Developments this week finally brought the plight of Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul into the global spotlight. In scenes eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany, the Muslim ISIS leadership has demanded that Christians convert, be “branded” and pay the subjugation (jizya) tax, or face execution. In response many Christians are fleeing.
This is highly disturbing for the global Christian community. I have close friends in the Iraqi church. They have suffered greatly in the upheavals of the last few decades and this development piles more torment on an already downtrodden minority. Despite this my friends continue to try to respond with the sort of perseverance and grace that seeks peace not revenge. I pray they are able to maintain this attitude as pressure mounts.
This should be equally disturbing for the world’s Muslim community. Of course it is true that history has witnessed the majority of Muslim nations having little interest in applying these sorts of jizya laws. Few of my Muslim friends are even aware they exist. Nevertheless, it is uncontroversial, if unpopular, to say that the policies that ISIS are seeking to implement find clear support in the Qur’an and practice of Muhammad (Qur’an 9:29, Muslim 19:4294, Bukhari 53:386). Muslims cannot simply decry the events in Mosul as un-Islamic.
Moreover, it is fair to say that traditional Islam is a faith that embraces politics as necessarily religious. My Muslim philosopher friend Shabbir Akhtar acknowledges as much in his book, Islam as Political Religion: The Future of an Imperialist Faith. In this honest and searching work he attempts to re-imagine how Islam can retain its imperialist political vision, yet do so in a way that moves beyond the crude measures on show in Iraq. Key for Akhtar is that even if the Muslim ideal is a peaceful world gained through submission to God’s laws this ideal cannot be enforced at the expense of justice.
Akhtar is silent on what implications this has for the jizya, but he is penetratingly clear that any “…faith seeking to perpetuate justice, truth and goodness must trade on a fund of fierce anger at the sight of injustice and evil”(p.270). That ISIS fails to see the injustice and evil inherent in its treatment of the Mosul Christians seriously calls into question the legitimacy of its vision of truth and goodness. I pray that the leadership of ISIS are moved to reflect on this before it is too late.
Dr Richard Shumack is a part-time Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity. He is also on the faculty at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology. His recently published book, 'The Wisdom of Islam and the Foolishness of Christianity', can be purchased here.