The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a radical rebel group trying to impose sharia law in Syria, has reportedly forced Christians in a Syrian city this week to begin paying a protection tax – in gold – and is limiting the practice of the Christian faith.
ISIL said that in exchange for the payments and curbing of the public display of Christianity, which were detailed in a signed document – the rebel group would protect Christians in the city of Raqqa as long as they accept the second class “dhimmi” status specified in Islam.
Reuters reported that the Islamist militants said that Christians would no longer be allowed to renovate churches, display religious symbols outside churches, pray in public, ring church bells, sell wine to Muslims or drink wine in public. Christians would now also be prohibited from owning weapons.
“The document, dated Sunday and disseminated through Islamist Twitter accounts, states that the Christian community in the province of Raqqa, captured last March by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), was recently given three options: to convert to Islam; to remain Christian but pledge submission to Islam; or to ‘face the sword. They opted for the second of those choices, known as dhimmitude,” the Times of Israel reported Thursday.
Every Christian man was now to “pay a tax of up to 17 grams of gold, a levy that was common in Muslim states centuries ago,” Reuters reported, adding, “The concept of dhimma, governing non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, dates back to the early Islamic era in the seventh century, but was largely abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.”
Reuters characterized the development as “the most extensive restrictions yet on Christians” in Syria.
Other restrictions reported by the Times of Israel included the prohibition on reading scripture “indoors loud enough for Muslims standing outside to hear,” allowing any Christian who wants to convert to Islam to do so, and to not say anything offensive about Muslims.
“If they adhere to these conditions, they will be close to God and receive the protection of Mohammed his prophet … none of their religious rights will be detracted nor will a priest or monk be wronged,” the document stated. “But if they disobey any of the conditions, they are no longer protected and ISIS can treat them in a hostile and warlike fashion.”
The Times of Israel said it could not verify the document which included an Al Qaeda stamp and the signature of 20 Christian leaders (which were blotted out, most likely for their own safety). However, Reuters reported that the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also reported on the agreement and condemned it.