Monday, January 12, 2015

A moving personal account from a former Muslim

I highly recommend the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi. In particular, I would recommend this book not just to people with Muslim and Christian backgrounds but also secularists and atheists. It may rattle your cage a little. It did mine.

The book is extremely well written and easy to read. It tells a fascinating and moving story. I read the whole book within two days because I just could not put it down. Besides the great story, the book has two significant strengths. First, it is quite educational. As he tells his story he gradually explains key aspects of Islam and Muslim practise and beliefs. I learnt an incredible amount. I was unsettled by my ignorance, but also challenged to learn more. Moreover, Qureshi does not just present facts but helps the reader see the world from the viewpoint of a Muslim, including what it feels like to be a Muslim, particularly living in the West. You are invited to walk in his shoes. The second strength is that Qureshi is warm and respectful of Muslims as people, while being (eventually) critical of the Qu'ran and Mohammed. Reading the book should be quite unsettling to Westerners who have a harsh and hostile attitude to Muslims. It also explains the diversity of Muslims and how many are greatly distressed by terrorist acts being committed in the name of Islam.

Qureshi grew up as a "third culture kid". His parents immigrated to the USA from Pakistan and are Ahmadiyya Muslims. His father served in the US Navy, including several years at a nuclear submarine base in Scotland. The family life centred around the local mosque and extended family. The family was warm, close knit, highly protective, and devout. Yet they were very isolated from the surrounding community. Although Qureshi attended secular schools, he had virtually non-Muslim friends, until he went to college. There he had a close Christian friend, who played a significant role in his life. This led to a long and painful re-examination of his religious beliefs. This should stimulate all of us to critically evaluate what we believe and why we believe it.

Qureshi highlights the incredible and tragic personal cost of leaving Islam, even for those living in the West. Some of the discussion of violence in the Qur'an and the life of Muhammad is unsettling.  The book makes clear following Jesus and following Muhammad are not the same thing. Also, a Muslim and a secular Westerner do not see the world in the same way.

Certain practices of Muslims were described that one could be easily critical of: weak apologetic arguments, appeal to authority, not going to source documents, social pressure to conform (role of shame), partisan factions, self righteousness, uncritical faith, special pleading to explain difficult verses in a holy text, double standards of reasoning, not really listening to others, ....
Yet, as a Christian I found this somewhat unsettling because I have sometimes seen somewhat similar practises in the Christian community!

So read the book and be unsettled.

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