Syrian Christians have shared how they converted from Islam to Christianity after witnessing the brutality of Islamic extremist groups like ISIS, who carried out barbaric acts in the name of Allah.
Members of the recently-established Church of the Brethren in Kobani — the first local Christian place of worship for decades — shared with NBC News how Christianity appealed to them after living under Sharia law.
‘Christianity was the religion I was searching for’ said Farhad Jasim. Farhad, 23, who works as a mechanic, converted to Christianity late last year. He told NBC he was jailed by ISIS for six months in early 2016 after the militants discovered he didn’t know the basics of Islam. During his time in captivity, he was tortured and forced to read the Quran.
“After I witnessed their brutality with my own eyes, I started to be sceptical about my belief,” Jasim said.
After hearing about the Church of the Brethren, which opened in September and is part of a denomination that dates back to 18th-century Germany, Jasim decided to visit: “It didn’t take me long to discover that Christianity was the religion I was searching for,” he said.
Jasim told the outlet his family has rejected him because of his newfound faith and expressed hope that one day, his loved ones will not only forgive him but embrace Christianity, too.
“If ISIS represents Islam, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore,” he said. “Their God is not my God.”
Firas, a 47-year-old farmer, told NBC he converted to Christianity after living under ISIS for two years. He recalled how militants would terrorise anyone who didn’t adhere to their particular brand of Islam.
“I saw men and young teenagers being whipped on the streets because they were caught smoking. I saw dead bodies of young men being thrown from high buildings for being gay,” Firas said. “This was their Islam.”
“If heaven is made for ISIS and their belief, I would choose hell for myself instead of being again with them in the same place, even if it’s paradise,” he added.
While ISIS was driven out of the city, located along the Syrian-Turkish border, over four years ago, converting to Christianity remains taboo — and even dangerous — in the Muslim-majority region. Persecution watchdog Open Doors notes that even in more secure parts of Syria, Christians who have converted from Islam face pressure and discrimination from their communities. Kobani is home to about 300 Christians, according to estimates.
Omar, 38, who serves as church administrator, said that even before ISIS overtook the region, it was strictly forbidden to change religion from Islam to Christianity. But under ISIS, converting to Christianity “wasn’t even imaginable,” he said, adding: “ISIS would kill you immediately.”
“Most of the brothers here converted or come to church as a result of what ISIS did to them and to their families,” he said. “No one is forced to convert. Our weapon is prayer, the spreading of the spirit of love, brotherhood and tolerance.”
The story of Farhad reminds me of the Muslim taxi driver I met recently when I took a taxi from my home to Sydney, (Australia) airport.
When I got into the taxi, I noticed that the mandatory photo, driver’s name and taxi registration number was not on the front windscreen. A proverbial “red flag” went up and I felt led by the Lord to ask the driver his name. The way I said it was “my name is Ron, what is yours?” It was obvious from his response, he did not want to tell me. I persisted and he eventually blurted out. “it’s Mohammed and I am ashamed to be a Muslim.”
Woops! “Why is that Mohammed?” I said. He asked me if I had seen this picture. He could not get the image out of his mind and the thought that Allah would want these 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians beheaded because they would not renounce Jesus. I felt led to respond with, “You know what Mohammed, God calls us to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbour as our self.” I then put my hand on his shoulder and said, “God calls me to love you Mohammed”. Well, I almost didn’t get to the airport. Mohamed cried out “That’s it! That’s it! and we almost mounted the footpath. It was like the light went on for Mohammed, this is the God I want to serve. When we got to the airport, Mohammed did not want me to go so I gave him my business card and told him to contact me when he was next in the area where I live.
How many other Muslims must be wrestling with the same issues about a god of death, definitely not a god of love.