Christians Have Limited Choices in an Islamic Caliphate

The expression “there goes the neighborhood” has an entirely new meaning in parts of Iraq and Syria.  This may be especially true if you happen to be a Christian. Most people aren’t aware of the fact that Christians have lived in Iraq since the earliest days of Christianity around 2000 years ago, pre-dating the coming of Islam by centuries. Monasteries and churches have been a part of the landscape since time immemorial, adding beauty and diversity with some of the most sublime examples of early architecture. Christians and Muslims had co-existed for ages in relative peace and have greatly contributed to and enhanced each other’s culture.

Since ISIS has consolidated power in the region, certain long standing communities have faced an extreme degree of discrimination and intolerance. Perhaps none more so than the Christian community. In Mosul, Christian homes were daubed with the Arabic letter N, stigmatizing them as Nasarah, an unflattering slur for believers in Christ. In what can only be considered the highest degree of persecution, Christians choosing not to flee and abandon their homes and possessions are given 3 basic choices. 

  1. Convert to Islam

  2. Pay a tax of 14 grams of pure gold (called Jizya, paid in addition to normal taxes) for the privilege of observing their religion (that is to say, observing it in a way deemed non-offensive by the terrorist group).

  3. Death by the sword.

Let’s examine these options in a bit more detail. Say you choose to convert or more likely, pretend to convert to save your life, your family, your home and possessions.  Considering that ISIS has executed Shia and Alawite Muslims, there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t just kill Christians summarily. In the Kenya mall attack, Boko Haram terrorists purportedly asked hostages the name of the Prophet’s mother and simply gunned them down for a wrong answer. If you were allowed to go through the motions of converting to Islam, your previous lifestyle would be in shambles at very least. Presumably you’d be expected to pray 5 times a day and give up pork and alcohol. You would probably have to dress differently, (especially women) and disavow any kind of western-influenced beliefs or interests. Uncircumcised males would need to go under the knife for circumcision, a painful proposition for adults under the best of conditions and a potential nightmare in a squalid, unsanitary environment with a less than competent surgeon. On top of all that you’d most certainly be living under a magnifying glass of Islamic hyper-scrutiny where one perceived false move puts a knife to your throat.   

Maybe you could afford to pay the Jizya tax and you decide to stay put and ride out the occupation. You would also have to accept 3rd class citizenship. Imagine, paying extra taxes in gold and still being considered the lowest of the low in that society. You could definitely not practice your religion openly in any way. Perhaps this choice is best illustrated by the words of Sheik Marzouk Salem al-Ghamdi during a mosque sermon:

If the infidels live among the Muslims, in accordance with the conditions set out by the Prophet—there is nothing wrong with it provided they pay Jizya to the Islamic treasury. Other conditions are . . . that they do not renovate a church or a monastery, do not rebuild ones that were destroyed, that they feed for three days any Muslim who passes by their homes . . . that they rise when a Muslim wishes to sit, that they do not imitate Muslims in dress and speech, nor ride horses, nor own swords, nor arm themselves with any kind of weapon; that they do not sell wine, do not show the cross, do not ring church bells, do not raise their voices during prayer, that they shave their hair in front so as to make them easily identifiable, do not incite anyone against the Muslims, and do not strike a Muslim. . . . If they violate these conditions, they have no protection.

That leaves the last option, death by the sword. In actuality, to die or to flee are the only real options for any devout Christian finding him or herself sudden, involuntary residents of an Islamic caliphate. To feign conversion may not work for any number of reasons and to some, the denial of their faith (even without sincerity) would be a fate worse than death since such a betrayal, in their minds, would deny them the eternal reward of their faith. Paying the Jizya isn’t a viable option either since there are so many ways you could inadvertently offend a Muslim.  Let’s face it, if you have something a Muslim wants, including a daughter, son or wife, chances are you’ll be accused of offending Islam in some way and end up with a slit throat or thrown off a tall building.

What it’s like being a Christian in an Islamic caliphate might be best appreciated in the context of two historical scenarios here in the US.  A combination of living in Salam, MA in 1692-1693 under an accusation of practicing witchcraft and of being a Black person in the deep south prior to the civil rights movement.  

There is very little likelihood of a happy ending!


Published by Bill Hoover