CHRISTIANS in a Syrian city under the control of a jihadist al-Qaeda splinter group have been ordered to pay a levy in gold and limit displays of their faith or face death.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (known by the acronym Isis), posted a statement online which said it would give Christian residents “protection” if they agreed to the list of conditions.
Isis is mainly composed of foreign fighters and is widely considered the most radical of body of rebels fighting to topple president Bashar al-Assad. It is also engaged in a violent struggle with rival Islamist rebels.
The directive, citing the Islamic concept of “dhimma”, requires every Christian man in the city to pay tax of around half an ounce (14g) of pure gold, a levy common in Muslim states centuries ago, in exchange for their safety.
It says Christians must not renovate churches, display crosses or other religious symbols, ring church bells or pray in public, and comply with the rule for modest dress imposed on all residents.
It also bans Christians from owning weapons, selling pork or wine to Muslims or drinking wine in public.
“If they reject, they are subject to being legitimate targets, and nothing will remain between them and Isis other than the sword,” the statement said. It went on to say the group had met Christian representatives and offered them three choices – they could convert to Islam, accept Isis’s conditions, or reject them and risk being killed.
The directive is seen as the latest evidence of the group’s ambition to establish a state in Syria founded on radical Islamist principles, a prospect which concerns western and Arab backers of other rebels fighting the Assad regime. Isis remains active in Iraq, from where it recruits fighters.
Raqqa, seized by Isis last year, was the first and only provincial capital to fall to its control. After repelling an offensive last month by rival groups and more moderate rebels, Isis issued general restrictions for all residents. This week’s notice targeted Christians.
The concept of dhimma, governing non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, dates back to the early Islamic era in the seventh century, but was largely abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.
The statement was posted on a Twitter account of a purported Isis supporter. The text matched a statement distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group, which condemned it.
The imposition of the tax on Christians comes after reports that Isis had changed the official weekend in Raqqa from Friday and Saturday to Thursday and Friday.
Raqqa was once home to about 300,000 people, with less than 1 per cent Christian. Many Christians fled after Isis started attacking and burning churches. The group has been accused of serious abuses in the areas it controls. Raqqa has seen fierce violence between Isis and rival groups More than 2,000 people are believed to have been killed since western-backed and Islamist groups attacked Isis strongholds in January. According to the United Nations, more than 140,000 people have been killed and millions displaced due to the turmoil that has gripped Syria since 2011. The UN also says more than four million Syrians will be forced out of their homes this year by the escalating conflict in the country.