Nabeel Qureshi, Love, and the Debate that Changed His Mind

Some moments in life take on a much deeper meaning long after the fact. It’s a humbling truth: We’re often too blind to the realities standing right before us.

More than 13 years ago, I had the privilege of crossing paths with a young Muslim man in search of truth. His name was Nabeel Qureshi, who converted to Christianity some time after attending a debate I covered as a student at Regent University. I didn’t speak with him that day. But he later became a powerful apologist for the Christian faith.

Nabeel died this week after a year-long battle with stomach cancer. He was 34 and leaves behind his wife and 2-year-old daughter. My heart breaks for his family. His legacy reaches deep into my own life as I consider what made the difference for him 13 years ago.

Nabeel mentions this debate in his testimony. But this alone did not move him to change course. Instead, it was a friendship he developed with a fellow student at his university, David Wood. Wood, a Christian, was not intimidated by criticism of his faith and he wasn’t afraid to study Nabeel’s claims about Islam. Together, this friendship–this love for each other–proved the catalyst that changed Nabeel’s mind.

Once the evidence was clear, Nabeel said he had to make a choice–a choice that would cost him everything. Listen to his testimony here (the debate is mentioned about 22 minute in):

It’s been said that Christianity in America is anemic not because it costs too much, but because it costs too little. We preach a free salvation, but fail to teach the cost of discipleship. The Christian faith requires you to be “all in.”

Nabeel was 100 percent all in. He preached and defended Christ’s love to the world and it was this love that motivated him to the very end.

“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, and not to hurt one another but to help one another,” Nabeel said in his final video posted online. “My whole point in teaching is for love to reign.”

Loving others will cost us something. But in the end, that cost is worth everything we could ever give.


Muslim, Christians Join to Debate the Facts of Jesus’ Resurrection
By Sarah K. Cron
March 2004

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — As movie-goers continue to make Mel Gibson’s “Passion” a box office smash, a small group of Christians and Muslims reached beyond their differences to discuss the facts of Christ’s resurrection.

For three hours, Imam Shabir Ally and Christian apologist Mike Licona sparred over whether Jesus really rose from the dead. The debate was held at Regent University, Friday, March 6.

Although Licona has spoken at Regent before, this was the first time the university has hosted a debate like this. After accepting the challenge from Ally’s representatives, he asked University Chaplain Gordon McAlister if the debate could be held on campus.

Licona said several of his friends had tried to persuade him to discuss only various faith perspectives on the resurrection, not about whether Jesus actually rose from the dead. But he disagreed.

“I think the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is good enough that it can stand on its own,” he said. “If I declined, someone else was going to accept. And I wanted to defend the resurrection.”

As for Ally, who is also president of Islamic Information and Da’wah Centre, International based in Toronto, Canada, his goal was to open a dialogue about each other’s respective views.

“There are some people who are into having the matters trashed out in a time of the debate,” he said. “But there are some people who would like to use the same platform just to respond to each other. That’s what this debate is good for, to work over the issues.”

Dialogue, Not Debate?

Outside the Communication building theater where the event was held, representatives from both Muslim and Christian groups were available with free literature and copies of their respective holy books, the Qur’an and the Bible.

Ramazan Zuberi, a representative for Why-Islam, also agreed with Ally’s reasoning for holding an event like this. Why-Islam, which began four years ago to promote a better understanding of the faith, now receives about 400 calls a day. Their website attracts about 15,000 hits a month.

Zuberi also lectures on the faiths based on the original languages like Aramaic and Hebrew. He said an earlier debate like this encouraged him to learn more about Christianity.

“I don’t necessarily agree with debate but I do strongly agree with dialogue,” Zuberi said. “It gives people the chance to ask questions perhaps they would never be able to ask. There should not be any fear involved in that. We should approach each other one-hundred percent securely, safely and peacefully.”

Zuberi, who was born and raised in the United States, said that a pervading sense of fear about the Muslim faith and culture has been the biggest disappointment for him.  Negative remarks he has heard from others reflect a misconception that all Muslims are from the Middle East.

In his words, comments like “You must go back to Egypt” or “Go back to Arabia” are especially hurtful.

“The negative comments is really what I find most upsetting,” he said. “I was born and raised here. What do you want me to go back to? Go back to Brooklyn, New York?”

He believes open dialogue will help clarify misconceptions people may have about each other.

“I think dialogue is very important. People from different backgrounds and faiths should come together only to understand similarities between each of their faiths because there are a lot,” Zuberi said. “People concentrate on too many differences which I think is unfair. There’s too much division.”

Despite the chance for an open discussion, Dr. Joseph Kickasola, professor at Regent’s school of government, does not believe the debate platform is effective in persuading anyone. Kickasola’s expertise includes Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.

“The goal was to communicate to a Muslim in such a way that he could believe it,” he said. “My first reaction was I don’t know how this forum can be effective to listeners. It somehow does not speak to their relational way of learning.”

His experience has taught him that Muslims typically build relationships first which can then be developed in to a sense of mutual trust.

“They learn from those whom they trust and they trust their leadership. Why should they trust a Christian scholar? This is putting exchange ahead of relationships.”

A more effective means of persuasion he believes is to spend personal time with each other.

“I’ve taught myself Arabic. I relate to them by going to their meetings, hearing about what they say about their speeches,” he said. “I go in and I listen to them.”


During the debate, Christian apologist Mike Licona began by arguing that the truth of Christianity hinges on the fact of the Resurrection, not just that the Bible says it happened.

He gave three proofs to defend this belief:

  1. Historians and modern medical experts agree that the man Jesus had to have died given the circumstances of his crucifixion.
  2. Numerous witnesses testified about Jesus’ tomb being empty.
  3. Eyewitness accounts all say they saw Jesus alive in bodily form only days after he died. Several of his disciples willingly died for this belief.

“I’m not saying that this proves that Jesus rose because certainly others are willing to suffer and die for their convictions,” he said. “However, we wouldn’t accuse people who suffer and die for their convictions for dying for a known lie. Thus we can show that the disciples were not only claiming that Jesus had risen, but that they really believed it.”

After Licona’s remarks, Ally disclosed upfront that he did not think the message of Christ’s cross was even necessary.

“The fact that I’m a Muslim has trained me to not appreciate the need for the Cross,” Ally said. “Never in Islam would we understand that someone might possibly pay for our sins.  In fact we would find it objectionable. Forgiveness means no one pays for your sins.”

Ally mentioned three points about the resurrection belief that he does not find persuasive:

  1. He does not believe the Gospel accounts agree that Jesus really died on the cross.
  2. He does not find the texts persuasive that Jesus actually appeared to his disciples in physical form afterwards.
  3. He believes the narrative accounts were embellished as time progressed.

“The belief that someone is alive does not necessitate a bodily resurrection,” he said in rebuttal to Licona. As for the medical experts and historians agreeing Jesus died, Ally joked that it is reasonable to assume that after 2,000 years, the person is dead.

After more than an hour of sparring back and forth, the debate concluded after the audience had a chance to question both guests.


Mike Licona has authored three books dealing with Christian apologetics, the most recent being “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.”He also has a website called Risen Jesus 

Shabir Ally is president of the Islamic Information and Da’wah Centre, International based in Toronto, Canada.  He lectures and debates frequently on Islam.  His website can be found at IslamInfo.

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