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Christianity grows in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS

Christianity grows in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS

2019/04/16 | 23:20

(Hatha al-Youm | Iraq News)-

A

community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in

Kobani, a town besieged by ISIS for months, and where the tide turned against

the militants four years ago, Reuters reported on Tuesday.The converts say

the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam

pushed them toward their new faith. After a number of families converted, the

Syrian-Turkish border town's first evangelical church opened last year.ISIS militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters

at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of

Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the

group's control over populated territory last month.Though ISIS ultra-radical interpretation of Sunni Islam has been

repudiated by the Islamic mainstream, the legacy of its violence has affected

perceptions of faith.Many in the mostly Kurdish areas of northern Syria, whose urban centers

are often secular, say agnosticism has strengthened and in the case of Kobani,

Christianity.Christianity is one of the region's minority faiths that was persecuted by

ISIS.Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking

personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in

the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say

their conversion was a matter of faith."After the war with ISIS people were looking for the right path, and

distancing themselves from Islam," said Omar Firas, the founder of

Kobani's evangelical church. "People were scared and felt lost."Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced

people that helped set up the church.He said around 20 families, or around 80 to 100 people, in Kobani now

worship there. They have not changed their names."We meet on Tuesdays and hold a service on Fridays. It is open to

anyone who wants to join," he said.The church's current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin,

a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007."This was painted by ISIS as a religious conflict, using religious

slogans. Because of this a lot of Kurds lost trust in religion generally, not just

Islam," he said.Many became atheist or agnostic. "But many others became Christian.

Scores here and more in Afrin."Missionaries And CriticsOne man, who lost an arm in an explosion in Kobani and fled to Turkey for

medical treatment, said he met Kurdish and Turkish converts there and

eventually decided to join them."They seemed happy and all talked about love. That's when I decided

to follow Jesus's teachings," Maxim Ahmed, 22, said, adding that several

friends and family were now interested in coming to the new church.Some in Kobani reject the growing Christian presence. They say Western

Christian aid groups and missionaries have exploited the chaos and trauma of

war to convert people and that local newcomers to the religion see an

opportunity for personal gain."Many people think that they are somehow benefiting from this, maybe

for material gain or because of the perception that Christians who seek asylum

abroad get preferential treatment," said Salih Naasan, a real estate

worker and former Arabic teacher.Thousands of Christians have fled the region over decades of sectarian

strife. From Syria they have often headed for Lebanon and European countries.U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017 banned entry for all Syrian refugees

indefinitely and imposed a 90-day ban on travel from several other

predominantly Muslim countries."It might be a reaction to ISIS but I don't see the positives. It

just adds another religious and sectarian dimension which in a community like

this will lead to tension," said Naasan, a practicing Muslim.Naasan like the vast majority of Muslims rejects ISIS narrow and brutal

interpretation of Islam. The group enslaved and killed thousands of people from

all faiths, reserving particular brutality for minorities such as the Yazidis

of northern Iraq.Most Christians preferred not to give their names or be interviewed,

saying they fear reaction from conservative sectors of society.The population of Kobani and its surroundings has neared its original

200,000 after people returned, although only 40,000 live in the town itself,

much of which lies in ruins.













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