The above image is to be found repeated all over Christians’ homes and other property in territory now controlled by ISIS, the new “Caliphate” established in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, most notably in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako, explains
Suddenly we have been surprised by the more recent outcomes which are the proclamation of an Islamic state and the announcement calling all Christians and clearly asking them to convert to Islam or to pay the jizyah (the tax all non- Muslims must pay while living in the land of Islam) – without specifying the exact amount. The only alternative is to abandon the city and their houses with only the clothes they are wearing, taking nothing else. Moreover, by Islamic law, upon their departure, their houses are no longer their properties but are instantly confiscated as property of the Islamic state.
In recent days, there has been written the letter ‘N’ in Arabic on the front wall of Christian homes, signifying ‘Nazara’ (Christian), and on the front wall of Shiite homes, the letter ‘R’ signifying ‘Rwafidh’ (Protestants or rejecters). We do not know what will happen in future days because in an Islamic state the Al-sharia or Islamic code of law is powerful and has been interpreted to require the issuance of new I.Ds for the population based on religious or sectarian affiliation.
Some of this is entirely consistent with the Qu’ran,
9:29 Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.
while some of it, argues Patriarch Louis, is not,
The Holy Quran has ordered believers to respect the innocent and has never called them to seize the belongings, the possessions, the properties of others by force. The Quran commands refuge for the widow, the orphaned, the poor, and the weaponless and respect “to the seventh neighbor.”
This is a desperate situation, but should take nobody by surprise. One of the biggest losers in the Arab Spring and it’s consequent rise in Islamic Orthodoxy (not “fundamentalism”, since it is increasingly apparent that these groups are simply taking the commands in the Qu’ran and the examples in the Hadiths seriously) has been the Middle Eastern Christian community. Painting an identifying mark on the sides of buildings has an awful resonance with 1930s Nazi Germany and will no doubt raise serious concerns for Mosul’s Christians. If they have remained.
But the image of painting on the walls ought to also point to a quiet confidence for Christians too, as you can paint or even canvas can be printed online to decorate as well. Almost 4,000 years ago the people of God painted in blood on their own walls one dreadful night in Egypt…
Ex. 12:1-13 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month is to be your beginning of months; it will be your first month of the year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel, ‘In the tenth day of this month they each must take a lamb for themselves according to their families–a lamb for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a lamb, the man and his next-door neighbor are to take a lamb according to the number of people–you will make your count for the lamb according to how much each one can eat. 5 Your lamb must be perfect, a male, one year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You must care for it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then the whole community of Israel will kill it around sundown. 7 They will take some of the blood and put it on the two side posts and top of the doorframe of the houses where they will eat it. 8 They will eat the meat the same night; they will eat it roasted over the fire with bread made without yeast and with bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat it raw or boiled in water, but roast it over the fire with its head, its legs, and its entrails. 10 You must leave nothing until morning, but you must burn with fire whatever remains of it until morning. 11 This is how you are to eat it–dressed to travel, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You are to eat it in haste. It is the LORD’S Passover.
Ex. 12:12 I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will attack all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the LORD. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, so that when I see the blood I will pass over you, and this plague will not fall on you to destroy you when I attack the land of Egypt.
Of course, the New Testament sees the Passover as a pattern of the sacrifice of Jesus. His is our Passover Lamb (1Cor. 5:7) and His death brings about a greater Exodus for his people (Luke 9:31 where the word translated “departure” is the greek “exodos“). As Christians see painting on the walls of their homes signalling danger we should pray that they also take encouragement from the blood of the true Passover Lamb that keeps them eternally safe, no matter what is done to them here. And, of course, it is a sobering reminder that there will be another day when the Destroyer will pass over not just Egypt but the whole world and deal, not least, with those who oppressed God’s people.
So what can we do? Three clear steps, I suggest.
- Pray that Christians under this Islamic rule (and, of course, those struggling elsewhere in similar situations) would keep trusting the Passover Lamb and pointing to Him.
- Write to your governments and urge them to address this shocking persecution of a number of religious minorities by ISIS (and others).
- Consider an act of solidarity and awareness-raising. I’m joining others in changing my facebook userpic for a while to this, the Islamic letter “n” for “Nazara” (i.e. Nazarite).