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One year on: how the Iraqi library bombed by Islamic State has become the “brains of the community”

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The library reopened last December, on the ground floor of the adjacent building, with a new welcoming interior and 650 books. One year on, it has become the main intellectual hub and cultural centre for schoolchildren, scholars and members of public, Christians and Muslims alike.

Fr Duraid of St Jacob Syriac Catholic church who supervised the construction work and runs the library, says it is now the ‘brains of the community’, essential in the process of the rebuilding of Qaraqosh. Fr Duraid went on to say:

“It’s a mustard seed we are planting for the future. We educate our young people now so our city will flourish in the future. People say the library is a place where they come to be themselves, a place to read and think without being disturbed.”

Islamic State’s invasion of the region in 2014 forcefully displaced tens of thousands of Christian families. IS militants intentionally destroyed the villages and homes of thousands of Christians. They also burned churches and libraries.

Many families who were forced to flee their homes by IS have been able to return to the Nineveh Plain and have begun to rebuild their lives and communities. Fr Duraid recalls how he found the old library when he returned to Qaraqosh after its liberation: the ceiling was shattered, the walls blackened, books were scattered around covered in dust or burnt. IS had deployed multiple bombs in the building.

The new space was renovated and designed with the financial support of Open Doors, working through a local partner organisation. They also provided furniture and new books.

Dozens of visitors find their way to the facility every day. It has become a secure space for the dialogue between the Christian, Muslim and Yazidi communities who read books about each other’s religions and ‘expand their worldview’, according to Fr Duraid.  He explains why it is important for the future of the church in Iraq:

“Especially among Muslims, there is a lot of misunderstanding about Christian culture and religion. Here we can correct that and present them with the right image of Christianity. It is a good opportunity to strengthen our relationship with other communities in this region.

“Without books, where would our community be? How can we go towards our future without knowledge? I want every visitor to understand that there is more than one country, more than one religion or one denomination. We are all unique and that makes life colourful.”

The next stage for the library includes buying computers, printers and PDF books, as well as gaining access to the internet.

Iraq is number 13 on the Open Doors’ World Watch List, a ranking of 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

Photos © Open Doors International