Thanks to one miraculous dream, a Muslim extremist who once reveled in killing in the name of Islam now leads a Bible study for believers in Turkey and describes himself as the "jihadi who turned to Jesus."
As a teen growing up in a Kurdish part of northern Syria, Mohammad, 25, "flirted with extremism", listening to jihadist preachers as a 15-year-old and adhering to some of the most extreme interpretations of Islam, "even the ones you haven't heard of," according to a new report from New York Times.
Eventually, Mohammad joined the Kurdish army, where he soon became disillusioned by the extreme brutality carried out by government forces. Shortly thereafter, the young man decided to defect to the Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, where he fought on the frontlines of the Syrian civil war.
As a jihadist, he, along with other terrorists, carried out atrocities against those who didn't adhere to their particular brand of Islam. In Mohammad's mind, violence in the name of Islam was tolerable.
"They used to tell us these people were the enemies of God," Mohammad told the Times, "and so I looked on these executions positively."
However, after witnessing Syrian government soldiers executing a line of prisoners with a bulldozer, Mohammad finally began to question Nusra's motives, seeing little difference between the behavior of government forces and that of his colleagues.
Mohammad subsequently deserted Nusra, and, along with his wife, Rashid, fled to Turkey.
"I went to Nusra in search of my God," he said. "But after I saw Muslims killing Muslims, I realized there was something wrong."
While in Turkey, Mohammad remained a devout Muslim, praying regularly and ordering his wife to wear traditional Muslim garb.
One fateful day in 2015, Rashid fell dangerously ill. A worried Mohammad called his cousin, Ahmad, and described her condition. To his surprise, Ahmad announced he had converted to Christianity and asked Mohammad to place his telephone close to Rashid, so that his prayer group could sing and pray for her health. At first, Mohammad refused, but as his desperation deepened, he eventually he gave in.
When his wife miraculously recovered from her illness, Mohammad ascribed it to his cousin's intervention and asked for him to recommend a Christian preacher in Istanbul who might introduce him to the religion. Soon, he began talking to Eimad Brim, a missionary from an evangelical group based in Jordan called the Good Shepherd. As Mohammad and Rashid began to consider leaving Islam, they began to have vivid dreams.
Rashid told the Times she dreamed of a biblical figure who used heavenly powers to divide the waters of the sea, which Mohammad interpreted as a sign of encouragement from Jesus. Then, Mohammad dreamed Jesus had given him some chickpeas. After experiencing these dreams, the pair felt incredibly loved.
"There's a big gap between the god I used to worship and the one I worship now," Mohammad said. "We used to worship in fear. Now everything has changed."
Today, the former jihadist leads a small Bible study in the basement of an apartment in Istanbul and invites other recent converts to weekly Bible readings in his living room. Now, he refers to himself as the "jihadi who turned to Jesus."
The Times notes that Mohammad's conversion comes at a price, as his rejection of Islam makes him a target for his former jihadist friends. However, he told the outlet his faith gives him strength.
"I trust in God," he said.
Turkey is ranked 37th on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution, and has received the maximum score in the violence category. Over the past several years, Christians, who represent less than 0.2 percent of Turkey's population, have faced increasing hostility and discrimination from their Muslim counterparts.
As The Gospel Herald recently reported, accounts of Muslims embracing Christianity after Jesus appeared to them in a dream are anything but rare.
Last week, Christian Aid Mission shared the story of a young Muslim woman who for years harbored a deep hatred of Christians. However, she converted to Christianity after Jesus appeared to her in a dream and told her to visit a local church.
"In my dream, Jesus led me to the church, telling me, "What are you still waiting for? Follow my way,'" she told the pastor after visiting his church. "And I saw all of you in there waiting for me, smiling at me. Before I met you, I saw you in my dream. Thanks be to God."