Abducted in Iraq: A priest in Baghdad by Saad Sirop Hanna

by
02 February 2018

Pat Ashworth on an inspiring tale of suffering and the survival of hope

BISHOP Saad Sirop Hanna, head of the Chaldean Christian community in Baghdad, was abducted by Muslim extremists in 2006, and held and tortured for 28 days. He is a philo­sopher, and this memoir clearly reflects that aspect of a man who grew up living side-by-side with Muslims, when nobody thought that that was anything other than normal.

So the destruction of Iraq and the decimation of the Christian community grieves him utterly. He rages against “all those men who hold God as a licence for doing, a badge they possess that means all others are in­­­ferior to them, unworthy of life or dignity”.

For much of his time in captivity he was blindfolded. He experiences through his remaining senses the invisible terrors, confusions, and constant beatings, describing them in fluent prose that is poetic in its quality. Repeated blows “explode the landmines of pain” along his flayed back. His stomach revolts against the burning of wet manure to drive away mosquitoes. The wind, he writes, glides through the trees in a broken whistle.

He steadfastly refuses demands — at gunpoint — to become a Muslim. And all the time he is working out what this new experience is teaching him — not piously, but as a reflec­tion so as to lead others to reflect. The “moving boots of death” come close, not least as his damaged body struggles to swim the Tigris during a failed escape attempt.

He does not wish for death, but readies himself for it, while welcom­ing any chance that will show that God still has a purpose for him.

He urges looking beyond ethni­city, creed, culture, and religion; con­­­necting on the level of shared hu­­­man­ity. Such experiences as he endured are transformative, “as though the pen with which you write the story of your life suddenly runs dry, and no word that comes after will ever be of that exact colour”.

And, in a passionate conclusion, he writes:

“For me, I have again been reborn into my purpose: to tell others that faith need not wilt in the face of difficulties but can blossom, offering a greater clarity; that a belief in the love of God compels us to see the love in one another; to not separate those who believe from those who do not; to not judge one faith to be above another, but to see that some people can find a rationale for viol­ence from religion, while others find a rationale for unity.”

 

Abducted in Iraq: A priest in Baghdad
Saad Sirop Hanna
Notre Dame Press £24.95
(978-0-268-10293-7)
Church Times Bookshop £22.45

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