A new video of the twelve Christian nuns kidnapped in Syria recently appeared. In it, the nuns are taped sitting in a room and being questioned by an unseen man, presumably a member of the kidnappers. He asks them how they are, if they’ve been mistreated, etc.
They respond that they are being treated fine, that they very much look forward to being returned to their convent, that they heartily thank the world for its concern, and that they continually pray that God grant peace to all nations.
Their words say one thing, their expressions and demeanor another. Put differently, as female captives of Islamic jihadis, what else could they say but what they were told to say? Even if one of them dared to say the “wrong thing,” it naturally would have been edited out. Who knows how many takes it took to get the video—which includes a bizarre clip of the nuns having a snowball fight with their abductors—just right?
One thing, however, although minor, speaks volumes concerning the nature of their captivity. Although these same nuns, in pictures before they were kidnapped, often appear wearing the large pectoral crosses that nuns often wear, these are all gone in the recent video.
This is to be expected, considering the “pious” nature of their captors. According to strict Islamic teaching, Christians and other non-Muslims are forbidden to show any signs or expressions of their “polytheism” (shirk in Arabic). Indeed, this is spelled out clearly in the Conditions of Omar, which mainstream Muslim teaching attributes to the second caliph of the same name.
After the seventh century armies of Islam conquered a particular Christian region—possibly and ironically in Syria—Omar stipulated several conditions for Christians to accept, including “Not to display a cross on them [churches], nor raise our voices during prayer or readings in our churches anywhere near Muslims; Not to produce a cross or [Christian] book in the markets of the Muslims” (see Crucified Again, pgs. 24-27 for my new translation of the entire text of the Conditions of Omar).
From here we understand the true plight of the captive nuns: to their captors, not only are the Christian women hostages to be used for leverage, but ideologically speaking, they are “infidel” inferiors—near sub-humans who are more akin to animals. Indeed, the same Caliph Omar whom Syria’s jihadis are hearkening to regarding the ban on Christian crosses is also on record saying that the life of a non-Muslim is equal to the life of a dog (Western readers should bear in mind that in Arab/Muslim culture, dogs are among the lowest life forms.)
As such, the plight of the kidnapped nuns remains precarious—all their scripted words aside. (See here for more on the history of Islamic jihad on Christian nuns.)
As for the effects of removing the nuns’ crosses, an Arabic column by one Father George makes an interesting point highlighting the difference between outwardly observant “Salafi” Muslims, presumably like the kidnappers—with their beards and prayer callouses on their heads—and inwardly observant Christians like these nuns:
St Paul says, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). You removed the cross from the nuns’ breasts. Remove it! We do not rely on the visible. But know that the cross is firmly planted in the hearts of each and every one of those nuns.