Mosul -- A Muslim family hid for three years two ancient Syriac Orthodox books in Mosul during the city's occupation by the Islamic State (IS) group to prevent their destruction at the latter's hands. They did so, putting their own lives at risk. Their courage and action show that Mosul and Iraq can be rebuilt and reborn on the basis of unity and coexistence of its various groups, above all Christians and Muslims.
Upon the city's liberation, the manuscripts' protectors handed them over to a representative of the Chaldean community in Erbil but asked that their identity be protected because "sleeper cells" still exist in the city, ready to exact vengeance.
Fr Paulos Thabit Mekko spoke to AsiaNews about this story. He is now the repository of the two precious manuscripts until they can be returned to their rightful owners.
"Recently a Chaldean from Mosul contacted me saying that he had a Muslim neighbour from the time he lived in the city 20 years ago," said the priest. The family of the Muslim man, who can trace his ancestry back to ancient Mesopotamia, and his "have been friends for a long time" despite the distance and the violence by IS.
In 2015, when the city was under the latter's control, the Muslim man, who is the head of the family, went with a relative to an area near the Chaldean monastery of St Michael.
"One day the man saw a lorry dump some rubbish. He was in the area looking for some wood to cook and heat his home. Among the refuse, he found a couple of manuscripts in ancient Syriac script and thought they might be of some value."
Despite the danger, he took them and hid them in his home. "He was scared because he knew he could be killed if he were found out," said the Chaldean priest.
After the liberation of Mosul, he decided to visit his friend and former Christian neighbor in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, where the latter had sought refuge to escape IS.
"He told him that he had some ancient Christian manuscripts at his home and if he knew a priest or a trusted man to whom he could hand them over. Someone who would not try to make money from them."
"I went to Mosul a few days ago where I met the two former neighbours, the Christian and the Muslim. The latter entrusted me with the two tomes. They contain the offices of the morning and evening prayers in Syriac Antiochene Orthodox rite."
Upon seeing them, Fr Paulos realised from where the manuscripts were stolen: the "the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Immaculate, which was completely bulldozed by the Jihadis." As soon as possible, "I want to go to the area to see if there are any other ancient texts in the rubble".
"As he said goodbye after giving me the manuscripts, the Muslim man wanted to give me a message: not all Muslims are with IS. Many consider Christians like brothers and are ready to put their lives at risk to save a Christian text. What great courage!"
For over four years, IS controlled Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq. During its reign, it burnt building, books and more. It banned music, art and books other than the Qurʾān. In one case, it beheaded a 15-year-old boy for listening to Western pop music.
For this reason, the economic, social and cultural rebirth of the city requires the restoration of its the artistic and intellectual heritage, which some people, often at their own risk, managed to salvage during those years.