Wars, extremism fray Christian-Muslim relations in Middle East

05202016p13phcBEIRUT

Fr. Youssef Yaacoub dates his troubles from June 9, 2014.

That was the day the Islamic State group reached southeast Mosul, Iraq, shooting guns in the air and announcing, from a loudspeaker at a mosque, “We are here.”

“We are creating a caliphate. We will rule by Sharia law,” said a booming voice. “Those who don’t abide by the law will be killed.” That included Christians who refuse to convert to Islam.

Yaacoub and other Christians — including three monks and two laypeople — stayed put at the Mar Behnam convent. An initial encounter with Islamic State commanders was slightly reassuring: “Nothing will happen to you,” the five men were told.

But the reassurances soon evaporated. The Islamic State group was seizing not only all buildings and property, but farms — tons of wheat and oats that could be used for food and for monetary leverage.

Eventually, Islamic State troops took everything from the convent and made a pointed threat to Yaacoub and the others: “You don’t have a right to be here.”

After a period of stalemate, and things “tightening more and more” — like a noose around the neck, Yaacoub said — gunmen arrived at the convent on July 20, 2014, again shooting in the air. Yaacoub opened the door. A gunman peered at him and said, “You have to leave now. This building is now in the possession of the Islamic State.”

Death threats ensued, followed by caveats. If the Christians paid money, or if they converted to Islam, they would not be harmed.

Over the next few hours, the threats eased a bit. No one knew exactly why. “We’re letting you live,” said the leader of the group. “We’re being nice to you.”

But the Christians would have to leave immediately. Now meant now. The men had barely any time to gather their things. They were dropped off along a highway and told, “Don’t ever come back.” They were stranded, Yaacoub said, with “nothing around us.” They walked several miles in the midday sun in 116-degree heat.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER 

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