There has been quite a lot of buzz among netizen on the recent informal debate between Shaikh Uthman ibn Farooq and Anthony Rogers and David wood with an occasional cameo from Sam Shamoun. The content of the debate seems quite basic and at one point trite but the effect of this particular one seems to be immense. If we are to take shaikh Uthman’s word for it 16 people took shahada as a result of the debate, which is big indeed. So, what did happen in this debate, and why this much flare?
Shaikh Uthman is a likable daiee not a debator(a point the good shaikh keeps repeating but apparently Christians don’t realize) who regularly has a stall for dawah. His channel became quite popular and apparently, these three Christians (and their enablers) decided to try to curb it. The Christian trio are folks from the old Paltalk days of Answering Islam vs Answering Christianity. Shamoun especially is the individual whom Muslim debtors have outright decided not to engage with, due to abysmal manners on his part. It seems from the buzz that was created that these folks were hyping it up with Sam Shamoun noted this on his Facebook account:
“PRAYER WARRIORS PRAY FOR ME, DAVID WOOD, AND THE REST OF THE TEAM FOR MIRACULOUS INTERVENTION TODAY SINCE WE ARE GOING TO CONFRONT AND RECORD OUR ENCOUNTER WITH THAT MUHAMMADAN FAKE UTHMAN IBN FAROOQ AND ONE MESSAGE FOUNDATION IN ORDER TO SILENCE HIS LIES AND BLASPHEMIES AGAINST THE LORD JESUS, MUHAMMAD'S GOD AND JUDGE. ASK THE RISEN LORD TO KEEP US SAFE, TO ANOINT OUR WORDS, AND TO ENABLE US TO BE ABLE TO HAVE ACTUAL DISCUSSIONS WHERE WE EXPOSE THE LIES OF MUHAMMAD WITHOUT THIS TURNING INTO A SHOUTING MATCH OR RIOT.
MAY THE RISEN LORD PURIFY US TO GLORIFY HIM AND NEVER BRING SHAME OR DISHONOR TO HIS ALL HOLY NAME!
THANK YOU, SAINTS.”
The veracity of this childish frenzy of a status is questionable but given his past behaviors in Paltalk and elsewhere, the above tantrum is quite like him. To sum up these professional anti Islamic preachers, whose bread and butter comes from bashing islam, made a big deal about it as they approached Shaikh Uthman into a debate to “Expose” Islam. Things just didn’t work out the way they planned, alhamdulillah. Thus, a huge buzz is generated from the debate. Content-wise however, the debate itself (if it can be called a debate) was quite vague. There were a lot of side points and the conversation was moving, but the core seemed to be if trinity is possible or not and if Jesus’ incarnation makes sense.
For the first point, the Christian side brought up a vague notion of divine simplicity. They argued that because we associate God with attributes its equivalent to God made up of parts. This to them was no different from God being in some sense 3 and as such because we affirm God with attributes, we have no leg to stand on when critiquing trinity.
The argument wasn’t too fleshed out and as such, I may have misconstrued. But given this, we can come to some idea where the 2 sides differ. Shaikh Uthman repeatedly affirmed that Allah’s attributes are not separate from his essence/being as such God isn’t composed of parts rather, he is uniquely one with his being and attributes as one. In this regard, Muslims have a rich history of discourse, especially with the kalam theologians mainly the Mu’tazillahs. Mu’tazillahs were extreme in their denial of attributes of God to ultimately engender God as just a being devoid of any attributes by which we can qualify Him. As such they would say God is not ignorant rather than saying God is knowledgeable, they wouldn’t affirm knowledge, nor would they claim ignorance on God’s part. Such a form of extreme rejection of attributes amounts to what we call negative theology. I am not particularly sure if Anthony was aiming for us to come down to: Either you believe trinity is possible or you become Mu’tazillah.
Given the vagueness of the discussion it does seem weird that he would try to get Muslims to this either/or. Thomas Aquinas one of the greatest Christian theologians who was arguably inspired by ibn Rushd (who in turn was inspired by the falsafa tradition of Islamic theology) claimed that God is essentially simple. However, in doing so, he didn’t essentially reduce theology to negative theology, rather he would assert that while God isn’t an amalgamation of attributes, but God certainly is a being in him that belongs to certain attributes. That is certainly essential attributes such as Goodness are not accidents (accidents are properties that are essentially contingent that defines a particular e.g. individual human) rather it is what God is, and as such indistinguishable from God’s essence. Therefore, while Aquinas holds divine simplicity his model isn’t as restrictive as that of Mu’tazillah. Though there are some claims that some Mu’tazillah held similar view with regards to God’s justice.
As such, I am not sure why Anthony tried to go that route when his tradition has notable individuals who essentially allowed for God to have adjectives other than pure existence while maintaining divine simplicity. In our tradition we also have major ulema who discussed these in very many details, e.g. for ibn Taymiyyah and ibn Qayyim the distinction between attributes and essence is a mental construct and as such while it has utility in trying to understand and codify existence that enjoys independent ontology, it is not binding and has no separate ontology. For certain other theological schools within Islam, they infer that rationally there are only certain attributes that can be associated with the essence and as such only, those meaningfully exist, the rest are some forms of accidental properties and are either there for reinterpretation or never to be explained meaningfully by humans. In any case, I think shaikh Uthman realized it by the time the video rolls on to part 2 and I do hear him explicitly state Allah’s Dhaat (essence) is not separate from Sifat (attributes) i.e. the view of ibn Taymiyyah and ibn Qayyim and thus the issue of double standard doesn’t arise among Muslims.
It is possible that Anthony differentiates between attributes. That is he accepts attributes that can be adjectified e.g. loving and forgiving and denies the possibility of attributes that are purely descriptive e.g. God’s hand or God’s shin. The debate did circle around those attributes. As such he might argue on the line that because Islamic theology affirms God with these kinds of attributes God is essentially made up of parts. To which Shaikh Uthman consistently kept reiterating, God isn’t like a lego where you have building blocks, Gods sifat are unique to him and subsist within his essence. Not to mention at some point Anthony did affirm that the only way to know about God is to let God speak for himself ie we can know about God through God’s revelation. If that is true, I am not sure how the Islamic conception of God described by these attributes (to be honest so does biblical) necessitate trinity when God both revealed these attributes and denied the possibility of the trinity in the Quran.
On the issue of Jesus’ incarnation, the shaikh tried to imply that he can’t accept God would be born. While initially, it was mostly I don’t like, and I can’t accept by part two the discussion took to a more interesting turn. Though within Part 1 David shot himself in the foot by claiming that repugnance to any idea doesn’t automatically imply its falsity, and he gave an example that just because we would find it bad that Aisha was married young, it doesn’t automatically disprove Prophet (saw)’s a prophetic ministry. This admission itself nearly disses much of David and his buddy’s shaming tactics as juvenile and without substance.
In part 2 the most noted part was the position of Jesus’ human soul. What happens to the human soul of Jesus? By their admission that soul didn’t die in cross rather, it’s associated with the divine essence of God the son. As shaikh Uthman pointed out that this inevitably either ends up with Jesus being 2 separate one man and one God or something ie the human soul is added to God in some sense. The reply from Anthony was: no because of the hypostatic union. Now here is the issue, the hypostatic union isn’t a mechanism it is a term that is used to mean 2 concrete subsistence existing together distinctly but joined. But hang on, Shaikh Uthman is saying that itself is problematic given it inevitably would entail God having an appendage attached. Just saying Hypostatic union doesn’t solve it, it’s just rephrasing it and simply using a term to displace the concept being questioned. It’s almost as senseless as someone asking: “What part of the earth is liveable? And someone answers: the habitable part.” Now habitable and liveable are the same things, saying habitable parts are liveable in response to the question above doesn’t give any answer despite giving a veneer of it. Unless the questioner has a clear idea of which parts are habitable while he was lacking the same idea for liveable parts. In the conversation, it seemed that Shaikh Uthman while was cognizant of the concept of God-man being paradoxical wasn’t aware of the term, so the whole exercise of Anthony to rephrase the question was simply an attempt to sidestep the issue while not answering at all.
Incidentally, the notion of this union being somewhat absurd isn’t even a Muslim/non-Christian assertion. The famous existential Christian philosopher Kierkegaard termed this as paradoxical and as such requires a leap of faith to accept rather than rationally substantiate. Recently in an interview, the famous Christian theologian Keith Ward noted that the notion of God himself incarnating on the terms and condition of Christian orthodoxy is problematic given classically God is seen as totally impassible and incarnation and unionizing of man and God would contradict that idea. Thus, this handwaving technique from Anthony felt quite childish.
When I started to document my thoughts on the debate, I wanted it to be a review of the debate, but as I moved on with my typing on the keyboard, I realized this is becoming less of a review more of a personal discussion. While I did attempt to restructure it but after reading the write-up, I realized that this kind of article has its benefit and as such this will be just that “Thoughts and Comment on the debate” rather than a formal review.
To conclude, I must note that the debate itself wasn’t enormously pedagogical, but it was quite entertaining and had a convincing capacity. While Shaikh Uthman’s capacity to be an instant thinker is enviable, what struck me the most was his indubitable ability to stay calm and in control of the situation. There wasn’t a single point in the conversation where I felt that he wasn’t in control of the narrative. I simply don’t know how he manages that, but it is a fantastic ability to have especially for a daiee. I wish him my sincere best and may Allah raise his rank and knowledge.