Throughout the last 24 hours, the Christian philosopher David Wood has been posting images that memorialize his friend Nabeel Qureshi who passed away on September 16th, 2017. For those who do not know Dr. Wood, he is a Christian apologist whose ministerial efforts are primarily angled toward converting Muslims to faith. As a philosopher, he did not expect his expertise to be in counter-Islamic apologetics, but he began to focus on that when he was in college where he met his friend Nabeel. When they met, Nabeel was a devout Muslim. But he was also a person who said that he wants to know what the truth is, even if that meant destroying his entire family. When we consider the life, legacy and death of Nabeel Qureshi, we see that these were not just words. David baptized Nabeel into Christ years after they met.
Though he received a doctorate in medicine, Nabeel dedicated his career to Christian ministry and apologetics. He went on to work for Ravi Zacharias Ministries and even had a great debate with Shabir Ally. But Nabeel’s ministry took an unexpected turn in 2016 when he was diagnosed with a malicious form of stomach cancer. The doctors offered very little hope for his survival. Nabeel actually chronicled his fight against cancer in a series of 43 video blogs. It is difficult to watch these videos. He begins the series as a strong, young man with seemingly full confidence in divine healing. His last couple of videos end with him enduring palliative care. His final video, filmed in a hospital bed, was titled Love And Peace Are Our Motivation. Unless somebody close to him provides something he said after that, this video will function as his last words.
I should just say this: I did not know Nabeel. I am writing purely as an outsider with the same information as anybody else. But like many of you, I do feel like I know him after watching all of his vlogs about cancer and reading his books. It is in times like this when sentiments that might seem trite and thoughtless have real meaning. Nabeel is not just dead; he is dead in Christ. As the apostle Paul tells us, “To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” (2nd Corinthians 5:8).
His Book: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
There are very few conversion stories that I can praise as highly as Nabeel’s. I am not only saying that because he has passed away. His book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is compelling in both the writing style and content. He was one of those writers whose personality bleeds through every page. He was not a sophist hiding became academic parlance. He really was a genuine person who wanted the reader to see him and know his personality. He also wanted the readers to understand his former faith and how that faith unified his family.
Skipping ahead to his college years, Nabeel was a devout Muslim who strived to maintain standards of purity so he could be a proper witness to his college friends. This led to a friendship with David Wood, who was likewise striving to be beyond reproach. He was initially intrigued by David when he found him reading the Bible. As a devout Muslim, he was always taught that the Bible had been corrupted. For him to see somebody actually reading the Bible in their spare time was an odd thing. So he challenged David. From there, the two developed an inextricable bond as they surveyed the evidence for Christianity and Islam. This journey led to Nabeel’s baptism at the hands of his friend David.
As far as I can tell (as an outsider who did not know him), Nabeel was a person who was driven by personal experiences of God. He sought interactions, dreams and visions in a way that would make many scientifically minded westerners sneer. But one of the most compelling portions of his book is the recounting of a dream he had. He was standing on the outside of a very narrow doorway. On the other side, he saw a great feast. He saw David sitting at the feast and he called out to him, “I thought we were going to eat together.” The next morning, Nabeel called David and asked him to interpret the dream. David told him, “I do not have to interpret it. Open the Bible I gave you to Luke 14.” Nabeel had never heard the parable of the feast, but God visually displayed it in a dream for him. At the risk of sounding trite: Nabeel will eat at the wedding feast.
His Conversion Experience
After an arduous journey of examining the evidence for Christianity and Islam, Nabeel was at a crossroad. He believed that the evidence pointed to Christianity being true and Islam being false. But he also had his own desires to wrestle with. Even after that (and other) dreams and after examining the evidence, his heart still had not changed. He remained a Muslims for several months after being convinced that it was not true.
Eventually, he reached a point where he asked God, “Just give me a few days to mourn.” With his heart broken, he poured through the Qur’an and the Bible looking for some comfort. One of the most memorable lines of his book was when he said, “Searching for a Living Word, I put down the Qur’an and opened the Bible.” He started with the book of Matthew. Searching for something to help him with his time of mourning, he reached the Sermon on The Mount, where Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” He reported that his heart came alive upon reading this and he knew that the Bible was more than an ancient book. It was alive, speaking directly to the human condition, almost written just for him.
He continued reading, and his insight is memorable. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Writing that since he has always seen the world through Muslim eyes, this verse was electrifying. It did not say, “Blessed are the righteous,” but “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Soon after, he began counting the cost, considering what conversion would do to his family. He asked God why he would not kill him at the moment of his conversion so he would never have to break their hearts. At that moment, God revealed something to him. A man walking down the street was a human being who needed to hear the gospel. Nabeel realized that God’s story is not about him. It is about sharing the love of God in Christ with others. We can see in his life and ministry that this is what he strived to do.
“He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy to be my disciple…” (Matthew 10:37).
Throughout his book, Nabeel emphasized his relationship with his family. Islam was essential to that relationship. It was their heritage and part of who they were. For Nabeel to become a Christian was, in his parent’s eyes, to betray the entire family, to leave them behind. The relationship was fractured for years, and it may never have been the same. When describing his father’s reaction, Nabeel said, “I emptied his pride.”
In fact, he reported in a sermon that his parents did not come to his wedding. With a cracking voice, he said, “Every time I see a man dancing with his mother at his wedding, I have to believe that it was worth it.” The gospel commands that we lay ourselves down in pursuit of Christ. This means that all of our desires and our very identities have to change. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37 that “He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy to be my disciple.” Nabeel exemplified that in a way that many of us cannot even imagine.
His Enduring Faith
As I was watching Nabeel’s vlogs chronicling his fight against cancer, a famous church hymn by Horatio Stafford came to mind. Most you probably know it. It goes like this:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Nabeel believed that he would have a miraculous healing. He believed that despite the odds, God would save his life. But when things were at their worst, and when he probably knew that he was going to die, he never surrendered his faith. He will be counted among those who hope in God even to the point of death. In one of his final videos, he talked about his struggle with faith and his unanswered questions. But even as he was dying, he offered this insight: “I do not have to perform.” This reminded me of the psalmist who would lament his struggles and confusion but still entrust himself to God.
What About Those Unanswered Questions? Why Did He Have To Die?
If you think about Nabeel’s story from our perspective, the conclusion can raise a lot of questions. He was this young, vibrant man in the prime of his life. He was pursuing a doctorate at Oxford University to further the gospel. If he had lived, he would have contributed a lot more rigorous, scholarly content, won debates and shown love to those who needed it. So for someone like that to die does not make any sense. God could have used him.
I think if you were to ask Nabeel this question, he would tell you that whatever he would do and whoever he would be would have been brought about by the grace of God. God could raise him up or he could raise somebody else up. He might also remind us that the Bible describes Jesus Christ as “the only wise God.” (Jude 1:25). There are things that we cannot see that God can. In his wisdom, God’s purpose for Nabeel was fulfilled.
Some of the more hateful people in the world have offered rivaling explanations. The more extremist Muslims have suggested that Nabeel’s diagnosis was a punishment for leaving Islam. There are two things we might say in assessing this. First, death comes for the good and evil alike. If we interpret his death as a punishment, then why not interpret the illness and death of Islamic apologists such as Ahmed Deedat as a punishment? Second, Jesus points us to a better way forward.
He said in Luke 13:2-5, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed on them: Do you think that they were more sinful than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Nabeel’s Last Words
He said, “As you consider my ministry, I hope it leaves a legacy of love, peace, truth and caring. Our God is a God of love. That should be foremost in our mind.”
Pulpit And Pen also shared Nabeel’s final vlog prayer: “Father we come before you, trusting you even now for a miracle…God is more than able…Lord we know you are able, please heal, please come through….but if it should be your sovereign will at the end of the day (not to heal), then I trust you, and I love you anyway.”
Pray For Nabeel’s Family
In the linked video above, Nabeel made one final plea. He said that if the worst should happen, he asks that we continue to intercede in prayer for his family. His wife and daughter are left without him. Throughout the past year, his parents and sister have been there helping to care for him. He asked that we pray for all of them. Nabeel was loved, especially by his family and his closest friend David Wood. Many of us who only knew him as outsiders have been praying for him and are hurt by his death. But those sentiments that might seem trite should bring us comfort. We believe in a God who conquered death and has given the free gift of eternal life to his people.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” John 11:25-26