Christian by faith, human by heart

ISIS has changed a Syrian migrant's life, but not his views 

Christian by faith, human by heart
­“It is hard to express in words the pain of a person whose loved ones have been made captive by the terrorists of ISIS in Syria, and he cannot do anything for them from here in the US,” he told me.

Nelson, whose real name has been withheld on his request, is living with that pain. His sister, brother-in-law, and first cousins are among several close relatives who were reportedly abducted by militants of the Islamic States during their Al-Hasakahe offensive in March this year.

“We don’t know even who has abducted them,” he says. “There are cases in which the government militia and the Kurds have also kidnapped people for extortion. But if they are with ISIS, that is a big reason to worry. That brutal group is known for mass killings of innocent people. They may have killed them.”
Nelson supplies food to the city's only mosque, and he does it for free

Nelson’s is not the only family that continues to suffer from the worsening conditions back home in Syria despite having moved to safety in America.

In February, Amo, a 59-year-old Assyrian Christian with a permanent US resident status, left his job selling cars and went back to Syria, hoping to bring back his son and relatives to America for a better future. He didn’t know that a different fate was awaiting him. He and his son Martin were captured, along with the scores of other Christians, by the Islamic State militants, and made captives.

His wife Angie and their daughter, who still live in the US, are in a tragic situation. They have no news of their family in Syria. In mid-August, ISIS freed 22 of the 250 captives. Amo and Martin were not among them. But they did include two of Amo’s aunts, and some of his cousins, according to a report published in The Modesto Bee.

They are happy that those who were released haven’t been harmed, and hope Amo and his son will also be safe and join them in the US some day.
He had to face harassment at the hands of his fellow Christians after 9/11

Another Arab Christian, who is from northern Iraq, is happy her father had come to the US long before her birth some forty years ago.

“I’m thankful to my parents for coming to the US. How would we survive in the present day Iraq amid the ISIS’ reign of terror?” said Ishtar Aibazi, whose parents came to Chicago from a town in northern Iraq in 1976. The family later settled in Modesto, California.

Aibazi – who runs her own restaurants in the city – knows her fellow Christians, including her relatives, are faced with worst form of persecution at the hands of ISIS.  “I’m lucky we came here a long time ago.”

As the notorious group kills and captures scores of people, especially those belonging to minorities, in the name of Islam, Nelson – who is in pain because of them – says he has nothing but love and respect for Muslims.

Of the 112 reviews of his restaurant on the internet, only two have been written by Muslims. That shows that his clientage is mostly non-Muslim. But Nelson serves Halal Food out of respect for the people he had been living with until sixteen years ago. “You won’t find pork in my restaurant,” he told me. “Only because my Muslims brothers don’t like it.”

The city of Modesto has a great Islamic Center, led by a young and highly educated Imam Ahmed Kayello, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from his hometown in Lebanon.

The Islamic Center of Modesto also serves as a community service center, where people of all Muslim communities and ethnicities mingle after Friday prayers. The center has special arrangements during the holy month of Ramadan and, it is Nelson – a Christian by faith – who they trust for supplying food to the city’s only mosque. And he does it for free.

“I have a special place in my heart for Muslims, and believe that what has been done to my family back in Hassake, in Syria, is not the work of Muslims,” he said. “For the act of a handful of people, you cannot blame all of the nearly 1.6 billion Muslims.”

According to Nelson, he had to face harassment at the hands of his fellow Christians after 9/11 just because he was from Syria, had an Arabic accent, and looked like Arab Muslims.

“Running a restaurant that serves Halal food was also one of the reasons they harassed me,” he said.

A true humanist, Nelson believes terrorists humanity, and not people of one religion or other.

Naimat Khan is a Karachi based journalist. He sent this report from Modesto, California, where he was on a journalism exchange program.


Twitter: @NKMalazai