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.
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.
Please share this post in your circles.