IRBIL — Dozens of Yazidis captured during the Islamic State’s sweep into the northwestern Iraqi city of Sinjar have been shown converting to Islam in a video released by the extremist group.
The video shows a group of about 60 men gathered in a hall listening intently to an Islamic State imam as he extols the virtues of Islam. Another scene shows the men praying in a mosque. Then the slickly produced video switches back to the hall, and two of the men are seen accepting the embrace of the imam, and holding up their index fingers, a gesture of solidarity adopted by the Islamic State.
In an interview, the imam says the conversions are genuine.
“I give you the glad tidings that there are many families who converted to Islam, and I met them. They are women, children, and elderly, and they are happy for converting to Islam, and they said that we came late to them,” he says.
In interviews shown in the 11-minute video, three of the converts also say they willingly changed their religion, and they urged other Yazidis who have fled the militant advance also to embrace Islam and return home.
“You can say that we were in darkness and now we became almost, as it can be said, in the light. We see the Islamic religion as the true religion,” says one of the converts, who identifies himself as a teacher from Sinjar.
“We have found the right path. Before this time we frankly did not know about it,” said another former Yazidi, who did not identify himself. He assured other Yazidis that they will be treated well by the Islamic State if they return and convert.
All of the men shown in the video seemed in good health, but some appeared distinctly nervous.
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of Yazidis were rounded up in the Islamic State rampage through the remote area, an ancestral homeland of the ancient and much persecuted Yazidi faith.
Many of them are women, who are being held separately from the men and have reported intense pressure to convert, or lose their freedom forever, as the Islamic State seeks to propagate its extremist version of Islam across the areas it conquers.
Tens of thousands fled for their lives as the extremists closed in on the Sinjar area on Aug. 3 and are now living as refugees in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.
The video opens with an intonation describing the Yazidis’ beliefs as “pagan” and repeating the charge, rejected by Yazidis, that they worship the devil.
“The beliefs and rituals practiced by members of the Yazidi sect are strange!” it says.
The video closes with a scene of the men jumping into a rocky pool, shouting, “God is Great.”