The Iraqi Parliament passed a law on 27 October that states that the Christian children of a father who converts to Islam or a mother who marries a Muslim, automatically become Muslim. An amendment proposed by Iraq’s non-Muslim religious communities suggesting that minors keep their religion until the age of 18, was overwhelmingly rejected by 137 votes to 51.
The law, part of the National Card law, under Article 26, paragraph 2, contravenes the Iraqi Constitution’s provision for ethnic and religious diversity (Article 3), protection against “religious coercion” (Article 37.2), and freedom of “thought, conscience and ideology” (Article 42), said Iraq’s Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I Sako.
“This norm is one of the most discriminatory,” said the senior church leader, “because it shows a total disregard for the values of the civilisation of Iraq and against those who are considered to be among the first citizens of this country.”
The new law has not been enforced in Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, but Bishop Rabban al-Qas of Amadiya and Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan, has warned that the new law “will drive Christians away”, further exacerbating the existential threat to Christianity in Iraq.
“We are facing a genocide in a country that knows only death and liberticidal laws,” he said. “Here there is neither freedom nor respect.”
The threat to the Christian presence in Iraq is very real. “Christianity [in the Middle East] will probably survive,” said Canon Andrew White, who is well known for his work in Baghdad and as the founder of The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation for the Middle East (FRRME), last week. “But this is the hardest thing it has been through.”
Iraq’s Assyrian, Yazidi, and other non-Muslim minority communities, determined to bring the matter to the attention of the international community, protested against the new law on 4 November in front of the UN building in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.
“We appeal to the President of the Republic of Iraq, Fuad Masoum, that he return the bill to the Assembly of Deputies to be modified and at the same time, we urge Members to assume their responsibilities and really create conditions of justice and equality among all Iraqi citizens,” said Mar Sako.