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Debate Review: “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” – Dr. Shabir Ally & Mr. John Tors

About a week ago I attended a debate between Dr. Shabir Ally and Mr. John Tors on the topic of, “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” (click the link to see the debate).

To begin with, I need to say that the church which hosted the event did an amazing job. The congregation at the North York Chinese Baptist Church were helpful, accommodating and very pleasant. The event was well-managed and I think all attendees would agree with me on this.

The topic itself is a little unusual (which is a good thing) as to debate if Jesus rose from the dead, one has to first grant the argument that he did die. In other words, we can’t debate this specific topic if we say he never died. This point seems to have been missed by both Muslim and Christian debate enthusiasts, it should also be noted that granting an argument for the sake of the argument, is not the same as accepting that argument. One may well wonder why a Muslim debater would put themselves in such a contentious position in the first place. The answer for this question was provided in the debate itself in which the question was asked, “what does it mean for Jesus to have died?” Christians answer this question differently and so the “type” of “death” was a focus of this debate. An easier way to have framed the debate would have been to make a minor change to the title to emphasise that the topic was about death:

Did Jesus Rise From “The Dead”?

Before the debate I read through most of the relevant articles on Mr. Tors’ website and while at the debate, I found myself a bit confused after his opening statement. Practically his entire opening statement is what I had read the night before and it can be found on his website in the form of two articles:

  • THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER AND THE EVANGELICAL BETRAYAL OF THE BIBLE: Exposing the Major Weapons Levied Against the Trustworthiness of the Bible
  • THE RESURRECTION ACCOUNTS: “Incompatible Contradictions” or Coherent History?

In fact, during the debate I was sharing these articles with both Christians and Muslims, most of whom expressed surprise at what seemed to be general confusion as to why Mr. Tors would prepare in such a way for a debate. That is to say that he largely used articles from 2015 and 2018 with no new research being presented or accounted for. The attendees had no need for Mr. Tors’ opening statement, just granting us 10 minutes to do some quick reading would’ve sufficed. Mr. Tors began the debate with two important points:

  1. We shouldn’t base our views on assumptions,
  2. We shouldn’t base our views on presuppositions.

Rather, he argued, we should look at the evidence itself first and if needed, then at works of scholarship. The problem he quickly found himself in was then ironic, as he seemingly argued that he had evidence that Jesus died and was resurrected. This evidence turned out to be Mr. Tors just quoting the Bible. It was then I realised that had he believed in what he said at the start of the debate then he wouldn’t have assumed that the Bible was true or presupposed it as being factual. Indeed, it’s a tall order to hold him to his own words, but if someone lays out a specific methodology at the start of a debate then I largely hope that they would at the very least be superficially consistent but even this was not afforded to us (the audience).

This point did not seem to strike Mr. Tors at all and it left me completely bewildered at what he had hoped to achieve. Muslims don’t accept the Bible as a valid source for theology, and Christians don’t accept the Qur’an as a valid source for their theology, so what is achieved in ministering to Muslims in using a text we don’t accept? Dr. Ally at least attempted to reference both the Bible and the Qur’an throughout the debate. Mr. Tors or someone who works for his ministry later argued in the comments section (of the re-upload) of the debate video on YouTube that while the New Testament is a historical work, the Qur’an was not (in regards to Jesus) and so he did not consider any appeals to it as sufficient for the topic. This is despite the fact that he himself holds to a form of the New Testament text which is not wholly extant in any manuscript before the mid-medieval period (roughly from the 10th to 15th century CE). He holds to the Byzantine Priority position, a minority view in the world of Christendom.

Edit: 22.01.2020, Mr. Tors mentioned to me that he does not hold to the Byzantine Priority position but rather a Majority Text position. The difference is negligible but I thought it best to use the phrase he uses to describe his beliefs.

Oddly enough, Mr. Tors later argued that it didn’t matter what date the earliest extant (still surviving) manuscripts of the crucifixion and resurrection accounts came from. At that point in the debate I lost any hope in Mr. Tors advancing any form of a consistent argument. Either it is the dates do matter or they don’t, either it is the gospel narratives do have contradictions because the gospel authors focused on different elements of the story by design or there are no contradictions and they give the exact same narratives, either it is he is arguing for the New Testament to be a theologically preserved version of the best witness testimony or he is willing to apply historical standards to the gospels. It just seemed like he was willing to flip-flop on his positions without care for consistency, reasonableness or intellectual humility.

As a Muslim who is invested in these kinds of debates, I look forward to them with a great deal of anticipation. Some times that anticipation pays off in the form of the robust debates between Dr. Shabir Ally and Dr. James White and some times they clearly don’t, as in this case. Mr. Tors’ primary (and seemingly only) argument for this debate therefore can be summarised as, “the Bible teaches that Jesus died and was resurrected, and this is true because the Bible teaches it”. While that may strike a chord with Christians, it doesn’t with the Muslims and it’s such an obvious point that I wonder if Mr. Tors cared for Muslims to even attend this debate in the first place. If one were to watch his opening statement, you would find him preaching directly to the Christians in the audience, word after word of caution about not allowing scholars and liberals to change their beliefs, to change how Christians should understand the Bible. Yet, I struggled to find an instance where he addresses the crowd as if there were Muslims in it, people who plainly do not accept the Bible as scripture. After all, he gave no reasons as to why Muslims should begin believing in the Bible, rather his focus seemed to be on keeping Christians Christian.

That is where a marked difference can be seen between Dr. Ally and Mr. Tors. Dr. Ally spent a few minutes at the start of his opening statement engaging with the crowd directly, he explained why he was there, what he hoped to achieve, what Muslims, Christians and those from other faiths can gain by being at the debate event. His words acknowledged the presence of other faiths in the audience, it provided a reason for us to pay more attention to what he said. Another point of note was the difference in composure and demeanour. While Dr. Ally was generally congenial and jovial, Mr. Tors at times appeared dismayed, upset or aggravated. This led to the second half of the debate being more contentious (which is not in itself a negative thing), giving rise to many instances of riposte between the speakers.

I’ve sat through classes by Dr. Licona and Dr. Habermas, evangelical scholars who are well renowned for their arguments regarding the positive evidence for the crucifixion and the resurrection. I’m writing a book myself on the topic of the resurrection, so I attended this debate to gain some knowledge that I could have hoped to engage with on multiple levels, but I left the debate event empty handed, there simply was not much presented on the Christian side of the topic that would allow me to analyze or engage with Mr. Tors’ arguments. In the end I had hoped for more substance but it was nonetheless a good event otherwise. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Tors in person, he was kind, shook my hands and engaged in brief but meaningful conversation, and for that I sincerely thank him.

and Allah knows best.

Debate: “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” – Dr. Shabir Ally & John Tors

The debate is at the North York Chinese Baptist Church located at #685 Sheppard Avenue East in Toronto, Canada.

Topic: Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?

Date: Saturday 11th January 2020.

Debaters: Dr. Shabir Ally and Mr. John Tors.

The livestream is available at this link (YouTube) and this link (Church Website).

You can also stream the debate below:


Yours in Islam,
Br. Ijaz.

 

Masjid Expansion Project

On this sacred night in the blessed month of Ramadan, our Imam Dr. Shabir Ally along with our architects revealed our model for our Masjid expansion project.

Do you want to earn the reward of contributing to a Masjid’s development? A reward for every Salaah performed within its halls?

Do not miss out on this opportunity! You can donate via this link:

https://donate.micharity.com/IIDC/4071904780/building-expansion-fund/4/donate

Or you can email Br. Ejaaz: ejaaz@islaminfo.com

Spending Time with Dr. Shabir Ally

Over this summer I had the opportunity and privilege of learning from and teaching alongside Dr. Shabir Ally.

To be honest it was quite a surreal experience. Here is someone I had been learning from for a number of years and now I stood beside him with his approval to teach on subjects that he had mastered decades ago. I had not yet had the opportunity to pen my thoughts on the da’wah training, but suffice it to say that it went extremely well (alhamdulillah). During the month of November I also had the opportunity to meet him a second time for the year, where we took a few photos and did a few videos together:

What a lot of people don’t know is that I believe I’m actually tiptoeing in the video! Dr. Ally towers over me quite easily. Needless to say, I’m often asked about his persona, his mannerisms, his views on his debate opponents. Who exactly is Dr. Shabir Ally? Is he in any way different from the man we know on the debate stage?

The answer may shock you. He’s exactly as you see him. I don’t have a single bad word to say about the man. He has always been pleasant, loving, kind and respectable. Behind the scenes, he is the same man that you see on the debate stage. His persona does not change. Sometimes I’m asked if Dr. Ally holds negative thoughts or remarks about his previous debate opponents and I can honestly say that he does not. He speaks of them as if they were in our company, that is to say that while he may disagree with his debate opponents he does not manifest any hate for them, he is truly a man of good and reputable character.

While most will know him because of his interfaith events, he’s even more well known locally for the work that he does for Muslims in Canada. Everywhere I’ve gone, regardless of which Shaykh or scholar I’m sitting with, they’ve always had a good word to say about him. I believe that his Islamic Information and Da’wah Center represents who he is as a person. Permit me to explain myself. His center is very eclectic in terms of ethnicities. People from all walks of life, from all ages and all races, speaking in so many different languages, seek out and come to his center to keep up with their Islam. Attending Jumm’ah Salaah (Friday Congregational Prayers) is an experience that is difficult to forget. In essence, it’s equitable to a micro-Hajj, with so many different people around you. At first it may be overwhelming, but there is something quite special about seeing the diverse collection of Muslims at the center.

Just as people seek Dr. Ally, so do people also seek out his center. People understand that the Islam Dr. Ally practices is not something to be afraid of, but something that makes them feel safe. This is why non-Muslims and people of non-Islamic backgrounds find conversation with him and interaction with his center so beneficial. Dr. Ally treats people with kindness and respect that is based upon the Prophetic Sunnah. His simple and genuine acts of love, really do impact the people he interacts with and the community where his center is located. Even if one were to disagree with with Dr. Ally, his demeanour does not change. He’s okay with folks disagreeing with him, but he does not escalate those disagreements into antagonistic personal issues.

I have a sincere and genuine love for Dr. Shabir Ally, I have sat and learned from him so many times, but each and every time I do so, it certainly feels as if I’m meeting the man for the first time. At the end of the day, I think there’s one anecdote I can leave that sums up the man, the myth and the legend that is Dr. Ally. Some 24 years ago, one of my colleagues had come to Canada as an immigrant. They used to attend the Masjid where Dr. Ally performed the Friday Congregational Prayers. What they found was that people from all backgrounds came to listen to his Friday sermons (what we refer to as a Khutbah), in those sermons, they found comfort and love, to the point that they began to invite one and all to hear Dr. Ally speak. It’s been 24 years since then and they still hold him as someone special and monumental in their lives. It’s been almost 3 decades of hard work from Dr. Ally and I pray that Allah continues to bless him and his endeavors, ameen.

and Allah knows best.

Toronto Debates Release

In August of this year I had the pleasure of debating my longtime colleague and friend, Luis Dizon in Toronto, Canada. Both events were held at the TARIC Islamic Center, moderated by Br. Sadat Anwar and recorded by Sr. Tabasum. The topics debated focused on the nexus which brings Muslims and Christians together to this very day, the status of the New Testament and Islam’s view of the Bible. Islam’s relationship with the Ahl al Kitab (the People of the Book) is one filled with centuries of fruitful discussion and dialogue, and with this tradition behind us, both myself and Luis decided to debate these core topics.

Debate 1: “Is the New Testament the Word of God?”

Date: Friday 12th August, 2016.
Debaters: Br. Ijaz Ahmad vs J. Luis Dizon.

Debate #2: “What Do the Qur’an and Islamic Tradition Say About the Bible?”

Date: Saturday 13th August, 2016.
Debaters: Br. Ijaz Ahmad vs J. Luis Dizon.

I sincerely pray that these debates can lead many to enlightenment and to the truth of Islam. Ameen.

and Allah knows best.

Debate: Is the New Testament the Word of God? – Br. Ijaz and Luis Dizon

On Friday 12th, August (2016), I debated Luis Dizon on the topic of, “Is the New Testament the Word of God?” at TARIC Masjid in Toronto. The initial publicly published recording found here (MDI) had a small audio issue which has been fixed in this version. It’s the exact same video, with the echo removed and the colour of the video slightly adjusted.

and God knows best!

How Street Dawah Toronto Changed My Opinion on Street Dawah

Having been in the da’wah field for sometime, I found it difficult to be convinced of street da’wah. By street da’wah, I mean those folks that stand on street corners and hand out pamphlets and little books about Islam, sometimes books about Islam and Christianity. One of the things that made me dislike street da’wah was its emphasis on getting shahadahs (conversions). I always asked myself, would a person truly change their faith or accept a new one after a few minutes of conversation? I’m sure that there are people like this, but the vast majority are not. Yet, this issue has persisted in my mind, most of the people giving street da’wah are either themselves new Muslims or they know very little about Islam, much less so about Islam as it compares to other faiths. This form of popular da’wah became quite mainstream over the last decade or so. Videos of conversions on the street are some of the most popularly viewed Islam-related videos on the internet. This emphasis on getting new conversions truly bothered me.

sdt1

The emphasis more or less seemed to be on getting new conversions as often as possible, with the caveat of having the conversion recorded on video at the same time. Thus, one’s da’wah was only deemed successful if conversions were regularly taking place. Yet we need to ask, how many of those new converts (or reverts) have stayed in Islam? How many take the shahadah (testimony of faith) due to being pressured publicly, or due to that person simply being polite or easily manipulated? How could we know if these people had truly accepted Islam? Were there any follow ups? Did they have classes or sessions or ongoing support for the new converts? These questions honestly bothered me, and despite knowing many people in this area of da’wah, my doubts could not be mitigated. There was at least one group of young Muslims from my neighbourhood in Trinidad who did street da’wah and I spent a night or two with them. Their efforts did make me consider this form of da’wah differently, as I saw that their main interested was on education as opposed to bullying someone to change their religion.

sdt2

With these questions in mind, I had the pleasure of attending three sessions with Street Dawah Toronto. Something was different about this group, and I have to admit that it is these group of Muslims who need to be applauded for their hard work and dedication. In my time with them, I experienced things I never thought I would, had conversations that were meaningful and beneficial, while also having the opportunity to witness sincerity first hand. To begin with, what immediately stands out is the juxtaposition between the brothers and sisters of Street Dawah Toronto speaking calmly with pedestrians, while right next to them are a few different Christian missionary groups screaming and shouting about everyone’s damnation and their guarantees of going to hell. Of course, not all missionaries in Dundas Square behave this way, but of the few groups I observed over the weeks, there were at least two or more Christian groups preaching this way in the immediate vicinity of Street Dawah Toronto. It almost seemed to me as if passersby were actually drawn to the Muslims because of the missionaries shouting at them.

sdt3

What also stood out about Street Dawah Toronto, was that they didn’t have any signs or posters putting down any group of people, or damning people to hell, as other groups in Dundas Square had. None of their literature was offensive or aggressive, neither confrontational. They neither shouted nor screamed, or put anyone down during conversation. No insults were hurled, no threats were made. They didn’t crowd around any one individual, they spoke person to person, thus putting pressure on no one to accept Islam. My questions were quickly being answered, my doubts put to rest. Not once, did I observe any of them trying to convert anyone, or push them to accept the shahadah. In almost every conversation they were eager to hand out resources in the form of free literature so that passersby could do their own research, come to their own conclusions, learn Islam at a pace they can without being pressured. I was quite elated to see this. Words could not express the joy I had seeing this same pattern of loving, caring, sincere behaviour occurring week after week.

sdt4

Finally, there came a test. I watched one evening as a gentleman approached the da’wah stall and began to insult Islam. “This book (the Qur’an) was written by Satan, it’s from Satan!” he shouted as he approached a sister by herself. He then stood right next to the sister and shouted this statement at her a number of times while touching the literature on their da’wah stall. And that’s all it took. The sister didn’t even flinch, she didn’t shout in return, or insult the guy, or even call a brother over for help. She simply said, “okay sir,” and that was all. She was not angry, she did not retaliate, she did not become aggressive. What did she do after the man left? She continued to smile and hand pamphlets out. Not a sweat broken. That sister’s name? Tabasum. Her name literally means “smiling”. I was personally quite upset by the man’s aggressive behaviour, but on that day I witnessed with my eyes the Prophetic Sunnah of mercy. I witnessed the Prophetic Sunnah at work personified in the form of a smiling sister. That was the moment that almost brought me to tears. Hearing about the Prophetic Sunnah is one thing, but to witness it at work, being fulfilled by a sister in a tense situation truly showed me the beauty of Islam.

Yet, this was not unique to her. All the members of Street Dawah Toronto smiled incessantly, were pleasant and kind, warm and polite. Over the years I had seen these same faces every week giving da’wah, but seeing these guys at work is something else. Their humility cannot be emphasised enough. These folks have been using the very same da’wah stall that they originally started off with. It’s been about 6 years and it has remained the same. Just imagine that!  They didn’t change it to include a speaker or audio system, they didn’t change it to make the stall appear to be more flashy or “different”. They didn’t have to dress the stall up to appeal to anyone, because it was there enacting of the Prophetic Sunnah that drew people to them. I witnessed with my own eyes, both Muslims and non-Muslims gladly approaching them and looking with keen interest at the literature they had on display. I witnessed agnostics from Turkey, apostates from Iran, Turkic Saudi Arabian Muslims, Chinese Muslims approach the brothers and sisters at Street Dawah Toronto with smiles on their faces, eager for hugs and conversation.

I witnessed a Malaysian sister being greeted by a few people every couple minutes, she had in the past spoken to them about Islam (despite English not being her first language) and they remembered her and returned to speak with her. I witnessed a Somali brother engage with an angry man who still returned week after week, simply due to the brother’s kind attitude. I witnessed a Filipino sister bring her baby with her, yet came just to help the group out. I witnessed brothers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh all come out to do da’wah. So many nationalities, so few natural English speakers, yet so much sincerity. The fact that there were entire groups of non-Muslims returning week after week to discuss Islam, is testimony to the excellent decorum of these brothers and sisters.

In the end, I spent over 8 years disliking popular street da’wah, but it took me 15 minutes with Street Dawah Toronto to change my mind completely. May Allah continue to grant them mercy, goodness, sincerity and protection ameen.

and Allah knows best.

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