Debate: Is Islam a Threat to Modern Society, Sami Zataari vs David Wood


بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,


You can view the debate here:

Below’s my review of their opening statements.

David’s Opening

I found it quite distasteful, if not outright insulting for David to have an audible preamble before his opening arguments. Usually, this would contain greetings, pleasantries, thanking the organizers, commenting on the person’s experience thus far in the country and so on. In contrast to this norm, David Wood decided to appeal to emotion, mentioning the sentencing of 7 Christians in Egypt for the ‘Innocence of Muhammad [saws]’ film. What he fails to mention is that his own God, YHWH, permitted the killing of children for insulting a Prophet:

“From there Elisha went up to Bethel.  While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him.  “Go up baldhead,” they shouted, “go up baldhead!”  The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord.  Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces.” – 2 Kings 2:23-24

He also failed to mention that the blasphemy laws in Egypt are also used on Muslims, in this recent case, a Muslim was charged under it for tearing the Bible on TV. Therefore, I must declare David’s preamble to be nothing more than a manipulative and incredulous act for which he should apologize for. I am willing to accept his statements if they were inclusive of his opening statement, but since this is not the case, I must condemn such an intellectually disrespectful act. I’d like to know if Sami agreed to David’s doing of this before the debate began and if not, why the moderator did not stop David or begin timing once the nature of the statements had resonated with his thought process.

David decided to limit his areas of discussion to two topics, they were:

  1. Islam as a threat to non-Muslims.
  2. Islam as a threat to women.

Beginning with (1) he states:

  • Islam’s attitude to non-Muslims is a threat to society.

David mention’s what the Qur’an says about Muslims and then compares what the Qur’an says about non-Muslims. I can’t say I found this to be a strong argument, or a viable one at that. The entire concept of considering yourself a ‘believer’ in any ‘religion’, presupposes that you consider ‘disbelievers’ to be wrong and thus for being wrong, God would employ some form of punishment on them. Disbelievers would quite obviously be seen in a negative light, unequal to the status of believers. A fair question to David would have to be, whether or not he realises this and if he believes that there are no negative remarks about ‘infidels’ (a natively Christian term), in the Bible. Here are some examples of negative mentions of disbelievers in the Bible: 1, 2, 3. As a theist, David should have atleast recognized the double standard he was employing, I’m not sure if he was naive enough to believe that such an infantile argument would be supportive of his views, if he did, that was indeed poor of him.

He found issue with the Qur’an mentioning that believers are the best people and disbelievers are the polar opposite, the worst of peoples. Does David believe that the elect in Christianity, those saved by Christ, are not the best of peoples and that the disbelievers, those condemned to eternal perdition are the best of peoples? The hypocrisy from David is absolutely mind blowing. It was of course, compulsory according to common Evangelical tactics to mention Qur’an 5:51, unfortunately for David, as has been stated time and time again, the word for friend in Arabic is ‘sadiq’, the word for protector, military ally, is ‘awliya’, one example of the context of this verse is the Prophet’s initial treaty with Banu Qurayza until they sided with the Qurayshi army and thus caused significant distress and harm to Muslims. Then again, David is an Evangelical Christian, from amongst the ilk of Sham the Shamoun and James White, I have learned in the few years I have been active in this realm of apologetics that this low level of study is prevalent among them. If there’s a cheap tactic to use, be sure that they’d use it.

Might I remind David, that the Jews whom he refers to as his friends in being condemned as disbelievers in the Qur’an, that his very own Bible paints are far worse picture. Is it better to be the worst of all creatures, or the children of Satan? Would David please answer this question?

“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God. 48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” – John 8:44-48

David proceeded to mention that Muhammad [saws] decided to rid the Arabian peninsula of non-Muslims via expulsion to establish a proper state for him and his oppressed brethren. How would David then measure up to Zechariah 14, where Christendom believes with the second coming of Christ that all non-elect would be ejected from the Holy Land and then brought only to be forced into worship, or else face torture and disease for not doing so? He continued by mentioning, that if Muhammad [saws] did not want to live alongside Christians and Jews in the Arabian peninsula, and we Muslims have to abide by his Sunnah, how can we expect to have a modern society? David is appealing to ad ignorantium, as Muslim societies have always flourished with a plethora of faiths. When the Muslims entered Africa, Abysinnia, what happened? Peaceful co-existence, when the Muslims conquered Egypt from the Roman Empire, again there was peace among the majority Coptic population. When the Muslims conquered Iberia from the Trinitarian Catholics persecuting Arian Christians and Jews, there was again prevailing tolerance and peace. The 4 rightly guided Caliphs and their reign, did not entail any persecution of Jews or Christians, therefore history and a proper studied of Islamic history, as opposed to a prima facie reading of one hadith is the opposite of what is required to derive sensible, and intellectually acceptable arguments.

Continuing with (1) his second sub point is:

  • Islam commands Muslims to violently subjugate non-Muslims.

He begins with the notion that there is some magical 3 step program that Muslims follow to take over the world, from wherein we then persecute anyone and everyone. Argumentum ad Baculum indeed. The 3 step program he mentions, is as follows:

  1. When Muslims are outnumbered, proclaim peace.
  2. When Muslim numbers increase, they are permitted to engage in defensive Jihad. He cites Qur’an 22:39-40 as evidence for this.
  3. He doesn’t mention his 3rd stage, but logically, it would have to be when Muslims are in a majority. He cites Qur’an 9:29 as evidence for this.

His ‘3 stage step to taking over the world’ plan, isn’t particularly well studied. Whether outnumbered or not, as the Qur’an commands us in 25:63 to say peace even to those who mock, insult and attack us. No mention of ‘numbers’ there. Similarly, defensive fighting is also prescribed when Muslims were in fact, in charge of the first Muslim state, see Qur’an 2:190-194 which echoes similar sentiments to Qur’an 22:39-40, although Surah 2 was revealed in the ‘3rd’ stage of David’s plan. There is a clear false dichotomy.

Continuing with (1) his third and final sub point on this topic is:

  • Islam’s command to kill apostates.

The problem with this point, is how would one actually know if a Muslim has left Islam? The only reason one would know if a Muslim left Islam, is if he publicly declared it, therefore inviting the punishment upon himself. There is no room in Islam for punishing a person without reason. The person can leave the nation where Islam is dominant and avoid the punishment, or remain in the nation while openly condemning Islam and mocking it, thereby earning a punishment for such a crime. The same can be seen in ‘free and secular Western nations’, where dissidents undergo torture and renditions where they are imprisoned indefinitely and oppressed, not to mention that the punishment for treason is overwhelmingly death.

David then moved on to his second main topic, “The Status of Women According to Islam”. He begins by stating that Islam ‘drastically reduces the status of women’, despite the fact that the very first University in the world was started by a Muslim woman. His arguments were shoddy at best, he found problems with the Prophet [saws] asking spouses not to do actions which displeased each other, he even attacked the traditional heterosexual familial hierarchy where the man (usually the breadwinner) in most societies is seen as a figurehead in the home. This leads me to question David’s concept of women, doe she truly believe that there is an issue with not doing acts which displeases a spouse? Would that then mean, he approves of doing acts which displeases a spouse? I wouldn’t consider David an expert on marriage relations, but that is probably the worst advice you can receive on relationship counselling. Furthermore, does David accept the notion that a man does not have to lead a household, if so, is he willing to have his wife (if he is to be married, or if he is, I don’t kn0w) be the sole earner for his behalf and his protector in the event of a violent incident? This is clearly what his arguments are demonstrating.

David also found issue with Qur’an 2:23, which explains the sexual acts which are permitted in the Muslim marriage. I suppose that David does not accept stipulations when it comes to his sexual desires, otherwise, I find no reason for issue to be found with this verse. His first issue with Islam and women, is the “Support of Wife Beating“. What he fails to understand is the language of the Qur’an. The Qur’an does permit beating, but it permits a beating which leaves a mark or causes bruising. If you are fair skinned (in complexion) or caucasian, you can test this beating on yourself. Strike yourself with your finger such that it does not produce a pink or red imprint on the hand. Doing so, you’d find it impossible to feel pain. It’s actually quite difficult to hit someone without producing a mark on the skin. Therefore when the Qur’an mentions that you can hit your disobedient wife, it is really rhetorically letting the male know that abusing women is haram, this is understood due to the corresponding hadith on this issue:

” Right along with this option given to men, it has appeared in a hadith which means that, “The best of you will never beat their women.” Thus, (for example) such an action is nowhere reported from the blessed Prophet of Allah. – (Ma’arif al-Qur’an 2:426)”

Therefore, if beating in the manner that David was referring to was allowed, we would have seen it in practised by the Prophet [saws], since this is not the case, then David’s interpretation of the verse is completely out of context. His second issue with “Islam and Women”, is that Islam allegedly claims that “Women are Stupid“. He refers to Qur’an 2:282 refers to the testimony of women when it comes to contracts. What he fails to realise is that:

  1. A woman is not allowed to be in a room with a single man without a Mahram, moreso with more than one man.
  2. To avoid false witness due to forced coercing, she should have someone alongside her to prevent him from forcing her to sign against her will.

This therefore, has nothing to do with her mental capabilities, but with protecting the rights of a woman. It is very ironic then, that David chooses, he willingly chooses to interpret this verse as meaning that women have half the intellectual capabilities of men, or that they are stupid. I must then, regard David’s interpretation as being representative of his own personal view of women, while they are clearly in polar opposites to the intended meaning of the Qur’an. It is in this light, that I call upon David Wood to apologize to the female community and to cease his sexist remarks against our beloved womenfolk. Nowhere does the Qur’an mention in this verse, that women are less intelligent as men or that they are not as reliable. Shaykh GF Haddad explains this hadith in its entirety, which I recommend that Christian and Muslim alike, read to develop an authentic and accurate interpretation, as opposed to preconceived sexist notions of which David has duly demonstrated.

David’s third issue is that, “Islam Allows Marriage to Prepubescent Girls“. I would like to remind David, that in Islam, there is a difference between marriage and consummation. I’m sure he is well aware of this, but then again, he cannot appease his masters and his congregation without being deceptive. Does David relegate marriage to be merely about sexual relations? In Islam, this is not the case, when a man marries a female, he assumes three responsibilities, none of which are sex. They are:

  1. The responsibility of sheltering the wife, or of providing a shelter for her.
  2. The responsibility of feeding the wife, or of providing food for her.
  3. The responsibility of clothing the wife, or of providing clothes for her.

Nothing about sex need be stated. In fact, if a girl is married according to some contract and she rejects it, then the girl is subsequently divorced from the man. No consummation need occur. Similarly, no consummation can occur without a female’s approval, as well as no marriage is valid without a female’s consent. David’s gripe is with marriage to prepubescent girls, the problem with his argument, is that Muhammad [saws] consummated the marriage, post the prepubescent stage, what is termed as the stage of sexual maturity in biology and Islam. That being, when the female stops being a child, or in this case a girl and is in the process of womanhood.

David’s closing to his opening statement is probably as bad as they can come, he has issues with suicide attacks, but doesn’t find issue with suicide attacks endorsed by his own God, YHWH, see Judges 16. He found issue with 40% of Muslims wanting to be judicially guided by their religious law, I guess David, if he were to be honest, would find issue with the American Government passing laws which accedes to Christian beliefs? If not, can he publicly announce such a position, or would his evangelical brethren crucify him for such a stance? He spews off a few more statistics and ends his opening statement. I would easily challenge David on his question of, “what is the correlation between the statistics from the OECD and Muhammad’s [saws] teachings?“. To be quite honest, the nations he referenced have one or more of the following which contributed to their current status:

  1. Former colonies, therefore they lack infrastructure and wealth.
  2. Recently independent, whereas nations higher on the OECD list had some 300 years of Independence to rule, govern and develop their nations, David expects wealth deficient nations to do so in a vastly less amount of time.
  3. Dependent upon economic aid.
  4. Recently engaged in civil war or have been in a perpetual state of internal conflict post-Independence.
  5. Recently experienced droughts or have been experiencing droughts for extensive periods of time.

Therefore, the notion that it is Islam’s fault that these nations are as they currently present themselves to be, is based on abject ignorance of these nation’s history. Not to forego the complete and utter arrogance of expecting developing nations to economically compete with developed nations. I would have to state that David’s opening statement would have been acceptable some 30 years ago, when Muslims were much less aware of their religion. However, David and the evangelical missionaries of the world are facing a new world, one were 20 year old Muslims like myself can debunk their statements, where mid 20 year old’s like Sami Zataari can refute and debate on a platform with someone twice his age without having to resort to cheap insults, disparaging remarks and snide comments, as David has done.

Sami’s Opening

Sami begins by demonstrating to David, how one actually starts a debate. You don’t drop propaganda, you don’t pass a few underhanded comments, you don’t sneak some emotional arguments in before your time (David took 4 minutes lambasting Muslims before beginning his officially timed Opening Statement), you thank the organizers and thank your opponent. I have to commend Sami on his professionalism in this case. Sami lays the law down on David in a very eloquent manner. He indicates that what David spoke about is largely irrelevant, as those were his own personal interpretations of the ayats of the Qur’an and Ahadith. David’s interpretation would not necessarily be that of a Muslim’s understanding, thus David was addressing a reality that only he, himself would believe. He continued by informing the crowd that David’s real argument came at the end of his rabid diatribe, David only began addressing the real beliefs and understandings of Muslims by quoting statistical information. Sami emphasized the importance of establishing a dichtomoy; there is a difference between David’s personal theological interpretations (eisegesis), and the ground reality in the real world.

When it comes to discussing the ground reality, Sami let it be known that this was his area of study, as Osama bin Laden and Extremism was his thesis’ topic. His dissertation was subsequently accepted, thus allowing him to be an authority, or qualified in the subject area, hence his insistence on discussing this topic as opposed to perceived theological notions. Sami calls David out on his irrational logic, he questions him by stating that what David was doing, was that he was quoting verses and applying it to persons, when what he should have really been doing was finding out what the motivations of extremists were. What did the extremists who carry out attacks actually believe? What verses do they quote? What ahadith do they use? Instead of claiming that verses David thinks they use is proper evidence, David should have really brought forth evidences from the persons themselves. Thus in Sami’s conclusion, David’s argument was more rhetoric, than it was applicable and relevant to the topic at hand. To be quite honest, I’d have to agree with Sami. He’s spot on, David did not address the topic, what he addressed was his biased presuppositions, a departure from reality.

Acting upon his own counsel to David, Sami then goes to Osama bin Laden’s very own, “Declaration of War with the United States” dated to be from 1996. Therefore Sami didn’t rely on rhetoric or propaganda (as David’s irrelevant Creeping Shari’a comments were), but he depened upon Bin Laden’s own statements. Did Bin Laden do what he did, due to Qur’an 9:29? His manifesto does not mention this as a motivating factor, according to Sami, Bin Laden’s motivating factors were the aggressions of the US military in Arabian Peninsula, the US support of the Israeli Apartheid State. He also mentions that Bin Laden repeated this as his motivating factors in a 1997 interview with Abdel Bari Atwan, a London journalist. I have to applaud Sami’s use of relevant argumentation and his subsequent use of first person sources is absolutely sensational. As of this stage, Sami has clearly negated and rightfully so, a majority of David’s opening statement and has taken control of the debate. After calling David out on his largely irrelevant diatribe, Sami delve straight into the thick of the topic and immediately set the criteria for which the topic could be argued logically about. In doing so, and by referencing first person sources, I have no choice but to deem Wood as being out of Sami’s league and as being caught highly off guard.

Sami moved on to quote his own statistics, after establishing the reasoning and rationale of Extremists, he went on to state what academics themselves believe about the Extremists. He referred to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research which amounts to saying, “civilian casualties in Afghanistan at the hands of foreign troops creates enemies and causes people to become radicalised“. As the report itself states, “In Afghanistan we find strong evidence that local exposure to civilian casualties caused by international forces leads to increased insurgent violence over the long-run, what we term the ‘revenge’ effect.”, thereby qualifying his claim. Sami also referenced the Washington Post which had this to say, “the escalating campaign of U.S. drone strikes [in Yemen] is stirring increasing sympathy for Al-Qaeda-linked militants and driving tribesmen to join a network linked to terrorist plots against the United States.” Thus far, Sami has presented a logical, well reasoned argument that has extensive amounts of international study to qualify his claims. Not only has Sami stuck to the topic, unlike that of his opponent, Sami’s actually going to Western Academia, not Arab based studies or Sami’s personal convictions or his own personal interpretations of the conflicts.

He then moved on to another report, where New York University and Stanford University examined the effects of the US Administration’s drone strikes in the Pakistani Tribal region, according to the Guardian [UK], it entails, “the report details the terrorizing effects of Obama’s drone assaults as well as the numerous, highly misleading public statements from administration officials about that campaign. The study’s purpose was to conduct an “independent investigations into whether, and to what extent, drone strikes in Pakistan conformed to international law and caused harm and/or injury to civilians.” At this point, Sami had actually referenced more academic sources than Wood, cited essential points, quoted the most relevant statistics than the entire time Wood actually spoke. You’d notice that the heat was getting a bit intense for Wood as each time Sami quoted another research paper, he took a swig from his bottled water. Sami then mentioned the false dichotomy of ‘good terrorism’ versus ‘bad terrorism’. When Western Administrations bombard civilian villages, it’s okay, but the moment a villager retaliates, they’re seen as barbaric, evil, and malicious.

Sami then referenced what he called the, ‘smoking gun’ of the debate, he references the Arizona State University’s Center for Strategic Communication’s report on Islamic Extremism which examined over 2000 texts used by extremists dating from 1998 to 2011. The study states, “Other findings in the report raise questions about the veracity of claims often made by analysts. The most surprising is the near absence of the well-known “Verse of the Sword” (9:5) from the extremist texts. Widely regarded as the most militant or violent passage of the Qur’an, it is treated as a divine call for offensive warfare on a global scale. It is also regarded as a verse which supersedes over one hundred other verses of the Qur’an that counsel patience, tolerance, and forgiveness. We conclude that verses extremists cite from the Qur’an do not suggest an aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed. Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor, and retribution. This shows close integration with the rhetorical vision of Islamist extremists.

Based on this analysis we recommend that the West abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination, focus on counteracting or addressing claims of victimage, emphasize alternative means of deliverance, and work to undermine the “champion” image sought by extremists.

It is noteworthy to realise that none of the passages from the Qur’an which David referenced as a cause for Islamic extremism, was found to be in any of the 2000 texts examined in the report. For me, this is what catapulted the debate into Sami’s hands and ended it. There was no need for Sami to continue from this point, as he had gone above and beyond the requirements needed to overcome David’s rant. Recall that I mentioned earlier, that each time Sami cited a reference from a major publication or academic study, David rushed to take a swig of his water? Here it is in motion, as Sami is about to quote the Arizona State University’s study, David rushes to sip his water, the heat of the moment clearly causing some thirst as it would seem. Sami then went one step further, he mentioned his interview with Counter Terrorism Expert, Mubin Shaikh and the result of this interview is that Mubin statess, while he had infiltrated a terrorist cell, the verses and ahadith used by David Wood were never used by the extremists themselves. The irony of this, is mind blowing to be truthful. Continuing with his trend of using internationally acclaimed and renowned sources, he then referred to ex-CIA, Head of the OBL Unit, Michael Scheuer, who stated that 9/11 occurred due to America’s horrid foreign policy strategies. Moving on, Sami headed to the 9/11 Commission’s Report interview with Special Supervisor with the FBI, Agent James Fitzgerald, which the Guardian [UK] reported on:

“At the 12th and final public hearing of the 9/11 commission on 16 June, 2004, in Washington DC, a phalanx of senior law-enforcement and intelligence officials from the US government arrived to offer their testimonies. “You’ve looked [at] and examined the lives of these people as closely as anybody … What have you found out about why these men did what they did?” asked Lee Hamilton, the former congressman and vice-chair of the commission. “What motivated them to do it?”

The answers to these questions were provided by supervisory special agent James Fitzgerald of the FBI. “I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States”, he said. “They identify with the Palestinian problem, they identify with people who oppose repressive regimes and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States.”

David quoted quite a few polls on Muslim acceptance of violence, funnily enough, an American poll, established that American Jews and Christians (of David’s ilk), were more likely to justify violence against civilians than Muslims were. That violence being military on civilian and civilian on civilian was justified, both times Christians vastly outnumbered Muslims in the affirmative. Sami then went on to explain freedom of speech laws and their already existing limits, placing Wood’s arguments in the realm of being nothing more than fear-mongering and paranoia. This concludes Sami’s opening arguments.

David’s Pros and Cons:

+ He showed up for the debate.
+ He quoted a proper source or two.
– Failed to stick to the topic except for his final 2 minutes.
– Failed to argue relevant points pertinent to Sami’s sources.
– Failed to refute Sami’s sources and arguments.

Sami’s Pros and Cons:

+ Vastly superior sources from a spectrum of internationally acclaimed groups, organizations and individuals.
+ Stuck to the topic.
+ Addressed all of David’s points.
+ Spoke confidently and with authority.
+ Engaged with the audience.
– Can’t hold a mic to save his life. Here’s a tip, next time don’t hold it.
– Buy a hairbrush.

wa Allaahu ‘Alam.

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