A new report from a ministry worker who visited a remnant of Syria’s Christian community confirms the worst: Rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad for control are imposing Islamic law, giving Christians the choice to flee or die.
Murray explained that the report on persecution of Christians in Syria by jihadists was by Martin Janssen, who visited Amman, Jordan, for a prayer walk held for two Syrian church leaders kidnapped by Syrian rebels, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim.
The report, in Dutch, was translated by Mark Durie, an Anglican vicar in Melbourne, Australia, and an associate fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum.
After the prayer walk, Syrian Christian refugees told Janssen they had been attacked by the rebels fighting in Syria, where Christians had been allowed to worship and live under Assad’s regime.
The report comes after Republican Sen. John McCain’s recent trip to Syria, where he was photographed with two men who, according to Beirut news reports, were involved in kidnapping people from Lebanon just months ago.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., criticized McCain, noting that the “pro-Western people” he visited weren’t well vetted.
Durie said the mandate to Christians by the rebels, some of whom have been linked to al-Qaida, is based on the Quran.
“The Christian residents were offered four choices: 1. renounce the ‘idolatry’ of Christianity and convert to Islam; 2. pay a heavy tribute to the Muslims for the privilege of keeping their heads and their Christian faith (this tribute is known as jizya); 3. be killed; 4. flee for their lives, leaving all their belongings behind.”
Durie said some Christians “were killed, some fled, some tried to pay the jizya and found it too heavy a burden to bear after the rebels kept increasing the amount they had to pay, and some were unable to flee or pay, so they converted to Islam to save themselves.”
“The scenario reported by Syrian refugees is a re-enactment of the historic fate of Christians across the Middle East,” he said. “The Muslim historian Al-Tabari reported that when the Caliph Umar conquered Syria, he gave the following command to his armies: ‘Summon the [conquered] people to Allah; those who respond unto your call, accept it [their conversion to Islam] from them, but those who refuse must pay the jizya out of humiliation and lowliness. If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency.'”
Durie explained Umar was referencing the Quran, which states: “Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the jizya readily, being brought low.”
Durie said the policy of subjugating Christians under the yoke of jizya taxation was also based on the teaching of Muhammad who said:
Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah.
Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war …
When you meet your enemies who are polytheists,
invite them to three courses of action.
If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold
yourself from doing them any harm.
Invite them to (accept) Islam;
if they respond to you, accept it from them
and desist from fighting against them ….
If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the jizya.
If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands.
If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them.”
(Sahih Muslim. The Book of Jihad and Expedition. [Kitab al-Jihad wa’l-Siyar])
Janssen’s reported the accounts he was given by Syrian Christians:
Jamil [an elderly man] lived in a village near Idlib where 30 Christian families had always lived peacefully alongside some 200 Sunni families. That changed dramatically in the summer of 2012. One Friday trucks appeared in the village with heavily armed and bearded strangers who did not know anyone in the village. They began to drive through the village with a loud speaker broadcasting the message that their village was now part of an Islamic emirate and Muslim women were henceforth to dress in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah. Christians were given four choices. They could convert to Islam and renounce their ‘idolatry.’ If they refused they were allowed to remain on condition that they pay the jizya. This is a special tax that non-Muslims under Islamic law must pay for ‘protection.’ For Christians who refused there remained two choices: they could leave behind all their property or they would be slain. The word that was used for the latter in Arabic (dhabaha) refers to the ritual slaughter of sacrificial animals.
Janssen said he asked the Syrian Christian how the 30 Christian families in his village had fared.
“He replied that a number of families – including his own family – had initially opted to pay jizya. When the leader of the armed militia in their village, however, noticed that they were able to do this, the amount kept increasing in the following months.”
As with almost every Christian family in the village, he eventually fled.
“His land and farm were lost. Some Christian families in his village who were unable to escape or pay the jizya converted to Islam,” Janssen said. “To his knowledge, there were no Christians killed in his village, but he had heard other stories from a neighboring village where only three Christian families survived. They were all murdered in the middle of the night.”
Janssen also reported the account of Miryam, an Armenian middle-aged woman from Aleppo, Syria.
“Miryam looked at me thoughtfully and said something which remained constantly with me over the following days,” he said. “She told me that she had learned last year that a human being has a tremendous ability to adapt to the most difficult conditions. They had to learn to live in Aleppo without water or food, and sometimes no electricity for days on end. They even had to learn to live with the sounds of explosives and gunfire that tore them from sleep at night.”
Nevertheless, Janssen continued, “what a man cannot live with is the constant terror that paralyzes him completely: the daily fear that the bus transporting children to their school would be targeted by a suicide attack; the psychological fear that comes over you on Sunday when you go to church knowing there are groups active in your neighborhood who consider it a religious duty to kill as many Christians as possible; and finally the situation that at night you do not dare to go to bed because you have received reports about acquaintances and relatives who were surprised by a rocket that crashed out of nowhere onto their property while they slept; or what can happen when you spend hours in a long line at one of the few bakeries that still make bread.”
“Indeed Miryam told me that she never could have imagined that even the simplest of life’s activities had suddenly become dangerous.”