Speaking Out on a Human Rights Tragedy

My father’s family were Hungarian Jews from the town of Tiszafured in the eastern plains of the country. My grandmother, Beata, was born in 1884, the fourth or fifth of six siblings. Beata left the sleepy countryside of Hungary in 1900 and ventured to the “new world” of America, where she lived the rest of her life.

All of the other brothers and sisters remained in Hungary; they married and had children. In 1944, the Nazis rounded up the Jews of Tiszafured (and the rest of Hungary), marked their clothes with a Star of David, and herded them into cattle-car trains to Auschwitz.

Somewhere on the 275-mile journey through Slovakia into southern Poland my five uncles and aunts, their spouses, and all but two of their children were killed. Perhaps they made it all the way to Auschwitz. But there they exited the trains and were shot or gassed to death.

All because they were Jews … marked by a Star of David on their clothes as an identifier.

Last week in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq another group of people were “marked,” or at least the outside of their homes were marked. The letter “n” in Arabic was written on the homes of Christians living in the city.

These Christian families were told that they had four options: 1. Convert to Islam; 2. Pay a “poll tax” (jizya, as described in the Koran) 3. Leave the city within 72 hours and leave all their possessions behind; or 4. Be executed. Reports today are that there are no Christians left in Mosul, a city which has been inhabited by Christians for at least 1,600 years.

I would like you to consider a hypothetical situation and think about what your reaction would be to it. Imagine that you live in Nashville, Tennessee. Some 35 miles southeast of your city is the town of Murfreesboro, population 118,000.

Murfreesboro is unique because it is now home to the largest Kurdish Muslim population in the United States. Kurds, along with Muslims from other cultures and countries, comprise 10 to 20% of the local population.

Now imagine if you are watching the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and the top story began like this:

“In Murfreesboro, Tennessee today the local government marked the homes of all Muslims with an M. All Muslims and their families were told they have 3 days to do one of the following:

  1. Become Christian, in the manner of certain Americans;
  2. Pay an annual “surcharge” tax of 10% of their income to remain Muslim and be “protected” by the Christian majority;
  3. Leave Murfreesboro within 3 days and leave all possessions behind;
  4. Be arrested and brought to a state prison to be placed on death row to be executed.

What would your response be as you sat in your living room watching the nightly news?

I would be horrified, and I would do everything in my power for this to never happen. I would call politicians, I would contact Christian friends in Tennessee and beg them to protest these heinous acts by the local and state government.

In recent days The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has declared itself the governing body of parts of northern Iraq and eastern Syria. They have re-instated the Caliph (which was abolished in 1923) and are forcing people to live under a type of Sharia Law.

One part of the Qu’ran being interpreted by ISIS is Sura 9, which states:

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, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Sura 9:29)

Some militant Islamic groups, including ISIS, interpret this to mean that only those people who are submitted to Allah (God) as Muslims and confess that Islam is the only “religion of Truth” are saved from this threat in the Qu’ran.

The “People of the Book” in the Qu’ran are Christians and Jews, and Sura 9:29 seems to be saying that even these people must pay the Jizya (tax) “with willing submission.” This is in contradiction to several other verses in the Qu’ran which says that “People of the Book” should be treated with respect and honor.

Clearly, ISIS is basing its actions on Sura 9:29, rather than taking all of the Qu’ran into account.

The even greater offense of these actions is that human and civil rights are being trampled on by ISIS. Regardless of your religious beliefs (Jewish, Muslim, Christian Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, etc.), it is always wrong and an utter moral failure when a person’s life is at risk if they choose not to believe a certain way. The actions of ISIS are an offense to all of humanity, not only to the Christians of Mosul.

We must respond to this tragedy. To remain silent violates our own humanity, regardless of our faith traditions (or lack thereof). Here are four ways we can respond:

  1. Love Muslims. Yes, you read that correctly. It is so easy to typecast an entire religion or people group because of their radical fringe. ISIS does not represent most Muslims; they represent a a fanatical subset. We must not label people terrorists because a minority of people in their religion are crazy;
  2. Speak Out. While it is very doubtful that these radicals will listen to any government or United Nations agency, we can still contact government officials and the U.N. and ask them to intervene. This will be through “back channels,” but there are ways that communication can and must happen;
  3. Pray for Safety. Thousands and thousands of Christians in Iraq have become displaced in the past weeks because of the ISIS fanatics. If you are a person of faith (and of prayer), pray for the safety of these Christians. The Christian population in the Middle East is declining at an alarming rate. It is crucial for the peace of countries in that region to have a “Gospel of Jesus” voice.
  4. Look Inside. Jesus told his disciples to remove the plank from their own eyes before pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye. We all have prejudices, and many religious people believe that “our religion is the best,” or “we own the Truth.” Few of us are radicalized like ISIS is, but many of us want people to believe and behavior the way we feel is “right.” That is a plank in our own eyes and we do well to remove it.

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