Meriam Ibrahim faces challenges from Muslim family

July 24, 2014 by admin  
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Daniel and the childrenSudan, July 22, 2014: Meriam Ibrahim’s ordeal continues as her Muslim family pursues legal action in an effort to stop her from leaving Sudan after she was cleared of apostasy and adultery.

On Friday (18 July), the family filed a second lawsuit against the Christian mother of two, seeking to annul her marriage to joint US and South Sudanese citizen Daniel Wani. If successful, the couple’s two young children, Martin and Maya, would no longer be recognised as Daniel’s.

The family had lodged a first lawsuit, seeking to prove the biological link between Meriam and her Muslim father, earlier last week but this was inexplicably dropped. It was thought that the way may then be opened for Meriam, Daniel and the children to leave for the United States – until the second lawsuit was submitted two days later. This is scheduled to be heard on 4 August.

Meriam’s Muslim relatives are also trying to challenge the Court of Appeal’s ruling last month that quashed her death sentence for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery.

The Supreme Court is yet to decide, however, whether the family’s appeal will be accepted. Under Sudanese law, an Appeal Court ruling can be contested by an interested party but the Supreme Court determines whether the party has the necessary legal standing to do so. If the family’s appeal is accepted, the Supreme Court will review the Appeal Court decision in a process that could take up to three months.

Following her acquittal on 23 June, Meriam was released from Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison along with Martin and Maya, who were locked up with her, and reunited with Daniel. But the following day, they were detained at Khartoum airport as they tried to leave the country, accused of possessing false travel documents.

They were released on bail on 26 June but the case has not been dropped. Meriam, Daniel and the children have since been staying at the US embassy in Khartoum and are not allowed to the leave the country.

Under the strict application of sharia law in Sudan, Meriam has been regarded as a Muslim because she was born to a Muslim father, even though he left the family when she was six and her mother raised her as a Christian. She was considered to have left Islam – committed apostasy – even though she never practised it and has maintained her Christian faith throughout. Meriam was also considered to have committed adultery because, under sharia, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man.

- barnabas team

Study: Facebook users are more likely to divorce

July 22, 2014 by admin  
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facebook marriageBoston, July 18, 2014: Social media websites in general and Facebook in particular may be linked to an increased likelihood of divorce, claims a recently released study.

“Results show that using social networking sites negatively correlated with marriage quality and happiness, and positively correlated with experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce.”

Published in the July 2014 edition of Computers in Human Behavior, researchers from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile’s School of Communications and Boston University’s College of Communication have claimed a link between Facebook and divorce.

According to the study, a 20 percent annual increase in the share of the population of a state with a Facebook account correlated with a 2.18 percent increase in the rate of divorce.

“This study explores the relationship between using social networks sites, marriage satisfaction and divorce rates using survey data of married individuals and state-level data from the United States,” reads the study’s abstract.

Researchers cited multiple factors for how social media usage and divorce may be linked; they also recognized as a potential limitation the reliance of the study on self-reporting.

“If the preliminary findings in this study are sustained, it would represent an important step forward in the study of SNS and human behavior,”noted the study’s conclusion. “It would also raise profound questions about the role of social media in daily lives. Finally, it would spur new lines of research in understanding the role of Facebook in divorce and marital satisfaction, prompting a host of policy-oriented research endeavors by social scientists.”

Quentin Fottrell of MarketWatch noted that previous research has found similar results, writing in an article that has ironically enough as of Friday morning garnered over 840 likes on Facebook.

“Previous studies also support the conclusion that there’s a connection between social networking and marital problems,” wrote Fottrell.

“Adjusting for other variables, 32 percent of heavy social-media users say they’ve thought seriously about leaving their spouses, compared with 16 percent of people who don’t use social networks, according to a 2011 University of Texas at Austin survey of 1,600 married 18- to 39-year-olds.”

Both the researchers and Fottrell stressed that correlation does not imply causation and other factors might be more at fault than social media.

“It’s hard to know what comes first: Divorce or obsessing about the lives of others on Facebook. One thing is certain: Facebook is useful after a marriage breaks down,” wrote Fottrell.

He also explained that, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, “Over 80 percent of divorce attorneys have seen a rise in cases using social networking.”

This is not the first study to link social media to antisocial behaviors. In 2013, a survey by the corporate training firm VitalSmarts found a link between social media and rising incivility.

In a sample space of 2,698 individuals, Vitalsmarts found that 19 percent of respondents decreased their offline contactwith a person because of something that individual said on social media; 35 percent reported unsubscribing, “un-friending,” or blocking someone due to an argument on a social networking website.

Joseph Grenny, co-chairman of VitalSmarts, told The Christian Post last year that the findings showed that there is a need “for manners to catch up with technology.”

“That won’t happen until we start expressing social disapproval instantaneously when people behave inappropriately. First, we need to start talking about the issue, which is, in part, why we did this study,” said Grenny.

“Second, people need to begin self-appointing themselves as monitors or line judges, to call foul when they witness bad behavior online. If this starts to occur consistently, manners will catch up with technology, and we’ll find that social media is actually a wonderful glue rather than divisive tool.”

- christian post

Barnabas briefs: Iraq, Sudan, Bangladesh & Burundi

July 19, 2014 by admin  
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Iraq: Kidnapped nuns and orphans freed; Christians denied food rations

Iraq NunsTwo nuns and three orphans who were kidnapped in Mosul last month have been released.

Miskintah and Utoor Joseph, along with Hala Salim, Sarah Khoshaba and Aram Sabah, were freed on Monday (14 July), having been captured on 28 June.

It is thought their kidnappers were linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIS (who now wish to be called the Islamic State); the militants seized control of Mosul on 10 June. The five were held at a house in the city and were said to have been treated well. They are in good health and are now in Dohuk in the Kurdish north. No ransom was paid for their release.

Miskintah and Utoor ran an orphanage in Mosul. When the city was taken over by ISIS, the nuns took the orphans to Dohuk for their safety but returned with Hala, Sarah and Aram on 28 June to check on the centre.

Christians in Mosul and the surrounding area under ISIS control remain extremely vulnerable. The Sunni militants have ordered government workers to stop giving food rations to Christians and Shias in Mosul. Officials in charge of distribution have said that they were warned that if they did, they would be prosecuted according to sharia law.

Sudan: Ten Christians killed, three churches flattened in government bombings

At least ten Christians have been killed and three churches destroyed over the last two months as Sudanese government forces continue their relentless bombing of the Nuba Mountains.

Three teenagers, Abdo al Nour, Abdel Rahman Hassan, Yasin Salah, and another minor Ado al Sawaq, and an 80-year-old woman, Amira Ballula, were among the victims, along with Kimmia Calals (30), whose nursing child has been left motherless.

Two Sudanese Church of Christ buildings in Um Dorain and one in Um Serdiba were flattened in aerial bombardments.

President Omar al-Bashir’s forces have been targeting the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan state, which has one of the largest Christian populations in Sudan, since June 2011. The Islamic regime is trying to “cleanse” the region of non-Arabs and non-Muslims.

Source: Morning Star News

Bangladesh: Female church workers attacked in violent robbery

bangladeshA church in Boldipukur was raided by around 50 robbers, who rounded up and attacked workers inside and seized valuable items.

The Muslim assailants bound and gagged two watchmen before plundering the building. They beat and attempted to rape female church workers, who were left greatly distressed by the incident.

The robbers were apparently trying to find and steal land deeds for the site. A previous attempt had been made, in 2010, to seize the land by force; 50 people were injured in an attack.

Police have arrested 12 Muslims in connection with the robbery, which took place on 6 July.

Burundi: Draft law requires churches to have 500 members and a building

BurundiDraft legislation intended to curb Burundi’s “proliferation of churches” has been passed by the lower house of parliament.

The bill requires churches to have at least 500 members and a proper building; a foreign church would need 1,000 adherents in order to register.

Burundi is predominantly Christian, and it is common for worshippers to gather in makeshift tents for Sunday services. A government survey last year found that there were 557 denominations practising in the country.

The bill will next go to the Senate and is not expected to face much opposition. If it is signed into law, churches would have a year to comply with the new rules.

- barnabas team

ICC: Persecution in Sweden, Iran, Syria, Iraq & China

July 17, 2014 by admin  
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Christian Pastor and Two Friends Arrested in Iran

Three Christians, including Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, have been arrested again by Iranian security forces, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has confirmed. “These men have been targeted by the Iranian authorities in the past, they were clearly arrested on account of their faith,” Chief Executive of CSW Mervyn Thomas said. American pastor Saeed Abedini remains in jail in Iran for developing home church centers.

In Manchester, New Hampshire, a Community Waits for Meriam with Open Arms

Meriam Ibrahim, a mother of two and wife to American citizen, Daniel Wani, continues to be barred, along with her family, from leaving Sudan after being acquitted from a death sentence for her Christian faith. “I don’t really know what’s going to happen to us,” Meriam Ibrahim told CNN. A community of South Sudanese refugees in Manchester, New Hampshire are also waiting for the family’s safe travel and arrival. “We can’t wait to see them,” said community member Zakaria Aging.

People Praying

Christians in Syria, Iraq Fleeing Attacks and Crucifixions

Christians in Syria and Iraq are facing more upheaval as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) expelled nearly 30,000 residents from their homes in the Syrian town of Shuheil, and crucified at least nine people. “In ten years there will perhaps be 50,000 Christians left in Iraq. Prior to 2003, this figure was about 1.2 million. This is very serious, we are losing our community,” Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako said.

People Praying

China: Christianity Faces Its Biggest Persecution Since Mao’s Cultural Revolution?

According to China Aid, since the beginning of 2014, 60 churches in Zhejiang province have received notice that either their crosses or their buildings must be demolished regardless if it’s a government-approved church. Christians in China have not seen such sustained persecution since the Cultural Revolution. “The fear now is, the government will turn its attention to the house churches,” said Pastor Joy, a member of the evangelical network in China.

Sweden: Christian Midwife Fired for Refusal to Perform Abortions

Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers (SHRL) has filed suit against the Swedish government for Christian mid-wife Ellinor Grimmark, who was fired for refusing to perform abortions. According to LifeNews, Reinhold Fahlbeck of SHRL said, “if brought to the European Court of Human Rights, Sweden will lose.  The European council allows freedom of conscience for health care workers regarding abortion.”

- icc

Laos Christians charged with murder – death of convert

July 14, 2014 by admin  
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Laos ChristiansLaos, July 01, 2014: Five Christians have been charged with murder in Laos after a sick woman sought prayer at her local church, converted to Christianity and later died.

Mrs Chan from Saisomboon village in Savannakhet province passed away on 21 June, having been unwell with an unknown condition for two years. In April, she approached the local church for prayer, and her health improved for a short time. She, along with her eight grown-up children, came to faith in Christ.

The sons and daughters wanted a Christian burial ceremony for their mother and gained permission for this from the Saisomboon village chief; they were going to bury her on their own property, as Christians are denied burial rights in the local cemetery.

The evening after Mrs Chan’s death, Christians came from nearby villages for her funeral, but it was prevented from going ahead. The village authorities backtracked on their original decision, saying the funeral could take place only if Mrs Chan’s sons and daughters signed an affidavit recanting their Christian faith, which they refused to do.

On 23 June, the Saisomboon church leader, Mrs Kaithong, appealed to the district chief, and the following day she was arrested along with three other area church leaders, Mr Puphet, Mr Muk and Mr Hasadee, and local believer Mr Tiang.

Their detention was initially over the burial dispute, but they were subsequently charged with Mrs Chan’s murder. The five were placed in handcuffs and wooden stocks.

Shortly after the arrests, the village chief led Buddhist monks and relatives of Mrs Chan into her house and conducted a Buddhist ceremony before her body was taken to the village cemetery.

A spokesman for Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) told Morning Star News:

I believe that authorities are trying to find every way they possibly can in order to stop the spread of Christian religious freedom in the area.

The Chans were the fifth family in Saisomboon to convert to Christianity. Other Christians in the village have encountered opposition because of their faith. On 20 May, three teenage girls, Noi (15), Net (15) and Nut (14) were disqualified from taking their final school exams because of their faith. The village chief said that in following Christianity, the students had forfeited their right to education.

- barnabas team

Damage governments inflict on religious property

July 11, 2014 by admin  
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Government destroying church propertyChina, July 10, 2014: The Chinese government’s demolition of a large church in the city of Wenzhou in April andrecent reports of other, similar demolitions drew attention to fears of persecution among Christians in that country. A new Pew Research Center analysis finds that such incidents are not isolated to China or Christians.

Since 2007, as part of a broader study on global restrictions on religion, we have collected data on religious property damage – including demolition of houses of worship, and the seizure of religious groups’ property and government raids of houses of worship that result in property damage. The data used here are a sub-set from the report, which also includes property restitution issues and seizure of religious literature.

Our analysis found that governments damaged the property of religious groups in 34 countries around the world in 2012 (the most recent year with available data). Though such actions were most common in the Middle East-North Africa region (in seven of 20 countries in that region), property was damaged by governments in every region of the world. Destruction of religious property was least prevalent in the Americas, where two countries, Venezuela and Cuba, of 35, saw destruction of religious property.

In the Asia–Pacific, governments damaged religious property in 16 of 50 countries in that region in 2012. For example, in Burma (Myanmar), authorities locked mosques used by the Rohingya Muslim minority ethnic group, preventing many people from holding Eid al-Fitr prayers to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Incidents of religious property damage ranged in severity, from widespread, systematic campaigns to isolated episodes. Three countries each had more than 100 incidents in 2012: China, Russia and Tajikistan, where the regional government of Khatlon closed more than 100 mosques, citing a lack of construction permits. Authorities said the closed mosques would be used as “schools, medical centers and other public facilities.” Fewer than 10 incidents of property damage occurred in 22 of the 34 countries with such incidents.

Many different religious groups were affected by government property damage somewhere in the world in 2012. In addition to the damage of Christian and Muslim religious property, a Jewish cemetery in Lebanon was destroyed as part of a road construction project. And in Pakistan, military forces demolished a Hindu temple in Karachi. Similarly, in the Banda Aceh, a city in Indonesia, the government ordered several Buddhist temples and Christian churches closed under pressure from a Muslim group.

- pew

Barnabas Briefs: Sudan, Nigeria, Vietnam & Indonesia

July 9, 2014 by admin  
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SUDAN: MERIAM IBRAHIM RELEASED AGAIN, GIVEN REFUGE AT US EMBASSY

Meriam IbrahimMeriam Ibrahim has been released from jail again and given refuge at the US embassy in Khartoum with her husband and children.

The 27-year-old, who was sentenced to death for apostasy in May, was cleared on appeal and freed from prison last Monday (23 June), only to be detained at the airport with her family as they tried to leave the country the following day. She has been charged with forgery relating to a travel document and accused of providing false information.

Meriam was released on Thursday evening (26 June) after a guarantor was found, on the condition that she remains in Sudan.

Her husband, Daniel Wani, who has joint US and South Sudanese citizenship, said that they sought protection at the US embassy because of death threats against Meriam. He said that she and their two children, 22-month-old son Martin and newborn daughter Maya, were doing well.

NIGERIA: CHRISTIANS KILLED AT WORSHIP, CHURCHES TORCHED IN SUSPECTED BOKO HARAM ATTACKS

boko haram leaderSuspected Boko Haram gunmen have carried out more deadly attacks on villages near Chibok, where the militants kidnapped around 270 mostly Christian schoolgirls in April.

The attackers burst into four churches in Kwada on Sunday (29 June) and opened fire on worshippers before setting the buildings – and local homes – alight. They moved on to neighbouring Kautikari, where they also shot dead villagers and torched properties. The villages of Ngurojina and Karagau were also targeted.

The total death toll is not clear, but it is thought that scores of people were killed in the attacks.

Boko Haram militants have been carrying out near-daily assaults around Chibok, a Christian-majority area in the predominantly Muslim north.

VIETNAM: BIBLE SCHOOL STUDENTS BEATEN IN NIGHT-TIME RAID, INTERROGATED BY POLICE

Vietnam ChristiansBible school students were subjected to a terrifying night-time raid by police and hired thugs; they were beaten, punched and kicked before being taken away for interrogation.

Officers swooped into the church compound in Binh Duong province on 9 June from adjacent rooftops, while several vehicle-loads of people were brought to the site to vandalise the building with bricks, stones and sticks.

Police said they were conducting an “administrative search”, but a church leader said that “the overwhelming force and brutality used was aimed at terrorising especially the young among the Christians to dissuade them from association” with the church. Of the 76 detained in the raid, 20 required medical attention for their injuries but were prevented from leaving to find treatment.

Attacks by the thugs on the church compound continued over the next ten nights.

- morning star news

INDONESIA: CHURCH ATTACKED BY MASKED MUSLIMS DURING SERVICE

Indonesia ChristiansA church came under attack during a service on Sunday morning (29 June) by masked intruders dressed in black and shouting “Allahu Akhbar” (“Allah is great”).

Three groups of assailants burst into the building in Pugeran, Yogyakarta, and vandalised property and posters on display.

The incident coincided with the start of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, in Indonesia.

It follows an attack by Islamic extremists on a group of Christians praying together in a private home in Yogyakarta on 29 May.

- barnabas team

Dalai Lama urges Buddhists to halt anti-Muslim violence

July 8, 2014 by admin  
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violence against MuslimsIndia, July 07, 2014: The Dalai Lama Sunday reiterated his plea to Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to halt violence against Muslims, in a speech to tens of thousands of devotees to mark his 79th birthday.

In front of the massive crowd that included Hollywood film star Richard Gere in northern India, the Dalai Lama said the violence in both Buddhist-majority countries targeting religious minority Muslims was unacceptable.

“I urge the Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such a crime,” Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader said on the outskirts of Leh, high in the Himalayas.

“Buddha preaches love and compassion. If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims whom the Buddhists are attacking,” the leader, who fled Tibet for India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, said.

The Dalai Lama also expressed shock at a wave of deadly violence by Sunni militants against fellow Muslims, although he did not refer specifically to Iraq, where such militants have overrun swathes of five provinces north and west of Baghdad.

Gere greeted the Dalai Lama on stage, shaking his hand and praising the leader on behalf of several thousand foreign devotees who had gathered for the speech.

Inter-communal violence in Myanmar has overshadowed widely-praised political reforms since erupting in 2012. It has largely targeted Muslims, leaving at least 250 people dead.

Last month in Sri Lanka, four people were killed and hundreds of shops and homes damaged in the island’s worst religious violence in recent decades.

The Dalai Lama celebrated his birthday at his residence on the outskirts of Leh in Ladakh, a mainly Buddhist region.

- afp

Egypt: Jailed for “blasphemy” & “disturbing peace”

July 4, 2014 by admin  
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Egyptian ChristianEgypt, July 1, 2014: Three Egyptian Christians have been sentenced to jail in separate cases: two charged under Egypt’s “blasphemy” law, the other accused of “disturbing the peace” by broadcasting information related to anti-Christian violence.

The two blasphemy cases involve Kerolos Shouky Attallah (29), who was said to have defamed Islam by “liking” a Facebook page deemed offensive by Muslims, and Demiana Ebeid Abdelnour (25), a school teacher who was accused of insulting Islam during a lesson.

Kerolos was sentenced to six years in prison on 24 June, having been found guilty of two offences under the Egyptian Penal Code, Article 98F, defaming a divinely revealed religion, and Article 176, inciting sectarian violence. He will appeal against the verdict.

He was accused after clicking the “like” button on a Facebook page run by a group of converts from Islam to Christianity, the Knights of the Cross. The page features posts about Christian and Islamic teachings and is intended to encourage Arabic-speaking converts from Islam in their faith. Kerolos did not add any content to the page or interact with posts by others.

Local Muslims in Kerolos’ home village of El-Mahameed near Luxor took offence and launched an attack on his house and torched other Christian-owned property.

Demiana’s case was an appeal against her original sentence − a fine of 100,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$14,000; £8,000) − issued last June. The judge on 15 June replaced the fine with a jail term of six months.

She is currently in exile, and the ruling effectively means that she will never be able to return to Egypt, separating her from her family, who cannot afford to leave the country. Demiana will now apply for political asylum, most likely in France.

The social science teacher from Luxor was arrested in May 2013 following a complaint from parents that she had defamed Islam during a school lesson. The majority of Demiana’s students denied that she had insulted Islam in her class, and an internal school investigation found her innocent. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said she had only “presented a comparison between religions in ancient, middle and modern ages as mentioned in the curriculum”.

In the third case, Bishoy Armia Boulous (31) was sentenced on 18 June to five years in prison and given a fine of 500 Egyptian Pounds (US£70; £40) for “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information”. He was arrested on 4 December in Minya after reporting on the aftermath of anti-Christian violence for a Christian TV channel.  Attacks on Christians and their property in Minya have been widely reported.

His lawyer, Wagdy Halfa, believes that Bishoy has been targeted because of his conversion from Islam. The Christian, formerly Mohammed Hegazy, gained notoriety in Egypt in 2007 as the first person to try to change his religion on his ID card. A court ruled against him in January 2008, and in April 2010, an appeals court suspended the case indefinitely while awaiting the outcome of another case dealing with religious identity. Egypt has since been plunged into turmoil with two revolutions and two new constitutions, and Bishoy’s case has been unresolved.

He has suffered severe persecution over the matter and was forced into hiding as a result of attacks and death threats.

Following his arrest in December, Bishoy has been tortured and attacked in prison.

- barnabas team

Iraq’s beleaguered Christians make final stand on the Mosul frontline

July 1, 2014 by admin  
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St Matthew’s MonasteryIraq, June 21, 2014: Some Christian families from Mosul have sought refuge in St Matthew’s Monastery, writes Richard Spencer. Others vow to take a stand against the Islamists – whatever the cost

Captain Firaz Jacob knows he may well be mounting a last stand at the frontiers of the Christian settlement of Bartella on the outskirts of Mosul.

Less than a mile down the road are the jihadists of Isis, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and the portly, middle-aged Mr Jacob is aware that his home-grown militia are outnumbered.

“I stand here waiting for my destiny,” he said, as he stood this week by the last check-point on the road to Mosul and the black flags waiting in the desert.

Speaking of why he and his men were refusing to give up and go, Capt Jacob said was determined to resist the jihadists and their allies, who last week over-ran most of the rest of northern Iraq.

“We will stay here despite everything,” he announced. “All these armed groups we have seen, but nevertheless we will remain. We love our Christian way of life, we love our churches and we love our community.”

Between the Sunni and Shia Arabs of Iraq lie a patchwork quilt of other ethnic groups and faiths, many of whom have been reconsidering their future in the most obvious possible way since the allied invasion a decade ago unleashed the sectarian militias and their death squads.

Anywhere between half and three quarters of Iraq’s Christians – Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, and the rest – have left the country and the Middle East to start new lives abroad since 2003.

The town of Bartella, ten miles from Mosul, is largely Assyrian Orthodox, and its 16,000 citizens currently face a very vivid incarnation of an ever-present threat. They have been car-bombed at least twice in recent years, but this time their presumed adversaries have an army.

In Biblical times, the Assyrians were the imperial rulers of Ninevah, in which province Mosul still sits today.

According to the poet Byron, when the empire roused itself “The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold”.

This week Mr Jacob, a father-of-three wearing a small pistol tucked into his jeans, an over-tight T-shirt, and a pot belly, had a small band of 600 volunteers to help him. They were backed up by some Kurdish troops sent from the city of Erbil an hour’s drive away.

If the jihadists are to be believed, he has nothing to fear. Through its social media accounts, the alliance of Isis and former Baathists from the Saddam Hussein regime that now runs Mosul has assured the wider world that they have no quarrel with the Christian minority.

So long as they observe the new rules – Sharia, implemented strictly – their places of worship will be protected.

These are places of worship that go back thousands of years. The oldest extant church in the world, dated by its murals to the first half of the third century, is just over the border in Syria.

Monks from St Matthew’s Monastery near Bartella, where Christian families from Mosul have sought refuge, are thought to have helped translate Greek scientific and philosophical texts into Arabic for the eighth-century Caliphs of the Abbasid empire in Baghdad, an example of co-operation that seems remote today.

Bartella’s coadjutor bishop, Father Kyriakos Johanna, repeated perhaps more in hope than expectation the views of many Sunnis from Mosul, who claim that what happened there was a local uprising against the oppressive Shia rule of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, as much as an extremist Islamist takeover.

When Isis swept in last week, they did so on the back of public discontent with rule from Baghdad. Many Sunni Muslims say that they have as much – if not more – to fear from the jihadists as Christians yet still support the ejection of government troops.

“I understand that these people wanted freedom,” Fr Kyriakos said. “Freedom is everything, and the government pushed them to the edge.”

He said that, contrary to reports, there was no indication that churches in Mosul had been attacked by the insurgents or that Christians who remained had been threatened.

As did others, he pointed out that since the government left conditions had got easier for residents – there were no car bombs, and security walls that divided the city had been taken down. That is partly, of course, because those who set off the car bombs and made security walls necessary are now in charge.

The truth of these reassurances remains to be seen. In neighbouring Syria, when the jihadists arrived in the city of Raqqa, which they now completely control, residents also thought life was better for a while. Then they took over the two churches, tore down the crosses, and turned them into jihadi battalion recruiting stations.

St Matthew’s MonasteryIn Mosul, there seemed to be little choice for the thousands of Christians who fled the city as the insurgents arrived, phoning each other in the early hours of the morning last week to alert each other to what was happening.

“There was some panic,” said Umm Saad, a housewife who had sought refuge with her husband, mother-in-law and three children, in St Matthew’s, high up on a mountainside overlooking the Plain of Ninevah.

“People were ringing round and telling each other what was happening. We left in what we had. We passed soldiers running, and throwing off their uniforms as they went. We looked back and saw Isis burning a military vehicle of some type.”

Hers is one of 20 families living for the time being in the monastery’s cells. Their dress – skirts, blouses and long, uncovered hair for the girls and women – and demeanour is a contrast to that of the Sunnis living under Islamist rule across large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Umm Saad said she and other Christian women would already wear the abaya – the long cloak and hood worn by women in the Gulf – when on the street, “otherwise there would be trouble”. Since the insurgents arrived, even if their forces of occupation are largely local Baathist remnants, they have posted rules for the implementation of their strict Sharia.

These demand that women should be covered and only go outside “if necessary”. Drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are banned, and all shrines, monuments and graveyards – seen as idolatrous in Salafi forms of Sunni Islam – will be destroyed.

When the jihadists arrived in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which they now completely control, residents also thought life was better for a while. Then they took over the two churches, tore down the crosses, and turned them into jihadi battalion recruiting stations.

“We had to leave,” Umm Saad’s husband, Manhal, said. “We don’t want to live in fear.” Other men said living was one thing, living as they wanted another.

In some ways, the question is why these people did not leave before.

Both of the couple had lost brothers-in-law to apparently sectarian murder, their sisters’ husbands shot dead in the shops where they worked, one in Baghdad in 2004, one in Mosul in 2008.

They talked of returning to Mosul when they had discovered “who these people really are”. But for all of these refugees, their real likely futures seem very different. Umm Saad’s widowed sister and their brother already live in Sweden, Manhal’s brother in Detroit.

As such, they are part of a wider exodus. While the decline of the Christian community began well before the fall of Saddam, it has been hastened since. The community’s natural association with the “crusading” invader made them natural targets for revenge, leaving aside other ideological motives.


Among the victims were the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was found buried in a shallow grave in 2008, and Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, also of Mosul, shot by the jihadists who stopped them on the road and demanded they convert to Islam.

Today, the remaining Christians are made up of Assyrians and Syriacs, Armenians and Arabs, practising variants of the Orthodox and Catholic faith, many worshipping in otherwise almost extinct languages such as Aramaic, the language of Christ, or Assyrian itself.

Andy Darmoo, an Assyrian who runs a London-based charity for Iraqi Christians, said he believed that of 800,000 to one million Christians in the country at the time of the allied invasion, no more than 200,000 remained.

Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom and America are the favoured destinations: in some cases Western governments inadvertently and understandably assist the sectarian cleansing of the country, by making it easier for Christians to find refuge.

Some communities are re-establishing themselves inside the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government area – assuming that this entity manages to hold off the insurgents’ advance.

Thaer, a kebab-shop owner in Bartella, has no plans yet to join his three cousins in America. Fr Kyriakos said he would never join his son in Munich.

The bravado is real enough. But the front line with Isis in the north of Iraq is now 600 miles long. That is a long line for the Kurds and a few hundred Christian militiamen to hold.

- telegraph

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