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On a gray sunday afternoon at the famous Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, London, a turbaned man jabs his finger into the chilly air as he preaches to 200 people crowded around him. Two followers behind him clutch poles supporting a banner emblazoned with Arabic script. Its translation: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." Fifty feet away, another crowd gathers around Jay Smith, a quick-thinking, controversial evangelical known for debating Muslims. He uses chapters (surahs) from the Qur'an as his principal text. On this occasion, Smith and Beth Grove, a British grad student in theology, debate the place of women in traditional Islam, in contrast to New Testament teaching.

Above murmurs and heckles, Grove notes in surah 2:282 that one man's testimony is equal to that of two women. Surah 4:11 allows a woman only half the inheritance a man receives. Surah 4:34 describes how a husband ought to punish his wife for disobedience: admonish her, kick her out of bed, and beat her.

Before Grove finishes, a bearded challenger named Adnan interrupts her. But Smith booms out, "Let the woman speak! See how he doesn't want to let the woman speak!"

"Liar!" Adnan shouts back at Smith and Grove as tourists' video cameras record the scene.

"So the Qur'an lies?" Smith asks. "You must be saying the Qur'an is lying, then."

Adnan bends to huddle with his debate coaches, who are flipping through written notes to develop a rebuttal. "Patience!" Then he calls out, "The Bible says women are the root of all evil." Smith asks for a scriptural reference. Adnan can't provide one. In the crowd, a Christian quotes 1 Timothy 6:10: "The love of money is the root of all evil."

Grove closes the Qur'an and begins reading Bible verses on women. ...

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June 2008

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