This story is one of the most incredible yet. A former member of Syrian’s al-Qaeda has surprised his friends, family and himself by claiming Jesus Christ as his savior instead of the Muslim God he has spent the majority of his life praising.
Bashir Mohammad said that he once identified himself as a jihadist due to his deep ties to Al-Nusra Front, the Sunni Islamist terrorists who were known as al-Qaeda Syria until 2016 when the extremists officially broke ties with al-Qaeda. In doing so, the Syrian terrorists became ISIS’s main rival in the war-torn middle eastern country of Syria.
Isaiah 59:1 says that the Lord’s hand not shortened, that it cannot save. Basically, it means that no person is too far lost that they can escape the power of God. The stories coming out of the Middle East have been nothing short of miraculous, with countless Muslims converting to Christianity after Jesus appeared to them in their dreams.
But four years ago when the 25-year-old was an active member, his thoughts on Christianity were quite different than they are now and so were the extremists.
He told The New York Times that “Frankly I would have slaughtered anyone who suggested (Christianity)” because of his love for Islam and extremism ideologies.
At 15 Mohammad was introduced to a jihadist preacher. And a few years after that, in 2011, the year the Syrian crisis broke out, a time when everyone witnessed the ugliness of fighting, he became “re-energized” with Islam extremism ideology the preacher spoke about. So like other young men who felt called by the movement, he joined al-Nusra on the front lines. In doing so, he tormented prisoners and committed a long list of horrors all in the name of Nusra and their propaganda. According to Mohammad, it all made the “violence seem tolerable.”
You know “(al-Nusra) used to tell us these (prisoners) were the enemies of God… and so I looked on these executions positively.”
But the front lines of war took its toll and on a “break” he went to visit his family and his fiancé (now wife), Rashid. Both his parents and Rashid expressed concern over his growing anger and short fuse. Instead of him staying at home like the family had suggested, he left and went back to fight alongside fellow soldiers in the movement.
But unlike before, he started noticing different things like Syrian national forces using barbaric measures to kill prisoners, just like his side. To him, he looked at this as an awakening. Saying, It was “Muslims killing Muslims.”
It was then, “I realized there was something wrong.” It conflicted with the reason why he joined the Syrian al-Qaeda, saying, “I went to Nusra in search of my God.”
The harshness that came with this realization made him say good-by to al-Nusra for good. And just a few months after returning to his home in Northern Syria he fled with his wife to Turkey.
At first it seemed like their new life would be relatively easy considering everything the young couple had been through. But it wasn’t. His wife Rashid fell ill.
And on a whim, he decided to ask his cousin Ahmad for help. And as soon as he realized his cousin had such a strong love for Christ, he decided to step away and find help a different way. But that didn’t work and there was no where else to go. So he called back his cousin because his wife was very sick. And his cousin had his Canadian prayer group sing and pray for Rashid’s health.
In a matter of days, her health improved to his surprise and his wife. It also sparked their interest in Christianity. So his cousin again stepped in and put them in touch with a middle eastern evangelical group as well as a preacher in Istanbul.
In doing so, it opened up Mohammad’s eyes to something new. A religion that he says allowed him to feel a sense of calmness and peace. Explaining that when he opened his Bible, he personal felt calmer reading it than he had before. Also adding that, he felt very welcomed in the Church compared to the neighborhood mosques.
Another moment of peace fell on him, when he began reciting the Christian prayers. Noting that they were “more generous” than Muslim ones he had spend almost a quarter of his life reciting.
Then on top of that, was his dreams. Him and his wife felt like each one of their separate dreams “sealed their conversion.” Saying that, his wife Rashid dreamed of a biblical figure who had used heavenly powers to divide the waters of the sea and Mohammad himself had dreamed of Jesus giving him chickpeas. Most importantly both felt loved during each vision and after.
And now he realizes that, “There’s a big gap between the god I used to worship and the one I worship now.”
In the past “We used to worship in fear. Now everything has changed.”
In the young man’s new life in Istanbul, he has created a new community with his wife. And every Sunday afternoon, he holds a Christian service in his Istanbul living room where himself, his wife and twenty-two other Christian refugees recite scriptures and celebrate God.