Much of the Middle East is in a state of turmoil as various government and religious factions fight for control. Stuck in the middle of political unrest is the citizen, trying to stay alive another day.
Terrorist groups have made that task especially difficult by implementing additional stringent demands and expectations on Muslims, leaving no room for what they deem as a sin against the religion.
Many Muslims who once looked to their religion for direction in their lives are now leaving, refusing to be associated with the violent militant groups. In search for a more meaningful existence, some in Syria have found peace and solace in Jesus Christ.
NBC News reports:
“Four years have passed since the Islamic State group’s fighters were run out of Kobani, a strategic city on the Syrian-Turkish border, but the militants’ violent and extreme interpretation of Islam has left some questioning their faith.”
Any religion other than Islam in Syria is considered offensive for most natives, acting as an affront to the traditions and values they hold dear. So, when a Christian church opened up in Kobani, the first of its kind in decades, it was unclear how it was going to flourish.
God is a provider (Matthew 6:26) and hears the prayers of the downtrodden (I Peter 3:12). The church has brought in Christians, along with Muslims looking for the hope brought only by the One that saves.
One young man, Farhad Jasim, 23, attends the Syrian Church of the Brethren. He converted to Christianity about a year ago after facing atrocities no man should ever have to endure. ISIS found out that Jasim, a full-time mechanic, didn’t know the “basics of Islam,” as NBC News described.
This is a criminal offense to the violent group, and Jasim was sent to prison for six months where he was tortured and forced to read the Quran. Following a traumatic experience like that changes a man, causing him to find answers for the pain.
“After I witnessed their brutality with my own eyes, I started to be skeptical about my belief,” Jasim said, noticeably upset, reports NBC News. “If ISIS represents Islam, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore. Their God is not my God.”
Then he heard about the Church of the Brethren and decided to see what it was all about. He was quickly drawn to the kind and genuine love that Christianity brings. “It didn’t take me long to discover that Christianity was the religion I was searching for,” he said.
Jasim answered God’s call to faith, despite the painful opposition he would soon face.
Converting to Christianity was not a decision that was made lightly, it meant that all his relationships with his Muslim friends and family would be over. “Fighting back tears, Jasim says he hopes that his loved ones will not only one day forgive him for finding a new faith, but consider converting themselves,” reports NBC News.
Families often become fearful for loved ones who convert to Christianity, in addition to feeling a sense of betrayal for leaving the known way of life. It is forbidden by the forces in charge to leave the Islamic faith if you are a Muslim.
Omar (who asked for his last name to be omitted for safety reasons) is an administrator for the Protestant church and said to NBC News that “Changing your religion under ISIS wasn’t even imaginable. ISIS would kill you immediately.”
ISIS has committed irreparable harm against the people of Kobani, which you think would have scared the citizens into obeying their strict code of Islam, but quite the opposite has happened. Omar said the people “have been open-minded about Christianity.”
Unlike the oppressive extremists in the region, who force their religion on the people, the Church of the Brethren uses the “spirit of love” along with “brotherhood and tolerance” to share their faith, stated Omar.
“No one is forced to convert. Our weapon is the prayer..,” he added. This is the most powerful weapon against any principality of darkness, and God has shown He is working in the lives of those who are seeking refuge under His wings (Psalms 94:1).
Jasim is not the only one who turned away from Islam after witnessing the horrors of ISIS. Firas was a Muslim who converted to Christianity, because he was appalled by the hypocrisy of the religion.
“ISIS members were terrorizing people and then going to the mosque to pray to Allah,” he said, according to NBC News. Under terrorist rule in the country side of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, Firas saw inhumane acts such as people being put in cages for eating during the Islamic holy day of Ramadan.
If teenagers were caught smoking, the extremists would whip them in the streets as a public show. “Life under ISIS meant threatening and punishing anyone who was against the group’s beliefs”, Firas recalled.
In a powerful and emotional statement, Firas says, “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.”
The city of Kobani is not an isolated area of affliction by Muslim terrorist, many regions in Iraq, Algeria, and Libya are still suffering from extremist influence. However, if one church can make such a difference in the lives of those suffering, showing that there is a God that promotes life and love, then what an impact one in every area of terrorist rule would have.
Pray for the Christians in the Middle East who are searching for hope, that they will find the one true God, and for those who need the strength and bravery to begin a church in the most unlikely of cities.