Christians in Iraq have been told that they must convert, or die. Christianity has been a historic religion in Iraq for almost 2,000 years, but now that is changing. Refugees fleeing Iraq say that the Sunni rebels, known as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, have given Christians in the city of Mosul the choice of converting to Islam, paying a protection tax, or facing death by the sword.
A priest in Mosul told reporters the deadline for the Christians was set at noon local time last Saturday. The priest said Christians were told to leave all belongings behind, except for the clothes they were wearing. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq and last month was seized by ISIS fighters.
The Red Crescent, the Iraqi version of the Red Cross, reported that approximately 200 families had fled the city last Saturday. Islamic fighters, commanded by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, began assaulting Mosul, and other cities, last month. The result of the fighting has led to more than 600,000 Iraqi citizens being forced to flee their homes.
News sources report that many of those fleeing Mosul were traveling to the northern provinces of Iraq, the autonomous Kurdistan region. The exodus of Christian families from Mosul meant leaving behind a heritage of centuries-old Christian worship in the region. ISIS rebels consider Mosul to be the main province of their newly proclaimed “caliphate,” an Islamic state governed by a supreme religious leader, who rules in strict adherence to Islamic law, known as the practice of sharia.
Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, just returned to his country last Friday, after 18 months of medical treatment in Germany. The daily operations of government are run by Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister and leader of the Islamic Dawa Party. He has come under fire from the West for failing to unite Iraq’s various ethnic and religious factions.
One Iraqi Christian, Abu Rayan, told reporters that families fleeing Mosul were robbed by the jihadists who control access to, and from, the city. Some Christians reportedly agreed to pay the protection tax, the “jizya,” a tribute demanded of non-Muslims living in Muslim lands. Muslims defend the practice based on the words of the prophet Mohammed from Quran 9:29: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Some families, many of them elderly, agreed to pay the “jizya” if allowed to stay in their homes. Faced with the choice to convert, pay the tax, or die, only a few families stayed behind. Iraq’s Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako, leader of the largest Christian group in Iraq, estimated that 25,000 Christians live in Mosul.
The BBC has reported that militants were seen tagging Christian houses with the letter N for “Nassarah,” the term used for Christians in the Quran. Meanwhile, the American trained Iraqi security forces in Mosul have abandoned their posts, leaving Christians in Iraq with no choice other than to convert, pay the protection tax, or die.
By Jim Hanemaayer