Islamist takeover may be 'death knell' for Iraq's Christians
The swift and chilling takeover of parts of Iraq and Syria by Islamist militants is leaving already vulnerable Christians "even more endangered", the head of Barnabas Fund has warned.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, writing in a comment on the organisation's website, said the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in the two countries was a "threat to the stability of the entire region".
He said the takeover of Raqqa in Syria had already painted a "terrifying picture" of what the arrival of ISIS will mean for non-Muslims.
Earlier this year, Christians in Raqqa were threatened with death unless they converted to Islam and paid the jizya tax for non-Muslims, which effectively renders them second class citizens.
"The militants are imposing strict sharia rules and carrying out brutal penalties, including beheadings and crucifixions," said Dr Sookhdeo.
In addition to imposing heavy restrictions on their freedoms, ISIS confiscated houses and land belonging to Christians in Raqqa, forcing the owners to leave the area.
The Armenian church there has been taken over and turned into an office for Islamic affairs and the promotion of sharia, Dr Sookhdeo said.
Prior to the takeover of Mosul this past week, Iraqi Christians already had a bitter taste of ISIS when it killed 58 Christians in the siege of a Baghdad church in 2010.
It was one of the worst attacks on Christians in Iraq in the past decade, prompting more to join the already hundreds of thousands who had left the country following the 2003 US-led invasion.
Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plain had until now been one of the few areas of Iraq where Christians felt a degree of safety, but with the onslaught of ISIS, that has all changed and they are fleeing the region along with thousands of other Iraqis, while churches are looted and torched.
Dr Sookhdeo concluded: "It is feared that this latest exodus could be the final death knell for the Christians of Iraq.
"Having previously sought refuge in Syria, this is no longer an option and as ISIS violence threatens the stability of the wider region, Christians have very few places of safety to which to run."
Barnabas Fund is now providing aid to Christians who have fled Mosul.
"People left everything behind, they had no chance to collect their important things from their houses and shops," said one Barnabas Fund partner.
Barnabas Fund is asking Christians to pray that:
- Pray that the Iraqi security forces will be able to regain control of Mosul and other territory threatened by ISIS.
- Thank God that He is "our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1) and pray that this will comfort Iraqi Christians at this distressing time.
To donate to Barnabas Fund's appeal to provide food aid to Iraqi Christians click click here