A Response to Ijaz Ahmad’s Review of My Debate With Shabir Ally

Ijaz Ahmad is a Muslim blogger wishabir debateth whom I have had some level of interaction. He runs a website called “Calling Christians.” It is unfortunate that Ijaz has developed a peculiar habit of mishearing, or misreading, things that I say and write. It was no different in his review of my debate in London from last month with Dr. Shabir Ally on Tawhid vs. the Trinity. Almost none of his comments pertaining to the argumentation I presented in the debate fairly represented what I had said. I have been quite busy over the last month, and so have not had as much opportunity as I would have liked to comment on the debate more fully. Here, I am going to offer a rebuttal to Ijaz’s critique of my opening statement from the debate.

Ijaz briefly summarises Shabir’s opening statement, curiously omitting any mention of the numerous problems with Shabir’s Biblical argumentation (such as his misuse of Greek grammar in regards to John 1:1). He then begins his critique of my opening statement:

He began by defining the doctrine of the Trinity was. This is something I strongly agree with, opening a debate by delimiting the scope of the discussion. As a proponent of socratic thinking, this was a pleasant and welcomed feature of his presentation. As previously mentioned, it was expected that Jonathan would base his arguments about the nature of God by mainly appealing to the Bible. He opened by declaring that the Bible was a wholly Trinitarian text (timestamp in video, he says, “The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is thoroughly Trinitarian.”), which unfortunately for him, was pre-empted by Dr. Shabir who demonstrated it was not, thus Jonathan’s first argument was already weakened by Dr. Shabir. Jonathan then presented three other arguments which he felt negated the validity of the doctrine of Tawhid.

The first point to note here is that I never stated that “the Bible is a wholly Trinitarian text”. It is my view that one can demonstrate a multiplicity of divine persons from both the Old and New Testaments, while the doctrine of the Trinity reaches its fullest expression in the New Testament where we read of the incarnation of the Son of God. Ijaz was thus not far off my position, but he is incorrect to claim that this statement had been pre-empted by Shabir, since it is simply not what I said in my opening statement. What I said is that “the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is thoroughly Trinitarian.” The “Gospel” is not synonymous with “the Bible.” Ijaz claims that this was my “first argument”, but it was not an argument at all. It was a part of my introduction to the doctrine of the Trinity, before I got to my three-tiered argument.

Ijaz goes on to list the three main arguments I presented in the debate:

  • Tawhid has its own internal problems.
  • The disciples were Trinitarian.
  • The Injeel is Trinitarian.

He then represents my first argument as follows:

Of his first argument, he stated:

P1 – If Tawhid is true, it must be consistent.
P2 – Tawhid is not consistent.
C  – Therefore Tawhid must not be true.

That’s not quite what I said. My first premise was that, from a Muslim perspective, “If Tawhid is true, it must be consistent with the Qur’an.” My second premise was that Tawhid is not consistent with the Qur’an.

Ijaz goes on:

“Technically, this (form of argument) is referred to as Modus Tollens. The problem here, is that you have to prove the premises before you can qualify and validate your conclusion which is expected to be a tautology.”

Yes, this is a Modus Tollens argument. I don’t know why Ijaz seems to think that the need to demonstrate the truth of the premises in order to support the conclusion is a problem with this manner of argumentation. Anyway, he goes on:

“In attempting to do this, Jonathan disappointed me greatly. All he did was refer (timestamp in video, he says “Those who saw Shabir’s debate with Nabeel Qureishi would’ve been exposed to the problems with reconciling the eternality of the Qur’an with the doctrine of Tawhid.”) to the argument that Nabeel used regarding the Qur’an being the eternal word of Allah, yet physical and created. I was disappointed because this is an argument copied from Jay Smith, which Samuel Green tried to use on me in my debate with him, which Nabeel later picked up and tried to use against Dr. Shabir. The problem here is that Dr. Shabir already addressed this argument, and so have I. Jonathan merely repeated Nabeel’s poor argument. He did not try to revamp the argument, he did not add anything to the argument, he did not articulate it differently, he did not try to incorporate Dr. Shabir’s response to Nabeel into the argument. He quite literally just repeated the argument, which was already responded to. Naturally, I would expect, that if he did his homework and decided to use an argument which was already refuted, that he’d adjust the argument in some way. He didn’t do that. He presented nothing new. It was at that point I wondered why he even offered to debate the same topic if he was merely going to repeat the same points from the previous debate of the same topic by offering nothing new.”

The only problem is that I did not make this argument in my opening statement at all. I noted that Nabeel had made this argument in his debate with Shabir, and that I was going to be making a different argument instead. I do happen to think that this argument has something going for it, but I think the argument I did present in the debate is stronger.

He goes on:

“At this point, he presented another argument, namely that there are other creators other than Allah. He did not seem to understand that what he presented was the fallacy of false equivalency, wherein the Qur’an mentioned numerous times that there were agents of God who had abilities attained by the “leave/ permission of Allah”, which are temporal and not absolute. Logically, this would mean their abilities are not inherent and eternal, but appropriated by God, thus his argument was non-sequitur from the get go. I firmly believe that he did not critically consider this argument beyond a cursory copy and paste from Answering Islam’s website. Ironically, he attempted to present this argument in syllogistic form, but the argument was inherently non-sequitur due to its format including the fallacy of false equivalency. How he did not realise this, was impossible to understand, if he is using logic, he should know what fallacies are and how they inhibit his premises. What’s troubling is that in the same sentence he declares that Allah has no partners, then states in the same breath that the Holy Spirit shares in the divinity of God. That’s a contradiction, so either it is his argument and conclusions were wrong, or he forced a false conclusion which he himself did not notice.”

Briefly, the argument I presented in the debate is as follows: According to various texts in the Qur’an (e.g. Surah 2:28; 22:6), Allah is the creator of life. Surah 15:23 tells us,

“It is indeed We, and only We, who give life and bring death, and We are the ultimate inheritor.”

Surah 2:228 tells us that Allah is the one who creates life in the womb.

We also read that Allah creates life by breathing his spirit.

Surah 21:91:

“And (remember) her who protected her private part. So, We blew in her through Our Spirit, and made her and her son a sign for all the worlds.”

Surah 66:12:

“And Maryam, daughter of ‘Imran who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her Our Spirit, and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and His books, and she was one of the devout.”

Surah 15:28-29 also tells us about the creation of Adam:

“Recall when your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to create a human being from a ringing clay made of decayed mud. When I form him perfect, and blow in him of My spirit, then you must fall down before him in prostration.”

Surah 19:16-21 narrates the story of Allah’s Spirit appearing before Mary in the form of a perfect human being to announce the birth of Jesus and to tell her that he is going to give her a boy. This indicates that the Spirit is personal. Here is the text:

“And mention in the Book (the story of) Maryam, when she secluded herself from her people to a place towards East. Then she used a barrier to hide herself from them. Then We sent to her Our Spirit, and he took before her the form of a perfect human being. She said, “I seek refuge with the All Merciful (Allah) against you, if you are God-fearing.” He said “I am but a message-bearer of your Lord (sent) to give you a boy, purified.” She said, “How shall I have a boy while no human has ever touched me, nor have I ever been unchaste? He said, “So it is; your Lord said, ‘It is easy for Me, and (We will do this) so that We make it a sign for people and a mercy from Us, and this is a matter already destined.”

The Arabic word for “give” (Wahaba) means to give/grant/bestow/present etc.

Thus, the Holy Spirit also appears to have been the agent that created life in Mary’s womb and also brought life to Adam. In syllogistic form, I presented my argument as follows:

Premise 1: The Holy Spirit was who created life in Mary’s womb and brought Adam to life.

Premise 2: Allah also created life in Mary’s womb and brought Adam to life.

Premise 3: Therefore, one of three things is true: either the Holy Spirit is identical with Allah, or Allah has a separate co-creator, or one divine God creates life, and the Holy Spirit shares in that divinity.

Premise 4: Now of course, those first two options are not acceptable. The Spirit cannot be identical to Allah, since he describes himself as a message-bearer and also appears to be able to assume human form. Nor can the Spirit be a separate co-creator, since the Qur’an also affirms that God has no partners (Surah 4:116).

Conclusion: Therefore, the only option left is that the Holy Spirit shares in the Divinity, because only God creates.

I then showed that Surah 58:22 suggests that the Spirit has divine characteristics such as omnipresence:

“[Believers] are such that Allah has inscribed faith on their hearts, and has strengthened them with a spirit from Him.”

This text uses the same verb “to strengthen” as 2:87 and 5:110, in reference to the Spirit strengthening Jesus. If the Spirit strengthens all believers everywhere, I argued, does that not at least suggest that the Spirit is omnipresent and omnipotent – being present everywhere and being all powerful? Those are attributes that are thought to be uniquely associated with the divine. This portion of my argument was never addressed by Shabir in the debate.

Now, as to Ijaz’s comments on my argument, I am quite aware of the Qur’an speaking of agents of God who had abilities attained by the “leave/permission of Allah” which are temporal in nature — such as Jesus’ ability to perform miracles for instance. This is the point raised by Shabir in his rebuttal, which is a response that I had anticipated to be his most likely defence. In response, I had cited Surah 32:6-9:

“That One is the All-knower of the Unseen and the seen, the All-Mighty, the Very-Merciful, who made well whatever He created, and started the creation of man from clay. Then He made his progeny from a drop of semen, from despised water. Then He gave him a proportioned shape, and breathed into him of His spirit. And He granted you the (power of) hearing and the eyes and the hearts. Little you give thanks.”

Breathing of the divine Spirit thus appears to be the common mechanism by which Allah creates life. It is by breathing the divine Spirit that, according to Surah 66:12, Allah created life in Mary’s womb — and yet we know from Surah 19 that this same divine Spirit is a personal entity. Shabir accused me at this point of having misread the text of Surah 32, since verse 4 stresses that Allah alone is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all contained therein. But this was precisely my point. If Allah does not have a separate co-creator, then the Spirit must share in the divinity with Allah — in a similar way to the manner in which Christians believe that Yahweh alone is the creator of the heavens and the earth, whereas the Son and Spirit share in the divinity with the Father, three persons making up one divine being. I did not have time to do this in the debate, but let me at this time support my interpretation of Surah 32 by citing a respected Quranic commentator. Maulana Muhammad Ali notes in his comments on Surah 32:9 that,

“This verse shows that the spirit of God is breathed into every man. This points to a mystical relation between human nature and Divine nature. The word ruh does not here mean the animal soul, because the animal soul is common to man and the animal kingdom. It is something that distinguishes man from the animal world. It is due to the spirit Divine that he rules creation and its due to the same Divine spirit in him that he receives a new life after death – a life which he lives in God and with God – the meeting with God or liqa Allah, as it is called in v. 10.”

Continuing our analysis of Ijaz’s review, Ijaz goes on:

His second argument was that the disciples of Jesus were Trinitarian. Interestingly, I had a debate on this topic earlier in the year and demonstrated that according to the proto-orthodox Christian tradition, the disciples were definitely not Trinitarian. At this point he introduced a very strange argument.

P1 – If the Disciples of Jesus were Trinitarian then the Islamic concept of God is false.
P2 – The Disciples of Christ were Trinitarian.
C   – Therefore the Islamic concept of God is false.

Bizarrely, Ijaz goes on to accuse me of making a circular argument:

“Jonathan cannot make such an argument and believe that he is arguing logically. This is known as the fallacy of circular reasoning.”

There is no way in which the above argument can possibly be construed as circular. The Qur’an makes a prediction about what we should expect to find (namely, that the disciples believed Islamic doctrines such as Tawhid). I then set out to falsify this prediction, in my judgement successfully. Nothing circular about it. It seems to me that Ijaz needs to study some logic.

Ijaz continues:

“What is worse was his attempt at drawing out the logical routes. He presumed that Dr. Shabir could refute his argument in one of two ways, firstly that the disciples were later misled or secondly, that the disciples were overcome (by other groups). Jonathan posited that the second option was impossible as the Qur’an says they were victors. The problem therein with his reasoning is that the Qur’an does not say in what way they were victors. He assumes that it has to be in the promulgation of their beliefs, which the Qur’an does not state itself.

But the Qur’an does specify that Allah would “place those who follow [Jesus] above those who disbelieve up to the Day of Resurrection.” This strongly suggests a continuity of dominance, right from day one. It was the Christianity represented by Paul and the other apostles that achieved dominance. Furthermore, several early highly respected Quranic commentators were led to praise the apostle Paul as a direct result of these verses, as I pointed out in my first rebuttal. Among them are ibn Kathir, al-Tabari, al-Qurturbi, and ibn Ishaq. Since all of those respected commentators affirm my interpretation of these verses, I think that puts me in good company.

Ijaz goes on:

“It is alleged that the early Christians were persecuted and the religion did not become “accepted” until Constantine’s conversion. According to Jonathan’s appeal to the Qur’an, he alleged that the Qur’an mentioned the disciples of Christ were victorious. Yet the Church was not accepted or mainstream until 300 years after them, so in what way were the disciples victorious according to his reading of the Qur’an?”

I would disagree with this historical point, although it would take a while to demonstrate. Perhaps this is a topic for a future debate. I refer interested readers to The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Michael Kruger and Andreas Kostenberger, for a review of this view popularised by Walter Bauer and, more recently, Bart Ehrman.

Ijaz goes on to say,

“At this point, he began to appeal to the New Testament as a historical witness, but for those of you familiar with Dr. Shabir’s works and my own, we already know that the New Testament en toto is not historically viable nor accurate. I have explicitly explained this in great detail in my debate with Steven on the very topic of the beliefs of the disciples using palaeography, papyrology, form criticism, textual criticism and historical criticism.”

My appeals to the New Testament, however, were all prefaced with argumentation as to why we should take the documents I cited (namely, the non-disputed works of Paul, the gospel of Mark and the gospel of John) seriously. Ijaz did not interact with the material I presented (nor really did Shabir). I have argued extensively elsewhere for the general historical credibility of the New Testament, and so I need not reiterate myself here.

Ijaz continues,

“He began to close his argument by referring to hadith criticism’s use of the isnad or chain of transmission. Unfortunately, he merely referred to the use of the chain of transmission by Islamic scholarship, what he utterly failed to do was qualify the authority of these alleged chains of transmission by applying the methods of hadith criticism to the chains themselves. I myself did this in my debate with Steven, in fact this was one of the arguments I researched in great detail and whose historicity the early Church itself disputed. Thus, by both Christian historical traditions and the methodology of hadith criticism, the chains of transmission in regard to John used by Jonathan are known to have been falsified and are historically inaccurate. I do not believe that Jonathan spent more than a few minutes constructing this argument, nor do I believe he consulted any major works of Patristic criticism, especially due to the reason his sole academic source seemed to be Richard Bauckham, whom I also referenced in my debate. I do believe he rushed through this portion of his opening statement, and I do not believe he himself knew in any great detail the methodologies of hadith criticism, and so his appeal to this Christian isnad was mere buzz word dropping.”

I did not apply methods of hadith criticisms to the chains themselves largely due to the time constraints in my opening statement, and also because I was not challenged on it throughout the debate. If Ijaz really wants to do a debate with me on whether the gospels or the Sahih ahadith are better representatives of the sayings and deeds of Jesus and Muhammad respectively, I would be happy to do that.

Ijaz offered no comment on the third argument I presented in the debate, namely that the Injeel (i.e. the gospel) is Trinitarian and that the Injeel is affirmed by the Qur’an.

Ijaz finishes his review by claiming that I did not put much thought into my opening statement, that I did not present any new material, and that I did not present the Trinity. I would disagree with him strongly on all three of those points. As time permits, I will put out some further reviews of the argumentation covered in the debate.

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