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.

These Muslims gave Christians a Christmas gift – and went to the heart of the gospel

mosulLook back on 2017, and one of the most alarming things about it has been the rise of the far right. Trump’s America, Duterte’s Philippines, and in Europe Hungary, Austria, Poland, and – may God help us all – even Germany have seen politics thrive on language that’s fundamentally about identity. It’s us versus them, and ‘they’ are usually of a different religion, sexuality, colour, income or ideology than ‘us’. Because of this, we should fear and hate them.

In the so-called ‘Christian’ West, of course, the religion dog-whistle is tuned to Islam. Muslims are the enemy. They are relentlessly opposed to decent Christian people, and decency in general. Any evidence to the contrary just proves how duplicitous they are. The fact that they might speak with an accent, that their skins might be a slightly different shade from the majority’s, and that they – or their parents, or grandparents – might have been born somewhere else is catnip to conspiracy theorists: it’s just more (rather circumstantial) proof that ‘they’ hate ‘us

Well, for people who believe this tosh and are prone to ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ posts that reinforce it, here’s something to think about.

Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul were driven out by Islamic State three years ago. It’s still not really safe for them to return, in spite of the government declaring the conflict over, though they are dribbling back. But at Christmas around 2,000 of them made the journey from camps near Erbil for a Christmas service, the first there since the war began.

What made it possible, according to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, was a group of young Muslims.

These young people helped to clean the debris from the church, make it ready for the service, and even erected the cross that had been thrown down by ISIS.

That’s right: ‘they’ did this for ‘us’.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN TODAY

Muslims are Often the First Victims of Muslim Fanatics

EGYPT-UNREST-SINAIThe terror in Egypt on Friday is only the latest grim reminder that Muslims are often the first victims of Muslim fanatics.

 The massacre of at least 235 people attending a Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abd on the Sinai coast is being attributed to a local affiliate of the Islamic State, known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. This slaughter was particularly venal. Gunmen waited for ambulances and first responders to come to the mosque after an initial detonation and sprayed bullets into the survivors and those dispatched to save them.

An anonymous Muslim cleric told the New York Times that he was shocked the killers would attack a mosque. Prior targets for the terrorists in the Sinai included Coptic Christian churches and a Russian airliner in 2013.

FULL ARTICLE FROM BLOOMBERG

The Prophet Muhammad’s order to protect Christians

isis-weapons-raqqa-syria

The inevitable demise of the Islamic State—initiated by the liberation of Mosul in July 9 of this year and completed by the liberation of Raqqa a few days ago, has effectively put an end to the reign of terror by a most extremist and violent “Muslim” organization.

Mosul and Raqqa were the capitals of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria respectively. Although some of its leaders and die-hard fighters are still in hiding, the Islamic State and its self-declared Caliphate now belong to the past.

The fall of Islamic State shows, once again, that extremism and intolerance have no place in Islam and will not be tolerated by Muslims.

In both Iraq and Syria, Muslims were the ones who resisted the terror group’s rule and ideology and consequently paid the biggest price for it. Similarly in other countries Muslims, were often the main target of the wrath of Islamic State, who could not tolerate being rejected and condemned unconditionally and universally by Muslims.

There was, however, another unfortunate consequence of the extremists’ reign of terror.

They showed an unprecedented hatred and violence towards non-Muslims, particularly Christians. This they claimed was their Islamic duty and their strategy to establish an Islamic society. Yet contrary to their claim, the hatred and violence against non-Muslims has no precedent in Islamic history.

The mere fact that in almost all Muslim countries there are Christians, and to a lesser degree Jews, living there and the fact that their places of worship are still operating and serving their communities indicates many Muslims have not regarded them as enemies.

The fact ISIS introduced a system of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Yezidis and Arab Christians shows the Yezidis and Christians were present in those countries and were not eliminated by their Muslim neighbours prior to the rise of ISIS. If ISIS was able to destroy the churches and places of worship belonging to Yezidis, as well as pre-Islamic cultures, it proves that they were not destroyed by Muslims prior to the emergence of ISIS—otherwise they would have been non-existent.

The fact of the matter is followers of Abrahamic religions are to be protected by every Islamic government as its duty— this I will discuss in a future column. As far as Christians are concerned, there is a historical document that clearly demonstrates this principle.

At the library of St. Catherine monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, which is the oldest functioning monastery in the world, there is a very interesting letter on display.

The letter, signed and sealed with his handprint, was written by Prophet Muhammad and offers protection and religious freedom to Christians in all Islamic territories and at all times. It was issued in response to the request of a delegation from Sinai who met him in the year 626, the second year of establishment of the Islamic society in Medina.

“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

“No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

“No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation [i.e. Muslim] is to disobey this covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”