Islamists set ‘gold levy’ on Syrian Christians

A radical Islamist group fighting in Syria has ordered Christians to pay a ‘gold levy’ to continue living in areas it now controls.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), one of the most extreme rebel groups battling the forces of President Bashar al Assad has announced that Christians in the eastern city of Raqqa must each pay 17 grams of gold in order to live in peace there. The group has cited ‘dhimma’, the ancient Islamic system of restriction on non-Muslims within Islamic societies, largely obsolete today.

In addition to the payment, ISIL has reportedly ordered the Christian community to cease ringing bells at churches, to remove religious symbols from public display, not to undertake repairs to church buildings and to avoid praying openly.

Despite its gains in recent months and the moves to impose strict Islamic rule in the areas now held, ISIL is coming under increasing pressure in Syria. Made up of largely foreign members who fought previously in Iraq, the group is deeply unpopular with Syrians and has even been disavowed and ordered to leave the country by the al Qaeda leadership. At the same time, the al Nusra Front, another radical group – more acceptable to al Qaeda – has threatened ISIL with annihilation if it does not cease attacks on other rebel groups and enter into talks with them.