Convert, Pay for “Protection,” Leave, or Die

Imagine yourself having what amounts to four options. You can (1) convert from your chosen faith, (2) pay a tax to be “protected” as a minority, (3) leave your home, surrendering almost all your worldly belongings in the process, or (4) be killed. Which will you choose?

For many ascribing to Christianity in Iraq this is not a thought exercise. It’s the last few weeks of their lives. Having gained control over the Iraqi City of Mosul, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has cracked down hard on its Christian community. So much so, in fact, that one recent report sadly states “there are now no Christians in Mosul for the first time in 2,000 years.”

Another account related the tragedy this way:

Unless they converted to Islam or paid protection money, the Christians were told, they would get “nothing but the sword.” It was now clear, the 30,000 to 50,000 Christians who fled Mosul over the last decade wouldn’t be able to return, and the several hundred still remaining there this month needed to get out fast. (Iraqi Christian parliamentarian Younadam Kannan said at least five Christian families too sick to leave renounced their faith for Islam “to stay alive,” though one of their daughters did flee.)

Before casting out the Christians, Shiites and Yezidis, Caliph Ibrahim, as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi now is called, made certain to take all the possessions of the “unbelievers.”

Cars, cellphones, money, wedding rings, even one man’s chicken sandwich, were all solemnly declared “property of the Islamic State” and confiscated. A woman who gave over tens of thousands of dollars was also stripped of bus fare to Erbil.

With temperatures in the area reaching 120 degrees, the last of the exiles left on foot, carrying only the small children and pushing the grandparents in wheelchairs. Those who glanced back could see armed groups looting their homes and loading the booty onto trucks.

ISIS has set out to erase every Christian trace. All 30 churches were seized and their crosses stripped away.

Over at Get Religion, Terry Mattingly notes that the aforementioned “protection money” option should be understood light of “dhimmitude”:

The key is that people of other faiths living in lands ruled by Islam are given “dhimmi” status in which they receive some protection under sharia law, in exchange for paying a Jizyah tax as a sign of submission. The big debates are about other conditions of submission which are, or are not, required under dhimmitude. Dhimmis are not allowed to protect themselves (some claim it is impossible to rape a dhimmi), to display symbols of their faith, to build (or even repair) their religious sanctuaries, to win converts, etc. Historically, dhimmis have been asked to wear some form of distinctive apparel as a sign of their inferior status. The key is that this is an protected, but inferior, status under strict forms of sharia law.

All told then, the situation is exceedingly grim. A handful of thoughts come to mind:

1. It’s hard to think of this situation and not hear echoes of biblical accounts. Jesus assured his disciples that they would experience persecution, just as he had (John 15:20). And Peter, one the men that initially received that sobering teaching, wrote to other Christians, telling them “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12).

2. Noting the previous point, however, doesn’t make the situation anything less than horrible. Accordingly, those of us in relative safety would do well to pray for “the God of all comfort” to pour out his grace on those bearing the brunt of persecution.

3. The situation for Christians in Iraq has evidently changed dramatically over a relatively short amount of time. A little over a decade ago, there were reportedly 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Since then, over a million of that number have fled. This should give Christians everywhere a chance to reflect. First, if we currently enjoy relative peace, we should give God our genuine thanks. Second, we might ask him, should the need ever arise, to equip us to endure similar trials. None of us should presume that we would face them faithfully.

4. Of course, there is always cause to hope. One commenter on the situation in Iraq recounted recently how a former Bible translator reminded her that God has often used persecution to push the church and the gospel to new people and places. That fact is comforting, as is the reality that God will one day render justice in light of each of these situations, even as he wipes away every tear they’ve caused.

One Comment

  1. Susan Early said:

    I appreciate the thoughts written in this blog regarding the persecution of the Iraqi Christians and our need to pray for them. I have wondered how I would handle similar situations if that should happen here in the US. Because of our relative peace and prosperity in this country it is hard to fathom, but we should not assume it can’t happen some day.

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