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Nabeel Qureshi, who shared conversion from Islam to Christianity, dies at 34

Nabeel Qureshi. Photo courtesy of McClure/Muntsinger Public Relations

(RNS) Nabeel Qureshi, an author and apologist who wrote about his conversion from Islam to Christianity in several best-selling books, has died. He was 34.

Qureshi died on Saturday (Sept. 16) after a yearlong public battle with stomach cancer, according to a statement by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, where Qureshi was an itinerant speaker.

“As you consider my ministry, I hope it leaves a legacy of love, of peace, of truth, of caring for one another. That’s my hope and my purpose behind this,” Qureshi said in a final video posted Sept. 9 on social media.

“If at any point I’ve said anything that seems to contravene that, I do apologize, and I hope that that’s not the legacy I leave behind.”

Qureshi was raised an Ahmadi Muslim by his parents, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan.

When he was an adult, a Christian friend challenged him to study Islam with a critical eye, the same way he had studied Christianity. After several years of investigation, and what he described as dreams and visions, he became a Christian — a decision he recounted in his New York Times best-selling book, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity,” published in 2014.

He wrote two more apologetic books, “Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward” and “No God But One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity.”

For many Christians, Qureshi was their introduction to Islam, shaping what they knew and understood about the religion and its adherents and affirming evangelical beliefs. With master’s degrees in Christian apologetics from Biola University and religion from Duke University and a trusted Christian publisher like Zondervan behind him, he was a “safe” source of information, a “Muslim friend,” according to Ken Chitwood, a doctoral candidate in religion in the Americas and global Islam at the University of Florida.

“His book (‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus’), I think, for many Christians was a bridge to connect with the world of Islam and learn more about what Muslims believed,” Chitwood said.

Ravi Zacharias explained in Sunday’s Washington Post why he believed Qureshi and his books became so popular with Christian readers: “Because Islam is so much in the sights of the world right now, an articulate and attractive personality like Nabeel was often given a fair hearing.”

Zacharias also said on his ministry’s website that Qureshi preached “with an anointing that was rare” and taught him “so much.”

But Muslim scholar Elijah Reynolds, in a 2016 piece in Religion Dispatches co-written with a Christian graduate student, criticized Qureshi. He ignored “the 1400-year interpretive tradition of Islam,” they wrote, and they compared his rejection of that tradition to “an atheist learning everything she knows about Christianity from Richard Dawkins.”

Chitwood said the apologist’s work was weaponized by some evangelical Christians who found in it justification for Islamophobic beliefs.

Qureshi also blogged in 2011 refuting allegations he never had been Muslim to begin with because he had belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect, a persecuted minority seen as heretical by many mainstream Muslims.

In August 2016, as the author launched his third book, “No God But One,” Qureshi shared he had been diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer.

While he canceled travel and speaking engagements, he continued to chronicle his battle with cancer in posts on social media. He wrote about surgical procedures (including one to remove his stomach), the progression of his cancer, the questions he was wrestling with: “Do I continue to have faith for healing, or do I just trust?”

In late August, he shared video of floodwaters raging through his Houston neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey and news he had been evacuated to a hospital. His next video, posted in early September, was filmed from his hospital bed, where — dressed in a light blue gown — he announced the “dire news” doctors had given up treatment and he was receiving palliative care.

In his final video, Qureshi shared “where my heart has been during my ministry.”

“I think it’s very important that we discuss matters of truth, but at the end of the day, that is supposed to be undergirded by love and by peace,” he said. “When we talk to people about our beliefs, we should do it through a lens of love, and the whole point should be to bring people together — to bring people together to the truth.”

His last words on the video: “Whether you’re talking to a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian — whoever you’re talking to, may it be out of love.”

Qureshi is survived by his wife, Michelle, and daughter, Ayah.

(Ken Chitwood is a member of RNS’ board of managers.)

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

10 Comments

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  • Fat chance that his wish for “a legacy of love, of peace, of truth, of caring for one another” will ever happen among Christians. Christians hate each olther,. and a whole lot of other people too.,

  • Yeah, if he had only remained a Muhammadan, he could have spent his life around people who have nothing but love and goodwill towards all humanity.

  • Brother Nabeel Qureshi is long asleep now until Resurrection Day, sister Emily McFarlan Miller, so it’s too late now for the following Q&A based on your article and what else he said at Fox News, Newsmax and Wikipedia.

    NQ: “As you consider my ministry, I hope it leaves a legacy of love, of peace, of truth, of caring for one another.”

    HpO: You’re far too controversial for that ever to happen.

    NQ: “If at any point I’ve said anything that seems to contravene that, I do apologize”.

    HpO: Before apostle Paul died a violent death, his conscience was pure and confident before the God and the Body of Christ; yours just isn’t.

    NQ: [I truly was] “A Devout Muslim Encounter[ing] Christianity”.

    HpO: According to sister Emily McFarlan Miller here, you “had belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect, a persecuted minority seen as heretical by many mainstream Muslims.” I mean, really, dude, couldn’t you have come out of the more credible & popular ISIS sect or Sunni or Shi’ite or Sufi?

    NQ: [When as an Ahmadiyya Muslim] “I started reading … the Quran and the Hadith” and “saw … that Islam … was violent”, I had to “make a decision – do I … leave Islam … or do I radicalize and follow the stuff that I’m reading?” [I left it because] at that time, I also encountered Christianity and the message of the gospel and that’s what ultimately grabbed my heart and changed me.” (Source: Fox News, March 22, 2016, “Why are young Muslims being radicalized?” and Newsmax, May 2, 2016, “Former Muslim: Reading of Quran Shows It’s Not Religion of Peace”.)

    HpO: You mean all this happened to you just “after one … discussion with a Christian at [your] university, David Wood” – your “college … roommate”, actually, whom you initially had “challenged to convert to Islam” – and after the ensuing “years-long debate on the historical claims of Christianity and Islam”? (Source: Wikipedia on “Nabeel Qureshi” and “David Wood”.) Something’s out of whack here. I just don’t see gospel evangelism at work here. Post-9/11 Muslim-shaming and -bashing from the get-go, more like.

    NQ: [There’s] “No God But One: Allah or Jesus” [? – But of course] Jesus”.

    HpO: 2 things really messed up there, brother Nabeel Qureshi. (1) “Allah” isn’t the name of a God; it is God, literally. Even Arabic-speaking, born- again Christians address their God as “Allah” – as do I. The word “Allah” is simply a transliteration of an ancient Arabic word for God; just as the word “God” is a transliteration of an ancient Germanic and Northern European word for the deity “Gott”. (2) There’s God and there’s Jesus. There’s the Father God and there’s His only Son. Even apostle Paul addressed the former as the God and Father of the Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, the latter.

    NQ: “Do I continue to have faith for healing, or do I just trust?”

    HpO: Your last book could’ve been a very spiritually mature memoir of this traumatic experience, entitled, “Christian Theodicy Superior to Muslim (or Buddhist) Theodicy to the Day I Die Unhealed”. Not only you’d die young, but still spiritually young as well. Did brothers Ravi Zacharias or David Wood have anything to do with the latter by, for instance, puffing you up in the name of “ministry”, I sadly wonder?

  • As true followers of Christ, it’s understandable that hypocrisy or other broken traits like hate would repulse the unbeliever and promote rejection. And those are normal/acceptable responses. Unacceptable ‘Christian behavior’ is always deficient and even scandalous. But these broken Christian traits can only be considered objectionable when they are compared/contrasted and to another segment of the world that convincingly demonstrates tangible acts of love and care on a near normal basis – so infectious to not consider wanting wanting ‘what they have’ would be folly. I contend that Christians can be that love, but it can only be possible when Christians live out and manifest Grace. Grace, not perfection. Grace in a broken world. Grace already and perfectly extended to them in Christ’s death for their salvation. Christ’s grace is undeniably infectious and defines love. And for the segment of the Christian population not practicing grace and worse, even hate, I have to pray for God’s conviction for them to return to grace and live out, again with God’s strength, grace so bold – light in darkness.

  • What it takes, I guess, for me to really, really know the now dead brother in THE Christ Jesus. And now I do, thanks to this “strange Q&A”.

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