After his family were chased out of Tabqa by ISIS, one Christian man remained defiant in the face of torture and persecution.
Jabra Kaboud, also known as Abu Rubeen, is a resident of Tabqa, a city just to the west of Raqqa, the former de facto capital of ISIS’ so-called “Islamic State” within Syria. Unlike the rest of his family, who evaded ISIS rule by escaping to Aleppo in the north of the country, while others fled all the way to Europe, Abu Rubeen remained in his hometown despite the hardships he faced under ISIS rule.
Abu Rubeen, like most other individuals belonging to ethno-religious minority groups, was treated as a second-class citizen simply for his identity, due to the discriminatory policies enacted by ISIS once they took over territories with populations that did not fit neatly into their totalitarian ideology. The Hisba, ISIS’ “morality” police, dished out punishments indiscriminately to vulnerable people like Abu Rubeen, as he goes on to describe:
“They whipped me in my home and in the Hisba [Morality Police] headquarters. Then they took me to Raqqa Prison, where I stayed for 7 days. All of this was because I was Christian.”
ISIS’ corrupted and severe interpretation of Islam and Islamic jurisprudence led the group to question all those who did not conform to their strict interpretation. This put individuals from minority groups in the limelight as they became the easiest targets for the terrorist group. Abu Rubeen, nevertheless, proved to be more above the interpretation laid out by ISIS as he describes his court proceedings:
“I know more Quran by heart than ISIS does. They put me on trial in front of a special judge [who deals with] Ahlul Dhimma [non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection]. I was able to win my case in front of many people. I was able to respond to him using Quranic verses. He would say “why don’t you convert to Islam?”, and I responded with: “You do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills.” [28:56 Quran] and “do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best” [29:46 Quran].”
As Abu Rubeen stands alone in front of the heavily damaged Church in Tabqa’s Third District, the future of Christians in Syria is bleak considering the enormous outflow of Christians from the country following the damage done by ISIS and other extremist groups in the country. Nevertheless, some communities have remained steadfast and are living in stable conditions, as Syria looks forward to its post-ISIS future.