Iraq’s Grand Mufti: Celebrating Christian holidays ‘impermissible’ for Muslims

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Prominent Iraqi cleric and Grand Mufti Abdul-Mehdi al-Sumaidaie said on Thursday that Christian holidays “like New Year’s and Christmas are impermissible” for Muslims, adding that those who celebrate “believe the Christians’ religious doctrine.”

During his Friday sermon, at a mosque in downtown Baghdad, Sumaidaie said: “Do not join Christians in Christmas celebrations, because this means that you believe in their doctrine.”

His statements caused an uproar in Iraq, with many calling for Sumaidaie’s removal, and for him to be prosecuted.

The Cardinal of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world Luis Raphael I Sacco denounced Sumaidaie’s statements, adding that a person who adopts such speech is incomplete. Sacco also called on authorities to prosecute him.

In his statement, Sacco also said that a man of religion, whatever religion it is, should call for brotherhood, tolerance and love, not division and sedition. Sacco called on the Iraqi government to follow those who spread this rhetoric, and prosecute them, especially when they do it from official platforms.

“These are misconceptions, misguided and far from the correct knowledge of religions," he said. "Our peoples today need to deepen the common denominators in order to contribute to the achievement of coexistence, not treachery, atonement and incitement to hatred,” Sacco said.

Recently, the Iraqi council of ministers approved Christmas to become a public holiday. This is the first time Baghdad has declared the event a national holiday, involving all citizens after being limited only to Christians for decades.

Sumaidaie himself is the self-styled Grand Mufti of all Sunnis in Iraq. The pronouncements of the holder of such a post, though non-binding, hold significant sway over public opinion and behavior.

The influential Sunni leader has close ties with the Iraqi government. He adheres to a particular brand of Salafism that strictly rejects individuals from renouncing their faith.

He also commands two Sunni brigades in the Hashd al-Shaabi, the majority of which are Shia, some of whom are closely linked to Tehran.

Many took to Twitter to denounce Sumaidaie’s statements, and called for his removal from his post.

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