Raised in California by devout followers of a Muslim sect, Nabeel Qureshi says his life took a radical turn when his mind and heart were confronted by a series of prophetic dreams along with a friend's presentation of the rational claims of Christianity.
"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 an interview.
His conversion to Christianity is one of the largely untold stories amid America's abrupt introduction to Islam following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks carried out by 19 Muslim men.
Advertisement - story continues below
Over the past decade, the federal government, establishment media, academia and mainline Protestant churches have portrayed Islam as an apolitical "religion of peace," often labeling anyone who believes otherwise as a bigoted "Islamophobe."
Qureshi wants to set the record straight about Islam, pointing to its sacred texts and the words of Muslims themselves to argue that while diversely practiced around the world, it is fundamentally a supremacist, political religion that threatens Western civilization.
But his ultimate aim is not to condemn, but to see Muslims come to faith in his savior, Jesus.
He's one of a number of evangelical scholars and experts on Islam scheduled to speak at a conference organized by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries next month in Orlando, Fla.
Advertisement - story continues below
The organizers believe there's a pressing need to bring together church leaders and other influencers among evangelicals whose life and experience put them into regular interaction with Islam or Muslims.
Matt Roberts, RZIM's associate director, explained that with the significant growth of Islam and its influence in the West, "the church is largely unprepared to address this issue, so we've decided to step in to it."
RZIM was founded by Ravi Zacharias, the Indian-born pioneer of modern evangelical Christian apologetics known for his many books presenting an intellectual case for Christian faith, his radio program "Let My People Think" and his popular presentations on college campuses.
Scotland-born Stuart McAllister, RZIM's director of the Americas region and one of the conference speakers, said Christians need to look at Islam not only from the perspective of citizenship but also "through the eyes of mission."
Advertisement - story continues below
The primary concern of RZIM in this endeavor, McAllister told WND, is to find ways to connect with Muslims and reach into Muslim communities "so that we can actually be engaging with the Gospel."
American churches need to be educated, he said, to "understand how significant the scale of growth of Islam is in this country and their missionary intent."
The conference is part of a much larger effort by RZIM to equip Christians to reach Muslims with the Gospel.
Advertisement - story continues below
McAllister said one of the aims of the January conference will be to put Islam in a historical context.
"For Americans, Islam came on 9/11, but Islam's been around for 1,400 years," he noted.
From the beginning, he said, Islam has been in a "civilizational clash" with Christianity, referencing the idea advanced by the late Samuel Huntington that cultural and religious identities are the major source of conflict in the post-Cold War world, particularly on the "bloody borders' between Islamic and non-Islamic civilizations.
"It's only when you go to the worldview level that we start looking honestly and see that there are some things that cannot blend," said McAllister.
Despite this threat, free speech about Islam, he said, has been impeded, in part, by a collective guilt over America's historical treatment of minorities that is similar to Britain's post-colonial heritage.
"So, meanwhile, Muslim strategists can work through this by buying up chairs in a university, opening up an Islamic education center, by getting on the television, and here we are – we're so emotionally bound up we can't even come up with an agenda," he said.
Another reason Americans tend to misread Islam, he said, is that many see religion as a private pursuit, while Islam historically has not put religion and politics into separate categories.
For a Muslim, McAllister said, "the idea of taking on the state is exactly the way it should be under Shariah."
"They don't feel they're doing anything wrong," he said.
Once churches understand Islam, McAllister concluded, "then there's an imperative to do something."
He hopes the response will not be simply to see Islam as a hostile political force, but to recognize the need to reach out to the average Muslim, who may even be a neighbor.
"I think we want to distinguish between the Muslim next door and Islam as a system," he said. "To try and look at the Muslims in America, in particular, as people – many of whom have come to America in search of a better life, a family and education and citizenship, but who may, themselves, be caught in between things, trying to struggle how to interpret their faith in a new context."
He said that by and large, these Muslims "are isolated, and few Americans open their homes or open to hospitality or welcome them in any way."
Qureshi, who was raised in the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam and later became an orthodox Muslim, emphasized that truth is communicated best to Muslims in a relationship that demonstrates the love of Jesus.
"When we are talking about Islam, a religious system, we have to make sure we differentiate between that and people who are born into it," he said.
But some Christian leaders, he said, including evangelicals, have extended a hand of fellowship without understanding who they are dealing with.
Qureshi thinks, for example, it wasn't wise of megachurch pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., to speak in 2009 to a conference of the Islamic Society of North America, a Muslim Brotherhood group.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which now is in power in Egypt, is the Sunni transnational movement founded in Egypt in 1928 that has spawned most of the major global terrorist movements, including al-Qaida and Hamas. Its aim is to help make Islamic law supreme over the world.
The Justice Department, which says ISNA is a Brotherhood front on American soil, named the group an unindicted co-conspirator in its prosecution of a plot to provide material support to Hamas terrorists.
An Arabic-language internal Brotherhood document presented in the 2009 trial described the work of the Brotherhood in America as "a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands ... so that ... Allah's religion is made victorious over all other religions."
Roberts said Christians don't have to minimize the stark contrasts between Islam and Christianity to engage in dialogue.
"Some lines we have to draw solidly. During these dialogues we have to make it known that just because we are dialoguing, it doesn't mean we are compromising fundamental issues," he said.
Evangelical scholar Miroslav Volf has stirred controversy with his book "Allah: A Christian Response," which asserts that Muslims and Christians both worship the one, true God.
Volf, professor of systematic theology at Yale Divinity University, also was one of the four drafters of a "Christian response" to a document presented by 138 Muslim leaders from around the world called "A Common Word Between Us and You."
RZIM's Roberts said he is all for entering into conversations and building relationships with Muslims but not without a well-educated and foundational understanding of Islam and the particular Islamic organization or group.
Volf's "Christian response" begins by acknowledging past and present "sins" Christians have committed against Muslims, naming the medieval Crusades and current "excesses of the “war on terror.'”
The document declares, speaking of Christians and Muslims, "If we can achieve religious peace between these two religious communities, peace in the world will clearly be easier to attain."
But Robert Spencer, a noted author on Islam who monitors relevant daily news at JihadWatch.org, says that while recognizing the diversity of belief and actions among Muslims worldwide, the fundamental Islam of the religion's prophet, Muhammad, defines peace as a world completely under the authority of the Quran.
The Quran (9:29) and Islamic law, he writes in a column Thursday, "direct Muslims to wage war against and subjugate the 'People of the Book' – that is, primarily Jews and Christians – not if they behave badly by supporting Israel or Middle Eastern dictators, but simply because they are not Muslims."
Qureshi said his journey from a Muslim sect to orthodox Islam to Christian faith took a turn when, "after a number of years, I realized that the arguments were way stronger for the Christian case."
However, recalling a recent 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 believes, God is reaching many Muslims around the world through dreams and visions.
It happened to him, he said, at the time a Christian friend 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," he 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."
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."