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Christians forced to flee for lives

NOWHERE TO GO – A Jordanian soldier patrolling the country’s border with Syria shares his bottle of water with a refugee child fleeing the fighting in what has been unilaterally declared The Islamic State by Islamic militants bent on restoring a caliphate across the Middle East. (BP file photo)

 

WASHINGTON (BP and local reports) — Islamic militants have eradicated virtually every trace of Christianity from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, according to the former vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Nina Shea, currently the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., told CBN News on July 23, “There are no Christians left in Mosul. They have all been driven out. They have been told to convert to Islam or die, or to leave.”

Mosul has been the center of Iraq’s Christian community for two millennia, but it is also a site significant in several instances of biblical history. Ancient Mesopotamia was the location of both the Babylonian and Assyrian empires, which conquered the divided nation of Israel in Old Testament times and carried the population into captivity. It is also the ancestral homeland of Abraham.

The modern city of Mosul is located on the site of the ancient city of Nineveh which, according to the Bible, was established by Noah’s grandson Nimrod.

News reports and video posted last week indicate that the Islamic extremists now in control of Mosul have destroyed the Tomb of Jonah, traditionally believed to be the burial place of the prophet whose preaching saved the city of Ninevah in the Old Testament Book of Jonah.

Mosul became a familiar location to Southern Baptists in 2004 when four Christian aid workers affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention were ambushed there. Larry Elliott, Jean Elliot, David McDonnall, and Karen Watson died in the attack.

Carrie McDonnall, David’s wife, was critically wounded in the attack but survived.

Shea, an international human rights attorney, said fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marked the property of Christians in Mosul with the Arabic word, “Nasrani,” or “Nazarene,” a clear reference to Christianity. Christian property owners were then driven out.

Last month militants offered Christians in Mosul the opportunity to enter into a dhimma, an agreement which would have allowed them to practice the Christian faith behind closed doors after they paid a hefty tax and agreed not to proselytize.

However, multiple sources in the region said that offer was later withdrawn and all Christians were told to leave or face execution. Reuters also reported that the United Nations has accused ISIS of ordering all women in the area they control to undergo the genital mutilation known as female circumcision.

Members of Assyrian Christian and Chaldean Catholic groups streamed out of Mosul when the final ultimatum was delivered this week by ISIS militants, Shea said, and they left empty handed. Militants confiscated all of their possessions, including homes, cars, clothes, “and even their wedding rings, sometimes with the finger attached if it would not come off,” she said.

Shea also said she saw reports of ISIS militants destroying or defacing ancient Christian sites, such as the supposed tomb of Jonah, fourth century monasteries, and churches. She added that militants tore down crosses in the city and burned ancient Christian manuscripts.

“They are rabidly bigoted against Christians. They hate Christians. They are eradicating every trace of the 2,000 year history of Christianity in every area they have conquered, including in Iraq’s second largest city, the center of Christianity in Iraq, which is Mosul.”

David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, which offers assistance to persecuted Christians around the world and lobbies repressive governments to cease religious persecution, called the plight of Christians in Mosul and the remainder of northern Iraq “unprecedented in modern times.”

“This latest forced exodus of Christians further shows why Western governments and the people in the West need to cry out in support for religious freedom in the Middle East and elsewhere,” Curry said in a statement.

“If this does not move us concerning the near extinction of Christianity in the Middle East, it’s likely nothing else can,” he said.

Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, nearly one million Christians have fled the country for safer surroundings. An estimated 500,000 Christians remained throughout the northern portion of the country, chiefly among the Chaldean Catholic community, which has existed there for 1,700 years.

The archbishop for the region, Shimoun Nona, told the Catholic World Report after Mosul fell to militants in June that the Christian population had dropped to 35,000 and then to only 3,000.

According to recent reports from the region, only a few hundred Christian families remained in Mosul before ISIS gave its ultimatum last week. Its stance toward Christians who remained may mean the hardened Al-Qaeda offshoot is becoming even more intolerant of dissenting faiths as it tightens control over a large swath of the plain of Nineveh, where Mosul is located.

Even prominent Sunni Muslim scholars claimed the forced deportation of Christians from their homes was not a true representation of Islamic doctrine. Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi said the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) condemns the actions of ISIS.

Christians “are native sons of Iraq and not intruders,” according to a statement to Reuters from the group in Doha, Qatar on July 22. “The aim must be to bury discord, unite the ranks and solve Iraq’s problems, rather than thrusting it into matters that would further complicate the situation.”

IUMS does not disavow the notion of an Islamic caliphate as a goal to be obtained in the future. It claims, however, that a majority of Muslims in an area have to agree to join such a caliphate. That makes the caliphate announced with force by ISIS unlawful, according to the group.

The reach of ISIS began to expand into northern Iraq after fighting spilled over into the country from Syria in the spring. Militants overtook Mosul June 10, followed by the city of Tikrit, home of the late former Iraqi strong man Saddam Hussein, less than 100 miles from Baghdad.

They captured Tal Afar and portions of the “Sunni Triangle” in western Iraq, including Ramadi and Fallujah. ISIS also temporarily took the town of Baquba, less than 40 miles from Baghdad, June 16.

The terrorist group now controls nearly one third of Iraq and Syria, an area larger than Jordan, Lebanon and Israel combined.

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