Islamic scholars condemn jihadist tax on Syrian Christians

Christians from areas such as Maaloula and al-Raqa in Syria have been targeted by al-Qaeda-linked groups, activists say. Above, Syrians from the Christian town of Maaloula attend mass in Damascus. [Louai Beshara/AFP]

Christians from areas such as Maaloula and al-Raqa in Syria have been targeted by al-Qaeda-linked groups, activists say. Above, Syrians from the Christian town of Maaloula attend mass in Damascus. [Louai Beshara/AFP]

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Syrians of all sects and Islamic scholars are decrying new rules imposed by the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) in al-Raqa which call for Christians to pay "jizya" tax and hold religious rituals behind closed doors in return for their safety.

Last week, ISIL posted a list of 12 rules on jihadist forums and social networking sites, saying they apply to Christians in al-Raqa, which is under the control of the al-Qaeda-inspired group.

Al-Raqa resident Mahmoud Leila, a Muslim, said he is now ashamed to face his Christian neighbour.

"How will I be able to interact with him as before?" he asked. "I feel true shame and disgrace from the actions of these groups."

"This matter is condemned by the people of al-Raqa, and by Muslims before Christians because it is offensive to the beautiful history among the people, to Islam and Muslims, as well as the Syrian revolution," he told Al-Shorfa.

Leila, who previously owned a building supplies store but is now out of work, said some prominent figures and elders tried to negotiate with ISIL to stop the tax, but were told unequivocally that "any al-Raqa resident who opposes the imposition of sharia will be considered an apostate and God's sharia will be applied to him".

The rules obligate every wealthy Christian man to pay 17 grams of gold, a middle-income Christian man to pay half that amount and every lower-income Christian man to pay a quarter of that.

They also prohibit the construction of churches and convents, the display of Christian symbols such as crosses outside churches, the ringing of church bells and public prayer.

The rules ban Christians from consuming alcohol in public, selling alcohol or pork to Muslims, from "carrying out hostile actions against ISIL" and from deviating from the sharia dress code.

Church bells, call to prayer 'often rose together'

"I never imagined that I would one day be subjected to what they call the provisions of Islamic sharia in this manner, which is more like imprisonment, suppression of personal freedoms and prohibition of the expression of religious beliefs," said Semaan al-Mallouhi, a retired Christian resident of al-Raqa.

The relationship between Christians and Muslims in al-Raqa and its environs is based on mutual respect, he told Al-Shorfa.

"No Muslim had once complained about the sound of church bells nor had a Christian complained about the call to prayer via loudspeakers, but rather the sounds often rose together when a city resident passed away, be he Muslim or Christian," he added.

Al-Mallouhi said the restrictions on Christians in al-Raqa began last year with the arrival of extremist Islamist groups, including ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), in the city.

In September, ISIL fighters entered the Greek Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation and torched its religious furnishings, AFP reported.

They did the same at the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs, also in al-Raqa, and destroyed a cross atop its clock tower, the news agency said.

Al-Raqa was once home to more than 300 Christian families, but "now that number has dropped dramatically to no more than 50 families", al-Mallouhi said.

In past months al-Raqa received many Syrian Christians fleeing areas such as Deir Ezzor, al-Qamishli, al-Hasakeh and Ras al-Ain and seeking safety in the city, he said.

ISIL has exploited their circumstances by offering them protection for money under the cover of "jizya", al-Mallouhi said.

'Jizya' has no place in a modern civil state

The imposition of "jizya" on Christians in Syria is nothing but "a new fad, one of many launched by terrorist groups stemming from al-Qaeda, which have no legal authority to issue such edicts and rulings", said Sheikh Abdul Zahir Shehata, a lecturer at Egypt's Al-Azhar faculty of sharia and law.

This imposition is "a form of theft that uses religion as a cover", Shehata told Al-Shorfa.

"Jizya" is not a pillar of Islamic law, he said: It emerged during the Islamic expansion era and was paid by non-Muslims who were capable of fighting in return for protection, while zakat was collected from Muslims, with proceeds going to the Muslim treasury where public funds were held.

"ISIL contradicts itself," Shehata said. "On the one hand they say they are implementing the provisions of Islamic sharia, including the 'jizya', however the Islamic state must be a full-fledged state and recognised by its citizens and subjects, which is not the case in the areas where ISIL is imposing its control by force and bloodshed."

"Jizya" runs contrary to the modern civil state, which takes all people under its wing and whose principles are based on justice and equality amongst all regardless of race or religion, he said.

"The imposition of 'jizya' under these circumstances and conditions is unacceptable by sharia, and whoever does it is merely forcing people to pay money in a manner that is more like the protection rackets gangsters impose on people in the areas under their control," he said.

The Rev. François Habib, a priest from al-Mansoura in al-Raqa province who is residing in Amman, Jordan, said al-Raqa is not the only region in which "jizya" has been imposed on Christians.

It also was imposed in al-Hasakeh where ISIL seized control in November, he said.

"Unfortunately, armed takfiri groups launched assaults on Christians, especially in al-Qamishli, Damascus, Tartous, Yabrud, Homs, Aleppo, al-Raqa and Maaloula," he told Al-Shorfa.

"It is unfortunate these things are happening in Syria, for Christians make up 10% of the total population and are spread throughout Syria and integrated into the fabric of Syrian society, to such an extent that the Christian is indistinguishable from the Muslim," he said.

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  • READER COMMENTS

    عبود شريف

    2014-3-23

    There are more than half a million murder victims and more than nine million displaced Syrians, and the country is completely damaged. It looks as if all this is not sufficient for Bashar to prove that those people are terrorists. These numbers also are not sufficient for the revolutionaries to prove that Bashar is a dictator. Oh God! How trivial freedom is in the face of all this murder and destruction!

  • ياسر هادي

    2014-3-16

    The opposition gave the Syrian people only false promises and raised false slogans before them; as a result, it achieved no freedom or dignity to them now. After they were previously living in welfare and total self-sufficiency under the regime, we now find them helplessly oppressed and displaced because the opposition is trading with their suffering.

  • لبيب عصمت

    2014-3-16

    O Syrians, what the hell are you doing for your country?! All that’s happening is a nightmare and a tragedy that caused the death, injury, impairment, and loss of thousands of people in addition to the destruction of the country. All are responsible for such death, torment, and destruction, so enough pride, arrogance and superiority from all the fighting parties, i.e. the regime, the opposition, and the foreign mercenaries. The Syrians will not leave all of them. Who would compensate you after you have destroyed your economically poor country?

  • لقمان عبد اللطيف

    2014-3-16

    It’s very insulting to see that the Syrian people didn’t realize from the beginning that the strangers who entered Syria like thieves are, first and foremost, their enemies for revolting against the oppressive regime of the fascist family of Al-Assad! It was clear from the beginning that the Syrian revolution shouldn’t rely on terrorist movements to gain freedom; however, the Syrian people are further deceiving themselves by believing the big lie that the terrorism became a jihad for their freedom; therefore, they must know that freedom cannot be achieved through supporting the terrorists because their acts are only called terrorism, not jihad or anything else. Thus, the free army, the Syrian people, and the Syrian opposition should clean Syria of the terrorists and the Assad regime.

  • عبد الغفار فضل

    2014-3-16

    Al-Qaeda is one of the most evil groups that have appeared in the present-day world. Its members always kill the innocent people under the guise of jihad, but it is innocent of them; also, DAESH impedes the access of the medicines to Northern Syria, and Al-Nasra Front does the same in Southern Syria to monopolize their selling to the residents at high prices. Besides, these groups cause clashes that impede the entry of the humanitarian aid; as a result, the innocent residents run out of the medicines and medical supplies and face health disasters, especially the nearly 1.2 million Syrian children who became refugees. May Allah shower his mercy upon these poor people, particularly the children, and rid them of the influence of such devils!

  • عبود شريف

    2014-3-16

    The acts of these criminals show their hatred for all the people, not only the Christians. In fact, they are encouraged by the satellite sheikhs who teach nothing except hatred against the other sects whether they are Shiites, Sunnis, or Christians. If you search into the life of those who apparently apply the religion, you would discover that they are hypocrites and liars applying the laws of God on the people while leading a dirty life in secret. How can such people unconsciously think they will have impunity from the punishment of God?

  • شعبان عبدالله

    2014-3-15

    And you, DAESH, are the ones that will collect the tribute?? And who put you in that position? You are killing mobs and you know nothing about religion or about Syria; you know nothing about fraternity between the Muslim and the Christian in Syria. Even if there is a tribute, does the Christian have to pay it in Syria? I don’t think that you thieves would have the right to collect this tribute; your end will be black, God willing.

  • أحسان محمد

    2014-3-15

    Whatever Al-Assad does and whatever the Arab reaction is and however hard life is in Syria, the Syrian army will remain the only Arab army! I don’t support or accept DAESH and their attitudes; but I confess and I admit that the so-called opposition wants this farce in Syria, but basically they are authority seekers, nothing more. This means the issue is getting harder, because their essential task is to dismantle the Syrian army.

  • دينا الجيار

    2014-3-14

    Many clerics don’t approve of such jizya but what will they do if ISIL practically controls much Syrian territory today? These terror groups must be driven out and those who’ve brought these demons must take them out, Syria has had enough. This is just too much to put up with.

  • عمران أبو شالة

    2014-3-14

    What will happen after the conviction? Do you, sheikhs, believe they will listen? I think their malignant thoughts are the cause of all this that is taking place today; these backward, extremist thoughts which were allowed by those people, and which regrettably were accepted by some deceived people who follow their own personal interests only.This means that there are many people who benefit from the situation in Syria, and if Al-Assad’s regime wanted to prevent them, he would have done so, but he let them torture the Christians, so that they would join Al-Assad’s side.

  • مريم رؤوف

    2014-3-14

    The ISIL wants to apply the principles of the religion of mercy and chastity, according to their Talmud and those who believe it, and it is a bloody, criminal, merciless Talmud.The aim of these terrorist groups in Syria and other places is to distort Islam in front of the world and the Muslims.

  • مبارك محي الدين

    2014-3-13

    If we’re serious about handling terrorism and all forms of religious racism we must tackle the problem instead of circle around it. In Abrahamic religions (related to Abraham) there is clear writing calling for love and tolerance towards a person who disagrees with you religiously. There is also clear writing calling for the opposite and this is the source for the famous issue of “verse and the other verse that cancels it.” All of the so–called clerics haven’t been able to resolve this issue so far. Every side finds backing for his view in the exact same book where the other side finds his. Dozens of books and hundreds of studies and researches have been written on this subject but most of us don’t have the courage to read and handle the truth. A bold mind is a rarity in us Arabs’ reality (Muslims or Christians).

  • مروان عماد

    2014-3-13

    Sheikhs, religious books, Islamic groups and most people always demand that the Sharia and the Hadd punishments must be implemented. But when they see that implementation in real-life, they become fearful because honestly it is not suitable to modern times or humanity. Therefore, why are we obsessed with something which is impossible to implement? These people, who have been believing everything that is said to them since childhood, become extremists and monsters. But in reality, they are only putting what they learned into practice.

  • شعبان عبدالله

    2014-3-13

    By God, these are contemporary Khawarij, they neither know Islam, nor are they Muslims. How can you make a country suffer from such conditions while it is in a destructive war, is infected with poverty and immigration and there are thousands of families who can’t find anything to eat? How can you cut off the hand of a poor thief while he is hungry and his conditions have forced him to steal something? If they really implemented Islam properly, they could provide the poor families with all the basic necessities of live, instead of cutting off their hands and their heads. By God, this is not Islam and the way of Muslims. You have depicted a dark image of Islam to the west. During the time of Omar Ibn al-Khatab, they rescinded the punishment of cutting off hands during the year of famine, but these backward thugs want to interpret Islam by their poor discretion. Islam is innocent of them. O Syria, what is happening now on your sacred land? How can they rule in that country?

  • فتاح نصيف

    2014-3-13

    The Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, recommended Muslims to grant the Dhimmis who live in areas governed by Muslims the right to protect their money, honor, and trade. This right was written during the reign of Caliph Omar and stamped by the seal of the Caliphate. The head tax can substitute for serving in the Army because they (Dhimmis) are not obliged to defend themselves. This is rather the duty of the Muslim ruler.

  • حمزة قاسم

    2014-3-13

    As a Christian man of religion, I prefer not to attack ISIL and such Organizations in order to maintain the honor, security and safety of the sons of Rekka and all Christians in Syria. This issue is really critical and we must not show off, curse and challenge. We must rather pray Allah and hope that the ISIL honour the deal with the Christians. Thus, we have to put an end to these massacres and killings. I also call on them to treat Christians as the holy Messenger of Allah recommended since they are living in this area or region in Syria. Indeed, the Messenger of Allah said: “the closest people to us are those who say we are Christians”. Thus, I think that if the people of Beirut and the Americans with Iraqi origins were in my place, they would say the same thing to protect our brotherly Christians. I also hope that ISIL and all Islamists will not treat Christians as intruders but as their compatriots since the pre-Islam era. Peace. The filthy Syrian regime and the world which is conspiring with the tyrants are responsible for this farce. Consequently, they paved the way to the demons of the earth and heaven to confiscate our revolution. These world countries which remained silent toward the crimes and violations under the pretext of the gathering of terrorists in Syria will pay the price of the “Afghanization” of Syria sooner or later.

  • أيمن محمود

    2014-3-12

    How insulting to the Syrians that they didn’t realize from the beginning that the strangers who entered Syria like thieves are first and last enemies to the Syrians who revolted against the fascist rule of El Assad’s family. It was obvious from the start the Syrian revolution should depend on the movements of terrorists in order to get their freedom; today the Syria deceive themselves more by believing the big lie that claim terrorism became jihad for the freedom of Syrians; Syrians should realize that freedom would not come by the support of terrorists because no terrorism is jihad it is only terrorism and it has got no other name. The free army and the Syrians and opposition must clear Syria of terrorists and of El Assad’s regime.

  • عصام عبد العزيز

    2014-3-12

    Christians being threatened by the Da'ish group was the only thing that we didn't expect until now. May God destroy your houses. What is this insolence? May Allah destroy them so that Syrian people can live freely in Syria without Da'ish!