by Layth Ibrahim & Jack Harris
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. – Mat. 4:16
Iraq and it’s people have passed through many sad stages. These stages of change have had a great impact on the annual celebration of Christmas in Baghdad and throughout the Nation.
THE 70’S, A TIME OF PEACE, OPTIMISM, AND GROWTH.
In the 1970s, peace and calm prevailed in Iraq due to Saddam’s control of extremist activists. Iraq entered a new phase, that of bright hope and aspirations for the future. It was a time of construction and development.
That period was the most beautiful period for the Iraqis. Joy was present in our homes. Travel to the whole world opened for us and Iraqis began to visit Western countries and learn from the civilization there. This had a great impact upon our way of thinking and how we viewed our neighbors?
SECTARIANISM OR RELIGION WASN’T THE ISSUE
At this point people didn’t care if you were Christian or Muslim. The important thing was that we were all Iraqi.
The doors were opened for foreign companies to come and help build Iraq. These companies came, with their people and their culture, they lived with us in Iraq for more than ten years, and they most certainly had a great impact and influence upon our culture.
During the 70’s the streets of Baghdad were filled with Christmas lights and decorations. Christmas trees were set up everywhere and decorated with lights. I mean, you’d have noticed that there was a sense of celebration in the soul of all the people, there was a joy of heart. But back then this was only in Baghdad, the Capital.
AN IMPORTANT OBSERVATION
Only when Iraqi Christians are happy and at ease will you clearly see that the educated Muslim class rejoices too. Most of the wealthy in Islam have Christmas trees in their homes.
But if the Christians grieve, then the whole of Iraq grieves because we are the ones who decorate the earth, and this is a fact. (something to think about)
1980-88 THE IRAQ/IRAN WAR
The Iraq/Iran War is regarded as one of the most destructive conflicts of the late 20th Century.
Then came the 1980’s and with them, the War with Iran. At the beginning of the eighties, that is, in the first two years only, there was a very clear extension of the seventies. There where victories, holidays and you could still see Christmas on the streets of Baghdad.
Then the coffins began to come. For the first time we saw the Iraqi flag draped upon the coffins of our fallen soldiers. This was strange to us. At first we considered it a sign of patriotism, even of victory. But as time passed and the fighting escalated, we learned that this was a great catastrophe that had befallen the Iraqi people. Here, we replaced our flags of joy which flew from our homes with the black flags of mourning. A great sadness began to get a grip on all of us.
The Christmas tree? Now, if you want to see it, it is only present in the homes of Christians. It is now hidden behind walls so that you do not see it when you are walking in the street. There was now a fear of offending the feelings of the families of the martyrs (those who died in battle).
This continued until the end of the war in 1988. Then the joy returned to the Iraqis and the celebrations could once more be seen in the streets, and we forgot the sadness.
And back came the Christmas tree. Once more it was seen in public on the streets of Baghdad. But this did not last long.
THE GULF WAR, SANCTIONS AND THE 1990’S
The nineties came with the total destruction of Iraq, the infrastructure and the people. Iraq lived in darkness and without electricity for eight months. Refrigerators turned into a cupboard. The Iraqi people learned to make an oil candle from glass soda bottles. Our homes were filled with black smoke. We will not return to that former time of celebration and joy and there will be no Christmas trees.
After this there will be ten years of economic siege imposed upon Iraq. This will impose extreme hardship on the people only and not on the Iraqi government. The people ate animal food. Any joy the people had was now extinguished, and Christmas in Christian homes was limited to the simplest and most meager of fare.
TEN YEARS OF EMBARGO!
Everything has turned forlorn and gloomy. There were no tours. No travel outside Iraq. And the Iraqi citizen was forced to tighten the belt as in the days of the World War.
THE NEW MILLENNIUM AND THE WAR ON TERRORISM
The year 2000 came and here is a turning point that will effect the whole world.
It was September 11, 2001 – The Terrorist Attack on America; and Iraq is seen as a part of this terrorism, and once more, it will be the common people that pay the price; and Christmas will share in this devastation.
2003 OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM
The Overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Regime. The beginning of the Iraq Insurgency.
2004 JACK HARRIS & LAYTH IBRAHIM BOTH COME TO KURDISTAN OF IRAQ
Here you (Jack) and I (Layth) are in Iraq. You remember those days well.
NOTE: It will be about three years before Layth and I meet for the first time. I will meet him when I discover a thriving Church meeting in his rented house in Duhok. It is the beginning of a lasting friendship and partnering together to reach Kurdistan with the Gospel. -Jack Harris
There will be Fifteen years of rebuilding the Nation, it’s infrastructure and the building of a new government. But this new government will change the Iraqi Constitution in such a way as to make it serve the Islamic state in Iran. A period of severe decline in thought, culture, education, health, and the police began. Our army was completely dissolved, a Shiite army serving the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was established in its place.
During this period the Christmas tree will be such a rarity as to be almost be none existent. Then came Covid19, with two years of lockdown, pain and depression for all.
But … Something strange has happened!
A new change has come to the people’s thinking. Surprising impressions and new conclusions have begun to dawn upon the people. I believe this because God has revealed all the falsehoods in the existing sectarian government, and the people have realized just how much they have lost in their individual lives and that of their families.
The loss of the future for our boys and girls in the corruption that now exists; the entry of drugs into the country in abundance through Iran, the killing of scientific talent and the displacement of our good doctors outside of Iraq.
There has come a revolution of the Spirit to our people, a renewal of mind and heart. The people have revolted to fulfill their wishes. We are now beginning to feel the joy starting to return to our lives and with it, our feeling that Iraq CAN and WILL change for the better.
The Meelad Tree (Birthday Tree in Arabic) has begun to live again, and joy our has returned with it.
The Christmas Tree in Iraq is not a symbol of commercialism, nor does it have its roots in paganism, it’s The Meelad Tree, the BIRTHDAY Tree and it only points to one child’s birth and the message which accompanied that birth.
“PEACE ON THE EARTH, GOOD WILL TOWARDS MEN.”
We have not known a day like this before in Iraq. When the Iraqis celebrate in this way.
Christmas trees are being set up everywhere! On the streets of Baghdad, in the Malls and General Stores, in Public Parks. At night, the street is full of happy people and families. It’s as if God has begun to compensate this people for what they had lost for decades.
Here in Dohuk, in Kurdistan, I see that most of our restaurants are celebrating Christmas. All the big Malls here have put up giant Christmas trees. It’s the same thing in Baghdad.
Today, many Muslim families put a Christmas tree in their homes.
It is the beginning of liberation from sectarianism, blind religiosity, and a new openness to Christianity. I think this is the beginning of an awakening. The beginning of a renaissance. The beginning of a new age for the Church to rise up to proclaim the Christ’s truth anew.
As Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended evil for me, but God has turned it around for good.”
I THINK THIS IS IT!
The evil one wanted to destroy whole peoples through the spirit of extremism and the spirit of religiosity, but God has turned those evil intentions around for good.
As I read Pastor Layth’s words my own heart is once more captivated by the Wonder and the Miracle of Christmas; by what we’ve come to call the Christmas Spirit. That Spirit which has inspired the Hymns and Carols we sing, the heightened sense of Goodwill, Compassion and Generosity we feel toward our fellow man. This season gentles us, it humbles us, it renews our hope, in fact, it calls forth those three immutable, indestructible and everlasting virtues we call,
FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY
These three are arguably, the Holy Trinity of GOD’S own eternal nature, they are the Elohim that breath life into what we’ve come to call the Christmas Spirit, all else are merely the outward manifestations and expressions that all point back toward the truth at the core, that core truth being the gift of The Father, our Father, which art in Heaven, the Father, who so loved the world that HE gave HIS only Begotten Son …
The rest are merely the ornamentations and accoutrements that have over time attached themselves and have been passed down through the generations; not as scripture but as expressions of our joy and delight. They’ve become stories, myths, songs and every other form of expression by which we celebrate. They’re quite human expressions, typically so, in fact, comfortingly so; and I don’t think GOD Almighty is put out by them in the least. We know the Reason for the Season because we know Him.
So, we’ll leave you with this thought, What’s in a Christmas Tree? Well, I think that depends on how you’re choosing to look at it. Maybe we over here could take a lesson from our brethren and the people of Iraq, who see something of hope and joy in something they call the Birthday Tree. They all know whose birthday it symbolizes and though they may be still wrestling with the idea of what it all means, that is, Is He a great Prophet as they’ve been taught from birth to believe, or is He the Son of God? Personally, I stand with pastor Layth, I think this is The LORD’S doing. This is evidenced in the fact that more and more are coming to Christ now. Something unprecedented in history. I do believe that we are living in the time when, Whosoever shall call upon the Name of The LORD shall be … saved!
Isn’t it interesting that the Christmas Tree, of all things, has an attraction and draw for them? This, and the fact that Christmas Trees are lighting up this year throughout Iraq.
Layth and I, along with our families wish You and Yours a very Merry Christmas and may you all be filled with all the Joys of this Glorious Season.
Jack Harris, PC Missions – Jack Harris Ministries
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING OUR ONGOING WORK IN THE MIDDLE EAST.