Sadly, Shabir Ally's argument in this pamphlet depends on some dishonest moves, interpreting statements in misleading ways to arrive at his desired results. Let us examine his quotations and supposed conclusions.
Who says "inaccurate"? All translation is approximate as Muslims are never tired of emphasizing in regard to the translations of the Qur'an. No, each of these translations are proper and good translations, which were done by responsible and able translators. Nearly every time one translates from one language to another, there are several terms one could chose to render a word of the source language in the target language. Unless Shabir Ally has no experience in translating because he is strictly monolingual and knows no language at all beside English, there is hardly an excuse for such an uninformed opinion. In fact, we assume that Ally knows at least rudiments of Arabic and the purpose of his derogatory remark about those translations is not based on scholarly evaluation of the Greek, but it was made solely in order to emotionally prepare (manipulate) the reader to accept the substitute. Shabir Ally who himself is certainly no scholar of the Greek language, goes on to propose his own translation, constructed on the basis of cut and paste quotations ripped out of context and reassembled in a way none of the quoted authors would agree with.
It is true that Raymond Brown leaves the word untranslated in his rendition of the Biblical text. However, it is NOT true that he calls translating the word as "Comforter", "Counselor", or "Advocate" inaccurate. He confirms the validity of those translations, but states that the range of meaning is broader than any of those words can represent and therefore leaves it as Paraclete after having explained the meaning. However, "Prophet" is not among the possible translations suggested by Brown. I am sure Shabir Ally would have told us, if it were so. We tell you that it is not so. On whose authority among those many "noted Biblical scholars" is Shabir Ally going to base his own suggestion that parakletos means prophet? He will not find one. If Shabir Ally has indeed consulted several noted Biblical scholars as he seems to claim in his statement, and sought to understand their commentary on the term parakletos, why does he then go on to contradict all of them by choosing a translation not supported by any of them? What is his motivation? Is it honest scholarship?
So far correct, and indeed, "one called to the side of" another person for help and support is well translated as comforter, counselor, or advocate. Also, with the meaning of nabi given in the Bible dictionary we have no quarrels and assume that Ally quoted correctly. Indeed, a prophet is one called (by God) to deliver a message to the people and in this task he is one who calls the people to listen to God. The dictionary is not the problem, but watch how Ally continues.
Ally makes this connection solely on the basis that for both words he found a descriptive translation containing the word "called". He ignores, however, that the meaning of the two words is quite different. God is the king who makes the law as well as the judge who decides on our case. The Prophet is the spokesman, the mouthpiece of God. He announces the will of God to us, calling us to obey, and he informs us of the judgment when we disobey. The Prophet sides with God, and given the all too common human disobedience he often has to be the accuser. The Prophet is regularly in opposition to the people.
The image behind the term parakletos, on the other hand, is different. The Paraklete is on our side. He is the defense attorney. He is there to comfort us when we are in distress, he counsels us in difficult situations and is the advocate who defends our case. He is the one called to OUR side. The Prophet is called to God's side to speak for Him to the people. How could Shabir Ally overlook this in his study of commentaries by noted Bible scholars? Or has he deliberately chosen to overlook this distinction as it is not helping his case?
There is, however, another observation worth making, because Jesus indeed speaks of prophets who will come.
I doubt Shabir Ally wants to apply this passage to Muhammad, and we will resist elaborating on it. However, it is clear that Jesus did not lack words to announce a true future prophet had he intended to do so. He used the correct word for prophet (prophetes) many times. We invite all Muslim readers to ponder together with Shabir Ally the question: Why has Jesus chosen to speak about another PARAKLETE and NOT about another PROPHET in the passage under consideration?
Seemingly Shabir Ally regularly commits the fallacy of concluding that if two entities share some similarity, then they are equal. (See also the very helpful article on the difference between similarity and sameness, called Words have meaning.) This is really a beginner's mistake, but we will see it again below. Let me illustrate the fallacious nature of this with an example taken from Middle Eastern bazaars. A prophet is "one who calls," and a bazaar merchant is "one who calls" (calls out to people to pay attention to his message ... that his merchendise is better or cheaper than those of others). Therefore, according to Ally's argumentative structure, every merchant is a prophet. It should be obvious to everyone how silly such a conclusion is.
After the basis for Shabir Ally's argument has been shown faulty, the rest could just be discarded since conclusions based on false assuptions are invalid anyway. Nevertheless, let us comment further since more can be learned from this, in particular, which mistakes to avoid.
It is true that Jesus also spoke prophetically, but he was much more than a only prophet, something Muslim propagandists love to ignore. This issue is discussed carefully in the sections Who is Jesus? and What does it mean that Jesus is called "The Messiah"? And the same "much more" holds for the Paraklete as well. Therefore it is proper that Jesus calls him "another paraclete" (similar to himself). Jesus is putting himself and the Paraklete on the same level. While Muslims often try to conclude from this that the Paraclete therefore needs to be another human prophet despite everything that is said about the Paraclete which identifies him as the divine Holy Spirit, it is in fact another confirmation that Jesus' understanding of himself is deity, far above any merely human prophet (as we will see below, Jesus speaks of the eternality and omnipresence of the Paraclete which are divine attributes).
1. The Old Testament scholar Bernhard Anderson in his book Understanding the Old Testament says that it is uncertain whether the word nabi means "one who calls" or "one who is called." But he does say that the word means a prophet. And he tells us: "The prophet is an intermediary, a spokesperson--one who acts and speaks on behalf of Another" (fourth edition, p. 248). We conclude that a prophet is a spokesperson for God.
No complaint about this. This paragraph does, however, NOT support any of Shabir Ally's claims about the Paraclete. It only speaks about the Old Testament understanding of the role of a prophet.
If you have no real argument, appeal to the sinister motives of the opponent. There is nothing to admit, since there was no effort to hide anything. Sadly, many Muslim speakers operate largely on the level of cheap propaganda by creating strong negative emotions as this makes it so much easier to sell a bad argument. The approach is to set the attitude that Christians are in general dishonest and try to hide the truth about their faith, but here we found one honest scholar among them who admits to what Muslims knew all along (many examples of this method by various Muslim speakers and authors could be given).
Furthermore, Shabir Ally prepares the stage to repeat the mistake of concluding two terms are same (A is B) if he can find one description which they share. Earlier it was the word "called", now it is the word "spokesman" which is enough for him to proceed with the identification. In addition, he confuses dictionary meanings giving the range of possibility in meaning with the specific meaning of a word in its context. In this case he transforms "can mean" (a list of things) into "is" (just one item of this list) without any reason given. Why does he pick "spokesman" (the last item on the list of possible meanings) and not "intercessor" which is the first? Using Shabir Ally's way of arguing, we could conclude that "a Paraclete is an intercessor". Ally thought he even could add "for God", so we could conclude with equal justification that "a Paraclete is an intercessor for God", even though God certainly does not need anyone to intercede for him. Again, Shabir Ally's logic is atrocious, and since he is quite intelligent, we can't excuse his misleading quotations and conclusions from them as innocent mistakes of an ignorant fool. If we may assume that Shabir Ally read those commentaries and dictionaries he quotes from - at least a full page around the quotations he appeals to in his articles - in order to be sure of their meaning, then he knows that these scholars have reached conclusions in their commentaries that contradict his own. Failing to alert his readers to this fact can hardly be called honest scholarship. On the contrary, he purposely tries to make his readers believe something that has no support from any scholars, in particularly not from those whose names he mentions in his article to lend it credibility.
Let us observe the next moves in Ally's word game.
Note that he too does not translate "spokesman for God" as Ally had it sneaked in at the end of his last sentence. We have already mentioned that the meaning of paraclete is one called to our side, an advocate for us. But even if we were to accept the expression "spokesman for God" we would not get the desired conclusion that this must be a human being. Angels are spokemen for God too as they deliver His messages, and so does the Holy Spirit. This does not make him any less divine. If God himself comes to you to speak his message, does that mean he can no longer be God, because he is the one who spoke it?
Furthermore, though Shabir Ally seems to have searched even the most obscure translations to find some expressions that might support his contrived argument in any way, he has not found even one that would give him the desired term "Prophet". Despite this - readers beware -, we find "prophet" appear in his conclusion. Yet again, the quotations do not actually support his claims; his conclusions are not valid.
"... even some who think it was the genuine reading suggest that in the process of Johannine editing it was introduced into a passage that originally mentioned only the Paraclete. The question is of importance because there are some scholars who question the traditional identification of the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit (see App. V), and this is the only passage that makes that identification explicit" (vol. 2, p. 650).
Brown makes it plain that according to some Christian scholars it is not certain that the Paraclete is the Holy Spirit. They think that this only passage that teaches so is a later corruption of the original. Do Muslims need to say any more?
I don't know how many Muslims want to identify with Shabir Ally's methods. Muslims like Shabir Ally might not want to say more but people of any religious persuasion who still care for honesty, integrity and discussions displaying true scholarship certainly need to.
Being an honest scholar, Raymond Brown also reports the opinions of scholars who disagree with his own conclusions. He states them, and then discusses the reasons why he disagrees. Shabir Ally chooses not to follow this example of integrity by the justly famous Raymond Brown, but "forgets" to mention in his article, that Raymond Brown strongly disagrees with the opinion of this fringe group. Brown is not in agreement with any of the above mentioned points. He views the reading "Holy Spirit" as original and states various reasons for it. Also, Brown identifies the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit giving many reasons, not just this one passage disputed by some.
It is worth looking carefully at Shabir Ally's formulations. There is a reason that Shabir Ally is struggling so hard in this part to formulate his statements in such a way that they are correct on a literal level but they will nevertheless create in most readers the intended false impression. The use of Raymond Brown's commentary by Muslim dawah speakers and writers has a history. Akbarally Meherally's article on this topic has not only been circulated in print, but also been on various websites for at least four years. My own refutation of this article has been on the web for over two years, and Meherally has taken note of it at least a year before Shabir Ally placed his article on the web. Shabir Ally is well aware of our web site (and has even asked via email for a public debate with me). Furthermore, Ally and Meherally are both based in Toronto, are both well known Sunni dawah speakers, and there can be little doubt that Shabir Ally has seen my response to Meherally. The only minor difference between Meherally and Ally is that the former took a quote from the above refered to Appendix V, while the latter took his quotation from the main commentary text on John 14, that shortly mentioned the issue which was later to be discussed in more detail in the appendix. However, the false claims are basically the same, and we refer the readers to our detailed response mentioned above.
In fact, the extremely careful wording of Ally's passage is itself giving evidence that he is aware and therefore seeks to avoid the charge of misquotation which I have levelled on Meherally's abuse of Brown's distinguished commentary but he still wants to create the same false impression in the mind of the reader. Unless one reads very carefully, the impression that will stay with the vast majority of casual readers (particularly with the Muslims who are already predisposed to this opinion) is the connection of the famous name of Raymond Brown with the given quotation and the charge of corruption of this Bible passage. This can hardly be viewed as anything else than deliberate deception in intention. No hint is given at all to Brown's own reasoned conviction that the passage is authentic and his identification of the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit. This is deception by omitting relevant details to mislead the reader about the full picture, which is deception just as much as making false statements.
This is not the first time that Shabir Ally was observed abusing famous names by associating them with quotations which are not representing their true opinions. This seems to have become a repeated method of his writings and public debates, and such a regularly employed method of deception needs to be exposed, not excused. The other major occasion was Shabir Ally's debate with Jay Smith, where he presented quotations from Bruce Metzger's standard text book on the New Testament text without making clear that those were not Metzger's own convictions, but again quotation of others which did not agree with his own conclusions, i.e. statements which Metzger went on to refute after quoting them were presented as being from him, who is indeed one of the main authorities of the text of the New Testament. God willing, at some future time, we will transcribe the debate and comment on Ally's abuses in more detail.
Let us assemble some quotes of what Raymond Brown really believes and what Shabir Ally, Akbarally Meherally and other Muslim writers do not want us to know.
In above mentioned Appendix V, on page 1136 Raymond Brown states,
At last, on page 1139, after a detailed discussion of opposing views, including the one quoted by Ally, Dr. Brown gives his own conclusion and writes:
Dr. Brown's well known commentary comes to the opposite conclusion than what Shabir Ally wants us to remember from it. Three points are to retain from this: (1) The identification of the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit, (2) his identification with Jesus himself, and (3) his "location" is in every Christian. This makes clear that he cannot possibly be another human being.
Brown's translation of John 14:15-18 reads
15 "If you love me and keep my commandments, 16 then at my request the Father will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot accept since it neither sees nor recognizes him; but you recognize him since he remains with you and is within you. 18 I shall not leave you as orphans: I am coming back to you.
Jesus promised that the Paraclete will be with his disciples forever (v.16) [Muhammad never was with them, nor did he stay forever after he had come], that he is a spirit, which explains why he cannot be seen by the world (v.17) [Muhammad was not a spirit, but a human being, and was seen by believers and unbelievers alike], in fact, the Paraclete's coming is in some way the coming back of Jesus himself (v.18, but we will not venture here into discussing the deeper issues of the Trinity), [Muhammad never came to the Jesus' apostles, nor did he claim identity with Jesus]. In verse 26, we also read, "The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything that I have said to you." Muhammad never claimed to have been sent in the name of Jesus, nor did he or the Qur'an remind the disciples of all that Jesus had taught them. Muhammad came much too late, and the Qur'an contains hardly anything of Jesus' teaching. It concentrates on narrating the cirumstances of his birth and mentions some of his miracles.
What is Shabir Ally's excuse for failing to mention Dr. Brown's true opinion?
Yes, they need to, because honesty demands to admit that Brown and the vast majority of New Testament scholars, even those who are not believers, think it is the authentic text, and that the Paraclete refers to the Holy Spirit, because John 14:26 is not the only passage that makes the identification, the whole flow of chapters 14-16 demands it, and would still demand it, even if 14:26 were non-existing.
It is correct for us to use "admit" here, since Ally obviously tried to hide the true conclusions of Raymond Brown and the scholarly community at large, committing the very same deception of hiding part of the truth and misrepresenting what the scriptures actually say, which is the regular but unfounded Muslim accusation against Christians.
We pray that God may grant Shabir Ally repentance, that he may either remove or change his deceptive article and henceforth speak and write truthfully. You, the reader will easily be able to check for yourself whether Shabir Ally has removed or corrected his article at the time you are reading this response.
Jochen Katz, November 11, 1999
P.S.: I cannot check for changes on all Muslim sites regularly enough. Please inform me if Shabir Ally has indeed corrected himself. I would like to acknowledge this and update my response accordingly. Nobody should be unjustly accused. Or if you find any errors which have accidentally slipped into in this rebuttal, please let me know as well, so that I can correct them. Thank you very much.
Responses to Shabir Ally's "Islamic Information"
Answering Islam Home Page