May 2020 —
Zaine Abd Al-Qays (a pseudonym used for his protection) was raised as a devout Muslim in the Arabian Gulf. His family was very intentional and focused in their faith. He grew up rising at 5:00 a.m. to spend time in prayer with his father. He read the Qu’ran daily and memorized chapter after chapter. He was very proud of his heritage and his religious faith. His family moved from the gulf region to Australia when he was 14. He hated it there. His family was wealthy in Saudi Arabia and now was living in a two-room apartment. No one around them shared their religion or their culture. On top of that, his grandmother warned him, “Watch out for the infidels (Christians), and don’t befriend or associate with them; they are a disease on society.”
With this mindset Zaine formed an Islamic group at his school and worked hard to convert everyone he could to Islam. His group petitioned the school to conform to Muslim practices and honor Muslim holy days. There were even times when their zeal turned violent against those who challenged them. He was convinced that he was working on the side of God and righteousness. He was also convinced that Christians were followers of a misguided and mythical religion. They were the enemy! And then one day, a man came to their home. He was a Christian. He brought gifts of clothing, food and even a car! He spoke kindly and asked if he could pray for the family. Zaine says, “It shocked me to see him pray this way while I was praying for his punishment.” (ibid.)
That encounter changed something in Zaine. He began to associate with other Christians and make friends with them. He even agreed to go to church with them at one point. He was given a Bible and began to read it. His experience with these new friends and the words in the Bible led Zaine to accept Jesus Christ as his savior. He hid his newfound faith for a time, but family members eventually found his Bible. He was subsequently disowned by his family and lives under the threat of death at the hands of some extremist groups. In spite of this, he formed a ministry that facilitates conversations between Christians and Muslims to erase the misconceptions and hatred between them. You can read more about Zaine’s journey in the sources sited at the bottom of this article.
As I read this story, it occurred to me that there is more than one kind of social distancing. We all are aware of the current situation we are in based on the Pandemic we are facing around the world. But, the truth is we were practicing other kinds of social distancing way before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19. As good, honest, tax-paying Christian members of the society, there are just some people or groups that make us uncomfortable or we choose to avoid. Maybe its black people or Latinos or gay people or homeless people or drug addicts, etc. etc. Somehow they seem foreign to us and their world scary and strange. So we distance ourselves from them and tell ourselves it is because “good people” don’t hang around people like that. We believe a lie that says we are somehow superior to them because of the choices we have made or the hard work we have done to get to where we are. We are on the side of ‘God and righteousness’!
But, anytime we think ourselves more deserving or better than another, we are guilty of the sin of pride and a particularly dangerous form is “spiritual pride”. The Bible teaches in the book of Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” We are all sinners standing in need of God’s grace and all are called to offer that grace to others in the name of Jesus. The man who visited Zaine’s family that day came with a Christian humility and love in his heart. I’m sure he didn’t know what to expect and may have even been a little afraid. But he reached out to offer the love of God to these strangers and made an everlasting impact on one young man who is now sharing his faith and the love of Christ with countless others. It is by breaking down the barriers that separate us that we are able to share the love we have in Jesus Christ with all people. It is not with pointed finger and harsh words that we win people to Christ. It is with the open hand of generosity and the kind words of grace and acceptance.
Be at peace and be well,