As a “narrative autobiography”, the book follows the larger story of Qureshi’s life and is not a point-by-point report. Qureshi is very forward about this fact in the preface to the book when he explains that the conversations and events recorded within are recollections of the general summary of a specific conversation or even a collection of conversations over time. This works to the books strength since, in my experience, biographies have a tendency to get bogged down in details and specifics (names, dates, etc.) that the biographer or historian may find interesting but the reader may not. The pacing of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, however, is fluid and fast-moving without feeling rushed. It’s a wonderful and difficult balance to find.
The book opens with a promise of the end. The picture is given of Qureshi – as an adult – face-down in the mosque, dutifully going through a series of ritual prayers while internally confused and tormented; wrestling with the conclusion that everything he thought he knew about his faith, his god, and his prophet seems to have been wrong. From the author/editor perspective, this can be a dangerous move because “hooking the reader” with a powerful opening scene and then leading them into something potentially far less interesting tends to frustrate the reader. Fortunately, Qureshi avoids this fatal error.
Following the opening scene, the book moves into several chapters that serve to introduce the reader to the author, his family and Islam. By intertwining important information about the fundamentals of his faith with stories and images of how these fundamentals work out from a practical standpoint in the Muslim nuclear family, Qureshi manages to maintain a delicate balance of informing and entertaining. As an example, Qureshi tells the story of when his mother first gave him a Quran to read for himself. Excited, he ran to his sister and – like most children – dropped the book on the ground to read. Instantly he was scolded for this unintentional act of disrespect and told to always keep his Quran in a high place of honor. Never place it on the ground. The next time his family gathered to read the Quran together, Qureshi and his sister walked into the room with their Qurans held as high above their heads as possible. It’s an adorable example of a child trying earnestly to follow his parent’s instruction while misunderstanding it. As a father of two children under ten, I’ve had similar experiences and the scene was heart-warming, but it also serves to illustrate the reverence that Muslims have for the Quran. The book is not strictly “the Islamic bible” and many outsiders would not understand this point.
As the author’s story continues, the book moves into the junior high and high school years where he begins to confront the reality of the world around him. Born and raised in the western world but of Pakistani descent and a Muslim, Qureshi finds that he is of two worlds and none. Friends are few and far between, and often not as close as he would like. It is the close connections with his family and his Muslim community that carry him through and continue to shape him to the man he would become. Qureshi would see himself as an evangelist for Islam and had mastered several arguments for the truth of his worldview; arguments he would carry into his college years. We learn more about the inter-familial mechanics, but also the clash of culture and worldview as East meets West within.
Further on we are introduced to the second most important person of the book, David Wood. Wood and Qureshi meet in college and not only become fast friends, but fierce sparring partners when Qureshi learns that Wood, a Christian, can actually answer and refute his favorite arguments for Islam. From this point forward is where we find the real meat of the book and some of its best moments. Ensuing chapters will deal with not only the systematic deconstruction of the Islam that Qureshi thought he knew, but also everything he believed about Christianity. His world is literally turned upside-down. The fact that this portion of the book takes place in the years immediately following the World Trade Center attacks of 9-11 makes it that much more poignant.
Information interspersed with charming, amusing or heart-wrenching stories creates a wonderful tapestry that keeps the pages turning. Another of my favorite moments in the book is when Qureshi brings his father, a theological heavyweight in his eyes, to a college club meeting that discusses religion. I personally laughed (hard) when Qureshi learns that this meeting happens to be attended by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, two world-class scholars on the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus – a point which Muslims contend. As with other moments, this scene is informative in the apologetic sense for those who are not familiar with the subject, but also colors later scenes as it reveals the authority structure of Qureshi’s family and the hurt inflicted when Qureshi openly second-guesses his father’s point. Seeing the disrespect perceived by a statement as simple as “Father, I think his point is that…” serves to communicate the pain wrought by his later conversion.
Not all of the stories are meant to be illustrations of facts, but exist only to help the reader work their way into the author’s world. One standout moment is when Qureshi and Wood are on a trip with their college debate team and a newcomer jumps into their discussion to debate the existence of God with them. Since the book assumes the existence of God from the beginning, the following conversations are unnecessary and wisely omitted. Rather, they are summed up in a single heart-warming line, “Three days later, Marie was a theist and David was in love.” It’s moments like these that leave the reader with a sense that he knows these people in a profound way. Shortly after finishing the book, I wanted to write Nabeel and David emails telling them how much I enjoyed a specific part. I had to remind myself that we’d never actually met and they’d probably think I was a crazy person.
First, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is informative in more than the apologetic sense of presenting information about Islam and Christianity. It gives key insights into the world of the average Muslim living in the west. Reaching people in personal evangelism, especially the type that takes years of continued conversations, requires much more than a memorization of the Five Spiritual Laws or a practiced testimony. I was once told that it takes an average of seven years for a Muslim to come to Christ. If we are to walk that path with them and be there to answer their questions, we must understand how they think, what is important to them, and where their deepest objections lie. We must understand the honor/shame culture, the intertwining of faith and identity, and the emphasis on authority. It would be incorrect to lump every Muslim into a box and say “this is how you do it”, but at the same time there are very specific and important differences between the average American living his whole life in a pseudo-Christian context and the largely insulated world of a son of Pakistani immigrants. Each person must be treated as their own person, but books like this one will provide a helpful starting point. Furthermore, these understandings will help us to be patient. When we understand that a move from Islam to Christianity is rarely the same as a move from agnosticism – that such a shift in perspective is radical and can demolish a person’s closest relationships – we won’t be so quick to dismiss them as “too far gone” or give up the conversation after only a few attempts.
Second, the biggest challenge in dealing with Islam today for most people is the dissonance we see between the average peace-loving Muslim living in our neighborhoods and the bloodthirsty butchers of ISIS, Boko Haram, or Al Qaeda. Too often we will lump people we’ve never met into one of the two categories by assuming the worst of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers or by dismissing the actions of terrorists as “not true Islam”. I will not attempt to couch some sort of relativistic approach to Islam. I do believe that there is a “correct” way to practice the religion and both types of Muslims cannot simultaneously be right, but I also believe it is important to understand the differences between these two groups and how they’ve come to their respective conclusions. This book does an admirable job of communicating those differences by letting you into the author’s mind. He – born and raised to a peaceful Muslim home – confronts the historical Muhammad and the teachings of the Quran which allows the reader to see both sides of the story. It is my opinion that this is where the conversations with Muslims must be focused. Who is Jesus and who was Muhammad?
Third, I believe that Western Christians can learn a lot from Muslims, theological differences aside, of course. Many times, I found myself wishing that American Christians were better at being hospitable to our neighbors, living in community with each other, or being intentional about passing our faith to our children. For many Muslims, Islam is not simply a set of propositions that they agree with, it’s a way of life. It is who they are, and it colors everything they do. Christians are supposed to be the same way. We’re supposed to be hospitable to everyone around us (Matt. 25:34-45), but most Americans are too wrapped up in their own comings-and-goings to give their neighbors a second thought. We are supposed to be living in a community of believers that extends far beyond simply going to church on Sunday. We’re supposed to be making a point of teaching the faith to our children and training them (Deut. 6:7), not simply expecting them to absorb it via osmosis. Frankly, Muslims – at least Qureshi’s family and the others portrayed in this book – are much better about these things than most Christians are and that’s tragic. This is not me shaking my finger at the rest of the Christian world. I’m well aware that I fall short in these areas myself. Most convicting of all is when Qureshi relates his confusion that none of the so-called “Christians” around him had ever once brought up Jesus. He rightly asks if these people really believe what they claim to or if they just don’t care that – according to their beliefs – he’s going to hell. Ouch.
Lastly, it’s worth observing that Qureshi’s eventual conversion came primarily through his friendship with David Wood: an informed Christian that could answer his arguments, point out his blind spots, and challenge him on his preconceptions. More Christians need to be able to do this, whether they know a Muslim or not. Over the years, I have found that being able to defend the fundamental points of the Christian faith is applicable in many situations. For Christians, the heart of the faith lies in the person, death, and resurrection of Christ and the preservation and authority of scripture. All of these points are challenged in some form or another by other faiths. Muslims, Mormons, Witnesses, and Atheists will bring up the issue of corrupted biblical texts. Muslims, Atheists, and Jews will all have difficulty accepting the resurrection of Christ. Muslims, Jews, Witnesses, and Atheists will deny that Jesus claimed to be God. Having a working knowledge of these concepts even at the lowest level will show that the Christian faith is one that can be defended intellectually and rationally. Not only will this help your evangelism, but it will strengthen your own faith when you’re not “feeling it” like you used to.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is, in a word, fantastic. It is highly informative as a primer for Islam, but also well written and compelling. In a world where saying anything negative or critical of Islam is instantly branded as bigotry and islamophobia, this book provides a compassionate and much needed voice in the conversation. Highly, highly recommended.
You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or ChristianBook.com (who had it for the why-haven't-you-bought-this-yet price of only $5, last I checked). Buy it for yourself and for your friends and family.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.