By Mark Ellis, Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
NEW YORK, NY (ANS – April 5, 2017) — 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 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.
Photo captions: 1) The cross around Bashir’s neck. (Photo: Patrick Kingsley, NYT) 2) Bashir Mohammad. (Photo: Patrick Kingsley, NYT). 3) Mark Ellis.
About the writer: Mark Ellis is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net), and is also the founder of www.GodReports.com, a website that shares testimonies and videos from the church around the world to build interest and involvement in world missions. Previously, Mark co-hosted a TV show called “Windows on the World” with ANS Founder, Dan Wooding, aired on the Holy Spirit Broadcasting Network (http://hsbn.tv/), which is now co-hosted by Dr. Garry Ansdell, Senior Pastor of Hosanna Christian Fellowship in Bellflower, California.
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