Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi.
The second time I met Nabeel Qureshi, I had a question I knew I had to ask: “You’re a medical doctor. Why are you working as a youth pastor instead?” There’s a story there, as it turns out: a lot of story.
The first time met him had been a few months earlier, in November 2009, at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics. We discovered we were near neighbors in southeastern Virginia, and he invited me to speak at a conference he was hosting at his church. It was at that November 2009 conference, our first conversation together, that I found out he had been raised a Muslim and had converted to Christianity through the ministry of a close friend, David Wood, as well as some prominent apologists and—notably—a remarkably personal work of God in his life.
He’s a tall man with a quick smile and a ready wit. There was no trace in him of any difficult path in his past. I had to wonder about that, though, knowing that it must cost something to convert from Islam to Christianity. It took reading his autobiography for me to get any real idea of those costs, and why he had such joy in spite of them.
Nabeel grew up in a tight-knit American military family with Pakistani roots. His favorite and most formative years were during his father’s deployment in Scotland, where the family enjoyed close fellowship with fellow Ahmadiyya Muslims. He devotes a chapter (“Diversity in Islam”) to explaining how genuinely Muslim the Ahmadiyya sect is, in spite of strongly differing opinions among some other Muslims. His book is, indeed, a real education in Islam, for those of us who have had little contact with it. I had read (and I recommend) Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross by Geisler and Saleeb (among others). It’s great for understanding Islamic beliefs; Nabeel’s book tells much more about the life of a Muslim in the West.
As a Muslim his faith was intense, the overriding influence in his family, his social life, and his intellectual life, besides his religious life. When he returned to America during high school, his encounter with non-Muslims stressed his sense of identity with his background, yet he was in no hurry to leave it behind. He met David Wood on a college forensics trip and they quickly became friends. Nabeel explains their first night sharing a hotel room on the road,
While I was unpacking, David sat down in an armchair in the corner of the room and kicked up his feet. He pulled out his Bible.
It’s difficult to express just how flabbergasted I was by this. Never in my life had I seen anyone read a Bible in his free time. In fact, I had not even heard of this happening. True, I knew Christians revered the Bible, but I figured they all knew in their hearts that it had been changed over time and that there was no point in reading it. So in the same moment I found out David was a Christian, I also concluded that he must be especially deluded.
As a Christian, David was also fully invested in his faith, both intellectually and spiritually. Unlike any non-Muslim friend Nabeel had known before, he was genuinely interested in learning about Islam—and he had the intellectual ability to discover that it wasn’t what it seemed to be.
The story from this point becomes a virtual training ground in loving, persuasive, persistent witness on David’s part, and searingly honest intellectual investigation on Nabeel’s. As their friendship grew, David introduced Nabeel to information that, disturbingly, caused him to wonder whether Islam might not even be what he had thought it was—and whether Christianity, too, might be different than he had been led to believe. One telling moment, while Nabeel was reading Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter:
Here was a book on Christianity by Josh McDowell, a booklet, really, so small it was begging me to read it. I dived in, checking all McDowell’s Bible references for accuracy. It is hard to believe, but despite having dozens of Bible verses memorized for the sake of refuting Christianity, this was my first time actually opening a Bible. All the Bible verses I had read before were in Muslim books.
He doesn’t say this, but I wonder if that parallels the way a lot of non-believers come to “understand” what Christianity is.
For Nabeel the confrontation between Islam and Christianity was arduous. It was his own insistence on discovering God for real, and David’s persistence in caring for him as a friend, that brought him through to where he could finally see that, indeed, neither faith was what he had been led to believe, and that Jesus Christ was who he said he was.
That didn’t seal the deal for him. There were family concerns, and maybe (he might disagree) something deeper yet to overcome: his own heart. He told David, “There’s no way I can accept the Christian message.” He went on,
“The Christian God demands that I proclaim a fact… He demands that I believe Jesus is Lord…. I’m Muslim; I’ve always seen the world as a Muslim. My perception is colored in such a way that, even if Jesus were God, I probably wouldn’t be able to know it. How can God hold me eternally accountable for not grasping a finite fact, one which I have no access to in the first place?”
Tis was my last-ditch effort to maintain my Islamic faith: denying my ability to arrive at objective truth.
It is often said, among those who are aware of these things, that Muslims in North Africa and the Middle East often encounter Jesus Christ through dreams and visions. Westerners are surprised to hear this; even Christians can be skeptical of it. Nabeel’s decision to follow Christ had been made intellectually, but he had not let his will follow his mind—not until God confirmed his ways through visions and dreams.
And so it was that a few years later he was working at a church instead of a hospital. He was on a path: having already completed a post-medical school M.A. in Apologetics through Biola University, he was learning to reach out and minister in his local church, while preparing to go to Duke University for a second doctorate. Today he’s a traveling speaker with perhaps the premier apologetics organization in the world, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. You might have a chance to hear him tell his story in your school or church someday; or maybe he’ll share one of the many reasons he finally realized that his search for Allah must finally lead him to Jesus Christ instead.
If you hear him speak—or if you don’t—you’re going to want to read his story. He wasn’t seeking Jesus Christ, as far as he knew. Maybe you aren’t either, as far as you know. Or maybe you are. Either way, his quest will help you understand your own.