I met a man named Mazen a few days ago. He works as the coordinator for meeting rooms at the hotel we’re staying in Doha, Qatar. My friend Bob, who is leading this fascinating effort to put Imam’s and Pastors in the same room for peacemaking through intentional relationship, has never met a stranger. Bob is one of the warmest, most engaging people I’ve ever met. While we were supposed to be finalizing details of the room requirements for our meetings over the next three days, Bob was taking our conversation to more important depths. We were hearing the story of Mazen and his family. And his story is transforming my heart.
Mazen was born and lived most of his life in Syria. Before the implosion of the governing structure of that country, and the explosion of violence running rampant, Mazen and his family were all here in Doha. But when Syria began to deteriorate, the Qatari government did what most do around the world; they sent away the “unnecessary” members of the family. So Mazen’s wife and two young children had to be taken back to war-torn Syria, where they still live today. One of his coworkers was describing to me the pain she saw in him as he returned to Qatar after taking his family back to Syria. With a heavy heart he returned to work here in Doha, wondering each day if his family will be safe.
But the reality is that they are not safe. No one in Syria is truly safe right now, but especially his family as a religious minority there. Mazen and his family are a part of the Druze faith tradition that dates back to about 1000 AD. Essentially a Unitarian faith that believes God is in everything and takes their core beliefs from the combination of philosophy and deity, this group has always been a minority in the Middle East where their nearly 2 million followers reside. But the persecution now is as fervent as ever, with both ISIL and Al Qaeda working to “cleanse” the land of this group that they consider to be “infidels”.
If I’m honest, at the beginning of the week I would have thought very little about a headline in the Qatar paper yesterday morning. It read, “Al Qaeda In Syria Kills 20 Druze Villagers”. A headline that I would have breezed over with little attention just last week. But now I know Mazen. I promised to pray for he and his family. So this week as I read the story my eyes filled with tears. “Oh God, no!” my heart cried out. “Please God, not Mazen’s family”. I hurried down to the lobby to find him, hoping he would be working. We talked about the story. Thankfully his family is ok, for now. This time tears filled his eyes. Amidst our broken-english conversation I told him how sorry I am that his people are being persecuted and killed. He put his hands up and with an overwhelmed spirit of helplessness asked me, “What can I do? How can I help my family?”
So I write this today with a heavy heart and my own spirit of helplessness. Begging a God I believe to be a loving Father to intervene. I’m interceding for my Druze friend Mazen. Hoping that God will protect and deliver his precious family. A family as worthy of freedom and love and safety as my own family. Simply born into an instable region, yet equal in inherent worth.
This is why I engage in interfaith work, and why I’m here in the Middle East this week. Because when I learn the story of “the other”, he/she becomes my brother/sister. Their humanity is more fully realized and we become advocates for one another.
May we all seek out people different than us to make personal the pain of our broken world. May we learn the stories all around us that echo the challenges faced by Mazen’s family. May we be people who welcome strangers, immigrants and refugees into our nations and our homes.