In a new episode of “Conversation with,” Dr. Ali Afifi Ali Ghazi of the Qatari Forum for Authors hosted Dr. Omar bin Maen Al-Ajli, lecturer at Qatar Community College. The conversation focused on debate literature in Islamic civilization.
Dr. Al-Ajli explained that the Arabic word for “debate” is related to the semantic fields of eyeing, waiting, and being an equal. This linguistic feature reflects the nature of debate, as debating parties eye each other, wait to take turns, and are assumed to be equals. He emphasized that Arab civilization was quite familiar with the arts of debating in pre-Islamic times, as public debates were held at the famous Okaz market. These early debates, which have left a rich body of literature, gave the market its name, as the word Okaz means to “overcome” or “win.”
He commented that Islam reinforced the arts of debate, particularly during the Umayyad Dynasty, when it evolved into the maqama literary genre, and later in the Abbasid Dynasty, when it flourished. These arts moved into Andalusia with Islam and entered their golden age. One of the most famous debates from the Andalusian period is Ibn Burd Al-Andalusi’s debate between a sword and a pen. Ibn Al-Wardi and Ibn Nabata are among the most celebrated debate artists who left a wealth of literary treasures.
Dr. Al-Ajli added that public debates were tools used to seek the truth and develop intellectual skills. They were designed for the debating parties to eventually come to an agreement, which was the ultimate goal of this literary form. However, the terms changed over time to refer to arguments intended to overcome and embarrass an adversary using literary skills.
He further commented that the Qur’an refers to different types of debates. For example, in some contexts God engages in a dialogue with Satan, and in other contexts prophets, from Noah to Mohammed (Peace be upon them) engage in debate with their peoples. The passages detailing prophets’ debates are a rich source of guidance and learning. The Qur’an also demonstrates the value of debating, as can be seen in the quick-witted dialogues between Moses and Pharoah.