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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Open Letter to President Obama about Christmas Bells Falling Silent in the Middle East

Dear President Obama,

in your recent  statement on persecuted Christians at Christmas you stated:
In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL.
When you say that ‘church bells have rung for centuries’ you are not speaking the truth.  Bells have rung in Syria and Iraq for not much more than a hundred years, at most.

As determined by Islamic law, church bells did not sound throughout the middle East for more than a thousand years from the 7th century conquests until modern times (except under the Crusaders).  This was due to the conditions set by the Pact of the Caliph Umar, by which Christians of Syria surrendered to Islamic conquest in the 7th century AD.  In this pact the Christians agreed that “We will not sound the bells in our churches.”  Churches in regions controlled by Muslims used semantrons (also called nakos) instead of the forbidden church bells.  Examples of these are still visible in Jerusalem to this day, e.g. see here.

The pact of Umar is an example of what is known as a dhimma pact.  Christians living in regions conquered by Islam were known as dhimmis.  As dhimmis they were not permitted to display their religion in public.  The silence of the bells was just one of many restrictions imposed upon Christians by Islamic law.

Nakos (gong) outside St James Church in Jerusalem
Hamas, when it took control of Gaza, also re-implemented dhimma conditions over Christians, and ISIL has now done the same in regions it controls.

The silence of church bells for more than a thousand years across the Middle East bears witness to the conquest and long-standing suppression of Christian societies under Islamic rule.  Recent genocidal attacks on Christians by ISIL are sadly but the end-stage of a long series of abuses.  They are the culmination of an historical process, not a departure from it.

President Obama, it is good that you have desired to speak up for persecuted Christians, but when you do so, please speak the truth.  Please do not whitewash history, because to do so partners with abuse.


Dr Mark Durie, BA, BTh, DipTh, PhD, FAHA
27 December 2015

Mark Durie is a theologian, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom.


  1. Excellent post. And thank you for writing The Third Choice. Best single book on Islam I've ever read.

  2. Ironic, is it not, that it was basically the much demonised "colonial period" (and by that I mean western colonial period not the nigh millenium of Islamic colonialism and Imperialism) that brought about greater religious freedom for the M.E.'s Christians.

  3. Obama repeatedly makes up facts to suit whatever his agenda is. He has said almost nothing about the Christian persecution in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, even before ISIS. And very few persecuted Christian Syrians will be among the Syrian refugees coming to the US soon. Thank you for at least setting this straight.

  4. In my humble opinion...I surmise that informative articles such as this are only rad by the choir. It should be on the front page of major media newspapers, front page of periodicals and on the evening news. The many statements made by obama that fall somewhere between totally false and a hint of truth are many. His comment that islam has always been a part of American History, to his comments about keeping your own Dr., and everything in between. I am appreciative Of Dr. Duire's comments here...but I would appreciate it even more if read it in a headline of the NY Times!

  5. I hear you Brother Durie. I really appreciate how you speak truth in a gentle, yet powerful and profound way. You really come across as wanting to put Truth on the center stage. Please continue to encourage us with your books and such. The work you are doing is important to this generation and future ones I am sure. Thank you.


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