan in general and in Sulaimaniyah in particular," Father Aziz told Peregraf.
This exchange of gifts is an example of the religious harmony that exists in the Kurdistan Region, Father Uhana explained.
"Jesus said, 'Love one another, as I have loved you.' It means that we must love each other and accept each other," he said, speaking of a central belief in Christianity.
Mullah Abdullah agreed, saying that religious coexistence is also cherished within Islam.
"I have always wanted my friendship with this Christian man…to be an example for all the followers of different religions in the Kurdistan Region," Mullah Abdullah told Peregraf.
"We all go back to our great Prophet Adam," he continued. "The aim and message of Islam is not to erase religions. The Holy Qur'an mentions friendship with Christians many times."
Mullah Abdullah presented a Qur’an to Ayman Aziz Hormoz, priest of Mar Yousif Church. Photo; Hardi Osman- Peregraf.
Christianity is the second largest faith in Iraq after Islam, with approximately 220,000 Christians living in the Kurdistan Region alone.
Officials actively promote efforts to achieve religious tolerance, but there are many challenges.
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs is made up of eight directorates, covering Islamic, Christian, Yazidi, Zoroastrian, Kakai, Mandean, Baháʼí, and Jewish affairs.
The Law on the Protection of Rights in Kurdistan, approved by the Kurdistan Parliament in 2015, prohibits any discrimination on the basis of ethnic or religious difference.
It also facilitates the right of each faith to administer its own affairs and supports language preservation efforts and religious education.
But friendships like the one between Father Uhana and Mullah Abdullah across religious lines are increasingly rare.
Priest Ayman put the Qur'an in The Church of Mar Yousif. Photo; Hardi Osman- Peregraf.
"The views of religious teachers have changed completely," Mariwan Naqshbandi, spokesperson for the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, told Peregraf. "They don't talk about Christianity no longer."
Naqshbandi says he has a collection of 1,000 Bibles, many of which have been translated into Kurdish and other languages.
He said that the Kurdistan Region’s religious law is a positive step, but added that the law it does not provide criminal punishments for those who harass another person on the basis of religion. He supports amending the law to address this and other deficiencies.
"I will not hide it: our community still needs time and we have problems," he said, but argued that, in general, a stable environment of religious tolerance exists in the Kurdistan Region.
"Whenever a religion has a social occasion, representatives of other religions will all participate," Naqshbandi said.