As the coalition pushes further into Mosul, stories have emerged from Iraqi Christians about how they survived jail and forced “conversions” to Islam by the Islamic State. After capturing Mosul in June 2014, the Islamic State group swept across the plains of the Nineveh Governorate in northern Iraq in August. The multiethnic and multireligious region is home to many Christians. Christians were soon to forced to make a choice: convert, pay tax, be killed, or leave.
According to The Express, in one reported mass exodus, 100,000 Christians fled Mosul in one night “after the jihadi fanatics embarked on a ‘genocidal’ campaign of ethnic cleansing.”
However, a small number of Iraqi Christians stayed and, amazingly, survived more than 2 years under ISIS rule.
Ismail Matti, who was 14 when ISIS came to his town of Bartalla, east of Mosul, was forced to stay because of his sick mother. He told al-Monitor:
There were Shiite [Muslim] people crammed in a cell next to ours — they took one, shot him in the head and dragged his body in front of us… They told my mother the same thing would happen to me if we refused to convert. So we converted… All our neighbors were [ISIS]… They would come to check if I was following the sharia (Islamic law). If they found that I hadn’t been to the mosque to pray, I sometimes got lashes.
During this time, ISIS released propaganda videos showing the execution of Christians throughout its occupied territories in both Iraq and Syria.
While many Iraqi Christians did falsely convert to Islam under ISIS rule, others were forced to pay the “jizyah tax,” a religiously required per capita tax on non-Muslims under Islamic law. If a Christian paid the tax, they became “dhimmi“, or protected non-Muslim people under sharia law. According to Dhimmitude.com:
Dhimmi [is] an Arabic word meaning “protected.” Dhimmi was the name applied by the Arab-Muslim conquerors to indigenous non-Muslim populations who surrendered by a treaty (dhimma) to Muslim domination. Islamic conquests expanded over vast territories in Africa, Europe and Asia, for over a millennium (638-1683).” ISIS plans to bring this back in their current conquest. To be protected, dhimmi must pay the jizya tax.
Last month, the American coalition, consisting of the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, Shia militias, Christian militias, and the Turkish Nineveh Guard, descended upon Mosul to free it from the Islamic State. The official operation began on October 17 when it was announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Since then, Iraqi Christians have begun to return to Mosul.
There were gasps, followed by tears at a small church in northern Iraq as a group of Christians returned to their parish Sunday to find that everything had been destroyed, including the statue of the Virgin Mary, which Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants had decapitated before they left.
However, while their homecoming is bittersweet, many Iraqi Syrians are left hoping for the same fate. Fox News reports that trapped Christian Syrians are afraid of genocide.