Baghdad, Iraq may be the last place where one might find the Christmas spirit, but it is now the scene of an 85 foot Christmas tree, thanks to Yassir Saad, a Muslim businessman. The symbol of Christianity’s most important holiday rose in the center of an amusement park in the capital of the majority Muslim country at the cost of $24,000. Saad says that the tree is meant to be a token of love and peace, something that Iraq has conspicuously lacked for the past number of years.

Even as Saad’s Christmas tree rises over Baghdad, Iraqi Christians have become an endangered minority group.

Many Iraqi Christian villages were overrun by ISIS, the Islamist terrorist army, and their inhabitants killed or driven out. Iraqi and allied forces are currently engaged in an offensive to retake Mosul, the large city to the north of Iraq. Some of the Christian villages have already been retaken, but the former inhabitants have returned only to see their homes and churches sacked. Many other Iraqi Christians have fled the country entirely in search of new homes with better economic opportunities where they might not experience persecution.

The Christian community in Iraq number 1,300,000 in 2003 at the beginning of the Iraq War. Years of conflict and persecution have decreased that number to 400,000.

Christianity in Iraq dates back to the first century AD when Thomas the Apostle and Thaddeus of Edessa traveled to that part of the world to preach the then new religion. Iraqi Christians tend to be ethnic Assyrians, people who have lived in the region for thousands of years.

Since the Islamic conquest, Iraqi Christians have faced alternating periods of tolerance and persecution, with the secular regime of Saddam Hussein ironically offering the former before his overthrow during the coalition invasion of 2003.

They have since faced savage persecution at the hands of Islamist groups such as ISIS.

It is in that context that Saad’s gesture is being made, a plea for as much as a symbol of peace and love, spirits of the season, in an unhappy part of the world.