Chapter# 10: Examining the Claims of Christianity
The following day, the Qadi and his friends met again, and, talking the matter over, Hasan the prefect said he had been thinking they were bound to answer the challenging claims of the Gospel; otherwise it would be taken as admission of weakness. "How can we, heads of the Muslim faith, continue to boast the unbeatable strength of our religion, if we refuse the opportunity set before us; or blame them otherwise for acting as they have? We are surely bound to answer the appeal, and so deliver our own souls." All agreeing, they fixed the night of the 4th Safar for the purpose. The little company rejoiced greatly on being told of this, though some feared it might be a plot, as before, to entangle them. So they prepared for the conference with fasting and prayer.
Accordingly, on the night appointed, their friends invited them to a room prepared for their reception, where they were received with a kind greeting. The Qadi said he had thought it right to respond to their challenge; there would be perfect freedom of speech, and no unfair advantage would be taken of careless slips or faults on either side. "And now it is for you, my friends, to open the argument in any way you will.
Sheikh Ali, after thanking the visitors for the promised freedom of speech, said, "I understand that you are seeking an explanation for our leaving the Muslim faith."
"Just so," said Qadi. "Let us choose a speaker for each side; the rest are to be silent, unless asked to speak."
The Qadi and Ali being chosen, the former thus opened the debate: "We will not go back upon the arguments we have heard before. I wish simply to ask you this: Cannot the Almighty devise the salvation of man, other than by sending His Son (supposing there is a Son) to be incarnate, to live our life, and to be put to death at the hands of wicked men?"
"Everything is possible with God," answered Ali. "This is consistent with His perfections and attributes."
"Yes; but explain your meaning."
"I mean that He is just as well as almighty, and that His power must be exercised in a way not opposed to justice."
"But can this be asked of God? When He commands a thing, who can say unto Him, ‘What have you done?"
"How then can God be just and yet forgiving the sinner?"
"Why need I to know that? God acts in accordance with His perfections, and is absolute."
"Yes; but it is needful for man to know the goodness and love of God, and so to praise Him for the same; and also that he may know exactly how to approach his Maker, and by the door provided for him; otherwise, why would he need a Book and a Revelation at all?"
The Qadi claimed that after experiencing punishment, the creature enters Paradise; while Ali held that sin cannot be thus treated. If a man is freed after experiencing punishment, where then is room for the mercy of God? And how, if the sin be against the Infinite, requiring appropriate penalty, can the justice of God be reconciled with His mercy?
After this argument was carried out to a wearisome length, the Qadi blushed and said, "I do not know, except that ‘He pardons whom He will, and destroys whom He will" (Sura The Table Spread 5:21)
Ali asked whether slander against the Sultan, and slander against the Prophet, would be considered equal offences. "No," replied the Qadi, "the one would be punished slightly, and the other by death."
Then Ali commented: "Here the sin is against the Infinite, and the penalty must consequently be endless. But the Bible show how God's justice in pardoning is compatible with His mercy."
At the Qadi's request, Ali proceeded to explain the plan of salvation, both from the Old Testament and the New. He quoted Isaiah 53, which the Qadi admitted to be significant, if indeed it was reliable.
"Sacrifice," continued Ali, "as laid down in the law, points to the death and atonement of Christ."
The argument then passed on to the subject of the Trinity. Whereupon the Qadi exclaimed: "The Lord our God is one Lord. How then do the Christians talk of the Father and the Son? God forbid! It is all against reason."
Ali challenged his opponent with the following question: "Can any but God Himself know His own nature?"
"Then we need a revelation of the same from Himself. This is compatible with reason. For instance, the sun is a trinity of mass, heat, and light; so is man as a unit y of body, soul, and spirit. We can accept only what the Almighty has been pleased to reveal of Himself in the Bible, and as embodied there in the form of words at baptism, enjoined by Jesus Christ Himself on His disciples."
The Mufti then entered the discussion. He quoted Sura The Sincere Religion 112: "'Say: He is God, the One, and the Eternal, He neither begets, nor is begotten; neither is there any one like unto Him.' Tell me, how can a Son be said to be born of God, implying time, when God is eternal -likewise the Son, said to be God of very God? It is impossible for me to believe that this is the Word of God! It must have been inserted into the text."
"That is out of the question," said Ali. "The doctrine of the Trinity runs through the Bible, beginning with 'Let us make man' in Genesis 1; moreover, the Christ is spoken of as 'The Everlasting Father' in Isaiah 9:6-7. All this is in the Old Testament -a book not in the hands of Christians, but one in the hands of the Jews, a people who reject this doctrine. The Gospel, again, is but the fulfilment of the Old, which signifies the death of Christ for the redemption of mankind. That the Son was begotten of the Father, before all time, we cannot tell how. Perhaps it might illustrate it to say that heat is begotten of the sun, while having its origin with the sun at the same time. All this has been revealed to us out of the Father's love, in terms adapted to our finite understandings. And it is all in accordance with the Quran."
"ln the Quran?" asked the Mufti, "this teaching?"
"Yes; it is so."
"Good! Show it to us, if you can."
"For example, we read in Sura The House oflmran3:43: 'When the angels said to Mary, "Truly God sends good tidings of The Word (proceeding) from Himself: His name the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary; honourable in this world and in that to come; and one of those that draw near (unto the Throne)."' All this plainly signifies that the Word was a person, the possessor of this dignity. Further, the expression, 'The Word of God,' is evident proof that the person born of Mary -namely, the Messiah -is of the nature of God; and this Name and Nature are just what we find written in the Gospel: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God'; and again: 'And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us' (John 1:1,14); and yet again: 'And He was clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God' (Revelation 19:13). This all means that the Word, an attribute of Jesus, born of Mary, is from eternity of the Godhead; and the Words 'with God,' and 'was God' signify the distinct personality of the Word, as well as his being very God. Remarkably, though 'the Word' is grammatically feminine in Arabic (Kalimat, it is interpreted as masculine in the above Quranic passage. This agrees with the Gospel."
Abd ul-Hamid, with the Mufti's permission, interposed here: "No one," he said, "can interpret the Quran, but the Lord alone, and our great authorities. In so serious a matter it would be rash to trust our own judgment. Let us go to such commentators as al- Bardawi and al-Razi. Now Baidawi's interpretation is this: 'Truly the likeness of Jesus is as the likeness of Adam. He created Him out of the dust; then said to Him, "Be," and He was' (Sura The House of Imran 3:58); that is, He became man, not God, as the Christians think. Then again, in Sura The Table Spread 5:125, we read: "And when God shall say: Oh Jesus, son of Mary, have you said unto men, "Take Me and My mother for two Gods besides God?" He shall say: "God forbid! It is not for me to say that which I ought not.""
Ali objected that every man must judge the meaning of such texts for himself; for, just as one writing a letter would put in it what his friend would understand, so with the message in the revelation of the Almighty. No doubt there are obscure passages in the Quran that require explaining by commentators. But those respecting Jesus, son of Mary, are plain and simple. "If I speak to a child of 'milk from the goat,' or 'dates from the tree,' does it require a learned doctor with his laws of grammar to make the child understand? No! And likewise with the passages which tell us that Jesus was born without an earthly father -'the Word of God,' and 'a Spirit from Him.' Any man of sound and unprejudiced mind would understand that. But people recite the Quran by routine memorisation, without thinking of its meaning. I make bold to say that I myself have made some proficiency in these studies, and have the commentaries of both the imams you have referred to; but after all, these do not help you or me in the same way as our own sense and intellect. I admit that there are passages in the Quran which deny the divinity of the Messiah; but these do not affect our right to stand upon those other grand verses in the Quran that are in accord with the Old Testament and the New in this matter."
Abd ul-Hamid interposed with the objection that "the pronoun min ('from') in the phrase 'Word from Him,' does not imply that the Word was a part of, or an emanation from, the Deity; but simply 'from' Him or 'sent by' Him."
Ali continued: "Had the meaning been as you suppose, then in the announcement of the birth of Jesus, would not an ordinary form of speech have been used, as in the case of Abraham's guests, who addressed him thus: 'We bring you tidings of a wise son' (Sura EI-Hijr 15:52); or in the case of Zacharias: 'The angels called to him as he stood praying in the chamber -Truly, God sends you good tidings of (a son named) John, who shall bear witness to the Word (proceeding) from God, honourable, chaste, and one of the righteous prophets' (Sura The House of Imran 3:39)? How different were the tidings conveyed to Mary regarding Him who was Himself of the Divine nature: 'Oh Mary, truly God gives good tidings to you of the Word from Him'; not of a wise son, nor yet of a righteous prophet, as in the case of Zacharias and Abraham. How different also is the passage in Sura Women4:169: "Truly Jesus, son of Mary, is the Apostle of God, and His Word, which He conveyed unto Mary, and a Spirit (proceeding) from Him.' What other prophet, I ask, is given such a description? The verse not only attributes prophetical rank to Him, but adds 'His Word'; and, lest we should understand this in any way other than was intended, there is added, as it were in explanation, 'a Spirit from Him'; to show that Jesus was not as other prophets, but as a Son sent by His Father into the world. Are not these verses in entire conformity with the Gospel? Moreover, what stress is laid on His birth, different from that of all other men, without an earthly father; and the heavenly relation to the Deity, different also from that of all other prophets and messengers! Is it not then correct that He is called 'the Son of God,' as we find in the Gospel?"
"And now, let me tell you the story of a Christian with whom, some four years ago, I while still a Muslim, was arguing; and was talking, according to our custom, of Muhammed as above all other prophets -'the chief of the sons of Adam,' as the Imam Ghazali calls him. As I was saying this, I saw the Christian smile; and I asked, 'Why do you smile?'
"'Oh, it was nothing,' he answered.
"'No, but you did smile; and, by the Lord! I must know the reason!'
"'Well,' he said, 'a certain thing caused me to smile; but why should I tell it, unless there were some necessity?'
"Getting impatient I said, 'Tell it me at once, you Christian dhimmi! (Dhimmi is the term used for Jews and Christians, describing their position as dependent and protected people in an Islamic state.) What was it?'
"'Well, it was because of your placing Muhammed above all the prophets, and the chief of mankind quite contrary to your own Quran and tradition; for these place Jesus far above all the prophets and messengers of the Lord.'
"Whereupon I replied, 'bring me the proof, if indeed you be one of those that speak the truth.'
"'I have six reasons,' he answered; 'four from the Quran, and two from the Hadith, the traditions. Of those from the Quran: First, Jesus is called the "Word of God" and "His Spirit." Muhammed is only a Messenger from God; and without doubt the spirit of someone is far above his messenger. Second, His supernatural birth; for if He had not some special relation to the Deity, then why this wonderful conception? Third, miracles such as no prophet, either before or after, have ever shown. Fourth, Christ was entirely free from sin; whereas the Quran mentions the need of the greatest of the patriarchs and prophets (as Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon) for the pardon of their sins; and as regards Muhammed himself, the Quran speaks of "the forgiving of his former and of his latter sins" (Sura Victory 48:2), and also that God "has eased the burden which burdened [his] back" (Sura The Expanding 94:2,3). As for Jesus, however, it is never mentioned that He asked for pardon, or that the Lord pardoned Him; from all this, we gather that Jesus stood singular and alone, above all prophets in nature, rank, and sinless perfection.
"'Now from tradition,' continued my Christian friend, 'there is, first, this tradition in the collection of the Imam Muslim: "One day Muhammed told Aisha that every child, born of the seed of Adam, received the prick of Satan at its birth, and was affected thereby, except the Son of Mary and His mother"; so that, according to this saying of the Prophet, the sting of Satan affected all the prophets at their birth, himself not excepted, saving only the Messiah and His mother; and the absence of power in Satan, the accursed, to touch Him alone, is proof of His being above all others. Second, we find the following tradition as given by the Imam Ghazali: "When Jesus, son of Mary, on whom be blessing, was born, the devils came to Satan, saying, that in the morning the idols were found all hanging down their heads. Satan could not understand this, till in his rounds he discovered that Jesus had just been born, and that the angels were around Him, rejoicing. So he returned to the devils and laid them that a prophet had been born a day earlier; and that never had a mortal man been born before, at whose birth he had not been present, but only this; and so the devils despaired of any idols being ever worshipped after that night, as they had been before.'"
"'Now these six evidences,' continued my Christian friend, 'taken from your own books, should raise the rank of Jesus Christ in your hearts far above that of Muhammed. Being called "the Word of God" and "His Spirit"; His supernatural birth; His being surrounded at birth by the angelic hast, lest the evil one should come near to touch Him; and His freedom from sin -can these things be without meaning? No, by my life! And every mention of the Messiah in the Quran only leads one back to the Torah and the Gospel, "the Light and the Guide," as the Quran calls them. How much, then, are we indebted to Muhammed for this invaluable testimony! And truly, Oh Sheikh, if I were a Muslim like yourself, I should give no rest to my soul until I found a solution to these important questions. It is a marvel to me to see you’re learned doctors casting these blessed Scriptures behind their backs, as if simply to ignore them were a sufficient answer.'
"So spoke my Christian friend; and having heard it all, I said: 'Enough, you Christian dhimmi! I will look into this matter, if the Lord wills.' So we parted. But my heart was burdened with these weighty arguments, and ever after I used, as it were, to hear a voice saying to me, 'Oh, Ali! What do you think of these things, their secret and their cause?'"
Then Hasan Effendi, by the Mufti's permission, said: "These mysteries, no doubt, have a cause and an explanation. But as it has not been revealed in the Quran, the Lord alone knows, and with Him we leave it. In so far, however, as Sheikh Ali has referred us for answer to the Christian Scriptures, we cannot accept them as final, seeing that they have been in the hands of unprincipled corrupters."
Sheikh Abd ul-Hady then obtained the Mufti's permission to reply to this objection, as Sheikh Ali must have been tired speaking, and answered as follows: "Sheikh Ali," he said, "has already, in reply to the Mufti, given proof of the genuineness of the Old Testament; and the Old Testament is proof of the genuineness of the New, because of its agreement in their common end and object -the New being, as it were, the key to the prophecies of the Old. But if you will, please state what you consider evidence of corruption, and we shall then reply."
"Well, then," answered Hasan, "there is the assertion of the divinity of Jesus, though He was subject to human frailty, and (as you say) suffered death; then there is the denial of His mission by the Jews; and, lastly, variations and contradictions in the Scriptures themselves."
"Now, first, please mention the discrepancies," said ul-Hady.
"Here are a few: Matthew mentions two blind men cured; but the other Gospel accounts mention only one. Matthew speaks of bringing a donkey and its foal to Jesus; Mark, only the foal. In Acts 9:7 the men with the Apostle Paul heard a voice; but in chapter 22, they heard no voice. The Apostle Paul claims that faith saves without works; James says that works indeed do justify us. These are a few examples. Such confusion and contradiction are clear proof of corruption."
Abd ul-Hady retorted: "In respect to the human weaknesses of Jesus, these were all necessary to establish His perfect manhood; just as His miracles and sinless ness were necessary to establish His claim of divinity. The union of the two natures was possible with God, for whom nothing is impossible; and it became necessary, when He desired that His Son should appear in the form of a servant, in order to effect the great purpose of man's salvation. As for the denial of the Jews, had they wished to tamper with their books, would it not have been in texts relating to the Saviour, and those also which denounce their own backsliding and idolatry? However, the fact that the Old Testament still contains the prophecies of the Saviour, and the fact that we can still read about their terrible sins, are undeniable proofs that they did not tamper with their sacred text."
The minor discrepancies were next explained by Abd ul-Hady, who then proceeded to the matter of faith and works: "There is here no contradiction," he said, "but rather, teachings which differ, out of necessity, in respect to the views of those being addressed in the particular epistles; the one party leaning upon Jewish ordinances and works, without faith; the other, on faith not evidenced by works -the discrepancy being in appearance only."
The Qadi, admitting that much had been explained, still held that some of the minor differences remained, being proof that the text was not to be relied on.
Sheikh Ahmed smiled and said that he thought his argument had really triumphed, for, had tampering been intended, it would surely have been in more important matters; and further, that apparent contradictions being allowed to remain was rather an argument that the books were exactly as written by their inspired authors. "But now," he continued, "allow me to ask your Honour one question: This tampering with the Scriptures, was it before or after Muhammed?"
Qadi, after a pause, said, "Will you, my good friend, pass over this question for the present?"
"No," replied the other, "how can we pass it over? It is the very key to the door I want to open."
The Qadi blushed, his forehead was moist, and he turned to his fellows, as if for help.
Abd ul-Rahim whispered, "After Muhammed"; to which the Qadi replied: "No, I cannot at the present moment speak; but it is open to you to make this answer. The responsibility is with you."
So Abd ul-Rahim spoke out: "Well, I say that the corruption was after the Prophet's time,"
Abd ul-Hady replied: "Muhammed arose six centuries after Christ, at a time when Christian kingdoms prevailed over the world, of every variety of tongue and literature, and the Scriptures were in the hands of all, translated into their various languages. Now, long before that time, the Christians had broken off into a multitude of sects, as Arians, Nestorians, and Paulicians. These were hostile one to the other; and yet they all based their differences on the same sacred text. Such being the case, you admit that there was no corruption before the age of Muhammed in the Scriptures, as attested by the Quran. Now, if there was no corruption before, with all these opposing sects, different doctrines, and varying ritual, is it possible that there could have been any after-wards?"
"Quite possible," said ul-Rahim.
"I did not expect this reply from so shrewd a disputant," ul-Hady commented. "How could it have been possible, unless they had all agreed in the alterations? And had they agreed, they would surely have first settled their differences, and come to one religion, ritual, and doctrine. But they continued in their variances and hatred; and here you still find them opposed to one another, and yet holding to one and the same Book in their different tongues and churches -a clear proof that there has been no tampering with their Scriptures. So that if these were not corrupted before the rise of Islam, they could not possibly have been corrupted after. Now, I ask again: Men do not enter on an action without an object; what possible object could the Christians have had in falsifying their Scriptures?"
"I do not know. Do people always tell the object of what they are doing?"
"No," said ul-Hady. "But here the charge is made that people altered the Book for a purpose; and yet they are found to disagree, and to be in violent opposition one to the other. In that case it is required of the accuser to say what the object was. Is it not so, noble Qadi?"
'"It is," replied the Qadi.
'"Then you are prepared to admit that the Scriptures are free from corruption?"
"Well, I cannot say that; but I shall see hereafter what to say in response."
"Good," dear Qadi, "I will but add that if the churches could have had an object, it would surely have been to remove those passages that condemn their teachings, rites, rituals, and ways of worship, which are opposed to the Scriptures; and to lead each of the opposing sects to do this in accord with its own practice. In particular, would they not have removed the references to their stubbornness and idolatry? Practices which prevailed, and still prevail, in many of the main churches. But thanks are to God, they never tried to stretch out their hand against these; and there they remain a witness against their departing from the truth."
Abd ul-Hady then gathered up his argument in an eloquent speech, ending with the metaphor that the Bible is an eternal pillar of faith, with its pedestal on earth, and its capital reaching even to the heavens.
At this point the Qadi said to his brethren: "We have had enough for the present, and the time is far gone, being now the seventh hour of the day; and it is evident that there is no advantage in continuing our discussion with these our friends. How true is the saying in the blessed Book: 'Truly you cannot direct whom you will; but God directs whom He pleases' (Sura The Story 28:57)."
Then they walked together. Abd ul-Rahim asked his companions whether they thought he had done wrong in saying that the Gospel was corrupted after the rise of Islam; for if not changed before, it could hardly, for the various reasons given, have been so after. "Perhaps I should have said it was corrupted before?"
"But the Quran distinctly approves of the Scriptures at the time they were in the hands of Jews and Christians," said Hasan. "What could have made you think of such a thing?"
Abd ul-Rahim answered: "Consider this verse in the Quran: 'Oh Prophet, do not let those grieve you who hurry after infidelity - those who say, "We believe," with their mouths, but their hearts believe not; or of Jews who give ear to a lie -give ear to other people, and come not unto you; they pervert the words from out of their places' (Sura The Table Spread 5:47). Now who are these who 'pervert the words' if not the people of the Book?"
Mufti interjected: "We must look at the interpretation of the passage, which does not in reality help you, for al-Razi takes the 'perversion' to mean the denial of certain truths in their books, not the changing of the text. These are his words: 'They change the words from their places'; that is, from where the Lord has placed them -meaning the demand of obligations, or release there from, or the hallowing of certain things. This is illustrated by the tradition of the adulterer and adulteress of Khyber, regarding whom the Jews concealed the passages containing the order for stoning; but there was no charge of falsification, only of hiding a certain text. Or it may be, according to Razi, they perverted the reading with their tongues, not the Torah itself. So, again: 'Of the Jews, there are some who change the words from their places' (Sura Women 4:45); of which instances are given again, without any accusation of touching the text; and once more: 'Woe to those who write out passages, and then say, "This is from God," thinking thereby to deceive Muhammed' (Sura The Cow 2:79). And if you ask, how could this be possible, if copies of the Torah were scattered over the East and West? I would answer that those who were learned in the Jewish Scriptures were but few at Medina, and therefore could without difficulty produce such altered passages; or, more likely, the meaning of this 'perversion' may have been the giving a false interpretation to passages, thus changing words from their true meaning to a false, just as heretics do in our day; or, yet again, as Razi puts it, 'They used to visit Muhammed and ask him questions, then go out and misrepresent his words, thus changing or perverting them.' We Muslims cannot believe that the Book was corrupted before the Prophet's era, since there are so many passages upholding its genuineness, without any charge of falsification, but the reverse; the only accusation being that the testimony the Book given by our Prophet was withheld. Thus, in Sura The Cow 2: 148: 'They to whom we have given the Scripture know him (that is, Muhammed), even as they know their own children; but a party among them hide the truth, although they know it.' So also Sura The House of 'mran 3:70: 'Oh people of the Book! Why do you clothe the truth with what is false, and hide the truth, although you know it?' These passages clearly recognise the authority of the Book, and only charge against the Jews the withholding of its contents; and even that not against all, but only against 'a party' of them, who opposed our Prophet's claims. What place, then, is there for charging the possessors of the Scripture with falsification, prior to the time of our Prophet? To say this would be like him who, fleeing from a scorpion, is bitten by a snake."
So the Imam Abd ul-Rahim was convinced, and, much ashamed, confessed that he had made a slip in his suggestion.
Then they departed each his own way.