Photo Creds: diGital Sennin

The book “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” by Nabeel Qureshi, details a poignant narrative of a devout Muslim who converted to Christianity in the United States. It was compelling in terms of the rawness and vulnerability he displayed in his book, in which he had to sacrifice much to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. One of the prominent messages that I found coming out of the book, was the cultural incompatibility between the East and the West, between Muslims and Christianity.

This difference between Eastern and Western education can be traced to the disparity that divides Muslim immigrants from their children. Islamic cultures tend to establish people of high status as authorities whereas the authority in Western culture is reason itself. These alternative seats of authority permeate the mind, determining the moral outlook of whole societies. When authority is derived from position rather than reason, the act of questioning leadership is dangerous because it has the potential to upset the system. Dissention is reprimanded and obedience in rewarded. Correct and incorrect courses of action are assessed socially, not individually. A person’s virtue is thus determined by how well he meets social expectations, not by an individual determination of right and wrong. Thus positional authority yields a society that determines right and wrong based on honor and shame. On the other hand, when authority is derived from reason, questions are welcome because critical examination sharpens the very basis of authority. Each person is expected to criticially examine his own course of action. Correct and incorrect courses of action are assessed individually. A person’s virtue is determined by whether he does what he knows to be right and wrong. Rational authority creates a society which determines right and wrong based on innocence and guilt. Much of the West’s inability to understand the East stems from the paradigmatic schism between honor/ shame cultures and innocence/ guilt cultures. Of course, the matter is quite complex, and elements of both paradigms are present in both the East and the West. But the honor/ shame spectrum is the operative paradigm that drives the East and it is hard for Westerners to understand.

Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devour Muslim Encounters Christianity

Throughout the book, I was astonished to see how similar Middle Eastern culture was to Chinese culture. As Nabeel has expounded, Eastern cultures are governed by a culture of honour and shame, while the West is governed by innocence and guilt. Honour and shame are propagated by those of positional authority, in contrast to innocence and guilt dictated through reason of the individual. These paradigms lead to vast implications regarding how individuals in a society behave, where virtue is determined in eastern cultures “by how well he meets social expectations, not by an individual determination of right and wrong.” Rationality takes a back seat, to preference the opinions of those in authority.

I deeply sympathise with Nabeel with this, being a 1st generation Australian immigrant, with roughly half of my life spent in Malaysia, and the other half Australia. This dichotomy of honour/shame, innocence/guilt is likely the most pertinent difference between the East and the West simply from my own experience, due to its far-reaching pervasiveness. A single action that a person does, though arising to have the same outcome, will have different processes of thought for that action. For example, if one seeks to do the right thing such as not littering, one can synthesise a separate explanation from the East and the West. For the East, if littering is seen as culturally unacceptable, any individual would refrain from littering to avoid social dishonour. For the West, an individual may not litter if they rationally know that littering pollutes the environment and endangers wildlife. Hence, they would not litter due to the internal guilt they would feel for doing what was wrong.

As Nabeel mentioned, in reality, these two paradigms are present in both the East and West, with a clear dominant operative one. This begs the question – is one better than the other, and can a middle ground be found?

Despite whether or not one has the answers to these questions, it is of benefit to be aware of this schism regardless. Throughout the book, Nabeel notes this cultural incompatibility several times, in which understanding between the Eastern Muslims and the Western Christians was poor. Nabeel’s closest friend, David Wood, was shown to play an instrumental role in traversing this divide between the East and the West. David wrestled with Nabeel for many years and eventually won him to Christianity. David had the skills in apologetics to tune towards Nabeel’s rationality, to eventually overcome the authority of those that professed Islam, whom some were near and dear to him.

It was then that I realized the value of apologetics and what the arguments had done for me. All my life, barriers had been erected that kept me from humbly approaching God and asking Him to reveal Himself to me. The arguments and apologetics tore down those barriers, positioning me to make a decision to pursue God or not. The work of my intellect was done. It had opened the way to His altar, but I had to decide whether I would approach it. If I did, and if I really wanted to know God, I had to cast myself upon His mercy and love, relying completely upon Him and His willingness to reveal Himself to me.

Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devour Muslim Encounters Christianity

“Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” reminded me of what it was like to be a new Christian, as well as the power of apologetics in breaking down barriers of receiving the Gospel. Moreover, it reignited the conviction of the sovereignty of God in being able to traverse cultural schisms to bring people to faith. As demonstrated through Nabeel’s life, cultural schisms – though innately divisive, can be overcome with deliberate persistence.