SEAN MCDOWELL BLOG
Allah or Jesus? Is God One? Interview with Nabeel QureshiPosted October 03, 2016 by Sean McDowell
Nabeel Qureshi is one of the leading apologists today on Islam. Raised in a devout Muslim home in the United States, Nabeel became a Christian in college. He records his faith journey in his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (2014). His second book, Answering Jihad, was written as his response to the “why” behind the recent jihadist terrorist attacks. His latest book, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam & Christianity, released in August 2016. It is an excellent book for Christians to better understand Islam and how to answer tough questions Muslims often raise, but also a great book to give to your Muslim friend.
Along with his MD, Nabeel has three Master’s degrees, including an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University (where I teach). Coinciding with this latest book release, Nabeel was diagnosed with late stage stomach cancer. Nabeel answers a few questions related to his most recent book:
Q: Why did you write No God but One: Allah or Jesus?
A: My heart for this book really is to let the world know the reasons why we can be confident that the Christian faith is true, particularly to Muslims who might be seeking. Also, there are a lot of Christians who are considering Islam. They haven't heard some of the things that are true about Islam. They've heard stories, they've heard notions, but they haven't really studied the evidence or learned some of the darker issues. My book is designed to help people understand the strengths and weaknesses of Islam and Christianity. I believe my book shows that the Christian case is much stronger than the Muslim case.
Q: What is your hope for No God but One: Allah or Jesus?
A: My hope is ultimately that 100,000 Muslims would read No God but One and give their lives to the Lord. I know that's quite a number, but that's my prayer. There are millions of Muslims who are searching and considering whether or not Islam is true. Of course, what the Lord does with the book is ultimately what's most important.
Q: How do you respond when a Muslim says there is nowhere in the Bible where Jesus claims to be God?
A. That's one of the first questions Muslims very frequently ask. I would say you have to start with the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," and then you can show how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in John 1:14. Someone will probably respond and say, "This isn't Jesus speaking; this is John speaking." We can respond by explaining that John was Jesus' disciple. This is why it's so important to understand the evidence for Islam and Christianity in contrast, because if you just compare one without understanding the other, it can be problematic. Muslims are very ready to tell you what Muhammad said. The problem is, we don't have Muhammad saying anything. We have other people recording what he said, in the same way that we have John recording what Jesus said, or John recording things about Jesus.
If we can trust anything we know about Muhammad, we can trust that John the disciple wrote John's Gospel. It's having similar standards across the board. Of course, I've spoken to many Muslims, and the objection still comes up, "But these aren't Jesus' words." Then you can point throughout the rest of the Gospel of John, where Jesus says in John 5, for example, "Honor Me like you honor God." Let’s examine that statement. Could a prophet ever say, "Honor Me like you honor God?" Jesus says that He is the king of His own kingdom. Jesus also says, "Pray in My name when I am gone, and whatever you ask, I will give it to you." That's fascinating. Jesus isn't even going to be on Earth, and He can hear you when you pray, and He can give you what you ask for?
In John 20:28, Thomas calls Jesus, "My Lord and my God." Jesus affirms his exclamation, saying in essence, "Finally. You have believed. Blessed are those who haven't seen and have believed." Throughout John's Gospel, Jesus is God. Another approach that I often take is with the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 14:62, Jesus’s words [about being the Son of Man and sitting at God’s right hand] are a claim to be God. So when Muslims say, "Where did Jesus say, 'I'm God?'" My response to them is often, “Did Jesus speak English?” They'll say, "No." I'll say, "What language did He speak?" They'll usually say "Hebrew” or “Aramaic” or “Greek." However they respond, I’ll say, "Okay, so we need to understand that He's speaking in the idiom of that language."
In his time and language, when you say you are the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Father and coming with the clouds of heaven, as Jesus does in Mark 14:62, you're claiming to be God. You can show that by turning to Daniel 7 and also Psalm 110:1. It's important we know our Scriptures, and it's important to be able to unpack for Muslims what Jesus is saying.
Q: How do you share the gospel with Muslim friends and neighbors without being too rude or insulting toward their faith?
A: Open your life to your Muslim friends, just like you would anyone else. Befriend them, and as you're watching TV together or as you're eating a meal together, or whatever things you would do with anybody else, be ready to talk about your faith. It's not so much a matter of figuring out what to say, or having a script, as much as having the right attitude. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your Muslim neighbor as yourself. As you love your neighbor, love God. Let them see your love for God.
Let's say you're going through a difficult time or have heard some bad news, and you're wrestling with that information. You can allow your neighbor to come into your life or knock on your neighbor's door and say, "Hey, I just want to hang out." Then, in the midst of your trouble, you can demonstrate your ongoing faith in Christ and what He has promised, that He will deliver, that He is our Savior, and that you trust in Him.
Let your Muslim neighbor, whom you love, see your love for God. If God has heard your prayers, then tell your Muslim neighbor that God has heard your prayers. In that, you witness to your neighbor through life. Of course, you might have some Muslim neighbors who are not from the same culture as you, and that can make interactions more complicated and tricky. I would learn as much as I could about how to welcome them from their own cultural idiom, so that you can be hospitable, so that you can host them, and in that context, love them.
Q: What should be our response to nominalism within American Christianity?
A: Nominal Christians are far more problematic than Islam. A lot of people ask, "Is atheism or Islam the most pressing concern we have as American Christians?" Neither. Apathetic Christians should be our most pressing concern.
Nominal Christianity gives the wrong message to most of the world. It makes people think Christianity is a faith that is lacking, a faith that produces lukewarm people. They don't realize that Christianity infuses you with life. The gospel message allows you to truly live. It means living even though we die. We as Christians have to be lights. We have to be passionate for our God. We need to show the people around us—be they Christians, Muslims, or whoever—that the Christian faith is a passionate faith. It's an all-or-nothing faith.
For example, look at Jesus’ teachings. He's all in, and He says you can't be halfway in. Take tithing, for example. In the Old Testament, tithing was clear; you give 10%. That's a tithe. In the New Testament, are we told anywhere to give 10%? No. Some people may say, " I don't have to tithe as a Christian." It's the other way around. Jesus asks for absolutely everything, 100%. You don't tithe as a Christian because you need give everything—your life, your clothes, your food. You trust Him with everything. That's what it means to be a Christian. It’s all in. For the same reason, Jesus says not to worry about where you live, what you'll eat, or what you'll drink. You have to trust God. It’s 100% in.
Q: Is jihad a Quranic concept?
A: That's very clear, yes. Surah 9 of the Quran is the best surah to reference because it's the clearest on jihad. It's also nearly the last surah written chronologically, almost like marching orders. Surah 9, verse 111 says very clearly that Allah has bought your persons and your property that you might slay in battle and be slain. Allah makes you a Muslim so you'll fight in battle. That's what surah 9, verse 111 of the Quran says.
Q: How do we respond to a Muslim who says Surah 9 does not apply to Muslims today?
A: That's what my former sect of Islam used to say. They'd explain that surah 9 was contextual to a specific battle, and it doesn't apply anymore.
The problem with that view is that it's completely disconnected from the Islamic traditions. If you believe Muhammad is a prophet, you have to accept the Islamic traditions. There's no other way to conclude Muhammad is a prophet, no historically consistent way to conclude it anyway, without following them. Within those very same traditions, surah 9 is the last major chapter of the Quran to be composed, and it was not limited to a specific context. It was the final marching orders for Muslims. To say that surah 9 doesn't apply to Muslims anymore is an unhistorical or inconsistent way of interpreting the Islamic traditions.
Q: Do Muslims in general think critically about their faith, or is that a Western mindset?
A: There are two factors to consider. One would be West versus East, and the other would be educated versus non-educated. Critical thinking often comes with higher education. In the West, the focus on critical thinking seems to be a lot stronger than in the Middle East. I'm not saying Middle Easterners don't think critically. Many do, and many are excellent critical thinkers, but the focus on authority in the Middle East is far stronger than the focus on truth in the West. In the West, we emphasize the individualism to arrive at truth however you arrive at it. Your truth is your truth. My truth is my truth. The relativism of truth has taken the matter a bit too far in the West. Whereas in the Middle East and in eastern areas of the world in general, honor comes from obeying authority or following lines of tradition, which means less critical thinking. It's a natural outcome of following authority that questions are not as welcomed. You generally have to be either an educated Muslim or a Western Muslim to be a critical thinker about faith.
Q: In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, you described your initial encounter with Christian music as negative. Have you found any worship music you like?
A: Early in my Christian walk, it was shocking to see people singing and leading music up front on a stage. It seemed very irreverent. I was not used to any music in a mosque. I was not used to women standing at the front in a mosque. Since then, I must say that I draw closest to God during corporate times of worship, and I am talking about worship music in particular—hymns and modern worship songs. The church I attended in Atlanta, Georgia, for example, was Passion City Church, where Chris Tomlin was the worship leader. He left to go to Nashville, and then David Crowder was often the worship leader. I love worshiping with contemporary music.
Q: Is it fair to say that while Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, both faiths attempt to worship the same God, though obviously arriving at very different results?
A: In No God but One and also in Answering Jihad, I discuss that in one verse in the Quran, Muslims are told to say to Christians and Jews that we worship the same God as you do, yet throughout the rest of the Quran it's very clear Islam rejects a Trinity. It rejects that Jesus is God and that God is a Father. If you believe Jesus is God, according to surah 5, verse 72, you will go to hell. How could it be that Muslims and Christians worship the same God if you will go to hell for worshiping the Christian God if you're a Muslim? It goes further than that. The Christian God is triune, one being in three persons. The Muslim god is absolutely one, and there's a doctrine within Islam called tawhid, which teaches not only is God absolutely one, but that his oneness is the most essential doctrine of Islam.
So Islam affirms as its most important doctrine an explicit rejection of the Trinity. This is not an incidental difference. It is intentionally antithetical, and that's why I argue Muslims and Christians worship different gods.
Q: What is Islamophobia in your opinion?
A: There is a very real incidence of Islamophobia in the West. Some people see anything Muslim as dangerous or evil. At the same time, some things are called Islamophobia aren't. For example, is discussing Muhammad’s violence Islamophobia? No. Is talking about the violence within Islam Islamophobia? No. Is saying that Islam misses the truth on some matters Islamophobia? No. In order to shut down conversation, people may say, "You're being Islamophobic." The word phobia can be used these days to shut down conversations. I don't think that is an accurate use of the term “Islamophobia.”
Q: Do you think Muhammad knew or understood the Trinity? Did he receive wrong information about the Trinity?
A: In my honest opinion, I'm not sure we can know much of anything about Muhammad. All the Muslim records about Muhammad's life are late, and they're contradictory. They share information that is relatively unbelievable. They come from questionable sources. For example, if we try to corroborate some of the details we're told in Islamic narratives, such as the simple fact that Muhammad was born in Mecca, there is no record of Mecca existing before the beginning of the eighth century. The Islamic narratives consistently claim he was born there, so the average Muslim will say, "Of course he was born in Mecca." Yet there are no archaeological finds before the beginning of the eighth century within Mecca. According to the traditions, Mecca was a major trade city on multiple trade routes, yet merchants used to keep meticulous records of their trade routes, and Mecca isn't found in any. How confident can we be that Muhammad was actually born in Mecca at the end of the sixth century? There's no historical reason to be confident.
Or consider the term “Muslim” in the seventh century. According to Islamic narratives, Muslims conquered parts of Persia and Egypt, having been sent out by Muhammad's teachings. Yet historically those Arabs who conquered Persia, Egypt, and Jerusalem never called themselves Muslims. They never used the term “Muslim.” They didn't quote the Quran. Instead, they referred to themselves using other terms, “Sassinids,” for example. They'd also refer to themselves by their tribal names. All to say, when you attempt to corroborate early Islamic narratives with the hard evidence of archaeology, or numismatics, or trade routes, they don’t check out.
Getting back to the question, did Muhammad understand the Trinity? The Quran itself gets the Trinity wrong. The councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon had occurred hundreds of years before the Quran was composed, yet the Quran views the Trinity as Father, Son, and Wife. For instance, when Allah asks Jesus whether he told people to worship him and Mary alongside Allah, Jesus says no. That's the Trinity the Quran assumes. Was there ever such a view of the Trinity? Sort of. The Barbelo Gnostics, from the end of the second century, are recorded to have worshiped Father, Son, and Mother, so Muhammad may have gotten some of his references about Christianity from Gnostics.
Q: In light of your health situation, do you have plans for another book?
A: I do. I'm working on my next book now. There are unknown factors that may affect when or how this book releases, but I've been working on it for some time. It's entitled The Questions Muslims Ask and the Answers that Convert Them. It addresses 20 key questions, and it's designed to help believers see the heart of Muslims and what captures their hearts as they're coming to Christ. It should also be a good book to give to Muslim friends. I noticed with Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus that some Muslims disregarded my story because I grew up in a different sect than their one, assuming my story wouldn’t be relevant to them. This book will represent a vast array of Muslims, Shia, Sunni, Western, Eastern, nominal, and devout.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.