On 16 September 2017, Nabeel Qureshi, a Christian author and apologist passed away a year after being diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. He was 34. An excellent overview of Nabeel’s conversion from Islam and his life’s work is outlined here by the Gospel Coalition. Eulogies in written form and a video from his memorial by his mentor and friend Ravi Zacharias give a powerful picture of Nabeel.
When Nabeel got his diagnosis last August he posted the news on Facebook and I remember reading it in disbelief. “Not Nabeel”, I thought, “he is so young, he has a baby girl, he is doing so much for the kingdom”. As his Facebook post says, he shared his journey with the world via a YouTube vlog. This article is based on his courageous vlog and his sermons after his diagnosis among other sources.
The Bible gives us many examples of people of faith and steadfastness. The example that I think most closely resembles Nabeel, is Job. James 5:10-11, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” In Job we see a man who was very blessed by the Lord and Satan accuses his faithfulness to God as merely coming from his blessings. Job 1:9-11, “Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” Satan also accused Job of fearing God because he had his health, “Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 2:4-5). And as we read the book of Job, we know that he did not curse God even though he lost his possessions, children and health. Hence he is such a great example of faith and steadfastness for us. But how does that look like today? Do we see or know of such examples in the modern world? A tangible example, someone we know or know of, our own peer. Such an example is Nabeel Qureshi.
Nabeel shared in sermons and talks that he gave after he received his diagnosis, that at the time of his diagnosis he was pursuing his dream PhD program at Oxford University, had a 1 year old daughter and a baby on the way, was a New York Times best seller and spreading the gospel throughout the world. He emphasised how well things were going for him, how everything he was doing was succeeding. But then he needed some tums for his stomach, that’s only how bad it had gotten and to find out it was stage 4 stomach cancer was a shock. To say that Nabeel was hated for leaving Islam is an understatement and when he announced his diagnosis he was told by some that he was cursed by Allah for leaving Islam. Some went as far as to claim that if he went back to Islam he would be healed. An enormous amount of pressure was applied but he stayed steadfast. He was steadfast when he first got his diagnosis until his death. In his vlog he explained why he wouldn’t go back to Islam regardless of what people were saying and he did this with love, gentleness and precision, like he always did. In one sermon, Nabeel stated that he believed God would heal him, as He’s a healer, but if not he doesn’t care if people laugh at him. Reminds me of Daniel Chapter 3, where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were facing death by a fiery furnace for not worshipping king Nebuchadnezzar’s god, “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18). No, he would not turn away from the Lord.
As time went on and the treatment didn’t work, Nabeel held fast to his faith even when the healing didn’t come and the pain got progressively worse. In a sermon 3 months prior to his death he said, “I will not forsake His name in the face of any pain, in the face of any suffering, I will not forsake His name”.
Eating caused him pain, which, as something his friends attested to (one example is Abdu Murray’s piece here) that he really enjoyed prior to stomach cancer. An enjoyment he had was taken away, in fact his enjoyment turned to pain at every meal and the time it took to digest that meal. But he did not complain. In fact, he prayed to thank God on behalf of those who did not feel pain when they ate. At Nabeel’s memorial, his mentor, Jim Tour, who had been with Nabeel nearly daily in the months leading up to his death, spoke about how he didn’t complain about the pain (and that he did not deny Christ). That he only knew of it when the nurse would ask Nabeel to rate the pain he was having. He had been through multiple surgeries, including the removal of his stomach on top of the pain caused by the cancer and yet he didn’t complain. Didn’t say, “why me”?
The most God glorifying moment (in my view) of his vlogs was the one he announced that he was placed in palliative care. In it he said the doctors had given up on treating him and that he was told that his body was in the last stages of life. At the end of the video he prayed and asked for healing and then said, “If it’s not your will, if it’s not your sovereign will at the end of the day… I trust you and I love you anyway”. What an example of faith.
In one of his earlier vlogs Nabeel described a dream he had about Jesus and through it he realised that Jesus was cleansing/purifying him through his trial. I am reminded of James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Nabeel’s trials that he graciously made public for us to witness and his example of firm faith and steadfastness is so needed today as it becomes more and more harder to see real faith in action. May we all also be faithful to our Lord. I am grateful that in the sermons and talks he gave during his final year of life he encouraged the Body of Christ to believe God’s word and to have faith in all of what it says.
Nabeel suffered through the loss of his family due to his conversion and suffered in the end due to cancer but he never wavered once in his faith and love for his risen Saviour. He remained steadfast under trial and received his crown from God. I will close with probably the most quoted Nabeel Qureshi quote, from his book “Seeking Allah, finding Jesus”, which fits his passing perfectly, “All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing”.
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