Monday, September 05, 2016

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi (Book Review #42 of 2016)

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity

I recently reviewed a host of books on the history and development of Islam and Middle Eastern history (list at bottom of this post). I also read several which included some critiques along with views to the future and reform. I then worked through a list of books by Muslim women, most of which bring light to and critique inhumane practices found in their home countries. Included in this list was Nick Kristof's Half the Sky which looks at women's rights globally, and I'm also including Qureshi's book as someone who left Islam after an extensive intellectual and spiritual search, including its authoritative teachings on the treatment of women. This book review is in the context of all of those books as a whole. The list (some reviews forthcoming):

Reform and human/women's rights:
Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali (4.5 stars)
Heretic - Ayaann Hirsi Ali (4 stars)
Headscarves and Hymens - Mona Eltahawy (4 stars)
I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai (5 stars)
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali (4.5 stars)
In the Land of Invisible Women -  Qanta Ahmed (4.5 stars)
Between Two Worlds - Zainab Salbi (5 stars).
City of Lies - Ramita Navai (3 stars)
Half the Sky - Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (4 stars)
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi (4.5 stars)

Qureshi's memoir is engaging, and satisfying if you like the story of someone who abandons his prior steadfast beliefs after examining them logically and scientifically. Coming from an Eastern culture, he learns to reason and falls in love with it. But the logical part is only half the battle, his choice forces his loving parents to abandon him. Qureshi was born into an Ahmadi Muslim family from Pakistan who migrated to America via Scotland. His father was both an officer in the Navy and considered a devout Muslim apologist. Nabeel recalls being instructed in the Quran, recitations, and the Islamic teaching given to children, along with his family's Pakistani culture. Like many children, he memorized impersonal prayers. He found it confusing that Ahmadis were considered heretics by some. (I once read a book by an Ahmadi in Pakistan who left his faith for Jesus in that context which was even more difficult). But Qureshi seems to argue for Islam from a more orthodox Sunni position when he is defending his faith in college.

In the U.S., Nabeel initially had an easy time as an anti-Christian Muslim apologist, easily exploiting Christians' ignorance of the Bible with his own limited knowledge, mainly from various Islamic apologetics he'd been taught. His first church experience was a performance of Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames which he was easily able to dissect the weaknesses of. As he grew older, he learned about the various Hadiths and Muslim doctrine-- he notes most Muslims believe in the doctrine of abrogation-- some verses in the Quran cancel out others. But he relies on a supernatural Allah, praying to find friends. In college, he is assigned an intelligent Christian roommate, David Wood.

Qureshi's mind was first challenged in an undergraduate course on the Theory of Knowledge, something new to an Eastern mind (not to mention most Western ones). The East, Qureshi writes, is an honor/shame culture where authority is given to elders and tradition rather than reason. Nabeel and David become good friends, debate team comrades, and comisserate as monotheists in atheistic or pluralistic classrooms. David is pursuing philosophy while Nabeel is actually a pre-med student who is highly interested in philosophy. As David and Nabeel progress in their philosophical studies and debates over religion, they get used to assigning probabilities to what they believe in. You can basically measure Nabeel's progress by the probability he gives to a historical resurrection of Jesus. After September 11, 2001, David's family fears and experiences some persecution-- which they also experienced during the 1991 Gulf War. But David proves to be a good friend and meets Qureshi's family. He is also the kind of guy who gives Qureshi a copy of Josh McDowell's simple More than a Carpenter and encourages him to read Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

Nabeel invites David to his house to discuss the resurrection with his dad, and the group attend a regular "Dream Team" meeting of debators discussing religion attended by Mike Licona and Gary Habermas- an incredible stroke of fortune both for David and Nabeel. Licona and Habermas are well-versed in defending the reasonable probability of a historical resurrection, and Nabeel notes that they are able to refute his father's criticisms well. Attending these meetings give the students the chance to hear a wide range of philosophical arguments. The group also attend a debate of a well-known Muslim apologist with Mike Licona over the resurrection. Nabeel increases his understanding and probability of an actual resurrection, but maintains a steadfast position in the orthodox Islamic teachings, particularly on the life of Muhammad.

The difficult aspect about Islam is that Quranic stories have no clear beginning, middle, or end-- Muslims turn to commentators to understand them and the myriad of scholarly thought on the Hadith to interpret them. This is something that laypeople cannot easily do, so there are many misconceptions or ignorance of what is actually contained either in the stories or Hadith. Nabeel finds Muslim apologists who are ignorant or make logical errors, something that frustrates him now that he's a seasoned debater himself. Nabeel begins investigating Islam with the same reasoning and skepticism which which he approached Christianity. He looks into the manuscript evidence and finds support for the New Testament's historical reliability to be more solid than other ancient texts. When he eventually investigates the compilations of the Quran and Hadiths he disappointedly finds he was never taught the entire story about Caliph Uthman ibn Affan's role in determining what is considered authoritative Quranic text and the later destruction of anything considered questionable. Hadiths compiled centuries later are problematic for their reliability is based on subjective judgment about the reported character of the witnesses.

The Gospel of John shakes Nabeel, but he becomes a more devout Muslim. Even assigning a high probability to a historical resurrection, he has a hang-up with the concept of a trinity - how can one God be equally God and man and Spirit? But this hang-up falls apart in a chemistry course where he learns about the concept of resonance with nitrate. Resonance shows that something can take on many forms at once. (I'm not a chemistry major; wikipedia suggests this is either a misconception about resonance or that this characteristic of molecules is properly termed "delocalization" instead.)

Qureshi frantically researches Islam and studies the various Hadith, finding that many who cite Hadiths as authoritative about one aspect of the life of Muhammad tend to omit certain aspects of the same Hadith that would support violence, subjugation of women, and slavery. Ibn Hisham, who edited Ibn Ishaq's authoritive biography of Muhammad in the 9th century, wrote that he omitted the egregious parts of Muhammad's life-- a huge indictment on the text that Qureshi was previously unaware of. The more he investigates, the more he finds the version of Muhammad he had been taught growing up was whitewashed. The author cites from various hadiths, such as those by Al-Bukhari, that are considered the most authoritative in Sunni Islam but are cited by groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda today for justifying violent action against any non-believer. Even Nabeel's father, who kept the Hadiths on this bookshelves, was surprised at Nabeel's discoveries. Nabeel reads Muslim apologists but finds that they have selectively filtered from these hadiths and never deal adequately with their compilation, or with the Quran's compilation.

Further, now as a medical doctor, Qureshi finds scientific problems with things in the Quran. He notes surahs in the Quran (Al-Muminun 23:6 and Surah Al-Maarij 70:30) that clearly justify sex with female slaves, something many modern apologists deny but history records was a primary motivation in owning female slaves. At this point, Qureshi is deeply distraught and at a crossroads of faith. He writes little of his personal life outside of his investigations, you get little window into his professional work or social life.

Eventually, he continues to pray for dreams and visions and then gets disturbing ones that his mother uses a book to interpret-- he feels the interpretation uncanilly match his internal debate. After three clear dreams, he travels with his father to Europe to tour various mosques and gain insight from leading Islamic clerics, none of which satisfies him; he basically has more knowledge than any of them at this point and is using Western reasoning which they may not embrace. In the end, Nabeel Qureshi gives up and becomes a Christian. Giving up his parents was the cost of his salvation, which is followed by seven months of joining with David in an apologetics ministry, seeing exorcisms and many miracles that Qureshi does not elaborate on. The reader gathers that in the end, they went their separate ways in ministry but he and David (and his wife, who David and then-Muslim Nabeel helped convert from atheism) remain cordial friends.

In all, I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5. In a couple chapters, Qureshi asks questions of Islamic texts that I have not seen in reading Reza Aslan and various other modern Islamic apologists or books on the history of the Quran and early Islamic thought. It's a deeply personal story, but void of various details of Qureshi's struggle and professional life. I intend to read at least some of Qureshi's other books to see more detailed critiques of Islam.

A History of Islam, The Middle East, and Arab nations:
A Very Short Introduction to the Koran - Michael Cook  (4.5)
A Very Short Introduction to Islam - Malise Ruthven (3 stars)
In the The Shadow of the Sword - Tom Holland (4 stars)
In God's Path -  The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire - Robert G. Hoyland (4 stars)
Great World Religions: Islam (The Great Courses)- John Esposito (1.5 stars)
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes - Tamim Ansary (4.5 stars)
Brief History of the Middle East - Peter Mansfield (3.5 stars)
History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (4.5 stars)
The United States and the Middle East 1914-2001 (Great Courses) by Salim Yuqub (3.5 stars)
Islam Unveiled - Robert Spencer (1.5 stars)
Lawrence in Arabia - Scott Anderson (5 stars)

Reform-minded but with defense of Islam:
Desperately Seeking Paradise - Ziauddin Sardar (5 stars)
Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz - Islam and the Future of Tolerance (1.5 stars)
Reza Aslan - No god but God - The Origins and Future of Islam (2.5 stars)

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