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The Unmourned Exodus

Some of the world???s most ancient Christian communities are found in the Arab world. Sadly, however, religious persecution has forced many Christians to flee the West Asia and seek refuge in Europe and America. In recent years, the numbers of people leaving their homeland has increased exponentially particularly in Syria and Iraq. In their host countries as well as more generally, it is often forgotten that the Eastern churches are very different from their European counterparts. Some years ago when I first arrived in Syria I went to the shrine of Sayyidah Zainab, the Prophet’s grand-daughter and the daughter of Imam Hussain, which is in the suburbs of Damascus. At night, on the way back to the old city, I couldn’t find the right bus until a tall gaunt man asked if he could help. I asked him to tell me which minibuses went to Souq al-Hamidiyyah, one of the oldest markets in the old city. He told me where to wait and then said he would stay with me until the right bus came. He spoke broken English and I replied in broken Arabic having just begun my classes at the university there. It transpired that he was a Christian refugee from Mosul where he had been a basketball coach. He said that he had come to pray at the shrine of Sayyidah Zainab since she too was forcibly brought to Damascus, albeit as a prisoner and not as a refugee not that there is much difference between the two. He was on his way to London while his wife, whom he had not heard from for two weeks, was also headed to London but via Helsinki.Today there has been another exodus from Mosul as well as many other Christian communities in other parts of Iraq as well as Syria. Most recently this has been because of a frightening announcement by ISIS that Iraqi Christians need to either pay jizya, protection money to the tune of nearly $400 per month per person or convert. If neither option is taken then offenders will be killed. To identify them, ISIS foot soldiers have gone around painting the letter ‘No



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