Almost every day we read and hear about the brutality against Christians perpetrated by a group of Islamic fanatics who call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The group is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The brutality of ISIS was displayed recently by the beheading of the American journalist James Foley. Foley’s graphic execution was made available through a video that was widely watched on the Internet.
ISIS’s goal is to establish an Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq. They also want to exterminate Christianity in the Arab world, which they consider to be an enemy of Islam.
Christians have lived in Syria and Iraq since the inception of Christianity. They lived in what was known as the land of Mesopotamia at least six hundred years before the birth of Islam. Today, those Christians who live in the new Islamic State face persecution and possible extinction.
The Islamic State is forcing Christians to leave the city of Mosul. ISIS is beheading men, women, and children. Their soldiers are taking women to be their concubines. They are destroying Christian churches while the world is watching.
Those who have organized the Islamic State are not willing to coexist with Christians. Although Christians have lived in Iraq for centuries, this brand of fanatics are anti-Christians and against Western culture.
But this persecution of Christians is going on not only in Iraq and Syria. A growing number of Christians are fleeing Iran because of persecution. In Africa Islamic jihadis burn Bibles, destroy Christian symbols, and persecute believers.
Persecution of Christians is happening in Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born. According to a recent report, “the Christian population of Bethlehem went from a 60 percent majority in 1990 to a 40 percent minority in 2000, to about 15 percent of the city’s total population today.”
The struggle between Christianity and Islam is centuries old. Islam has a tendency to convert Christian churches into mosques. A classic example is Hagia Sophia, the church in Istanbul that once was the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. When the Ottoman empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia became a mosque.
Mosques were regularly built on places where Christian and Jewish sanctuaries existed. When the Muslims conquered Spain, the great cathedral of Córdoba was converted into a mosque. The traditional place where Jesus celebrated the Lord’s Supper with his disciples in Jerusalem was converted to a mosque. The place where the temple of Solomon was built, today is the place where the Al-Aqsa mosque is located.
All this history was brought to mind when I was looking on Netflix for a movie to watch. By chance I came to an Italian-Polish movie called “The Day of the Siege: September Eleven 1683.”
The movie is about the Siege of Vienna. The battle for Vienna occurred on September 11, 1683 when Ottoman Turks besieged Vienna on their way to conquer Christian Europe. The Turks were commanded by Kara Mustafa (played by Enrico Lo Verso).
Mustafa’s army had 300,000 soldiers. He left Istanbul and marched to Vienna with an intent to convert every church in Vienna into a mosque. Once that was done, he was planning to go to Rome and convert St. Peter’s Basilica into a mosque.
In “The Day of the Siege,” Kara Mustafa is opposed by a simple monk, Father Marco d’Aviano (played by F. Murray Abraham). Father Marco was able to convince the Austrian king to allow the Polish king, King Jan III Sobieski (played by Jerzy Skolimowski), to join in the defense of Vienna and save Christian Europe from the Turks.
The Christian army was greatly outnumbered by the Turks (they had about 30,000 soldiers), but Father Marco encouraged the Europeans to fight for their faith and save Christianity in Europe. The Siege of Vienna ended with a great victory for the Europeans.
I liked the movie. I will not tell you more about the plot of the movie because I do not want to spoil it for you with more details. You will probably enjoy the movie too.
What is so sad is that the same thing that happened on the day of the great siege is happening today. Lives are being lost because people are using the name of God to kill people who believe in God.
Since you have not seen the movie, I will not give much detail of what I believe was one of the best scenes of the movie. It was the occasion when Kara Mustafa met Father Marco face to face. Mustafa said that his God would give him the victory. Father Marco said that the true God would give his people the victory. What happened next is what I will not tell you.
If you are planning to watch a movie this weekend, watch “The Day of the Siege: September Eleven 1683.” If you watch this movie, you will discover that 9/11 has happened more than once.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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