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On Iraqi Jews, Muslims and Christians in London

Published February 06, 2019 by Dr Merav Rosenfeld-Hadad

Dr Merav Rosenfeld-Hadad, Research Fellow and Co-Principal Investigator for the Living in Harmony project reports on her recent fieldwork in London.

As a part of the Living in Harmony project at the Woolf Institute, I am currently conducting fieldwork in London, interviewing Iraqi women and men, who were born mainly in Baghdad, and at some stage in their lives left Iraq (mostly between the 1950s and 1970s but also later), and are now living in London.

In the interviews, we cover many aspects of the life of these people. They tell me about their families, their parents and siblings, their houses and gardens, their neighbours, their schools and friends, the food they loved, the wonderful times they spent with family and friends, and, of course, their favourite Arabic music.

Regardless of their age, sex and religious affiliation, regardless of the time that has passed since they last saw Baghdad, they have all told me, with tears in their eyes, how much they loved their lives in Baghdad and how much they miss the city.

All of them vividly remember the time they spent with family and friends on the banks of the rivers Dijla [Tigris] and Furat [Euphrates], the smell and taste of the fresh samak masguf [the grilled fish], typical and loved by all Baghdadis, and the taste of the numerous varieties of dates they picked from the trees in their gardens.

The River Tigris, Baghdad December 2018 © Dr Merav Rosenfeld-Hadad

The group are very grateful for the generosity of the British government which allowed them into the country, and allowed them to be free citizens at a time when the situation in Iraq had become precarious and dangerous for them, a time when they had to escape Iraq and leave everything behind.

With this great joy of new life in the UK, mixed with the memories of their beloved Baghdad, these Iraqi women and men, Jews, Muslims and Christians, celebrate together their unforgettable Iraqi culture – with its wonderful food, superb poetry, rich art and, of course, music.

There isn't a week in London without at least three Iraqi events where you can see many Iraqis happy and delighted to celebrate their culture once again. After a few weeks of taking part in some of these events, I have begun to ask myself: why am I so worried that this culture will disappear? These devoted Iraqis are preserving and celebrating their culture as if they are still in Baghdad. Not only that, they also preserve the long-lasting coexistence between Jews, Muslim and Christians of Iraq, and in the most beautiful way. And this, I think, is a precious gift that these people can give to British society.

Indeed, this insight inspires me to continue my research and help in preserving a culture whose people carry values of love for the arts and love for life, of coexistence between all people wherever they reside.

Dr Merav Rosenfeld-Hadad is Research Fellow and Co-Principal Investigator for the Living in Harmony project. Details of the project can be found here. Forthcoming Living in Harmony events (12-14 February 2019) can be found on the events webpage here.

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