BIRMINGHAM — Karim Shamsi-Basha spent his childhood in Damascus, Syria, and when he tells that to Christians, they ask if he knew the road to Damascus where the Apostle Paul converted to Christianity.
Shamsi-Basha grew up a Muslim, so for a long time he didn't know what they were talking about. "I would say, 'Yes, we have roads in Damascus.'"
Finally someone told him he should read about Paul in the Book of Acts.
"The first time I read the ninth chapter of Acts, I said, 'Whoa! That's where I grew up,'" Shamsi-Basha said. "Syria is throughout the Old Testament too. Damascus was Damascus before the Bible was the Bible."
Now Shamsi-Basha has written a book about leaving Syria, and about leaving Islam. It's called "Paul and Me: A Journey to and from the Damascus Road, From Islam to Christ."
He has found his own road away from Damascus, but in many ways his heart is still in Syria. His home country has been wracked by civil war for the past two years. President Barack Obama has threatened a military attack in retaliation for Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons. That has been on hold as Russia negotiates with Syria to get the government to surrender its chemical weapons.
Shamsi-Basha said the situation in Syria is complicated, since the rebels, including some terrorists aligned with al-Qaeda, may be worse than the country's dictator, Bashar al-Assad.
"They don't have a Martin Luther King Jr.," Shamsi-Basha said. "It's divided up into all these factions. I really don't know what the solution is. Why does it have to come to shooting? I don't understand the human need for violence."