Kristallnacht: The end of Christianity in Iraq


July 24, 2014
Kristallnacht: The end of Christianity in Iraq
by Jesse Johnson

When Friday came around, residents awoke to an Arabic 'N' spray-painted on the houses, property, and farms of all suspected Christians.When the world’s attention shifted to Ukraine and Israel last week, the Islamic leaders in Iraq capitalized on the distraction. For weeks the functional government in central Iraq (ISIS) had told Christians they had to make one of four choices by this past Saturday: forfeit thier property as a “Christian” tax, convert to Islam, leave, or die. But a week ago ISIS revised their list, and said paying the “tax” was no longer an option.

When Friday came around, residents awoke to an Arabic “N” spray-painted on the houses, property, and farms of all suspected Christians. The government had come during the night to demonstrate that they knew who the Christians were, and the spray-painted N’s were a not-so-subtle reminder that the deadline to convert, flee, or die was only 24 hours away.

Why the N? Because in Arabic Christians are often simply called Nazarenes. And when this week began, so did the flight of the Nazarenes. All Christians were forced out of central Iraq, including Mosul, an historic city with several churches 1700 years old. One church there had practiced communion every Lord’s Day for 1,600 years…until last Sunday.

As Christians left Mosul, ISIS set up checkpoints outside the city, robbing the fleeing masses (although ISIS points out they weren’t robbing them, but by their law they had a right to “confiscate” all of their property as part of their Christian tax).

An ISIS check point looking for fleeing Christians.

ISIS controls much of central Iraq and Syria. According the New York Times, which had a reporter embedded with ISIS, they took a church in Syria and converted it into a theater to show films of suicide attacks.

Ten yeas ago, Iraq had about 1.4 million people who identified as Christians and 300 different registered churches. Today there are only 50 churches left, and the number of Christians is probably closer 140,000 than 1.4 million. There are almost zero Christians left in Central Iraq, which used to be a hub of historic Christianity.

This decline not only signals an end to a Christian presence in central Iraq, but it also marks a profound turning point for Islam, which for over 1,000 years had as its goal the establishment of an Islamic state in the cradle of the Euphrates River. Despite their intense effort, the possibility of completely eradicating crosses and churches from the area never seemed like a real possibility, until now.

In fairness, the Shari’a Law form of Islam that has now gripped Iraq is not looked upon favorably by most Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, or Turkey. So ISIS seems hedged in geographically. But it is the form of Islam embraced in much of Africa and Asia, especially in Pakistan. It is violent, and has as its goal the complete obliteration of Christians.

Christians fleeing Mosul on Saturday

The term Christian in Iraq is used to cover a small percentage of Roman Catholics, some Baptists, and some Orthodox Christians (very similar to Egyptian Christianity). But most of the churches were Assyrian Orthodox, which trace their roots to before the schism in Europe between East and West; in other words, they predated the Rome split from Constantinople, thus are not affiliated with either group.

And for that reason, this devastation of Christians does not garner much attention in the Western media. Many Evangelicals are slow to sympathize because they think “those people in Iraq are Christians by ethnicity, not by faith.” I’ve heard some believers say that as a way to guard their hearts—as if to think, “I don’t need to be grieved by what is happening there, because they don’t believe the same gospel I do.”

But remember, ISIS doesn’t understand nuances of Christian theology. They are not distinguishing between Catholics, Assyrians, Orthodox and Baptists. They are persecuting people who meet for worship in churches with crosses on the wall. They are exiling and executing those who at prayer time do not bow on rugs facing Mecca. They are killing people who refuse to say that Mohammad is greater than Jesus.

For the most part, the US government has remained silent about the elimination of Christianity in a place that was under American control only a few years ago. Ostensibly this is because drawing attention to the persecution there would only increase ISIS’ publicity, and make life even harder for Christians there (although it is difficult to imagine how that could possibly be the case). There are also obviously political and philosophical factors in play as well. The result though is that an entire religious group woke up last week to find a letter sprayed on their property, and then had only a day to flee for their lives or be slaughtered.

What can Christians do? There are several missions organizations in Turkey that minister to these Christian refugees (like this one, for example). We can give to those groups, we can give to missionaries who are trying to reach the Muslim world, and we can train up missionaries and send them to this part of the world. We can support political strategy that can protect religious freedom. But mostly, we can grieve that part of the church is under profound and unprecedented attack, and be moved to pray that the Lord would use this for his glory.

Pray that even in this persecution, many people would come to faith in Jesus.

21 responses to “Kristallnacht: The end of Christianity in Iraq

  1. It is just crazy to me that this is the first time hearing about this. The media is more interested in petty celebrity gossip than in real life issues.

  2. Because I am Christian, this story was just to much for me. I am going to leave this one alone.

  3. this is ridiculous
    what do these people gain from things like this?

  4. I don’t think you should have to be Christian to feel for the Christians being targeted by ISIS. Any decent human should feel disgusted that non-harmful people are being attacked based on religion. Yet, the same should be said for Islam. Islam as a whole should not be attacked. If we are going to say that Muslims are attacking Christians in Iraq, we better clarify exactly who mean by Muslims. We are talking about ISIS. A faction. Not the Muslim-Americans being attacked by fellow Americans just for being Muslim. ISIS members are Muslims. But not all Muslims are ISIS members.

  5. Throughout the Jewish history described in the Bible, believers have encountered different levels of persecutions from other people. But do Christians always need persecutions to test their faith and make them stronger believers? I am a Christian, and I doubt that I will ever have the courage to step into the border of an Islamic country, let alone living there as a missionary. I urge that people learn to agree to disagree, and it’s time for a prayer to the Christian missionaries in Islamic territories.

  6. To be given an option to give up money, change your religion, die or leave a place where you live is ridiculous. How can someone be killed because of their religion? Stuff like this make you feel more grateful of our freedom in America.

  7. I had no idea that the Muslims were killing people from Iraq because of their beliefs. I don’t think anyone should be killed for what they believe in. That’s not right. I am a strong Christian and if I was killed because of my beliefs then, so be it but, I don’t think the Muslims should be the one to start the killings because they want everyone to be a part of their religion.

  8. I honestly did not even know that Christianity was practiced in Iraq. I couldn’t imagine walking up to basically a death sentence on your door, just because of ones’ religion.

  9. I am a proud christian and i detest to hear what they are doing to innocent lives. It breaks my heart to know that no one is really helping them out. This reminds me of the holocaust and you know what say….History repeats it self. Now why is the media more worried on Kim Kardashian’s relationship with her husband than this tragedy!? How can the U.S go about their day knowing this and not really doing anything to better the situation. Now i understand this can cause a big conflict and end up in war if the U.S decides to do something but aren’t we child’s of God ? What if the roles were switched, wouldn’t be want help from the land of the free?

  10. This really made me take a step back and be thankful for the freedom I have lived through the years. It is known that freedom of religion is a big issue in America, but I did not know this was going on in other countries too. It’s upsetting knowing that people in Iraq are being punished by choosing or following the Christianity religion. It saddens me even more to know that the government in Iraq was supporting and were the ones ultimately behind it.

  11. This piece of new is eye opening. This made me be more grateful of the freedom that I have lived. Knowing that in Iraq there are Christians that are discriminated to a point of intolerance. The practice of their faith is what upsets the government. This people actually have some guts to face political and social power without changing their religion. It is also impacting that this is the kind of news that are not presented to the public.

  12. It’s sad to see what things are happening in other parts of the world. This reminds me of the holocaust, what a shame! People deserve the right to believe in whatever they choose. Many people want the US to get involved, but that is a big step. Although ISIS is in the wrong, we cannot go start a battle over something that is none of our business. War will break loose, and the population is going to be complaining about us being at war. MORE innocent lives will be lost.

  13. This is truly sad to see, and i feel that a lot of people don’t even know things like this are going on in the world because they’re so ignorant. Just like my classmate Angela Chavez points out, i do feel that here in the states we take freedom of religion for granted. People are being killed in other countries for practicing a religion that they feel isn’t fit for them. These religious wars are real in the world today and people really need to get into this and really educate themselves rather than being so blind to it.

  14. This article is disheartening. As Americans, I believe that a lot of us take freedom of religion for granted. We have become complacent and as long as we are not directly threatened, it doesn’t apply. I must say that i did not realize there were such a large number of Christians in Iraq. It is a travesty to be brutalized because of a faith choice.

  15. It is upsetting to see that people are having their religious rights provoked simply because a group of people do not like their religion of choice. What’s shocking (not really) is that US government does not want to shed light on this topic. Although they say that it draws attention and could possibly make life even harder for Christians there Johnson, the author, said ” It is difficult to imagine how that could possibly be the case.” This is very true. These people are already suffering as it is, so instead of keeping the public blind to this cause there should to be something done.

  16. It’s very upsetting to hear about people who are and have been innocently practicing their faith for so many years be kicked out of their home and robbed on the way out. It’s a shame that these kinds of things happen in the world when you’d think we should all love each other because we are all the same inside and we only have each other. I hope for the best for those Christians and I respect their courage to keep their faith.

  17. I am glad that America has freedom of religion unlike Iraq. Image if we did not established this law after the revolution, very single state would be at war with each other. The world will become a better place if people have alienable rights like the US.

  18. When I read about dark events of this magnitude I am reminded of how blessed our country truly is. I hope that these men and women are able to find safety and religious freedom.

  19. Priscilla K. Cornejo

    So when I read this it got me so mad but in a way I’m not shocked because the world in general doesn’t seem to allow us people our religious freedom. It seems little by little we can’t believe in what we want without being ostracized by someone. And the simple fact that the government are the ones responsible for doing this only makes me furious that people have to be killed because they are Christians.

  20. This is a tragedy to see so many Christians being forced to leave their homes because of their religions. The fact that the government were the ones who initiated this movement is saddening and frustrating at the same time. They had no choice but to either leave or be killed which is extremely unfair.

  21. Reading about this was truly shocking I know that part of the world was dominated by Islam but I did not know that Christianity was not accepted and looked at with hate. I also found it correct that our media does not tell us about this problem this is my first time hearing about this topic. It is sad to know that the Christian population wend down in a great number and that churches are being shut down whatever happened to religious freedom ?

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