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This memoir is dedicated to Pastor Shaji (Varghese Samuel).

He organized public debates and presentations about Muslim Objections To The Christian Faith at a time when nobody had the courage to take a public stand on this subject. The Christian community is indebted to courageous men like him who have the conviction to defend their faith in the face of attacks.

Muslim Apologetics: My Experience

Personal Memoirs Of The First Conservative Indian Christian Who Debated Muslim Apologists

I grew up in North India (1960s) and had several good Muslim friends. None of them ever raised any objection against the Christian faith or the Bible. Thus I was under the impression that Muslims have great respect for the Bible and Christians. This impression was rudely shaken when around 1996 some Muslim seminary students came to meet me at Brethren Bible Institute at Pathanamthitta. They came as inquirers, but within 10 minutes it became clear that they had actually come for a duel with me.

Zanab MM Akbar an outstanding Muslim apologist and debater with whom I had two public debates. This Picture is from the 2002 debate

The students who came from the Muslim seminary as inquirers soon started attacking the Bible. I notice that they were consulting a questionnaire that they had brought. This meant that they had come well-prepared for a debate, though they said they were inquirers.

As was my practice, I had called six of my students who were most interested in apologetics, and observing our discussion was a big demonstration to them of the value of learning "Tools of Apologetics" which I had been teaching them. The Muslim students wanted to prove that the Bible is full of errors. But after about one hour of attempted debate, they could not win. So they went away saying they will come again and I said they would always be welcome. At that time I did not realize that a new chapter in my ministry of apologetics was about to open up.

A zealous Muslim friend questions me in my second Public Debate with Zanab MM Akbar

Once the students from the Islamic Seminary failed in their face-to-face debates with me, they found a more senior Muslim apologist who was willing to debate me. Thus one day a certain Abdul Jabbar came to meet me at the Brethren Bible Institute. He was definitely more senior, more learned, and more experienced in debating and defeating Christians. In fact he was instrumental in creating doubts in the minds of many Christians, some of whom eventually became backsliders.

Once he started talking to me, he realized that he would not be able to win the way he was used to winning in his debates with Christians. He had a 40-page A4-size outline with him in a file in which he had prepared a list of arguments to be used against Christians. At my request he paid me three visits at my home, but I never saw him again after that. During his last visit I was not at home. When the man of home is not there, they do not enter a house as per their strict protocol. However, my aged mother-in-law was there and she urged him to be a guest. He accepted the invitation. He introduced himself and then my mother-in-law took time to share the gospel of salvation through Christ clearly to him. I must say that I miss him. When even this visit of Abdul Jabbar failed to defeat me, the young seminarians at Pathanamthitta decided that it is time to lead me to Zanab MM Akbar, one of the best Islamic debaters of our generation

Taha, a very zealous Muslim who took time to debate me face-to-face at my home. He came to my home with Abdul Jabbar. In this picture we are with each other after my second debate with Zanab Akbar

After the students from the Islamic seminary, and Abdul Jabbar, the senior apologist failed to defeat me in personal debates, they decided that they need to "fix" me using something stronger. One of them used to meet me regularly. He was able to marry a Christian girl through love-marriage and was very outspoken in his stand that one day they will bring me my "match" to debate and defeat me. I was always amused by such proclamations and challenges. One evening, while I was at the Brethren Bible Institute at Pathanamthitta, this guy and several others rushed to me. They said one of their greatest Islamic Debtors was in town addressing a meeting. They invited me to "listen" to him. I accompanied them in their car, was taken to an auditorium with at least 1000 in attendance, and was given a "reserved" set in front. MM Akbar was the speaker, and he was on the last leg of his monologue against the Christian faith. This was the first time I saw him. I felt that he was a very loving young man (he was 35 and I was 45 at that time) and listened to him with rapt attention. Once his presentation was over, my Muslim friends gave me the mic and said "Sir you may now ask Akbar to clarify your DOUBTS". I immediately recognized the trap. They had invited me to "listen" to Zanab Akbar and now they had turned me into an "inquirer". The plaintiff had been turned into the bailiff. I bluntly said on the mic that I was invited to listen to Zanab Akbar, and I did not go there to get any doubts clarified. Then the audience spent time in asking questions, and I hear the whole thing with rapt attention.

The selected group of Muslim friends who attended the debate held at perumbavoor in 2002

MM Akbar already had good briefing about me, and was gracious to come down from the stage to my seat after the lecture was over. We greeted each other courteously, and there was no sense of hostility. We talked for about 10 minutes about his and my apologetic actives and parted ways after greeting each other. The Muslim friends -- who had taken me there and who wanted to defeat me there -- were not amused by any of this. Thus the story did not end here As I said above, the Muslim young men in Pathanamthitta who wanted to defeat me with their arguments were not pleased when I did not fall into their trap, in spite of repeated attempts. Meanwhile, Pastor Shaji, a very young and enthusiastic Christian apologist approached many Pentecostals pastors for a public refutation of Muslim arguments against the Christian faith. None agreed. Some of them asked him to approach Brethren people who are more active in apologetics. He approached many senior Brethren preachers and all of them said they do not want to get involved in arguments with Muslims. However, some of them recommended that he contact me. Thus Pastor Shaji contacted me and expressed his desire to organize public meetings where answers to Muslim objections would be presented. By this time many young Brethren believers in Pathanamthitta had been pressing me for presenting answers to the questions which Muslims frequently raise against the Christian faith. Thus I readily agreed to speak. He organized a program at Kothamangalam. He raised the funds, he did the publicity. Very few people were there to cooperate in such a new venture, but he was not discouraged. The auditorium was packed to capacity with Christians and Muslims. I was able to deliver a one-hour presentation in Malayalam language. It was followed by a one-hour questionanswer session that was handled by me as well as by Pastor Shaji. Great was the impact of this program, but this triggered many developments.

Pastor Shaji at the time of my second public debate with MM Akbar. He raised funds and on his own arranged these programs when nobody among Pentecostals or the Brethren had the courage to answer Muslim Objections Against The Christian Faith

The news of my presentation about Muslim Objections Against The Christian Faith at Kothamangalam spread fast and wide. The young Muslims friends at Pathanamthitta were restless. Finally the approached me and asked me if I would be willing to debate MM Akbar. I told them that I was highly impressed by the manner and scholarship of Zanab Akbar and that it would be a privilege to debate him face to face. The Brethren Bible Institute (where I was the Acting Principal those days) was fixed as the venue. About 30 Muslim friends, a great video recording outfit, and Zanab Akbar came on the appointed evening. About 30 students of BBI also were present. We started the debate in a very cordial atmosphere. Akbar asked me to state my case for why I believe that Bible is the Word of God. I presented my arguments in summary. Then I expanded upon the first point: the scientific accuracy of this book. I then invited him to refute my argument. Akbar tried many statements from the Bible, claiming that they are scientifically inaccurate. I was able to answer all of them. This went on for almost 3 hours. Finally when he was not able to win the argument, he said that we need to come to a "draw" and meet each other at some other time. It was clear to everyone that he was not able to refute or disprove the scientific accuracy of the Bible. That was sufficient for me, and therefore I agreed to end the program. Thus concluded our three-and-a-half hour first debate. We then had a time of courteous personal interaction and tea. While I was happy about the outcome, the Muslim friends at Pathanamthitta were all the more unhappy that their greatest tool aimed against me did not do any benefit to them. Thus many more things developed in the coming days.

Johnson C. Philip displaying a book written by Zanab Akbar during his second face-to-face debate with him. Electronic cameras did not exist during their first debate, thus photographs were not shot then by either side

The face-to-face encounter between MM Akbar and me at Brethren Bible Institute at Pathanamthitta was a great disappointment to Zanab Akbar and also to his worshipers. So far he had never lost a debate and here for the first time he had to concede a "draw". He could not defeat me. (I did not try to defeat him, as my purpose was only to defend my stand and not to "defeat" him). Greatly disappointed, they very soon put together a public debate between Akbar and a Mar Thoma priest. After much ground-work they were able to locate a Mar Thomas priest who had no idea about the Bible. In fact, as it turned out at the end, he did not have an idea of even the Statement of Faith of his own church. Both Akbar as well as this priest spoke to about 500 people who were present there. Akbar was well studied and forceful. The priest was not able to answer even a single question that Akbar asked. Finally the priest said in public to the effect, "Mr. Akbar knows more about the Bible than me. I will recommend that he should be invited as a speaker in the Maramon Convention (the largest Christian convention in India)". Pastor Shaji analyzed the whole thing and felt that by inviting an ignorant priest to debate, they were able to publicly make a fool of Christians. Thus he gathered resources and organized a public presentation at Perumbavoor. Perumbavoor (close to Ernakulam, Kerala) is a staunch Muslim center. He organized the program in an Open Air Stadium in the market place. About 5000 people heard my one and a half hour presentation. There were few minor questions, but there was no strong opposition. This caused the people of Perumbavoor to demand that MM Akbar should debate me in the open in Perumbavoor itself, and that is how the next chapter unfolded.

Johnson C. Philips second debate with Zanab Akbar. It took place at Perumbavoor in 2002. It was in Malayalam language]

Since my public presentation about "Answers to Muslim Objections" in Perumbavoor was attended by thousands, the people of Perumbavoor to demand that MM Akbar should debate me in the open in Perumbavoor itself, and that is how the next chapter unfolded. It is Pastor Shaji who had raised funds and organized all these programs, they contact him for a faceto-face debate between me and MM Akbar. I agreed quickly because Zanab Akbar is a knowledgeable, friendly, and civil debtor. He was always courteous whenever we talked during debates, of after. The debate was organized in the IMA Hall at Perumbavoor. The date was 8th June 2002. Admission to Christians and Muslims was by invitation only. Moderators were appointed on both sides. It was a perfect setting for debate. Since the subject was "Divinity of The Bible" I was the first to speak. As always, I presented the strongest and irrefutable argument: "The Scientific Accuracy of the Bible". I presented several points, and I also refuted many of the allegations that Zanab Akbar has been presenting in his oral and published material. This was followed by a lengthy presentation against the Bible by Akbar. We then had few minutes to refute each other after which questions came from the public. The lengthy debate ended with a cordial time of tea and snacks. The debate was in Malayalam, which is not my first language. In 2002 I did not have sufficient fluency. Yet I was totally satisfied by the outcome. God was with me in a special way. Eventually Niche of Truth asked my permission to release the video plus the transcript (in a book form) of the debate and I heartily agreed. Links to these videos are given at the end of this book.

At the climax of his presentation at Perumbavoor in 2002

After Perumbavoor: When Muslim friends pressed me for debating Akbar, I always told them that Malayalam is not my first language and that I would prefer debating in English or Hindi. They always said that once I debate Zanab Akbar in Malayalam, they will make arrangements for debating him in English. More than one decade is over after my last public debate with him. However, they have not kept up their promise of debating me in English. In fact it seems that they have totally lost their appetite for public debates with me.

Links to my second debate with MM Akbar: