“I was familiar with the Bible from a very young age. I was taught that it proves the Muslim belief that Jesus is not God,” says Nabeel Qureshi, now an author and speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).

Qureshi was raised in a close-knit Pakistani-American family devoted to Islam—so when he became convinced of the truth of the Bible and the claims of the Christian faith, he knew everything would change. “I knew from studying the gospels that I was called to give up everything. Jesus says in Matthew 10, ‘He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.’ ” 

Barriers to Belief

In responding to the gospel, Qureshi realized his relationship with his family presented two barriers to Christian faith. The first was intellectual. From an early age, he had been taught Islamic apologetics—he learned to defend his minority faith in a majority Christian context. “Islam and Christianity teach such disparate things, and my parents needed a way to teach their son—who was growing up in the United States—to hold his beliefs against Christian teachings. I was taught Bible verses that seemed to argue against the deity of Jesus. One was Mark 13:32, where Jesus talks about no one knowing the day or the hour of the end of times, ‘not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’ ” Qureshi had to re-examine everything he had long assumed to be fact.

The second barrier was social. Even before he seriously considered Christianity, Qureshi knew how devastating his conversion would be to his parents. His close ties with them stemmed from their Eastern, communal-minded family structure—compounded by the isolation they experienced living as a minority race, religion, and culture in the U.S. To describe Qureshi’s family as devout doesn’t truly portray their religious legacy: “My mom was a missionary kid who grew up in Indonesia, where my grandfather preached to tribes in the jungles. My great-grandfather was a missionary and physician in Uganda. From a social perspective, there were two things that gave my parents a sense of respect and standing in the Muslim community: the family legacy and their children. My conversion would mean taking everything away from them.”

The Role of Apologetics

While in college and medical school, one of Qureshi’s Christian friends challenged him to examine the Bible more seriously to see if its claims could be verified. It took years, but he began to respect the Bible as a historical document—even before he recognized Jesus as God. “We know through biblical archaeology that some of the things Luke mentioned were not corroborated until archaeological digs confirmed them. I came to the conclusion that they had compelling historical truths. I researched textual transmission, wanting to find out if what the Bible says today is what the Bible has always said. We have so many manuscripts of theNew Testament in ancient Greek that we can be very confident in our reading of its text. Understanding the nature of the evidence began to change my perspective on the reliability of the Bible.” 

As his respect for the Bible grew, Qureshi began to look more closely at the Gospel of Mark’s claims about Jesus. “Muslim apologists will usually say that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, but he didn’t claim to be God. They expect Jesus to identify himself using certain words. It’s not a bad expectation, given how God identifies himself in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 45:22, for example, God very powerfully says, ‘I am God, and there is no other.’ When he meets Moses in Exodus 3:14, Moses asks him who he is, and God says, ‘I am that I am’—in other words, ‘I eternally exist.’ ”

Qureshi’s studies in Mark convinced him that the oldest of the Gospels is fundamentally about the deity of Christ. “The climax of Mark’s Gospel is Mark 14:62, when Jesus is asked to publicly proclaim his identity. ‘Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?’ asked the high priest. And Jesus responds by saying, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ It’s so important that we know our Old Testament because in this one verse Jesus responds by referring to at least two passages. The first is Psalm 110:1: ‘The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ His response also references Daniel 7:13, where Daniel sees a vision of ‘one like the son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom.’ When we read Jesus’ statement in context with those Old Testament passages, we see him saying, ‘I am the God of Daniel. I am the God of David.’ Once I saw that, I realized what I had been taught about Christianity was false. Even in the earliest records, Jesus had claimed to be God.”

An Individualist Action in a Communal Culture

Although Qureshi now was convinced of the truth of Scripture, he still hesitated to turn his life over to Christ. In Islamic culture, decisions are made and actions considered based not on the individual’s wants or desires, but on the expectations of one’s community. “I had to deal with the idea of giving up everyone around me. Everything they’d sacrificed for me—I’d be throwing that back in their faces. Was the cost going to be worth it?”

“The tipping point for me was when I set the Qur’an and the Bible in front of me and prayed to God for comfort and guidance. I flipped through the Qur’an first. I was looking for verses designed to comfort a man who is hurting. I went through the whole book, and there is not a single verse in the Qur’an designed to comfort a hurting man. And so I put the Qur’an down, and said, ‘This book doesn’t apply to me anymore.’ I picked up the Bible and started reading the New Testament. When I got to Matthew 5, I read these words: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ ”

“God reaches out to people through the Bible. He speaks to them in their needs. The Bible says that God loves even those who are thirsting for righteousness, whereas the Qur’an says God does not love anyone except those who are righteous. That just blew my mind away, and I realized the Bible was the living Word of God. I kept reading and got to Matthew 10:32: ‘Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.’ It’s not just a matter of having evidence or spiritual or emotional guidance. Jesus says you have to confess him before the people of this world. That verse convicted me to drop to my knees and proclaim Christ as Lord.”

Next Steps: Bible Study and Church

As he had feared, Qureshi’s family cut him off after his conversion—an isolation that forced him to rely more fully on God. Qureshi took a year off from medical school to get acquainted with his newfound faith. He enrolled in an apologetics course at Biola University and continued intensely studying the Bible. At first Qureshi says he approached the Bible the same way he’d been taught to study the Qur’an. “Muslims often don’t sit down with concordances or with anything like that. They just memorize sections of the Qur’an, and so I memorized sections of the Bible. In the first few weeks after I became a Christian, I memorized the book of Ephesians.” 

Scripture memorization can be a very helpful tool, but through conversations with his Christian friends, he learned that Bible study should be more than just memorizing the words of the text. It ought to involve an effort to understand Scripture’s meaning. “I began looking at themes that tie together the Old and New Testaments. I studied what the Bible says about self-sacrifice. I studied God’s love for Israel, which is a very poignant subject for anyone with a Muslim background.” 

As he had few church connections, Qureshi started meeting with a handful of Christian friends. “I knew three other people who were also new believers. One of them had just recommitted himself to Christ. Of the two others, one had been an atheist and the other converted from Buddhism. The four of us got together every Wednesday and every Sunday to read the Bible and a devotional together. That was the most amazing time of my life. Our community was, I think, exactly what Christ wanted. We broke bread together in remembrance of him.”

When Qureshi began attending church regularly, he was unprepared for the lax attitude toward faith held by many Christians. “I encountered people who were not expecting God to do anything. People didn’t really believe in the Holy Spirit. In no way did I see people relying upon God, and I slowly became accustomed to that. In Western cultures, people are fiercely individualistic. Everything we do is very much, ‘What do I think is right or wrong? What’s good for me?’ In Christianity, that seeps into how we practice our faith: ‘How did the Lord speak to me this morning?’ ‘I need to sit down with my study Bible, and do my devotions.’ In that environment, my faith gradually became a matter of just reading my Bible, praying, and doing my devotions in the morning.”

These individualist tendencies of comfort and self-reliance—not the much-discussed arenas of Islam, atheism, or homosexuality—are the biggest challenge facing the American church, in Qureshi’s perspective. “Jesus says very clearly in the book of Revelation that he does not want people to be lukewarm. As we see in the Gospels, he is all in or all out, and he calls us to live the same way. That’s why he says it’s harder for rich men to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. No one can serve both wealth and God. Even Christians who do not adhere to a prosperity gospel can easily become self-reliant and comfortable, but God wants us to radically rely on him. What does that look like? If someone asks for your cloak, give them your tunic also. Look at the lilies of the field. Aren’t they clothed in greater splendor than Solomon? If God has taken care of them, won’t he take care of us? Give your food to the hungry. Love your enemies. Be ready to lay down your life for the gospel. That’s what it means to live as a Christian.”

Living Testimony

Over the last decade, Qureshi has been working to rebuild his family relationships. For years he was estranged from his parents. When he got married, they did not attend his wedding. “The first few years were extremely difficult, and after that things were still very, very hard. In the last year there’s finally been some good progress. My wife has been reaching out to my parents and learning their language. Of course my parents speak English, but my wife wants to speak their heart language. We try to spend time with them and let them know that we love them. We’re trying to be good witnesses. The relationship has never been anywhere close to what it used to be, but it’s in the process of repairing.”

In 2006, as Qureshi began sharing his testimony in local churches, he was also invited to give talks on other aspects of Christian culture—one of his earliest was on The DaVinci Code, in the year of the film’s release. By September 2011, he had completed his medical degree and was living in Washington, D.C.—but he was no longer interested in practicing medicine. His conversion upended even his professional goals: “My heart was in evangelism and apologetics.”

Overcoming intellectual and emotional hurdles to reach his belief fueled Qureshi’s enthusiasm for apologetics, the discipline of defending the faith. In 2013, he joined the RZIM team, where he uses his testimony to walk college students through a Christian apologetic. He still speaks frequently on his personal testimony and on how Christians can reach Muslims with the gospel. In 2014, he released a book—Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus—detailing his journey to faith. Qureshi’s passion is sharing the power of the gospel. To that end, he is pursuing a doctorate in New Testament studies at Oxford, focusing on the Christology of Mark’s Gospel. 

After Qureshi’s conversion, deep conversations with Christian friends who were passionate about the gospel spurred his research into the deity of Christ and his eventual conversion. He’s careful to underscore the importance of compassion in the midst of argument—not debating or arguing for argument’s sake, but with the goal of meeting someone with the gospel message in the midst of struggle, just as his friends did for him. “When someone asks how a loving God can allow so much suffering in the world, we should realize they may have something in their past prompting that question. I don’t want anyone to try to argue the person into heaven. We need to realize perhaps something happened to their family in the past. Who knows what might have happened that created a hurdle between them and the gospel? Once that hurdle is cleared, then they can see the gospel and consider it for what it is.”

“Dr. Zacharias tells us, ‘You cannot cut off someone’s nose and then give him a rose to smell.’ You can’t attack someone’s beliefs to show them Christianity is true and expect them to receive the gospel. Apart from evangelism and compassion, apologetics is a weapon. Without the presentation of the gospel as its ultimate goal and compassion as its undertone, argument stems from sinful pride.” 

Having been “compassionately argued into the kingdom” himself, Qureshi wants to give believers the tools to reach out in the same way: “I want to help people overcome their barriers to hearing the gospel. It is the only answer for the world.”  

 

 
Jessi Strong is senior writer for Bible Study Magazine. She blogs at JessiStrong.com.

Jessi Strong is senior writer for Bible Study Magazine. She blogs at JessiStrong.com.


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