Monday, December 30, 2013

al-Qaeda's Plans for Syria's Christians

Arabic original here.

ISIS Requires Syria’s Christians to Live according to the Decrees of Islamic Law and will Take Over Churches Built after Islam

by Paula Astih

After the decline of the Free Syrian Army’s influence to its lowest level since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis more than two and a half years ago and the domination of Islamists, specifically Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) over the majority of the regions under the influence of the Syrian opposition, these groups effectively began to apply Islamic law through shari’a courts. The latest announcement made by ISIS in this regard is its requiring women in some areas of Aleppo and its outskirts to wear the hijab required by shari’a, “if not, the woman and her guardian will be subjected to a trial according to shari’a.”

Despite the recent announcement by Jabhat al-Nusra through its leader Muhammad al-Julani that they do not declare individuals and groups to be infidels, but rather, just like ISIS, it is planning for the Syria of the future governed by Islamic law, this has placed more than a question mark over the fate of the approximately one million and a half Syrian Christians, a large proportion of whom remain in their regions while the rest are eager to return as soon as possible.

As for the Islamists’ relationship with Christians, Abu Abdallah, an ISIS field commander currently in Aleppo, spoke with el-Nashra, denying that the Christians are their enemies. He said, “We do not attack anyone unless they attack us. We have previously taken over Christian regions in Syria and Iraq and we did not harm anyone unless it was proven to us that they did harm to or killed Muslims. Islam did not make the People of the Book a target for Muslims that we might treat them with enmity unless they oppress us, like America and the Zionists did in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abu Abdallah stressed that ISIS has no intention to expel Christians from Syria, pointing out that they did not do this in Iraq and will not do this now in Syria, “However, they must live according to the decrees of Islamic law as it pertains to the People of the Book. Namely, God forbade the building of churches after Islam and so we will not permit churches to be built nor crosses to be erected. Those who want to practice their religion, let them practice it at home and take their freedom in this.”

As to the fate of churches in Syria, he indicated that “We will do no harm to those built before Islam, but any church, monastery or the like that was built after Islam entered Syria, we will turn it into something that the worshippers of God will benefit from.”

“Christians in the Syria of the future will be citizens like everyone else,” Abu Abdallah says, while emphasizing at the same time that they will play no political role. “No one will govern Syria other than its emir and caliph who will be chosen by the Muslims. There will be no political parties and no forms of western pseudo-democracy. We will govern according to God’s Book and the tradition of His Prophet.”

Abu Abdallah did not deny that ISIS has attacked Christian places of worship, on account of their being “churches and crosses that were built and erected after Islam entered into Syria and spread there. This is why we changed them into headquarters that the worshipers of God will benefit from, such as the Church of the Armenian Martyrs in Raqqa, which was built after Islam and which the Christians never had a right to.”

Abu Abdallah stated that ISIS had nothing to do with the abduction of the nuns of Maaloula, pointing out that it does not have units in that region and denying any knowledge of their fate.

ISIS is making a specific effort to take over villages and regions along the border and some of its units are currently found in a number of such locations, especially those adjacent to the border with Turkey in Raqqa, the outskirts of Deir ez-Zor, some neighborhoods of Aleppo such as Bustan el-Qasr, in the northern and western outskirts of Aleppo, in the northern outskirts of Lattakia, and some of the villages around Dera and the outskirts of Damascus. They are likewise concentrated in the Idlib countryside, in the cities of Sarmada, Dana, and Hazano.

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