Muslim-majority UAE commits to rebuilding 2 churches destroyed by ISIS in Iraq

Father Thabet Habib evaluates the inside of a burned out church right in Karamles, Iraq right after the town's liberation from the Islamic State in October 2016.
Father Thabet Habib evaluates the inside of a burned out church right in Karamles, Iraq right after the town's liberation from the Islamic State in October 2016. | (Photo: Archdiocese of Erbil)

The Muslim-majority United Arab Emirates announced plans this week to help rebuild two Christian churches destroyed by the Islamic State and said it's the first national government in the world to help rebuild Christian churches in postwar Iraq. 

UAE has expanded its collaboration with a United Nations initiative called Revive the Spirit of Mosul. The initiative is an international effort to reconstruct Iraq’s once second-largest city ravaged by the Islamic State’s reign of destruction in the Nineveh region.  

According to a press release, a new agreement reiterating UAE’s support for the initiative was signed at the U.N.'s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization headquarters in Paris on Sunday. 

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The agreement serves as an extension to an agreement signed by UAE leaders in April 2018, in which the UAE government committed $50.4 million to help rebuild the city’s historic Grand Al-Nouri Mosque. 

The new agreement commits UAE to restore the historic Al-Tahira Syriac-Catholic Church and Al-Saa’a Church in Mosul, a city that was conquered by the Islamic State terrorist group in 2014 and officially liberated by U.S.-backed coalition forces in July 2017. 

According to the France-based charity Mesopotamian Heritage, At-Tahira is a centuries-old church that was bombarded during the mass raids on Mosul in 2017. The roof has collapsed but the royal door and side doors remain standing. To make matters worse, shoddy postwar reconstruction work worsened the condition of the historic building.

Al-Saa’a is also known as The Clock Church because it was gifted a clock by Empress Eugenie of France, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III. The clock was affixed to a tower.  The church was built by Dominican fathers in the 1870s. According to The Telegraph, the church was blown up by Islamic State terrorists in 2016. 

In addition to the church restorations, UAE’s new agreement with UNESCO includes the construction of a museum and memorial site that could create as many as 1,000 jobs. According to the release, the new institutions will also help the city’s tourism economy. 

The project has already employed 27 Iraqis and contracted four Iraqi companies. 

"We are honored to sign this partnership with UNESCO and Iraq,” UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development Noura Al Kaabi said during the signing. 

“Our work with UNESCO is a testament to UAE's commitment to furthering the organization’s mandate. Today's signing is a pioneering partnership that sends a message of light, in seemingly darker times. As we break ground in the reconstruction, UAE becomes the first country in the world to rebuild Christian churches in Iraq."

According to Gulf  News, UNESCO General Director Audrey Azoulay said the new restoration projects aim to “reclaim the true spirit” of Mosul as being a “peaceful coexistence between different religious and ethnic groups.”

“I am thankful to the United Arab Emirates and Minister Al Kaabi who have generously supported our initiative since the beginning, and who believe, as we do, that there is no true reconstruction and revival without Culture and Education.”

UAE’s vow to help rebuild Christian churches in Mosul comes as the Persian Gulf country has marked 2019 as its “Year of Tolerance.” UAE has been one of the most devoted Middle Eastern nations when it comes to promoting the idea of religious freedom and tolerance in the last few years. 

Earlier this year, UAE hosted a regional religious freedom summit and hosted the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. Most recently, plans were announced for the construction of the Abrahamic Family House — an interfaith complex that will house a church, synagogue, and mosque — Saadiyat Island near Abu Dhabi.

Although the UAE boasts that it is the first country to rebuild Christian churches in Mosul, the United States has given $400 million in assistance to help to resettle and rebuilding efforts in northern Iraq. 

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