The search for truth is the most fundamental thing in to humans. It is something that is deep in the heart, but sadly it gets clouded by emotions and irrationality.
In today’s Malaysia, public debates are not common and this leads to many misunderstandings and large gaps between different groups, and even ignorance of what they say. To leave issues on differences to the side and to ignore them also leads to hidden feelings of hatred. This is all because often one side will give a distorted view of the opposition, but not get the chance to have the opposition clarify it, or that the laymen argue amongst each other and don’t actually have the sound understanding to represent one of the sides, thus promoting misunderstandings.
Rather what should be done is that the best/most suitable people from each side should be given platforms in the public to debate the differences, so then people can make informed decisions about which side is on the truth and what is correct. This should not just be done on political issues, but also on issues of religion.
It is like when a person makes a claim against another person (and the religionists make claims about others), and the case gets taken to court to decide which side is right and each has to bring its evidences and witnesses. Otherwise anyone can claim whatever s/he wants, and deceive people.
For too long has there been hatred and misunderstandings between different religionists, it is time that they discuss their differences openly, so we (the people) can see who is with the stronger and logical arguments, and which side has the truth.
If a religion or belief claims that its book is holy, or that God exists, and another says that it is not, then the most knowledgeable person from each side should come up and prove their claim, and discuss and debate the matter. Even if it’s not the best person, then it should someone who is qualified (that is the minimum condition) in the matter. After all, if one scholar (whether Muslim, Hindu or Christian) is claiming with certainty that s/he has the truth, then the person should be able to prove that. If one can’t, then let people know that the person and belief doesn’t have any grounds for saying that what it believes is the truth whilst asking others to follow it.
It is time we went back to the times where open discussion and debate amongst different viewpoints was done in a civilised manner. Take the example of the Muslim world and the Byzantines, the Caliph sent Qadi Abu Bakr al-Baqillani to debate the best Christian scholars in the Byzantine empire, in front of the Emperor. Not only was there one or two debates, but they arranged another debate with the head of their church, in a great event attended by the emperor, politicians and people of influence in government and church. Or take the example where an atheist asked that the best debater debate with him, so Imam Abu Hanifa debated and defeated the atheist in the Muslim empire.
And the example of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) is also well known where a Christian delegation from Najran came to the Mosque and debated with the Prophet. He didn’t quick them out or treat them badly, but had a public discussion and debate to reveal which side was on the truth. The Qur’an commented on this "Say, `O People of the Book, come now to a fair principle common to both of us, that we do not worship aught but God, that we do not associate aught with Him and that we do not take one another as lords besides God.' But if they turn away, then say, `Bear witness that we are Muslims.”[Qur'an, 3:64]
Many of us believe that we decide the truth through reason and objective evidence, so that is our common ground. Thus let us see which belief is supported by historical, logical, scientific evidences. Let us not appeal to emotions and prejudices in arguments. Let the representatives reveal the arguments to the public in front of the opposition, and let the people decide. They should be sincere in the search for the truth, and critically analyse the arguments of the opposition, and accept them if they’re the truth.
Imam Shafi’i said: “I have never debated with someone who I want to make a mistake. And I have never debated someone except I say to them, O’ Allah, put the truth in his heart and on his tongue. If I am on the truth he will follow me, and if he is on the truth then I will follow him.
But is the Malaysian public ready for it you may ask? But I ask “is any society ready for it?” You will always have some people who can’t reason, or who are not educated, but by having these platforms of debate, they can learn (by God’s will) to reason. This is by having intellectual/qualified people debating (they may say when debating “such is an emotional argument, not logical, and here is why...” and give thought provoking questions), not just some random people.
Furthermore Muslim scholars should be free to speak their mind and make their own khutbas (unlike in many Malaysian states where the government sadly makes its own scripts and appoints its own Imams). It is a pity that Muslim scholars can speak more about Islam and make their own khutbas in the UK than in Muslim countries like Malaysia. Traditionally the image of many scholars has been destroyed when they have been perceived to be close to the government (although in some conditions it is allowed). This is because the independence of the scholars from all governmental institutions is paramount and something that great scholars like Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal fought for.
Though different Muslims specialise on different topics, amongst the Muslim debaters willing to debate on the issue of secularism, Islam, or atheism in Malaysia is Hamza Tzortsis. He has debated leading secularist and atheist professors throughout the world masha’Allah. Others who are good at inter-religious debates throughout the world include Dr Zakir Naik and Sheikh Muhammad al-Ya'qoubi (he opposed the brutal Syrian govt, and debated leading orientalists (those who specialise in attacking Islam) and made them shiver through his logical and sound Islamic arguments in Scandinavia). So Malaysia can benefit through having Muslim speakers/debaters from outside Malaysia, or inside Malaysia, since we are all one body of believers as the Prophet said: "“Wisdom is the lost property of the believer; he takes it from wherever he finds.” (Tirmidhi)