Pay Up or Die: Christians in Iraq Update

This man fled from Mosul by car. He checks on his belongings before walking to the Khazair checkpoint. He hopes to travel to Erbil. Many others arrive without any belongings. UNHCR / R. Nuri

Iraqis flee from Mosul. UNHCR / R. Nuri

Have you been following the news about Iraq, ISIS (now IS) and what’s happening to Christians in areas IS controls? Take a quick look with us.

This past Saturday, as reported in Breaking Israel News and other media outlets, the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) “issued a deadline for Christian residents of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to leave, pay, convert or die.

The Islamic State is requiring residents of Mosul to pay the jizyah:

Jizya (sometimes written as jizyah and pronounced “jiz-yuh”), as explained by Forbes, “is the term for a tax paid by non-Muslims. The tax is the result of a centuries old contract called a dhimma. Under a dhimma, non-Muslims who lived in a Muslim state were protected under the law so long as they paid the tax: they were referred to as ahlu dh-dhimmati (people of protection) or simply al-dhimma or dhimmis. The arrangement is sometimes referred to as a ‘residence in return for taxes.’”

The Guardian noted Christians and Muslims lived together in peace in the city of Mosul. An estimated 100,000 Christians lived in Mosul before the U.S. invaded Iraq prior to 2003. The estimated population before last month’s takeover was 5,000. Now Christians are fleeing and The Guardian reported that there are as little as 200 Christians left in the city.

More than a month ago, the Anglican Communion News Service described the growing crisis: “An estimated half a million people, including hundreds of Christian families, are fleeing the area with many attempting to find refuge in the nearby Kurdish provinces of Northern Iraq. At least one Assyrian church in Mosul has been burned down in the recent violence.”

Also in June, Tanenbaum Peacemaker Rev. Canon Andrew White described the growing violence in Iraq:

“Iraq is now in its worst crisis since the 2003 war. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Group), a group that does not even see Al Qaida as extreme enough, has moved into Mosul, which is Nineveh. It has totally taken control, destroyed all government departments. Allowed all prisoners out of the prisons. Killed countless numbers of people. There are bodies over the streets. The army and police have fled, so many of the military resources have been captured. Tankers, armed vehicles and even helicopters are now in the hands of ISIS.”

For the moment, we are grateful that Andrew is safe. He returned to England on July 15 and, on July 19, sent out a request for prayers on his Facebook page:

“We seriously need your prayers. ISIS have stated they will start killing all the Christians in Mosul from mid-day Saturday unless they convert or pay jazeera tax, this is really serious we need your prayers.”

Meanwhile, Christians who have chosen to stay in Mosul are afraid. But, at the same time, they have found support from their Muslim friends as reported in The New York Times

“A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, ‘You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.’”

At Tanenbaum, we call on all of us to acknowledge what is happening to the Christians in Mosul and to the entire society of which they were such an integral part. We thank our Peacemaker in Action, Andrew White, for what he has done to support the Christian community in Iraq and to overcome the conflicts. We are committed to working with him and our Peacemakers – and to keep pursing a time when we will have a more peaceful world that truly accepts difference.