What I Learned From A Former Muslim

Checking emails one morning, I opened one from Amazon. In it was going to be either a treasure trove or a pile of junk. Usually romance or something on sale.

This day brought a gem. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi. Immediately, I bought it for my Kindle.

Nabeel was a Muslim who converted after years of back and forth with a college friend, David Wood, who had been an atheist. Throughout the book, I learned about fundamental Islam, highlighting here and there. That’s not what caught my attention, though, as I read.

It’s the apologetics and evangelism lesson I saw in his interactions with his friend. From here on out, I’ll add excerpts from the book and occasionally my 2 or 3 cents.

Street Preaching or Relational Evangelism

“Sure, there are street preachers who share their message while still greeting people kindly, getting to know others’ troubles, and praying over personal pains, but I never saw them. What I saw were men who would stand on street corners accosting the public with their beliefs. No doubt they reached a few, but they repelled many more. Unfortunately, I have found that many Christians think of evangelism the same way, foisting Christian beliefs on strangers in chance encounters. The problem with this approach is that the gospel requires a radical life change, and not many people are about to listen to strangers telling them to change the way they live. What do they know about others’ lives? On the other hand, if a true friend shares the exact same message with heartfelt sincerity, speaking to specific circumstances and struggles, then the message is heard loud and clear. Effective evangelism requires relationships. There are very few exceptions.

I could do better with this. My evangelism is through the written word mostly. The online version of street preaching.

“This is only one of the reasons why a strong friendship is critical. A surface-level relationship might snap under the tension of disagreement, but by living our lives together, we were forced to reconcile. Of course, beyond mere proximity, we really did love and care for one another. Like true brothers, even after our biggest knockdown, drag-out arguments, we were still brothers. Love covers a multitude of sins. There was a benefit to our arguments, surprisingly. They showed us where points of tension were hiding beneath the surface, needing to be addressed.”

This made me think of my best friend and “brother.” Bobby is a literal Mjolnir-wearing heathen. I can talk to him without feeling competitive and having to “win.”

Though our conversations are loopy, a little of this, go over here, then off into the woods, back over there. I have a hard time remembering the multitude of topics.

Apologetics Are Important, But It Takes God To Save

It was then that I realized the value of apologetics and what the arguments had done for me. All my life, barriers had been erected that kept me from humbly approaching God and asking Him to reveal Himself to me. The arguments and apologetics tore down those barriers, positioning me to make a decision to pursue God or not. The work of my intellect was done. It had opened the way to His altar, but I had to decide whether I would approach it. If I did, and if I really wanted to know God, I had to cast myself upon His mercy and love, relying completely upon Him and His willingness to reveal Himself to me.”

A Cost To Consider

This took years to happen, and even then, he didn’t immediately drop to his knees and start following Jesus. Why? Because of the cost, he had to consider.

At the sight of a large crowd, Jesus said this in Luke 14: 26-27, 33:If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Jesus has to be number one. That doesn’t mean ignoring or literally hating our families. That’s hyperbole to get your attention, and it worked, didn’t it?

It means our love for Jesus is so great that the love we have for our families seems like hate. The thing is, when we follow the God who is love, we have even greater love to give to our families.

Sometimes our families don’t see that. Which is why Nabeel had to count the cost.

“But I was not the only one who would have to pay for my decision. If there were traits my family was known for in the Muslim community, they were my parents’ joyfulness, our close-knit relationships, and the honor we had garnered by faithfully following Islam. My choice to follow Jesus meant razing all three. My decision would shame my family with incredible dishonor. Even if I were right about Jesus, could I do such a terrible thing to my family? After everything they had done for me? My decision would shame my family with incredible dishonor. Could I do such a terrible thing to my family? After everything they had done for me?”

“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. But then again, it is the cross. There is a reason Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34 – 35). Would it be worth it to pick up my cross and be crucified next to Jesus? If He is not God, then, no. Lose everything I love to worship a false God? A million times over, no! But if He is God, then, yes. Being forever bonded to my Lord by suffering alongside Him? A million times over, yes!”

Apologetics tore down the intellectual arguments of Nabeel. He then asked God to reveal Himself. Not just once, but three times, just to be sure. In an interview, Nabeel Qureshi said, “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.” 

My Takeaway

He came to faith through careful thought. He was a Muslim evangelist as a kid, an apologist, and brought his A-Game as a trained debater. It took a lot of time.

From all appearances, he went forward, he went backward, and at one point his friend was going to drop it depending on Nabeel’s answer to a question. It took years.

I’m reminded of J. Warner Wallace’s analogy about baseball. When we talk about Jesus to others, our goal is to get them closer to a base, rather than a home run.

Home runs are rare. Plus, we don’t know what base they’re even on. Over time, they’re slowly moved around the baseball diamond. We may never know if they crossed the home plate this side of heaven.

So don’t give up.

51gooh5ytolAll in all, this was a good book. I stopped reading my usual rotating books to focus on this one. It’s in the form of a memoir, so it’s easy to read. It’s an excellent way to learn the basics of Islam and Christianity, along with an inside look at Islamic culture.

I highly recommend getting this book, particularly the newer one with the additions after Nabeel passed away.

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