Challenging Anti-theist Ali Rizvi to a Debate on Blasphemy Laws

Last Summer, a statement by new atheist blogger Ali Rizvi caught my eye. He made the outrageous claim that the Koran endorses apostasy laws. I challenged him to a debate, which he initially accepted but shied away from for over a month, giving one excuse after another. Finally, we did have the debate and it is documented here on Huffington Post.

What we found from the debate was that Ali and terrorists (like ISIS/Taliban) flaunted the same narrative on Islam, while the Islam in the Koran that was exemplified by Prophet Muhammad (as followed by us moderates and reformers) was quite the opposite.

Since then, Ali Rizvi has been very bitter. He spends a great deal of his time preaching to his fellow anti-theist new atheists not to engage me, not to speak of his attempts to take down my published work from the Huffington Post, and his recent smear campaign that backfired badly. He made up a lie about me “outing an atheist,” and urged members of a private atheist group to spread it all over the internet. Luckily, some fellow atheists asked him for proof, of which he had none.

Atheist writer David Gamble wrote: “consistent refusal to cite any evidence at all for a claim completely blows away your credibility … “

My response to all this was simple: “Bitter about losing a debate? How about we have another one?” For the the most fitting response to a bad argument is a better argument, not abuse and slander.

So while I was reading a blog by another new atheist blogger, Fathima Nazeer, misrepresenting Islam’s stance on blasphemy, I invited her to an open debate on this topic. This is what I said to her:

“You said Koran 5:33 encourages killing of blasphemers, except that the verse speaks of those who waged war against the Muslims:

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution…”

It is intellectually dishonest to rely on extremist interpretations of Mullahs to make your point when the Koran clearly and explicitly speaks against blasphemy laws.”

Ali decided to rescue her from the situation. He insisted I should accept the terrorist understanding of “war,” where war meant blasphemy laws, and not war. Amusing.


Just as in the case of apostasy laws, he once again relied on the terrorists’ narrative, flaunting it as credible. If terrorists say war means blasphemy laws, why was I not agreeing with them, he bemoaned in frustration. Why would I read the Koran as it is written and not as the terrorists imagine it?


He kept insisting I should take war to mean blasphemy laws, yet refused to debate me on a public forum. Next, he claimed ISIS/other terrorists read the Koran literally, and I was reading it metaphorically.

Very interestingly, he hurriedly deleted the tweet in which he claimed ISIS and other terrorists take the Koran literally on blasphemy laws. He either realized he would be unable to defend that claim, or that it was a dishonest one. Either way, it was yet another proof of his intellectual dishonesty.

Related: Fareed Zakaria’s excellent piece on Blasphemy Laws in The Washington Post. 

He refused to even respond after this moment. For all we know so far, Ali Rizvi believes when Koran mentions “war,” it actually means “blasphemy laws.” My challenge to him still holds. If he is so confident he can prove his point intellectually, he should not be scared one bit. May the best (and honest) argument win.

Regardless of his agreeing or not to take the challenge, I will pen down a piece on Blasphemy laws mentioning his defense. Stay tuned.

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  • It is a jihad of the pen. Thank you for your responses. Jazakallah.

  • David Lilley

    It is true that most Muslims do condemn extremist violence, though not as small a minority as might be hoped. According to a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, a majority believes that suicide bombing is rarely/never justified. But in certain countries, disturbingly healthy minorities believe it is often/sometimes justified. For example, 39% in Afghanistan, 26% percent in Bangladesh, 29% in Egypt, 40% in Palestinian territory, 18% in Malaysia, and 13% in Pakistan feel that suicide bombings are justifiable.

    • No one is denying Muslims need reform. Islam is defined by Koran and Prophet Muhammad’s example, not by what a certain percentage of Muslims believe. Islam categorically forbids suicide.

      • David Lilley

        Kashif MD,

        Here you are again with your “schoolman” disingeniousness and apology. “Islam categorically forbids suicide” and here is a table (with no source given) that demonstrates that Islam is a religion of peace.
        Therefore I will not read in the news tomorrow that Islamic extremists or an Islamic state has not committed an outrage. They couldn’t possibly because as you say “its not in the Koran”. But that is the only book they have read. They certainly didn’t get it from reading Kant.
        I dread reding tomorrow’s news.

        • You confuse two things. I never said Muslim extremists do not espouse violence. They do and we condemn them. All I say is that their actions are AGAINST Islam. And I show that with evidence. Let us fight the killers together, you don’t have to fight me instead.

  • David Lilley

    Dear Kashif MD,
    Please excuse my previous comment being off subject. I was just testing whether or not I could make a comment. The quote below is on subject.
    I am in support of reforming Muslims like yourself. Without reform there will only be more and more blood. Boko Harem have only been round since 2009 but have already killed 11,000 and their rate of killing is escallating. In just the month of November 2014 5,042 people were killed in 664 jihadist outrages round the world and many of these outrages were Muslim on Muslim.
    “For other draconian punishments it once again depends greatly on region. For example, 86% who believe in Sharia in Egypt favor the death penalty for converts, but only 8% in Albania.” Quoted from the Conor Lynch post on the Richard Dawkins Foundation site.
    I would like to engage in a discussion with you and your readers. Let’s try the motion “your above post is dissingenious and apologetic and does nothing for a reformist agenda”.
    With your permission I would like to put our discussion on a more widely read site that you and I agree on. I have no preferences. Would you agree to the Huffington Post?

    • Write a piece on why you think the post is apologetic (e.g. prove that apostasy laws and blasphemy laws are Koranic etc) and share it with me. We’ll take it from there. Thanks.

      • David Lilley

        Dear Kashif MD,

        Thank you for coming back to me. I will always address you as MD to reflect my respect for the noblest of professions. Please may we go live and put our discussion on the Huffington Post or similar

      • David Lilley

        Kashif MD,
        Why I think your post is disingenious and apologetic.
        We all have a problem with jihadist extremists. 5,042 had the ultimate problem in just the month of November 2014 alone, it cost them their lives.
        The only answer is reform and this is something we agree upon.
        But it is not in the agenda of reform to continually march out the trite “its not in the Koran”. Its disingenious and apologetic.
        It is disingenious because it makes no contribution to solving the problem but instead attempts to sweep the problem under the carpet. Its not in the rule book, these are just a few bad apples, lets move on. But clearly, from our “foundational document” (the Conor Lynch artilcle above) it is pretty immaterial to many whether on not it is explicit in the Koran. The problem is that their reading and yours are different.
        It is apologetic for much the same reasons ” there is no problem because it’s not in the Koran”.
        We have a problem and problems are there to be solved. Pretending that they don’t exist is disingenious and apologetic.

  • David Lilley

    “It is note-worthy that though the Koran does not speak of apostasy laws, it does speak of apostasy more than a dozen times.”

  • David Lilley

    This is the complete post by Conor Lynch, extracted from the Richard Dawkins Foundtion website. It is a sound piece of reflection on today’s muslim world and I therefore propose that it be our picture of today’s muslim world against which we can measure which statements are “disingenious and pologetic”.
    I hope that you agree that this should be the foundation for our discussion.
    Conor Lynch

    Every once in a while we experience a brutal attack in the Western world by Islamic extremists, like last week’s assault on Charlie Hebdo for publishing provocative cartoons of Muhammad. Islamic terrorist attacks are rare in the West, especially compared to Muslim countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, but they always provoke a debate over whether the religion of Islam, itself, bears some responsibility for the attackers’ actions.

    Many people immediately defend the religion of Islam and say that violent extremists are a very small minority of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and that Islam is a religion of peace. “We cannot generalize and blame all Muslims or the religion itself,” they say, and, “the great majority of Muslims condemn terrorism.” While it would be wrongheaded to regard the Islamic world at large as inherently violent, it would be simply wrong to regard it as all peaceful, too.

    It is true that most Muslims do condemn extremist violence, though not as small a minority as might be hoped. According to a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, a majority believes that suicide bombing is rarely/never justified. But in certain countries, disturbingly healthy minorities believe it is often/sometimes justified. For example, 39% in Afghanistan, 26% percent in Bangladesh, 29% in Egypt, 40% in Palestinian territory, 18% in Malaysia, and 13% in Pakistan feel that suicide bombings are justifiable.

    To be sure, most of these countries are geopolitical hot spots, and terrorism clearly can be motivated by politics at least as much as by religion — although suicide attacks are somewhat peculiar to Islamic fundamentalism. Islamic terror organizations have been responsible for more than 85% percent of suicide bombings since the 1980s, according to the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think-tank. There is certainly a large political role at play in these attacks, especially as a radical reaction to the very real imperialism these countries have suffered, but it would be naive to say that the doctrines of Islam have had nothing to do with it.

    Politics and Islam go hand in hand in some parts of the Muslim world. In much of the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia a majority of people, according to a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, favor making Sharia (Islamic law) the official law in their country. 99% in Afghanistan, 91% in Iraq, 89% in Palestinian territories, 84% in Pakistan, and 82% percent in Bangladesh, etc. In other predominantly Muslim regions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, however, only minorities favor Sharia. For example, 12% in Albania, 27% in Tajikistan, 8% in Azerbaijan, and 15% in Bosnia. This signifies that these beliefs also have much to do with culture.

    In the regions where only minorities believe in Sharia (Eastern Europe, Central Asia), few of the people who do believe in it actually condone draconian punishments that it prescribes, such as stoning an adulterer or executing an apostate. On the other hand, in many Muslim regions where the majorities believe in Sharia (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia), majorities also believe in severe corporal punishments.

    For other draconian punishments it once again depends greatly on region. For example, 86% who believe in Sharia in Egypt favor the death penalty for converts, but only 8% in Albania.

    So, a startlingly high percentage of people in some parts of the Muslim world hold many aspects of their religious texts literal and believe society should be governed by these doctrines. Christian and Jewish religious books have pages upon pages of barbarity (especially the Old Testament) but the overwhelming majority of Christians and Jews have stopped taking these books as the law of the land, or at least secular societies have prevented them from doing so.

    Sadly, however, 28% of Americans still believe the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, according to a June 2014 Gallup poll. This brings me to the threat of terrorism in the homeland, good ole USA. We also have a history of vile acts committed in the name of another prophet, Jesus Christ. The Ku Klux Klan and attacks on abortion clinics and medical professionals are not ancient history. Religious terrorism is in no way just an Islamic problem, as certain right-wing conservatives might have you believe in this country.

    Both Christianity and Islam have the potential to produce disgusting and violent acts through extremism. The problem is that the Islamic world seems to have more of these “extremist” type views. Some may not consider killing apostates or stoning adulterers to death “extremist,” but they should. These may not be terrorist acts, but they are barbaric and uncivilized, and many in the Muslim world believe in them. Extremists who take Islamic doctrines literally believe they are following the example of the prophet Muhammad, who waged violent wars to spread Islam.

    The Charlie Hebdo massacre is only the latest example of how extremists have tried to use violence to silence or punish artists and journalists for drawings or books or films. Salman Rushdie, whose book, “The Satanic Verses,” earned him death threats and a death fatwa from the Iranian clergy for years, said: “Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. … This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today.”

    True liberals should not avoid criticizing Muslim voices that promote modern barbarity. Not every Muslim holds extremist or Islamist beliefs, but enough do that we must criticize those that endorse violence and reactionary, fundamentalist doctrines severely. If we choose to sit back and say that Islam only has a problem with a small minority, the real reformers in these societies who risk their lives for liberty will no doubt fail. We must support liberty, even if it offends ones sacred beliefs.

  • David Lilley

    Kashif MD,
    I did put this post up last night but I must have failed to send. It is my report on “the next morning” reference my previous post where I dreaded what I might here the next morning.
    This will be my last comment on this subject as we are basically on the same side. I will return to hitting Sam Harris and friends with the “Epistemological Arsenal”.
    Good luck.
    “Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed in the attack on Baga, a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad, in what could be the militants’ worst in their six-year rebellion.

    The rebels burnt large parts of the town to the ground and razed at least 16 surrounding settlements, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, many of them into Chad and Niger.

    “We killed the people of Baga. We indeed killed them, as our Lord instructed us in His Book,” Shekau said in the 35-minute message, which was posted on the video-sharing website YouTube.”

    Read more: http://uk.businessinsider.com/boko-haram-says-its-behind-yet-another-massive-attack-2015-1?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=UK%20Business%20Insider%20Select&utm_campaign=Business%20Insider%20Select%20-%20UK%202015-01-21&nr_email_referer=1&utm_content=BusinessInsiderSelect#ixzz3PdYKQcD8