Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Qureshi, Nabeel. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus:
A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity.

Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan, 2014.

March 18, 2015

The greatest concern for me, were I to accept Jesus as Lord, was that I might be wrong. What if Jesus is not God? I’d be worshiping a human. That would incur the wrath of Allah, and more than anything else, it would secure my abode in hell.

These are the costs Muslims must calculate when considering the gospel: losing the relationships they have built in this life, potentially losing this life itself, and if they are wrong, losing their afterlife in paradise. It is no understatement to say that Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross. (pp. 252-3)

He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3: 11)

We are living in times of great confusion and turmoil, and often have a hard time to make sense of what is happening in the world. It seems that evil forces of hatred and violence have free play to kill and destroy. This is what is happening in many countries where the religion of Islam is supreme.

Who can ever forget the video showing a man totally clad in black holding a knife towering over a bound and helpless prisoner whose life he will shortly bring to a bloody end? Or the video of the Jordanian pilot, caged like an animal, and burned to death? Just yesterday I received more pictures of similar killings, all of them by ISIS terrorists. The most chilling was a picture of a toddler, perhaps one year old, with three guns pointed at his little head. Oh Lord, how long are such unspeakable barbaric crimes to go on?

It is in such a time as this that the book by Nabeel Qureshi introduces us to a very different kind of Muslim believers. He was born into a Muslim family who had immigrated to America. His father’s work as an American naval officer meant that the family had to relocate to different cities, and even spent some years in Scotland.

Living in Two Worlds

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, is a page-turner book about the challenge of living in two different cultures, secular America, and devout Pakistan-rooted Islam of the peace-loving Ahmadi kind.

Nabeel’s father (Abba) and mother (Ammi) took their faith seriously and taught him and his sister to love the Muslim way of life. They were a loving family, but that came crashing down when Nabeel decided, after much honest soul searching and intense study of the Bible and the Koran, to leave Islam and embrace the Christian faith. His parents felt betrayed and were heart broken. This was the hardest thing that also broke Nabeel‘s own heart.

This book gives us an inside look into his heart --rending struggle with conflicting forces that almost destroyed him. Yet, it is above all a story of the victory of the love of Christ in the life of a gifted and humble servant of the Lord. Nabeel has a three-fold purpose in writing this book.

One, To tear down walls by giving non-Muslim readers an “insider’s perspective into a Muslim’s heart and mind.” Two, To equip you “with facts and knowledge, showing the strength of the case for the gospel in contrast with the case for Islam.” Three, “To portray the immense inner struggle of Muslims grappling with the gospel , including sacrifices and doubts….it is in the midst of this struggle that God is known to reach people directly through visions and dreams.” (pp. 17-18)

Nabeel writes that there is a stark difference between the first generation of immigrants from the Eastern Islamic cultures and those born in the West, especially during the teenage years. He also points out that this difference is amplified because of the difference between Western and Eastern notions of authority and truth. People from Eastern Islamic cultures generally depend on authority, not individual reasoning, to arrive at truth. Critically examining data to arrive at the truth is left to specialists, not the unlearned. (p.80)

Nabeel’s inquiring mind could not accept the requirement to depend on authority, especially when he befriended David Wood, a fellow student who was a thoughtful Christian. The two students began to discuss and debate each other’s faith That’s how a new phase in Nabeel’s life began with consequences that would fundamentally change his life forever.

Beginning Doubts

The discussion started when they were both staying in a hotel during a forensics tournament. Nabeel noticed that David was reading the Bible and that’s how they began talking about the reliability of the Bible. As a Muslim, Nabeel had learned that the Bible was changed over time and therefore corrupted. But this first discussion with David caused him to re-examine what he had been taught about that topic. He was still convinced that the Bible is corrupt but he realized that he must go beyond the arguments he had previously heard. (p. 128)

After many discussions about the Bible and the Koran, they agreed that the truth of Christianity hinges on the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. They agreed to meet with a few other Christians, Gary and Mike, and Nabeel’s father to discuss the crucifixion of Jesus. Such a meeting took place, but instead of confirming Nabeel’s faith in Islam, it caused him to feel less secure about his faith. He began to suspect that he no longer was able to trust what his parents had taught him.

It was as if a veil of certainty was lifted from him and he was beginning to see the world in a new light. He writes: “Maybe, just maybe, I should start considering it a remote possibility that the Christian message could possibly be true.” (p.154)

Many more discussions, including a debate by Mike and a Toronto Muslim apologist, Shabir Ally, held at Regent University in Virginia Beach, gave more food for thought about the most important matters of faith and life. Nabeel continued his talks with David while immersing himself in the literature about the divinity, death and resurrection of Jesus. He began reading the Bible methodically.

When Nabeel read the opening of John’s Gospel he was struck by the inevitability that Jesus is God. Yet he could not believe that, because if that were true, then his family and everyone he loved were caught in a lie. “If Jesus truly did claim to be God, then the Quran is wrong and Islam is a false religion.” He prayed to Allah to show him that Jesus is not God. (p.179)

Another bone of contention between Nabeel and David was the Trinity, and the belief that Jesus is able to take upon himself and forgive the sins of man (substitutionary atonement). Yet gradually he was overcome with the reality of a loving God who forgives sinful people who are incapable to bridge the gulf that separates them from a holy God.

Such a notion of forgiveness and grace is totally different from the Muslim belief that salvation is obtainable by doing more good deeds than bad ones. After another intense discussion with David about divine forgiveness, Nabeel began to grasp something of the power of God’s grace who teaches us to call him “Father.” He writes:

It was as if I was meeting my Heavenly Father for the first time. After having just confronted the depravity of my sins, His forgiveness and love was that much sweeter. This God, the God of the gospel, was beautiful. I was spellbound by this message. My heart and my mind were caught in the beginnings of a revolution. (p.202)

Testing Muhammad and the Koran

Yet Nabeel was not ready to break with his Muslim faith. He agreed to further examine the role of Muhammad and the Koran in a meeting with his close friends and a few others. There he presented the story of Muhammad as he was taught by his parents and Muslim teachers, which is that Muhammad was a peace-loving, righteous and exemplary leader. But he was questioned about the reliability of the Muslim sources about Muhammad and the Koran that left him feeling that his presentation was unconvincing. He decided to take a closer look at the life of Muhammad and the reliability of the Koran.

On both counts, he was disappointed. He found that the Koran, instead of being from eternity and unchanged, had a much less solid foundation. Muhammad’s first biography by Ibn Ishaq is based on a later biographer, Ibn Hisham, who altered the story of Muhammad’s life as follows: “Things which it is disgraceful to discuss, matters which would distress certain people, and such reports as [my teacher] told me he could not accept as trustworthy – all these things I have omitted.” (p.215)

Reading further in the Bukhary hadith 1.24, Nabeel discovers Muhammad’s own statement that he has been ordered by Allah to fight against people and force them to worship Allah “then they will save their lives and property from me.” He also reads that the greatest thing a Muslim can do is to engage in jihad. Bukhari explains that this is “religious fighting.”

Nabeel is shocked to discover that the list of Muhammad’s cruel deeds is long and cannot be justified or ignored. Especially after reading in the Koran and the hadith that Muhammad had Justified the raping of women whose husbands had been killed or taken prisoner, he comes to this conclusion:

That was more than enough. I was done. I could not think about it any longer. It was revolting, and thinking about it would cause me to despise my prophet and my faith. I would not allow myself to despise them, but I could find no way to excuse them either. So I was done. I was done fighting. I was finally broken. (p.245)

Yet his future was filled with doubt and fears. He did not know who he was or what he should do, now that he was bereft of the Muslim faith that had sustained him all his life. He is flailing for something to hold on to, but what? This is when his friend David told him to ask God directly, for if you ask Him to reveal the truth, He will. (p.249)

Costly Decision

Nabeel knew the tremendous cost of a Muslim’s decision to follow Jesus. It would mean immediate ostracism from the Muslim community and the foreiture of friendships and social connections that had been built from childhood forward. It would mean dishonour to the family, as well as condemnation to hell!

In Islam, there is only one unforgivable sin, shirk, the belief that someone other than Allah is God. Shirk is specifically discussed in the context of Jesus in 5:72. He who believes that Jesus is God, “Allah has forbidden Heaven for him, and his abode will be the Hellfire.” (p.252-3)

Nearing the end of the book Nabeel writes that the edifice of his worldview, all he had ever known, had slowly been dismantled over the past three years. This is part of his prayer to God:

Please God Almighty, tell me who You are! I beseech You and only You. Only you can rescue me. At Your feet, I lay down everything I have learned, and I give my entire life to You. Take away what you will, be it my joy, my friends, my family, or even my life. But let me have You, O God.

Nabeel prayed urgently for confirmation by a vision or dream that he had made the right decision by following Jesus. The Lord gave him one vision and three dreams, which he interpreted as a direct answer to his questions. In addition, his Bible reading about surrendering and trusting God gave him the certitude and the faith that leaving Islam and following Jesus was right.

The hardest thing Nabeel had to do was telling his parents of his decision. His father’s eyes welled up with tears…. “To be the cause of the only tears I had ever seen those eyes shed, I could not bear it. Why, God…?” His father did not say much, “Nabeel, this day, I feel as if my backbone has been ripped out from inside me.” These words tore through Nabeel and haunted him ever since.

His mother spoke even fewer words, but her eyes said more. You are my only son. You came from my womb. Since you were born I have called you my jaan kay tuqray, a physical piece of my life and heart. I cradled you, sang to you, taught you the ways of God. Every day since you came into the world, I have loved you with all of me in a way I have loved no one else. Why have you betrayed me, Billoo?” Nabeel writes that his mother’s eyes “seared my soul and remain branded in my memory.” (pp. 280-1)

I think that the author has succeeded in his three-fold purpose to provide insight into a Muslim’s heart and mind; to bring facts and knowledge to show that the case for the Gospel is stronger than that for Islam; and to portray the immense inner struggle, sacrifices and doubts of Muslims grappling with the Gospel, while God sometimes reaches people directly through visions and dreams.

Readers will come away from this book with a better understanding of the relationship between Christians and Muslims. It takes real courage, honesty, and above all love, to open up one’s heart and soul to other people as Nabeel Qurashi has done. Every Christian (and others of course) will be enriched and encouraged by reading this fine and heart--stirring book.

www.heedingthetimes.net

Nabeel Qureshi is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries