Nabeel Qureshi, an author and apologist who wrote about his conversion from Islam to Christianity in several best-selling books, has died. He was 34.
Qureshi died on Saturday (Sept. 16) after a yearlong battle with stomach cancer, according to a statement by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, where Qureshi was an itinerant speaker.
“As you consider my ministry, I hope it leaves a legacy of love, of peace, of truth, of caring for one another. That’s my hope and my purpose behind this,” Qureshi said in a final video posted Sept. 9 on social media.
“If at any point I’ve said anything that seems to contravene that, I do apologize, and I hope that that’s not the legacy I leave behind.”
Qureshi was raised an Ahmadi Muslim by his parents, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan.
When he was an adult, a Christian friend challenged him to study Islam with a critical eye, the same way he had studied Christianity. After several years of investigation, and what he described as dreams and visions, he became a Christian — a decision he recounted in his New York Times best-selling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, published in 2014.
He wrote two more apologetic books, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward and No God But One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity.
For many Christians, Qureshi was their introduction to Islam, shaping what they knew and understood about the religion and its adherents and affirming evangelical beliefs. With master’s degrees in Christian apologetics from Biola University and religion from Duke University and a trusted Christian publisher like Zondervan behind him, he was a “safe” source of information, a “Muslim friend,” according to Ken Chitwood, a doctoral candidate in religion in the Americas and global Islam at the University of Florida.
“His book (Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus), I think, for many Christians was a bridge to connect with the world of Islam and learn more about what Muslims believed,” Chitwood said.
Ravi Zacharias explained in Sunday’s Washington Post why he believed Qureshi and his books became so popular with Christian readers: “Because Islam is so much in the sights of the world right now, an articulate and attractive personality like Nabeel was often given a fair hearing.”
Zacharias also said on his ministry’s website that Qureshi preached “with an anointing that was rare” and taught him “so much.”
But Muslim scholar Elijah Reynolds, in a 2016 piece in Religion Dispatches, co-written with a Christian graduate student, criticized Qureshi. He ignored “the 1400-year interpretive tradition of Islam,” they wrote, and they compared his rejection of that tradition to “an atheist learning everything she knows about Christianity from Richard Dawkins.”
Chitwood said the apologist’s work was weaponized by some evangelical Christians who found in it justification for Islamophobic beliefs.
Qureshi also blogged in 2011 refuting allegations he never had been Muslim to begin with because he had belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect, a persecuted minority seen as heretical by many mainstream Muslims.
In August 2016, as the author launched his third book, “No God But One,” Qureshi shared he had been diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer.
While he canceled travel and speaking engagements, he continued to chronicle his battle with cancer in posts on social media. He wrote about surgical procedures (including one to remove his stomach), the progression of his cancer, the questions he was wrestling with: “Do I continue to have faith for healing, or do I just trust?”
In late August, he shared video of floodwaters raging through his Houston neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey and news he had been evacuated to a hospital. His next video, posted in early September, was filmed from his hospital bed, where — dressed in a light blue gown — he announced the “dire news” doctors had given up treatment and he was receiving palliative care.
In his final video, Qureshi shared “where my heart has been during my ministry.”
“I think it’s very important that we discuss matters of truth, but at the end of the day, that is supposed to be undergirded by love and by peace,” he said. “When we talk to people about our beliefs, we should do it through a lens of love, and the whole point should be to bring people together — to bring people together to the truth.”
His last words on the video: “Whether you’re talking to a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian — whoever you’re talking to, may it be out of love.”
Qureshi is survived by his wife, Michelle, and daughter, Ayah.
(Ken Chitwood is a member of RNS’ board of managers.)