Political Freedom and Spiritual Freedom
We have no idea what we take for granted in the United States. I emigrated from Syria to American when I was 19 years of age, and became an American citizen four years later, and then a Christian many years later. As a photojournalist for twenty-five years, I have experienced up close and personal this freedom that I now cherish.
In 2000, a story took place that I will never forget: I was asked to photograph a Ku Klux Klan rally on the steps of the Jefferson County courthouse. Really? I thought the KKK was a relic of the 60s, when they marched and set crosses on fire. They hated the blacks, the Jews, and anyone else who was not cut from the same bigoted mould. And now despite the birth of a new century, they were protesting on the steps of the courthouse in the middle of downtown Birmingham in broad daylight – reality check anyone?
I drove downtown and parked the car a few blocks away as the roads leading to the courthouse were blocked. I turned the corner and saw a scene that sent shivers up my spine. There they were with their hooded white robes yelling obscenities and spewing hatred and rage. At first I was repulsed by their display. How can they be allowed to do this on the steps of the courthouse? It has to be a mistake. This may be too much freedom, like my father used to say.
After calming down a bit, I saw something more shocking than the KKK. The police had erected a fence around the protesters to protect them. I had to take a second look. Both black and white policemen stood at attention keeping the angry mob of people away from the KKK and their hate-filled white hoods. I never saw freedom so sweet, and I never sensed such a filthy affair wrapped with a beautiful covering of duty and reverence. What I was witnessing was a true testament to freedom and how expensive it is. It brought tears to my eyes.
Here was the KKK, a group that uses this precious freedom to further their disgusting goals. And there were the police, facing the crowds and protecting the KKK, the same pepople who hate them. I looked closely at the face of a black police officer and wondered what he was thinking. I could hear the police chief prepping his officers for the event: ‘Men, it does not matter what these people stand for, and whether you agree with it or not. What matters is that they have obtained a permit, and they have the right to speak their minds. We have to protect them.’ If I were one of the police officers, I would have argued with him and might have done something stupid. This officer and all of the others were doing their admirable and honourable job of protecting free speech. Back in my former world, they would have certainly clobbered the KKK members and hauled them off to jail at the very least.
This event is ingrained in my brain because of the beauty of a justice system that says all are equal and every voice will be heard. I took some photographs that will always remind me how sweet freedom is.
My journey from Islam to Christianity is the workmanship of a new soul and a new heart, and the journey of writing about it has been soul penetrating and heart permeating. God has given me a brand new life by believing and trusting in his Son, Jesus Christ, and through the fellowship with his Holy Spirit. My conversion was the starting point of this new life. Through conversion, my principles have changed. What I held as darkness, I now call light, I am experiencing what Saint Paul expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:17, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’
The idea of redemption is phenomenal – that Christ came to redeem us from our sins once and for all by becoming the perfect sacrifice of atonement. Man has tried to redeem himself with different sacrifices from the beginning of time. The idea of the shedding of blood to wash away sins goes back to Cain and Abel. I never understood redemption and the power behind it until I read John Murray’s book, Redemption – Accomplished and Applied. Professor Murray wrote this sentence in that book, ‘Not only is Christ regarded as having died for the believer, but the believer is represented as having died in Christ and as having been raised up with him to newness of life. This is the result of union with Christ.’1 A new seed had been planted in the depths of my soul.
- John Murray, Redemption – Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth Trust, 2009 reprint), p. 40. This book is not available from the Trust in the United States.
The above is taken from Karim Shamsi-Basha’s autobiography, Paul and Me: A Journey to and from the Damascus Road. From Islam to Christ (Solid Ground Christian Books P.O. Box 660132, Vestavia Hills, Alabama 35266, USA).
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