Christian leaders in Raqqa, Syria who had been captured by a former al-Qaeda affiliate, have signed a treaty this week that bans them from practicing Christianity in public in return for protection by Islamist rulers.
According to Elhanan Miller writing at The Times of Israel, the submission document, which displayed the stamp of al-Qaeda, was signed Sunday and distributed through Islamist Twitter accounts. The document states that the Christian community in the northern province of Raqqa, captured last March by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS), had been given three options: to convert to Islam; to remain Christian, but vow submission to Islam; or to “face the sword.”
Christian leaders reportedly chose the second alternative, which is known as “dhimmitude,” a reference to the Muslim ruler’s protection, or “dhimma,” in exchange for a tax known as “jizya” that must be paid by Christians and Jews living under Muslim sovereignty.
As The Times indicates, the document states the Christian leaders chose to sign the “dhimma” treaty over war because they received a commitment from local ISIL commander Ibrahim Al-Badri, also known as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, that they would not be physically harmed or subjected to religious targeting.
The conditions agreed to by the Christians, in exchange for their safety, are reported to be: to abstain from renovating churches or monasteries in Raqqa; to end public display of crosses or religious symbols and use of public loudspeakers in prayer; to end reading of scripture indoors that could be loud enough to be heard by Muslims standing outside; to refrain from subversive actions against Muslims; to end religious ceremonies outside the church; to ensure Christians wishing to convert to Islam are not prevented from doing so; to respect Islam and Muslims and say nothing offensive about them; to pay the “jizya” tax twice annually, for each adult Christian; to refrain from drinking alcohol in public; and to dress modestly.
The “jizya” tax must be paid in up to 17 grams of gold, a levy that was common in Muslim states centuries ago. In addition, the “dhimma” dates back to the early Islamic era in the seventh century, but had been mostly abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.
“If they adhere to these conditions, they will be close to God and receive the protection of Mohammed his prophet…none of their religious rights will be detracted nor will a priest or monk be wronged,” the document reportedly states. “But if they disobey any of the conditions, they are no longer protected and ISIS can treat them in a hostile and warlike fashion.”
According to Reuters, ISIL (ISIS) is “widely considered the most radical of the groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and is also engaged in a violent struggle with rival Islamist rebels.”
The submission document is the most recent evidence of ISIL’s intention to establish a state in Syria founded on radical Islamist principles.
Raqqa was the only city to fall entirely under rebel control last year. After warding off a strike by rival Islamist groups and more moderate rebels last month, ISIL has now turned to its plan to set up a state based on radical interpretation of Islamic law.
The authenticity of the submission document could not be independently verified, and the signatures of the 20 Christian leaders on the document were “blotted out, ostensibly at their own request,” according to The Times.
Last week, ISIL issued a decree in Raqqa that changed the official weekend to Thursday and Friday, instead of Friday and Saturday. According to The Daily Star Lebanon, the decree stated that Friday and Saturday is the weekend practice in “faithless countries.”
ISIS has also reportedly imposed a strict form of Islam in Raqqa, enforcing the veil and banning cigarettes. In addition, the Islamist rulers have used the punishments of Shariah courts for religious crimes, including beatings and executions.
Al-Qaeda’s central command had distanced itself from ISIS earlier this month, stating the group was “not a branch of al-Qaeda.”