Debate Review: Is Islam a Religion of Peace [Br. Shadid Lewis vs Robert Spencer]


Note: This review is based on the video posted by Br. Shadid on his YouTube page. He has stated that his rebuttal and portions of the cross fire questioning are missing. Regardless of what is missing, this is a review on the debate ‘as it is’. 

Opening Statements:

Br. Shadid:

He begins by defining the delimits of the topic. What exactly is peace and how does Islam relate to it? What is the definition of peace which Mr. Spencer is operating with? From the very start, Br. Shadid is laying his logic clearly on the table. Merely asking, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?“, does not allow for the topic to be discussed. Is peace here supposed to mean pacifism? Outlined and strategical aggression? Interpersonal or between state and citizens of the state?

He doesn’t exactly convey his point very eloquently, nor does he stick to his line of reasoning perfectly. At the beginning he jumps around a bit after providing a dictionary definition of peace, and comments on the previous speakers before him (mind you who were not part of the debate), and then he comments on Arab Nation spending on weapons, versus that of America’s Military Industrial Complex. Unfortunately,  all of these topics in less than two minutes, muddled his opening statement.

He recovers though and makes quite the point. The so called Axis of Evil of nations, some of which are Muslim majority – have a total weapons and defense expenditure of $15 billion dollars combined, whereas the United States alone has a budget of $800+ billion dollars for the very same purpose. Even if Muslims did have goals of war – their expenditure simply does not allow for, or demonstrate this. He then moved on to proving that Islam does promote peace, on the basis of one the dictionary definitions of peace which he provided earlier. Somehow a few comments about taqiyyah got jumbled in there by him – which again, muddied the waters, taking away from what could have been a clear and consistent message.

Despite disrupting his outlined flow on the topic of Islam and Peace, Br. Shadid did present a solid rebuttal to the place of, and the use of taqiyyah in Islam. He then stops working with the four definitions of peace, and now discusses the place of abrogation of the peaceful verses of the Qur’aan. The flow of his argument (both overarching and sequentially) is very disruptive and a bit all over the place.

Br. Shadid discusses the validity of the translation of some verses, provides his reasoning on the exegetical sciences and then rests on the verses which clearly outline the conditions for warfare in the Qur’aan, specifically those of Qur’aan 2:190-194.  He then returned to one of the four definitions of peace, indicating that Islam does allow for peace treaties and this therefore fulfills another one of the definitions given. Cleverly, knowing that Mr. Spencer would eventually comment on the jizya and subjugation, Br. Shadid does sneak it in that even the polytheists of Makkah in the treaty of Hudaibiyah were not subject to the tax or monetary tribute. Br. Shadid in the closing moments then states that Islam is not a faith of pacifism.

Robert Spencer:

He began by saying that his statements would be solely based on Islamic source texts, written by Islamic scholarship, therefore his statements would be credible and seemingly unbiased. Spencer though, begins with his foot in his mouth by quoting one of the members of the Taliban who indicates that Jihad is recommended. Mr. Spencer says this, despite the fact that the Taliban’s fight is against Christian American soldiers invading a Muslim country. For those with a bit more awareness, his first point of contention aided Br. Shadid’s opening statement concerning Christian Americans and their war machine.

Spencer then quotes 2 or 3 other Jihadists, to bolster his position, despite these cases being few – he then mentions one of the Jihadists who claims his acts are in response to American war tactics and incidents. Once again, taking away from his position and aiding Br. Shadid’s. Spencer asks, where did these Jihadists get this understanding of Islam from, in this occasion, he paints them as students of knowledge – despite a significant majority of the exemplars used having no Islamic certification in any area of Islamic study. He quotes a Qur’aanic ayah and then mentions that he will abide by what Mr. Lewis suggests and that he’d appeal to a scholar on understanding the verse. In this regard, he chose Maulana Moududi (d. 1979) whom he says teaches that Muslims must usurp political power from any and all non-Muslim led nations.

Spencer then claims to agree with Br. Shadid that we cannot judge a faith based on what its members do, but based on what the faith itself teaches. He then goes to Maulana Moududi’s commentary on Qur’aan 3:28 – on the topic of taqiyyah, he agrees that one of its uses is during a state of persecution or imminent danger. His logic is therefore, that since Muslims claim America is at war with them, they are therefore in danger and currently must use taqiyyah at all times. Br. Shadid already specified what the circumstances were using a graphic retelling of a Grey’s Anatomy episode, thereby cancelling Robert’s misuse of reasoning. On abrogation he agrees that Muslims do not have a set agreement on how many verses have been abrogated. At this point the camera cuts off and begins towards the end of his rebuttal to Br. Shadid.

Rebuttals:

Br. Shadid’s was cut by the camera and as such I am unable to comment on it.

Mr. Spencer says that non-Muslims are not compelled to believe in Islam, but they must live in humiliation and subjugation. He then cuts across to rebutting Br. Shadid on peace treaties by quoting from the fiqh manual, Reliance of the Traveller – his quotes entail that warfare is prescribed and that scholars accept and promote this book thereby promoting warfare. He goes on to say that Muslims only accept peace treaties so that they can regroup and gather themselves for when the truce ends (traditionally, all nations at war do this, claiming that Muslims alone do this is very silly).

My Conclusions:

Seeing as I’m unable to see Br. Shadid’s rebuttal, I’m unable to declare either him or Mr. Spencer the true ‘winner’. However, given what I have seen and heard, Br. Shadid did stand his ground and he did successfully pre-empt the arguments of Mr. Spencer. To his benefit, Br. Shadid disarmed Spencer from using his usual arguments and seemed to make Spencer quite subdued in his argumentation.

Br. Shadid however, did jump around a bit, but despite doing so – when he made a point, he was consistent, clear and delivered very strong points which rendered a majority of Spencer’s points moot. It is with great earnest that I look forward to seeing the final 5 minutes of Spencer’s opening statement and the entirety of his and Br. Shadid’s rebuttals.

However, given what I’ve seen, and without bias, Br. Shadid did put a muzzle on Spencer’s arguments leaving Spencer to argue a bit aimlessly and with his tail between his legs. I do admit, that I am disappointed that Br. Shadid was all over the place, but in the very short time of his opening statement, he covered every single topic Spencer could have brought forward (something which Spencer did commend him for during his opening statement), thus pre-empting a majority of his arguments and placing the upper hand in his favour.

As far as I can tell, if Spencer’s opening statement and partial rebuttal are anything to judge by, despite his oratory skills, he has not defeated Br. Shadid.

and Allaah knows best.

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