I've been watching some Muslim-Christian debates recently, and frankly, the Christians don't usually do very well. Here are three reasons I think this is true.
1. The Muslim's mind is made up before the discussion even begins.
(Or, if I were as blunt as Simon Cowell, I might say, The Muslim has a closed mind). He comes into the debate absolutely convinced of four things: 1) Muhammad is the perfect man, 2) the Quran is the perfect book, 3) Islam is the perfect religion, and 4) if you disagree, you are totally wrong. His role in the debate is only to convince you that he is right and you are wrong. As my Islamics professor Dr. Ismail Al Faruqi used to say, "To convince someone of the truth of Islam, you give them evidence. If they refuse to believe, give them more evidence. If they continue to refuse, you conclude they are either malicious or ignorant."
This is a world apart from the Western idea of debate where two opposing sides present their ideas, discuss the evidence, and reach conclusions in which they both might change their minds. There is no give and take on the part of a Muslim when she is discussing the things she is convinced of before the debate begins.
The Muslim might respond to the above paragraph by saying, "Everyone does that; not just us." Well, I don't. I go into a discussion prepared to listen, think, and change my mind if I see I was wrong. When I read, for example, the books of Bart Ehrman that challenge the way I have looked at my faith or the Bible, I'm prepared to rethink my beliefs. That doesn't happen with the Muslim.
(A quick aside; Muslims love writers such as Ehrman who challenge traditional Christian assumptions, but a Muslim Bart Ehrman - that is, a Muslim scholar who used the same scholarship to reach the same conclusions about the Quran that Ehrman has about the Bible - would be ostracized in America and beheaded in Saudi Arabia. It's interesting how many ex-Christian pastors convert to Islam when their beliefs about the Bible are challenged. Rather than use the challenge to grow to a more mature understanding of faith, they jettison it all and go on a lifelong quest for the "perfect book" which they eventually conclude is the Quran).
The result is that the debate with the Muslim will never go very deep. It can't because he is unwilling to be challenged in what he believes.
2. Muslims love to throw out "facts" that the Christian is unable to counter.
As a child I heard the statement, "A fool can ask more questions in five minutes than a wise man can answer in a lifetime." Similarly, the Muslim can make more claims in a twenty-minute debate than a person who doesn't know much about Islam can answer in a long time. Even to do the research is a daunting task.
Here's one example; I could give dozens. Muslims love to say, "Muhammad forbade the practice of female infanticide, which was commonly practiced in the jahaliya (pre-Islamic period of ignorance)". One online Islamic site claims, "Prior to the advent of Islam, female infanticide was rampant in Arabia. Baby girls were buried alive the moment they emerged from their mother's womb."
When the Christian hears that infanticide was "rampant" but Muhammad stopped it, she thinks, "Wow, that's impressive." Not one in ten thousand can give a response.
The fact is, the Muslim claim that Muhammad forbade this practice is based upon a single sentence in Quran 81:8,9. In the midst of a striking and poetic description of the final Day of Judgment, Muhammad asks, "When the female who was killed at birth will be asked, 'What was your crime?', what will her response be?"
The historical truth is that female infanticide was not "rampant" in Saudi Arabia. It was seen as something shameful by the Arab tribes themselves. The Quran, the hadith, and the early biographies of Muhammad are filled with the names of women who obviously were not killed at birth. Female infanticide was an exceptional practice condemned by the Arabs themselves.
The most authoritative biography of Muhammad, "The Life of the Prophet" by Ibn Ishaq, discusses a group of men who broke with polytheism to follow the monotheism of Abraham before Muhammad announced that he was a prophet. These men, known as the hanifs, were relatives and associates of Muhammad, and he was greatly influenced by their beliefs as a young man. They practiced meditation in the caves of Hara and Muhammad, following their example, was in the same cave when he claimed Gabriel appeared to him.
Ibn Ishaq says the following about one of these hanifs, "Zayd bin Amr stayed as he was; he accepted neither Judaism or Christianity. He abandoned the religion of his people and abstained from idols, animals that had died, and things offered to idols. He forbade the killing of infant daughters, saying that he worshipped the God of Abraham, and he publicly rebuked his people for their practices."
The following is clear from Islamic history itself:
1. Female infanticide was the exception, not the rule, in pre-Islamic Saudi Arabia.
2. The hanifs, who were associates of the young Muhammad and included his wife's cousin Waraqa bin Naufal, condemned the practice and publicly rebuked those who did it long before Muhammad mentioned the subject in the Quran.
My point is that it takes a lot of research for the average person to counter the claims Muslims so easily throw out in discussions and debates. We haven't done that research, and we are easily duped by those claims.
3. Muslims don't always tell the truth in debates.
(Again, if I were Simon Cowell, I might have phrased the above sentence a bit differently).
It amazes me how easily Muslims in America throw out information that is a lie. Again, there are dozens of examples, but one of the most common is that Aisha was a teenager when Muhammad married her. EVERYBODY in the Middle East has known for 1400 years Aisha was 9 years old when Muhammad married her; it's not even a matter of discussion. Realizing that the idea of a self-proclaimed 53 year old religious prophet having sexual intercourse with a 9 year old child is distasteful to Americans and is cause for really bad jokes (What do you call a Catholic priest who has sex with a 9 year old? A pedophile. What do you call a Muslim who does the same thing? Khatem Al Anbiah - the seal of the prophets), Muslims simply change their own history. I've given information about Aisha before, so won't repeat it here.
So the next time you hear a Muslim argue that "jihad is an inner spiritual struggle", or "the Quran explains osteoporosis" (yes, there is a verse in the Quran where Zakariya complained about his grey hair and his "weak bones"), or "Muhammad understood embryology hundreds of years before medical science" (because the Quran discusses "the piece of dirt" and the "nuftah" and the "attached thing like a leech" and the "piece of chewed-up thing" for which ten Arab scholars will give ten different explanations), take it with a grain of salt. If you are inclined to believe what you hear, at least take the time to do the research.