This time last year I asked the question: will the persecution of Christians continue to spread in 2014? Anyone who has watched the news about ISIS and the plight of Christian and Yezidi minorities in Syria and Iraq will be all too uncomfortably aware of the answer. Yet what ISIS has done in 2014 is, in many ways, an extreme example of a broader issue: the global spread of sharia enforcement. This is something that we have seen increase, both in its geographical spread and its intensity, in 2011, 2012 and 2013 – and clearly continued in 2014.
By “sharia enforcement” I mean the attempts by either political or violent means to legally enforce sharia on Muslims and non-Muslim minorities. This is the central aim of both political Islamists and violent jihadists. In many respects, this is an uncomfortable subject for many Muslims. However, it is a nettle that must be grasped not simply because it represents the largest increase in the persecution of minorities in the world today, but also because it is the single greatest threat to the freedoms and values of the English speaking peoples.
Increases in the severity of sharia enforcement
2014 saw significant increases in the severity of sharia enforcement in two respects:
1. The widespread use of slavery. Hundreds of Christian, Yezidi and Turkoman Muslim women held by ISIS in Badush prison in Mosul are treated as slaves and raped daily unless they agree to convert to ISIS’s own version of Islam. The UN estimates that approximately 1500 Christian and Yezidi women and children have been abducted and forced into sexual slavery. Similarly, reports from Nigeria suggest that many of the 270 predominantly Christian school girls abducted by Boko Haram in April have been forcibly converted to Islam and sold as brides or sex slaves to jihadists. In a video statement Boko Haram’s leader claimed:
“Allah instructed me to sell them… slavery is allowed in my religion.”
This is a major development in the intensification of sharia enforcement. Slavery almost entirely died out in the Islamic world, at least as a formal legal institution, in the Twentieth Century with its abolition in Mauritania in 1981. Yet the regulations on slavery, and on whom may be enslaved, still exist in the traditional textbooks of sharia that have been taught in madrassas for centuries.
2. The enforcement of jizya and religious cleansing. The advance of ISIS in Northern Iraq and Syria has caused the displacement of an estimated 200,000 Christians from their homes. Christians were given the ultimatum of either converting to Islam, paying the jizya tax on non Muslim monotheists, or being executed. The second option was not available to the Yezidis, who are regarded as polytheists by ISIS and therefore had the choice of either conversion or death – or, in the case of women and children, enslavement.
However, what has happened in Iraq and Syria is not an isolated incidence. Similar sharia-based religious cleansing has also been happening in northern Nigeria. This has resulted in repeated attacks on Churches, Christian institutions and individual Christians. For example, on January 26th, Boko Haram locked Christians in the church at Wada Chakawa in Adamawa state, before bombing it and cutting the throats of any who tried to escape, resulting in the deaths of at least 138 local Christians. This has now spread to neighbouring Cameroon where attacks and threats by Boko Haram have forced thousands of Christians to flee from the north. The aim is clearly to eradicate the entire non-Muslim population from increasingly large areas.
Similarly, ISIS appears intent on spreading its religious cleansing to Lebanon, with graffiti appearing on the walls of Lebanese churches announcing that “ISIS is coming”. While in Somalia, al Shabab – which has pledged to rid the country of all Christians – murdered a number of Christians during 2014, some by beheading. These groups base such activities on verses of the Qur’an such as:
“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book (i.e. Christians or Jews), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Q9:29)
And in attacks on the Yezidis
“Fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them.” (Q9:5)
Unlike liberal Muslims, Islamists believe that these commands do not simply refer to a particular historical situation, but must still be obeyed today.
Widening geographical spread of sharia enforcement
The need to act
Each year we have seen both a wider global spread of sharia enforcement and an increase in its intensity. Both of these have led to significant suffering for non-Muslims and, indeed, for many ordinary Muslims who just want to get on with their lives. The plight of the Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Yezidis and many ordinary Muslims in the areas of Iraq and Syria now controlled by ISIS has hit world headlines. Yet their plight is simply the tip of a much wider problem that must be addressed.
As I have argued before, it is imperative that Britain takes the lead among other western countries, and makes stopping the spread of sharia enforcement a key long-term aim of its foreign policy.