KOBANI, SYRIA — A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity is growing here, according a report from Reuters.
Kobani, a town besieged by ISIS militants for months, has seen a wave of new converts to Christianity after many say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them toward their new faith.
The Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year in the city where ISIS militants were forced out by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters in early 2015. After years of fighting, U.S. backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month.
The ultra-radical interpretation of Sunni Islam by ISIS has been denounced and repudiated by the Islamic mainstream, but its history of extreme violence has negatively affected perceptions of the Islamic faith in many areas.
In Northern Syria, whose urban centers are often secular, agnosticism and Christianity have been strengthened as a response to the violence and oppression instituted by ISIS militants.
Critics, however, are viewing the new converts with suspicion, the Reuters report said, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.
These newly-converted Christians of the city deny the accusations, saying their conversion was a matter of faith.
“After the war with the Islamic State 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.”
Around 20 families in Kobani now worship with a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church, Firas said.
“We meet on Tuesdays and hold a service on Fridays,” he said. “It is open to anyone who wants to join.”
The current pastor of the church, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.