The recent spike in violence throughout Iraq over the past few weeks reportedly shares a connection with the continuing violence in Syria. BBC reports have described the ISIS militant group’s ambitions to create an Islamic An Islamic State led by a caliph, a political and religious leader seen as a successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. His power and authority are absolute. spreading from northern Iraq across to northwest Syria.
Since 2003, anti-Western and anti-Christian sentiments have tended to go hand-in-hand. Islamist groups have increased in number in northern Iraq as the influence of the civil war in Syria spilled across the border. One of the goals of these groups is to fulfill jihad, which would involve the annihilation of the country’s Christian population. The ISIS is an Iraq and Syria-based militant group of Sunni extremists. ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known in Iraq as Da’ash) subscribes to an extreme interpretation of Islam, which promotes sectarian violence and targets those with other opinions as infidels and apostates.
In October 2004, the then ISIS leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, making the group an affiliate of al-Qaeda. The current leader of ISIS is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or Abu Du’a. Though it has managed to overrun several major Iraqi cities in recent weeks, ISIS reportedly only has approximately 2,500 members in Iraq and some 5,000 in Syria. ISIS groups also operate in Lebanon and Turkey.
ISIS has said that it wants to establish an Islamist-led state (or Caliphate) that straddles Iraq and Syria. The civil war in Syria has played a significant role in the rise in recruitment and funding of al-Qaeda inspired groups in Iraq in 2013.
The position of Islamist radicals and growing anti-Christian attitudes in the midst of Syria’s current instability should not be underestimated, according to Open Doors. Since ISIS is now more firmly established in Syria, the Syrian people seem to be facing an impossible choice between Assad and Islamist radicals.
Reports have emerged from ISIS-controlled regions in Syria’s northern city of Raqqa of an ultimatum being given to the local population- convert to Islam, be killed or sign a “dhimmi contract.” The contract is an integral part of traditional Islamic sharia law dating back to medieval times requiring non-Muslims, in this instance Christians, to pay protection money that allows them to gather for worship, but only in churches.
Under the dhimmi contract, public expressions of Christian faith are not allowed, including Christian wedding and funeral processions, ringing of church bells, praying in public, Scripture being read out loud where Muslims may hear, Christian symbols displayed openly, repair or restoration of churches and monasteries, and offensive remarks about Muslims or Islam by Christians. The dhimmi contract also enforces an Islamic dress code, such as veiling for women, and commercial and dietary regulations including a ban on alcohol.
According to Open Doors, about 20 Christian leaders have already been forced to sign the contract in Syria. If they keep these rules and live as dhimmis, they have been promised protection: if they do not, they will be “put to the sword.”
Father, we pray against this oppressive influence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We pray protection over the Christians there; for the courage to remain true to Christ and to worship You only, for wisdom and discernment as they live in an increasingly Islamic society, and for Your church to grow despite the opposition. We pray for wisdom when church leaders are confronted with pressure to sign the dhimmi contract. Satan would use this oppression to destroy Your church in Syria and Iraq, but You have promised that Your church will prevail, and so we pray with confidence that You will continue to grow Your church in these nations, and that one day, all will see that You have done it. We look toward that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In the name of Jesus, who rules and reigns in this world, Amen.