Sunday, 27 July 2014

MS-CAM vs. Kashif Shahzada II: An Exercise in Futility

One of the biggest sources of traffic for my blog has been my 2012 review of the debate between Christian apologist Matt Solomon and inter-faith speaker Kashif Shahzada. (Click here to read the review)

This post is all about what could have been Matt vs. Kashif II, but instead, one party ended up with a non-refundable ticket to Karachi. Continue reading to know what happened.

First Impressions
I am a person that does not take sides. I say what I feel in my heart and what makes sense in my mind. Anybody reading the review can clearly see that I don't show any bias towards the Christian position or against Kashif. 

I first published that review on Matt Solomon's Facebook page. Immediately, some of his friends, fans, and  students lashed out at me, saying that what I wrote is unfair, and that I don't know anything about apologetics and religious debates. Matthew removed the review from his page.

Hence, my first impression of Matthew was that he was a guy who couldn't take criticism. But all that changed when I received a call from him where he asked me to translate some material for his ministry. He told that he still had the review stored in his hard drive and only removed it from Facebook to avoid a personal war of words between me and the group members. 

Thus began a series of collaborations. As I am writing, he is already working on a project on my behalf just because I asked him to lend his expertise on the subject. 

On the other hand, my first impression of Kashif Shahzada was positive through and through. Given his academic background and speaking/publishing experience, anyone would easily be impressed. And if you read my review, I clearly wrote favourably about him.

But all that changed yesterday when he cancelled the long pending and much hyped exchange between Matt and himself. 

The Call for Debate
It all started about 2 weeks ago when Matthew called and said that he wanted to have a debate with Kashif, but Kashif insisted that the event should take place in Karachi instead of Matthew's home city, Lahore. 

Matthew was ready to travel, and I was willing to accommodate him. But....

A Series of Denials
Mr. Shahzada insisted that since it was the month of Ramadan and that he was fasting, the event should take place in an air-conditioned venue so that he doesn't get exhausted from speaking in the humid climate. Fair enough.

After disconnecting with Matthew, I immediately called an associate who I assumed could arrange such a venue. Note here that Matthew and I have never met since we live in different cities, and this associate (let's call him John) is not a close friend either. We only met once or twice before. 

But the 3 of us immediately got on board. In the days that ensued, there were phone calls, drives, and meetings. Me and brother John set aside our professional and social responsibilities just because a guy from another city asked us to do something!

In one of the air-conditioned churches we went, the pastor in-charge flatly denied our request, not only citing administrative reasons, but questioning the very purpose of such a debate. But no hard feelings, for we found another place where people were willing to support the event in every possible way.

There was no AC, but we arranged for a portable unit. All was well, but........    

The venue was 'too far' to drive back and forth for Kashif. He forgot that Matthew was coming from another city altogether by rail or road (he couldn't afford a plane ticket since the venue was decided a few days before the debate and the air-fare is higher when you book at the last minute).

So Kashif went on and allegedly booked a hall in a 5-star hotel under his company's name. Matthew called and said since he had to share the cost of the event, he needed some assistance from the partners in Karachi. I said yes, knowing that payday was near and that at least 3 of my brothers were willing to contribute. 


Now Kashif doesn't want to have a debate! He wants an 'inter-faith dialogue' because'the time is Ramadan so sensitive period to engage in a fighting duel'. So there will be individual speeches with no rebuttals. 

He also said that the venue had been paid in full by his company, thereby 'alleviating' Matthew's burden. However, the Christian side was prohibited from bringing any recording devices.

With some hesitation, Matthew accepted the format but insisted on bringing a video crew of our own. Kashif flatly refused, and also demanded that Matthew sign an NOC 'that Matthew does not have any objection to appear in the video recording and its broadcast and

does not have any claim or creative rights on it.' 

Matt replied that if copyright was a concern, he would give full credit to Kashif's media company on the video made by our cameramen. Kashif once again refused, resulting in a stale-mate.

Why This 'Rant'?
Brother Kashif's constant shifts on the terms and conditions and the refusal to debate proved highly inconvenient for us:

  • In the constant search for a venue, I was thoroughly exhausted, so much so that I had to take a day off from work.   
  • Even then I got no rest, for I had to personally visit the person who agreed to lend his venue just before Kashif 'booked' a hall
  • Matthew was willing to travel for more than 16 hours straight, reach my place, go for the debate, and then travel back home the same night. 
  • I was told that many people who received the news of the event actually made it to the venue, but came disappointed in the scorching heat.  

But that is not the point. This post would have never been written if Kashif gave us these terms and conditions the very first time Matthew invited him for a debate. To bombard us with these details at the 11th hour and putting us in an awkward position is, sorry to say, unprofessional. 

And Matthew told me that it is not the first time since he had cancelled a debate. Last time, Matthew actually made the flight to a neutral venue, only to be turned down. 

But there is a more serious issue here. 

Christians, like other minorities in Pakistan, are subject to stereotypes and constant criticism on grounds of religion. And religious debates where the Christian side proved weak in presenting its case are shown on TV. 

Not to mention, this is country where everyone from high-ranking officials to minors are convicted and even lynched for 'blasphemy'. 

In this atmosphere, people like Matthew are willing to come out and present their perspective, putting their own safety at risk. 

And the subject chosen for the debate was the Crucifixion of Jesus. This is a central tenet of Christianity, and Muslims at large deny it. How can such a topic be damaging to the sensitive nature of the Holy month of Ramadan, I fail to understand. If at all, it will be highly offensive to the Christian audience. 

We don't want to hurt the feelings of any religious group, Muslims in particular with whom we eat, work, and live with in Pakistan. We only want to present our perspective to the extent the constitution allows it. 

Kashif Shahzada denied Matthew and his supporting Christian community this chance, for which I see no justification. 

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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sports: A Symbol of Faith

Tonight is the final showdown. The football world champions will be crowned in one of the most spectacular sporting events. But as the FIFA World Cup draws to a close, one cannot help but wonder what is it about sports that uplifts the human soul.

In all honesty, I never have been a big fan of any sport, be it our national games of hockey and cricket, American football, or the ever-popular soccer that has a huge fan following in Pakistan. But at the same time, I cannot evade their influence as well. Even with all my reluctance, I had to sit through the England vs. Italy match which ended in a 2-1 victory for the latter.

Not to mention, this FIFA World Cup held special attraction for Pakistani fans due to the ‘Brazuca’ being manufactured here. This was truly a high-point in a country otherwise torn apart, most recently by the army operation against terrorists in the northern areas.

Anyway, the theme of sport connecting to our innate desire for excellence, competition, pride, and success has been explored in various movies as well:

·         In Rocky III, the statue of the boxer stands as a testimony to the ‘indomitable spirit of man’

·         In Benhur, it is the (masterfully directed) chariot race that redeems the Hebrew prince

·         In Chariots of Fire, the ability to run is seen by the Scottish preacher as gift from God, while his Jewish counterpart runs the Olympics for national pride

Also in Chariots of Fire, we see the Eric Liddell preaching a sermon after a race, where he delves on the use of sports as a symbol of faith by NT writers, St. Paul in particular.

The Believer as Wrestler

12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6)

8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4)

The Believer as Runner

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9)

The Believer as Gladiator

11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Ephesians 6)

But perhaps most surprising is the fact that Paul actually uses the theme of sports to describe a life of faith when he says:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

We find many people around us, especially on social media, that are quick to claim that these massive sports events breed on capitalist interests of greed and manipulation, and that this is some kind of massive conspiracy to distract people from the ‘real issues’.

I am not saying that there is no truth to these claims. But ultimately it is not the advertisements, the showgirls, and the fireworks that draw the crowds. It has something to do with sports itself, something so innate that we our forced to leap from our seats and raise our hands in the air, as if we about to touch God Himself.

Enjoy the finals!

Image Source: Wikipedia

Legendary professional wrestler ‘Shawn Michaels’. His controversial career in the WWE almost came to end in 98’ when he suffered an injury that forced him to stay out of action. During this time, he professed faith in Christianity. In a TBN interview, he stated that while he doesn’t endorse the lifestyle promoted by the WWE, he sees his presence in the company as Joseph’s presence in Pharaoh’s court. He made his comeback 2002, adorning a T-shirt with Philippians 4:13 on it: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’

Image Source: Wikipedia

Brazilian footballer (Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite) Kaka’s boots. He removed his jersey to reveal an "I Belong to Jesus" t-shirt and openly engaged in prayer moments after the final whistle of Brazil's 2002 World Cup, and Milan's 2004 Scudetto and 2007 Champions League triumphs. He also had the same phrase, along with "God Is Faithful," stitched onto the tongues of his boots. (Wikipedia)

Image Source: Wikipedia

Eric Liddell, Olympic gold medalist and Scottish missionary to China. At the Paris summer games of 1924, Liddell refused on run heats on Sunday as not to violate his religious heritage. As a result, he had to compete in the 400m dash instead of the shorter 100m race. Before the race began, an American masseur handed him a note which read ‘Those who honor me I will honor’ (1 Samuel 2:30). He ran and won, breaking the existing Olympic and world records with a time of 47.6 seconds in the process. 
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