Dozens of Iraqi Christian families have fled their hometown of Mosul after Islamist hardliners gave them a choice of converting, praying, or dying. This treatment has been denounced by influential Islamic scholars.
Fleeing Christians described being stopped by gunmen on the outskirts of the city and robbed of their possessions, suggesting the militants were implementing an order for Christians to leave behind everything they had. That was the final straw for many, including Zaid Qreqosh Ishaq, who was forced to flee with his family.
“We had to go through an area where they had set up a checkpoint,” he said. Islamic State group militants “asked us to get out of the car. We got out. They took…our things, our bags, our money, everything we had on us,” he told AP.
With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, Ishaq’s family fled to St. Joseph Church in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. But they may be forced to move to camps that have been set up for the flood of Christians trying to escape the violence.
The Christian community has been living in the Mosul area for nearly 2,000 years. Now the city is under the control of Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), who formed the Islamic State (IS) in the regions of the country they captured. The militants imposed a deadline last Saturday for Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax, or face death.
Such treatment of the Christians has led to criticism from moderate Sunni Islamists, including the International Union of Muslim Scholars.
“The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) condemns the forced expulsion of the Christian brothers of Iraq from their homes, cities and provinces,” the group said in a statement posted on the website of its leader, the influential cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, on Tuesday.
“These are acts that violate Islamic laws, Islamic conscience and leave but a negative image of Islam and Muslims,” the group added.