“Wouldn’t it be nice if the Gospel was true?”
The voice came from within, unexpectedly. Nasser, a deeply devout Muslim, knew all the reasons why the concept was blasphemous. Allah’s honor and holiness are irreproachable; he would never allow human beings to mock, torture, strip, and crucify him. It contradicts his entire nature. Nasser felt the need to ask forgiveness for even considering the thought.
Yet part of him wished it were true, adding conflict to the despair already present in his heart.
That Nasser was even there–a church in the American Midwest, listening to a sermon about the cross–was itself a near-miracle. He was born in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, and trained in Muslim apologetics. As a teen he desired to join the Taliban. After his family moved to the US during the first Gulf War, he saw himself as a “Muslim missionary,” eagerly debating Christians in person and online. He was a Muslim version of Saul, defending his true faith against the blasphemy of these Christ-followers.
“It was terrible for people,” Nasser says, referring to his conversations with Christians. “I used to know so many things about religion. I was the guy that you came to to ask questions. And I was really prideful about that.”
With a fiery belly and a sharp mind, he drove many Christians away with his arguments. He was arrogant, incisive. He knew enough about the Bible to have a trump card for nearly anything.
Then a chance relationship that formed online began to redirect his life’s trajectory.
Daisy’s writing caught Nasser’s attention first–he frequented science fiction message boards in addition to religious ones--and they quickly bonded. Their conversations transitioned from email to phone to in-person. Nasser was intentionally coy about how deeply devoted he was to Islam. He played up its similarities to Christianity–Daisy had invited Christ into her life at age five–and referenced that he believed in Jesus, just in a different way. It wasn’t until after the wedding that he dropped a bombshell: he expected Daisy to take up the role of a good Muslim wife.
Daisy realized that she was in over her head. So she marshalled as much intercession as she could find. The number of people praying for Nasser’s salvation eventually grew to over a thousand.
Daisy invited Nasser to church, and his intention in going, at first, was to sharpen his toolkit in order to better expose hypocrisy and convert people to Islam.
Under the surface, though, something was happening.
“I was so sure that I was a holy guy, and that my good works were sufficient, that God looked on me favorably,” Nasser says. “Instead, I got this overwhelming sense that not only was God’s presence far from me, but His face was turned from me.”
He sought to placate these feelings by becoming a better Muslim, by working harder and eliminating the wickedness he was acutely aware was in his heart. But instead of moving closer to God, he felt that he was slipping further away. Over time he became deeply depressed.
“I eventually got to the point that I realized that I was damned.”
When he arrived at church that fateful Sunday morning, Nasser was so depressed that, “I would have been open to radicalization if someone would have said that I could find assurance of salvation by strapping a bomb to my chest.”
No one knew this, though. Nasser hid his despair even from Daisy.
So when the question rippled through his mind, he was left to wrestle with it himself. He was torn, wishing that the Christian Gospel were true, while the arguments for why Allah’s character rendered it an impossibility fought for dominion over his mind and heart. Finally, he prayed:
“If this is what I have to understand and believe in order to be saved, then I need you to show up and tell me, or do something, give me a sign. Anything.”
God’s response was instantaneous.
A powerful vision appeared before Nasser’s eyes. He saw a rocky hill and a man being crucified. The man looked into his eyes, and Nasser was filled with awareness that he was wrong about Jesus. The man he saw was more than a prophet, more than a messenger sent from God. Nasser knew that he was looking into the very eyes of God, and instead of turning His face away, He fixed His gaze directly on him.
Nasser saw all of his wickedness poured out upon Jesus. And Jesus said, “That was why I did that. Because that was the only way for you and I to have a relationship. And it was worth it to me to pay that price.”
Much to the surprise of all who knew him, Nasser gave his life to Christ that morning.
Nasser’s zeal hasn’t waned; it’s just been redirected. He grew in faith and started sharing Christ with family and friends, and now serves with a parachurch ministry in the Midwest. He’s especially burdened for Muslims.
For Christians with little or no understanding of Islam, the thought of encountering someone as serious and devoted as Nasser is intimidating. How could we possibly engage in a spiritual conversation with him, let alone hope to influence him for Christ?
Nasser’s personal story, as well as his Christian ministry experience, can offer three key insights.
The Importance and Power of Prayer
The Holy Spirit’s role in Nasser’s story is unmistakable: conviction of sin and his need for salvation, hunger and curiosity, and finally the vision he saw itself. You can draw a direct line between the thousands praying for him and this spiritual activity in his heart
Ultimately, God alone changes human hearts. This is true for anyone; especially so for the Muslim who has so many preconceived ideas about Christianity, and so much cultural pressure surrounding the choice to turn from Islam to Christ. Prayer is paramount.
Relational Presence Matters
We should note unequivocally that this story is in no way an endorsement of missionary dating! Daisy considers the first two years of their marriage–before Nasser received Christ–the hardest of her life. Entering a relationship with motives of conversion is almost always a poor idea.
What it does show, however, is that relationships contribute to the softening of the heart.
Nasser notes that several sincere, friendly Christians persisted in relationship with him, even as he aggressively promoted Islam and showed no sign of the despair percolating within.
“Don’t give up until Jesus tells you to move on,” he says. “You never know what’s going on in a person’s heart.”
We Can Confidently Engage With Just A Basic Knowledge of Islam
Nasser’s story shows the power of God to save, even when His ambassadors appear overmatched.
Crescent Project founder Fouad Masri says, “You don’t need to be an expert in Islam to reach Muslims. You need to be an expert on the Gospel and simply know enough about Islam to build a bridge.”
Knowing enough about Islam opens the door for a growing relationship. It shows genuine care to our Muslim friends, and communicates that we’re interested in something deeply important to them. It can allow us to be the friend that persists in relationship, even when the fruit of our evangelism is uncertain.
The Bridges Seminar–offered online for individuals, or in a group setting live or via DVD–is designed to give Christ-followers this basic knowledge of Islam so they can confidently engage with Muslims about Christ. It could be just the resource you need to confidently engage a Muslim friend about spiritual things, or to be prepared whenever that door opens.