An ISIS statement read from the city’s mosques on July 18, gave the few remaining Christians in Mosul a stark ultimatum—stay and convert, pay Islamic tax (more than most families can afford) or leave. “If they refuse this, they will have nothing but the sword.”
According to Middle East Concern, an association of Christian rights agencies with operations in the Middle East, vehicles passed through Mosul with loudspeakers, announcing that all Christians had until noon on Friday to leave the city “or else face execution.”
Early that week, ISIS marked houses belonging to members of minority communities, including Christians, with the phrase “property of the Islamic State.” Since the July 18 edict, most Christians have now fled Mosul for the neighboring autonomous region of Kurdistan. “Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Irbil,” Patriarch Louis Sako told the AFP news agency. “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” he added.
At the ISIS checkpoints, Christians had to leave everything behind (cars, gold, money, mobile phones). The ISIS only allowed them to keep their clothes. They were forced to walk in the blistering heat to safer places, mostly in northern Iraq. A World Watch Monitor source in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, said a Christian family in Mosul reported by phone that explosions were heard on Thursday, July 17, in Mosul. On Friday, as the family attempted to pass through a Mosul checkpoint, ISIS agents forced them out of their car, confiscated their belongings and put them in a separate vehicle. The militants drove them several minutes down the road before forced them out to continue their journey on foot, according to the source.
Dr. David Curry, President/CEO of Open Doors USA, has condemned this latest action of Islamic State militants who issued the order for all Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul to leave the city over the weekend or face execution. “The persecution and treatment of Christians in Mosul is unprecedented in modern times,” he says. “This latest forced exodus of Christians further shows why Western governments and the people in the West need to cry out in support for religious freedom in the Middle East and elsewhere.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Director of Interfaith Affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, adds, “Too many of us thought that forced conversions and expulsions of entire religious communities were part of a distant, medieval past. There was little that we could do to stop this horrible episode. It is not too late to realize that many others—Christians today, but certainly Jews, Baha’i, Hindus, Muslims and others—are mortally endangered by a potent religious fanaticism that threatens tens of millions, and which still can be resisted.”
Open Doors reports that some churches, many in partnership with Open Doors, responded rapidly as Christians fled Mosul. Raja*, herself a refugee from Mosul, is now helping in the refugee relief program supported by Open Doors. She told us, “Shortly after the occupation of Mosul, refugees started coming to our church. When it was time to distribute the relief packages, the families quickly gathered around us. It was overwhelming. I saw the desperate faces of the old men and the mothers that came to collect their food, and I felt so sorry for them.”
One Open Doors fieldworker said, “The exodus has stopped. There are no more Christians in Mosul. We now need to pray that they might return one day.”
Father, our true home is in heaven with You; we are all pilgrims and wanderers in this world. We pray today for the Christians of Mosul to know this truth in more profound ways than many have ever known before. Comfort them in their homelessness, and in the loss of all their worldly goods. Provide shelter and food. Cast out fear and loneliness and despair. Grant daily hope and courage to face their trying circumstances in the strength of Your Spirit who dwells in them. Sustain them with spiritual food from Your Word. You have promised never to leave us or forsake us; remind them daily that You are with them. Encourage them with Your Word from the Psalmist David, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? … If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” In the name of Jesus, our sure presence and hope in all our circumstances, Amen.
Open Doors works in the world’s most oppressive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ’s light in these dark places.