THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT
THE next day found Ghulam too busy writing to his friend Emarat for a visit to the missionary. He felt that he must without delay share his secret with his friend who had not yet learned that the Injil was the uncorrupted word of God, still, as ever, a ‘light and guidance for men.’ Moreover he was determined to learn there the will of God for himself! This was news indeed, and, as his pen flew from page to page, he longed to clasp his chum by the hand once more, and tell him face to face of all the new hopes and fears which surged in alternate confusion through his anxious mind.
The writing of this letter came as a great relief to Ghulam. It gave vent to his pent-up feelings, and enabled him to share with another, and that one his nearest and dearest friend, the burden of a great secret. For it was still a carefully guarded secret, and none of his Muslim fellow-students or the maulavi who was his Persian teacher, even remotely suspected the crisis through which he was passing. Ghulam knew perfectly well what would happen when that secret became known, and he knew, too, that it could not much longer be hid; for he was resolved, at whatever cost, to procure and study a copy of the Holy Bible.
The next day passed slowly, and Ghulam waited impatiently for the deepening shadows of evening to bring him the opportunity he sought for another visit to the mission house. But he had grown bolder, and, scarce waiting for the darkness to shield him from, unfriendly eyes, he walked up to the door of the missionary's home, and was ushered in to the well-stocked library of Mr. Williams. It was a copy of the Bible he wanted—nothing more; and the missionary, wise to read the young man's thoughts, took from his shelves a cloth-bound copy of the precious Scriptures and placed it in his hands, and, then, with a warm handshake, allowed him to depart without further conversation. Tightly clasping his new treasure, Ghulam wended his way to the hostel where he and a dozen other Muslim students, under the care of one of the masters, made their temporary home.
The next day was Sunday, and the young student devoted himself to his Bible, determined to learn for himself what it had to teach of God and salvation. He began at the first page; but to his surprise and regret, found no mention of the Prophet Jesus, though he was dimly aware of the fact that in some way or other He was the centre of the Christian faith, and that, to Him, in some way, the divine revelation surely pointed. Still, he was interested, and, as he met, for the first time, the history of Adam and Noah, he was struck with the simple grandeur of the Biblical narratives, and mentally contrasted them with the puerile absurdities of the traditional stories as he had heard them from the lips of wandering maulavis, or read them in such books as the fanciful ‘Lives of the Prophets’. As he read on the name of Abraham, ‘the Friend of God,’ met his gaze, and his heart thrilled with a new emotion as he realized that he was now face to face with the God given story of the great Patriarch. Ghulam had heard not a little of Abraham: indeed his was a more familiar name than any other of the Prophets save Muhammad himself, and the youth could scarce control his excitement as he followed the man of God from his home in Haran, and watched him as he kept alive the torch of monotheistic religion in the midst of the idolatrous nations. Yes! There was no mistaking it, Abraham was the Friend of God, for what else could these startling words, addressed to him by the Deity Himself, mean, ‘I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and be thou a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 12:2-3). What, Ghulam wondered, was the meaning of that last clause, ‘In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ Surely it meant that from Abraham should spring the last and greatest Prophet, Muhammad. No wonder, he said to himself, the Qur'an commands men to study the Taurat and Injil; for if this be the teaching of these ancient Scriptures, then the truth of Islam is assured. Did not Muhammad, the Prophet of God, trace his descent from Isma’il the son of Abraham! Here, then, without doubt, was a clear intimation of the great blessing which should come to the world through the Arabian Prophet. And yet, he asked himself, how is it possible that the missionary should never have noticed this verse? That he could not have done so was certain, for Ghulam remembered distinctly his saying that the Bible contained no mention of Muhammad whatever.
The youth was honestly puzzled, for, try as he would, he could find no satisfactory explanation of the missionary's words, and, so, when evening drew near, he again presented himself at the mission house and unburdened his mind to the sympathetic ears of that gentleman. The latter listened patiently as Ghulam read to him the passage which he had found, and a close observer might have noticed a look of yearning compassion in his deepest grey eyes as he looked into the upturned and animated face of the young Muslim before him. ‘Yes,’ the latter was saying, ‘it seems plain to me that this passage contains a prediction of our Prophet Muhammad; for, he, surely, is descended through Isma'il from Abraham, “the Friend of God,” and obviously, therefore, it is in him that all the nations of the earth are to be blessed—in other words, get salvation.’
For reply the missionary took down his well-thumbed Bible from the desk before him, and, opening it at the seventeenth chapter of Genesis, began reading from the eighteenth verse, ‘And Abraham said unto God, Oh that Isma’il might live before Thee! and God said, nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him. And as for Isma’il, I have heard thee: behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac whom Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.’ ‘This,’ said the missionary, ' furnishes the answer to your question; for from it you will see that it was to be in the line of Isaac, and not in that of Isma’il, that mankind was to be blessed. The blessing of Isma’il was to be a temporal one, and the fulfilment of the promise here made for him is clearly related in the twenty-fifth chapter of this same book of Genesis, where the names of his twelve sons are recorded; but the “everlasting covenant”, which manifestly refers to a spiritual blessing, was by God Himself connected with Isaac, the son of Abraham's wife Sarah. And surely,’ he continued, ‘it is fitting that God's blessing to the world should flow through the fruit of lawful wedlock rather than through the son of a bond-maid. Moreover if you turn to the fourth verse of the twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis, you will find that God there repeated the promise to Isaac himself saying, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”’ This great promise, made in turn to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, was fulfilled in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ; and all who come to God through Him receive the blessings of eternal salvation. I wish,’ continued the missionary, ‘that you would secure a translation of the Qur'an, and study it side by side with the Injil, and then you would see that Muhammad never claimed to be a saviour from sin; on the contrary, the Qur'an repeatedly represents him as being commanded by God to ask pardon for his sins. There are several good translations of the Qur'an now to be had in the English language, one of them, at least, the work of a Muslim; and this latter I would recommend you to study. Read it carefully for yourself, and you will find a total absence of the extravagant claims which have been made for Muhammad in later centuries by his too-admiring followers.’
‘What!’ cried the young Muslim, in a voice which was not without a trace of anger, ‘do you mean to say that the noble Qur'an does not make Muhammad the great intercessor at the day of judgement! And did he not work many wonderful miracles in order to prove that he was a great Prophet sent from God!’
‘Gently, my young friend,’ replied his companion, ‘one thing at a time. Prophetship, intercession, miracles are big words, and not so easily disposed of. I would rather, however, that you thought out this important matter for yourself. Empty your mind of prejudice; ask God's guidance and blessing upon your study, and then determine to know for yourself just what is claimed for Muhammad in the Qur'an, and for Jesus in the Injil. You will find, as I said before, that Muhammad is pictured in the Qur'an as a sinner like other men—and if he be a sinner, then clearly he cannot be a saviour—and, if the Qur'an is correct, then Muhammad cannot be an intercessor for sinners at the judgement-seat of God—for, again, how can a sinner be an intercessor? —and, as to miracles, Muhammad consistently disclaimed the power to work them. My advice to you now is to leave, for the present, your study of the Taurat, and turn to the Injil where you will find recorded the life and work of the Lord Jesus. When you meet any difficulty, come to me, and I shall help you to the best of my power; and, above all, let me repeat, seek the constant help and guidance of God's spirit that He may lead you into all truth.’
The closing words of the missionary, uttered with deliberation, and almost with solemnity, made a great impression upon Ghulam, and, as he turned to go, something within him seemed to tell him that this tall, earnest, almost sad-faced man was right. But Ghulam scarcely dared, yet, to consider what the missionary's words involved, or to look squarely in the face the momentous issues which hung upon the truth of what he had just heard. The youth had been brought up in an orthodox Muslim home, and had been taught from childhood to look upon Muhammad as the last and greatest of a long succession of Prophets. As a boy he had often sat spell-bound listening to the marvellous stories of Muhammad's many miracles, and no lesson had been more persistently drilled into his youthful ears than that the Arabian Prophet would stand up at the great judgement-day, and by his intercession secure salvation for all good Muslims. Little wonder, then, that he was almost shocked at the missionary's words, and, had they been spoken in any other tone, and in any other spirit, the young Muslim would have sprung to his feet and dared any man to speak thus of the Prophet of God. For it was not, as yet, dissatisfaction with Muhammad which had sent Ghulam to a Christian missionary. He had yet to learn how different was the real Muhammad of the Qur'an and of history from the wonder-working creation of the traditionists of later centuries. And yet there was an undefined dissatisfaction with Islam, even as he knew it, which he could not analyze. The formalism of much of that which went under the name of religion had often puzzled him, and he had never been able to understand the men, leaders in the Muslim community, who scrupulously kept the fast during the hours of the day in the month Ramadan, and then-passed the night in revelling and gluttony. He could not forget, either, the new view of prayer which had come to him since that memorable night when he had heard the missionary speak with his God as with a familiar friend, and, almost unconsciously, he found himself comparing that prayer with the lifeless formalism which compelled so many millions of Bengali Muslims to pray in an unknown tongue, without in the least understanding the meaning of what they said. Yes! and he, too, was learning to pray, for that wonderful experience on the river-bank had taught him much of the privilege of communion with the Heavenly Father whom he was feeling after. Before he returned to his lodgings in the school enclosure, therefore, it was not strange that he should turn aside, and, in the deep shadows of a clump of mango trees which stood on an empty block of land near by, pour out his heart in earnest supplication to God. Then, with his precious Bible tightly clasped to his side, he turned towards his lodgings.
As Ghulam entered the hostel, a noisy group of students approached, and quickly noticed the neatly-bound book under his arm. ‘What have you there, Ghulam?’ cried the leader, as he reached out his hand and took the book; and then, with a look of incredulous astonishment, he turned to his companions and cried in a voice of bitter sarcasm, ‘A Bible! By my life, our friend Ghulam might be taken for a missionary. I wonder what possessed him to get a Bible! Don't you know’ he said, addressing Ghulam, ‘that this book has been so altered by the Christians that it can no longer be accepted as the word of God. Why! I thought that every Muslim knew that. I wonder what your father,. the honoured President of the Anjuman-i-Islam, would say if he knew that his precious son was reading such a book,’ and, so saying, the youth dashed the volume to the ground, and deliberately stamped upon it. For a moment there was silence, and then the group of students burst out into a boisterous roar of laughter, which quickly brought the superintendent of the hostel, a Muslim teacher of the school, upon the scene. As he entered the room Ghulam stooped down and picked up the soiled book, whilst the band of students turned to their teacher and, in answer to his enquiries, related the incident which had occasioned the laughter.
The master, to their astonishment, showed neither displeasure, nor surprise at one of his pupils reading the Bible; on the contrary he sternly reproved the lad who had so roughly handled the volume of Scripture, saying as he did so, ‘Let no boy in this hostel dishonour the holy Taurat and lnjil, for I have read much praise of these ancient Scriptures in the noble Qur'an, and I have often studied the copy which was presented to me by the Bible Society when I obtained my B.A. degree. It is said by many, I know, that these books have been corrupted by the Christians, but when I was at college I read a learned commentary on this self-same Bible, written by one of our greatest Indian Muslims, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, in which he proves, beyond all doubt, that the Taurat and Injil have not been altered in the way many modern Muslims suggest, and he quoted many ancient Muhammadan authorities to prove that the Bible, as it exists to-day, is substantially the same as it was in the time of our Prophet, upon whom be the peace and blessing of God. It ill becomes you students, therefore, who make pretensions to learning, to treat with such disrespect this Book, which our holy Qur'an again and again calls “the word of God.” I believe I saw a copy of Sir Syed Ahmad's book in the public library of Dhanpur the other day when I was looking for another book, and I advise you young men to get it and to read it before you again run into sin by treating the holy Bible as if it were a scripture of these idolatrous Hindus.’ So saying, the teacher returned to his private room.
The departure of the teacher was the signal for a remarkable outburst of religious discussion on the part of the students; for, some of them, nurtured in the bosom of orthodox Muslim homes, looked quite aghast at this reversal of current ideas, whilst others, who had been influenced more or less by the newspapers and magazines of the more liberal school of Muslims, hailed with unfeigned delight the unexpected testimony of their teacher. The discussion which ensued was both long and acrimonious, and though Ghulam took little part in it, it was with feelings of satisfaction and thankfulness that he laid his head upon the pillow a little later, and fell into a sound sleep. One remark of his teacher had impressed itself upon his mind, and he mentally resolved that, when the morning dawned, he would visit the public library and secure for perusal the copy of Sir Syed Ahmad's commentary on the Holy Bible which the teacher had mentioned.