THE MUNSHI'S STORY
ON the following day, as evening drew near, Ghulam and his friend stepped up to the door of the missionary's house, and were ushered into that gentleman's study. He already had a visitor, with whom he was engaged in earnest conversation, but he turned and extended a warm welcome to the two young men who were now shown into the room. Emarat looked with no little interest upon this foreigner, for it was his first actual meeting with one of the ruling race. It is true he had often seen Government officials during their visits of inspection to Islamabad, but those men lived and moved in another world than his, and he had never in all his life actually conversed with an Englishman. The white man who now so graciously welcomed him to his home claimed his interest, however, not merely because he was a foreigner and a Christian, but because he was the man who had so profoundly influenced his friend Ghulam.
Emarat was naturally a hero-worshipper, and being debarred from continuing his own studies, had always rejoiced at the successes of his chum. To tell the truth, he was not a little proud of Ghulam's unbroken record of success as a student, and he had begun to look upon him as one of very superior intellectual attainments. The judgment of Ghulam always counted much with him, and he was the more interested, therefore, in the foreigner before him from the fact that Ghulam regarded him as a man of God, and as one whose word was to be listened to with the deepest respect. Emarat was more than interested, therefore, as the tall, well-built man before him rose and greeted him with a warm handshake, and, in excellent Bengali, expressed his pleasure at making his acquaintance. But what impressed the young Muslim most was the searching glance of those grey, earnest eyes, which seemed as if they would pierce his very soul and reveal the secrets hidden there. He remembered, then, how Ghulam had spoken of those same eyes and of the world of feeling that seemed to live there. Yes! his friend was right; this man was no deceiver; misled and mistaken he might be; but Emarat felt instinctively that such a man, almost ascetic in his looks, and with strong purpose written deeply upon the lines about his mouth, was a man who believed he had a mission in life. All this flashed through the mind of the young merchant in a moment of time, and then his attention was diverted to the stranger to whom he was now introduced.
The name of the gentleman, the missionary informed them, was Mozir Latif now a Christian preacher, but at one time a Muslim priest. He was usually known, however, amongst his Christian acquaintances, simply as ‘the munshi’. Emarat had heard of Muslims embracing the Christian religion before this, but the man who was now introduced to him was the first actual Muslim convert to Christianity whom he had met, and both he and his friend Ghulam felt their interest aroused to an unusual degree by this stranger. The munshi, for as such we shall hereafter speak of him, was rather short of stature, above the middle age, and with a beard showing unmistakable streaks of grey. He shook hands warmly with the two friends, and by his address showed himself to be a man of more education than is usually associated with village Muslim priests. His home, he informed them, was in Dacca, a large city two hundred miles away, but since his return from the great college at Serampur, where he had been sent for theological training after his baptism, he had been living with his family at Dhanpur, and had been assisting the missionary there in preaching the Christian religion to Hindus and Muslims alike. He had been baptized, so he told them, some ten years before, and concluded by extending to them both a hearty invitation to visit him in his humble home near the mission church.
Greetings over, the impetuous Emarat at once rushed into the subject which was nearest his heart, and, in a few hurried sentences, told the story of his interview with Maulavi Ibrahim at Islamabad, and of the latter's challenge to the missionary to meet him there in public debate concerning the Qur'anic testimony to the Taurat and Injil. The missionary listened in silence as the young man told his story, and a close observer might have noticed a faint smile playing about his lips as the youth grew eloquent with enthusiasm, and showed so unmistakably his belief in the ultimate victory of the maulavi. But the hopes of the two friends were dashed to the ground by the very first words which proceeded from the lips of the missionary.
‘I have little faith,’ he began, ‘in such debates. I have almost always avoided them in the past, and when they have taken place they have invariably been unsatisfactory in their results. I do not fear to meet any Muslim in debate, the truth is bound to ultimately prevail; but I feel that such discussions seldom do good, and often do harm by stirring up angry feelings. My advice to your maulavi friend is to prayerfully study this matter for himself. A mere dialectical victory will do neither him nor me any good; and as to his proposal that the vanquished should embrace the religion of the victor—well, I could not entertain it for a moment. Religion is a matter of the heart more than of the head, and I could no more receive the maulavi into the Christian Church, because I had managed to beat him in argument, than I could myself enter Islam because, forsooth, I was not clever enough to answer my opponent's objections. No, religious difficulties are not settled in such an arbitrary fashion.’
‘But, sir,' replied Emarat, the maulavi says that he can produce a dozen verses from the noble Qur'an which prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Taurat and Injil have been corrupted by Jews and Christians since the time of our Prophet. You, on the contrary, affirm that no such corruption has taken place. How, then, are we to arrive at the truth of the matter? You tell us that there are ancient manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures still in existence which were written long before the time of Muhammad, and which agree with the copies current to-day, but we, as Muslims, cannot accept anything which contradicts our noble Qur'an.’
‘But does this contradict the teaching of the Qur'an?’ inquired the missionary. ‘I have studied the Qur'an very carefully, and I must confess that I have never met any other teaching; on the contrary, a careful study of every passage of that book which refers to the Taurat and Injil will show that, whilst the Jews are sometimes accused of altering the meaning of certain passages by false exegesis, and are even accused of hiding the truth, yet the Qur'an nowhere accuses them of altering the text of their Scriptures.’
‘Well, sir,’ interrupted Ghulam, ‘I do wish you would reconsider your decision. We students have not the leisure to study these subjects for ourselves, and yet we long to know the truth of the matter. Moreover, if our maulavi is in error, surely this challenge affords a good opportunity to put him right.’
‘There is undoubtedly something to be said for this view of the matter’ replied the missionary, ‘but I cannot promise now to grant your request. However, come to-morrow or the next day, and in the meantime I will reconsider the whole question and let you know my final decision’, and, so saying, he rose and bade the two friends goodnight. Then, turning to the munshi, he said: ‘Now, brother, what is your opinion with regard to this matter? You know that I seldom pay attention to these challenges, which, more often than not, are simply made in order to gain for the challenger a notoriety which he would not otherwise possess. My own experience leads me to think that such challenges are seldom made with the desire of learning the truth. On the contrary, the Muslim who is proved to be in the wrong, instead of acknowledging the fact and seeking for further light, usually becomes a most bitter enemy; and I must confess that I view with the gravest misgivings a meeting of the nature indicated in this challenge.’
‘That is true sir’, replied the munshi, ‘and yet, in this case, I am inclined to advise your acceptance of the challenge. You see, there are others, besides the maulavi himself, to be considered. There are these young men, who really seem anxious to know the truth, and then there is that greater audience which will be present to listen to the discussion at Islamabad. For their sakes I believe it would be best for you to go. We can arrange beforehand the terms of the debate in such a manner that each speaker shall have a certain allotted time in which to set forth his views, and we shall, moreover, insist upon the speaker keeping to the terms of the challenge, so that the usual Muslim practice of rushing from one point to another will be absolutely vetoed. My proposal is this: let me go to Islamabad personally and arrange the terms of the debate with the maulavi. These shall be written out and signed by both you and him. If such a course be pursued, there will not be, I think, any unseemly wrangling or introduction of irrelevant matter.’
‘Well,’ responded the missionary, ‘you know these Muslims much better than I do, and if your mature judgment advises such a course, then I am ready to fall in with it. But one thing I must insist upon, and that is, that there must be no wandering from the subject set down for discussion. Then, too, a time must be fixed which will make it possible to carry out the programme as previously arranged. It is a favourite practice with Muslim apologists to rush off “to prayers” when they find themselves getting into difficulties in debates of this nature. Such a thing must not be allowed to happen at Islamabad.’
So, much to the delight of Ghulam and Emarat, it was arranged that the munshi should proceed to Islamabad and arrange for a public discussion in the terms of the challenge made by the maulavi. At the munshi's suggestion the week following Christmas was fixed for the debate; for, said he, Ghulam will then be at home for his holidays, and will be able to listen to and profit by the discussion.’
On the following day, as Ghulam and Emarat were taking their evening walk together, the conversation drifted to the munshi.
‘He seems an educated fellow, too,’ Ghulam was saying, ‘I wonder what led him to become a Christian. Does he, I wonder, know Arabic sufficiently well to understand the noble Qur'an? I wonder, too, whether he has studied the Taurat and Injil.’
‘Personally I cannot understand any Muslim exchanging his religion for Christianity’, retorted Emarat, ‘What if the Injil be the uncorrupted word of God! Did not the Qur'an come after the Injil and abrogate its doctrines and precepts! and was not Muhammad the last Prophet! I confess it has always been a puzzle to me how any Muslim could become a Christian, and yet I know that in the Panjab quite large numbers of our co-religionists have, as a matter of fact, been baptized and have embraced Christianity. I, like you, am anxious to know what induced the munshi to forsake our glorious religion, and I have a proposal to make. You remember how, when we were together last evening, he invited us to visit him in his home. Well, why not let us go and have a talk with him. Perhaps we may be able to persuade him to abandon Christianity and return to the religion of his fathers. What do you say to a visit this very evening?’
Ghulam cordially agreed to the proposal of his chum, and soon the two friends found themselves standing before the door of the munshi, by whom they were at once ushered into a small room which did duty as a guest-room. The room was simply furnished, but the lads both noticed a well-filled book-case in one corner, whilst, hung prominently on the walls, were several beautiful illuminated Scripture texts in English and Bengali. The munshi, who expressed himself both pleased and honoured by the visit, was evidently disturbed from some serious study by the advent of the two young men, for, on the little table in the centre of the room, they noticed two or three open Urdu books, whilst a pile of disordered manuscript lay littered around.
‘I fear’, began Ghulam, ‘that we are trespassing upon your time, for it is evident that you are busy.’
‘Oh no, not at all’, came the quick reply, ‘what I am doing now is work which I keep for my spare hours. I am always pleased to see visitors.’ And then ensued a lot of desultory conversation, which would be of little interest to the reader, and has little bearing upon our story, until, at length, Emarat, unable to restrain his impatience longer, broke in with the question which had long been hovering upon his lips: ‘But Munshi Sahib’ he exclaimed, ‘What induced you to forsake our glorious faith and become a Christian?’
The young Muslim little thought how the Christian preacher had been praying and waiting for such an opportunity as this question afforded, and the latter was soon engaged in a long and earnest description of his fruitless search after peace until he found it in Christ. It would take too long to relate to the reader all the wonderful steps in that long search; but the preacher's eyes again and again filled with tears as he told how, years before, he had found Islam unable to satisfy the deepest needs of his heart, and had ultimately abandoned the world in despair and adopted the garb of a fakir or ascetic, and wandered from place to place in search of peace. Sufiism, too, with its mystical pantheism, had been tried and found wanting until, finally, the wanderer had found rest to his soul through the perusal of a copy of the Injil which had fallen into his hands.
The story was a long one, and the two friends were strangely moved by its recital, for they had never met religious experience of such a type as this in all their lives, and they mentally contrasted it with the empty formalism of most of what they had been taught to call religion. What impressed them most of all, was the awful sense of sin which the munshi had experienced before coming into the light. Was it true, they asked themselves, that all their vaunted works were as filthy rags in the sight of the all-holy God? Could it be, as the munshi said, that good works could never cancel sin? Such thoughts as these flashed, unbidden, through their minds as the preacher told his story, and, when he had finished with a triumphant testimony to the peace and joy of forgiven sin through the atoning death of Christ, the lads found their own eyes wet with tears. But doubts were not yet dead, and Emarat, impulsive as ever, was soon plying his new friend with more questions.
‘But what’, he asked, ‘was there in Islam and the Qur'an that failed to satisfy your soul? Surely the intercession of our great Prophet will ensure the salvation of all true Muslims; and, if so, then what need of Christianity?’
‘Oh!’ replied the munshi, ‘that is just where Islam fails. In the first place, the Qur'an does not teach that Muhammad will intercede for Muslims at the Judgment Day; on the contrary it says in Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:48,
وَاتَّقُواْ يَوْماً لاَّ تَجْزِي نَفْسٌ عَن نَّفْسٍ شَيْئاً وَلاَ يُقْبَلُ مِنْهَا شَفَاعَةٌ وَلاَ يُؤْخَذُ مِنْهَا عَدْلٌ وَلاَ هُمْ يُنصَرُونَ.
‘And fear ye the day when soul shall not satisfy for soul at all, nor shall any intercession be accepted from them, nor shall any ransom be taken, neither shall they be helped.’
‘In the next place, according to the Qur'an, all Muslims must first enter hell, and, only after suffering the punishment of their sins there will they be finally released. Such teaching brings no comfort to one burdened with sin, nor does it give hope and courage to the human soul as it stands face to face with the last great enemy, death.’
‘What!’ interjected Ghulam, ‘do you really mean to say that the Qur'an teaches this horrible doctrine? Our maulavis never speak of this, nor do they ever hint at such a gloomy future for the followers of the last Prophet.’
‘Your maulavis, unfortunately, do not all know what the Qur'an really teaches’ replied the munshi, ‘nor do they care to speak of it when they do know but one of the greatest of them, the late Maulavi Imadu'd-Din, who afterwards became a Christian priest, was so impressed with this teaching of the Qur'an that it formed one of the factors which decided him to forsake Islam.’
‘Where is it taught in the noble Qur'an,’ interjected Ghulam ‘that every Muslim must enter hell before he can ultimately hope for the joys of Paradise?’
‘Here is the passage,’ replied the munshi as he took up a copy of the Arabic Qur'an from his table and opened it at the 68th and 71st verses of Qur’an Maryam (19:67),
فَوَرَبِّكَ لَنَحْشُرَنَّهُمْ وَالشَّيَاطِينَ ثُمَّ لَنُحْضِرَنَّهُمْ حَوْلَ جَهَنَّمَ جِثِيّاً.
‘And I swear by thy Lord! we will surely gather together them, and the Satans; then will we set them on their knees round hell . . . no one is there of you who shall not go down unto it.’
Or, as it is explained in the Tafsir-i-Jalalain أي داخل جهنم that is, “enter hell”. 14 ‘Abbas explains the verse by saying that it covers every one except the Prophets and Apostles; 15 but the Qur'an, in this place, distinctly says, that every one must enter hell.’
‘Well, I have never heard anything like this before’, exclaimed Emarat, as he heaved a deep sigh. ‘Can it be that our great Prophet is not powerful enough to save his followers from such a fate?’ Only one who is absolutely free from sin himself can be a saviour of others,’ returned the Christian, ‘but the Qur'an makes it clear that Muhammad was a sinner like other men, and was, so that book says, repeatedly commanded by God to ask pardon for his sins. There is a verse of the Qur'an which makes it abundantly clear that no sinner can be a saviour of others. It is found in Qur'an Al-Fatir 35:18 and runs thus وَلاَ تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى “and the burdened soul shall not bear the burden of another.” From this verse it is clear that those who put their trust in the intercession of Muhammad are leaning upon a broken reed.’
‘Yes!’ interjected Ghulam, ‘but our maulavis tell us that Muhammad was sinless, and they assure us that, in the passages of the Qur'an to which you refer, he was only told to ask pardon for the sins of his followers.’
‘I used to think so once,’ replied the munshi, ‘but a thorough study of the various passages in which such teaching is found convinced me that, according to the Qur'an, Muhammad was commanded to ask pardon for his own sins. The grammatical construction of the passages not only requires this meaning, but I found, also, when I studied the matter carefully, that the best ancient commentators of the Qur'an also admitted it, and in some instances related the very faults for which Muhammad was commanded to ask pardon. Let me give you one or two examples which will make the matter clear. In Qur’an An-Nisa' 4:105-106 we read:—
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِتَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِمَا أَرَاكَ اللّهُ وَلاَ تَكُن لِّلْخَآئِنِينَ خَصِيماً وَاسْتَغْفِرِ اللّهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ غَفُوراً رَّحِيماً.
‘Verily, we have sent down the Book to thee (O Muhammad) with the truth, that thou mayest judge between men according as God hath given thee insight; But with the deceitful ones dispute not: and implore pardon of God; verily, God is Forgiving, Merciful,’ The commentators tell us that the sin for which Muhammad was told to ask pardon in this verse, was that of resolving to unjustly punish an innocent man for a crime committed by one of his (Muhammad's) followers whom the Prophet was wishing to save from punishment. 16 Another sin of Muhammad is referred to in Qur’an At-Taubah 9:43. There it is written:—
عَفَا اللّهُ عَنكَ لِمَ أَذِنتَ لَهُمْ.
‘God forgive thee (O Muhammad), why didst thou give them leave (to stay behind)’. It is said that at the time of the battle of Tabuk Muhammad, contrary to God's orders, gave permission to certain of his soldiers to stay at home instead of proceeding to the fight. For this he is told in the verse I have quoted to ask pardon of God.’
‘Yet another sin of Muhammad mentioned in the Qur'an is the one referred to in Qur’an ‘Abasa 80:1-10. The Qur'anic reference to it runs thus:—
عَبَسَ وَتَوَلَّى أَن جَاءَهُ الأَعْمَى وَمَا يُدْرِيكَ لَعَلَّهُ يَزَّكَّى أَوْ يَذَّكَّرُ فَتَنفَعَهُ الذِّكْرَى أَمَّا مَنِ اسْتَغْنَى فَأَنتَ لَهُ تَصَدَّى وَمَا عَلَيْكَ أَلاَ يَزَّكَّى وَأَمَّا مَن جَاءَكَ يَسْعَى وَهُوَ يَخْشَى فَأَنتَ عَنْهُ تَلَهَّى.
“He frowned, and he turned his back, because the blind man came to him. But what assured thee that he would not be cleansed; or be warned and the warning profit him? As to him who is wealthy, to him thou wast all attention; yet is it not thy concern if he be not cleansed; but as to him who cometh to thee in earnest, and full of fears—him thou didst neglect.” Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, in his Selections from the Qur’an (p. 317) says of this passage that, “It is related that Muhammad had once turned away from an unfortunate (blind) beggar, 17 which, later on, made him quite uneasy, and only when this Surah was revealed was he assured of his repentance having been accepted of his Lord.” The ancient commentators of the Qur'an give many interesting details of the incident referred to in this verse. Qadi Baidawi, for instance, tells us that the blind man, whose name was 'Abdu'llah ibn Umm Makhtum, came to the Prophet when the latter was engaged in conversation with some of the wealthy leaders of the Quraish. Vexed at the interruption, the Prophet “frowned and turned his back” on the blind supplicant. Later Muhammad repented, and whenever he met Ibn Umm Makhtum was wont to say:— مرحباً بمن عاتبني فيه ربي “Welcome to him on whose account my Lord hath reprimanded me.” Baidawi further tells us that Muhammad showed the sincerity of his repentance by appointing Ibn Umm Makhtum to be twice Governor of Madina. It is clear, therefore, both from the words of the commentators and from the Qur'an itself, that Muhammad committed a grave fault in his unjust treatment of the blind beggar.’
‘Another passage of the Qur'an which clearly indicates that Muhammad was a sinner like other men is that found in Qur'an Al-Fath 48:1-2. They run as follows:
إِنَّا فَتَحْنَا لَكَ فَتْحاً مُّبِيناً لِيَغْفِرَ لَكَ اللَّهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِن ذَنبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ.
“Verily, We have won for thee an undoubted victory, in that God forgiveth thee thy earlier and later sin.” All the commentators agree that the person addressed in this verse is Muhammad. Some of them, amongst them ‘Abbas, take the “former” sins to refer to sins committed by Muhammad before his call to the prophetic office, and the “later” sins to those which he committed after that call. 18 Other commentators say the words refer to his lying with his Coptic slave Mary contrary to his oath, and to his marrying Zainab the wife of his adopted son. Whichever view be the correct one, it is evident that the verse clearly proves that Muhammad was a sinner, and so unable to save others.’
‘Let me show you one more verse of the Qur'an dealing with this matter before I close the book,’ said the munshi, as he turned over the leaves. ‘Look here at this passage in Qur’an Muhammad 47:19:—
وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ.
“And ask pardon for thy sin (O Muhammad), and for the believers, both men and women.”’
‘You see here’, continued the munshi, ‘that Muhammad is commanded to ask pardon for his own sins, and the sins of male and female believers. Some Muslim apologists are fond of explaining the verses of the Qur'an saying that the passages refer to the sins of his followers. They quite overlook the fact that in such a case the Arabic would read وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ and not وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِهم. In these passages the pronoun is used in the second person, and not in the third, and the only possible translation is “thy sin”. Moreover, in the passage of the Qur'an which I have just quoted the words are, “Ask pardon for thy sin, and for the believers, men, and women.” Is it not clear, then, that in this passage, at least, Muhammad is commanded to ask pardon, first for his own sins, and, afterwards, for the sins of his followers? That being so, is it not your highest wisdom, my dear young friends, to turn to the sinless Prophet ‘Isa for salvation? I have shown you that “no burdened soul can bear the burden of another”, and I have made it clear to you that Muhammad had his burden of sin like other men. Why, then, shut your eyes to such an obvious fact, and, like the ostrich which buries its head in the sand, refuse to recognize the danger which threatens you? Only one sinless and perfect Being has trodden this earth, and Injil, Qur'an and Hadith with one voice proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ to be that One. Have you never heard the tradition which says:—
مَا مِنْ بَنِي آدَمَ مِنْ مَوْلُودٍ إِلا يَمَسُّهُ الشَّيْطَانُ حِينَ يُولَدُ فَيَسْتَهِلُّ صَارِخًا مِنْ مَسِّ الشَّيْطَانِ، غَيْرَ مَرْيَمَ وَابْنِهَا.
“There is no son of Adam who has been born except he was touched by Satan at the time of his birth. Then at the touch of Satan he cried out—with the exception of Mary and her son.” 19 I remember once reading the celebrated Mishkatu-l-Masabih and being much struck with a passage in that book relative to Muhammad's inability to save sinners. The tradition runs thus:—
قال رسولُ الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: لن ينجِّي أحدًا منكم عملُه، قالوا: ولا أنت يا رسول الله؟ قال: ولا أنا، إلا أن يتغمَّدَني اللهُ برحمة.
“The Apostle of God (upon whom be the blessing and peace of God) said, The works of none of you will ever save you. They replied, and not even you, O Apostle of God? He replied, not even I unless God covers me with his mercy.” In this tradition Muhammad confesses himself entirely dependent upon the mercy of God for his own salvation. How vain, then, to look to him to save you from the punishment of your sins. 20 Oh my friends be warned in time, and take refuge with the sinless prophet 'Isa. He alone can save, because He alone is sinless. The Injil tells us that He, the eternal “Word of God”, took human flesh and dwelt amongst men, and at last offered up himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Only through the merit of that atonement can we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. Be warned, then, whilst there is time. This transitory life will soon come to an end, and then we shall each one appear before the great judgment throne to give an account of our deeds. The Prophet 'Isa, Himself has said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man cometh to the Father but by me.” 21 Take refuge with Him, then, and you will find a peace and joy such as you have never known before.’
When the munshi finished speaking there was silence for a moment, and then Emarat said: ‘By my life! we have heard strange things to-day—Muhammad a sinner and unable to intercede; all Muslims destined to hell fire; and salvation, not by the merits of our own righteous acts, but through the atoning death of the Prophet 'Isa! If what you say be true, then little wonder that so many intelligent Muslims in the Panjab and North-Western Provinces are embracing Christianity. Oh, how I wish I knew Arabic sufficiently well to be able to study these things for myself.’
‘At least you may study them in translations,’ returned the munshi, ‘for even if you cannot use English translations, the Qur'an may now be had in both Urdu and Bengali. Here, for instance,’ he said, pointing to the table before him, ‘is a Bengali translation of the Qur'an with the Arabic text and notes. It is published at 41, Lower Circular Road, Calcutta. By writing to the manager at that address you may easily procure a copy for yourself.’
It was by this time growing late, and so, after a few more remarks, the two young men rose, and thanking the munshi for his hospitality, took their departure. Little was said as they passed down the street, for their minds were busy; and at the school gate Emarat said good-bye to his friend and turned his face towards the bazaar, where a bullock-cart stood waiting to take him back to his home at Islamabad.
21. Gospel of John 14:6.