Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
I’ve just finished reading the revised edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi. For those of you who are unaware, this was a New York Times bestseller in 2014. As I am working on my own book on Islam, I thought I should read what is currently the most popular book out there today.
This book works very well as autobiography and testimony, telling a nice story of how a young man came to faith in Jesus Christ. On this level, it works very well. Born and raised in the United States, Qureshi, a devout Ahmadi “Muslim,” made Christian friends while a student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA (yes, right around the corner from me). These friends persuaded Qureshi to consider the case for the truth of Christianity. Over a period of several years, Qureshi began to accept the Christian view of Jesus on an intellectual level. At the same time Qureshi experienced several profound dreams which pushed him to become a Christian, rejecting his Ahmadi faith and practice. Qureshi’s spiritual journey was particularly hard on his parents, who Qureshi describes only in positive terms as sincere, loving people.
In one sense, I see much in common between myself and Qureshi (not only that we’ve both lived in Hampton Roads!) We both see ourselves as intellectuals, searching for historical truth surrounding the claims of the Bible. We have advanced degrees: Qureshi has an MD and is working on a PhD in New Testament; my PhD is in Bible. We have both come to the conclusion that Christianity is the best choice for human beings who want to have a relationship with God. Yet, perhaps most profoundly, we are both Christians not because of our research and our reasoning, but because we both believe that God has, in some mystical way, spoken to us personally.
I cannot understate this last point enough when I evaluate this book, and Qureshi’s work in general. (Qureshi is now a speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Missions). In a strict sense, both Qureshi and I admit that our intellectual work can never be enough to make someone a Christian, and that, in fact, intellect is not even required! We both hold to the popular idea that you cannot become a true Christian unless God speaks to you first.
Seeking Allah works great as an engaging story of a young man’s conversion to Christianity. But it also tries to show that Christianity is somehow better than Islam, and on this level, it fails badly. Qureshi claims that he became convinced on a rational level of the truth of Christianity. I do not doubt his word about his personal convictions. But the arguments that he puts forward are poor, and, ultimately, do not help the cause of Christ.
The forward of the revised edition of Seeking Allah is written by Lee Strobel, author of the bestselling The Case for Christ and its successors. One can see Strobel’s influence beyond his forward. In The Case for Christ Strobel lists ten objections which modern scholars have raised about Christ’s claims: the gospels were unreliable, Christ did not really die on cross, Christ was not resurrected, and so on. Strobel then interviews ten scholars who present convincing proof that the various New Testament claims are true.
While The Case for Christ is wildly popular, one thing it is not is even-handed. It is pretty easy to win a debate when the opponent must make his case in a single paragraph which you then get to refute with ten times as much space. Strobel’s method might seem appropriate if you agree with his conclusions – again, his book was a best-seller. But skeptical readers might ask why the conversation must be so one-sided. Does Strobel have to rig the debate because that’s what we need to do to convince people of the “truth”? Maybe Christianity just can’t win a fair fight?
Qureshi unfortunately follows Strobel’s way of showingthat Christianity is better than Islam. When he lays out arguments for and against various Christian ideas, he does so in a way which gives huge advantages to his side. Qureshi writes in his introduction that one of his main aims is “to equip the reader with facts and knowledge, showing the strength of the case for the gospel contrasted with the case for Islam” (page 18). But to accomplish this aim, he rigs the game. Embarassing facts from the beginnings of Muslim history are stressed; embarassing facts about the Bible and early Christianity are either carefully explained and defended, or ignored altogether. The result is that at their respective cores, Islam is bad, and Christianity is good.
Qureshi should know better. Even now, Muslims write books doing the opposite, stressing the bad in Christianity alongside the good in Islam. Qureshi actually mentions some of these, explaining how they ultimately left him disillusioned about Islam. If so, then why on earth write a book which takes the same approach, this time favoring Christianity? It is fine for Qureshi to have a bias and a point of view, but can’t he at least try to be fair?
I understand that some Christians believe that evangelism is so important that it is OK to misstate facts once in a while. But Christians who do this miss the way acceptance of Christ really works. If people become Christians based on distorted information, what will they think when they discover that they relied on bad arguments? (Hint: this sort of dishonesty is a big reason why many “Christians” become discouraged and leave the church.) Again, Qureshi himself clearly explains that, in the end, he accepted Christ because God spoke to him – not because of some historical information, or a rational argument!
Our calling as Christians is to pass along the most accurate information we have. When we are dishonest, or when we hide relevant information, we are saying that we do not believe that people can get saved if we are 100% honest, and that Christianity needs a “rigged” game to be competitive.
Again, as one man’s story of how he came to be a Christian, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a great read. Just don’t pay too much attention to its details about Islam and Christianity.
Helping modern readers engage with ancient biblical texts
Mostly on the Bible