The Leicester Debate: Jay Smith vs Shabir Ally

Which is the Word of God - the Bible or the Qur'an? This was the subject debated at Leicester University on Friday 8 May 1998 by Jay Smith, London-based Christian apologist and Shabir Ally from the Canadian Islamic Propagation Centre.

The turnout was excellent. Around 600 packed into the Rattray Lecture Theatre with many others crowding the doorways and aisles. A further 200 watched on closed-circuit TV. A huge proportion were Christians. It’s difficult to say which group was larger, but it was a great improvement on Shabir and Jay’s last debate in Birmingham in February, where Christians were outnumbered 5 to 1.

Liberal ‘Scholars’

Drawing heavily on liberal Christian ‘scholarship’, Shabir first attacked the authenticity of the New Testament documents; pointing to alleged alterations and embellishments, inconsistencies between manuscripts, and claiming that some books (eg 2 Peter) were not written by the apostles at all.

In support for his arguments he appealed primarily to Bruce Metzger, emeritus professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, and author of ‘Manuscripts of the Greek Bible’. As the debate developed it became increasingly clear that he was largely quoting Metzger’s reporting of other authors’ opinions.

Manuscript Evidence

Jay Smith began his defence with a resume of the Bible’s impact on world history before reviewing the Qur’an’s own support for the Bible’s authority and comparing the archaeological and manuscript evidence for both books. In the latter discussion the Qur’an came off considerably worse.

In rebuttal, Shabir reiterated his earlier points from Metzger before criticising the harshness of Old Testament Law. As in Birmingham he did not attempt to defend the historicity of the Qur’an and Muslim traditions.

Jay’s rebuttal further highlighted the fact that Muslim academics do not yet seem to have answers for questions about the historical authenticity of the Qur’an. He then produced a new booklet ‘101 cleared up contradictions in the Bible’ answering Shabir’s own booklet previously tabled at Birmingham.

Fruitful Discussions

After the debate, some Muslim students approached Shabir and asked why he had not defended the historicity of the Qur’an. It was obvious that they were wanting answers that he was not providing. Two Muslim students shook Jay’s hand and congratulated him, as did two English students who stated that they were not Christians, but wanted to thank him anyway.

The debate led on to many good discussions between Muslim and Christian Students. Members of the Leicester Christian Union and a team of about twenty from London Universities and Operation Mobilisation had plenty of opportunity for dialogue.

There is no doubt that debates of this kind draw large audiences, allow in-depth evaluation of the issues and lead to productive evangelism and dialogue. Let’s pray that there are many more.

The booklet ‘101 cleared up contradictions’ is available on the internet and Jay Smith’s historical critique of the Qur’an and Hadith is reviewed in this issue of Isa Masih under ‘Problems with the Qur'an’.

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