This past Monday evening, I was doing what I often do after the day has come to a stalling point: I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. My wife was at a women’s Bible study, the little one was in bed, there was little else to do, or at least I wasn’t interested in looking for something else. Then I saw a post by a friend of mine from high school that shook me a little.
Nabeel Qureshi was a year ahead of me at Princess Anne High School, and he was a person who was impossible to dislike. He was warm and charming, intelligent and thoughtful, with a wit that was both disarming and hilarious. In short, he was known by everyone and liked by most. One of my most vivid early memories of him is at one of our school’s football games, where he was part of the Bleacher Creatures, who ran around half-naked and painted in red, white and blue, cheering on the Princess Anne Cavaliers. As my time at PAHS went on, our social circles began to intersect more, and I found that I liked him as much from up close as many did from afar. Again, he was a hard guy not to like.
I tell you all this because my high school prom date posted a status that read like a quick eulogy to Nabeel, and I was shook by the suddenness of the news. I took to Google to see if I could discovered what had happened; surely a sudden death might have some internet presence, even if it was small. I was stunned to find out how wrong I was in that regard.
It turns out that after leaving PA, Nabeel had quite the life. He grew up in a Muslim home, but during his time as a medical student at Old Dominion University, he began to dig into the Bible, inspired by a friend of his. Before he knew it, he found himself giving his life to Christ and becoming a full convert to Christianity. In the years since then, he wrote a book about his experience (Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, which came out in February 2014), completed not only his medical degree but also a MA in Religion from Duke and began work on a MPhil and PhD in the New Testament from Oxford, along with joining the ministry of renowned speaker and pastor Ravi Zacharias in 2013. To hear my friend tell it, the last time she saw him was when he was getting ready to speak at a church near her in North Carolina; she says she was amazed by the number of people to hear him speak.
To be fair, if you knew Nabeel at all, none of this–minus the conversion–is surprising in the least. That he grew to have an impact on people around the world, that he was capable of great things, of influencing people and speaking in front of scores of listeners, this is all what you would have expected. He was always one of those smart guys that never let you know how smart he was. He never made you feel inferior (even though most of us were) or unwanted; in fact, more often than not, you always felt like the most important person to him in that moment. Exactly what turned out to be his life’s work is a little surprising, simply because there was no way to see those steps working out just as they did.
All of this was sudden and unexpected, to be sure, but honestly I hadn’t talked to Nabeel since my senior year of high school, when he’d return occasionally to say hello to old teachers and members of my class. After he left Princess Anne, he became, as many people do for me, out of sight and out of mind. This feels cruel to write, especially under the circumstances, but I think it’s clear that was “connected” as our culture is these days, it’s still easy to lose track of a person. It’s not terribly shocking; he and I were never close independently of other people (we weren’t even friends on Facebook, and I’m friends with more random high school friends than I can say, even people I knew less about than him). Still, I felt a lump in my throat the moment I found out about his death. Nothing, I’d dare to say, compared to the loss felt by those closest to him, but I found the death of an old friend impacted me in a way I wouldn’t have expected.
They say that in situations like these, death becomes more about the people left behind than it does the person who died. From my vantage point, I’m embarrassed to admit this might be true. While I feel sad for his family and close friends, I’m sitting here thinking about how this alters my life; and I fully believe it should. From my perspective, Nabeel did the best he could with the time he had, and that truth is challenging to me. I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing the same (and come to the conclusion that I’m likely not).
And so I’m here to send my condolences to those who were closest to Nabeel. I’m certain none of them will read this, but it should be said anyway. My hope is that he inspires those of us who knew him to continue to pursue our paths in life. For me, that means to continue to seek God as Nabeel did; to love my family and friends; and to be thankful for all that I’ve been given. Each day is a gift and I don’t want to lose sight of that.