I have just finished a short book, Islam Encounters Christ: A Fanatical Muslim's Encounter with Christ in the Coptic Orthodox Church by Nahed Mahmoud Metwalli (Minneapolis: Life and Light Publishing, 2002). This rivetting story, an autobiographical account of an Egyptian Muslim woman's conversion to Christianity, is one that will stay with me for a long time.
In 1989, Nahed was a noted and influential educator, with important family connections in the Egyptian government. She presided as head principal at a high school of over 4,000 students, the largest school of its kind in Cairo. Like Saul himself, she hated Christians and took particular delight in persecuting the Coptic Christian teachers, staff and students under her charge. Without fail, they took her abuse and quite literally, turned the other cheek. And yet, Nahed was empty inside, concluding that even though she "prayed a lot and read the Koran often, yet there something missing." She even went to Mecca for 10 days, but returning more distraught than ever. As she was to learn, what was missing from her life was Christ. Nahed's remarkable conversion cost her everything--her job, home, position in society, as well as most of her family. She went from a respected and sometimes feared, official to a hunted fugitive, staying one step ahead of the police, as she fled from apartment to apartment. Many of the Christians who befriended her along the way suffered imprisonment and torture.
At one point, her sister was able to contact Nahed and give her 3 options: (a) she could turn herself in and recant what she had done, or (b) her family would commit her to a mental hospital as she had converted to Christianity and must obviously be mentally deranged, or (c) the family would kidnap and kill her and bury her in the desert, with absolutely no repercussions. Thankfully, Nahed and her oldest daughter were able to leave Egypt by means of fake passports (though not without one final scare as she noticed her picture on the wall in the airport passport control office).
But what I find particularly instructive (and convicting) is what first attracted Nahed to Christ: the behavior of these detested Christians--what we would call Christ-likedness. Nahed writes:
Indeed, I was both innovative and creative in humiliating, hurting and causing problems for the Christians. Not because I was evil but because I thought they did not love the God whom I loved and I worshiped. Yet there was always something puzzling me; I needed that inner peace which Christians had and for which I yearned. I was far wealthier than they were, wore expensive clothes and lacked nothing. Yet, there was something reassuring inside them. I could spot a Christian from the look in his/her eyes, that deep confident, peaceful look.
Later, Nahed caused much difficulty for a priest trying to enroll his daughter in her school. She remembers:
He thanked me, we shook hands and he went on his way. He had no idea of what turmoil was going on inside me. I felt so bad. One question kept haunting me, "What is it within this man? How can he be so kind and tactful?" He had what I lacked and was searching for: peace. I tried to forget this incident, but from time to time I would remember his look at me; his deep eyes filled with peace.
If one is looking for the elusive key to ministry in the Middle East, the simple answer is found in this book. But there is even a more obvious application, one that hits much closer home to me. Privileged and pampered American that I am, I do not have to live among people who hate me because I am a Christian (yet). But I am in contact with many, many people in a day's time. I wonder what peace do they see in my eyes, if any?
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.