This Syrian Catholic priest was kidnapped and tortured by ISIS. He still has hope in humanity.

SYRIAN CATHOLIC PRIESTIt became clear that I would need to follow the Rev. Jacques Mourad around all day. To the kitchen, where he was preparing kebab with eggplants or demonstrating how to cut onions just so or washing dishes. To the chapel, where he was picking away wax collecting on candle holders. To the classrooms, where he was nodding his head as nuns from India attempted to recite the Mass in Arabic that he has spent months teaching them. To the door, which he was always leaning out of, calling to someone in the street.

There was nothing too small, or nothing small enough, to occupy Father Jacques, for he believed that God was captured best in simplicity. The woman called by name. The prayer in the chapel, where only two of us had gathered beneath the rising Iraqi sunlight. The coffee filled exactly to the correct level.

We are in the upstairs classroom, where he is seated at the head of a table, reciting the Mass in the Chaldean rite from a prayer book, carefully pronouncing the words in Arabic and Aramaic, waiting as the nuns recite them in return. He pauses, flustered. The translation from Arabic to English that they have been consulting is not accurate. The word hanan has been translated as “to pity.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICA MAGAZINE

The Islamic State spy who betrayed al-Baghdadi was an insider motivated by revenge

By Richard Engel and Marc Smith

191030-mazloum-abdi-al-1212_df949716b3ce2e2e5c69f34d8071b01a.fit-2000wNORTHERN SYRIA — ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was betrayed by a member of his inner circle who helped lead American troops to his compound in Northern Syria.

The commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Gen. Mazloum Abdi, gave NBC News a detailed account of how he spent months running a spy inside ISIS who followed al-Baghdadi as he moved from one safehouse to another, until he was finally trapped in a tunnel beneath one of them.

Abdi did not identify the source, but Kurdish intelligence officials described him as an Arab who had many relatives in ISIS.

Abdi said the informant’s main motivation was revenge.

“I think he was under a lot of pressure from his family,” the general said. “His relatives were subjected to harsh treatment by ISIS and he no longer believed in the future of ISIS. He wanted to take revenge on ISIS and al-Baghdadi himself.”

OCT. 30, 201904:42

The spy was in a unique and extremely rare position to exact his revenge.

“He was, you could say, a security official,” the general said. “A personal security official for al-Baghdadi himself, in charge of al-Baghdadi’s movements. “

FULL ARTICLE FROM NBC NEWS 

Christianity grows in Syrian town once besieged by Islamic State

syriaThe converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them toward their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month.

Though Islamic State’s ultra-radical interpretation of Sunni Islam has been repudiated by the Islamic mainstream, the legacy of its violence has affected perceptions of faith.

Many in the mostly Kurdish areas of northern Syria, whose urban centers are often secular, say agnosticism has strengthened and in the case of Kobani, Christianity.

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

FULL ARTICLE FROM REUTERS 

 

Sri Lanka’s Christians and Muslims Weren’t Enemies

SRI LANKA-ATTACKSIn November 2016, Sri Lanka’s justice minister announced to Parliament that 32 locals from four families had joined the Islamic State. Given the minister’s ties to some anti-Muslim Buddhist prelates, his claim was quickly dismissed as opportunistic­—even racist. Since then, however, credible evidence has backed him up. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadly Easter Sunday bombings that killed around 360 people, including nearly 40 foreigners.

To be sure, the Islamic State has a reputation for taking credit for terrorist acts it had nothing to do with. Its claims must therefore be treated skeptically. At the same time, however, there is no gainsaying that Islamist terrorist groups in South Asia and elsewhere support the Islamic State’s vision for a caliphate and crave alliance with it. And these groups, in solidarity with the Islamic State, have in the past targeted Christians on Easter. One such group is Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which killed 75 people in Lahore, Pakistan, in March 2016.

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Yet the specifics of the Sri Lankan case make it unusual. For one, given the planning, sophistication, and scale, the attacks there on April 21 rank as one of the worst terrorist acts recorded. But more importantly, the relationship among the country’s Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims makes the targets the attackers picked somewhat strange. After all, why would the Islamic State or those allied with it go after the Christian minority when it is the radical Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists who have perpetrated violence against the island’s Muslims in recent times?

FULL ARTICLE FROM FP

Are Muslims and Christians at war? The data says no

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(CNN)The bombings on Easter Sunday of eight sites in Sri Lanka, including three churches, seemed designed not only to inflict mass casualties but also to send a message.

Initial investigations showed the chain of bombings was carried out by “a radical Islam group,” perhaps as retaliation for mass shootings in March at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Sri Lanka’s state defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardana, said Tuesday.
ISIS has reportedly taken credit for the slaughter in Sri Lanka but did not immediately offer proof of its involvement.
To some, the bombings, carried out on the holiest day in the Christian calendar, has fed a narrative of religious war. Christians and Muslims, this theory goes, are increasingly at odds and willing to strike at each other’s spiritual hearts — sanctuaries.
To be utterly clear: Any attack on any house of worship is heinous and should be unequivocally condemned. In too many parts of the world, Christians are attacked by Muslims and vice versa.
But taking the long view, the data on terrorist attacks does not support a narrative of incipient religious war or sanctuaries facing increasing threats.
From 1970 to 2017, attacks at houses of worship comprised just 1.45% of all terrorist attacks worldwide, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism(START) at the University of Maryland.

Life under ISIS led these Muslims to Christianity

190201-syria-church-mc-451_d751479b6750bbbdaa140bb3e7ebd1b6.fit-2000w.JPGBy Yuliya Talmazan

Four years have passed since the Islamic State group’s fighters were run out of Kobani, a strategic city on the Syrian-Turkish border, but the militants’ violent and extreme interpretation of Islam has left some questioning their faith.

A new church is attracting converts. It is the first local Christian place of worship for decades.

“If ISIS represents Islam, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore,” Farhad Jasim, 23, who attends the Church of the Brethren, told NBC News. “Their God is not my God.”

Religious conversions are rare and taboo in Syria, with those who abandon Islam often ostracized by their families and communities.

“Even under the Syrian regime before the revolution, it was strictly forbidden to change religion from Islam to Christianity or the opposite,” said Omar, 38, who serves as an administrator at the Protestant church. (He asked for his last name not to be revealed for safety reasons. The church’s priest declined to be interviewed.)

“Changing your religion under ISIS wasn’t even imaginable. ISIS would kill you immediately,” he added.

While residents are still dealing with the emotional scars left by the brutality of ISIS, Omar says many people in Kobani have been open-minded about Christianity.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NBC NEWS 

False Assumptions About Muslims in the Age of ISIS

By Todd Green 3-28-2016

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In the aftermath of the Brussels and Pakistan attacks, we once again find ourselves in a heightened climate of panic and anxiety. The widespread fears emanating from these attacks, while understandable, nonetheless can get the best of us, tempting us to buy into deceitful propaganda that views all Muslims as enemies.

The Christian tradition calls its followers not to bear false witness. So how do we live out this calling? What does it mean not to bear false witness against Muslims in the age of ISIS? Here are three false assumptions, if not outright lies, often repeated about Muslims and terrorism, along with some facts that can help us have more honest conversations about our Muslim neighbors and about the violence we encounter in western nations.

1. Muslims do not condemn ISIS or terrorism.

The problem with these calls is that they ignore the many instances in which Muslims have condemned ISIS and terrorism. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Al-Azhar’s Grand Mufti, the Arab League, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim Council of Britain have all condemned ISIS in no uncertain terms. More than 100 Muslims scholars signed an open letter to al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliph, to condemn his interpretations of Islam.