Image: REUTERS/Rami Alsayed

By Jeremiah Goddard

On Monday 24 July, members of the Danske Patrioter (Danish Patriots), a Danish ultra-nationalist group, burned pages of the Quran as well as an Iraqi flag outside the Iraqi embassy in Copenhagen. It was the second time in just a few days that the group burned the Quran, spurring protests in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Pakistan. In Iraq, hundreds of protestors stormed the Green Zone in Baghdad and burned caravans in Basra belonging to the Danish Refugee Council, a non-governmental  aid organisation. 

Earlier in July, Iraqi immigrant Salwan Momika, a self-declared atheist born into a Christian family, burned the Quran in Sweden, drawing global backlash from several groups, including a large number of Christians. Protests following Momika’s actions led to a Swedish compound in Baghdad being overrun and set alight.  Momika’s actions have drawn new attention to the ‘Christian West’ and the idea of freedom of expression. Because Momika was born into a Christian family, this has been used as a backdrop for negative perceptions to be perpetuated about Christians. However, the Christian world has responded to these criticisms with the call to love like Jesus did. 

“What happened in Sweden was an unwholesome use of the concept of personal freedom,” said Ara Badalian, senior pastor of the National Evangelical Baptist Church of Baghdad in Iraq. “True Christianity is characterised by love, tolerance, and rejection of violence and hatred.” The idea of personal freedom and even the biblical principle of freedom, have to lead us toward love. 

Many Christian leaders in Iraq have spoken out condemning Momika’s actions, voicing concerns that his actions could place even more pressure on the already heavily persecuted Christian minority in the country. “We are a peaceful community too occupied with survival, and we vehemently condemn the act. Burning religious books does not further our progress whatsoever and the government must do its part to ensure that Christians are not targeted because of this,” said Fadi Hanna, a member of the Chaldean Catholic community in Erbil. 

Mar Awa Royel, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, also in Erbil, added his perspective to those who are concerned that the growing prevalence of religious intolerance is hindering Christians’ ability to connect with those around them of different faiths. “Committing acts of offence in any way against the faith of other religions is an irresponsible act aimed at broadcasting and disseminating hate speech, at a time when we are all called upon to be bridge-builders, and to strengthen and spread the bonds of love, tolerance, and respect.”

While individual countries might provide the freedom or right to protest in such ways, we should bear in mind that our citizenship is firstly in the Heavenly Kingdom and secondarily on Earth. If any action negatively impacts the ability to be a ‘witness’ for the Heavenly Kingdom, we have to weigh up the consequences. Missionaries working with Iraqi refugees have been quoted as saying that the burnings of the Quran have only further divided them from the population they are trying to reach, noting that no freedom of expression is worth a soul. 

Please pray with us for the following: 

  • For God to heal the wounds between Christians and Muslims
  • For God to continue to reveal himself to the people of Iraq
  • For the Christian voices that have been raised to soften the hearts of those bent toward violence