Grenoble, France—June 13, 2017
Grant: Tell me your story.
Philip: I’m from Syria. I lived in Damascus, the capital of Syria. I’m from a Muslim background. My family is originally from the Syrian coast. I was born in 1990 and my family was close-to-Atheist. We haven’t practiced the Islamic rituals. Because of the Communist influence of the socialist Syrian government, I grew up among the ideas of atheism and socialism. My grandfather was a lawyer and a politician in the ‘60s. After the coo happened in 1970, he was imprisoned because of his political attitude. After four years in prison, he was released and decided to leave politics and trained to be a lawyer. He is so fanatic in his views on socialism and nationalism that he brags about the thousands of books in his library—and he isn’t exaggerating! I grew up among the books and used to spend hours meditating on their titles.
My parents were married in 1989 and got divorced in 2005. After that, my mother began to look for answers and seek God in her life. It was difficult for her because she faced criticism and problems in challenging her society as a divorced woman. She started to seek God in the Quran. She spent about two years reading the Quran and seeking God in Islam but she was terrified of the picture of God she found in the Quran because of the woman’s rank in Islamic society from the Islamic point of view. That was a difficult period for my mom to go through. At that time she stopped reading the Quran because of fear. In 2007, she met a friend through her work who had a Muslim background as well but had converted [to Christianity] two years before. This friend preached to my mother and told my mother Jesus is the way and [she] found God. My mother was astonished and asked her to give her all the books she had read. That friend gave my mother six Joyce Meyer books and my mother read all these books in one day and gave her life to Christ at that time. It was a wonderful time.
The very next day, everything changed—there was a spiritual change—refreshed, renewed in her mind and spirit. She started to experience God and discovered the love of God for her for the first time in her life. For me, as I used to respect Christ as a socialist reformer, it was so strange. But since I loved my mother, I witnessed her joy and happiness and noticed something has changed for her. It was something irresistible. Now she has peace in her life—tranquility—so I was happy for that. So I said, “Okay! You’re free. Go to church. If that’s good for you, if that suits you, let it be.”
But personally, I believed I had another way to go. So I continued in my thoughts and theories. My mother spent three years praying for me, taking me to church whenever she could, and inviting the pastor to our home as much as she could to discuss Christian and life matters with him.
After three years of struggling with my sin—my bad nature, my hatred for my father, all these dark things in my life—I got fed up with my sins and in 2010 I asked for God’s help. I really wanted to get rid of my sins—my dark heart—so I prayed to God for the first time in my life. I asked him to be my Savior. I still remember that night I spent the whole time listening to Christian songs and praising the Lord for this restoration that had happened to me. That was the most marvelous moment in my life. So starting from that year, everything in my life was changing gradually—my thoughts, my point of view, my concentrations, my attitude toward my father, my family. And I started to struggle, in a parallel way, with the Devil because he tried to take me back to my old life. So I started to go to church—to meet brothers and sisters—to pray together.
In 2011, the Syrian crisis started. The checkpoints, the economical inflation—everything was changing rapidly because of the crisis and conflict. And our situation as students at the college was getting more difficult. Terrorists surrounded many of the areas around us. Islamic groups rose up at that time and started to evolve and intervene in the conflict. For us, as apostates, according to the Islamic point of view, we must be killed. Slaughtered according to the Quran. It was so dangerous for us to stay in our area—to be close to the terrorists groups. They used to bomb the town we lived in by missiles and mortars. We were in the range of mortars and snipers.
A fragment injured my mother while she was [driving] on her way back from work. A sudden conflict took place between the army and the rebels and many bullets penetrated the car and a fragment hit her under the knee. But in that moment she was praying. She was praying no one would get injured. She was not the only one in the car. There were about eight people and one of them got shot [but all survived]. So, God delivered their lives in a miraculous way. The car reached the town we lived in and we took my mother to the hospital. That was the most terrifying moment in our lives.
From that year, 2013, we started to communicate with a church here in France in order to have the chance to get a visa and come to France. We asked for religious asylum and the French government didn’t accept that. We were rejected twice from the Embassy. I don’t know [why], but maybe because of secularism. The French government is secular and maybe for that reason the French didn’t accept us. We kept praying, but we started losing hope. But God acted again in a marvelous way. They sent us a message telling us we had to come to the French Embassy in Beirut and to bring our passports with us. We spent about two and a half years in the whole process, but we got the visas at the end of 2015, and in 2016 we came to France. God was sovereign in every step of our lives. He was ruling everything in our lives. He led us in His way and that was the most [comforting] thing. That is my story.
Grant: What was it like to be an atheist in a Muslim country?
Philip: It depends on the country. In Syria it is normal to be an atheist. It is more normal to be an atheist than a Christian. The idea of conversion is not acceptable for Muslims. Because of the commandments of Islam, it is so difficult to convert in a Muslim society. But to be an atheist is normal because of the socialist society.
Grant: Do you want to stay in France?
Philip: For the time being, yes. We have a ten-year card of residence. We are going to stay for ten years for now but we can apply to renew it.
Grant: What are some goals you have?
Philip: God willing, I hope to continue my studies of law***. I’m not sure about the degree I can get here, maybe a master’s or a doctorate if I can. After that I [hope] to go to seminary, according to God’s will. I would like to study apologetics.
Grant: If you were to get your doctorate in law, what would you want to do with that degree? Would you want to work in the political world?
Philip: [I would not want to work] in the political world. I’m not interested in politics. I don’t like to enter it or get concerned in it because I consider politics as lies, though that may be a little extreme. But I personally don’t like politics because it contains some lies.
Grant: Your grandfather was in law, what would you like to do in law?
Philip: My grandfather was a lawyer, but I wasn’t motivated to study law because of him. It was a personal choice. My mother advised me to study law. She asked God to reveal to her the target of my life. I was interested in scientific studies. But my mother told me she thought studying law is the will of God. I was astonished at first, but then I [agreed].
Grant: How many languages do you speak?
Philip: Obviously Arabic. I speak English, French, and forty or fifty words in Russian.
Grant: Do you have a favorite joke or memory?
Philip: The problem is, I’m not so funny. They describe me as a serious guy. You know, I can’t remember. There’s no joke in my mind.
Grant: What are some of your hobbies?
Philip: From my teenage years, I started to read history, philosophy, and literature. But I don’t have that many hobbies. I’m not that interested in drawing or dancing. But I watch TV.
Grant: What is your relationship like with your family back in Syria?
Philip: It is complicated. They tried to stop me [from being a Christian] many times in Syria. They tried to convince me by Islam. At that time, they tried to convince me, to get me back to my background, my old life. They started to refuse the idea that I’m a Christian and go to church and now I’m from a category that is separated from society—from reality.
Grant: Do you talk to them frequently?
Philip: With my father, a little bit. But the problem is, my father and grandfather suppressed me a lot. But I talk with my brother a lot on Facebook.
Grant: When you hear the words the United States of America, what comes to your mind?
Philip: I was influenced by the thoughts, theories, and trends in our society and the [enmity] between the East and the West. I discovered after converting to Christianity that the [enmity] is based on religious reason. It doesn’t make sense because Christians don’t hate anyone. A true Christian doesn’t hate anyone. To believe in Christianity, to believe in the God of the Bible, and to start to act and behave according to the commandments, we discover very easily that the God of the Bible is the God of peace and love. We have to love each other instead of being enemies and adversaries. After [I realized] that, I began to change my way of thinking. So now, the word “America” or even “Israel” doesn’t [cause] any problem for me. Because even if I don’t accept some of their political acts, that doesn’t mean I don’t love them and there aren’t Christians among them that are my brothers and sisters—my people.
Grant: What do you think about President Trump or his actions with the Muslim Ban?
Philip: I support the idea of protecting America from terrorists—from radical groups coming to these countries as refugees. So initially, when [Trump] was inaugurated, he started taking procedures to protect America from this waive. I supported that idea. I liked the idea. I accepted the way of thinking. After that, some tensions raised, especially the attitude from Syria. The tension in Syria is so complicated. In some ways I think President Trump acted wrongly. Maybe I didn’t agree with him on many sides. But I still pray for him; I still love him. I hope that God will help him protecting his country and maybe bring back the prosperity to his country.
Grant: Do you think Christians in American should advocate for refugees to be accepted?
Philip: Well, I’m not against refugees. There are many people around the world who need to come as refugees. But I think it is better for the American government and the European governments to check over everything, to study every detail, to know their way of thinking, their behaviors. They must be aware.
Grant: If you could say something to America, what would you say?
Philip: You are my people. You, as well as many Christians around the world, are a blessing in our lives. I have benefited from many American theologians—R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Joyce Meyer, and David Jeremiah. I love the whole population of America—and especially the Christians.
Grant: To you, what does it mean to be a Christian?
Philip: Simply, to be a son of God, one of God’s people, part of his family. To be a Christian, is to know the King of Kings and Lord of Lords personally—to have this experience to have this relationship.
Grant: What have been some difficulties since your arrival in France?
Philip: Getting integrated into society. We didn’t face any difficulties with laws or the system here, but the most difficult part has been the language. We are still working on that.
Grant: What have been some of the most rewarding parts about coming to France?
Philip: Having the chance to study here. The universities are better here than in Syria. We have many things to do, many activities we can do. The transportation is far better than in Syria. In Syria, everything got so bad, especially after the war.
Grant: If safety were not an issue, would you want to stay in France or go back to Syria?
Philip: I would like to stay in France and make visits back to Syria.
Grant: What are your thoughts on Islam as a religion? Do you think it is a religion of peace or a religion of violence?
Philip: I am with the second opinion. Personally I think of the Islamic doctrine is a demonic doctrine because of terrorists ideas, fear, hate, everything. But at the same time, from a historic point of view, I consider Islam as a punishment to the Christians in the Middle-East—Egypt, Iraq, Syria. At that time, Christians accepted many heresies, they left the Lord, began to depend upon themselves, and to invent many ideas that don’t relate to Christianity. I think historically that [Islam] was the reason.
Grant: Have you read the Quran?
Philip: Of course.
Grant: Multiple times?
Philip: No. I read the Quran a lot, but after becoming a Christian, I began to read the Quran from a different perspective. I began to read the Quran to criticize the Quran, to catch all these verses that invite the Muslim to kill others.
Grant: In 2010 you called out to God, did you know you were calling out to Jesus or Allah?
Grant: What do you think of Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies? Do you think it is possible even in Syria?
Philip: Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we do that. We can do that by being transformed, getting rid of our old nature, and by accepting Jesus as Lord and King of our lives. I experienced that. I don’t consider myself as someone who has many enemies. But there was an [conflict] between my uncle and me. He drove me out of my grandfather’s house in 2013. There was a problem while discussing matters and he got mad and started to insult me. He threw his slipper in my face and told me to go out of the house and never come back. That was very hard for me. At that time he started to feel like my enemy. Maybe I started to hate him, but since I knew Jesus—He is my Lord—I decided to take the point to call him and declare my forgiveness to him. “I forgive you and I love you.” I did that once and after that he called me in return. But there is still tension there. He is from a fanatic faction. Since he is from this faction, he may view me as a traitor. But now I know that God created him. He is a son of God but doesn’t know his Father. I know the command of God is to love my uncle, to love my father, to love my grandfather.
***Since this interview, Philip has completed his language courses, passed his comprehension tests, and will soon be continuing his education studying law in France.