Martyrdom as Hope
An Iraqi friend told me this lesser-known story about August, 2014, when Da3sh/ISIS drove Christians and other religious minorities from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain.
When Da3sh/ISIS declared Mosul as part of the Islamic State, Christians were allowed to flee with their lives before the Saturday noon deadline, but would be stripped of all money, possessions, and I.D. Everything except the clothes on their back became property of the Islamic State.
A Christian family in Mosul that my friend knows was contacted by their neighbor. The man, a Muslim, was grieved over what was happening and made a remarkable offer to the family: He would enter their house, gather all of their possessions, family heirlooms, and cash, and personally transport the valuables through the Da3sh/ISIS checkpoint–and out of the city. The man arranged to meet up with the family in the city of Erbil a few hours away and return all of their belongings to them.
As the deadline for Christians to flee Mosul arrived, the family left their home and made their way to the (relative) safety of Erbil. When they met up with the Muslim friend, he turned over to them all of the valuables he had collected from their home—just as he had promised.
But this gift of friendship was costly.
There was another neighbor—and he saw what the Muslim man had done and reported him. Da3sh/ISIS soldiers executed the man and each member of his family.
As I think about what these extremists did, it makes me angry—and sad and indignant and even a bit afraid.
But I also think about what this Muslim friend did for his Christian neighbors—and it gives me hope.
Yes, hope. Because this man’s choice, in effect, threw a MONKEY WRENCH into the mechanics of evil and racism and despair. His choice is a WITNESS to something bigger than this evil.
Because of this witness, we cannot say that MUSLIMS committed these atrocities in Mosul; Muslim extremists, okay, but not Muslims as a whole. Now, we have to allow for the possibility that there exists another expression of Islam.
It’s also a witness to truth, and truth is power. For the extremists to do what they do unopposed is one thing, but for someone to look goodness in the eye and choose to cut it down—well, that reveals evil for what it is for everyone to see, and once that happens, it’s just a matter of time. I know for a fact that this man is not the only Muslim in Mosul who has chosen to love his Christian neighbors in defiance of the Islamic State.
It is a witness that the goodness of God is not sectarian but for all—someone from a different religion or class can be the answer to my prayer and the object of my faithful service.
It is a witness to the truth that there is a universal “Law”–the law of being a good neighbor–that everybody understands, regardless of religious and cultural differences. No matter where someone’s from, we all understand the basics of treating our neighbor decent.
And it is a witness that darkness and death do not have the final word. That word does not belong to those who choose force and hate.
It belongs to someone else.