Middle East

ISIS imposes restrictions on Christians in Raqqa

This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.(AP Photo/militant website)

BEIRUT: The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has demanded that Christians in the city of Raqqa pay a levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection, according to a statement posted online Wednesday.

The Al-Qaeda splinter group’s directive in the eastern city is the latest evidence of the group’s ambition to establish a state in Syria founded on radical Islamist principles, a prospect that concerns Western and Arab backers of other rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

ISIS said it would ensure Christians’ safety in exchange for the levy and their adherence to restrictions on their faith, citing the Islamic legal precept of “dhimma.”

It said Christians must not make renovations to churches or other religious buildings, display religious insignia outside of churches, ring church bells or pray in public.

It demanded every Christian male pay a tax of up to 17 grams of gold, a levy that was common in Muslim states centuries ago.

The directive also bans Christians from owning weapons and from selling pork or wine to Muslims or drinking wine in public.

The concept of dhimma, governing non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, dates back to the seventh century but was largely abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.

Raqqa was the first and only city to fall completely under rebel control last year. After repelling an offensive last month by rival Islamists and more moderate rebels, ISIS has turned its attention to setting up a state based on a radical interpretation of Shariah law.

It issued a more general set of restrictions for all residents of Raqqa last month, but this week’s notice included the most extensive restrictions yet on Christians.

The statement, dated Saturday, was posted on Twitter by a purported ISIS supporter. The text matched a statement distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which condemned it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 27, 2014, on page 8.




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