Cross and Resurrection: The Crux of the Matter for Muslims
Nabeel Qureshi is an unlikely Christian. Besides growing to adulthood as a devout Muslim, you could say he was a Muslim of Muslims, having descended from one of Muhammad's chief Sunni successors.
Yet while a devout Muslim he found Jesus, and he tells the fascinating story in his new book Seeking Allah Finding Jesus. Qureshi’s story of finding Jesus serves as a powerful guide for Christians, to help them better understand Islam and the people of that faith.
On this Good Friday, in anticipation of Resurrection Sunday, I want to share an important section that calls out the crux of the matter for Muslims and Christians alike: The cross and resurrection.
Qureshi shares two compelling ideas: first, the cross is "a litmus test between Islam and Christianity," (146) and secondly, "the only thing Christianity has over Islam is the resurrection." (167)
The Cross as Litmus Test Between Christianity and Islam
“If there’s a litmus test between Islam and Christianity,” Qureshi writes, “I think it’s the issue of whether Jesus died on the cross.” (146) This test is illustrated in a memorable story I referenced in another post, one involving his father ("Abba"), his college friend David, and New Testament scholars Mike Licona and Gary Habermas sharing a meal.
We learned Muslims don’t believe Jesus actually died by crucifixion, that it only appeared he died. This view is known as the “swoon theory.” Interestingly, we learn imams proclaim the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, “but they argued that Jesus was alive when the shroud was placed on him.” (149) Habermas and Licona have a go at defending the authenticity of Christ’s crucifixion by describing the intensity of the practice, planting a seed of doubt in Qureshi about whether Jesus survived the cross.
At one point his emphatic father argued the Islamic position that it was impossible Jesus died, because “He was beloved by God, and he cried out to be saved.” He claimed that if the Gospels contained verses that said he did die, they “must have been added by Christians.” (152) Licona and Habermas respond by explaining the unanimity of the historicity of Jesus’ death on the cross.
Qureshi says the night’s discussion put him in an intellectual bind: “It seemed to me that if I wanted to hold onto an Islamic version of Jesus’ crucifixion…I would have to discard history.” (153) He saw the Quran required him to close his eyes to historical evidence, and yet the results of the litmus test were clear: “the Christian claim aligned with the evidence 100 percent.” (153)
The Resurrection Advantage
In another crucial turning point in his journey to finding Jesus, Qureshi retells the story of a debate between Licona and well-known Muslim scholar Shabir Ally at Regent University on the veracity of Christianity’s arguments.
Among other things, Licona emphasized Christ’s resurrection, saying its truth was the hinge event of the Christian faith. Qureshi notes that Licona grounded this truth-claim in three historical facts: Jesus died, the tomb was empty, and the reason given by Jewish leaders why it was so.
After Licona presented his case Qureshi recalls leaning back in his chair and wondering, “Could it be so simple?” (165) He considered alternative explanations, like whether the disciples hallucinated or if they saw someone else. Yet he knew they were not good alternatives.
Shabir Ally presented the typical Islamic position by questioning, “If someone said to me that a man had died and was then seen alive three days later, I would have to ask, ‘Are you sure he was really dead?’” (166) Qureshi remembers thinking how “Shabir had to deny and ignore far more than an objective investigator would…This inconsistency had to be the result of his bias.” (166, 167)
In the end he thought Licona won the debate, telling Licona and Habermas “the only thing Christianity has over Islam is the resurrection.” To which Licona and Habermas replied: “‘The only thing we’ve got is the resurrection? Buddy, that’s all we need!’” (167, 168)
The conversations with his friends clarified two crucial things for Qureshi: “The historical evidence categorically pointed to Jesus’ death on the cross, and the best explanation for the events surrounding his death was that Jesus was raised from the dead.” (168)
This Easter season, may we clarify the same two beautiful truths so that our people may find what Qureshi had been seeking his whole life:
The true path of God so he could walk it, the path of Jesus. (26)
Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and writes about faith and life at www.jeremybouma.com.