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NASSIRIYA, Iraq (ChurchMilitant.com) - Jesus and the Jews were both conspicuously missing from Pope Francis' Saturday interfaith service at the Plain of Ur — publicized by the Vatican event as the birthplace of Abraham.
In his lengthy address, Francis did not mention "Jesus" even once, and the prayer concluding the event did not use the standard trinitarian formula or end in "the name of Jesus."
The pope avoided naming the Hebrew prophet "Isaiah" in his speech while citing the prophecy of nations beating "their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks."
Francis' address and the concluding "Prayer of the Children of Abraham" also intentionally stopped short of calling "Isaac" the "son of Abraham."
The Yezedis, denounced by Muslims as "devil worshippers," were not given a role in the papal interreligious event — even though the Vatican had previously announced their participation.
Renowned Islamic historian Robert Spencer told Church Militant that "Jesus was not mentioned, for as always, interreligious dialogue involving Muslims and Christians requires Christians move closer to the Islamic position, not any genuine give-and-take or mutuality."
Spencer, a scholar of Middle Eastern origin, noted the marked absence of the Jews: "A genuine interreligious meeting at the 'Birthplace of Abraham' would have included representatives of all three 'Abrahamic' religions. But the Jewish representatives who were invited reportedly refused to attend."
The author of 21 books on Islam and the Middle East explained:
As the Qur'an is deeply anti-Semitic and calls Jews the worst enemies of Muslims (5:82), under the curse of Allah (9:30), and calls on Muslims to make war against and subjugate them (9:29), it is likely that the Jewish leaders did not believe they would be safe or respected there, which is a more realistic view of Islam than the one Francis has.
A local Church official told Reuters that Jews were invited but their situation was "complicated," particularly as they have no structured community. However, a senior foreign Jewish figure has been present in similar past events in Muslim countries.
In comments to Church Militant, Jewish anthropologist Karen Harradine said she found it "insulting to us Jews that we were not included by those who used the birthplace of our first patriarch, Abraham, to virtue signal and mumble meaningless platitudes about healing."
By 2009, there were only eight Jews left in Baghdad, according to diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks. A 2015 law in the zone recognized Judaism as a protected religion and created an official representative. Even in the more tolerant Kurdish zone, of the estimated 400 families of Jewish descent remaining, some have converted to Islam in recent years. Most practice in secret, because identifying as Jewish is still dangerous.
"How odd that Pope Francis neglected to mention this when he spoke at the birthplace of our father, Abraham," Harradine lamented. "I suggest he brushes up on his history next time he plans to pontificate from there and learns about Iraq's ethnic cleansing of Jews."
Harradine narrated how Iraq's Jews were persecuted to the point of extinction: "The Jewish community lived in Iraq for over 2,700 years. In 1941, thousands of Jews were murdered in Baghdad in what became known as the Farhud Massacre. From then on, Jews were regularly subject to pogroms."
After Israel was created in 1948, over 120,000 Jews were forced to flee, and their property confiscated. By the time of the Six Day War, Jews were barred from leaving Iraq, forced to carry yellow identity cards, publicly hanged and put under house arrest. By the early 1970s the remaining Jews were allowed to leave but many couldn't, being too old. Their property was confiscated. The tiny remaining community now lives in poverty and fear.
"Standing by the birthplace of Abraham, surely Pope Francis' time would have been better spent asking: 'Iraq, where are your Jews?'" Harradine said.
The pope's interreligious service began with a biblical reading from Genesis 12 narrating God's call to Abraham to leave Ur and follow him. This was followed by a Qur'anic reading from Surah 14 — also known as Surah Ibrahim.
"Praise be to Allah, who hath granted unto me in old age Isma'il and Isaac," a Muslim cleric chanted. "In Islam, Ishmael supplants Isaac as the intended sacrificial lamb. Islam has a perspective on the role of Abraham's son Ishmael diametrically opposed to that elaborated in Genesis," writes Islamic scholar S.G. deClaissé-Walford.
"It would have been more illuminating and instructive if Qur'an 60:4 had been read," Spencer noted. "At that point, Abraham tells his unbelieving family that there will be enmity and hatred between him and them forever unless they worship Allah, and he is presented as a model for imitation in doing this."
Explaining the exclusion of "Isaac," Spencer added: "In Islamic tradition, Ishmael is the sacrificial son, and so the pope was apparently willing to go along with the devaluation of the tradition shared by Jews and Christians in favor of the Islamic understanding."
"Today we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with our brothers and sisters of other religions, honor our father Abraham by doing as he did: We look up to Heaven and we journey on earth," Francis preached.
Mostly ignoring COVID-19 protocols of masks and social distancing, Francis insisted that "the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters."
Calling for "freedom of conscience and freedom of religion" to be respected "because they make us free to contemplate the Heaven for which we were created," the pope labeled extremism and violence as "betrayals of religion."
"We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion; indeed, we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings," Francis pleaded.
Spencer told Church Militant that the pope was continuing to "cling to the popular fiction that Islamic jihad terrorism arises from a misunderstanding of Islam."
"Indeed, he can't even go that far; instead, he says that terrorism 'abuses religion,' as if there were Christian terrorists in numbers comparable to Islamic terrorists worldwide," Spencer remarked, noting that Francis' "ignoring of the Qur'an's exhortations to violence against unbelievers doesn't have the remotest chance of compelling jihadis to give up their violence."
Despite the absence of Jews, Vatican News tweeted two news stories announcing in both tweets that Pope Francis had met with "representatives of the three Abrahamic religions" and was "joined by Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Iraqi city of Ur."