The international speaker and author shared his journey to seek truth and subsequent Christian conversion with approximately 1,200 people at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Okla., on Feb. 9.
Born and raised a Muslim in the United States by Pakistani parents who came to America in the 1970s, Qureshi noted that he was the same as any other Sunni Muslim as far as his practices and beliefs were concerned.
Explaining that Muslims believe Allah to be God, Qureshi shared some of the traditional pillars of the faith for Islam, noting five prayers Muslims engage in daily. He said the recitation of those prayers, following the Sharia and learning to live a life based on the examples of the prophet Muhammad are the keys to being a devout Muslim.
He added that much of the Muslim life is built on a communal principle, acknowledging that even as Christians it is not improper to recognize aspects of the Islam faith that are beautiful.
Muslims have belief in one god, Qureshi said, and they have a very revered image of that god, that he is powerful, strong and wise. He also noted an emphasis on a helping the poor – widows and orphans – pointing out that tradition shows Muhammad was an orphan.
Explaining the faiths
Qureshi spoke of the importance of steering clear of demonizing other people simply because a lack of understanding their beliefs or disagreement with them on certain points. He observed that a great bridge can be built between Christianity and Islam as he gave explanations about the two faiths.
“Both Muslims and Christians believe in the existence of God,” he explained. “Both Muslims and Christians believe in the authority of Scripture. Both Muslims and Christians believe in the fact there is a concept of grace. Now salvation by grace alone is Christian, whereas in Islam it’s grace and works.”
Qureshi noted that many of the names found in the Bible also are found in Islam, providing yet another bridge for communication and discussion.
Telling the audience he once was a vocal and devout Muslim, Qureshi mentioned that by the age of 5 he had memorized the last seven chapters of the Quran in Arabic, even before he knew English while residing in America. He further explained that the Quran – or at least portions of it – are to be memorized by devout Muslims. Quran means recitation, he said, and the practice of recitation during the five daily prayers makes it the most recited book in the world.
Qureshi’s explanation of Islam went this way: “Islam is the teaching that God has sent prophets and Scriptures throughout time to guide people until ultimately, one prophet came with a final message and one book came with the final revelation, and that Islam is what everyone should follow, and if you follow Islam you will have peace in your heart and God will tell you how to live, and if you live accordingly then you very well may go to heave at the end of your life.”
He admitted he had difficulty understanding Christianity, perhaps because he felt it was not being explained to him in an accurate way.
“So you’re telling me, as a Christian, you can sin as much as you want and can still go to heaven? What incentive is there to be a good person?” Qureshi asked. “And the issue with the Trinity. How can God be multiple gods and yet be only one god. Three in one, one in three. How can you make sense of this?
“The idea that Jesus could die on a cross for my sins … How does God die? If God dies, who’s ruling the universe? How is it that someone can die on the cross for my sins? That doesn’t make sense. Why is an innocent person dying for my sins? It’s unjust, even cruel. This is how I saw Christianity as a Muslim.”
Investigating the faiths
Qureshi pointed out that in 2001 he began critically and systematically investigating both Islam and Christianity, trying to disprove the Christian faith. In his investigation he came up with the following conclusions about Christianity:
1-The Gospels are reliable to tell an accurate history about Jesus;
2-That Jesus actually did die on the cross;
3-That Jesus actually did rise from the dead; and
4-Jesus actually did claim to be God.
Observing that Islam denies those points, Qureshi asked about fundamental Christian values, using the recent evolution/creationism debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham as a reference.
“Is it fundamental to Christianity that you believe the world was created in six days? I don’t think so,” he said. “Is it fundamental that you have a certain interpretation of Old Testament verses? I don’t think so … there is a core of Christian claims that need to be made for Christianity to be true. Here’s what Paul says: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. That’s what he (Paul) says.”
Qureshi admitted that there are touchy issues such as belief in the Bible as the Word of God to be saved. But he pointed out that the New Testament had not been written when Paul wrote how to be saved, further adding that the disciples who wrote it did not have the New Testament to believe as the Word of God and yet they still were Christians and still saved.
Touting death, deity and resurrection of Jesus as components that make a good case for Christianity, Qureshi shifted focus for a moment to the truths of Islam, honing in on two. One was determination if the Quran actually is the word of Allah, the inspired book of God; the other was deciding if Muhammad is a prophet of God, chosen and anointed by God to share His message.
Qureshi said the Quran shows that Jesus was not killed, that He did not die on the cross as the Biblical account tells us, leaving him to determine one faith is right, one is wrong, and upholding one pulls down one of the claims.
Building a case for the faiths
To determine the accuracy of the two faiths, Qureshi used a historical methodology to build a case for each.
Relying on more than just the Bible, Qureshi cited references from first-century Christians other than the disciples who made the claims that Jesus died on the cross. Jews and Gentiles alike made the same assertions of Jesus’ death, and numerous scholars and historians also came to the conclusion that He did indeed die on the cross based on historical and Biblical evidence. Even Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, in his book Zealot, made the case that Jesus’ death on the cross “is a fact of history.”
As far as Jesus’ claim to be God, Qureshi admitted that such claims are radical, but Jesus offered proof by rising from the dead.
Qureshi pointed to a passage of Scripture from Matthew 12:40. In that passage, Jesus refers to the Old Testament in providing proof that He is a deity, saying, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” That passage reveals Jesus as the Messiah and He would come back from the dead, just as Jonah was given another chance at life after three days inside the fish. That was the message disciples preached, saying Jesus is true because He rose from the dead, just as He said He would.
Furthermore, Qureshi said historical evidence showed the tomb was empty three days after Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples truly believed He rose from the dead and even those who did not follow Him during His life followed him after His resurrection, men like James and Paul. The disciples even became bolder following Jesus’ resurrection and were willing to die for their beliefs, prompting Qureshi to address their willingness to give their lives for their faith by saying, “Liars make poor martyrs.”
An Islamic denial
Jesus’ claim to be God still is denied by Islam.
“I was taught from childhood there was no possible way He (Jesus) could claim to be God,” Qureshi said, adding that he learned a person could not be a candidate for salvation if there was a belief that Jesus was God. “I was taught from childhood to present arguments to Christians to prove Christianity as false. The issue that Jesus could be God was blasphemy and relegated someone to hellfire.”
The Islamic argument is that Jesus could not claim to be God because He prays to God the Father. How could he pray to God if He is God?
Referencing chapter 112 of the Quran, which basically teaches God is not a father and God has no son, Qureshi said the daily recitation played a role in the beliefs of Muslims. As they chanted the same passages from the Quran over and over during daily prayers, Muslims held even tighter to such a belief.
But Qureshi, through his investigation, refuted that claim by referencing the first chapter of the Book of John, which makes it clear that Jesus is the creator who came into the world as the “Word that became flesh.” He added that the whole point of John’s Gospel is to show that Jesus is God.
Further examination by Qureshi revealed that on seven occasions in the Old Testament, God refers to Himself as “I Am.” Jesus uses the same reference to Himself as “I Am” seven times on the Book of John, Qureshi said.
Despite the strength of his own findings about Christianity, Qureshi still believed Islam to be the truth, retaining his faith in that religion. But as he began to study historical records of Muhammad’s life, he found they paled in comparison to those Biblical and historical accounts of the life of Christ.
He observed that the first book about Muhammad was written some 140-150 years after the prophet’s life, referring to is as an edited version of something the writer felt was corrupted by the original author.
“The Quran says Muhammad is the perfect exemplar and Muslims are to follow him,” Qureshi said, adding that he had received plenty of oral accounts of the Islamic prophet from his parents and imams as he grew up. “The picture you get of Muhammad is not one of a man I wanted to follow. I had been taught my whole life that Muhammad was the most gentle man, the most, loving, kind, merciful man. He was a great leader; he was a great statesman; he was a great spokesperson; he was a great general; he was a great warrior. Any epithet I could throw at Muhammad, he deserved it.”
Deeper investigation, beyond the oral accounts he had been taught, revealed a picture of Muhammad that was far from flattering, Qureshi said, noting that Muslims can discard beliefs they don’t find to be true. Qureshi determined that either there was no way to know what Muhammad was like based on historical sources, or the books on the prophet’s life – if true – were full of problems, and he did not like the picture being drawn of him.
“Therefore, I couldn’t rely on Muhammad to be a prophet of God to be an objective reason to follow Islam,” he said, looking at the faith from a critical point of view rather than a defender of it.
That turned him to the Quran and a determination if it was the inspired Word of God.
There were arguments that the Quran was so well-written it could not be duplicated, even though Qureshi made reference to another separate book later written that many Muslims believed to be the Quran. An argument of scientific miracles outlined in the Quran that seemed too advanced for man so God had to be the author also was viewed. But further exploration revealed flaws with those claims. Some statements made by the Quran simply turned out to be untrue, prompting Qureshi to comment, “If you have things that are clearly wrong, it outdoes anything that is potentially right.”
Seeking the truth
Qureshi said he found strong evidence to support the claims for Christianity’s truth: Jesus died on the cross, He rose from the dead and claims to be God. For Islam to be true, Muhammad needed to be a prophet of God or the Quran had to be the inspired Word of God. But the more Qureshi looked at the evidence, the weaker the argument for that faith became.
But evidence presented does not convert anyone, Qureshi said, admitting that he didn’t immediately change his faith after making such revelations.
“I had to wrestle with what that meant for me,” he said. “What does the Gospel mean for my life? What am I going to have to give up if this message is true? Why am I resisting this evidence if it is so strong? What are my presuppositions? I had to tackle all that.”
He said there could not be an expectation that providing such information to people means they will have an immediate conversion, and many of them will continue to deny the Christian faith.
But Qureshi stuck to the crux of his discussion: discovering the truth.
“Are you honestly seeking God? Do you want to know the truth, because truth matters,” he said. “If you have a false notion of something that may not be the case then your life might be in the balance.”
Continuing on the matter of seeking truth, Qureshi said, “Is the truth that no matter what you’ve done in your life, God loves you like a father? And as your own father would forgive you no matter what you did … yes, He might reprimand you, He might punish you so you will become more like Him. But He loves you regardless of what you do … Does He know no matter how hard you try you will never be good enough to save yourself so God is willing to save you … the truth matters.”
The findings that led to conversion
“I believe the evidence points to this: God entered into this world willingly to suffer on our behalf,” Qureshi said. “Now, why would He do that? As Christ tells us, ‘By man alone there is no chance they could enter into heaven, but by God all things are possible.’ So God opened the way.
“He came to ransom the sins of mankind. Those very things that separate us from God, God is willing to take those from you if you will just give them to Him. He didn’t just come and state those claims. He proved them because when He was killed, paying the penalty for our sins, He then rose from the dead to prove what He said. We can be confident in this because of historical evidence, yes, but also because we can ask God to reveal Himself to us.”
Qureshi closed by referring to Matthew 7:7 when Jesus teaches about asking, seeking and knocking.
“I believe if you put God above all things, He will reveal Himself to you,” Qureshi said, providing a disclosure of truth that revealed what led to his conversion to Christianity after being a devout Muslim.