Christians living in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa have faced civil war rampaging through the nation along with the threat of disease and starvation. Added to their misery was another threat presented to them by a terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): convert to Islam or face the sword. Dhimma law is able to save this Christian community.
Twenty leading members of Raqqa’s Christian community found another way to practice their faith and avoid the wrath of ISIS. They chose dhimmi, something perfectly acceptable under Islamic law, and practiced by the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Dhimmi placed the Christian community under a protected status where they could practice their faith, provided they pay a special tax known as jizya. The tax is akin to paying organized crime protection money. Christians in Raqqa will have to pay up to 17 grams of gold annually for every adult male.
There are other regulations people under dhimmi law must follow. Raqqa’s Christians can no longer repair damage to their churches or ring church bells. They cannot pray or worship in public. Displaying or wearing a cross is forbidden. No Christian is allowed to bear arms. They cannot sell alcohol or pork to Muslims or consume alcoholic beverages in public. Women must wear veils in public. Christians may not smoke tobacco products. Short of having to face east and pray five times a day, Raqqa’s Christians endure many aspects of Shariah law, while still being allowed to practice their faith. With the other options being conversion or death, Christians have accepted dhimma status.
Should a Christian convert to Islam, the person will be accepted as a Muslim and spared the jizya and obligation of the dhimmi. The conversion must be a true one. Those found practicing their former religion in secret are subject to death. For the Christians of Raqqa, they have at least attained some degree of honesty and integrity with their current ISIS overlords. Locals have compared Raqqa under ISIS control to that of the Taliban who once ruled in Afghanistan.
It is unclear how many Christians stayed in Raqqa after the civil war began. Those remaining in the city chose religion over war and certain death. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the local ISIS commander in the region, has vowed the Christians of Raqqa will be protected from physical harm or harassment. There is only one problem. ISIS is a splinter group and lacks the authority to enforce a dhimma pact. At the moment, ISIS is the law of the land and has made clear what would happen if such a treaty was not signed. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and his ISIS followers would have made the Christian community of Raqqa “legitimate targets.” In essence, ISIS would have massacred them and claimed it was their right under Islamic law.
One more detail about dhimmi. It becomes null and void if the protection money is not paid or the ISIS authorities somehow feel slighted by some local occurrence. The terms of payment can also be changed at a whim. Rather than face death, dhimma law saved Raqqa’s Christian community.
By Brian T. Yates