Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a Pakistani-American family and grew up a devout Muslim. While he was in medical school, he read the Bible for research in his debate against a Christian friend, and this began a journey that eventually led to his becoming a Christian. He shared his conversion story in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and he travels telling his story and providing encouragement to those who seek to share their faith with a changing world.
In light of the fact that the Muslim world is front and center in the international press right now, we thought it would be particularly helpful to talk with Qureshi. He began by sharing his insights into some common misconceptions about Muslims.
1. What are a few common misconceptions evangelical Christians have about Muslims?
The unfortunate truth is that most people who call themselves Christians live nothing like Christ and just take His name in vain. Jesus was willing to eschew the company of the religious to live among the lost, even suffering scorn to be with them (Mark 2:15-17). From what I’ve seen, many evangelical Christians live in what I call “Christian bubbles” instead of living life with those who are not covered by the blood of Jesus (for example, Muslims). Because of this, they maintain unfortunate misconceptions about their Muslim neighbors. Here are the three most prevalent misconceptions I have seen:
Misconception #1: “Muslims are violent people.” Of the thousands of Muslims I grew up with and knew as a child, not a single one promoted violence. Without commenting on whether historical Islam teaches violence, I can unequivocally say the vast majority of Muslims in the West are truly peaceful people.
Misconception #2: “Muslims are all the same.” From Sufis to Salafis, Arabs to Bosnians, nominals to zealots, that could not be further from the truth.
Misconception #3: “Muslims are godless.” Devout Muslims live their lives in constant remembrance of Allah, trying to follow their creator in prayers, fasts, scripture memorization, sacrificial alms, adherence to tradition, and Sabbath congregations.
2. There are agnostics who would say that your conversion really wasn’t a conversion at all — that Allah and the Christian God are the same, and you’re just swimming in a different river that leads to the same ocean. What would you say to those people?
In one sense, I’d agree with them. A universe without a god would by necessity be a place without absolute morals, without ultimate hope, without true meaning, without altruistic love, and without inherent value. It would be a chaotic and ruthless system of despair. By contrast, a theistic world allows for morality, hope, meaning, love and value. As Islam and Christianity are both theistic worldviews, they are far closer to each other than the distant and bleak outlook of atheism. But that does not mean they are the same. The God of the Gospel is a Father, whereas the god of Islam explicitly denies being a father. Yahweh is triune, whereas Allah is a simple unity. Yahweh is infinitely merciful and infinitely just, whereas Allah grants mercy to some and exacts justice on whosoever he wills. Their characteristics are quite different.
The Gospel is this: that God saw our sin and suffering, and instead of standing removed from the world, watching and judging, He entered into the world and suffered alongside us, taking our burden from us, paying our penalty for us. He secured our eternity for us because we cannot earn our own salvation, and He offered proof of eternal life by rising from the grave and defeating death. Allah did not do and would never do any such things. These two conceptions of God might look similar from afar, but there’s a world of difference between them.
3. What’s one part of the Bible that made you uncomfortable when you first became a Christian, and how did you handle it?
Shortly after becoming a Christian, I realized that for 22 years of my life, I had been duped into believing the Qur’an was the Word of God because I just listened to the Muslims around me. They were well-meaning, to be sure, and they had some arguments, but ultimately they were wrong. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!” I did not want to play the fool for well-meaning Christians, so I needed excellent reason to believe the Bible was the Word of God. I decided to study under critics of the Bible, such as Bart Ehrman, to see what they had to say.
One of the matters that made me uncomfortable was that the canon of the New Testament was not finalized until the fourth century. Why did it take so long for Christians to agree on what books belong in the Bible? What I found was that some Roman Emperors, such as Diocletian, had made Christianity effectively illegal; Christians weren’t at liberty to gather and discuss their books. About 300 years after Jesus, Christianity was made legal, and believers began to gather from all corners of Christendom. One would think that, without having discussed what books belong in the Bible, there would be much disagreement. In truth, it was remarkable how much they agreed! Without needing much discussion, the books of the New Testament were agreed upon. Far from seeing this as a human process, I see the hand of the Holy Spirit in this.
4. Recently, a devout, evangelical, Palestinian pastor was interviewed by Christianity Today and said, “I hope my brothers and sisters in the West … have enough room in their hearts not just for Israel but also for the Palestinians.” As a former Muslim, what are your thoughts on this complicated conflict?
As a Christian who focuses on the Gospel message, I believe that we are called to sacrificially love everyone, including both Israelis and Palestinians. We must understand the plight of the Palestinians as well as that of the Israelis. What good does it do to love only those who love us? Honestly, I think my opinion has nothing to do with being a former Muslim, but everything to do with being a follower of Jesus.
5. With apologies for the title of our interview, do you ever get tired of being “The Guy Who Converted From Islam to Christianity”? I mean, do you ever feel like you’ve been typecast as a believer?
Yes! Thanks for asking! After nine years of being a follower of Jesus, you’re the first who’s asked! Even the term “former Muslim” makes me feel like I’m forever bound by the life I left. We don’t identify other Christians as “former adulterers,” “former narcissists,” etc. I have been made a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), I strive every day to cast off the old self and to put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24), reflecting the fact that I have been born again from above (John 3:3). I would be thrilled if I never had to talk about Islam again, focusing instead on the awe-inspiring power of God’s incarnation and resurrection! But as long as there are Muslims, there will be Christians who need to be equipped to share the Gospel with them in compelling compassion. Until that is no longer the case, I am honored to discuss my former way of life to build up the body of Christ. Thanks for giving me this opportunity.