Monday 21 July 2014
Christianity in Iraq is almost as old as Jesus, with Christians having occupied the ancient city of Nineveh (on the opposite side of the Tigris River to modern day Mosul) since the first and second centuries. But over the weekend, that all changed, with thousands of Christians fleeing under threat of death.
“For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako in an interview with the AFP news agency (reported by the Vatican Network).
Media reports emerged on Friday, July 18 that Christians in the region had been issued with an ultimatum in the name of the Islamic State and the Levant (ISIS). According to the BBC, the statement said local Christians would either have to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or leave. If not, “they will have nothing but the sword”, it read. Al Arabiya reported the message was blared through loudspeakers from the city’s mosques on Friday. The deadline given to leave or convert was midday Saturday (July 19), by which time Iraqi Christians had fled the city in droves.
The protection tax or Jizya was set at $450, beyond the reach of most families in Mosul. The option to leave is a variation of traditional Sharia law. But some Christian families may have been too sick to move, according to Morning Star (Christian news agency).
The New York Times reported: “Some went on foot, their cars having been confiscated; others rode bicycles or motor scooters. Few were able to take anything of value, as militants seized their money and jewelry.”
According to Human Rights Watch, ISIS had been painting homes in the city with the letter “N” for Nasrani (Arabic for Christian) as well as demanding Christian shop owners to pay an Islamic tax or convert. They said ISIS ordered Christians to attend a meeting to discuss the status of Christians, but they refused, and the ultimatum to convert or face death was issued the next day.
ISIS is also reportedly targeting Shia Muslims (whom they also consider heretics) and destroying Shiite Mosques and temples.
Since the mass exodus of Christians from Mosul, there has been widespread condemnation of ISIS’ actions by the international community, including from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis.
Ban Ki-moon has released a statement saying he “condemns in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of minority populations in Iraq by Islamic State and associated armed groups…” while Pope Francis addressed the displaced Iraqis in his weekly address on Sunday.
“Our brothers are being persecuted, chased away, they are forced to leave their homes without being able to take anything with them,” he said in Vatican City. “I assure these families that I am close to them and in constant prayer,” he continued. “I know how much you are suffering; I know you are being stripped of everything.”
In 2014, Bible Society Australia is working with Bible Society in Iraq, the only source for Scriptures and Christian literature in the country. You can help us support Bible Society as they respond to the current crisis by providing Christian refugees from Mosul with aid packages and Scriptures.