A man standing on a stool on the north-east corner of Hyde Park reached out to the small crowd gathered around. His voice was strong and the tone slightly aggressive. Yet, the rows of people who were forming around him remained silent and in wait for the discussion to begin. Yet the atmosphere was warming up.
“Who is the best model for Britain: Jesus or Mohammed?” repeated the man, this time anger exuded from the frown on his face.
Somehow, I started to feel uneasy about the situation. This didn’t look like an open debate but rather a Manichean argument which had to lead to a definite answer. Next to me, no one else seemed particularly surprised at what was going on: we were on the “Speakers Corner”, it was about 4:30pm and Jay Smith was about to make another demonstration of Christianity’s superiority over Islam.
The little crowd seemed mainly constituted of Muslims, few around him were Christians. There were hardly any women.
After a little research, I discovered that Jay Smith is a well-known habitué of the Speakers Corner in Hyde Park and a prominent advocate of the debate Christianity vs. Islam. His conclusions are no surprise, and his reasoning, though dangerously well-articulated, is immutable. (For a grasp of his argument, watch this.)
On Smith’s right side stood, stoic, the defender of the Muslim faith and Smith’s opponent in the debate. A time-keeper made sure that they only used the three minutes allocated to each of them to make their point.
Smith went first. He began by asserting that the best way to compare both faiths was to look at Jesus’ deeds regarding his enemies and his attitude towards women and compared both with Mohammed’s.
Smith argued that by Islam’s rules, all non-believers, whom as such became enemies, were meant to die and that women were considered a tool for their husband. On the other hand, he praised Jesus for loving his enemies and using a woman as a testimony in court in one episode of the Bible.
Despite Smith’s capabilities to accurately quote both the Bible and the Quran, his argument was weak. He made no convincing points about Jesus’ behaviour towards his enemies and women but rather disregarded Islam on both issued. This counter-example rhetoric which aimed to move the crowd only managed to enhance the worthlessness of the debate.
During the three following minutes, the Muslim spokesmen reminded the audience of Allah’s words: “Heaven on earth is at your Mother’s feet” and “the best men are the men who are good to your wife.”
Both parties had made accusations towards their opponent which the latter refuted. Therefore, the exercise was not only pointless, but revived the still burning flame of the war of the Scriptures. Indeed, different interpretations of both the Bible and the Quran were at the heart of the unhealthy debate, which left no chance for discussion but only the possibility of an aggressive shout back.
What was particularly striking was that what appeared to be religious feminism was at the cornerstone of both spokesmen’s arguments. Although neither Christianity nor Islam are genuine defendants of women’s rights, it seemed that both orators recognised that women’s place in religion was a great concern in today’s modern Britain.
However, last November, the Church of England voted against the nomination of women bishops and the current debate around the niqab is seriously challenging the place of women advocated by some of the Quran interpreters.
And yet, while debates about gender equality and women’s right still override the big themes of our society, those two men, using religion as a vehicle, were trying to appropriate the feminism debate.
If the question whom of Jesus or Mohammed is the best model for Britain today is, in my view, not one of any relevance, it is much more revealing that both parties felt the need to angle their argument around women.
As such, through this archaic debate which aimed to rank the value of different religions is another example of the still pertinent discussion on the role and place of women in society: this is one which has permeated all aspects of society.