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.
Then I started experiencing some serious demonic stuff. I started getting episodes of that for three years until I really realized: This idea of being attacked, even in broad daylight, not at night, this was a serious. I didn't go to sleep. It finally broke after three days of not falling asleep at all. It was another moment of "What is going on?"
CP: What do you think caused this? Do you think anything in your childhood led to this?
Fazal: I mean nothing happened. I used to be scared as a kid. Here's my theory on it. I was not spiritual and my brother was. He was seeking. I didn't care. I just wanted to enjoy life. I was an art major. I just wanna love life. Great. Fear was a part of my life. I really struggled academically. Fear and worry was a weakness of mine and I think demonic attacks, for me, were strongholds of fear big time.
I got to a point where I stopped reading my Bible at night because I feared being attacked. It was so weird, until this Indian pastor was like, "You're not reading your Bible." And I didn't know about spiritual warfare or any of this stuff. And then I started becoming the ghost busters guy at church and experienced all sorts of crazy stuff there.
I went all the way from serious Pentecostal, everything has a demon, to nothing has a demon, and finally the middle now. I think it's just how I'm wired up; I need something serious to get my attention. I think spiritual warfare has always been around me. I've woken up at nights even now being choked.
I told my wife when we were dating, "Hey, by the way, just so you know, I get these crazy things that happen here or there." It's been quite the journey. I just don't talk about it a lot because it's confusing.
CP: What's the congregation like that you pastor at now?
Fazal: It's probably a younger, modern, contemporary group of people. Some people say we're closet Charismatics. We're not really, but we definitely believe in that stuff. It's a fun place — I don't know what you're used to.
CP: Would you classify it as Evangelical non-denominational?
Fazal: People think our congregation is all Arabs, Pakistanis or Indians. It's majority white and we have quite the diversity as well. We have a mix. So my wife is Caucasian. We have a lot of mixed couples. We have a lot of mutts in my church. I talk to Ashley, my wife, and identify someone as mixed as she says, "Well, that's everybody, so who are you talking about?"
We have a lot of Asians. A lot of second-generation Koreans.
CP: Are you still in Charleston?
Fazal: We're in Charlotte, North Carolina. So we moved from Charleston, South Carolina, because part of it was our ministry was great, but we felt that God was saying you need to reach a more diverse group of people and I knew that meant leaving Charleston.
I had become good friends with Erwin Mcmanus, and he and I were talking and he really helped me out. He was the one who articulated for the first time, "Why don't you go to Charlotte and start a church?" At that point, I wasn't even thinking that. Then we started Mosaix because Charlotte is and was going to be diverse in terms of the South. We knew we didn't want to leave and go to California or something because we wanted to be close to my mom and dad, and I had two brothers and two sisters who are all in the South, so we knew we didn't want to leave, we wanted to be driving distance away.
CP: You were involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes for a while and you post CrossFit pictures on Instagram. Can you talk about your athletic interests?
Fazal:(Laughs.) First of all, at the time, no one was an athlete at FCA. (Laughs)
Fazal: It says, Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The president was on the soccer team. That was it. There were barely athletes I kid you not. The girls' volleyball team, maybe one or two. That was a joke. FCA at any campus is not athletes. Their goal is to get athletes. Their goal is, but when that happens it's like, "What! That's awesome. We're finally the group we call ourselves."
Mostly what it is another place to get a girlfriend. Honestly. Seriously. That was the thing. That's where I went, because there were cute girls there, so I attended FCA as a Muslim. There were people who liked sports.
I used to play soccer in Kuwait, again, there was no sports program. Our fields were dirt fields that had a couple of goal posts and that's it. Nothing organized. I mean, I met my wife there and she's not at all team sports, none of that. It's a joke. When I talk about it I feel bad, but it's true. No one says it, but it's true.
If they get them it's like a big deal. At the conferences, they try to get many.
CP: This is hilarious. Tell me about the CrossFit thing.
Fazal: I realized early on that I never worked out. There were no gyms or the concept of going to gyms in Kuwait but I got exposed to one, loved it, lifting weights. I like fitness, I like being in shape and sports and all that. Even as a church we talk about it because we like to eat clean and really believe that that's a value everyone should have.
My wife seriously would love to change the way America eats. We did a health conference partnering with other people and I met a guy who was the owner of a CrossFit once and it was a challenge because there's a learning community component to it. I just got hooked on it.
What I love about it the most is that because of what I do right now, my time is consumed by Christians, staff meetings and staff stuff and CrossFit allows me to work out with people who are not in that world at all. It's great relationships. A chunk of them now come to Mosaix. The owner and coaches and all that and we have this CrossFit community going.
I love it. In fact, I'm actually injured. I was doing rope climbs and landed on the rope instead of the ground when I jumped down and sprained my angle.
The biggest thing about CrossFit, and the reason it feels like a cult, is because of the community. It has nothing to do with the workouts. These workouts, it's nothing new. There's a serious sense of community. It's a group workout. The gym is kind of your own thing. You come in and you do your thing, you leave. When you got the Y, you do it yourself or enroll in classes you want to be a part of. You want to do whatever: yoga, biking, spinning. And you're there and you have a little bit of a community, but you chose to be there because you want to do spinning and once you get bored of spinning you're gone.
But with CrossFit and if you come at a certain time and whatever hour, you don't know what you're going to do. Everyday is a challenge. Everyday you lock arms with people who you're getting to know because you're doing the same challenges with them and there builds this friendship like no other because one workout is hard for one person. Everyone's cheering you on. That's what it is. It's like gym you're going to and everybody's cheering you on. It's like the nuttiest thing. No one wears headphones and works out. You're not on your own. It's crazy the amount of people. They don't go to church, they're not interested, but they know my life and they care. They're just friends.
The gyms that have that are so strong and that's why even the games, they do that. People trash or talk about the workouts themselves being dangerous and they are. If you do them incorrectly they are dangerous. The thing is you can go the gym and do the same thing to yourself.