Trevin Wax: Tell us a little about your Muslim background.
Thabiti Anyabwile: I grew up in a nominally Christian home and community in North Carolina. From time to time we'd attend church, but I don't remember that the gospel was clearly preached. And I certainly didn't have ears to hear it if it was.
After being allowed to join the church and being "baptized" with no understanding of the gospel or testimony of conversion, I came to believe that Christianity was "pie in the sky" myth. My father left the family when I was about 14. Between his leaving, the anger that ensued, and my experience with nominal Christianity, I was quite primed to hardened my heart toward the Lord.
My freshman year in college, I met a number of men on campus who were clean cut, upright, spoke boldly about loving your families and contributing to community, and the need to submit to God. It was the first time I'd seen that many strong African-American men. I was drawn to them like a moth to flame. I recognized I needed the discipline and commitment they were describing.
Long story short… these were Muslim men. I began to study Islam with some of them and my sophomore year converted to Islam. For the couple years that followed, I was zealous for Islam, leading some students to embrace the faith. I was something of the campus Saul, opposing the gospel and anything having to do with the biblical Jesus.
Trevin Wax: How did God bring you out of Islam?
The Lord drew me out of Islam in about three phases. First, He allowed me to see the inconsistencies of Islam on its own terms. That began one Ramadan, when I rose early for prayer and to begin the fast. I spent some time reading the Qur'an, as was habit. But that morning, I was suddenly aware of the many inconsistent claims of Islam. That began a period of further study and questioning, at the end of which I was sure that Islam was not consistent in its claims.
The second phase had to do with coming to see my lack of righteousness. It was literally a water cooler conversation with a former college classmate who now worked with me. She described me as the most righteous person she knew. And at hearing her praise, I felt utterly bereft of any of the things she said about me. She described a lot of external behaviors that were as true as far as they went. But I knew my heart, the sin and anger and lust that dominated me. And I also knew that legalistic religion and self-righteousness were an illusion.
The third phase featured a hard blow from the Lord. My wife and I lost our first child at about three months into the pregnancy. The Lord humbled us and softened us. During that period of mourning, perhaps even of depression, we began to hear the gospel preached through a pastor's weekly television program. We attended his church one Sunday and he preached what is till one of the best expositions I'd ever heard on Exodus 32. It was Law and Gospel. And in God's richest kindness, He saved my wife and I through the preaching of the gospel on that day.