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ICC Note: When we see the pervasive amount of persecution in the Middle East and the increase of extremist groups over the past five years, it causes us to pause and look back at the situation under brutal authoritarian dictators. The stability that they brought prevented some problems, but caused its own problems of a different sort. It has left Christians in the region unsure about what their future will be.

12/23/2015 Middle East (Hurriyet Daily News) – In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) occupied the Iraqi city of Mosul, which was the home to around 3,000 Christians. Soon, these Christians discovered that the Arabic letter “Nun” (ن) had been sprayed on their doors to mark them as “Nasara” – the Qur’anic term for Christians. A few days later, they also learnt the implications. ISIL had given them an ultimatum, to follow one of the four options: They either had to convert to Islam, pay a very heavy jizya (tax), flee or “die by the sword.” They chose the third option, and left the city over night, to have their properties confiscated, and sadly leave Mosul Christian-free.

I heard the details of this story the other week in Rome, at an international conference titled “Under the Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution.” Some of the participants were wearing a pin on their jackets presenting the Arabic word “Nun” (ن), which apparently became the symbol of a new wear-it-with-pride campaign. The conference covered the persecution of Christians all across the world, which is certainly not a problem exclusive to the Middle East. Christians of various denominations are persecuted quite severely, sometimes alongside Muslims as victims – by communists in North Korea, radical Buddhists in Myanmar, or militant Hindu nationalists in India.

In the Middle East, however, Christians do get persecuted at the hands of Muslims. The most burning threat is ISIL, and other Salafi-jihadists, who dictate to Christians those four options that stem from their strict version of the shariah: Convert, pay tax, flee or die. Meanwhile, even in “moderate” Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, along with Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan, there is a peculiar attack on religious freedom in the form of banning “apostasy” from Islam. As a result, converts to Christianity can be imprisoned and executed, or barely survive execution thanks to international pressure – as in the cases of Yusuf Nadarkhani in Iran, Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan, or Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan. (While there is no ban on apostasy in the Qur’an, the classical schools of shariah consider it a capital crime.)

 

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