During my high school years in Mosul, I used to hang out mostly with my Christian friends; however, I also had some Muslim friends too. We were called the Christian students. One of my Muslim friends used to go with me to the school. We took public transportation to get to school; however, our bus would only stop by the main streets, so we had to walk about half a mile to get to our destination.
As much as I loved my friend Elham, which in Arabic means inspiration, I was very bothered by her unwavering religious belief system. She would tell me how wonderful Islam is, that Islam is the only true religion. She would not shy away from telling me the “truth” which according to the vast majority of Muslim people, is that if I would remain a Christian I will go to hell when I die. She truly believed in what she shared with me, at least, that is what she had been taught since childhood. At that time in my life, she knew more about her religion than I knew about mine.
I had no understanding of the teachings of the Bible whatsoever; I remember telling myself that I’m following Jesus, the one who died for my sins and who rose from the dead, because I can’t follow someone who is still dead. That simple and basic knowledge kept my faith alive and saved me from being confused. However, I had neither the courage nor the ability to explain why I would rather stay a Christian. After several discussions with my friend, I found out that I needed to cut my relationship with her. Even though her name means inspiration, our conversations brought me a great deal of frustration.
All Iraqi minorities felt the pressure of persecution from time to time. The fear of rejection pushed all of us into isolation. We kept our traditions, culture, customs and certainly our beliefs to ourselves.
Instead of embracing one another’s rich history and culture, we kept quiet about our beliefs and customs for fear of other’s reactions. We were careful to keep our relationships on a very superficial level. It is impossible to form deep relationships with the absence of trust. Ironically, our Muslim friends used to trust us, because they would say, “oh you are Christian and you do not lie,” however, they would not allow their children to eat with Christian friends, because they believed that Christians were unclean. That does not mean there were no exceptions in some situations, but that was the prevailing attitude.
My psychological and spiritual war, so to speak, with my friend Elham, was finally over. But the war with Iran was still intense; for that reason the Iraqi regime required all students from age sixteen and above to go through military training for several weeks. We needed to be prepared to use weapons in case of a national emergency or in the event of an attack on our city; even though we knew that the training we received was just a precautionary measure. However, we still had to learn how to use the weaponry theoretically and practically. Going through that as young students was enough to throw our anxiety level to the edge.
Living under war for many years, numbing our feelings, both good and bad would become part of daily life. We had unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Our hearts longed for a stable and secure life. We yearned for the day when there would be no more death and no more grief. Even so, there seemed to be no end of the war in sight.
The birth of my brother Bashar ignited the glimmer of hope we had in a better life. We enjoyed being around him so much, to the point that we felt he grew up too fast. Bashar was so polite, to the extent that we felt something was wrong with him. He used phrases, such as “Would you please, my brother,” or “if you do not mind,” words that no one in our family used. He also would go play outside with the other children; and after a few hours, they looked very dirty, as would be expected, but my brother would look so clean and neat.