Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Analysing The Debate: Is Christianity Destroying the World (Between A Young Preacher Bob The Builder and a Young Muslim)

I skimmed through the first part of a video from Speakers Corner featuring a young Christian and a young Muslim entitled IS CHRISTIANITY DESTROYING THE WORLD? BR QASIM & BOB THE BUILDER.

I did not watch the second part, personally I’m not in favour of debate titles and topics like this as all religions have fine teachings, Christianity is very similar to Islam in many aspects thus has much good in it.

What does this debate achieve? Does it advance Muslim-Christian dialogue? Does it achieve more heat rather than light? Does it bring the Christian closer to pure Abrahamic monotheism? These are questions for the debaters to think about.

Having said that, let’s go through some of the debate points

Interest based economics

Qasim claims Christianity encourages the exploiting of the poor through the economic system - interest based economics. He puts forward Deut 23:20 to contend the Bible allows the exploitation of foreigners. I guess, this was a bridge for him to talk about how the colonialists in the West treated the Africans and Asians they conquered.

Qasim also believes all the wars of the last two centuries are all related to the (Christian) West.

I don't think Bob the Builder directly addressed these claims in the part I watched (part 1), Bob spoke about Christian charities and a separation of the West and Christianity.

20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess. [Deut 23]

Qasim basically railed against a rampant capitalism which he links to Christianity. This idea of modern capitalism being related to Protestant Christianity goes back to Max Werber's theory around the Reformation. His work is a complicated read, you can find it online. Many people reference to it. I don't really think it has much value in Muslim-Christian apologetics.

 Qasim  highlighted the weakness in the teaching of separating religion from the state, the idea of give to Caesar what is his. He believes this is part of the reason why an  immoral capitalism and consumerism is plaguing the West. Qasim says the same applies to pornography production. I suspect a great number of ills in society could be linked to the teaching of giving to Caesar what is his.

I do believe this is a major problem in Christianity, Paul of Tarsus did not envisage his religion spreading and existing as a global religion which would have influence on various lands and countries hence why he nor other writers of the New Testament taught about Christian governance, There was near-sightedness on the part of Paul and the other NT authors, they could never envisage being the dominant culture and religious movement in the Roman Empire and thus taught a subservience to Roman (non Christian) rule. If you truly believe you have a message from God, then why would you not want the teachings of that message to be foremost in the governing of a country?

Bible and alcohol

For Qasim, alcolol is a legalised Christian drug. He feels Christianity encourages poor people to drink alcohol. He suggests the problems of alcohol dependency in aboriginal Australian communities go back to the Bible.

Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. [Proverbs 31:7]

Bob's response was to talk about how alcohol existed prior to Christianity and that it's permissible to drink alcohol but not abuse alcohol. Drinking in moderation is allowed according to Bob the Builder.

The problem here for Bob is that even in moderation, alcohol has been shown to be a risk factor to certain cancers. And if one knows anything about alcohol, you'll know that it's difficult to moderate one's drinking as alcohol by its very nature makes one lose their inhibitions incrementally.

Surely a better teaching would be to forbid alcohol outright.

Lip service or sincerely held beliefs?

In Qasim's mind, the principle of "love your neighbour" is just rhetoric, political lip-service. I don’t reckon this is the case given that many Christians are charitable and many Christians consider helping poor people a Christian teaching. Muslims and Christians are perhaps the most charitable people in the world. For Muslims, we would say this stems back to the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah, Islam has a big emphasis on charity and looking after the poor. I think, likewise, for Christians who involve themselves in efforts of charity, they will say this originates from their Church traditions. Bob the Builder, iirc, listed some Christian charities in the video.

A racist ideology of white supremacy?

Qasim finds the practice of Christians depicting Jesus as a white man problematic to a healthy society. He believes Christianity is a racist ideology which teaches people to worship a white man.

Bob does not really dispute the claim that many Christians (in the West) have made Jesus into a white man but his argument here is that other Christians of other cultures make Jesus into their images; Christians in Japan and Ethiopia make Jesus into a Japanese or East African respectively.

The problem here, for Bob, is that this does not fully counter the various offshoots of Qasim’s claim. If Christianity allows people to make Jesus into their own racial image does this not leave the door open for the most economically and geo-politically advanced Christian group (at this time, Western European Christians) to promote supremacy of their race subconsciously?

It’s an interesting thought. An interesting discussion could spring from what Qasim said as long as it is done in a mature and thoughtful way.

The other problem here, for Bob, is that he’s openly admitted Christians make Jesus (that’s God for Trinitarians) into their own image. So what are these Japanese, East African and Western European Christians doing here? Could it be argued that they are involved in a form of pride and self-worship in portraying God in their own phenotypes?

This seemed to be a touchy subject and Bob lost his sense of respect, charity and decorum (again). Bob the Builder was wildly out of order in accusing the young Muslim, Qasim, of hating “White European” people. This is a hefty allegation and it’s reckless to make such public assertions based on what is no evidence at all. Qasim should seek a public apology from Bob the Builder for slander (perhaps even seek legal counsel if such a retraction is not made as claims like those can lead to one losing standing in society, be it social or economic). Make no bones about it, this was a serious a case of slander, it should not be taken lightly and brushed off as normal behaviour at Speakers Corner, Hyde Park.

Bob the Builder, if he’s a Bible-believing Trinitarian church traditionalist then he may well believe Jesus is calling him (Bob) a “fool”:

“...and whoever utters slander is a fool” [Proverbs 10:18]

Again, this is a shocking statement, one in which fair-minded Christians and Muslims should rebuke Bob for and politely ask Bob to retract this. It sets a very worrying precedent where young people could feel making false charges of racism (and other things) is an unchallenged norm.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour” [Exodus 20:16]

This ties in with a recent discussion featuring a young Christian preacher (Godwin) at Speakers Corner on whether the Holy Spirit sanctifies and guides Christians in holiness. I think this type of behaviour by evangelicals is a practical demonstration they do not have the Holy Spirit regenerating them.

Drug use and a shame culture?

Bob states prohibition of drugs in Islamic countries has not stopped drug use in Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. This seems quite a vacuous statement. Prohibition of drink driving, rape, drugs and theft has not prevented such crimes miring societies the world over - there will always be outliers in every society.

He argues that Muslim countries cannot tackle opium abuse problems because Islam creates a shame culture. Every culture has taboo and shame around drugs and other immoral behaviour - including Christian cultures. Bob's polemic is myopic and poorly thought out.  It's not Islam that creates  shame culture, in fact, if somebody is struggling with an addiction then it would be meritorious for other Muslims to help that person battle his/her addiction. Part of helping people against addictions to alcohol or drugs is to ban alcohol and drugs so it is less widely available.

As Qasim rightly pointed out, Afghanistan’s drug production is linked to the West. I thought the young Muslim did well to outline the politico-historical circumstances around the opium production in Afghanistan (Afghanistan shares borders with Iran and Pakistan so it’s hardly surprising that those neighbouring countries are effected by the lucrative drugs trade leaving many victims of drug abuse and addicts in its wake).

Being superficial on slavery - old polemics

Slavery, Bob’s argument is the usual superficial argument that Christian countries banned slavery before Muslim countries did. When I was researching this subject a while back I noticed the prohibition of slavery coincided with the industrial revolution. It does not take Einstein to figure out that there may well be a correlation here; the Muslim countries were not in a position to dispense with man-power (a large bulk of it was from slaves) whilst Western (Christian) were in that position due to the Industrial Revolution.

We must never downplay, the role the slaves in the Caribbean played in gaining their own freedom, they rebelled. These rebellions were costly, making it less cost-effective to continue slavery. The concern here is to avoid the idea of African slaves being wholly dependent upon the Christian's/West's love for their freedom. Slaves were very much part of helping the push for abolition.

Quite often, Christian apologists/evangelists seemingly make out Christianity was the chief driving force in the abolition movement. This is not true, common sense dictates it is not true as Christianity was around when the slave trade was flourishing (by the efforts of Christians)!

Furthermore, I recall seeing pamphlets from the pro-slavery lobby in the UK which opposed the anti-slavery lobby. Both sides actually used the Bible to support their stances!

Let’s see Christian move beyond simplistic polemics. Smart and informed people can see through them. Christians often complain about an anti-intellectualism amongst their fellow Christians, when you have so many preachers and apologists serving up old, tired and simplistic rhetoric (effectively propaganda harrumphs) which have little academic value, is there any surprise anti-intellectualism is so wide-spread in Christian communities?

“Prophet Muhammad and his followers had slaves"

This was one of Bob’s unfair talking points.

Slavery existed before Islam and it was embedded in the community whilst Islam was being Revealed.

For Bob, the 2nd person of the Trinity idea (later to become Jesus) gave Moses laws on buying and selling slaves in Exodus 21.

Prophet Muhammad promoted the freeing of slaves, so much so that if people, over the years, followed his instructions diligently the slaves of every community would have been freed, thus effectively ending slavery aside from new war captives. In Islam, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade would be considered immoral as going out to kidnap and enslave them is against the ethics Islam. Why not mention that at Speakers Corner, Bob the Builder?

This is one of the basic principles of Islam. When the question is asked: why does Islam permit slavery? We reply emphatically and without shame that slavery is permitted in Islam, but we should examine the matter with fairness and with the aim of seeking the truth, and we should examine the details of the rulings on slavery in Islam, with regard to the sources and reasons for it, and how to deal with the slave and how his rights and duties are equal to those of the free man, and the ways in which he may earn his freedom, of which there are many in sharee’ah, whilst also taking into consideration the new types of slavery in this world which is pretending to be civilized, modern and progressive.

When Islam came, there were many causes of slavery, such as warfare, debt (where if the debtor could not pay off his debt, he became a slave), kidnapping and raids, and poverty and need.

Slavery did not spread in this appalling manner throughout all continents except by means of kidnapping; rather the main source of slaves in Europe and America in later centuries was this method.

The texts of Islam took a strong stance against this. It says in a hadeeth qudsi: “Allaah, may He be exalted, said: ‘There are three whose opponent I will be on the Day of Resurrection, and whomever I oppose, I will defeat … A man who sold a free man and consumed his price.’” Narrated by al-Bukhaari (2227).

It is worth pointing out that you do not find any text in the Qur’aan or Sunnah which enjoins taking others as slaves, whereas there are dozens of texts in the Qur’aan and the ahaadeeth of the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) which call for manumitting slaves and freeing them.

There were many sources of slaves at the time of the advent of Islam, whereas the means of manumitting them were virtually nil. Islam changed the way in which slavery was dealt with; it created many new ways of liberating slaves, blocked many ways of enslaving people, and established guidelines which blocked these means [Source]

Paul of Tarsus, purported to be inspired by God, encouraged slaves to obey their masters in Ephesians 6, Paul did not have an issue with slavery...

Bob the Builder’s Trinitarian Church Version of Jesus, not only allowed slaves in the Old and New Testament, but TCVO Jesus also allowed the severe beating of slaves in Exodus 21, both females (yes female slaves could be beaten severely too!) and males. The Prophet of Islam forbade beating slaves.

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property. [Exodus 21 – Bible]

I’ve noticed this mudslinging around slavery seems to be a common practice amongst anti-Islam evangelicals. I would encourage them to start thinking deeper on the topic and read what Muslim scholars are saying about it.

Again, let’s see Christian folks move away from low level polemic be it in parks or online.


The young Muslim involved in the dialogue is clearly an intelligent person who is learned in history, current affairs and global politics but I can’t help to wonder how much better he’d come off if he planned the topics of the debate a week in advance and consulted under the tutelage of more experienced Muslims on possible topics to discuss as well as talking points.

I do believe debates on such topics can potentially be unhelpfully divisive (especially when done in a confrontational and prideful way) and ultimately end up pitting Muslims and Christians against each other, offline and online, in mudslinging echo chambers. Perhaps this debate served to ratchet up antagonism against Muslims hence Bob’s slander and some of the racist and threatening anti-Muslim comments on the Christian channel which also uploaded the debate. I would encourage serious minded Christians to make a public condemnation of this type of rhetoric as we have seen it before from online folks who were following Jay Smith's videos. Let's see this toxic element marginalised and rebuked publicly by our Christian friends.

Let’s try our utmost to ensure discussion brings about understanding and good fruit.

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