You’ve received the warning. You have three choices. You can convert to Islam, pay a steep tax, or be killed. The government will not help, because those making the threats are now the government. The police will not help you, because your accusers are the only law enforcement. You have your choices. What will you do? What would I do?
This is not a plot for an end-times movie, or a history lesson from the Middle Ages. It was this past week in the city of Mosul in Iraq. ISIS, the Islamic State extremist organization, who have taken over large areas of Iraq and Syria, gave Christians in Mosul until last Saturday to decide. But by last Friday, Christians were told that paying the tax was no longer an option. So the options for Mosul Christians were convert to Islam or face death.
There was another option. The Christians could leave. And they did, leaving their homes, businesses, material goods, and the life they knew, behind. But even as they left, the Islamic State thugs continued to terrorize. Andrew Slater, writing for “The Daily Beast,” describes, “Those families leaving from the checkpoints on the eastern side of the city were harassed and robbed of their possessions but ultimately allowed to leave Mosul with only the clothes on their backs and possibly cab fare. All families who fled on the last morning reported having money, belongings, jewelry, and even documents stolen from them. Women had crucifixes torn from their necks.”
Most of the Christians had already fled Mosul before the deadline was given. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq, with a population of over a million people. At one time, there were an estimated 30,000 Christians in the city. After the last couple of hundred fled over the weekend, now there are none. Mosul had been one of Iraq’s principal Christian centers. Iraq hosts one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and the faith has existed in the Mosul area for nearly 2,000 years. The church there was said to be founded by Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. There were an estimated one million Christians in Iraq prior to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Now there is only an estimated three to four hundred thousand remaining in the country, with a large number of them being displaced and refugees, like the ones who have fled from Mosul.
What happened? Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. He ruled Iraq with an iron fist. Being in complete control, he would not allow radical Islamists to persecute other religions, including Christianity. Christians in Iraq lived and worshipped in peace. After the U.S. led overthrow of Hussein, Muslim militants have frequently targeted Christians. Churches have been burned and clergy have been killed. Thousands of Iraqi Christians have left the country, and those who remain live under the cloud of radical Islam and its threats. So, why did we invade Iraq anyway? Ben Ladin was in Afghanistan. There were no weapons of mass destruction. And Iraq sure didn’t end up looking like the blueprint of democracy for the rest of Middle East. It just ended up looking like another case of unintended consequences, and those consequences have been tragic for the Christians of Iraq.
Back in Mosul, a few of the families decided to stay. Slater, for “The Daily Beast,” writes, “Not quite all the families chose to flee; a few Christians were reported to have converted to Islam in order to save their families’ lives and their property. Converting Christians reported to mosques in Mosul, where they performed a profession of faith, the shahada, and received a document from members of ISIS confirming their conversion to protect them from reprisals in the future. Some Christian families reported that they did so only to save their families but would appear at mosque every Friday for prayer as ordered.” Before you are critical of those who have chosen to convert to Islam and stay in Mosul, let me ask you a question. What would you do? To myself, what would I do?
I would hope that my faith would be more important to me than my home, my possessions, and my comfort. To be honest, I don’t know. There have been many times I have shied away from professing my faith in Jesus Christ because the situation might be a little awkward or uncomfortable. What if the world around me became really uncomfortable? I mean, “deny Jesus or die” uncomfortable. That’s something to think about when we sing church songs like “All to Jesus I Surrender,” or “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” The Mosul Christians already know.