Thursday, February 13, 2014
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
One of the greatest challenge for evangelism in the modern age is the profound lack of intimate relationships with those outside of our "group". Whether it is politics, lifestyle, or, religion, it is a far deal more comfortable to talk "about" another person/group than it is to talk WITH them. Christians have become far too comfortable with talking at people and doing what I like to call, "Drive by Evangelism".
My purpose is not to unpack the whens, why's and hows for how this came to be. What matters is that it is wrong. Deadly wrong. And if Paul's letters in the New Testament are to be considered Scripture, then we must to be willing to engage our hearts and lives with the people who are in desperate need of the Gospel. And, not just for the sake of the Gospel, but for the reality that the "other" is someone who is made in the image of God and we are called to love them regardless of the artificial and man made walls that may exist between us.
With that in mind, Nabeel Qureshi's new book, "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus", is an insightful and challenging personal story that does much, for me at least, to engage hearts and minds with the message of the Gospel in a "foreign" culture.
Regardless of the interesting information a book may provide, it is important to understand the purpose and themes the author intends to convey to be able to be accurately informed by that information. My reading of "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus"(SAFJ) led me to believe that Qureshi had three main themes he was trying to communicate;
1) Insider perspective on Islamic culture, especially that of 1st and 2nd Generation immigrant culture and families.
2) Apologetic argumentation. Primarily for Biblical Christianity, but also for comparable Islamic apologetics.
3) Personal biography that served as a backbone for the "nuts and bolts" of Nabeel Qureshi's journey from Islam to Christianity.
To best evaluate the book I think it is important to understand and address each of these themes separately.
Review of Theme 1: Insider Perspective on Islamic Culture
As a Pastor of a small rural Church in the corn fields of west central Ohio, my personal familiarity with Islamic culture is very limited. "SAFJ" was like drinking information from a fire hose.....in a good way. In college I had taken an early Islamic literature course and had a very brief exposure to the culture. On nearly every page I felt I was being provided with insights and information that blew away some of my misconceptions.
I would contend, after reading this book, that most Westerners have a very caricatured understanding of Islamic culture, and for that alone I would recommend reading this book. Qureshi did a fantastic job of not just explaining the information regarding his culture, but detailing how it practically influences behavior and familial relationships. What was especially interesting was the explanation and examples of how Personal Authoritative structures(people that must be respected), and honoring those structures, take precedence over the Western ideals of Logic and Reason superseding personal relationships. Coupled with a deeply interwoven Honor and Shame system of reinforcement it illustrated the great difficulty that trying to communicate across cultural lines creates.
The main weakness I have with this theme of the book is that Qureshi's heritage is far from normative for worldwide Islam. Most people know that there are a number of "sects" within Islam, but learning the depth of those differences was very interesting. And, Qureshi, in his journey discovered how much different his particular doctrinal and theological influences were than the majority of Islam. It was eye opening to hear him retell a story where he listened to an Islamic Apologist(of his "tribe") go on a rant about how terrible it was that other Muslims claimed that their group were not truly Muslim.
Review of Theme 2: Apologetics
If one is coming to this book antagonistically, I do not believe that they will appreciate his frequent, and limited, references to Christian Apologetic arguments. While Qureshi is currently on staff with Ravi Zaccharias ministries, I do not think his main point was to make an airtight case for Christianity. So, if that is what you were hoping to find, look elsewhere. The apologetics served mainly as a narrative engine to assist in driving the biographical journey forward.
If you already are on board with Christian Apologetics you will find it very refreshing to see how the reasoning for Christianity played a large part in Qureshi's faith journey. But I would caution anyone to take passages from the book whole cloth as future arguments with non-believing or Muslim friends. One of the strengths of the book is that each chapter leads you to review more in depth resources regarding that chapters particular theme. If you are looking for more Gospel apologetics, utilize those resources, not the book.
As more Islamic apologetics work their way into the narrative it was helpful to see how the Authority structures within Muslim thinking and scholarship effect the way they even approach answering "tough" questions. Whether you agree with Qureshi's sentiments about the inability of Muslim history and scholarship being unable to withstand careful scrutiny, it can be very helpful to see how the typical Western thinking approach to apologetics is not necessarily helpful in "debate".
Review of Theme 3: Biography
The backbone of the book, that which all the other points hang on, is by far the best part. Qureshi does not desire to simply give you "facts and figures" to make a case for Christianity vs Islam, he wants to change your heart about Muslims. There are many touching and heartbreaking stories that give real life to what really hangs in the balance.
If this book was just an apologetic or a cultural primer, it would not be that helpful. By interpreting all the information through the lens of deep personal experience what changes will not be your mind, but your heart. The end of the book brought tears to my eyes as I was deeply moved by the personal trials that this journey has brought to Nabeel.
This book is a great read regardless of your intentions for reading it. It was engaging, entertaining and very insightful. In my life there are a number of books that I wouldn't recommend to people at certain places in life, but this is a book that I feel is universally valuable regardless of where they are currently.
Full Disclosure: I received "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" as an advance copy for the purpose of reviewing it. I do not personally know Nabeel Qureshi, or, any of his associates. Nor have I ever read anything else by him, or heard him speak on any topic. Other than receiving the book for free, I will receive no compensation for reading and reviewing.