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Islamic militants tell Syrian Christians to ‘pay a tax or face death’comment (0)

March 13, 2014

Islamic militants tell Syrian Christians to ‘pay a tax or face death’

The U.S. State Department has issued a statement deploring what it calls “continued threats against Christians and other minorities in Syria” from militant Islamists at war with both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fellow Islamic militants. 

According to a March 3 statement from State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL) announced late February it will force Christians in the city of Raqqa to “convert to Islam, remain Christian and pay a tax, or face death.”

“These outrageous conditions violate universal human rights,” Psaki said. “ISIL has demonstrated time and again its disregard for Syrian lives, and it continues to commit atrocities against the Syrian people. Although ISIL claims it is fighting the regime, its oppression of and senseless violence against Syrians, including the moderate Syrian opposition, demonstrates that it is fighting for nothing except the imposition of its own brand of tyranny.”

The State Department’s condemnation of ISIL comes as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported the group — a branch of al-Qaida also known as ISIS — had given Christians in Raqqa an ultimatum to accept a “dhimma,” a protection agreement much like those between mafia families and businesses. If the agreement was not signed, the villagers would have to convert to Islam or “face the sword.”

Haaretz reported Christians in the city had signed the agreement, which commits them to a biannual tax of about $500 per person. Those deemed middle class Christians by Islamic clerics are only required to pay half the tax, while those who are poor will be required to pay one quarter of that amount. 

The average annual income in Syria is only $4,800, and much less since the civil war began. That means many Christians will be unable to pay the tax and will be forced into conversion or worse.

In addition to being required to practice Christianity behind closed doors, Christians in Raqqa must now follow 11 other conditions in order to keep the agreement with their Muslim overlords. Among those conditions are prohibitions on building new sanctuaries or restoring those damaged in the civil war, aiding any faction or government opposed to ISIL and discouraging conversions to Islam from within the Christian community, according to the Israeli newspaper.

The dhimma is a type of agreement that has existed in Islam since the mid-7th century. The opportunity to pay the tax or “jizya” for protection was offered to Christians and Jews during the Islamic conquests because Muhammad regarded Christians and Jews as “people of the Book,” partly because Islam claimed Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets and partly because the religion’s founder believed Christians and Jews living among Muslims would seek conversion in order to stop paying the tax. 

Under such an agreement, “dhimmis” were and still are considered defeated and humbled foes of Islam. 

In the Koran (Surah 9:29), followers of Islam are instructed to “fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and his messenger have declared unlawful — those who do not practice the religion of truth though they were given the Book — until they pay the tribute willingly and have been humbled.”

Muslims, according to Islamic teaching, are required to protect the lives and property of dhimmis, but they can be killed without trial if they violate the agreement.

Psaki said in her statement the dhimma between the ISIL and Christians in Raqqa is a departure from the “long history of tolerance and co-existence” between Muslims and Christians in Syria. 

“Both the regime and ISIL are fueling sectarian strife to justify their brutality. We strongly condemn these abuses and urge all parties to protect and respect the rights of all Syrians,” Psaki said.

Raqqa, however, is not the first Christian settlement to be subjected to mistreatment by Islamic militants when caught between rebels and the Assad regime. In fact, it is not the first time ISIL has forced Christians to make a decision between faith, property or life.

In March 2013, nearly two years into the Syrian uprising prompted by the so-called “Arab Spring,” the town of Yacoubiyeh, with nearly 2,500 Christians, was subjected to the same treatment. 

In September 2013, militant Islamist rebels attacked the ancient town of Maaloula, the last town on earth where ancient Aramaic is the primary language. 

Churches were reportedly destroyed and Christian relics smashed in the fighting. Rebels also executed more than 20 people in the town square, many of them reportedly Christians loyal to the Assad regime.


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