Christians in Iraq are heeding an ultimatum by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to convert to Islam, get out or be killed.
Reports from the Middle East say that large numbers of Christians have fled the northern city of Mosul — now under control of the ISIL — after a message warning them to get out by Saturday was broadcast by loudspeakers on the city’s mosques.
“This is ethnic cleansing but nobody is speaking up,” Yonadam Kanna, Iraq’s most prominent Christian politician, said this week, Agence France-Presse reported Saturday.
“It is the first time in our history that something like this has happened,” he added. “Muslims and Christians used to live together.”
An ISIL document reviewed by AFP said that there would be “nothing for them but the sword” if Christians didn’t adhere to the deadline.
The ISIL announcement also said that Christians could stay and pay a tax, often known as a “jizya,” though the exact amount was unspecified. A jizya is a historical policy of allowing non-Muslims to keep their own religion and their property if they pay a certain amount to Islamic rulers.
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In centuries past, there have been examples of Christians paying the tax and living peacefully with Muslims. Recently however, it has often been exploited as a form of extortion against non-Muslims.
Many Christian families fleeing Mosul didn’t seem to put much trust in the promise of peace.
“Some families have had all their money and jewelry taken from them at an insurgent checkpoint as they fled the city,” Abu Rayan, a Mosul Christian who had just left the city with his family, told AFP.
The Sunni radical organization “seems intent on wiping out all traces of minority groups from areas it now controls in Iraq,” said a statement from Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The group noted that the ISIL is “killing, kidnapping, and threatening religious and ethnic minorities in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.”