By Alina Hunter-Grah, Chattanooga, Tenn.— UTC hosted a set of debates aimed to bring knowledge of other religions to the people of Chattanooga in wake of the tragic attack on a Navy operations center in July 2015.
The debates covered two topics over the course of the two evenings. The first debate was titled “Is the Quran a peaceful book?” and occurred on Oct. 5. The second evening, Oct. 6, featured a debate titled “Is the Bible a peaceful book?”
The debates were organized after one of the organizers, John Brandon, felt there were too many accusations and unanswered questions about Islam and Christianity after the attack. He then reached out to his own pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Ben Graham, and Bassam Issa, the president of the Islamic society of greater Chattanooga, to help organize an event meant to provide answers to the questions being posed.
“The point is to not cause any more division, but in a time when people start to make accusations and ask lots of questions, we wanted to bring some answers out,” said Graham. “We wanted to bring people together.”
The two debaters hired were Dr. David Wood and Dr. Shabir Ally. Wood has a PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and has been in more than 40 debates. Ally received his PhD in Islamic studies from the University of Toronto and is seen as a leading Muslim debater among Christianity and Islam.
The debates were structured similarly both nights. Both debaters gave alternating 20 minute introductions, 12 minute and eight minute rebuttals before finishing with a five minute conclusion on their statements. The debaters were then to open questions from the audience for about 30 minutes. Beginning debaters alternated between the two evenings.
The first debate, “Is the Quran a peaceful book?” was opened by Ally. He listed a series of criteria he would use to define “peaceful”. The first was whether the book showed their heroes and great figures as peaceful people. The second was whether the book actually insists on peace. The third was whether the book gives the people a set of laws to keep them peaceful. The final was that if war becomes necessary, does the book encourage “just wars”. Ally then proceeded to provide scriptural evidence as to why the Quran satisfied each of these criteria.
Ally closed his introduction with “That’s our investigation tonight. What does the Quran actually say about peace? And I would say that the Quran actually does answer that it is a book of peace.”
Wood then gave his introduction which outlined his criteria for deciding whether a book is peaceful. His criteria for determining the peacefulness of a book looked at the last orders of the holy books as both ask their followers to ignore previous orders and values mentioned. He then used this criteria and scripture to support his argument that the Quran was not peaceful.
The second night of debates asked the question, “Is the Bible a book of peace?”
Wood opened this series of arguments with a personal story of transformation from violence to a life of peace after he turned to Christianity. He continued his criterion for determining what constitutes a peaceful book from the night before; the “final marching orders” Wood then also continued to cite events and good deeds that have come about because of Christianity.
Ally then also referred back to his four criteria for determining a peaceful book. He argued that the heroes in the old testament were not peaceful people, and therefore were promoting violence within Christian communities. He mentioned the crusades that caused so many deaths and other leaders who attempted to conquer in the same manner that Muhammad did.
The debates ended after 25 more minutes of debating.
“I think that it built a bridge of knowledge because we get to learn about each other’s cultures and that reduces ignorance to the other culture, so that we’re not just blatantly saying things that might not be true,”said Megan Dersu, a senior from Nashville.
“I think that it was good,” said Caleb Long, a sophomore from Hendersonville. “It was very educational. It wasn’t hostile. I felt like it was moderated well, and I learned alot. They both had respect for each other. And they both raised alot of great points.”
“[My reaction] was just mostly one of just thankfulness that we were able to come to something like this to learn about the different sides,” said Camille Viggs, a senior from Nashville.
The audience’s response was noticed by the organizers, and they are planning to try to continue organizing more debates because of it.
“The main thing right now is what I see of the response right now. They’re saying they want more of that, which means that we are on the right path,” said Issa.
“It really showed that we as Chattanoogans are about unity and peace, and that’s the ultimate goal,” said Brandon after the event.
If students want to find out more information about the debates, or watch recordings of the debates, students should visit the website at www.woodallydebatechattanooga.com.