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ISIS brutality leading some Syrian Muslims to convert to Christianity

ISIS brutality leading some Syrian Muslims to convert to Christianity

New Christian church opened along Syria-Turkey border last fall

A new Christian church in Kobani, a city along the Syrian-Turkish border, is attracting converts who have seen and experienced brutality at the hands of the militant group ISIS.

What are people saying?

"If ISIS represents Islam, I don't want to be a Muslim anymore," Farhad Jasim, 23, told NBC News. "Their god is not my God."

Jasim attends the Church of the Brethren, one of the first Christian churches to appear in the area in decades. His move is a bold one, as those who abandon Islam are often shunned by their families and communities.

Syria also ranks 15th in the top 50 most dangerous nations in which to practice Christianity, according to a report by Christianity Today.

Just 4.6 percent of Syrians are Christian, according to the Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity. Additionally, about 700,000 Christian are believed to have left Syria since the civil war began in 2011.

Jasim, a mechanic, told the news outlet he converted to Christianity late last year. In early 2016, he was jailed by ISIS for not knowing the basics teachings of Islam. According to Jasim, he was tortured by the militant group and forced to read the Quran.

The church's priest declined to be interviewed and one church leader spoke only on the condition of not using his last name, NBC reported. They cited safety concerns as the reason.

"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, an administrator at the church.

"Changing your religion under ISIS wasn't even imaginable. ISIS would kill you immediately," he said.

After witnessing the violence of ISIS, some people in Kobani are becoming more open-minded about Christianity, according to the report.

"Most of the brothers here converted or come to church as a result of what ISIS did to them and to their families," Omar said. "No one is forced to convert. Our weapon is the prayer, the spreading of spirit of love, brotherhood and tolerance."

Some Islamic leaders have publicly rejected ISIS's extreme violence and ideology, saying it does not truly represent the Muslim faith.

More than 100 Muslim scholars wrote an open letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014, stated the group has turned Islam into "a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder."

Jasim said he saw "bodies of young men being thrown from high buildings for being gay."

"After I witnessed their brutality with my own eyes, I started to be skeptical about my belief," he added.

How new is the church?

The Church of the Brethren opened in September and that's when Jasim decided to find out more about it. The Protestant church is part of a denomination that dates back to 18th-century Germany, the report states.

"It didn't take me long to discover that Christianity was the religion I was searching for," Jasim told NBC.

After he walked away from Islam, his parents and other family members shunned him. But Jasim said he remains hopeful they will not only one day accept his decision, but will also consider converting to Christianity.

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