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ICC Note: An Iraqi Christian woman from Qaraqosh recalls the confrontation when an ISIS militant forced her to spit on a crucifix and deny her faith. This was repeatedly the fate faced by so many Christians living in Iraq under ISIS occupation. Often the choice was convert to Islam or die, some converted other didn’t. More stories continue to emerge from the region as security forces work to liberate the Nineveh plains for militants.

01/19/2017 Iraq (WWM): One of the major themes explored in Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence, is the question of how to respond when faced with a choice between denying one’s faith or facing death.

Christians in 17th century Japan were given this choice, and it’s the same for Christians in many parts of the world today.

Throughout the film, the audience is shown Christians being told to step on – or, in one case, spit on – an image of Jesus or Mary. Some do; others can’t.

This same choice was given to Zarefa, an elderly Iraqi Christian woman, when the Islamic State captured her town in 2014. During a raid on the house where she was staying, IS fighters found a few crucifixes and other Christian images – strictly illegal under IS rule.

“They forced me to spit on the Cross,” Zarefa recalls. “I told them that it was not appropriate, that it was a sin. He said that I must spit. ‘Don’t you see that I have a gun?’ he asked me. I said to myself, ‘Oh, the Cross! I am weak, I will spit on you. But Lord, I ask you to take revenge for me. I cannot escape from this.’”

The shame is still visible on Zarefa’s face when she recounts the memory; her town, Qaraqosh, is liberated now, but she is still recovering from the traumatic two years that are only just behind her.

Zarefa’s husband died shortly after Qaraqosh was captured. She remembers the warning signs in the days beforehand, when a group of teenagers on motorbikes chastised her for speaking in Syriac – a language closely related to the Aramaic that Jesus spoke.

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