A MOMENTOUS INTERVIEW
GHULAM had not been long back at school in Dhanpur before he sought out the missionary, and acquainted him with the result of his interview with maulavi Ibrahim. ‘You see, sir,’ he said ‘the verse of the noble Qur'an which you quoted about our asking advice of the people of the Book—and I must admit now that it does refer to Christians—could only apply to the Jews and Christians of Muhammad's time who were in possession of the uncorrupted Taurat and Injil. It cannot possibly apply to the Christians to-day who follow a mutilated Gospel. The fact is, as our maulavi told us, the Christians, subsequent to the time of our Prophet, have cut out of the Injil many prophecies relating to his mission, and have added many passages about the prophet ‘Isa. Such being the case, it is inconceivable that Muslims should now be expected to ask the Christians concerning matters of religious faith and practice, or to study the Christian Scriptures. Similarly, our maulavi told us, the passages of the Qur'an in which Christians are commanded to obey and follow the Injil, all refer to that Injil which was in use in the time of our Prophet. If that copy were current to-day we should, of course, be bound to read it, and, according to the words "ask the people of the Book,” it would still be our wisdom, as well as our duty, to turn to Christian priests for guidance and instruction. But circumstances alter cases; and, seeing that the Injil has been so radically altered since that time, the command can no longer be binding.’ So saying, the young student waited a reply, not without hope, it must be confessed, that the missionary would acknowledge his error, and turn to the holy doctrines of Islam.
There was no trace of either anger or bitterness in the missionary's voice as he made answer. On the contrary there was an undertone of sadness which the keen ears of Ghulam were quick to detect, and he wondered, as this tall, grave man looked into his eyes with that earnest look which had so impressed him on a previous visit, what his answer would be. It soon came in accents slow and deliberate, and through the note of sadness there was an unmistakable ring of glad assurance which spoke of confidence and power. The missionary spoke with quiet deliberation, and, whilst he deplored the lack of historic knowledge which marked the maulavi's words, Ghulam noticed an entire absence of that bitter invective and hard denunciation which had characterized the latter's speech.
‘Yes!’ the missionary continued, your friend the maulavi has been taught thus, and I can scarcely blame him; for if he had had the benefits of a sound modern education he would never have spoken as he did. No educated Muslim to-day would think of risking his reputation for learning by advancing such arguments; for it is well known now that there are copies of the Injil in existence to-day which were written many years before the birth of Muhammad, and which agree, in all essential particulars, with the copies current throughout the world to-day.
‘What!’ interjected the Muslim youth, ‘do you mean to tell me that the very same copies are to be seen to-day which were current before the time of our Prophet. Then, if there are such, they must, by the Prophecies of Muhammad which they contain, and their freedom from false teaching about the Prophet ‘Isa, prove the utter worthlessness of those copies of the Taurat and Injil which are current to-day.’
‘That is just where you err,’ returned the missionary, ‘it is just because those ancient copies do not contain any reference to a later Prophet named Muhammad, and because their teaching with reference to the person and work of the Lord Jesus is the same as that found in the Gospels current throughout the world to-day that we know the Injil has not been altered subsequent to the time of Muhammad, as some ignorant people imagine.’
‘But how do you know,’ retorted Ghulam, ‘that the ancient copies you mention are really as old as you say? What are the proofs that these copies of the Christian Scriptures really date back to a time anterior to Muhammad?’
‘The proofs are many,’ replied the missionary, ‘and are so conclusive that no scholar, Christian or non-Christian, would deny their validity to-day. To begin with, let me use an illustration. When I was in Cairo some years ago I saw in the library of the great al-Azhar University some very ancient copies of the Qur'an. Some of those copies carried their own proof of their age, for they were written in Cufic characters, which, it is well known, was the script in use in the time of Muhammad and until about four hundred years after the Hijra. It is obvious, therefore, that a copy of the Qur'an written in Cufic characters must, at least, have been transcribed before the fifth century of the Hijra. Thus we know, beyond question, that the copy of the Qur'an which I saw in Cairo must be at least eight centuries old. Now, similarly, the earliest copies of the Greek Injil were written in what is called uncial letters, that is, they were written in large capital letters, and not in the cursive or running hand of later times. Now, just as I have seen an ancient copy of the Qur'an in Cufic characters, so also, when I was in London, I visited the British Museum, and there saw, carefully preserved, an ancient manuscript of the Injil called the Alexandrian manuscript. It is written in the uncial characters which I have just described, and dates from the fifth century of the Christian era, or more than a hundred years before the time of Muhammad. There is another, and still earlier, copy of the Injil, written in these same uncial letters, preserved in the Vatican library at Rome, and one called the Sinaitic manuscript now preserved in the great library at St. Petersburg. Both of these date from the fourth century A.D., and were written, therefore, at least two hundred years before the birth of Muhammad. There are other copies, besides the ones I have mentioned, which were also written before the time of Muhammad, and are still carefully preserved. Now the important point to remember is this: none of these ancient copies mentions the coming of Muhammad or suggests the appearance of a true Prophet later than Jesus; but they all contain the same accounts of the life and death of Jesus Christ as are found in the copies of the Injil current throughout the world to-day. Therefore you see how foolish it is to pretend that Christians have altered the Injil since the time of Muhammad, and how unwise it is to decline to study that Book now, or to “Ask the People of the Book” under the mistaken idea that the present copies of the Injil are not the same as those referred to in the Qur'an. If they were a “light and guidance” for men then, they are certainly still so to-day, and the oft-repeated praises lavished upon the holy Books by the Qur'an may be equally applied to the present copies of the Injil.’
‘Another proof of the integrity of the Injil is found’, the missionary continued, ‘in the ancient versions or translations of that Book still extant. With the early spread of Christianity the need soon arose for translations of the Christian Scriptures into the different languages spoken by the converts, and as early as the second century of the Christian era we find a translation of the Injil into Syriac. Later, but long before the time of Muhammad, translations were made into Latin, Gothic and other languages. Now, again, the important fact to observe is that none of these early translations, made with the greatest care from the Greek originals, contains any mention of Muhammad or presents any version of the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ radically different from that which appears in the pages of the Injil which is current to-day. The conclusion is obvious: the Injil has not been altered, but is to-day the same as it was at and before the time of Muhammad.’
As the missionary ceased speaking, he reached out his hand, and took from his desk before him a leather-bound copy of the Bible. This he opened, and showed to the astonished Ghulam a beautiful photographic reproduction of a page of the very Alexandrian manuscript of the Injil which he had been describing. ‘This’, said he, ‘is an exact copy of the famous manuscript, and you will now be in a position to appreciate the reverential care with which Christians have collected and preserved the ancient copies of their Scriptures.’
The young Muslim took the volume in his hands and reverently kissed it before returning it to its owner, and, then, too overwhelmed with all that he had seen and heard to attempt a further conversation, he asked to be permitted to take his leave. The missionary rose, and as he took the young student's hand, he said in earnest tones, ‘Ghulam, have you ever asked God for guidance in this all-important matter?’ The young man blushed, for his only idea of prayer had been the repetition of the Arabic canonical prayers taught by Muhammad to the Arabs of the seventh century. These meant nothing to him. As a boy he had been obliged to memorize them, and, as a duty, he had performed them more or less regularly ever since; but of the precious privilege of communion with God as a Father he knew nothing.
The missionary was quick to note the evident embarrassment which his question had caused, and, without waiting for further answer, he placed a kindly hand on the young man's shoulder and said: ‘Ghulam will you kneel with me whilst I pray.’ Scarce knowing what he did, the young man knelt beside the Christian, whilst the latter poured out his heart to God.
‘Our Heavenly Father,’ he cried, ‘we are Thine unworthy children. We have nought to call our own. All we have comes from Thee; even the impulses for good, the desire to know and do Thy will, which, all too seldom, find a fleeting place in our unworthy hearts. Oh! help us now. Help this young seeker after truth. Let the glorious light of Thy truth shine into his soul. Reveal to him Thy great love as manifested in Jesus Christ, and strengthen him to follow and obey the truth as Thou dost reveal it unto him.’ We ask it in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ Then, as they rose to their feet, the missionary warmly pressed the hand of the young Muslim, and the latter stepped out into the night.
Ghulam scarce knew whither he went. He had a dim consciousness of wishing to be alone; for his heart was torn with conflicting thoughts, and he longed to quietly consider the fateful interview which had just come to an end. None knew better than he the truth of the missionary's words with regard to the maulavi, for he had long been aware of the ignorance of that gentleman of all questions which lay outside the narrow curriculum of the Provincial madrassa, and he had long since learned the futility of applying to him for assistance in any matter not connected with the Qur'an. It did not, therefore, surprise him that Ibrahim ‘Ali knew nothing of the ancient manuscripts of the Taurat and Injil, and he was, on that account, the more willing to believe that the narrow bigotry of the latter was born of ignorance, and not of wickedness. But the revelation which had come to Ghulam that night was astonishing beyond anything of which he could have dreamed. Yet how plain it all seemed now! It was now that the long drill in an English school yielded its results, and the historic sense, which had slowly and imperceptibly been developing in his mind, enabled him to appreciate at their full value the momentous facts which the missionary had placed before him.
Yes! there could be no longer any doubt about it; the Injil had remained unchanged, and was to-day the uncorrupted word of God; still, as ever, a ‘light and guidance’ to all who would follow its teachings. He must have a copy of that Book without delay, and he resolved to seek an early opportunity to procure one from the missionary—but not that night. No, he must first go home to think, to fight a battle in his own heart such as he had never fought before; for he had heard enough concerning the contents of the Injil to dimly apprehend where such a study, conducted in a free, unprejudiced spirit, would lead him; and he knew only too well the reception which would be his in his village home when the truth was known there. Thus the anxious thoughts chased each other with lightning rapidity through his mind as he strode on into the night, until at last he found himself on the bank of the Ganges, and, almost without thinking what he did, he sat down on the green grass and gazed across the waters of the river. The place and its loneliness soothed him, and the gentle breeze cooled his heated forehead. Then, as he sat on, he went over again the words of the missionary, and listened once more, it almost seemed, to that wonderful prayer. How different from any kind of prayer which he knew! For the first time in his life he had heard a man speak with God, and the holy atmosphere of those solemn moments still seemed to linger with him. The missionary had prayed for ‘guidance’. Yes, he, Ghulam needed that; he had asked for light.’ Yes; he needed that also; for he was enveloped in a darkness so dense that his very soul cried out in agony. How well the foreigner had gauged his needs! how accurately read his thoughts! As the young Muslim soliloquized thus, a voice seemed to say to him, why cannot you also pray? The thought almost stunned him by its suddenness, and yet it would not be put aside, and before the young Muslim, who was already nearer to the light than he knew, had realized what he was doing, he found himself upon his knees and pouring out his heart to God in passionate entreaty. For the first time in his life Ghulam really prayed—and the angels in heaven rejoiced—and the faithful God, whose ears are ever open to the cry of his children, heard and answered, for, as he rose to his feet, a strange quiet and peace seemed to fill his soul, and he knew that God had answered his prayer.