BEIRUT: Christian religious figures and leaders Sunday condemned the recent assault on Christians in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “We voice complete solidarity with the Christians of Mosul and the Church of the Christ in Iraq,” Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Sunday, during a Mass to commemorate the anniversary of Mar Charbel, a revered Maronite saint.
Rai urged the international community to help the Christians of Iraq. “We ask the international community to protect those people,” he said.
Christians have been fleeing Mosul, Iraq’s second city, since Friday after a statement purportedly issued last week by ISIS – which seized the city and large swathes of Iraq during a sweeping offensive last month – warned the city’s Christians that they should convert, pay a special tax, leave or face death.
Threats were reiterated in a letter distributed after Friday prayers, stating that the measure was taken because representatives of the city’s dwindling Christian community failed to attend a meeting called by the Al-Qaeda splinter group.
The letter told Christian residents that they had until noon Saturday to exit the city if they refused to either convert or pay the jizya, a religious tax on non-Muslims that has not been imposed for decades. If they failed to heed the warning before the deadline expired, “the only option is the sword,” the letter read.
Over the weekend, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also slammed ISIS’ ultimatum for Mosul’s Christians, the National News Agency reported.
“I absolutely detest the assaults on Christians,” Geagea said on his Facebook page.
Voicing his support for other marginalized minorities, he denounced ISIS’ warning to Christians.
“The Christians and the various minorities in Iraq have a historical presence,” Geagea explained. “They haven’t been subjected to such treatment since the start and early spread of Islam,” he added, pleading with Mosul’s moderate groups to put an end to ISIS’ practices.
Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh also denounced the latest incidents in Mosul.
“The fire [of Islamic extremists] is devouring churches, mosques and burning history. ... Our heart is with Mosul,” Frangieh tweeted.
Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Younan expressed concern over the developments in Iraq, according to the NNA.
“The terrorist groups in Mosul continue to pressure the Christian clergy. They are threatening to kill them and putting deadlines to implement unacceptable conditions, which forces them to let go of their beliefs and faith in order to remain alive,” he said.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon Louis Raphael I Sako also condemned the move, as did his other Christian counterparts.
“We were surprised by the latest developments, as ISIS is now handing over documents calling on Christians to convert to Islam, pay an unlimited retribution or leave their houses and towns without taking anything with them,” Sako said in a statement.
“Who knows what’s going to happen next in the coming days, knowing that the Islamic State’s system is based on what they call the Shariah, which includes recreating identity based on religion and sect.”