Remembering Nabeel Qureshi | 1983 – 2017
‘What He has called me to do, I have to do very quickly.’
These were the words of Nabeel Qureshi in 2013, talking to fellow RZIM apologist John Njoroge.
The pair had been speaking at a conference and afterwards Nabeel drove them to a restaurant for a late dinner. John recalls their conversation:
‘We had barely sat down when Nabeel said, “I think the Lord has revealed to me that I will not live to be 45. Whatever He has called me to do, I have to do very quickly”.
‘When I am at a loss for words, I try humour. So, I said to my new friend, “Wow! And we let you drive us here?” It wasn’t funny to Nabeel. He was serious. The words had come from deep inside his soul. We all sat in silence for a while, not knowing how to respond to such profound, and in hindsight, prophetic words.’
Instead of being destabilising and nullifying, Nabeel’s insight into the finite time available to him proved a powerful motivator in advancing God’s kingdom. Even as cancer took an ever firmer grip on his weakening body, Nabeel continued to communicate the gospel truths via vlogs from his hospital bed, and in so doing showed faith of extraordinary measure.
That Nabeel’s hold on the hope of Jesus Christ outmatched the grasp of cancer on his body should be no surprise when one considers the circumstances, and cost, that hope had been born out of.
Nabeel Qureshi was brought up in the US to Muslim immigrants who had fled Pakistan. He was nurtured in a caring family environment alongside his sister, one where Islam became a matter of primary importance. By the age of 5, Nabeel had read the entire Qur’an in Arabic and he went on to be trained by his family in Muslim apologetics.
It was while studying as a medical student that Nabeel turned from Islam to Jesus, a decision which left his family feeling ‘utterly betrayed’. It would be the best part of a decade before the relationship began to be rebuilt.
Writing in his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel described the year after conversion as the most painful period of his life, yet it was also the most powerful.
All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus
‘It shaped me, moulded me, changed me into a disciple of Jesus,’ he wrote. ‘The suffering is what transformed me into a true follower of Jesus … My life now, including my walk with God and my relationship with my wife, are truly blissful, far more wondrous than I could have ever imagined when I was a Muslim.
‘All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing.’
Nabeel’s commitment to Christ transformed his academic direction for the next few years. While completing his medical degree at Eastern Virginia Medical School, he studied Christian apologetics at Biola University and graduated with an MA in 2008. In 2012, he completed an MA in religion at Duke University and then entered an MPhil and PhD programme at Oxford University in New Testament studies.
Nabeel’s high-energy, ‘restless disposition’ was instantly recognised by Ravi Zacharias when they first met: ‘He hated sitting still,’ said Ravi. ‘He was a man with a mission, ready to run.’
This mission led to Nabeel joining RZIM in 2013 as an itinerant apologist, travelling worldwide speaking to tens of thousands of people, and in the process forging a reputation as a powerful speaker and debater.
‘He was not just an evangelical; he was passionately evangelistic,’ said Ravi. ‘He desired to cover the globe with that good news: that God’s forgiveness was available to all. When he spoke, he held audiences captive.’
But it was his three books which had even wider impact, touching many in the Islamic world. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus was a New York Times bestseller and has sold more than 250,000 copies.
On the day his final book, No God But One: Allah or Jesus?, was released, Nabeel disclosed he had been diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer and the prognosis was grim. Despite the uncertainties of treatment, the certainty of his faith remained rock solid: ‘Never once have I doubted this: Jesus is Lord,’ he told his Facebook followers.
Throughout his treatment, Nabeel made video updates offering his thoughts about not only his illness but his faith. In his final one, Nabeel hoped that when people consider his ministry they would see it leaving a legacy of love, peace, truth and caring for one another.
His last words on it were: ‘Our God is a God of love and that should be what keeps us driven, that should be foremost in our mind, whether you are talking to a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, whoever you are talking to, may it be out of love.’
Speaking of Nabeel’s legacy, Ravi Zacharias said: ‘It is amazing that a life so brief had an impact so big. That is rare and is a tribute to an amazing man.’
Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi was born on 13 April 1983. He died on 16 September 2017 after a year-long struggle to overcome stomach cancer, aged 34. He is survived by his wife Michelle, and their two-year-old daughter Ayah.
A service celebrating the life of Nabeel takes place this Thursday, 21 September, at Houston’s First Baptist Church at 4pm UK time (10am US Central Time). Ravi Zacharias will be among the speakers and the service will be live-streamed at www.rzim.org as well as www.houstonsfirst.org/media and www.facebook.com/HoustonsFirst