The religious persecution in Syria deepened this week, as evidenced by a written ultimatum purportedly distributed by the rebel jihadist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to Christians in the northern provincial capital of Raqqa. Rejecting conversion to Islam or death, some 20 Christian leaders of that city held firm in their faith and submitted to the Islamists’ demands to live by as dhimmis.
Under this arrangement, in exchange for their lives and the ability to worship as Christians, they must abide by purported seventh-century rules of the Caliph Umar. According to the Raqqa ultimatum, these include bans on renovating and rebuilding churches and monasteries, many of which need repair because they’ve been shelled and blown up over the past three years, and bans against the public display of crosses and Christian symbols and the ringing of bells. They are forbidden from reading scripture indoors loud enough for Muslims outside to hear, and the practice of their faith must be confined within the walls of their remaining churches, not exercised publicly (at, for example, funeral or wedding processions).
They are prohibited from saying anything offensive about Muslims or Islam. The women must be enshrouded, and alcohol is banned.
And the Raqqa Christians, who numbered about 3,000 before the conflict diminished them through migration and deaths, must henceforth pay the jizya, or Islamic protection money. The ultimatum sets the jizya at four golden dinars for the rich, two for those of average income, and one for the poor, twice annually, for each adult Christian.
The document states that if they follow those rules they have the dhimma, or protection, of the Prophet and won’t be harmed. If they don’t, they will be considered combatants and put to “the sword.” In medieval times, the dhimma contract was considered a privilege granted to the “People of the Book” – Jews and Christians.
Syria’s Muslims and Christians alike are intensely suffering from the conflict, with suffering inflicted by both the government and the opposition. The Christians who remain in Raqqa must now bear the additional suffering of dhimmitude.
The jihadis are said to have publicized the ultimatum on the social media, and it is now posted on the Internet. The signatures of the Christian leaders are at the bottom, and have been blurred apparently for their safety:
This document has not been independently verified but it is consistent with the testimony of many Christian who have fled Syria. In Raqqa last July, Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio was abducted and reportedly executed by jihadis.
— Nina Shea is director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co-author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.