Chapter#3: Second Conference
At the time appointed, the twelve came together in the house of Sheikh Ali, who after a hearty welcome opened the conference with a short address.
"We are meeting," he said, "as a little company, seeking, amid the religious strife around us, to find the truth. Muslims are known to debate angrily with Christians, and Christians with Muslims. But let us put bigotry aside, and discuss the serious question before us in a friendly spirit, seeking God's blessing, for His great name's sake."
Then, at the wish of the assembly, the letter was again read, and some took notes. It was agreed to take up the argument point by point. Sheikh Ahmed proposed that the authenticity of the Old Testament should be discussed first. Omar Effendi and Sayyid Ibrahim were chosen as speakers to open the debate on either side.
The debate, accordingly, was opened by Omar, who asked how it was possible for the writer of the letter to hold that the Torah was unchanged, when he admitted that there were discrepancies in it. Ibrahim brought various arguments in reply. First, the Old Testament was full of denunciations against the sins and apostasy of the Israelites. Had tempering been possible, such passages would have been the first to be altered by them, as well as the predictions of the coming Saviour. He applied a similar argument to Christians, in regard to passages opposed to such practices as saint worship and the use of images and pictures. Thus the Western Church omitted the Second Commandment from its service and ritual, and, to make up the displaced number, divided the tenth into two; but did not venture to touch the text in the Torah itself. The case is similar with the testimony of Muhammed, who always spoke of Jews and Christians as "people of the Book," and of their Book itself as "perfect in all that is excellent" and "a light and a guide" - language implying its genuineness and authority, and entirely opposed to the accusations which they heard every day around them.
Omar now contended that differences in the various translations threw doubt upon the original text, upon which Abd ul-Cadir, always on the alert, clapped his hands and said, "Well done, Omar!" But Ibrahim recalled his attention to the fact that many versions already existed long before the rise of Islam, such as the Septuagint in Egypt, the Syriac in their own land, and the Vulgate in the West. If discrepancies in these had affected the divine teaching of the Scriptures, the Prophet would never have praised them as he did, nor commanded their observance on the Jews and Christians. Omar replied that the Arabs had only the Hebrew text, and knew nothing of the various translations; to which Ibrahim answered that such reasoning would find fault with the knowledge which, as a prophet, Muhammed must have had regarding the discrepancies in the various translations. Omar, thug driven into a corner, was simple enough to suggest that the Prophet might have been deceived by the Jews of Medina as to the purity of the original text, since he could not read. Abd ul-Cadir, quick to see the mistake, cried out that he had made a slip by attributing jack of prophetic knowledge to Muhammed. And Omar, now forced to give in, admitted that the Torah must be considered genuine and authoritative by every thoughtful and impartial person; even as the Prophet had taught it to be. To say otherwise would be as if one cried to the day, "Oh Night!" or addressed the full moon as "Oh Canopus!"
Hearing this, Hasan Effendi spoke. "Beware'" he cried, "of admitting anything that questions the authority of the blessed Quran'" And so saying, he praised it as the miraculous work, of which it has been testified, that, "if men and jinn had joined ail together; they could not have produced a single verse like it" (Sura The Night Journey 17:88).
Mahmoud said: "I am surprised at you, Oh Hasan Effendi. Is it not the Quran itself which bears testimony both to the Old Testament and the New? Would you forbid us to examine the books therein attested as inspired of God? We have said no word in ridicule of the Quran, and must confine ourselves to the subject at hand. Listen to the debate, and then give judgment. Time now presses; let us go on to what remains. Who shall be the disputants?"
Thereupon it was agreed that Hasan Effendi should lead the attack, and Suleiman reply. The Effendi was at first reluctant; but at last agreeing, he proceeded to refute the argument built on the fulfillment of prophecy, by suggesting the insertion of prophetic passages after they had occurred. Suleiman met this objection by showing that some of the prophesied events were of a nature that must have been displeasing to the Jews, such as their punishment for idolatry -passages which they would have been the last to fabricate; and again, by the fact that copies of the original text and of the Septuagint translation had already been spread over the world long before the event, such as the destruction of Jerusalem and other great cities in the East. Suleiman illustrated this view at great length from the Books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, as well as those of Moses, showing the fulfillment of predicted events, first in the captivity, and then in the dispersion of the Israelites, that once glorious people.
This address of Suleiman had a wonderful effect upon the audience, who sat for a lime in silent reflection on what they had heard -all except Abd ul-Cadir, who arose and warned against the danger they were shutting their eyes to, of slipping away from Islam altogether.
"Be careful!" he cried, "you cannot receive the Bible now in the hands of Christians without rejecting the Quran. Beware, before it is too late."
"What!" replied Mahmoud, "do you shrink from the testimony of the Quran itself, and from the Scriptures confirmed by the same, and by so many signs from heaven? What answer shall we give our Lord if we cast them aside? Now, as our debate has led us to be satisfied in respect of the integrity of the Torah, we must proceed to consider what the letter gays with regard to the Gospel."
Thereupon Sheikh Ali arose and said that he quite agreed with Mahmoud, but that as the lime was now far gone, any further discussion had better be postponed till the Sabbath following, by which day they will have had enough lime for further reflection. So he brought out a table and spread refreshments thereon, of which, when the guests had partaken, they departed, ail of them thankful and satisfied, except Abd ul-Cadir, who left for home sorrowful and downcast at the turn the debate was taking.
Index Chapter 2 Chapter 4