An unprecedented Christian exodus is sweeping across the Middle East as the Islamic State continues to target the religious minority in deadly attacks, a trend that could see their population dwindle to a record low.
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If the record-breaking Christian exodus continues, the proportion of Christians could drop to only 3 percent of the Middle East's population by 2025, while they used to make up 13.6 percent of the population in the region. Their exodus raises fears that radical groups will flourish in the region, Newsmax reports.
"The disappearance of such minorities sets the stage for more radical groups to dominate in society," according to Todd Johnson, the director of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's Center for the Study of Global Christianity. "Religious minorities, at the very least, have a moderating effect."
As of now, Islam is still the main religion in the Middle East, and clashes between rival sects under the same faith have led many to fear that violence will continue to reign in the region. Another factor leading to the Christian exodus is the existence of laws that discriminate against the religious minority, such as the ones forbidding them from rebuilding their churches.
On May 12, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Chaldean Catholic Church issued a joint statement calling for the establishment of a safe zone for persecuted Christians. The leaders of the three main Iraqi churches want that safe zone to be protected by the international community, Rudaw reports.
The joint statement was released after Shiite cleric Ali Mousavi made a public announcement declaring Iraqi Christians as "infidels." He said the Christians in the country who still have not converted to Islam must pay the jizya tax or depart from the Muslim areas.
In addition, Mousavi called for the implementation of jihad to pressure the Christians into embracing Islam or paying the jizya tax. This statement drew widespread condemnation among Christian communities.