Dr Saleh was on the verge of suicide in his personal crisis
Medical officer Dr Ashraf Saleh has endured a lifelong heartbreaking conflict between desiring to respect his parents and his hunger for seeking the true meaning in life.
Ashraf's parents migrated from Egypt in the midst of declining political stability and settled in Sydney during the 1970s heyday of immigration, all the while maintaining a careful adherence to Islam.
School bullying due to his Arabic appearance, younger age and short stature had not seriously fazed Ashraf, but he recalls a personal crisis began at age 13 when he pondered why his family's religious rituals "really did not have any meaning in my personal life."
Fearing repercussions from his parents, Ashraf quietly searched for answers in his own mind, then began independently exploring how he could know God in a personal way after high school.
"It was important for me at that stage in life to be able to freely ask God to be in my life," he continues.
"I had this innate desire to be at one with God, to be in a relationship with Him. If there is a purpose [to my rituals], I wanted God to show it to me."
While studying medicine at university he took advantage of the open-minded learning environment and resolved to directly approach God with his questions.
"I said, 'God, if you are real, you should show yourself to me. I am tired of having to go through this life alone and not knowing what it is all about. I feel emotionally numb.'"
Many months passed without any answer from God, leading Ashraf to angrily tell God, "You have done yourself a disservice by creating me and I really want to end [my life] now."
Just hours before Ashraf planned to jump from a four story building he was awoken by an extraordinary feeling.
"I woke at 2am, drenched in sweat, heart pounding, and felt an amazing sense of peace that I had never felt before. It reassured me, 'You are at peace. You have peace because I am in you.' No fireworks, no big dream, just a sense of peace. I knew that I couldn't go on with that [suicide] plan."
As Ashraf wandered through the streets of Parramatta, working out his next steps, he was approached by a friendly man whose sense of Ashraf's loneliness encouraged him to open up.
After quietly listening, the man said, "You're going through stuff, and we all have. But you have to respect your parents, because that is the right thing to do, and I think you know that."
Ashraf says, "Deep within me I knew that. But he gave me this openness and unconditional love that I had been missing and that I didn't know existed. I had to ask him, 'What is so different about you?'"
The man, a Christian immigrant from Ghana, replied, "I believe in God and God through Jesus Christ has set me free."
Impressed by this man's testimony and his relationship with God, Ashraf began attending his church to learn more.
Until that church, Ashraf says, "I never had free access to a Bible before. I learnt about God, and saw in His wonderful Scriptures things I had innately appreciated even in the Qur'an, but never seen in that kind of colour and life."
Six months later, 18-year-old Ashraf decided to believe that Jesus is God and took the penalty for his wrongs against God. He was then publicly baptised as a symbol of his faith in Jesus.
He naively told his parents of his confession of sin and dedication of his life to Jesus. They physically beat him and ordered him to never return to church. He agreed to obey them for two years until he graduated university and visited Ghana to work out what he wanted to do with his life.
"I saw abject poverty but at the same time amazing humility and a love for God, which I had never seen before," Ashraf shares.
His experiences there "opened my eyes to see the truth about life", a truth that "brought peace to my heart."
"I realised that this is not a perfect world, we are amongst sin and a lot of imperfection and turning-away from God, and our attempts to be righteous are as filthiness in God's sight."
Now living in Toowoomba with his Kenyan wife and three children, Ashraf says he loves to share his story with Muslims and Arab immigrants who are settling in Australia.
"To those who are interested", he says, "I would love to share my experience, as well as the love of God with those who are going through such tumultuous times.
"I show them that I, being brought up a Muslim, have come to open my life to Jesus Christ because He is the truth, the way and the life."
Ashraf has not had contact with his father for over six years, but says there is still a tacit bond with his mother and his siblings. He has been excommunicated from the family and asked to never share his faith with anyone in the Egyptian community.
"I have told my father that I will forever be a child of God through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ," Ashraf says.
When he is discouraged, Ashraf receives comfort from the Bible, which he says "continually reminds me that since the world around me is imperfect I cannot rely on it, including my family, for peace and joy which can only come from our loving Father."
"Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me," he quotes from Psalm chapter 27, verse 10. •