“The Support for Dialogue &
Debate in Muslim/Christian
(Jay Smith)
• In the wake of 911 and 7-7, we are finding a more
aggressive and growing radical element within
• Riddell: “There is an international network of
radical Muslims, committed to terrorism that must
be stopped. They pose a legitimate threat which
cannot be ignored, but confronted, and
immediately” (Riddell 2004:172)
• Most of Missiology is geared toward the 15% Arab
speaking world, but much of the ideological
challenges are coming from the 85% non-Arab
speakers (i.e. 260 m. Arabs vs. 900 m. Asians)
• We need a new method to deal with these more
radical and public challenges.
Maryam Jameelah, a recent
convert to Islam, living in the UK
• “We must crush the conspiracies of
Zionism, Freemasonry, Orientalism and
foreign missions both with the pen and
with the sword. We cannot afford
peace and reconciliation with the Ahl
al-Kitab until we can humble them and
gain the upper hand” (Jameelah
So what then is the solution?
• A possible approach, which carries on from
that of dialogue, is that of ‘discursive
dialogues’ (Zebiri 1997:38), more popularly
known as open and public debates, an
exercise whereby Christian and Muslim
opponents present their positions, then
openly criticize each other’s views, and
respond to the criticisms using rebuttals,
and summations, with the possibility of
open questions and answers from the floor.
Four Principles of Dialogue (British Council of
• Dialogue begins when people meet each other, pointing out
that each person needs to be approached as individuals, and
not simply representing a system of beliefs.
• Dialogue depends upon mutual understanding and mutual trust,
suggesting that each person should be permitted to define
themselves concerning what they believed.
• Dialogue makes it possible to share in service to the
community, alluding to the fact that dialogue can be a vehicle to
bring about harmony between those of separate faiths.
• Dialogue becomes the medium of authentic witness, suggesting
that because it begins in a context of trust, dialogue allows not
only a witness of one’s own faith, but “assumes the freedom of
a person of any faith, including the Christian, to be convinced
by the faith of another” (Riddell 2004:111)
• Inclusive Principles
Problems with Dialogue
rarely engage publicly with that which is foundational to
each faith, yet likewise separates them, namely, their
conflicting and often contradictory belief statements.
No reciprocity
Muslims suspect dialogue, as it leads to religious
syncretism, compromises the faith, a subtle ploy towards
prosletysm, a Western Christian initiative, perceived as
an adjunct of colonialism, a covert form of evangelism,
since usually Muslims are invited as guests, and are not
able to set the agenda, so they feel they have little to
They do not attract Muslims
• Dialogues do bring Christians and non-Christians together
• Dialogues ‘get the ball going’, start the agenda
• They offer a wide range of models
• They are usually promoted by Christians only
• They attract Liberal-Western & elite Muslims
• They tend not to be robust, more acquiescent on the part
of the Christian participants.
• And most importantly, they don’t reach the ones causing
most of the problems today (i.e. the radical Muslims)
So, what’s the solution?
DEBATES - Confrontation:
• (2 Cor.10:5) “demolish arguments and
take captive every thought to make it
obedient to Christ”
• Openly challenging the beliefs of
another person, using literature,
media, etc...
• Using the conventional format of
public debate.
• Gets right to the ‘nub’ of the problem
• One of the few vehicles which confronts Islam
• Is conducive to Muslims, as it fits their culture,
and their form of communication
• Brings in the crowds
• Helps Christians feel confident
• Forces Christianity into the public sphere,
where it belongs, but hasn’t been…
Can create tensions
Goes against our cultural proclivities
Few places to train, or practice
Not many good models today
Consequently, not very popular
Can create fear of repercussions
Don’t know the answers to the
questions (FAQs)…so…LEARN THEM!
Colin Chapman (7 Criticisms)
1854 Munazara in Agra: between Carl Pfander & Valpery
French vs. Rahmat Allah & Dr. Wazir Khan
1)Attacks against another belief sometimes
degenerate into polemics, resulting in nothing
more than a ‘tit-for-tat’ criticism of Christianity by
them, and vice versa.
• Yes, however, culturally good for communication,
& exchange of ideas, since the Gospel is
confrontational, so should expect ‘tit-for-tat’ and
let people compare, and come to their own
• Zwemer, “If the missionary to Moslems has a
creed of less content and holds it less
passionately than the loyal and orthodox Moslem
holds his own-so much the worse for the
missionary” (Zwemer 1941:225)
2) Debates appealed too much to the reason
and the intellect, and not enough to the
• Yet, Muslims/Humanists instigate reasoned
intellectual challenges, geared towards
auth. of Bible, & Jesus
3) Christian debaters are not aware of the
latest Biblical critical research ongoing in
the West, and so become helpless when
opponents use them.
• ‘Shame on us’! Learn it, always be a
student, in praxis
4) Debates are conditioned by the social and political
context in which we work, i.e. freedom to be
• Yes, so let’s use those freedoms, and not run
away, or only allow our opponents these
5) We should question the validity of public debates
which concentrate entirely on theological issues at
the expense of the many social and political issues
which both Muslims/Humanists and Christians
share in common
• Be involved in ‘social gospel’, but introduce Jesus
crucified, and debates will naturally evolve.
6) Responding in a polemical fashion merely mimics
the agenda of our protagonists, which merely
forces the Christian on to the defensive, and we
fall into a scriptural paradigm we probably don’t
even accept ourselves.
• Confuses content and methodology, Jesus is our
revelation, but debate helps us convince them so.
7) Chapman argues for a complete cessation of
polemics itself, believing it to be not only
disrespectful, but unloving.
• Define disrespect and love, was Christ
disrespectful or unloving in chasing out the
money-changers (Mat.21:12-13), or confronting the
Pharisees (Matt.23:13-33)?
• “I have never known anyone who was won
over by an argument”
• “You may win the argument, but lose the
(note: the irony in these two quips is that they
are both fielded as arguments themselves,
with the intention of persuading the hearer
to their position, employing the very vehicle
they seek to dismiss)
• Debates must be, “attempts to support
certain views with reasons” (Weston
• Two reasons:
• Firstly because they are useful in
ascertaining which views are better than
others, by assessing which has the stronger
• Secondly by offering reasons and evidence
that convinced you, arguments then become
a means to explain and defend them, for “it is
not a mistake to have strong views…the
mistake is to have nothing else”
A Definition of Debates:
• “a formal, oral confrontation between two
individuals, teams, or groups who present
arguments to support opposing sides of a
question, generally according to a set form
or procedure” (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 3, 15th
Ed., Chicago, 1993, pg. 943)
Types of Debate:
[1] University Debates:
–Most common formal
style of debate
–Muslim student groups:
–Christian student groups:
•UCCF (UK) or Campus Crusade, IVP, RZIM (US)
–Use usually two adversaries, debating a
theological issue
–Primarily against Christianity. Rarely reciprocity
–Two Models: Parliamentary & Populer
The ‘Parliamentary’ model:
• Oxford, Cambridge, Durham Unions
• Proposition vs.
• 2-4 people each
• Controlled…protocol
• ‘Points of Information’
• Benefits:
– Wider representation, and multiplicity of styles
• Weaknesses:
– Students use it for entertainment, sophistry,
trivializing serious positions.
• Less time leads to simplification
The ‘Populer’ model:
• 2 Speakers, experts
• 25 - 40 mins. = paper
• Rebuttals,
– followed by summation, then by Q & A
• Benefits: Easier to schedule, fewer people
involved, permitting better known academics,
more flexible, more time given to topics, better
contact with speakers, Q & A forces speakers to
meet audiences needs.
• Weaknesses: Tend to be more ‘gladitorial’, can
lead to tension, thus shunned by Christians, the
secular world and university administrations.
[2] Impromptu Debates:
(‘Extemporaneous debates’)
‘high street’ (book tables)
University classrooms
Social gatherings (tea shops)
‘Speaker’s Corner’
5 - 2 - 1 = Time allotments
Benefits: Quick, easy, topical, ‘impromptu’,
accessibility of speaker, ‘vote with their
feet’, Crowds facial response
• Weaknesses: Heckling, Crowd control,
Interruptions, violence.
[3] Radio Debates:
2 Speakers
10-20 min. positions
‘vetted’ phone in Q & A
-Cheap, Quick, Easy to prepare, largest
audiences, Largest reach, Most impact, in
inaccessible areas.
• Weaknesses:
-Distant, impersonal, no Face-to-face
contact, thus no relationship, with little
follow-up, and easy to censure.
[4] Internet - Online debating:
• Online Forums, Bulletin Boards, Blogging, &
‘Youtube’ (Pfanderfilms)
• Benefits:
– Variety of topics, 24/7,
– Universal, for everyone
– ‘Arm-chair Evangelists’
– Good training,
– Topical, & creates ownership
– Great preparation for ministry
• Weaknesses:
– Distant, impersonal, no Face-to-face contact, thus little
relationship, with little follow-up, and problem with
Muslim Debates:
Historical precedence for debate:
• Debate is not new to Islam, for this mode of exchange
fits within its paradigm of Islam’s perception of the
• Lewis speaks to this perception in his book on
Cultures in Conflict, saying,
“Since Europe has historically been the Islamic world’s
most inveterate military adversary, and since it has
been perceived by Muslims in primarily religious
terms, references to Christians in Muslim writings
have usually been hostile. In light of Europe’s military
and cvilizational inferiority, which endured for several
centuries, references to Europe or Christendom in
Muslim writings were often disdainful” (Lewis 1995:13)
Reasons Muslim’s, today, Debate:
1) Due to the political and economic dominance of
Western countries, there is some dignity in
claiming moral and religious superiority.
2) Polemical debates help to reinforce the lines of
demarcation between Islam and Christianity.
3) Debates can be used to convert Christians to
4) The Qur’an provides a model for polemics,
engaging Christians, Pagans Jews in arguments
over their beliefs
(an example often used is that found in Surah 3:61, which was
supposedly spoken to a deputation of Christians from Najran,
and says, “If anyone disputes with you concerning [i.e. Jesus]
after the knowledge which has come to you, say: ‘Let us
gather together our sons and your sons, our women and your
women, ourselves and yourselves, and pray and invoke the
curse of God on those who lie’”)
Where are the Debates:
University Campuses
University Unions (Parliamentary style)
FOSIS (Federation of Student’s Islamic
ISOC (Islamic Societies)
Christian Unions (‘Universities and Colleges
Christian Fellowship’ – UCCF)
MDI, Hittin Institute, Muhajiroun (Populist)
CCi (Christians Challenging islam)
Why they are Popular:
• They are culturally relevant…
• They are a passionate form of
• They attract large numbers of Muslims
• They are neutral and central
• They are non-threatening
• They are cheap
• They are Conducive to students
Who Debates?:
• Students, or Experts
• Many Muslim Experts
• Few Christian Examples
Let’s look at the Primary Muslim Debaters:
Ahmed Deedat:
Most prolific
Most popular
Gujarati origins
Lampoons Christian Missionaries
• Zebiri: “He employs a flamboyant style [which]
seems as much designed to entertain as to edify;
he employs ridicule and sarcasm, and not
infrequently raises laughter from the Muslim
section of his audience. He also utilizes crude
language, and images which seem designed to
shock” (Zebiri 1997:47)
• However, “the quality of his work, which after all
hardly aspires to go beyond the level of rhetoric
and apologetic, is poor even by the standards of
religious polemic” (Zebiri 1997:47)
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
• most prolific Muslim
speaker in the West
in the 70s and the 80s
• Egyptian
• Professor of economics
at the university of Halifax, in Canada.
• No formal training in Islamic or Christian theology
• Books on Islam and Muslim-Christian issues are
quite popular
• Best known for his defenses of the Qur’an
• He is one of the most effective da’wah speakers
and has hundreds of lectures and debates on
Shabir Ally:
• Was Dr. Badawi’s primary
• Founder of the ‘Islamic
Da'wah Centre’, Toronto
• Currently the most wide-spread speaker and
debater Islam has in the English speaking world
• Spending most of his time debating Christians on
Western university campuses
• Themes focus on the authority of the Bible, and
the Christology of Christ.
• Encyclopedic mind, able to speak for hours, on a
variety of subjects, all without notes
Dr. Zakir Naik:
• President of the Islamic
Research Foundation,
Mumbia (Bombay)
• Bachelor of Medicine,
and a Bachelor of
Surgery (M.B.B.S.)
• Able to quote extensive passages of the Qur'an, as well
as other books, from memory
• Speaks English, Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu and Sanskrit
• His spontaneous and convincing answers to questions
at the end of his debates are ‘legendary’
Methodology of Muslim Debaters:
• Take debating more seriously, thus put
months into planning, & seek advantage at
every turn.
• Last-minute challenges, using local vicars
with little experience.
• Quote obscure liberal ‘Christian’ sources in
their criticisms of Christianity, forcing
Christian on the defensive.
• Zebiri: “Sources are often used selectively. From the
broad spectrum of opinion which is represented in Western
scholarship, it is often the extreme end of the spectrum
which is chosen; in this way authors can usually find what
they set out to look for” (Zebiri 1997:85)
Liberal Christian Sources:
• Always Polemical, quoting Liberal Christian scholars
• Adolph von Harnack (d.1930), the most often quoted
Christian scholar, due to his liberal opinions (Zebiri 1997:85)
• Bousset and Loisy = 19th and early 20th century
scholarship concerning St. Paul’s Hellenistic influences,
rather than his Jewish roots (Zebiri 1997:85)
• Edward Carpenter: Pagan sources
• J.M. Robertson: Pagan Christianity (Zebiri 1997:86)
• Edward Gibbon: Christianity’s black history in ‘Decline and
Fall of the Roman Empire’ (Zebiri 1997:85)
• Bertrand Russell: Why I am not a Christian is used to
expose the history of the church
• Ernest Renan = New Testament criticism, and antisupernaturalism (a criticism which also hurts their Islamic
• Robert Briffault and William Draper: to show the debt the
West has on Islam (Zebiri 1997:85)
Problems with Muslim Debate:
1) Negative bias both in selection of data to be
presented and in interpretation of that data” (Zebiri
2) Muslims, who speak often about misinformation
are often guilty of the same.
3) “Muslim anti-Christian polemic goes relatively
unnoticed...because it occurs within an almost
exclusively Muslim market, and rarely is Islam
subjected to critical scrutiny” (Zebiri 1997:89)
4) Due to their control, they have become masters
of the Summation, and Q & A, using quick
riposte, either factual or humorous to sway
• Christians don’t like debates
• It goes against our Western cultural proclivities
• Religion is a private affair
• Confrontation is not ‘Christ-like’
• Prefer dialogues with Muslims
• No schools to train debaters
• Dearth of strategies, books & videos
• Dearth of models of good Christian debaters
Christians Critical of Debates:
• Henry Martyn (d.1812),
“I lay not much stress upon clear
arguments. The work of God is seldom
wrought in this way” (Cragg 1992:23)
• Brown, missionary to the Sudan & Jordan:
“The natural reaction of any man when his
beliefs are attacked is to maintain them the
more resolutely and even to discover better
reasons for doing so. The results of
missionary preaching during the past
century and a half demonstrate with tragic
clearness how unproductive such a method
really is” (Brown 1962:90)
• Robert Henry Boll (1936)
“So far as my acquaintance with religious
discussion goes, there is no poorer method
of seeking to arrive at truth than a debate,
especially oral debate. I have heard of some
exceptions, but as the general rule, I think
the statement will stand.” (Boll 1936:32)
Christians Supportive of Debates:
• Jesus (against the Pharisees – Matt. 23:13-33)
• Paul (Mars Hill, Aeropagus, Lecture Hall of
Tyrannus – Acts 19)
Zwemer: “Paul disputed in the synagogues (Acts
17:17) in the school of one Tyrannus, daily (Acts
19:9) for two years. In Jerusalem he disputed
against the Grecians until they sought to slay him
(Acts 9:29)...II Corinthians, Galatians and
Colossians could be classified as controversial
literature of the first century...His military
vocabulary is proof enough that he was no
spiritual pacifist but fought a good fight against
the enemies of the Cross of Christ and all those
who preached ‘another gospel’” (Zwemer 1941:225)
• Catholic creeds, such as the
Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds,
came out of Polemics.
• The Reformation = a religious
• The Gospel of John = Nearly all the
discourses were begun by
19th and 20th Century Examples:
• Dr. Carl Pfander (d. 1865)
-Agra Munazara of 1854
-Balance of Truth (‘Mizan ul-Haqq’)
• William St. Clair Tisdall (d.1928)
-Critiqued the origins of Islam
-‘Sources of Islam’
• Samuel Zwemer
-Arabia and Egypt
-‘Muslims worshiped a different God’
-‘Muhammad was insincere and opportunistic’
-Controversy, so long as it was not discourteous, was
an appropriate method of evangelism to Muslims
Current Westerners Supportive of Debates:
• Maxine Rodinson regrets that ‘any
public criticism of the Prophet’s moral
attitudes’ are becoming increasingly
(Rodinson 1979:59)
• Andrew Rippin, “The Irenic approach has
led to the unfortunate result of a reluctance
on the part of many scholars to follow all the
way through with their insights and results,
particularly concerning the historical
dimensions of the faith that conceives itself
as having a stake in that very history” (Rippin
Aug 1981
Dec 1985
Aug 1986
Aug 1988
Jan 1993
___ 1993
___ 1994
Jun 1994
Aug 1995
Jul 1996
Nov 1996
Feb 1997
Feb 1997
Apr 1997
Nov 1997
Feb 1998
Apr 1998
May 1998
Oct 1999
Jan 2000
Feb 2000
Mar 2000
Mar 2000
Apr 2000
Oct 2000
Oct 2000
Feb 2002
Josh McDowell vs. A. Deedat
Anis Shorrosh vs. A. Deedat
Jimmy Swaggart vs. A. Deedat
Anis Shorrosh vs. A. Deedat
Tony Costa vs. Shabir Ally
Callum Beck vs. Hamza Malik
Ernest Hahn vs. Jamal Badawi
Tony Costa vs. Shabir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Jamal Badawi
Robert Morey vs. Shabir Ally
Dr. R. Morey vs. Jamal Badawi
Dr. W. Craig vs. Jamal Badawi
Jay Smith vs. Dr. Musa Pidcock
Jay Smith vs. Shabir Ally
Tony Costa vs. Shabir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Shabir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Shk. Abdul Green
Jay Smith vs. Shabir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Sh. Omar Bakri
Tony Costa vs. Shabir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Benazir Bhutto
Peter Saunders vs. Shabbir Ally
Keith Small vs. Shabbir Ally
William Campbell vs. Zakir Naik
Jay Smith vs. Shabir Ally
David Shenk vs. Shabir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Zaki Badawi
Durban, S. Africa
Louisiana Univ.
Univ. of Toronto
U. of Waterloo
Univ. of Toronto
Cambridge Univ.
Columbia Univ.
Tynneside Univ.
Univ. of Manchester
Univ. of Waterloo
Birmingham Univ.
South Bank Univ.
Leicester Univ.
Ryerson University
Oxford Union
Skokie, Ill.
Ga.Tech., Atlanta
Oxford Union
“Was Christ Crucified?”
“Is Jesus God?”
“Is the Bible God’s Word?”
“Bible vs. the Qur’an”
“Is Jesus the Divine Son of God?”
“Salvation in the Bible & Qur’ an”
“Bible according to the Qur’ an”
“Is the Qur'an the Word of God?”
“Is The Qur’an the Word of God?”
“Source & God of Islam”
“Veracity of Allah & the Qur’an”
“What is God Like?”
“Bible vs. Qur’an”
“Xtian vs. Isl. Relevancy & Sin”
“Who is God?”
“Historicity of the Qur’an”
“Is the Qur’an the Word of God?”
“Bible vs. the Qur’an”
“Khilafa vs. Kingdom of God”
“Who is the Historical Jesus?”
“Is Islam Relevant to the UK?”
“Was Jesus a Muslim?”
“Bible, Qur’an, & Science”
“Who is the Historical Jesus?”
“God in the Scriptures”
“Is Islam Compatible w the West?”
Mar 04/02
(Mar 05)
(Mar 06)
(Mar 07)
Apr 2002
Oct 2002
Jan 2003
Mar 2003
Oct 2003
Feb 2004
Feb 2004
Nov 2004
Oct 2005
Jan 2006
Jan 2006
Feb 2006
Feb 17/06
(Feb 18)
(Feb 19)
Apr 2006
May 2006
May 2006
July 2006
W. Craig vs. Shabbir Ally
W. Craig vs. Shabbir Ally
W. Craig vs. Shabbir Ally
W. Craig vs. Shabbir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Imam Sahib
Jay Smith vs. Min. Ishmael Muh.
Jay Smith vs. Tamimi & Winters
Mike Licona vs. Shabir Ally
Peter Saunders vs. Shabbir Ally
Keith Small vs. Sohaib Saeed
Jay Smith vs. Dr. McElwain
Mike Licona vs. Shabir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Abdul Hakim Quick
Jay Smith vs. Iqbal Siddiqui
Jay Smith vs. Abdul Rahman
Jay Smith vs. Ayatollah Milani
Peter Barnes vs. Diaa Mohamed
Peter Barnes vs. Diaa Mohamed
Peter Barnes vs. Diaa Mohamed
Jay Smith vs. Muh. Bahmanpour
James White vs. Shabir Ally
Jay Smith vs. Tajik Da’ists
Peter Barnes vs. Yusuf Estes
Univ. of Toronto
York Univ.
McMaster Univ.
Univ. of W.Ontario
Kingston Univ.
Trinity Univ., Dublin
Cambridge Union
Regent Univ.
Nottingham Univ.
Univ. of Edinburgh
Oxford Univ.
‘Faith Under Fire’
Jo-Burg, So. Africa
Durham Union
St.Georges Med. Sch.
Bankstown, Australia
Bankstown, Aust.
Bankstown, Aust.
Biola University
Kazan, Russia
Hurstville, Australia
“Did Jesus rise from the dead?”
“What Must I do to be Saved?”
“God in X-tianity & Islam”
“Who is the True Jesus?”
“Bible vs. Qur’an”
“Is Islamic Law Relevant today?”
“Islam a threat to the West?”
“Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?”
“Who is the real Jesus?”
“Who is the real Jesus?”
“Was Jesus a Muslim?”
“Was Jesus: Divine or Prophet?”
“Peace in Islam & Christianity”
“Is Islam compatible to the West?”
“Islam vs. Christian compatibility”
“Peace in Islam vs. Christianity”
“Bible vs. Qur’an”
“Is Jesus Lord?”
“Way of Salvation?”
“Was Jesus Crucified?”
“Is the New Testament Inspired?”
“Islam vs. Christianity”
“Way to God’s Salvation”
Current Problems with Christian Debates:
1) Fear of Muslim’s Sensibilities
2) Fear our one security
3) Rarely done with Reciprocity in mind
4) Tendency towards apologetics only
5) Few experienced Debaters
6) Little teaching or preparing for debates
7) Debaters = good talkers w/ little knowledge
8) Debaters = great knowledge but can’t talk
9) Unable to use ‘cut and parry’
Advantages with Debates:
Attracts many Muslims
Makes a greater impact (i.e. Al-Azhar)
Confronts Islam publicly
Starts the agenda moving
For many Muslims the first time they have
heard legitimate criticism of the Qur’an &
7) Muslims tend to initiate them (fits their
cultural paradigm)
8) Creates a Christian Public Presence
Impromptu Speaker’s Corner Debates
Salam & Jay
Heckling (‘Triangulization’)
Formal Debates
What weapons will we use?
“For though we live in the world, we do not
wage war as the world does. The weapons
we fight with are not the weapons of the
world. On the contrary, they are divine power
to demolish strongholds. We demolish
arguments and every pretension that sets itself
up against the knowledge of God, and we take
captive every thought to make it obedient to
(II Corinthians 10:3-5)