One reason for hesitating before accepting this story is that the ex-jihadi has no name, neither are we told when and where this happened, and the story comes to us secondhand. It could be true: after all, ex-Muslims, and ex-jihadis in particular, may have good reasons to keep their identity secret. At the same time it could be a story that has sprung from contemplation of the story of Saul on the road to Damascus. It could be a parable, perhaps gleaned from a sermon.
That is why the recent story in the New York Times, entitled “The Jihadi who turned to Jesus” is so interesting. Here the convert, though understandably not photographed as to show his face, has a name, a location and a background. However, Bashir Mohammad, resident in Istanbul, and his wife, have something in common with the unnamed jihadi in the first story: the power of dreams.
“For Mr Mohammad and Ms Rashid, perhaps it was their dreams that sealed their conversion. As the couple began to consider leaving Islam, Ms Rashid said she dreamed of a biblical figure who used heavenly powers to divide the waters of the sea, which Mr Mohammad interpreted as a sign of encouragement from Jesus. Then, Mr Mohammad himself dreamed Jesus had given him some chickpeas. The pair felt loved. ‘There’s a big gap between the god I used to worship and the one I worship now,’ Mr Mohammad said. ‘We used to worship in fear. Now everything has changed.’”
What, I wonder, is the significance of the chickpeas? Are they perhaps a reminder of the mustard seed of the Gospel? But the key points are these. The couple now feel loved. And the dreams, which come from a providential subconsciousness, underline the longing all souls have for the God who is Love.
The New York Times story makes it clear the Bashir Mohammad may be unusual in that he is a former fighter with the Al-Nusra Front, but that he is not alone in being a convert to Christianity from Islam. As such he represents a trend, one which we must pray and hope will continue to grow. Moreover, his story gives us several pointers about how to evangelise Muslims. If we emphasise the love of God above all, the trend, I am sure, will continue.