Plus: Deconstructing Islam
Jay Smith is a third-generation missionary kid who grew up in North India. Smith, a member of the Brethren in Christ Church who earned a master's in Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, went to London to help churches and students dealing with intellectual attacks from Muslim campus radicals. As he researched Islam, Smith came across new historical and linguistic criticisms of the Qur'an, which Muslims revere as their holy book. They believe God, using an angel, dictated the Qur'an in Arabic to Muhammad in the seventh century.
The literary critics, called Western Orientalists, are subjecting the Qur'an to the same kinds of questions the Bible has faced since the 19th century. They say the Qur'an is an entirely human, fallible document. The Atlantic summarized the approach in a January 1999 article by Toby Lester, "What is the Koran?"
Smith began using this kind of information to answer Muslim preachers who spoke from atop the ladder at Speaker's Corner in London. He often experienced a violent response. In April 1995, angry Muslims kicked him to the ground, nearly knocking him unconscious. Finally, the police told Smith to stop debating unless he climbed the ladder himself, so they could keep an eye on him.
Smith has debated Muslims on many Sundays since then. He had his first formal debate at Cambridge that August, facing Jamal Badawi from Halifax on the topic, "Is the Qur'an the Word of God?" He has engaged in over a dozen more formal debates since then and has trained other Christians.
Some Western missionaries, however, criticize Smith for generating much heat but little light among Muslims. Dudley Woodberry, formerly Smith's instructor at Fuller, says of the approach, "It can raise questions, particularly for ...