As a former Muslim who boldly, with a passion rooted in intellectual rigor, declared through speeches, campus talks, debates, New York Times best-selling books and digital media that Jesus Christ – not Allah, or Buddha or any other name – is the only way to salvation, Nabeel Qureshi wanted to make sure before he left this life at the age of just 34 that his listeners understood he was motivated by love.
Qureshi, who died Friday in Houston, Texas, loved even the Muslims who wrote to tell him the stomach cancer that began to take his life one year ago was punishment from Allah.
And in the last of the video blogs he posted from his hospital bed at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to supporters chronicling his battle with the disease, he urged Christians not to use the truths he taught about Christianity and Islam as weapons.
His ultimate aim was not to condemn, but to see Muslims come to faith in his savior, Jesus.
“When we talk to people about our beliefs, we should do it through a lens of love,” said Qureshi, who until his cancer diagnosis had been an itinerant speaker with RZIM, the organization founded by renowned Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias.
Qureshi was a protégé of Zacharias, who wrote Monday that his heart is “broken at the loss of one who ran with spectacular passion to do what filled his soul.”
“As I write this, it’s hard to hold back the tears. It’s hard to believe that Nabeel Qureshi has left us all too soon,” Zacharias, who regarded Qureshi as “one of the finest preachers I have ever heard,” wrote in a column published by Christianity Today. “I reminded him that he was the same age as our Lord whose mission was accomplished.
“In like manner, Nabeel came like a streak of lightning, brightened the night sky, and has returned to the One who gave the power to do what he did.”
A celebration of Qureshi’s life will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. Central Time at Houston’s First Baptist Church. The service will be livestreamed at the church’s website and its Facebook page, as well as on the website and Facebook page of RZIM.
He leaves behind his wife, Michelle, and his daughter, Ayah.
‘Larger than life’
Qureshi said in an interview one year ago, just a few weeks after the cancer diagnosis, that he had “known for a long time that people were praying to Allah to curse me.”
The cancer diagnosis, he said, was “something a lot of Muslims are going to see and say, ‘This is the one who’s been making a big deal about having left Islam for Christ and, look, Allah is cursing him.'”
Stuart McAllister, RZIM’s global support specialist, told WND the whole staff is “grieving but rejoicing in who he was.”
“Nabeel was larger than life and loved life,” McAllister said. “… He was bold as a lion and yet very compassionate.
“Everywhere I have traveled this year, from New York to Chennai, in Europe or Asia, I was asked how [Qureshi] is doing and told stories of how lives had been touched and changed by him,” he said.
On Monday, McAllister said, an Indian friend told of how her Muslim friend came to faith in Jesus Christ after reading one of Nabeel’s books.
“He had an all-too-short life but an impact far beyond what most would have in their lifetime,” McAllister said. “I was proud to know him and serve with him. He is missed.”
Qureshi’s first book, which has sold more than a quarter of a million copies, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity,” became a New York Times best-seller and was awarded the Christian Book Award for both “Best New Author” and “Best Non-Fiction Book” of 2015.
In March 2016, “Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward” was published followed five months later by “No God But One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity.”
Qureshi lectured to students at more than 100 universities – including Oxford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Johns Hopkins and the University of Hong Kong – and took part in 18 moderated debates worldwide. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University, an M.D. from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an M.A. in Christian apologetics from Biola University, an M.A. in religion from Duke University, and an M.Phil. in Judaism and Christianity from the University of Oxford. His work on a D.Phil. in New Testament studies at the University of Oxford was cut short when he began cancer treatment.
On Aug. 30, 2016, Qureshi posted on Facebook an announcement to friends and family of his “grim” prognosis.
“This is an announcement that I never expected to make, but God in His infinite and sovereign wisdom has chosen me for this refining, and I pray He will be glorified through my body and my spirit,” he wrote, noting he and his family were going to “pursue healing aggressively, both medical and miraculous, relying on God and the fact that He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”
He said that although his spirits had “soared and sank” in the previous days, “never once have I doubted this: that Jesus is Lord, His blood has paid my ransom, and by His wounds I am healed.”
“I have firm faith that my soul is saved by the grace and mercy of the Triune God, and not by any accomplishment or merit of my own. I am so thankful that I am a child of the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sealed in the Spirit. No, in the midst of the storm, I do not have to worry about my salvation, and for that I praise you, God.”
In December, the cancer diagnosis still fresh, he gave the fall commencement address at Biola University in Southern California, where he earned an M.A. in 2008.
When Biola’s president, Barry H. Corey, introduced Qureshi, Corey mentioned the battle with cancer.
Qureshi said he wasn’t going to bring up the cancer, for which he already was being treated, but decided that since it was brought up, he told the graduates he would go “a different direction” with his address and “let you know what’s on my heart.”
Speaking with hot tears just below the surface, Qureshi read from the last chapter of the apostle Paul’s second letter to his disciple Timothy in which Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
The reason you are here is “to spread life in this world,” he told the students.
“I’m looking out,” he said, pausing, with tears now rising, “and I’m praying, with all my heart, that one day I will look out and see my daughter in one of these seats.
“But I charge you, I charge you as if you were my son or my daughter to not live this life thinking that you are just a person. You are an adopted heir. A son of God, a daughter of God … sent to combat for the kingdom in this world of darkness.
“And you can bring life with the words you speak … you can go into enemy fire, you can go into lands riddled with Ebola, you can go into sex-trafficking trades and not worry if they will kill you, because you have eternal life,” Qureshi said.
“He has already overcome the world. Take heart.”
See the commencement address:
Raised in California by Pakistani immigrant parents who were devout followers of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, Qureshi later became an orthodox Muslim.
“I loved Islam. I loved the practice of Islam. My parents were raising me to be a Muslim leader, as a Muslim apologist to invite people to Islam,” he explained to WND in a 2012 interview.
By the age of 5, he had read the entire Quran in Arabic and had memorized many chapters.
Qureshi said his life took a radical turn when his mind and heart were confronted by a series of prophetic dreams along with a university friend’s presentation of the rational claims of Christianity.
Recalling a conversation with a family member, he said Muslims largely insist they should not “think and reason through their beliefs.”
Qureshi said he was told he went in the wrong direction, abandoning Islam and embracing Christian faith, “because I trusted my own mind.”
“Muslims are taught, ‘This is what you’re supposed to believe. Listen to your imam. Listen to the elders. Listen to the sheik. You cannot think for yourself,'” he said.
“If someone comes in and says, ‘You’re believing the wrong thing,’ they’re just going to get confused by that,” said Qureshi.
It’s one of the reasons, he said, God is reaching many Muslims around the world through dreams and visions.
It happened to him, he recalled, at the time a Christian friend at Old Dominion University, David Wood, was engaging him with the Gospel.
“At that time, I asked the Lord to guide me, himself, and he gave me some visions and dreams which led me to accept the Lord,” Qureshi said.
His first dream, he said, was “very symbolic,” and he asked God to follow it with “a clear dream.”
“He put me into a parable of the Bible, a parable I had not read,” he said.
“I was standing at a narrow door, and I was looking at a room with a feast. There were all these people dressed up. And I knew that they were in heaven. That that room is heaven. And they are waiting for the owner to come and start the feast. But I can’t get in, because I haven’t accepted my friend’s invitation.
He said that immediately after the dream, a friend directed him to Jesus’ reference in Luke 13 to the narrow gate.
“There were some exact parallels,” he said, referring to the narrow door that leads to the feast of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
When the owner comes, Jesus said, the door will close.
“That was a dream where God told me very clearly: ‘Here’s where you are Nabeel, you are outside the door. You need to respond to the invitation.'”
In a third dream, he said, “God show me that the path of truth leads out of the mosque.”
He told the story of his conversion at age 22 in a 2014 column for Christianity Today.
Qureshi said Muslims are more open to other faiths than one might expect, noting a “quantum shift” in the practice of Islam between first- and-second generation Muslims in America.
“The Muslims born and raised here, they generally are affected by the New Age thought of the U.S.,” he observed.
His charge to American Christians is to “be the love of Christ to Muslims.”
“We need to reach out to them. We need to be ready with answers if they have questions,” he said.
“But don’t shove yourself on them,” he cautioned. “Accept them, love them and while organically letting your faith be known to them, present the Gospel in a relational context.”