In 1992, Naeem Fazal, a recent immigrant from Kuwait of Pakistani descent, encountered Jesus in his brother's apartment just weeks after arriving in the United States. Fazal, who grew up Muslim and who once threatened to kill his brother after the elder sibling converted to Christianity, spoke recently with The Christian Post about his relationship with his Muslim parents, why his conversion was not a hit with Southern Baptists and whether Fellowship with Christian Athletes actually lives up to his name. An overview of the book is available here and the first part of his interview detailing his terrifying conversion story here.
Fazal and his wife Ashley are parents to a son and daughter and currently live in Charlotte, North Carolina where he pastors Mosaic Church.
CP: You wrote in your book that your relationship with your parents was proof that peace between Muslims and Christians was possible. Can you expand on that?
Fazal: At first, when I came to Christ I had this idea that I needed to convert and save everybody. There's this notion that I am here to save everybody. I think someone wrote that: "The world is not for you to save." I think it's so true.
When I started talking to my mom and dad about the truth and what I believed and are we really right, and why everything they believed in is wrong. It did not work, it did not fly. Regardless of how much supernatural whatever-whatever I had. I was dishonoring them like crazy. To the point of even now, there are people who think Allah the god of Islam is a demon and so they are worshiping a demon, which is stupid, but I believed it at first.
My mom and dad lived with me and my wife for three years in our house here in Charlotte and she would pray to Allah and do her prayer and it was definitely like what are we going to allow? What is okay? It really sparked some conversation for me and Ashley. Do we really believe the stuff in Scriptures and do we really believe the fact that we are supposed accept and honor one another in reverence in Christ? Or are we going to think they have demons or cooties or something and I don't want them in my house?
It actually allowed us to really reframe our thinking in that people are people and they are loved by God and they are on a journey. We can actually fully accept people who are very different from us and believe very differently than us and don't have to create this us versus them. That was the language; that was the tone in the beginning —us versus them, and now it's no longer.
It's just us and the reality is that Jesus could show up physically to my mom and dad if he wanted to do so. I'm going to trust Him to do it.
I didn't plan out my conversion. He did it. Our goal is just to live a life like Jesus is really true and real and I think we're doing it and my mom and dad have come around big time. My dad and I, it's been tough, my dad and I have poor relationship, but my mom and I have a really good one. I talk about Jesus not like a theory but as a person, and when she says, "Can you pray for this for me?" I say, "You need to just talk to Jesus." And she says stuff like, "I've talked to Him and I'm mad at Him." She talks about Him like he's an actual person.
CP: How did your own assimilation into American culture and your adoption of Christianity influence one another?
Fazal: There were a lot of years of confusion for me. Maybe a good six, seven years or maybe even more. I had to figure out how not everyone is a Christian even though they were born into it, like Muslims are born Muslims.
What helped me was that I submerged myself into the Evangelical Christian subcultural pretty thick, which helped me as far as getting a foundation and kept me from a lot of trouble too. I realized, even with dating, I really began to study the word a lot. I was not an academic type of a guy, but I wanted to learn as much as I could and to expose myself to much stuff; and I wanted to know everything there is to know and that actually led me to three years of not dating. I just couldn't do it.
There's so many things that were contrary to what I found in the Scriptures. One of the biggest shocks to me was, the people that I was around initially, the FCA crowd, they didn't fully validate my conversion.
It wasn't celebrated like, "Naeem has come to Christ." No one talked about it.
CP: What was up with that?
Fazal: I found out that their theology doesn't believe in that —actually having demons and angels and miracles. It was a pretty conservative Southern Baptist deal, and so it was weird to me. When I would tell the story, I thought it was the norm. I was like, "Yeah supernatural things happen and then people come to Christ." And they're like, "Oh, that's good."
In fact, that led me to talk to my brother and other people and ask if I was going mad. What's going on?
CP: Did you learn about Pentecostals?
Fazal: Yeah. I first went to a Baptist church and I just assumed that everybody was Baptist. You know. Why wouldn't it be? I just thought "Okay this is church." So then I learned about denominations. It's kind of sad, I don't mention the church [in my book] obviously, but I started services and I remember waking up from falling asleep during the church service and I thought, "What am I doing? Is this really what the Bible's talking about? There's a huge difference between what's happening in the Scriptures and what's happening right here."
So then, with a bunch of friends, we started just church hopping like crazy, trying to figure out. I didn't want to church hop. I didn't know what the local church represented. I just wanted to figure out what was going on and get to know this new found religion. So that's when I found denominations.
CP: When you did find Christians who validated your conversion, what type of difference did that have on your faith?
Fazal: It made me feel normal a little bit. I started attending a church in South Carolina that came out of the Assemblies of God, but they were pretty contemporary so it was real life, music type of thing. I sort of connected to that a lot. I found an Indian pastor and I told him my story.
You see, in my circles, in Charleston and FCA and college circles, my story was the rock star of all stories. Either you believed it or totally dismissed it. But when I told this Indian pastor he was not impressed at all, and I was like, "No man. I'm kind of a big deal. This is good. This is big." He experienced stuff like that all the time in India.