The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) released a document last week demanding a "protection payment," or "Aqed al-Thima," from the Syrian Christian population, according to Fox News, leading to concerns that the rebel forces have been "mining" Christian communities in the embattled country for gold.
The pact was reached with 20 Christian leaders and ISIS, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, in the northern town of Raqqa, according to the report. The two-page document could not be independent verified but has nonetheless raised concerns about the ongoing threats to Christian communities in Syria and across the Middle East.
“It underscores that fact that, as a Christian, you are left with the choice between siding with a dictator or siding with the rebels,” Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which advocates for Christians in the States and in the Middle East, told Fox. “If the Civil War ends, what will stop them from being in danger from extremists?”
“This is the difficult choice that they [Christians in Syria] face—try to survive or lose your faith and die or side with a dictator whose crimes have repulsed the world?”
Under the strict Islamic Sharia doctrine, non-Muslims living under their sovereignty must pay a special tax -- known as the "Jizyah" -- in return for the ruler's protection, or “Thima.”
The amount was set at "four golden dinars," saying each is worth 4.25 grams (0.15 ounce). It said the middle class would pay half of what the rich pay, while the poor would pay only "one golden dinar." Payments could be made in annual installments.
In addition to agreeing on payment for protection, the Christian leaders in Raqqa reportedly agreed to refrain from refurbishing churches or monasteries in Raqqa, to hold back all religious symbols, such as displaying crosses in public or using loudspeakers in prayer, adhering to a "modest" dress code and refraining from trading in pork meat and alcohol and drinking it in public.
It has been charged by many that Christians in the Middle East are in grave danger, particularly in the current unrest since the so-called "Arab Spring" unrest began.
Christians have been caught in the crossfire of Syria's war. On December 2, Syrian rebels captured the historic Christian town of Maalula, reportedly kidnapping 12 nuns. Meanwhile Islamist rebels publicly beheaded a Catholic priest in July, in the northern Syrian town Idlib.
One Christian leader told BBC that a third of Syria's Christians have fled the country, joining the 2.2 million refugees of the bloody conflict.