Islamic militants debate medieval history to justify their crimes against Syrian Christians

As the Geneva II Conference has kicked off this week in an attempt to negotiate an end to the Syrian crisis, Heritage Daily has released a disturbing report highlighting the extent to which al-Qaeda linked militants are referencing ancient Islamic history for dealing with the country's Christian minority population.

The 7th century Pact of Umar (also known as Conditions of Umar, or Pact of Omar) served as a contract between Christians who remained in their lands and conquering Muslim armies.  According to the Heritage Daily report, a debate has ensued between the two major, Al-Qaeda linked groups, Al-Nusra Front and ISIS, on how to implement the 7th Century agreement in Syria... today:

The Sharia councils of the main extremist groups have begun to have a serious debate on how to deal with the “Nazarenes, their word for christians” and whether they can be considered dhimmis, or a non-Muslim citizen of an Islamic state.

The two groups’ “Sharia experts,” before the recent battles between them, had debated the matter at length, invoking the so-called Omar’s pact, which was given to the Christians of Syria in the 7th century. Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab pledged safety to the Christians of Syria in return for paying a tribute, which they accepted grudgingly.

As translated from Arabic to English at Fordham University's website, the Pact of Umar (or Omar) placed rigorous restrictions upon Christian life and practice in exchange for the right to keep one's life.  A number of these restrictions are listed below, as detailed in the translation.  The letter is from Christians to Caliph Umar:

  • Christians will not build "in our city or the suburbs any new monastery, church, cell or hermitage;"
  • Christians "will not repair any of such buildings that may fall into ruins, or renew those that may be situated in the Muslim quarters of the town; "
  • Christians "will not refuse the Muslims entry into our churches either by night or by day;"
  • Christians "will open the gates wide to passengers and travellers" and will "receive any Muslim traveller into our houses and give him food and lodging for three nights;"
  • Christians "will not make a show of the Christian religion nor invite any one to embrace it;"
  • Christians "will not prevent any of our kinsmen from embracing Islam, if they so desire."
  • Christians will "honor the Muslims and rise up in our assemblies when they wish to take their seats;
  • Christians "will not display the cross upon our churches or display our crosses or our sacred books in the streets of the Muslims, or in their market-places;"
  • Christians must modify the way that they worship, to include  "striking the clappers in our churches lightly;" not reciting their "services in a loud voice when a Muslim is present;" that Christians "will not carry Palm branches [on Palm Sunday] or our images in procession in the streets;"
  • Christians must even alter they way they bury their dead: "that at the burial of our dead we will not chant loudly or carry lighted candles in the streets of the Muslims or their market places;"

Further restrictions included methods of dressing and restrictions on holding public office, among others.  And if any condition of the agreement was broken?

"...Then we forfeit your protection and you are at liberty to treat us as enemies and rebels."

It's the 7th Century all over again

Fast forward to today and we see the great influence that the 1300+ year old Pact of Umar is having on Christians in Syria, as the Heritage Daily asserts.  The Rev. Mark Durie, an expert in classical Islam, interpreted the accounts of Syrian Christians who had fled the country to neighboring Jordan:

Their village was occupied by rebel forces, who proceeded to announce that they were now under an Islamic emirate, and were subject to sharia law. 

The Christian residents were offered four choices:  

1. renounce the ‘idolatry’ of Christianity and convert to Islam;
2. pay a heavy tribute to the Muslims for the privilege of keeping their heads and their Christian faith (this tribute is known as jizya);
3. be killed;
4. flee for their lives, leaving all their belongings behind.  

The scenario reported by Syrian refugees is a re-enactment of the historic fate of Christians across the Middle East.  The Muslim historian Al-Tabari reported that when the Caliph ‘Umar conquered Syria, he gave the following command to his armies:

“Summon the [conquered] people to Allah; those who respond unto your call, accept it [their conversion to Islam] from them, but those who refuse must pay the jizya out of humiliation and lowliness. If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency.”

Other accounts confirm that Christians in Syria are being treated as if it were the 7th Century all over again:

  • In January of this year, an Armenian Christian was killed in an Aleppo prison for refusing to convert to Islam.
  • In September, The Daily Mail provided eyewitness reports of the battle for the predominantly Christian city of Maaoula.  During the battle, militants "attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after moving into the village. ‘They shot and killed people. I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village... Another Christian resident said: ‘I saw the militants grabbing five villagers and threatening them and saying, “Either you convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded”.’...Another said one church had been torched, and gunmen stormed into two other churches and robbed them."

  • The Daily Telegraph reported that Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Gregorios III "claimed that local Christian families had been asked to pay a monthly protection tax of $35,000 by local "armed groups."

  • The New York Times reported that, in March 2012, the town of Homs, Islamist militants "had gone door to door in Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan neighborhoods of Homs, expelling local Christians. Following the raids, some 90 percent of Christians reportedly fled the city for government-controlled areas, neighboring countries or a stretch of land near the Lebanese border called the Valley of Christians (Wadi al-Nasarah). Of the more than 80,000 Christians who lived in Homs prior to the uprising, approximately 400 remain today."

  • In October of last year, the BBC reported that Patriarch Gregorios III suggested that nearly one-third of the country's Christians had already left the country.

#DoSomethingFriday

For today's #DoSomethingFriday, please join The St. Charles Institute in praying for Syria's Christians. Pray that God would provide miraculous protection from those seeking to bring intimidation, violence, death and destruction to their community.  Pray that God would bring rescue for those who are afflicted and bring peace to the war-ravaged country.  Pray that God would help those who have fled the violence settle into life in strange lands.  And for those that remain in Syria, pray that God's spirit would strengthen them with hope. 

May God bring an end to the hate, violence and discrimination that is wreaking havoc on Syria and her Christian community.