Initial Reflections on My Recent Debate with Dr. Shabir Ally

Last Sunday (August 16th), I participated in my first formal public debate, with Muslim scholar Dr. Shabir Ally in London, England (video recording embedded above). It was a pleasure to meet such a distinguished scholar and debater, and an honour to share a platform with him. It was also a great honour to have internationally renowned Muslim scholar Dr. Jamal Badawi in the front row of the audience. The event was live-streamed online, and was also filmed by Muslim TV station, Iqra TV. Having read a number of comments from people who were at the event, or who saw the livestream or recording, I have identified a number of important lessons that I can take forward into my future debates. The general opinion seems to be that my arguments were solid but that the impact of a lot of my points was lost because they were not presented with sufficient clarity for a non-academic audience. I also ended up on the defensive for the majority of the debate, and the offence on my part could have been made stronger by reminding the audience of the positive arguments presented in my opening statement — many of which were not addressed. I do not think of such debates in terms of “winners” and “losers”. The goal is to understand one another and to ensure that the audience have two alternative views presented to them fairly. Such debates are starting points for further study, not ends in themselves. But if one wants to be convincing to an audience who are not yet persuaded of a position, I have now learned that presentation and rhetoric can be just as important factors as the strength of one’s argument content.

Over the course of several subsequent blog posts, I am going to provide my own analysis of the debate. The format of such debates is such that not every point that is raised can be addressed in one’s rebuttals (since the rebuttal periods get shorter and shorter as the debate progresses). In the blog posts to come, I am going to discuss my opening statement and examine how each respective point was or was not addressed by Shabir. We will then do the same with Shabir Ally’s opening statement. We will also at a later date discuss the Q&A and cross-examination.

Stay tuned.

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  1. Imran says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    I was a member of the audience at the dialogue that you had with Shabir Ally and profoundly disagree with your statement:
    “The general opinion seems to be that my arguments were solid but that the impact of a lot of my points was lost because they were not presented with sufficient clarity for a non-academic audience.”

    I have no idea how you garnered this “general opinion”, unless you mean, the general opinion of the Christians that you may have discussed the dialogue with afterwards. Which is an entirely different thing.

    I do agree with, “not presented with sufficient clarity”, as your delivery was reflective of this being your first debate/dialogue. However, far from being lost on the audience (which is a bit patronising to suggest) your perspective on the Quran, specifically, was mightily flawed. You stated that you will be doing further analysis, so maybe these issues will be clarified then.

    On a side note, but very importantly, a youtube video of you has surfaced, calling Muslims a “Cancer” and generally scare-mongering in a right-wing-nut-KKK-sharia-is-taking-over-the-west kind of way. I am disappointed by this, as when I shook your hand and thanked your for your contribution, you seemed to me at that moment, like a nice guy. I hope you will be distancing yourself from these bigoted views and apologising, as this will seriously detract from your credibility amongst Muslims.

    Reply

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