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Will Iraqi Christians or Monasteries in Iraq Survive in the Aftermath of Islamic State Terrorist Group?

Christians have been unfortunate in their neighbours, suffering attacks and massacres at the hands of Persians, Muslims and even, long ago, Kurds

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The 4th century monastery of St. Matthew. ISIS fighters were four kilometers from Iraq’s oldest monastery, which houses the tomb of a saint revered by Syriac Christianity, Alfaf, Iraq, Nov. 2, 2016. (J. Dettmer/VOA)
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“Daesh were in the road, they reached the road between the two villages just down there, then they retreated, maybe two or three of their pick-ups reached there and then they went back to Bashiqa city,” says head monk Yousif Ibrahim, one of the Assyrian Orthodox priests and a guardian of the tomb of St. Matthew, or Mor Mattai, a 4th century monk revered as a saint in Syriac Christian churches.

“It was the will of our God to protect the monastery” from the Islamic State terror group, says the 42-year-old monk, who was born in Mosul, 20 kilometers away and which can be seen from the monastery, the oldest in Iraq, from its perch on the side of the rugged Mount Alfaf.

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Columns of black and white smoke are pluming from the city, especially from two of its eastern neighborhoods, which Iraqi elite forces this week managed to overrun after fierce fighting.

The monastery was founded in 363 by the hermit Mor Mattai after he fled persecution in Amid, now modern Diyarbakır, under the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. Pilgrims have traditionally come to the monastery in search of divine help. Some sleep in the room housing the tomb or near by, hoping the saint will cure an illness or bless them with a longed-for child.

The 4th century monastery of St. Matthew, Iraq, Nov. 2, 2016. (J. Dettmer/VOA)
The 4th century monastery of St. Matthew, Iraq, Nov. 2, 2016. (J. Dettmer/VOA)

For two years — from August 2014 when IS militants seized Mosul and swept across Iraq’s Nineveh plains — the seven monks of St. Matthew’s monastery refused to leave and were protected by a small detachment of Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

Four kilometers of windy road separated Daesh from the sandy-colored walls of the monastery, which houses not only the tomb of the Mor Mattai but also a library of ancient Christian manuscripts. Many precious relics, including the saint’s bones, were transported for safe-keeping to the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Irbil, an hour’s drive away.

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Even so, IS would have had a field day, no doubt, in wrecking the monastery, making it yet another victim of the relentless destruction of heritage and religious sites the terrorist group considers heretical. In Mosul, the militants reduced to rubble last year the 1,400-year-old St Elijah monastery, where the Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ’s name, were carved at the entrance.

“We have been waiting for two years for the Nineveh plains to be liberated,” says Yousif. But even when the plains have been cleared of IS militants, the head monk fears what will happen next.

Like most Christians VOA has interviewed in the last week, Yousif remains pessimistic about the future of Christianity in Iraq. “Our people are looking for a guarantee for the tragedy not to be repeated — you have to understand that our problems predate Daesh,” says Yousif.

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“When visiting Mosul even before Daesh I wouldn’t wear my religious clothes,” says the bearded monk, who, when he isn’t talking about dark things, has an infectious laugh. He points to the killing of Christians in 2006 in Mosul in a wave of sectarian violence that took also the life of his older brother. Much of the fury powering that episode of Sunni Muslim violence was in reaction to Pope Benedict XVI’s public reflections on Islam during a tour in Germany — when he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as calling Islam “evil and inhuman.”

Among other Christian victims, a Syriac Orthodox Church priest was beheaded. Yousif reflects sadly on what he sees as a long war by Muslim militants to empty Iraq and Syria of Christians. “Every period we have a different name — Taliban, al-Qaida, ISIS. Now they are talking about a new group emerging, and every generation they become crueler. Everyone knows what is happening but there is no will by the international community to defend Christianity,” he argues.

Since the second century and the origins of Christianity in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, Christians have been unfortunate in their neighbors, suffering attacks and massacres at the hands of Persians, Muslims and even, long ago, Kurds. And if geography is destiny, then it is surprising Christians are still here, but for how much longer they aren’t sure.

Iraqi battlefield success against the Islamic State terror group doesn’t mean the sectarianism of the past will be exorcised. Many people here argue an even messier war could succeed this one, with Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians battling each other in a series of micro-conflicts.

In the once down-at-heel and now wrecked Christian town of Bartilla, part of the monastery’s diocese, the population halved in the years after Saddam Hussein’s ouster and before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced his caliphate of fear.

Iraqi Christians on the outskirts of the town of Bartilla watch Iraqi military vehicles advancing. Most Christians have been blocked from visiting their homes with Iraqi military officials saying the area remains unsafe, Bartilla, Iraq, Oct. 31, 2016. (J. Dettmer/VOA)
Iraqi Christians on the outskirts of the town of Bartilla watch Iraqi military vehicles advancing. Most Christians have been blocked from visiting their homes with Iraqi military officials saying the area remains unsafe, Bartilla, Iraq, Oct. 31, 2016. (J. Dettmer/VOA)

Since the 1990s, hostility from the government of Saddam Hussein—and, since his fall, sectarian killings and bombings and an increasingly aggressive Islamist political culture—have forced more than two-thirds of Iraq’s Christian to flee overseas, to other countries in the region or Europe and the United States, slashing the population from 1.2 million to not much more than 200,000.

The Nineveh plains, the original Assyrian heartland, where many Christians speak Assyrian as their first language and Arabic their second, was experiencing an exodus despite Christian leaders earmarking the strip of land sandwiched between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan as a possible place of refuge when sectarian attacks in Basra and Baghdad mounted after the American-led invasion of Iraq.

Now they fear that a deal between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central Iraqi authorities in Baghdad, an agreement they claim the U.S. has brokered, won’t ease their plight — even though that is exactly what it is meant to do. The deal would see Christian majority territory being split between the KRG and Iraq. Many of the big towns, including Bartilla, would remain Iraqi under the plan and it would divide the diocese Yousif and his fellow monks oversee.

[bctt tweet=”Christians fear that the Christian towns and villages that remain part of Iraq will be re-populated by Sunni Muslims — possibly imperiling those Christians who remain. ” username=””]

All week, Christians have been crowding a checkpoint on the Mosul-Irbil highway trying to get permission to visit their homes in Bartilla and other Christian towns, including Qaraqosh. Iraqi soldiers are not allowing most through, saying the towns are not safe yet. But noticeably some Kurdish Shiites have been allowed to pass.

“They let others go through,” fumes 58-year-old Sami. He arrived in northern Iraq from the southern Iraqi city of Basra last month. A wine-seller, he fled after a friend, another wine-seller and hotelier, was killed. He has a family home in Qaraqosh.

Like nearly all the Christians at the checkpoint, he says none of his family will settle back in the plains unless it forms part of a protectorate guaranteed by international powers or if it becomes part of the KRG.

Abdul, aged 70, agrees, nodding vigorously. “No Christian has any life in Iraq,” he laments. He left Baghdad and headed to family properties in the plains five years ago after he paid a ransom to kidnappers to free his son. An engineer, he built two houses and a shop in Qaraqosh. He knows they have been razed but wants to salvage personal possessions left.

Asked about the future, he responds bleakly, “What can I do?”. He adds: “If there is any way for me to leave Iraq, I will. It is just impossible here.”

On the other side of the checkpoint a lot of destruction awaits these Christians when they are eventually allowed to enter.

Bartilla, a town that dates back more than 1,000 years, is full of collapsed buildings, wrecked storefronts, charred cars. Glass and spent and live cartridges litter streets, there’s unexploded ordnance too in the ruins. And in some areas groups of red flags planted by bomb-disposal teams to indicate mines and explosive devices. (VOA)

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Clerics help Pakistan pedophiles target minor Hindu, Christian girls

In a span of three years, Mian Mithoo reportedly has converted 150 girls to Islam but he insists that all the conversions are voluntary, never forced.

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Mumbai’s  Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik, president of the Islamic Research Foundation in India has defended the practice of sexual slavery. Wikimedia Commons
Mumbai’s  Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik, president of the Islamic Research Foundation in India has defended the practice of sexual slavery. Wikimedia Commons

By Ahmar Mustikhan

Pakistan pedophiles, who believe having sex with minors enhances their sexual prowess and stamina, routinely abduct minor Hindu and Christian girls, have sex and convert the girls to Islam and marry them, all within 24 hours.

Muslim clerics in the length and breadth of Pakistan aid the culprits while the parents of the victim girls have no avenue to seek justice. The rapidity with which the entire process happens shows the conversions are well orchestrated and enjoy state blessings as the culprits go scot-free.

“Is there any single day empty, when Hindu girl would not be abducted and converted? A 13-year-old girl kidnapped from Shahpur Chaker and got married to 52 year-old-man at Bharchundi Dargha,” said Hindu agriculture engineer Raj Kumar Tuesday in a Facebook post. “Descendants of Mohammed bin Qasim are to this day treating Hindu girls as if they were a war booty,” he quipped on Facebook. Qasim was a young Saudi general from Taif who attacked and defeated ruler of Sindh, Raja Dahir, in the Eighth Century.

Parents of a 13-year-old Hindu who was abducted from Shahpur Chakar and married to a 52-year-old man who already has five kids. Pir Faqeer Andul Khaliq aka Mian Mithoo of Bharchundi Sharif aided the forced conversion
Parents of a 13-year-old Hindu who was abducted from Shahpur Chakar and married to a 52-year-old man who already has five kids. Pir Faqeer Andul Khaliq aka Mian Mithoo of Bharchundi Sharif aided the forced conversion

“Where is Sindh Government and child marriage law?,” asks Dr. Jaipal Chabbria, who hails from Kandhkot town in Sindh and is the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf of former cricketer Imran Khan. “How surprising that a 13 year-old-girl is kidnapped and forcefully married to 52 year-old-person who has already five children. Who will give protection to none Muslims?”

The cleric responsible for the conversion is a former member of the National Assembly and belonged to Pakistan People’s Party when Asif Ali Zardari was president. His name is Pir Faqeer Abdul Khaliq aka Mian Mithoo from Daharki town of district Ghotki, neighboring India’s Rajasthan state.

In a span of three years, Mian Mithoo reportedly has converted 150 girls to Islam but he insists that all the conversions are voluntary, never forced.

Even as Hindus were lamenting the abduction of the 13-year-old girl from Shapur Chaker, another Hindu girl was abducted. “No single day passes without abduction of Hindu girls. One more Sorath, daughter of Heero Meghwar from District Tharparkar has been abducted,” said Hindu rights defender Shankar Meghwar

Asad Chandio, a veteran journalist who has been a leading voice against forced conversions of Hindu girls in Sindh, says Mian Mithoo’s conversion works pale in comparison to an even more dangerous cleric named Pir Ayub Jan Farooqi aka Pir Ayub Jan Sirhandi, who is from Samaro town in Umerkot district.

Also see: Ahmar Mustikhan views on Kulbhushan Yadav’s meeting with his mother and wife

“Farooqi targets Umarkot and Tharparkar, two Sindh districts where even today Hindus form 65 percent of the population. The Hindus there are the poorest among the poor like Bheel, Kohli, and Meghwar,” Chandio, who fled Pakistan after receiving death threats from both religious outfits and Pakistan secret services, said Tuesday from Houston, Texas. “Pir Farooqui has vowed that he will not rest at ease until each and every Hindu in Umarkot and Tharparkar convert to Islam,” he said.

Pir Faqeer Mian Mithoo, aka Abdul Khaliq, a former member of the National Assembly, who once belonged to the Pakistan People’s Party.
Pir Faqeer Mian Mithoo, aka Abdul Khaliq, a former member of the National Assembly, who once belonged to the Pakistan People’s Party.

Pir Farooqui heads the religious seminary called Gulzar-i-Khalil in Samara town where he religiously issues a report card each year on the number of Hindu girls and boys he has converted to Islam.

A report in the New York Times early this year said, 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, mostly underage, are taken from their families each year, converted to Islam, and married.

The Times report cited Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the Pakistan Hindu Council as saying, “So many immature girls, below the age of 18 mostly, have been kidnapped. After 15 days a (certificate of marriage) will be presented in court that the girl has of free will be converted and accepted Islam, and she has now been married.”

In some cases, the matter reaches the court system but the victims are often threatened that if they don’t say they had eloped and converted on their free volition, their entire families will be gunned down. So they tell the judge they converted on their free will. Only in rare cases, does a victim tell the court the truth about their rape.

Sindh journalist Asad Chandio, a leading voice against forced conversions of Hindus, who had to flee Pakistan after receiving death threats from the clerics and Pakistan intelligence services.
Sindh journalist Asad Chandio, a leading voice against forced conversions of Hindus, who had to flee Pakistan after receiving death threats from the clerics and Pakistan intelligence services.

When Pakistan was created by the British Raj, by dividing India, in August 1947, thirteen out of the 53 members of parliament were non-Muslims. Farahnaz Ispahani, a Pakistani scholar and aide to former president Asif Ali Zardari, in a paper titled “Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities”, writes, “At the time of partition in 1947, almost 23 per cent of Pakistan’s population was comprised of non-Muslim citizens.” That population has now gone down to three percent because of the forced conversions and intimidation to non-Muslims.

Hindus have nowhere to go
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a report said around 25 Hindu girls are converted to Islam each month—many cases never get reported. In most cases, Hindus have no door to knock for justice as Pakistani judges side with the rapist kidnappers. According to Hindu rights activist Shanker Meghwar, under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, the age for the marriage of a girl is fixed at 18 years and any person contracting  a marriage with a girl under the age of 18 commits an offence, but in the case of Hindu girls the law is silent and so are all human rights activists. “Where should the Hindus go?” Meghwar asks in a Facebook posting. “We don’t know which door to knock; we don’t know before who to cry.”

In seldom cases, a court may pass a verdict in favour of the parents, but those orders go unimplemented, Hindu rights in Pakistan say. “Our community can bear looting and the kidnapping of our men, but the abduction of our daughters and wives is too painful,” Bhagwan Das, who holds a National Assembly seat reserved for minorities, told Al Jazeera news. “Unfortunately, the frequency of these crimes is increasing due to religious extremism.”

Christians in Punjab

If minor Hindu girls are targets in Sindh, minor Christian girls are sitting ducks for the Muslim men of Punjab province. “Raping and killing the kafirs is justified in their basic Islamic ideology,” said Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) chief Bhatti, who lives in Philadelphia. He said Punjab, the stronghold of the army, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians, including their females. He adds more than 99 per cent of rape and forced marriage cases, involving Christian females, go unreported in Pakistan.

In one case of rape and abduction of a 12 year old Christian girl in Lahore, the militant organisation Lashkar-i-Taiba or “Army of the Pure,” whose main target is India, produced a nikahnama or marriage certificate, claiming that the minor girl was married to one of their members, according to the Christian Freedom International. The non-profit Movement for Solidarity and Peace, MSP, says every year between 100 to 700 Christian women, “usually between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party.”

Dr Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries for Christians where forced conversion and rape of Christian girls is taking place with impunity.
Dr Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries for Christians where forced conversion and rape of Christian girls is taking place with impunity.

In its investigative report “Forced Marriages & Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan” the MSP notes that after abduction, these Christian women are subjected to “sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse” but in court, when asked to testify before the judge, these victims give a statement in favour of their captors out of fear.

PCC’s Bhatti said these hapless girls are threatened that since they have recited the kalima, Muslim declaration of belief in Allah and Muhammad, and embraced Islam now if they dare say they are Christians they will be killed for blasphemy and apostasy.

Islam and sex with minors, sex slaves

Apparently, Pakistan pedophiles have Islamic history on their side. After ISIS fighters overran Yazidi villages in Iraq’s Sinjar region, the USA Today quoted the ISIS as saying, “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

Mumbai’s  Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik, president of the Islamic Research Foundation in India, defends the practice of sexual slavery. Zakir Naik, who got 135,000-pound sterling reward from Saudi King Salman, explains at the time of the Prophet Muhammad Muslims were allowed to have sex with captured slave girls and women – the spoils of war – without marriage. “There are many verses in the Quran which say that you can have sex with those who are your wives and what your right-hand possesses,” Naik said on his Peace TVexplaining “right-hand possesses” meant girl and women slaves.

Islamic historians admit during Muhammad’s days, there were quite a few wars or jihad that the Prophet personally launched against the Jews and infidels to spread Islam.  For example, in the Battle of Khaybar, a beautiful Jewish teenager named Safiyya bint Huyay, 17, whose husband and father were slaughtered by Muhammad’s army was captured as a sex slave by a Muslim soldier but the Prophet later took her custody and married her. The Prophet then took Safiyya, his newest bride, to Medina on his camelback.

Since marriages and having sex slaves is recognized in the Quran, men in the “fortress of Islam,” Pakistan, apparently have no qualms when it comes to forcibly abducting, raping and “marrying” minor Hindu and Christian girls even though Pakistan law prohibits marriage of any girl under 18.

Mir Salim Sanai, a Sindhi nationalist activist based in Germany, said victims of forced marriages are not limited to under-age non-Muslims but are also common in the case of minor Muslim girls in Sindh. However, in these latter cases, the girls are not abducted and the parents do consent to their child’ marriage.

(The author is a veteran Baloch journalist. He is also the founder and president of the non-profit American Friends of Balochistan)