I sat beside a Saudi woman at a Cultural Panel Discussion designed to educate students, faculty, and staff about the culture and heritage of the thirty Saudi Arabians who study at our college. As the Saudi students who had given the presentation fielded questions from the audience, she murmured to me, again and again, that it depended on the person. Looking around the room, I could see that this was true. While in Saudi Arabia all of the women would have worn black abayas, here only some of them did—some with faces fully covered and some without—while the woman beside me and several others wore western-style clothes, wrapping their heads in beautiful scarves but leaving their faces uncovered. It serves as a reminder that no amount of facts or general principles can stand in for knowing people.
One of the beauties of Nabeel Qureshi’s new book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Zondervan, 2014), is that it provides well-documented facts in the context of a personal story. Qureshi shares that his first purpose for the book is “to tear down walls by giving non-Muslim readers an insider’s perspective into a Muslim’s heart and mind,” with the goal of helping us to love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves. At a time when the Muslim population in the United States—and other Western nations—is growing, and when we view these Muslim neighbors through a suspicion fostered by years of the War on Terror, learning to love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves is at once relevant and necessary.
Qureshi, an American born to Pakistani parents, grandson and great-grandson to Muslim missionaries, was raised to be a devout Muslim, from the first moments after his birth, when his father whispered the adhan—Muslim call to prayer—in his ear, through his childhood and teenage years when he was trained in Islamic apologetics, drilled in the questions and answers he would need to defend his faith. In his sensitive retelling, Qureshi conveys the beauty of this upbringing, the traditions in which he was taught to take pride, and the nurturing love of the parents who so carefully trained him, weaving definitions and explanations throughout the narrative so that readers are privy not only to his experience, but to the larger ideas behind his training—adhan, Ramadan, the Quran and the hadiths, the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Faith. He shares not only the things that unify Muslims across the world, but also the causes of divisions among them, so that, while we partake in the experience of one Muslim boy, we recognize that not all Muslim boys share his particular experience. (It’s common-sensical, really.)
In the story of his growing-up years, Qureshi paints a portrait of a young man devoted to his traditions, his family, and, most importantly, his god, taking pride in decimating the arguments of those who naively attempted to “convert” him to Christianity and eagerly learning and practicing all that his authorities could teach him. He also paints a portrait of a young man caught between cultures—the American culture of his peers and the Pakistani culture of his parents—partaking of both, but belonging fully to neither.
With the beginning of his college career, Qureshi’s story takes a turn as he comes in contact with someone who at once is the best friend and the most challenging opponent he has ever known: a Christian who pushes him to pursue the evidence not only for his arguments against Christianity but also for his defense of Islam. Readers are swept into what becomes an epic battle for truth, caught with Qureshi between a desire to know and follow the true God, whatever the cost, and a desperate wish to remain in the tradition to which he belongs.
Combining a rigorous academic mind, trained in the scientific method and debate, with his devout Muslim faith, Qureshi was not to be easily persuaded out of believing what he was convinced was true. As he tells his story, he presents evidence and arguments for the authority of the Christian scriptures, the death, resurrection, and divinity of Jesus Christ, and then for the unreliability of the Quran and the character of Muhammad himself. Throughout the book, he includes directives to specially prepared extra resources online—“expert opinions” corroborating and adding their support to the things Qureshi asserts. This meets his second purpose for the book, “to equip [the reader] with facts and knowledge, showing the strength of the case for the gospel in contrast with the case for Islam” (18).
Qureshi makes it obvious that this struggle was not simply intellectual, however; his third purpose is to show “the immense inner struggle of Muslims grappling with the gospel, including sacrifices and doubts” (18). Along with the intellectual arguments he shows a real heart-battle raging, with all the weight of tradition, honor, and family ties ranged against the truth of Christianity. From his Islamic paradigm, Qureshi shares his deep longing to have the true God reveal Himself, and shows how God answered, patiently, through visions and dreams.
With all the thoroughness of notation and glossary one would expect of a man with an MD and two MAs to his name, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is certainly not an academic treatise, instead being a deeply moving story—a story which allows readers to know people. We get to know Nabeel Qureshi, whose heart-quest for the true God should resonate with readers, his family, whose love for their son and grief at his abandonment of his faith should also cause readers grief, and David, the friend whose faithful persistence should remind readers of the importance of being faithful friends. Above all these, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus presents God as a Person—One who enters into relationship with those who seek Him, who interacts with them, and who is infinitely worth knowing, even at the cost of all that we hold dear.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a challenging book. It does not work as a reference book, a book in which to seek the salient facts and ignore the rest. Rather, because it wraps the facts in the story, it requires readers to get involved with people, if only on the page. And, because, as I said at the beginning, “no amount of facts or general principles can stand in for knowing people,” I consider this an excellent thing. The people found in this book are well worth your involvement.
©2014 by Stacy Nott