NOVEMBER 11 — Forces fighting under the self-proclaimed caliph of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, after having captured large areas of Iraq and Syria earlier this year, not only fought against and killed Muslims who stood in their way, but also began barbaric acts of violence against Christians and other religious minorities. Many Christians were threatened with their lives for not converting to Islam. They had to endure harassment, arrests, and various forms of violence. As a result tens of thousands of Iraqi Christian men, women and children have fled what had become a genocide against an ancient Christian community. Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod of the Syriac Orthodox church said that ISIS had burned churches, old religious texts, damaged crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary, and converted churches into mosques.
How is it that a group that claims to rule in the name of Islam can be so brutal to fellow human beings? Many would claim that Islam is a religion of peace and that violence perpetrated in the name of Islam is actually due to distortions or misunderstandings of the religion. There are those, however, who would say that Islam is not innocent of its militant and murderous adherents. They often cite verses of the Qur’an such Al-Tawbah :5 which says: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)”.
To make matter worse, it is always possible to find historical cases of the brutal treatment of Christians by Muslims. A case in point is the 11the century Fatimid ruler, Abu Ali Mansur Tariq al-Hakim. Al-Hakim was known in the West as the “Mad Caliph” because of the brutal manner in which he treated religious minorities. The persecution of Christians and Jews began under his reign in 1004 AD when he decreed that Christians would no longer be allowed to celebrate Easter. Al-Hakim is also known to have forced Jews and Christians to become Muslims at the point of a sword, destroyed numerous churches and other Christian holy sites in Palestine and Egypt, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1009.
How do we reconcile the verses of the Qur’an that appear to support the violence perpetrated against Christians such as during Al-Hakim’s and Al-Baghdadi’s reigns?