GHULAM 'S CONFESSION
ON the morning following the events narrated in our last chapter, Ghulam was sitting in his room reading the Bible, when the door suddenly opened, and his father entered. There was no time, even had the youth so desired, to secret the book which lay open before him, and his father's gaze was at once attracted to the well-bound volume. ‘What have you here Ghulam?’ he asked, as he took up the Book; and, then, as his eye caught the title ‘Holy Bible’ in bright gold lettering, he turned to the youth with a frown and demanded an explanation. Isma’il Jabbar's knowledge of English was most elementary, but he knew enough to understand the meaning of the words he had just read, and he seemed to feel intuitively that he had at last discovered the reason of the strange reticence, which, for weeks past, had marked the demeanour of his son. ‘What is this?’ he cried again in a tone which demanded an answer, and, as he spoke, the infuriated father stepped forward and laid his hand heavily on Ghulam’s shoulder.
The latter had risen at his father's entrance, and now stood facing him with respectful attention. As Isma’ili Jabbar repeated his question for the second time, the youth, with one quick, unspoken prayer to God for help, thus replied: ‘This, father, is a copy of the holy Bible which I procured when at Dhanpur. There are many things concerning religion of which I am ignorant, and, as the noble Qur'an teaches us to seek the help and advice of the People of the Book when in doubt concerning any matter, I visited the missionary who lives at Dhanpur, and from him procured this copy of the Christian Scriptures.’
‘Christian Scriptures, forsooth!’ cried the angry father, ‘what need have you, a Muslim, of the Christian Scriptures! Our noble Qur'an is good enough for all true followers of the Apostle of God. Hearken to me Ghulam. I absolutely forbid you to read or touch this book again, and I order you now to promise me that you will carry out faithfully my wishes with respect to this matter.’
For a moment there was silence. For eighteen years Ghulam had loyally obeyed every behest of an indulgent father, but now, at last, the crisis in his life, which he had long foreseen, had arrived, and the time had come to choose between the will of God and the will of men. The struggle in the mind of the young student, however, was of short duration. The die had long since been cast, and Ghulam knew himself to be, not the Muslim, his father had described, but a humble disciple of Jesus Christ. He had heard the call to take up his cross and follow the Christ; he had counted the cost of discipleship; he had chosen his treasure in heaven rather than on earth, and so, as he lifted his eyes to those of his father, there was in them a gleam of triumph, and as he made reply, there was in his voice a ring of settled determination.
‘Father’, he began, ‘what you ask is impossible. Too long I have hidden my light and denied my Saviour, but at last the time has come for me to tell you plainly that I am a Christian, and, as such, must obey God rather than you. I cannot, therefore, forsake the reading of my Bible, and I dare no longer remain a Muslim when this Bible tells me that the Prophet 'Isa is the only “way” to God the Father. I have felt for some time past that I must confess my faith, and I am glad now that the time has at length come to definitely place myself on the side of those who follow that Prophet. I count it my duty, therefore, to tell you that I intend, on my return to Dhanpur, to be baptized, and join the Christian Church.’
Ghulam's declaration of his faith in Christ, and of his intention to be baptized, fell like a bombshell into the astonished ears of the Islamabad landowner. Never before had his son addressed him in such tones, and he was staggered by the announcement which fell from the latter's lips. Rage and grief chased each other in alternate succession through his mind as the full significance of what he had just heard came home to him, and he felt humiliated to the very dust as he pictured the disgrace and contumely which would be his if his son really carried out his purpose of being baptized. Isma’il Jabbar was not what one might call a religious man, and the claims of religion sat lightly upon him. In his own heart of hearts, it must be confessed, he cared little whether Christianity or Islam were true, but he was a man of the world, and valued the esteem and honour of his fellow men, and as President of the local Anjuman-i-Islam he exercised no little authority over the other Muslims of the locality. In his dual capacity as landlord and President of the Anjuman-i-Islam he easily ranked first amongst the Muslims of that part of the country. The thought, therefore, that his only son, of all men, should renounce Islam and become a Christian, mortified and maddened him, whilst the sudden reversal of all his hopes concerning the future career of his son and heir cast him into the depths of despair.
‘Do you know sir,’ he cried, ‘what it means to be baptized? You scarcely have weighed the consequences of such a mad act; for the day you leave my home and become a Christian, that day you cease to be my son.’
‘Yes father, I have counted the cost,’ the young man replied, ‘and I am willing to pay the price so that I might gain eternal life; for what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul? I am ready, father, to obey you in everything else, and it gives me greater pain than you think to have to speak to you thus, but in matters of religion the claims of God come first, and I dare not act differently.
‘You need sir,’ cried the angry father, ‘'to be reminded that you are my son, and if you are not wise enough to follow the advice of your seniors in matters which you do not understand, then I must resort to other measures to enforce my authority and bring you to your senses. Understand, therefore, that you do not leave this room until you have given me your promise neither to touch the Bible again nor to have any further dealings with Christians. In the meantime you will get but one meal a day, and be permitted to speak to no one,’ and, so saying, Isma’il Jabbar strode from the room, and locked the door behind him.
As the sound of his father's retreating footsteps died away Ghulam threw himself upon his knees and poured out his heart to God in prayer for grace and strength to stand firm under the trials which awaited him; and he rose calmed and strengthened with the assurance that the Master whose name he had just confessed was an unseen Companion in his lonely prison. The day passed slowly away, and as the shadows of evening drew near his quick ears detected his father's footsteps outside the door, and a moment later the latter was standing before him.
‘Well Ghulam,’ the father began: ‘I hope that further consideration has led you to see the folly of disobeying my commands.’
‘Father, I cannot alter my decision to be a Christian,’ the lad replied. ‘I know that the Bible is the word of God, neither corrupted nor abrogated, and in that book I find that the Prophet 'Isa is the God-appointed Saviour of men. You may imprison me; you may starve me; aye, you may kill me, but I cannot deny the Lord who died for me.’ ‘Then the consequences of your mad folly be upon your own head,’ shrieked the now infuriated father. ‘I must adopt more extreme measures to teach you obedience’, and so saying, he opened the door, and beckoned to a group of male servants who stood waiting outside with heavy bamboo sticks in their hands. At a further sign from Isma’il Jabbar these men now fell upon the defenceless Ghulam, and belaboured him so unmercifully that the lad at length fell senseless at his father's feet.
When Ghulam returned to consciousness he found himself lying alone upon his bed, with the room bathed in light from the full moon which shone through the barred windows. His body was bruised and swollen, and he passed a sleepless night tortured with pain. The morning brought some measure of relief, for his mother was permitted to visit him, and she bathed his wounds and gave him some nourishing food. The day passed slowly away, and as a Ghulam lay upon his bed he had ample leisure to review the events of the past few hours. His Bible had been taken from him, but many a familiar passage came back to him bringing its message of comfort and peace, and he found deep consolation in repeating to himself the words of Christ: ‘Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ 45 ‘Every one that hath left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive a hundred fold, and shall inherit eternal life.’ 46
The following day found Ghulam almost recovered from the effects of his beating, though his body remained stiff and sore. He was still kept a close prisoner, but at noon his father, accompanied by Maulavi Ibrahim ‘Ali, entered the room. The latter at once accosted Ghulam, and expressed his surprise and grief at the news of his threatened apostasy. ‘How can you so dishonour your aged father,’ he continued, ‘as to even think of renouncing the glorious religion of Islam. Would you bring down the grey hairs of your father in sorrow to the grave, and for ever cover your family name with shame and obloquy? Think, too, of your own loss! for if you become a Christian you will be disinherited and cast out upon a heartless world without a pice. Think what bright prospects you will forfeit! I know for a certainty that your father contemplated, later on, sending you to England that you might enter the civil service of this country. All this, and much more, you will lose if you become a Christian—and for what? You know as well as I do that poverty and disgrace await you if you are baptized, and so I plead with you for the sake of your aged father, and I plead with you for your own sake to give up this foolish infatuation, and relieve the mind of your anxious parents.’
There was no trace of indecision or of fear in the voice of Ghulam as he replied to the maulavi's words. He had found it difficult to speak plainly to his father, but to this man, who, a few days before, had so signally failed to justify his rejection of the Taurat and Injil, he found it easy to speak. Indeed it seemed as if, in that supreme moment, he had been given special power from on high, for he felt a strange sense of exaltation as he looked into the face of his old teacher.
‘Maulavi Sahib,’ he began, ‘I am surprised that you, a religious teacher, should at such a time as this have nothing better to urge than worldly considerations in order to induce me to give up Christianity. Surely in such a matter as this questions of worldly gain or loss should not count. I, for one, care not what the world may bring to me of joy or of sorrow, of gain or of loss. What I do care for is that I may be found doing the will of God before whom I shall one day be judged. That will I believe to be found in following the Prophet 'Isa whom God has ordained as the Saviour of men; and until I am shown that I am wrong in following Him, no considerations such as you have advanced can have any weight with me. I have read the Injil, and I know that the Prophet ‘Isa is the sinless Prophet who gave his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. God forbid, then, that I should endanger my salvation by denying Him.’
‘Well,’ retorted the maulavi, ‘I am not going to argue with you as to the sinlessness of the Prophet ‘Isa, upon whom be the peace and blessing of God, or even as to His alleged death upon the cross; for what do these things matter? The Prophet ‘Isa Himself foretold the advent of Muhammad, the seal of the Prophets, so that even if I grant you all you have said, our noble Prophet is still the last great Prophet, and, as such, is to be obeyed and followed.’
‘That I cannot believe’, answered the student, ‘for I raised the same objection to a Christian preacher in Dhanpur many days ago, and he showed me very clearly that the Prophet ‘Isa never mentioned the coming of a prophet named Muhammad, though He, on one occasion, warned His followers against false prophets who should arise after Him. On the contrary, He said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall never pass away”, 47 thus indicating that Christianity should never be abrogated or superseded. Besides, I cannot see what gain it would be to the world even if we did admit Muhammad as the last Prophet. He himself never claimed to be a saviour from sin, but, on the contrary, often asked pardon for his own sins, so that there is nothing to be gained by following him even if, as you allege, he were a Prophet’.
The fearless words of Ghulam exasperated the maulavi almost beyond endurance; for the thought that a pupil of his should address him thus was more than he could tolerate, and, without replying to what had just been spoken, he proceeded to pour out upon Ghulam a perfect torrent of abuse. Finally, turning to the boy's father, he said: ‘The sooner, sir, you drive this infidel out of your house the better. His mind has been so utterly corrupted by these Christian missionaries that it is useless to hope for repentance from him. Who knows, but that, if he stays here longer, he may lead others astray.’ So saying, the angry Muslim strode out of the room.
As Ghulam stood alone before his father he knew instinctively that a great crisis had arrived in his life, and he prepared himself to hear the sentence which would for ever cut him off from all this world held dear. There was no sign of pity in the stern face of Isma’il Jabbar as he spoke the fateful words. Slowly and deliberately the words fell which proclaimed Ghulam a stranger in his own home, and two minutes later he found himself outside his father's gateway disinherited and disowned, a derision and a byeword in the village where he had been born. Yet Ghulam's faith did not waver. Deep down in his own heart the still, small voice of an approving conscience bade him take courage, and he knew that the Master whom he had chosen was by his side.
45. Gospel of Matthew 5:10.
46. Gospel of Matthew 19:29.
47. Gospels of Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, and Luke 21:33.