The Damascus Road Experience of Former Muslim, Karim Shamsi-Basha

Karim Shamsi-Basha is an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, People, Time and Newsweek among many others. Shamsi-Basha describes his journey to the Christian faith in a 2013 book. Photo by Neisha Fuson.
Karim Shamsi-Basha is an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, People, Time and Newsweek among many others. Shamsi-Basha describes his journey to the Christian faith in a 2013 book. Photo by Neisha Fuson.

Karim Shamsi-Basha felt like his head was literally going to explode — then everything went dark.

The photojournalist, working at the time for Alabama’s Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper, was covering a church fire on April 8, 1992, when his world suddenly turned upside down.

“It was a chaotic day,” he recalled. “I felt this headache; within seconds it evolved into an explosion in my head and my eyes felt like they were going to pop out.”

The last thing Shamsi-Basha remembered from that moment was the paramedics hovering over him asking him questions. Shamsi-Basha had experienced a ruptured aneurysm in his brain. He was in a coma for about three weeks and couldn’t talk or walk for a couple of months after he opened his eyes. He subsequently experienced other lingering effects from the aneurysm such as double vision and short-term memory loss.

But despite the setbacks, he went on to make a full recovery.

A journey of searching

Shamsi-Basha’s final visit with his neurologist those many years ago launched him into an unexpected spiritual journey after the doctor told him few people recover from a ruptured aneurysm the way he had. “You have to find out why you survived,” the doctor told him.

It could be said that Shamsi-Basha, who grew up a Muslim, had already been on a long path of exploring religion.

Born and raised in Damascus, Syria, Shamsi-Basha was the youngest of four children. His mother revealed to him years later in his adulthood that she had almost aborted him while pregnant. But her friend Hanrietta, who had accompanied her to the clinic, wouldn’t allow her to go through with the procedure. Shamsi-Basha said he later learned that Hanrietta dragged his mother by her hair from the waiting room and took her back home. He was born a few months later.

He has fond memories of growing up in Damascus, particularly time spent with his father, the owner of a clothing store and also a talented poet and writer.

“I was very special for my dad,” Shamsi-Basha said. “He showered me with love.”

Shamsi-Basha had a good friend in middle school, Moneir, who was a Christian. The two friends sometimes discussed religion. These conversations about faith occasionally resulted in Shamsi-Basha going to his father with questions.

“[My dad] would say … ‘You just go on and keep reading and keep exploring.’ Dad was very open-minded, and he encouraged me to explore and read and learn,” he recalled.

Shamsi-Basha graduated from high school and immigrated to the United States in January 1984. He met his wife, who was a Methodist, while studying at the University of Tennessee. They married and moved to Birmingham in 1989. “We were both open-minded,” he explained. “We didn’t have a problem marrying each other from different religions.”

After his aneurysm in 1992 and subsequent recovery, Shamsi-Basha decided to follow the advice of his neurologist to find out why he had survived. Some of his Christian friends advised him to read the Gospel of John, telling him that God’s love is “why we’re on this earth.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Julie Payne/The Alabama Baptist

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