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.
"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.
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.