Tuesday, March 4, 2014

RLPB 250. Raqqa, Syria: Christians in the lions' den

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 250 | Wed 05 Mar 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

Raqqa is a province in northern Syria, east of Aleppo. Its capital, Al Raqqa City is situated on the Euphrates River and is home to some 300,000 Syrians of whom around 3000 are Christian. In March 2013 Al Raqqa fell to rebel forces. During the latter part of 2013, tensions escalated in northern Syria between the Al-Nusra Front (loyal to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham/Syria (ISIS; loyal to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi). In January this year the ISIS ousted the Al-Nusra Front from Al Raqqa to take full control of the city. In February al-Nusra ordered ISIS out of Aleppo. Rather than fight, the ISIS opted to retreat from Aleppo and consolidate in Raqqa, which is, as one ISIS jihadist boasts,'a larger area than the state of Kuwait'.

Al-Raqqa is the only provincial capital under rebel control. There, ISIS is enforcing Sharia Law and dhimmitude just as in the Middle Ages. Everyone must adhere to strict Islamic codes. Women must wear the niqab (a full black covering, with just a slit for eyes) and men and women must not mingle. Separate bakeries have been set up for males and females. 'Al-Khansa' and 'Um Riyan' brigades comprised of young female Islamists have been established to search women. Horrifically, young girls are being forcibly wed to ISIS fighters in marriages which are mostly temporary and routinely violent. One young girl recently suicided just to escape the perpetual sexual violence.

SEE: The Guardian, 19 Feb 2014
Smuggled video testimony documents harsh rule of Syrian Islamist group
Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has imposed strict interpretation of sharia law since taking control in Raqqa

 In late February ISIS took 20 Christian leaders captive and gave them three options: convert to Islam, submit to Islam as dhimmis, or 'face the sword'. Faced with this choice, the Christian leaders signed an agreement committing the Christian community to  dhimmitude, a state of humiliation and subjugation under Islam. According to the agreement, while the Christians of Al Raqqa may remain Christian, they must always demonstrate respect for Islam and Muslims. Furthermore, they must abstain from all public expressions of Christianity and from renovating their churches and monasteries.

collecting jizya in Al-Raqqa (photo FNA)
 The Christians must also pay the 'jizya' (protection money) as mandated by the Qur'an (Sura 9:29). Wealthy Christians must pay four golden dinars (currently worth about $US730), those of average wealth must pay two and the poor must pay one. Jizya will be collected from each adult Christian twice annually.

Armenian Church, Al Raqqa (AFP)
While they abide by the agreement, the Christians will be permitted to live as 'protected' dhimmis, that is as subjugated, second-class citizens. However, the agreement reads, '. . . if they disobey any of the conditions, they are no longer protected and ISIS can treat them in a hostile and warlike fashion.'

ISIS militants have ripped crosses and bells from churches and replaced them with black flags of Islam. ISIS has seized and occupied the Armenian Church (pictured) for use as a base.

In reality, the State of Syria (as it has been known) no longer exists. In June 2013 the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) won a highly strategic, pivotal victory when it liberated Al-Qusayr. Since then the SAA has been advancing and consolidating its hold over the Damascus to Aleppo north-west corridor and the coastal Alawite heartland of Latakia. However, the SAA cannot defend all of Syria. So the Kurd-dominated north-east province of Al-Hasekah, home to many Assyrian Christians and contiguous with Nineveh Province, northern Iraq, has been abandoned to the Kurds, who have been fighting the al-Nusra Front there. Meanwhile, the vast, sparsely populated rural Sunni east, contiguous with Anbar Province, Iraq, has been abandoned altogether and this is where ISIS is establishing its base. ISIS controls large tracts of territory east of Aleppo and along the Euphrates River through Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor in Syria, all the way to Fallujah in restive Anbar Province, Iraq. (ISIS controls Fallujah with local support and is fighting the Iraqi Army there.)

On Friday 28 February ISIS live-Tweeted the public amputation of a man's hand in Maskanah, on the eastern edge of Aleppo Province, between the provincial capitals of Aleppo and Al-Raqqa. Lashings, beatings and public executions are also being reported in Al-Raqqa. This is a reign of megalomania, blood-lust and sheer terror.

So who will fight for the Christians of Upper Mesopotamia? Not Iran, not Saudi Arabia, not Turkey, not the SAA and not the West (so it seems). Who will save them? Who will help them? Who will care for them? Who will raise their voices for them?

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)


* restrain the jihadis so they do not harm the Lord's faithful ones.

'The king declared to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?"  Then Daniel said to the king, "O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me . . . "' (from Daniel 6)

* intervene in Syria's abandoned, rebel-controlled regions: to facilitate the escape of those who must flee; to provide security and supplies for those who must stay; to comfort, encourage and strengthen his loved ones and to confound and shatter his enemies.

* facilitate radical change for the sake of his Church, for the benefit of all peoples, and so everyone might tremble before our amazing God.

'. . . people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.' (The decree of King Darius in Daniel 6.)


Since January 2014 the terror group ISIS has ruled the northern city of Al Raqqa. Sharia is enforced and the whole community lives in terror of ISIS's extreme violence. Recently 20 Christian leaders were taken captive and given three options: convert to Islam, submit to Islam as dhimmis (humiliated and subjugated under Islam) or 'face the sword'. The Christian leaders signed an agreement committing the Christian community to submission. Just as in the Middle Ages, Christians must now pay protection money (jizya) as mandated by the Qur'an (Sura 9:29). They must demonstrate respect for Islam and Muslims and abstain from all public expressions of Christianity and from renovating churches and monasteries. If they breach the agreement, ISIS will resume war against them. Please pray for Syria and its Christians.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)