Christianity is in danger of being stamped out in Iraq and Syria by civil war and Islamic militancy. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Canon Andrew White warned that centuries of Christianity in the region is under threat.
Canon White, who works at St George’s, the only Anglican church in Iraq, said that Christians and others were ‘trapped in the desert with nowhere to go’.
In July, Christians remaining in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and one with a large professedly Christian population, were told by IS to convert to Islam, or submit to Islamic rule and pay protection tax. Those who refused faced execution, after 19 July.
Many thousands took refuge in open fields as they abandoned urban areas. Those caught escaping were stripped of their belongings. Christian-owned farms were taken and people were kidnapped. Church properties, including historic sites, were destroyed.
The Times reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ordered all women and girls in Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, issuing a fatwa as ‘a gift to the people’. Speaking to the AFP news agency, Orthodox Patriarch Louis Sako said, ‘For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians’.
Also, a religiously syncretistic, minority Kurdish group called the Yazidi has been fiercely persecuted by IS. US and UK planes have brought relief supplies to tens of thousands stranded on Mount Sinjar and facing extreme temperatures without food or water.
Syria has been torn apart by years of civil war. Barnabas Fund’s campaign, ‘There is a Church in Syria’, aims to bring help to thousands of displaced Syrian Christians living in refugee camps.
According to the Telegraph, nine people were nailed to crosses in the city of Al-Bab, Syria, near the Turkish border; one survived. The Huffington Post reported that IS crucified them for ‘belonging to more moderate groups’, ‘controlled by Western powers’.
While we cannot be sure they were believers, the terms used to describe them are often accusations thrown against Christians. The fact that they were crucified suggests they may have identified themselves as believers.