His name is Paul
As he walks in, I pretend I am not at all nervous about meeting him. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that there were a few butterflies in my stomach. It’s not every day that you meet an ex-terrorist. Yet, the man standing in front of me, with kind eyes and a gentle handshake looks nervous too. We are sitting in a room with his pastor and long-time friend and he is about to share his story with us.
His name is Paul. He met pastor Nicolai ten years ago. Nicolai would travel 90 minutes each way to meet with him. They had to be careful so their meetings were in a car and out of sight. There were no Christians in this part of Syria; it would be dangerous for both of them if they were discovered.
Paul grew up in a home where his mother was from the Muslim Brotherhood and his dad was a part of the Solafi Movement, both of which believe in the strictest forms of Islam. He remembers being a young boy, playing with his friends and dreaming of doing Jihad. Indoctrination starts early, and his heroes were the brave warriors who were willing to give their life for Allah. But as Paul grew up, the pressure of the fundamental lifestyle felt oppressive and when he turned 20 he started to rebel. He rebelled against his parents, society and all the rituals he had grown up with. The pendulum swung to the other extreme as he embraced a lifestyle of indulgence. The problem was, eventually, he became bored. He decided to return home, return to Islam, ask for forgiveness and atone for his rebellion.
Paul became what he believed to be a pious man, living the good Muslim life. He married and had a son. He went to the mosque regularly and his devotion did not go unnoticed. The Islamic groups in the area took note of him and brought him into their fold. He soon let them know that he wanted to do Jihad. He was mentally and spiritually ready to give up his life as a suicide bomber. But those in charge wanted him to wait, or at least put this off. Because of his knowledge of the roads, they asked him instead to help smuggle warriors back and forth between Syria and Iraq. He could still do Jihad, just a little later. Paul agreed. A year and half later, the Syrian government caught him. Normally, this would have meant an immediate execution but for some reason Paul was taken to a jail instead...