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.
A new church is attracting converts. It is the first local Christian place of worship for decades.
“If ISIS represents Islam, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore,” Farhad Jasim, 23, who attends the Church of the Brethren, told NBC News. “Their God is not my God.”
Religious conversions are rare and taboo in Syria, with those who abandon Islam often ostracized by their families and communities.
“Even under the Syrian regime before the revolution, it was strictly forbidden to change religion from Islam to Christianity or the opposite,” said Omar, 38, who serves as an administrator at the Protestant church. (He asked for his last name not to be revealed for safety reasons. The church’s priest declined to be interviewed.)
“Changing your religion under ISIS wasn’t even imaginable. ISIS would kill you immediately,” he added.
While residents are still dealing with the emotional scars left by the brutality of ISIS, Omar says many people in Kobani have been open-minded about Christianity.
“Most of the brothers here converted or come to church as a result of what ISIS did to them and to their families,” he added. “No one is forced to convert. Our weapon is the prayer, the spreading of spirit of love, brotherhood and tolerance.”
Islamic leaders around the world have spoken against the extremists’ ideology, accusing the ISIS militants of hijacking their religion.
In 2014, more than 100 Muslim scholars wrote an open letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi saying the militant group has “misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder.”
Only 4.6 percent of Syrians are believed to be Christian, according to a report by the Aid to the Church in Need. The Catholic charity estimates that 700,000 Christians have fled the country since the civil war erupted in 2011, an exodus that has halved their proportion of the population.
Jasim, who works as a mechanic, converted to Christianity late last year.
He says he was jailed by ISIS for six months in early 2016 after the militants discovered he didn’t know the basics of Islam. He says he was tortured in ISIS captivity and forced to read the Quran.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Yuliya Talmazan