Government Leader Demands Christians Must Convert, Pay Taxes or Be Killed

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A video showing a call for jihad from a senior Iraqi Shi’ite cleric has caused anger among Iraqi Christians.

The undated footage shows Sheikh Alaa Al-Mousawi, head of the Shia Endowment, a government body that looks after Iraq’s Shia holy sites, describing Christians as “infidels”, saying “either they should convert to Islam, or else they are killed or they pay the jizya,” which is a tax on non-Muslims. When challenged, Al-Mousawi was reported to have said the video dates back three years. Other local reports say that the video is more recent.

Almost 200 Iraqi Christian families have filed a lawsuit against the government-appointed cleric on charges of “incitement of sectarian violence against Christians.” Meanwhile, Al-Mousawi has sent a delegation from the Shia Endowment to the Babylonian Christian Movement to mediate the lawsuit.

The statement is a chilling reminder of when Islamic State (IS) captured towns in the Nineveh plains in June 2014, reinstating the same traditional Islamic ultimatum to Christians.

“Al-Mousawi’s call reminds us of the extremist rhetoric issued by radical groups like IS,” said Henriette Kats, an analyst for the World Watch Research Unit of Open Doors International which works to support the global church under pressure.

“There are many other extremist Islamic groups active in Iraq which target local religious minorities, including Christians. However, for such incitements to come from senior government officials is rare and is all the more shocking.”

The news will disappoint displaced Iraqi Christians told by the authorities it is now safe to return to homes in the Nineveh plains liberated from Islamic State. To many Iraqi Christians living in the capital, Baghdad, it is further confirmation that they must stay and continue working in dangerous places.

Living under threat has always been a reality for Joseph, an Iraqi church leader.

Just three weeks after his wedding in 2007, a bomb exploded in the car he was driving.

“All of a sudden, there was this huge explosion. I was totally confused and I couldn’t see anymore. I heard a woman screaming: ‘This man is dying,’ and I thought: ‘This is it, I am dying.’ But somehow I got out of the car.”

Joseph escaped unscathed. With his sight recovered, he saw that all that was left of the car was his driving seat.

“I found pieces of glass in my hair and four parts of the bomb in my scarf.

“God encouraged me that day,” he said. “And when, seven years later, IS took control of big parts of Iraq and Muslims started coming to Christ, I understood why He wanted me to stay. So when someone asks me why I remain with my family in Baghdad, I tell them this story. I know God is with me each moment.”

Now married with two children, Joseph said violence in Baghdad is random—people in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he chooses to stay in the city, helping people with their new-found faith.

New believers bring ‘new culture’ to church

“We have new blood, new believers. That is a challenge because it brings a new culture to the church. Recently a man converted [from Islam]. He is married to three wives and has children with all of them. He asked me what to do. I told him to keep them; what else could I say? This is only one of the problems we are facing because of the new converts.”  … read more

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