“What is your name?” asked General Mohammad.
“Matthew,” I said. I had stopped saying Matt a while ago because it means ‘dead’ in Arabic.
On New Year’s Eve in 2012, Matthew Schrier was headed home from Syria, where he’d been photographing the intense combat of the country’s civil war. Just 45 minutes from the safety of the Turkish border, he was taken prisoner by the al Nusra Front—an organization the world would come to know as the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda.
Over the next seven months he would endure torture and near starvation in six brutal terrorist prisons. He’d face a daily struggle just to survive. And, eventually, he’d escape.
In The Dawn Prayer, the gripping, raw, and surprisingly funny memoir, Schrier details the horrifying and frequently surreal experience of being a slight, wisecracking Jewish guy held captive by the world’s most violent Islamic extremists. Managing to keep his heritage a secret, Schrier used humor to develop relationships with his captors—and to keep himself sane during the long months of captivity.
The Dawn Prayer (Or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison): A Memoir is a tale of patriotism and unimaginable bleakness shot through with light . . . of despair and friendship, sacrifice and betrayal, in a setting of bombed-out buildings and shifting alliances. It’s the story of the first Westerner to escape al Qaeda—not a battle-hardened soldier, but an ordinary New Yorker who figured out how to set his escape plan in motion from a scene in Jurassic Park. From the prisoners’ fiercely competitive hacky sack games and volleyball tournaments (played using a ball made of shredded orange peels and a shoelace) to his own truly nail-biting outbreak, Matthew Schrier’s story is unforgettable—and one you won’t want to miss.
“This rollicking and gripping account of [Matthew Shcrier’s] time in detention is an insight into what happens to humans when they are deprived of their freedom.”
—New York Journal of Books
“[The Dawn Prayer is] a tightly told story of brutal survival, unexpected friendships and ultimate escape . . . Matt’s engrossing story took me back to those days of struggle and survival and the desperate need for freedom.” —Billy Hayes of Midnight Express
“A searing narrative of personal courage and the determination to survive. Schrier takes us inside the hellish world of secret Syrian prisons and his daring escape from his jihadist captors. He also paints a brutally frank portrait of the unexpected friendships and hostilities he formed with his fellow captives.” —Philip S. Balboni, CEO and co-executive editor of DailyChatter and founder of GlobalPost
“The Dawn Prayer by Matthew Schrier is a thrilling documentary that reads like a novel. . . . The fact that he, as a Jewish photographer, survived to tell his story is amazing enough, but his escape to freedom was nothing short of miraculous. Take a deep breath before you begin reading; there is no breathing room in the pages of this one!” —A.B. Grantham, Commandant, Department of Alabama, Marine Corps League
“If I ever had a chance to pick a guide to walk through hell, that would be, no doubt, Matt Schrier, whose gifted hand is able to tame the dreadful memories of his darkest hours in captivity into the most clear, powerful and enlightening narrative.” —Juan Ríos, Spanish Mission to the UN
About the Author
Matthew Schrier is from Deer Park, New York, and a graduate of Hofstra University, where he studied film production and English. In 2013, he became the first Westerner to ever escape from Al Qaeda. His story has been covered by 60 Minutes, the New York Times, and CNN, and since his return home, Matthew has devoted himself to working with the US Military, using his experience in Syria to educate American troops about survival after capture by extremists. The Dawn Prayer is his first book.