By Mark Ellis —
In the New York Times Saturday Profile on March 24th, journalist Patrick Kingsley introduced a subject that rarely appears in the gray pages of the liberal eminence – a profile of a jihadist who had his life transformed by Jesus Christ.
Even as the Times broke ground with such a daring subject, Kingsley could not help but qualify the remarkable conversion with this:
“But these are subjective claims, and many would reject the characterization of Islam as a less benign religion (than Christianity), much as they would reject Nusra’s extremist interpretation of it (Islam).”
It seems Kingsley was shocked when he stumbled upon an Istanbul basement filled with 22 Christian refugees – many of whom were former Muslims.
“It was quickly clear that this was no ordinary prayer meeting. Several of them had Islamic names. There was an Abdelrahman and even a couple of Mohammads. Strangest of all, they jokingly referred to their host — one of the two Mohammads — as an irhabi. A terrorist,” he observed.
Kingsley began to speak with Bashir Mohammad, 25, who had once fought on the front lines of the Syrian civil war for the Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda.
While Kingsley noted that some refugees fake their conversion to Christianity for immigration purposes, “Mr. Mohammad’s particular experience, however, does not fit easily into this narrative. He lives in a majority-Muslim country, has little interest in seeking asylum in the West and treads an unlikely path followed by few former jihadis.”
Mohammad grew up in a Muslim family in northern Syria. At 15, he went to hear jihadist preachers and was persuaded by their extreme interpretations of Islam.
When the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Mohammad initially joined the Kurdish forces fighting for autonomy. He was “traumatized by the deaths he witnessed on the front line, which in turn re-energized his interest in the extremist versions of Islam that he had learned about as a teenager.”
Joining the Nusra Front
In 2012, Mohammad joined the Nusra Front, a group that seeks to establish an extremist state. As a Nusra fighter, he witnessed extreme brutality.
“His colleagues executed several captives by crushing them with a bulldozer. Another prisoner was forced to drink several liters of water after his genitals were tied shut with string,” according to the account in The Times.
Mohammad was willing to accept such horrors because “these people were the enemies of God, so I looked on these executions positively.”
When Mohammad went home for New Years in March 2013, apparently his temper frightened his relatives. He became enraged when he witnessed what he believed were blasphemous celebrations — outside the Islamic tradition.
During his leave he isolated himself with his new fiancée, Hevin Rashid. Both she and his parents tried to persuade him not to return to the front line, but he ignored them.
After he went back to the front, something happened that altered his perspective. Through binoculars, he viewed Syrian government soldiers executing prisoners with a bulldozer and concluded there was little difference between their behavior and that of his fellow soldiers.
“I went to Nusra in search of my God,” he told The Times. “But after I saw Muslims killing Muslims, I realized there was something wrong.”
Leaving the war
He left the fighting and returned home. After he and Hevin were married, they fled to Istanbul, along with 2.5 million other Syrians exiled in Turkey.
Still a fervent Muslim, Mohammad prayed so loudly his neighbors complained. “When are you going to turn into a prophet?” they asked him.
He insisted Hevin cover her hair and neck with a veil, and planned for her to wear a full-face covering.
In early 2015, Hevin developed a serious illness. As her health declined, Mohammad spoke by phone to his cousin Ahmad — the same cousin who had taken him to jihadist lectures as a teenager. Ahmad now lived in Canada and had become a follower of Jesus – a stunning turn of events!
Mohammad was even more shocked when Ahmad asked if he could put the phone close to Hevin, so a small group of believers could pray for her.
“Horrified, Mr. Mohammad initially refused, since he was taught to find Christianity repellent. But he was also desperate, and eventually he gave in.”
Then God displayed his healing power and Hevin improved dramatically within a few days. Mohammad recognized it was because of his cousin’s prayers.
Mohammad asked his cousin to recommend a pastor in Istanbul who could tell him more about Christianity. He connected with Eimad Brim, a missionary in Jordan with a group called the Good Shepherd, and the two met together.
At the same time, both Mohammad and his wife had powerful dreams about Jesus. In her dream, Hevin saw a biblical figure who used supernatural powers to divide the waters of the sea, which Mohammad viewed as a sign of encouragement from Jesus.
Also, Mohammad dreamed that Jesus, the Bread of Life, had given him food. Both husband and wife felt the love of Jesus in a powerful way through their dreams.
When Pastor Brim explained the gospel to Mohammad and his wife, their hearts were softened by the Word and the Spirit, and they was born again!
The journalist for the New York Times met the news of their redemption in Christ with some disquiet:
“Exactly why he sought solace in Christianity, rather than a more mainstream version of Islam, no one can quite explain. Reading the Bible, Mr. Mohammad claimed, made him calmer than reading the Quran. The churches he attended, Mr. Mohammad said, made him feel more welcome than the neighborhood mosques. In his personal view, Christian prayers were more generous than Muslim ones.”
Mohammad expressed the revolutionary nature of their conversions. “There’s a big gap
between the god I used to worship and the one I worship now,” Mohammad told The Times. “We used to worship in fear. Now everything has changed.”
The Lord also softened Mohammad’s temperament and he is “much better to be around,” Hevin noted.
Mohammad now wears a cross and has one on the wall of his living room, where other new believers join him for weekly Bible studies, prayer and worship.
Mohammad knows his faith was bought at a high price – the precious blood of Jesus on the cross. As a convert from Islam he may also pay a high price for his faith. But when he faces persecution, he knows he has the greatest protection of all – his trust in God.
To know more about having a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus, go here