(Photo: Karim Shamsi-Basha)
Karim Shamsi-Basha was still a Muslim when a sudden brain aneurysm left him in a coma for almost a month in 1992. After the Syrian-born Shamsi-Basha made an amazing almost-complete recovery, his neurosurgeon, recognizing the rarity of what had occurred, told him that he had "seen very few people recover as you did. You have to find out why you survived."
These would be the words that catalyze an almost 20 year journey that would eventually lead Shamsi-Basha to Jesus Christ.
Shamsi-Basha's new book, Paul and Me, tells of this quest, and recounts how he spent close to two decades of his life discovering Jesus and learning his purpose, which he now testifies is "to share God's love with people and let them know He loves all his children."
Released last month, the book intersperses chapters of Shamsi-Basha's own life and walk with God, with various theologians' thoughts about Paul, one of the Bible's most central figures, whose own conversion experience took place in the ancient Syrian city of Damascus.
Shamsi-Basha grew up in a Muslim family in a Syria he says was tolerant of all faiths. Indeed, his best friend was a Christian, the two were frequently at each other's houses, and had all sorts of discussions and arguments with each other about faith, though no one ever succeeded in converting the other.
While his family practiced Islam culturally, Shamsi-Basha says he was "very serious in [his] teenage years."
"I prayed five times a day. I walked to the mosque before sunrise. I fasted the month of Ramadan," he added.
Tired of the corruption of the first Assad regime, Shamsi-Basha immigrated to the United States at the age of 18 to attend the University of Tennessee. From there he married, had his first son and moved to his current residence of Birmingham, Al. before he was struck by the brain aneurysm.
After his recovery, Shamsi-Basha began reading the Bible, struck by its focus on God's love and grace, and was baptized in 1996 in what he terms was his "near-conversion."
But, Shamsi-Basha said, it took over 10 more years, and the dissolution of his first marriage, the death of his father, homelessness and another failed relationship, for him to ultimately be at a place to fully accept Christ as his Lord and Savior, a process that is his new book's focal point.
"In 2008 I completely surrendered to God," he said. "Now I can't get enough."
Meanwhile, Shamsi-Basha now tells everyone he can that he credits Jesus Christ and the saving grace of God for his conversion. "Salvation is of the Lord," he firmly emphasized to The Christian Post, adding that God takes "credit for my conversion. It was the grace of God that saved me."
Despite the huge turnaround in his life, Shamsi-Basha's family are still Muslim. He has said that he does not talk about religion regularly with his family and that when his father died in 2005, he did not tell him that he had converted to Christianity because he did not want to hurt his father's pride. Despite this, his relationship with his mother and sister remain strong and his mother immigrated to the United States several years ago.
In the wake of the Syrian civil war, Shamsi-Basha has been trying to get his sister out of the country, though she was recently denied a visa to the U.S.
"My sister is in Damascus by herself and it is awful," he said. "I went through my congressman and he wrote a letter to the embassy and they still denied it."
He is currently applying for human parole status for her but whether or not this will prove effective is up in the air.
"As far as my family goes, we're terrified," he said, explaining that many of his father's relatives lived in Homs, one of the Syrian cities that has endured the brunt of the destruction and violence, but he does not know what has happened to most of them.
"Who knows who is dead and who is alive?" he said. "I'm torn into pieces basically."
Syria, either by watching Arab news coverage or daily phone conversations with his sister, consumes Shamsi-Basha emotionally.
"If I'm not crying on the outside I'm crying on the inside at any given time. It's very sad, it's very, very sad," he said.
Shamsi-Basha spent six months pouring out the testimony of his conversion to publisher, Michael Gaydosh with Solid Ground Cristian Books, whom he says put incredible personal effort into seeing his testimony documented "for the glory of God." Shamsi-Basha's book, documenting his amazing journey to finding Jesus Christ, is now available for purchase on PaulandMe.com or at Amazon.