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Ravi Zacharias Remembers His Young Protégé, Nabeel Qureshi
[Editor’s note: Zacharias gave the eulogy at “abnormally born” Qureshi’s memorial service on September 21.]
The first time I saw Nabeel Qureshi, he sat at a table across from me, his one leg constantly moving almost subconsciously, warming up for a run. It was a habit of his restless disposition.
That was Nabeel in true expression; he hated sitting still. He was a man with a mission, ready to run. Sadly, for us, he finished his race all too soon and our hearts are broken at the loss of one who ran with spectacular passion to do what filled his soul.
He was a thorough-going evangelical. He held dear the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Old and New Testaments and carried the message of salvation. Jesus’ grace for a transformed heart was his message.
For years as a young man, he labored and struggled to gain “righteousness before God” only to find out that righteousness was already met in the cross through Jesus Christ. That was his message in his best-selling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.
Qureshi was not just an evangelical; he was passionately evangelistic. He desired to cover the globe with the good news that God’s forgiveness was available to all. I have seldom seen a man with such deep conviction and proportionate passion and gifting. When he spoke, he held audiences spellbound.
I invited him to join our team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) four and a half years ago. He placed one condition, and I placed one condition. His condition was that after he joined, he’d travel with me for one year, to observe and learn. I asked that after the year, he’d go to Oxford. I wanted him to complete his doctorate to be better prepared to answer the toughest questions a Christian apologist faces—and to do it with gentleness, respect, and learning. He agreed.
He called me “uncle.” He became part of our team. Everywhere he went, they wanted him back. After every talk we would have a meal together, and he would ask me, “Uncle, how did I do?”
I tear up as I think of the meal we had a little over a year ago. Nabeel was a man with a daunting appetite. I used to joke in his presence, “Don’t get behind him in a buffet line; there will be nothing left.” He would chuckle with his winsome smile. I wish I could see that smile again. He could make a big meal look like an appetizer.
I noticed that he was just nibbling away at his food. I said, “Nabeel, are you not going to eat?” He said, “Uncle, I have been having some strange sensations in my stomach.” I asked how long that had been going on, and he said it had been a few weeks. I urged him to have it checked out. He said he was planning on it.
The rest is history. He went to see the doctor. They had concerns, and the first diagnosis was cancer of the stomach—probably stage 4. That was a stunner. It strained credulity. We were taken by shock. He moved to Houston for treatment. But the condition was on a downward spiral. Within a few months, the handwriting was on the wall. But he remained firm that he was in God’s hands.
In May, he said to me, “Uncle, can I do one more trip with you? I miss that time of being on the road with you.” I said, “Nabeel, if your doctor approves, yes, please come. We will cover your cost.”
I took him with me to Malaysia. His body was weak, his passion undiminished, his speaking, powerful, his messages reaping a harvest of followers of Jesus. His answers to people’s questions were profound and persuasive. They would applaud with each answer. He would talk one on one; he would pray one with one. His belief in God being One and the answer to salvation being One were all part of his spiritual DNA.
When we had our last meal together and when we bid him goodbye in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, I had a feeling that was our “farewell.” I fought off the tears.
As I write this, it’s hard to hold back the tears. It’s hard to believe that Nabeel Qureshi has left us all too soon. I reminded him that he was the same age as our Lord whose mission was accomplished. In like manner, Nabeel came like a streak of lightning, brightened the night sky, and has returned to the One who gave the power to do what he did.
Nabeel, I will no longer hear you calling me “uncle.” I will miss that. But I will hear you calling me “brother” when we meet again—because we both serve our heavenly Father who adopted us as his own children.
“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him,” so said the apostle Paul who got a glimpse of the resurrected Jesus. Nabeel is now in his presence.
He told me how much he hurt for leaving his wife, Michelle, his young daughter, Ayah, and his family. That farewell was painful for him. But his pain is now over and the One who wipes away every tear has welcomed him. I do not mourn for him.
I mourn for our broken world where so much hate and destruction abounds. We have a cancer called “sin.” We do not like the diagnosis. But it’s a killer. The message that Nabeel carried was true. God sent his Son to heal that disease. That disease is still killing until we heed that message.
May we hear God’s voice reminding us that the disease that kills the body is minor. The disease that kills the soul is eternal. Nabeel would want more than anything else that we carry that message of Jesus to help change the world. Only then can we understand that the sad news of Nabeel’s death is temporary. The good news of his life is eternal.
His message lives on. He authored three incredibly powerful books: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus; Answering Jihad; and No God but One. Recently when I was in Iraq, somebody made reference to the impact on his life through those books. Nabeel and I were in the midst of co-authoring a book on Jesus through Eastern eyes. His eyes have now seen his Master. I will have to write with imagination.
I miss you, dear friend. You taught me so much in your few years: to run the race with passion and that our moment to bid farewell will also come. You will never be forgotten. Thank you for spending those memorable years with us. They were all too few.
Knowing the biblical message, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it well:
Life is real! life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
See you soon, my dear Nabeel.
Your “uncle” and “brother,”
Ravi Zacharias is the founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).