THE MAULAVI'S CHALLENGE
WHEN Emarat received his friend's letter in which the latter had described his interview with the missionary, and detailed the new and fascinating story of the ancient manuscripts of the Bible, he received something of a shock. He had not received the educational advantages which Ghulam had enjoyed, and was, consequently, slower to appreciate the value of the proofs of the integrity of the Christian Scriptures which that story afforded; yet he dimly realized that those proofs were founded on accurate and scientific knowledge, and were not likely to be overthrown by the less-educated, if more intolerant, Muslim priest who posed as the oracle for the whole Muslim community of the district in which he lived. Yet Emarat was not one to take things on trust. His was a nature which loved to probe things to the bottom, and, ere he had finished the perusal of his friend's letter, he had determined to once more interview the Maulavi and acquaint him with the substance of the missionary's reply.
Ibrahim ‘Ali was annoyed to learn that his previous words had not finally settled the question of the integrity of the Taurat and Injil, and his vanity was piqued at the thought that these young disciples should, after their interview with him, have again sought out the Christian missionary. Moreover, he knew perfectly well that he was not qualified to answer these new arguments of the Christian. Both his training as a Muslim priest and his subsequent reading had been confined within the narrowest limits, and the general question of historical criticism involved in the argument based by Mr. Williams on the ancient manuscripts was as foreign to him as the Greek in which those manuscripts were written. He, very adroitly, therefore, passed over the real issue in silence, and devoted himself to the more congenial task of raising other issues. It would be both wearisome and unprofitable to the reader for us to relate in detail all that the maulavi said in his impassioned reply to Emarat. It was largely made up of abuse of Christianity in general and Christian missionaries in particular, but he did not forget to recall the past glorious history of Islam, nor to remind his youthful listener of the wonderful spread of that faith. The marvellous miracles of Muhammad, too, as attesting the divine origin of Islam, were repeatedly referred to, and, finally, in a burst of fervid rhetoric, more suited to an audience of hundreds than the solitary youth who sat before him, he concluded thus:—
‘Islam is the final and perfect religion of God, which has superseded all others, and which can never be superseded nor overthrown; and the Qur'an is the one rule of faith and practice for all men to-day. The Christian missionary may bring a thousand arguments to prove that the Taurat and Injil are uncorrupted, but I will not believe him. He says that the noble Qur'an attests the integrity of those Books, and again I give him the lie. I can bring a dozen verses from the holy Qur'an itself to prove that the Bible has been altered; and our traditions are full of the same teaching. Take your missionary this challenge: tell him I am prepared to meet him in public debate; and, as he has referred to our noble Qur'an, that Qur'an shall be our judge. I undertake to prove from the Qur'an that the Taurat and Injil have been corrupted by Jews and Christians, and are, therefore, no longer worthy of credence. If I can do so, the missionary is to give an undertaking that he will embrace Islam; whilst, if, on the other hand, I fail to do so, I will become a Christian. Now go!’ he exclaimed with a wave of the hand, ‘if your fine Englishman refuses my challenge, then let all men know that he is afraid, and that, as Islam won and conquered the lands of the Injil in the glorious days of old, so again to-day, it has demonstrated its superiority to all other faiths.’ Thus saying the Maulavi dismissed his young visitor.
As Emarat returned to his humble home his thoughts were busy. He had been impressed by the assurance of the maulavi; whilst the dramatic challenge thrown down to the Christian missionary had roused his enthusiasm and whetted his curiosity. What, he wondered, would the missionary say in reply. Would he accept the challenge? and if he did, could he answer the arguments of the maulavi? Emarat doubted both, for he was not yet aware of the fact that Mr. Williams, though a Christian priest, had given much time to the study of Arabic, and really knew a great deal more of Arabic and Muhammadan literature than did the maulavi himself. He had yet to see that wonderful library in the mission house at Dhanpur which contained amongst its treasures not only several Arabic copies of the Qur'an together with translations of that book into English, Persian, Urdu and Bengali, but was also the custodian of a number of the most famous Muslim commentaries of the Qur'an, and provided the reader with complete sets of the most authoritative collections of Muslim traditions.
Now we shall see, mused the young merchant, whether the Christian missionary really knows what he is talking about; and, as Emarat pictured already in his mind the prospective struggle, he inwardly hoped that the Maulavi would be victorious. Yet the thought came to him again that perhaps the Christian would decline the challenge, and content himself with asking, from his home in Dhanpur, an answer to his argument based on the ancient manuscripts. Such a course, Emarat had to admit, would be perfectly legitimate, for, until that argument was disposed of, the missionary had a perfect right to decline to take up the consideration of any other point. Yet Emarat hoped that such would not be the case, for he honestly longed to know the truth, and realized as he did so how inconclusive the result would be if the missionary declined to meet the maulavi. He resolved, therefore, to go himself to Dhanpur and urge the Christian to take up the Muslim's challenge. Emarat was anxious, also, to meet this man who had so profoundly influenced his friend Ghulam, and he was not without hope that he might be able to secure a copy of the Bible for his own perusal. A day or two later, therefore, when business required his presence at the provincial town, he sought out Ghulam and, having stated the case fully to him, secured the promise of his friend's active support in soliciting the missionary's acceptance of the maulavi's challenge.
The two friends discussed long and earnestly the whole position, and whilst neither had much hope that the missionary would meet the maulavi, they were both exceedingly anxious that such a meeting should take place in order to settle, once for all, the doubt and uncertainty which possessed them. Emarat was impatient of delay, and wished to visit the missionary that evening, but Ghulam had much to tell his friend, and, drawing his arm in his, talked long and earnestly of all the experiences of the last few days as they strolled across the fields that led to the bank of the Ganges. But the dews were heavy this autumn evening, and, as the shadows deepened, the two friends retraced their steps to Ghulam's room in the school hostel, and there discussed together their plans for the future. Emarat was interested, too, in the copy of the Bible which Ghulam now showed him, and he resolved, more than ever, to obtain a copy of that book for himself.
But there were other treasures to be inspected, and, as Ghulam took from his trunk a copy of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan's Commentary on the Holy Bible, 13 his friend's eyes sparkled. Emarat had never heard of the two bulky volumes which now met his gaze, but Sir Syed's name was a household word in every town and village of Eastern Bengal, and the young merchant had often heard the great Muslim leader and founder of Aligarh college spoken of in public meetings, and in the Muslim press in terms of the highest praise. For Syed Ahmad was coming to his own, and the man, who, for his advocacy of western learning as the stepping-stone to Muslim progress in India had, but a few years before, been anathematized on Muslim platforms and in the Muslim press, was now the popular idol of all but the most conservative Muslims in India. True, the great leader had gone, but the influence of his work remained, and from Cashmere in the north to Tuticorin in the south, Muslim lads, destined to be the leaders of that community a few years hence, were pressing into the spacious halls of the great college at ‘Aligarh, and were imbibing something of the spirit of the great reformer himself.
‘Maulavi 'Abdu'llah, our Persian teacher, advises us to read this book,’ Ghulam was saying, ‘he is, as you know, a B.A. and a great admirer of Sir Syed. It was he who took my part on the evening when the students dishonoured the Holy Bible, and I verily believe that if he had not appeared when he did, they would have destroyed my copy altogether. This Commentary on the Holy Bible, is a most interesting book, and reveals the wide learning of its illustrious author, for Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Urdu and English are alike pressed into service in order to elucidate his important theme. But what is of most interest to me is the fact that Sir Syed practically agrees with Mr. Williams in affirming that the copies of the Holy Bible, current throughout the world to-day, are the same as those copies which are so praised in the noble Qur'an, and which were current in the time of the Prophet Muhammad. I must confess that I had not known before that such a famous Muslim leader held such views; but when I came to study his book, I found that a great many of the ancient Muslim commentators of the Qur'an took the same position. This was surprise upon surprise, and yet Sir Syed could not have been mistaken, for, in this book, he quotes at length, in the original Arabic and Persian, those great writers to whom he refers. Look here, for example,’ continued the youth, as he turned over the pages of the first volume, ‘here is a quotation from one of the greatest commentaries of the Holy Qur'an known as the Tafsiru’l-Kabir.
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ: أَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا مُحَرِّفِينَ يُحَرِّفُونَ التَّوْرَاةَ وَالْإِنْجِيلَ. وَعِنْدَ الْمُتَكَلِّمِينَ هَذَا مُمْتَنِعٌ؛ لِأَنَّهُمَا كَانَا كِتَابَيْنِ بَلَغَا فِي الشُّهْرَةِ وَالتَّوَاتُرِ إِلَى حَيْثُ يَتَعَذَّرُ ذَلِكَ فِيهِمَا، بَلْ كَانُوا يَكْتُمُونَ التَّأْوِيلَ.
‘Imam Fakhru'd-din Razi states in his commentary, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas, that the Jews and early Christians were altering the text of the Pentateuch and New Testament; but that, in the opinion of eminent doctors and theologians, it was not practicable thus to corrupt the text, because those Scriptures were generally known and widely circulated, having been handed down from generation to generation. No interpolation could, therefore, be made in them, although it is admitted that some people used to conceal their true sense and interpretation.’
‘Look here again,’ continued Ghulam, as he turned over the leaves to page 74, ‘here is a quotation from the Tarfsir-i-durr-i-Manthur.’
در المنثور. سورة البقرة. وأخرج ابن المنذر وابن أبي حاتم عن وهب بن منبه قال إن التوراة والإنجيل كما أنزلهما الله لم يُغير منهما حرف. ولكنهم يضلون بالتحريف والتأويل، وكتب كانوا يكتبونها من عند أنفسهم وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ. فأما كتب الله فإنها محفوظة ولا تحول.
‘In the Tarfsir-i-durr-i-Manthur,—Mandhar and Ibn Abi Hatim state, on the authority of Ibn Munba that the Taurat and Injil are in the same state of purity in which they were sent down from heaven, and that no alterations have been made in them, but that the Jews were wont to deceive the people by unsound arguments, and by wresting the sense of Scripture. There were other books which the Jews had themselves written, although they falsely pretended that those books had come from God. The writings, however, which were really inspired were in careful keeping, and beyond the reach of mutilation.’
‘I am astounded’ broke in Emarat, ‘to hear such words from our Muslim commentators, for I have never heard such opinions expressed by our village priests. Can it be that the latter do not know these things or are they wilfully concealing them? But if this be really the teaching of the noble Qur'an, then what did Maulavi Ibrahim mean by saying that he could bring a dozen verses from our Scripture to prove that the Taurat and Injil have been corrupted by Jews and Christians. I confess, dear friend, that I am still in a maze; for all this teaching about the Injil being still the uncorrupted word of God is so new, and so opposed to everything I have hitherto heard about that book, that I find it difficult to take it in; and yet it agrees exactly with what the missionary said about the ancient manuscripts of the Taurat and Injil. I feel more than ever that we must persuade your Christian friend to come to Islamabad so that we may hear both sides of this important question, for only thus can our doubts be set at rest, and this intolerable uncertainty brought to an end. But after all, you have only quoted me the opinion of two commentators of the Qur'an to the effect that the Injil has not been corrupted. Does Sir Syed Ahmad bring forward any other authorities?’
‘Why yes! many,’ replied his friend, ‘I haven't time to read them all to you now, and I am sorry that you do not know enough English to be able to read these books for yourself; but I will give you one or two more examples, in order that you may see that the writers quoted by Sir Syed Ahmad are not obscure and unknown authors, but are amongst the most influential leaders in Islamic literature. Here, for example, is a quotation on page 69 from the great Bukhari:—
قال البخاري رحمة الله عليه في صحيحه في بيان قوله تعالى يحرفون الكلام عن مواضعه يحرفونه يزيلون وليس أحد يزيل لفظ من كتب الله ولكنهم يحرفون يتأولونه على غير تأويل.
Imam Muhammad Isma’il Bukhari writes in his book that the word tahrif (corruption) signifies to change a thing from its original nature, and that there is no man who could corrupt a single word of what has proceeded from God, so that the Jews and Christians could corrupt only by misrepresenting the meaning of the words of God.’
Here is another quotation on page 70 from the Persian commentary, known as the ‘Fuzu’l-Kabir:—
"وچوں قراتِ جائز التلاوت بسیار است واختلافات قرات درحروف والفاظ بےشمار دریں اوراق ازقراة معتبر روایت بکراز امام عاصم رحمتہ اللہ علیہ دریں دیار بصفت اشتہار ورتبت اعتبار دار ثبت میگر ددوبعض ازکلمات کہ حفص رابا اومخالفت است ومعنی قرآن بسبب آن اختلاف وتغیر کلی مے یابداشارتی میرود"
‘Shah Wali Ullah in his Fuzu'l-Kabir says that he thinks that in paraphrases and commentaries on books of the Old Testament people were in the habit of corrupting the sense of certain passages of Scripture, but that the original text was not tampered with, and the same is the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas.’
‘Well, well!’ exclaimed Emarat, I must confess that I am astounded at what I have heard to-day, for I was secretly hoping that some one might be able to prove that the words of the missionary about the ancient copies of the Injil agreeing with the present copies were false but here we have the witness of these great Muslim scholars agreeing exactly with what he said. Why is it, I wonder, that practically all our village maulavis say that the Injil has been corrupted?’
There was a moment's silence, and then Ghulam replied: ‘To be candid, Emarat, our village maulavis are generally uneducated men, that is to say, their education has been of a very narrow and limited type. Few of them are able to read these great Arabic commentaries for themselves, and perhaps fewer still know enough Arabic to be able to understand them even if they possessed them. My own belief is that the more educated men of our Muslim community know that the Taurat and Injil have not been corrupted. One thing I know, and that is that Maulavi 'Abdu'llah, our Persian teacher believes in their integrity, and regularly reads the Injil; and I noticed one day in the house of Maulavi Nasiru'd-din, the sub-judge, a copy of the Holy Bible in English, so it would seem that he also studies that Book. For my own part I am convinced now that the Taurat and Injil are the uncorrupted word of God, and although, like you, I hope we shall have an opportunity to hear what Maulavi Ibrahim has to say for his belief, or rather unbelief, yet it cannot for a moment be imagined that his judgment is to be compared with, that of men like the great Bukhari and others who have been quoted by Sir Syed Ahmad in his book. The last named expresses his own deliberate judgment, after full and careful examination of the arguments for and against the integrity of the Taurat and Injil, and after very exhaustive study of our ancient commentaries. On page 91 of his book he writes: From all the foregoing authorities it is very evident that, according to the Muhammadan belief, the expression of corrupting Scripture does not imply an actual mutilation of the text; but simply the modifying of words when read to another, or the concealing of passages, or the transgressing of the commandments of God, or misinterpreting or misconstructing the word of God.’
‘One thing I intend to do,’ continued Ghulam as he finished reading, ‘and that is to obtain at once a good translation of the noble Qur'an and see for myself what is actually written there, not only concerning the Christian Scriptures, but concerning our Prophet's power to intercede at the last day. The missionary, you will remember, said that the Qur'an makes no such claim, and he even denied that Muhammad claimed to be a Saviour at all. I confess that all this is inexplicable to me, and when the Christian goes so far as to say that, according to the noble Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad was a sinner like other men, then I decline to follow him without further proof. Why, if such were the case, of course he could not intercede, and we Muslims are mad to rest our hopes for salvation upon him for a moment longer.’
When Ghulam finished speaking, there was a profound silence for some seconds, and, then, turning to his friend, he said: ‘Emarat, let us ask God's guidance in this difficult matter, for only He can help us at a time like this’, and, so saying, the young student fell upon his knees and poured out his heart to God for light and guidance. Then they parted with the promise of a visit to the house of the missionary on the morrow, when, they determined, no means should be left untried to induce him to visit Islamabad and meet Maulavi Ibrahim in public debate.
13. Syed Ahmad Khan, Tabyin-ul-Kalam fi Tafsir-al-turat-wa'l Injil ala Mullat-al-Islam (The Mohomedan Commentary on the Holy Bible).