How does a committed and passionate follower of Islam reconsider his faith and become an outspoken apologist for Christianity? This is a story of being introduced to Jesus through friendships, investigations, dreams, and visions.
What follows is a conversation between the late Nabeel Qureshi (@NAQureshi), author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Third Edition) (Zondervan, 2018), and his friend David Wood, who led Nabeel to consider the veracity of the claims of Jesus Christ. The discussion took place in Atlanta, Georgia, during the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in November 2015. Nabeel and David reminisced about their friendship, the Bible and its role in Nabeel’s conversion, and what they had learned about ministering to Muslims.
Nabeel Qureshi: Do you remember the first time we had a discussion on religion?
David Wood: You started it. We were in a hotel room on a trip, and I was reading my Bible, praying, “God, my last conversations with a Muslim did not work out very well. If you want me to talk to this guy, let him start it.” That’s when you said, “So, are you a hardcore Christian?”
Nabeel Qureshi: That evening we started talking about how the Bible was passed down. As a Muslim I was very confident I knew a lot about the Bible, even though now in retrospect I know I didn’t. How did you perceive my knowledge of the Bible? My attacks against the Bible, how did they strike you?
David Wood: I’d talked to Muslims before. I knew that they are very confident, because they hear certain things all their lives. It was just, “This guy really believes this, and it’s totally wrong; I hope he eventually sees that.” I didn’t know then we were going to be friends for years.
Nabeel Qureshi: Coming into that conversation, I was convinced Christians didn’t know what they were talking about. I thought if Christians had any education, they would’ve known the Bible was corrupted. I thought Christians were polytheists. All I had to do was tell people Christianity was false, and they would realize they were wrong. We had a conversation that night, and I recall for the first time thinking, “Here’s a Christian who knows what he’s talking about.” So even though I saw myself as sparring with you, I had respect for you, because you had a backbone, you actually had some knowledge about your faith, you didn’t believe it blindly. Shortly after that point, I thought, “We’re the same sort of person. He’s Christian, I’m Muslim, but we have the same values; we have the same conviction in our faith.”
David Wood: You and I became better and better friends. Somewhere between two and three years later, I noticed you didn’t have the same sort of confidence in arguments you used to use. So I asked a question I had asked years earlier: “Why are you a Muslim?” You terrified me when you said, “God knows our faculties are limited. We can’t get to the ultimate truth of things. So I’m just going to remain a Muslim.”
Nabeel Qureshi: The ironic thing was as I was losing confidence in my ability to know Islam is true, I was acting more and more Muslim. I started leading the Muslim youth group in our city. I was covering up the cognitive dissonance, because it’s a shameful thing to doubt Islam. I’ve seen it quite a bit. Now I have people say to me, “I was trying to reach out to my Muslim friend with the gospel, but they’ve just become more and more Muslim.” I actually think it’s a good sign. I think it shows that they’re losing confidence in their faith. At the end of that conversation, you told me, “Nabeel, hasn’t your father had prophetic dreams? Haven’t you? Don’t you think God is willing to tell you the truth if you seek him?” I remember it was a powerful moment, because we were graduating from college, I was going to medical school, but I just felt broken. You said, “You need to pray; you need to ask God.”
David Wood: I was thinking that’s all I could do at that point. If you no longer trust your ability to get to the truth, all I can do is pray and hope God does something.
Nabeel Qureshi: That’s actually a good thing, right? When someone has gotten to a place where they’re not relying on themselves.
David Wood: I regard that as the point of apologetics now.
Nabeel Qureshi: Exactly. I did start asking God. It took many months; I remember shedding tears. I would say, “God, I’m absolutely, one hundred percent convinced you’re there; why aren’t you answering this prayer?” It hurt. But in retrospect, I know God was tenderizing my heart. Then I had a dream one night, a very symbolic dream. I knew it was from God the moment I woke up. I called you and said, “David, do Christians believe God can give people dreams?”
David Wood: I remember talking about Joseph, saying yes, in the Bible God gives people dreams.
Nabeel Qureshi: I didn’t want to tell you what I had seen in the dream because I had a feeling deep down that God was pointing me to Christianity, and I didn’t want you to be right. Instead, I called my mom, and she started trying to interpret the symbols in my dream using an Islamic dream book. As she was interpreting the symbols, one after another after another, it was very clear God was telling me Christianity would save me and Islam would be the death of me. Later, when I told you the dream, you said—
David Wood: “Does God need to whack you with a baseball bat? What’s it going to take?”
Nabeel Qureshi: My response was, “Look, it’s a symbolic dream; I can’t wager my eternal destiny, my family, everything I have, on a dream.” We had discussed the death and resurrection of Jesus for years, and we had talked about Muhammad and the Quran for years. I had reasons my confidence in Islam was shaken. But I wanted something more clear. So I asked God for a second dream. It didn’t come for a few more months. But when the second dream came, I remember calling you first thing in the morning when I woke up.
David Wood: When you have a dream that inserts you into a Bible parable you hadn’t read before, I took that seriously.
Nabeel Qureshi: Yes, in the dream I was standing at a narrow door, watching a feast, knowing there were Christians inside, because you were there. But I was not allowed in; I had to respond to an invitation you’d issued me in order to enter the feast, which I knew was in heaven. People ask, “How did you know?” I just knew in the dream that the room was heaven. When I called, you said the Gospel of Luke has this passage in it, Luke 13:22.
David Wood: The narrow door.
Nabeel Qureshi: I remember in my dream the narrow door was the most powerful symbol.
David Wood: So you converted right after that, right?
Nabeel Qureshi: No, I asked for a third dream. My reason was because in Islam, Allah prefers odd numbers, and in Christianity God is a trinity. The third dream came pretty quickly. It was a dream of me on a set of stairs leaving the mosque, and I could not get off those stairs. No matter how much I wanted to fall in line behind the imam, who I loved and trusted, I couldn’t get off the stairs.
David Wood: By this time it was even funny. When you asked how I would interpret the first dream, it was possible to come up with all kinds of interpretations, but there’s only one that fits you on a stairway leaving a mosque and you can’t get off the stairway. So you became a Christian then, right?
Nabeel Qureshi: I was wrestling with what I was going to have to do and asking God for comfort and guidance.
Nabeel Qureshi: I have had Christians say, “I don’t think you should become a Christian based on dreams,” but that’s not how I became a Christian. First the apologetics tore down the barrier between me and God. I got to a point where I needed to rely on God. Then it was dreams and visions, which I trusted as a Muslim, that opened my heart to see God answering my prayer. But the final step was reading Scripture. I remember reading through Matthew, asking God to comfort me, to give me peace.
David Wood: Is this when you were coming to our Sunday school?
Nabeel Qureshi: It was right before. When I looked through the Quran to ask Allah for comfort, there was nothing. It was all conditional; if you repent, Allah will respond, or if you do this, God will do that. That’s not what I needed. I needed a God who just loves me and wants to comfort me. I turned to the Bible and came to Matthew 5 where it says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The next verse says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Not those who perform righteousness, not those who are righteous. In that moment I fell in love with the Bible. The next Sunday, I went to church with you.
Nabeel Qureshi: A question: Is it easy for the lighthearted to minister to Muslims?
David Wood: You have to be in it for the long haul. I had Christians tell me I was wasting my time, because you and I were spending years going through everything. Some told me, “You could be talking to so many atheists right now; you’re a former atheist. You’re spending all this time with the same guy, going back and forth arguing about things.” At the same time, if God put us together, who was I to say it’s time to stop now? A part of why it took so long is the barriers that Muslims face, right? When a Muslim hears the Good News, he’s thinking, “This will send me to hell.” It doesn’t come across as good news. Also, you are fortunate that you managed to still have a relationship with your parents. I know Muslims who say, “The last time I saw my parents is when I told them I became a Christian.”
Nabeel Qureshi: With Muslims, you need to have a long-term relationship, not just during evangelism but after the person has accepted the Lord. They need someone to turn to. They need someone for discipleship. They need a new community, a Christian community to come around them. In our friendship, was it always sunshine and roses?
David Wood: No, there were very heated discussions. But that’s good; you can have an argument with a good friend, whereas if you had an argument with someone who’s not your friend, you might not talk to that person again.
Nabeel Qureshi: Did you have all the answers before we became friends?
David Wood: No, you would claim something, and I would go look it up. That’s how I started studying Muslim sources.
Nabeel Qureshi: So you don’t have to know everything to minister to Muslims, but you need to at least have confidence in your own Christian faith. You need to be able to present why you trust the Bible. Do you believe Jesus is risen? Why? Do you believe he’s God? Can you articulate the Trinity? Also, it’s helpful to know a little bit about Islam, but no Muslim fits perfectly the Islamic mold. Everyone has slight differences.
Nabeel Qureshi: To summarize how to minister to Muslims, I think we can encapsulate it with Mark 12: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” As we love people, like you did with me, I became your friend. We lived life together. You loved God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength while you also loved me. I got to see that. The danger is when people only love their neighbors but don’t proclaim the gospel, or on the flip side, they proclaim the gospel but don’t love their neighbors. You need to do both, in tandem. That’s my final piece of advice for people who minister to Muslims. This is a spiritual struggle. We need to remember we are agents of God. He has called us, He has equipped us, and we’re asking the Holy Spirit to do the work fearlessly. The largest group of religious believers apart from Christians in the world today are Muslims. We need to be prepared to reach out to them and rely on God to do that through us.
Thanks, David, for sticking it through with me. I really appreciate our brotherhood.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Third Edition) is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Nabeel Qureshi, MD, was the author of the New York Times bestsellers No God but One: Allah or Jesus?—A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity and Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, the only book ever to win Christian Book Awards® for both “Best New Author” and “Best Nonfiction.” Nabeel was an accomplished global speaker and held an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, an MA in religion from Duke University, and an MPhil in Judaism and Christianity from Oxford University.
Raised as a devout Muslim in the United States, Nabeel grew up studying Islamic apologetics with his family and engaging Christians in religious discussions. After one such discussion with a Christian, the two became friends and began a years-long debate on the historical claims of Christianity and Islam. Nabeel chronicled his resulting journey in his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.
Throughout his years of ministry, Nabeel lectured to students at more than 100 universities, including Oxford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Hong Kong. He participated in 18 moderated, public debates around North America, Europe, and Asia. Christianity Today heralded Nabeel as one of “33 Under 33” in its cover story on emerging religion leaders in July 2014.
Other works of Nabeel’s include Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward—a balanced examination of jihad, the rise of ISIS, and Islamic terrorism—and the Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Video Study, which goes deeper into the apologetics that led Nabeel himself to Christ.
Following a year-long battle with stomach cancer, heaven welcomed Nabeel home on September 16, 2017. He leaves behind his wife and young daughter who aspire to honor the ministerial legacy Nabeel established during his brief 34 years on earth.
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