The Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Bechara al Rahi has called for moderate Muslims to speak out and condemn the jihadist terror group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and support the continued existence of Christianity in Iraq. In a homily this week, the patriarch lamented that Christians “hear no one cry out” against ISIS.
In a homily delivered in Beirut, Lebanon, the patriarch asked of his audience, “what do moderate Muslims say?” adding that the Koran explicitly opposes the sort of violence and intolerance exhibited by ISIS jihadists. In particular, the patriarch condemned the expulsion of Christians from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Christians in Mosul were given the options of paying the infidel tax (jizya), converting to Islam, leaving the city, or being killed. Before the ultimatum was issued, reports surfaced that ISIS had been denying Christians and Shi’ite Muslims food rations, starving out the native population that did not adhere to their version of Sunni Islam.
“We hear no one cry out,” the patriarch said, condemning the silence of many against ISIS. “These imposed conditions hurt Muslims and Islam’s reputation… Islam proclaims that there is no compulsion in religion,” he continued. The patriarch also spoke directly to ISIS supporters: “We plead with our Iraqi brothers who support them, to revise their strategy, to respect the innocent and isolated civilians, whatever their nationality, religion and community particularities.”
While ISIS has no formal presence in Lebanon, the patriarch’s testimony that Lebanese Muslims are particularly silent on the treatment of Christians in Iraq may be in part due to the growing support for ISIS in various Lebanese cities, particular in its second largest, Tripoli. There, local merchants report that sales of ISIS paraphernalia have skyrocketed, including flags and t-shirts, and that the Lebanese “love them” the way one would a soccer team. This support for the group despite its lack of effort in recruiting Lebanese Muslims has caused much concern to those who oppose the terrorist organization in the region.
In Iraq, however, ISIS is facing more resistance from Christians, Kurds, and Shi’ite Muslims. Following the expulsion of Christians from Mosul, Muslims in Baghdad organized a rally in support of Christians who were now internally displaced, many attempting to reach Kurdish-controlled areas or Baghdad. Two hundreds Muslims were believed to have joined Christians rallying against ISIS, holding up signs in Arabic that read “we are all Christians.”
In addition to the Maronite Patriarch, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II has condemned silence against ISIS. In particular, the Syriac Patriarch called for “a stop to the funding of extremist groups that spread terror and seek to divide the Iraqi people, which has a long and rich history of coexistence and working together.”