Monday, March 03, 2014

ISIS and the Return of Tariq bib Ziyad

Sometime last week an FB friend posted a link to a BBC article – “Syria crisis: ISIS imposes rules on Christians in Raqqa”.

The article was about an extreme Islamic group who had taken over the city and imposed some very harsh rules on the Christian population.

“The directive from ISIS, citing the Islamic concept of "dhimma", requires Christians in the city to pay tax of around half an ounce (14g) of pure gold in exchange for their safety. It says Christians must not make renovations to churches, display crosses or other religious symbols outside churches, ring church bells or pray in public. Christians must not carry arms, and must follow other rules imposed by ISIS (also known as ISIL) on their daily lives.”

As I read through the article, the main thought in my head was that the Christians would not agree to those conditions. OK – it wasn’t so much the Christians in Raqqa who wouldn’t agree as a particular Christian – me – who wouldn’t agree.  I don’t have a half ounce of gold to hand over to anyone, and even if I did, I don’t see why I should hand it over as protection money! 

The alternative to following the rules laid out was to a) convert to Islam or b) risk the possibility of being killed.

I have watched Quo Vadis often enough to know that the heroine (and the hero) chose death.  The martyr gene in my DNA was activated.

I read on…

“A group of 20 Christian leaders chose to accept the new set of rules, ISIS said.”

Maybe they hadn’t watched Quo Vadis as often as I had.  They had, in my estimation, caved in to bullying. 

What is happening in this city in northern Syria reminded me of a poem I wrote for a FW weekly challenge.  The topic was Europe and I dug around in Spanish history to come up with a man Tariq bin Ziyad, a Muslim general who conquered Visigothic Hispania in 711–718 A.D.  He inflicted a similar set of rules on the Christian population then.  Writing the poem it was firmly fixed as a historical event and not likely to be something Christians today would face.  I didn’t reckon on the ISIS in northern Syria.

“You are not there, Mel” said the gentle voice within.  “When you live in such safety can you really make a sweeping judgement like that?  You don’t know what their lives are like. A dead Christian, even one dying a martyr's death, doesn't always speak as well as a living one."

I got the impression that God didn’t think they had caved into bullying.  I began to set my heart to pray for not just the Christians in Raqqa but also the ISIS.  Even Al-Qaeda has distanced themselves from this organisation.  One of the Muslim clerics pointed out that ISIS were not really in a position to charge a “protection tax” as they were not securely in control and couldn’t guarantee anyone’s protection.

So many of the external things people do to demonstrate their faith are no longer permitted.  Did it really matter that they couldn’t carry Bibles or ring church bells or do anything outside their homes in terms of witness?  There are things that the ISIS can’t rule against – the Christians following Jesus’ teaching to love one another.  Talking about their faith might no longer be an option, but living their faith is more than repairing a broken building or wearing a cross around their neck. Living their faith is so much more compelling.

I prayed about the Muslim neighbours. Not all of them agree with what ISIS is demanding. I pictured some of them paying the protection money on behalf of their Christian neighbours. Not all demonstrations of Islam are violent or oppressive ones.

Finally yesterday – at church we were talking about our witness to the world.  We talked about Christians we knew who took their Bibles and had breakfast and prayer times in some of the local cafes.  I was reminded about all the things that the Christians in Raqqa were forbidden from doing.  Those things that they couldn’t do – nothing stops us from doing them and yet we don’t really make an outward show of our faith for the most part.  It seemed to me that because the Christians in Raqqa couldn’t carry Bibles, pray in public places or wear a cross that I had a special obligation to do so on their behalf. 

So the plan is to be much more open about my faith – not to offend anyone, or ram scripture down their throats – but to celebrate and to use the freedom that I have on behalf of those who don’t.

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