Chapter# 9: After the Execution
The courageous attitude, last words, and prayer of Omar had a wonderful effect on the people at large, who said that there must be something good in that which made the martyr smile under the unsheathed sword. There was a feeling of revulsion, and the conduct of those who planned the plot and gave false witness was made known all over the city. The most remarkable result, however, was the conversion of a man of rank, Ahmed Effendi al- Khotli, who, after the trial, went and bought a Bible and some Christian books. Finding that the Quran itself gave testimony to the Gospel, he spent much of his time studying it. Guided thug to the divine light by the example and steadfastness of the martyr, he at last embraced the Christian faith.
Let us now return to the three converts who, under the allurements of the Wali's council, had gone back from their profession. The scene at the execution struck deep into their hearts. They were self-accused at having disowned their convictions, and they repented of what they had done. Sayyid Mustafa was miserable, as indeed the other two also.
"Alas!" he said, "why did I deny my Saviour, and prefer the present life to that which shall not end? My head, as Jeremiah said, is a fountain of water, from which tears run down night and day."
Hasan Effendi joined in the same bitter lament, but he could not at the present moment face the anger of the people and wrath of the government, with the same fate of Omar before him. He would wait for a short time, and when things mended he would then make profession of the faith. But he could not do it now.
Sayyid Hasan, the third, said the same; but Sayyid Mustafa replied: "Shall we follow our Saviour in seasons of peace and safety, and not also in times of difficulty? How can I do violence to my conscience? And if I return, He that forgave Peter will also forgive me." With many such words he declared his resolve to renounce his previous recantation. "If it does come to the death, we shall be safe with our Saviour; if spared, we can join ourselves to the rest of the converts."
The other two, amazed at his boldness, said that they must put off their decision to a more convenient time, and with these words they departed.
Mustafa, grieved at their defection, presented himself before the Wali in court the next morning. The Mufti asked them the reason, and he said that ever since he had renounced the Christian faith ten days earlier, he had been in a whirlpool of misery at having denied his Saviour, and now came to withdraw his recantation. The council were astonished at his bravery, and the Wali cried, frowning severely, "So you lie before the court of your sovereign! You hypocrite! You swine! What shall be your punishment now?"
"Yes," he replied, "or rather, before my God and King, I lied. If I deserve it I am not afraid to die."
While the Wali thus stormed at him, he remained unmoved as a rock am id the waves. They now saw the error they had committed in putting Omar to death, and the fruits it was bearing. After consultation he was sent back to prison with the others. It was a joy and revival for these to be rejoined by their lost companion, who told them of what the Wali had said, and of the refusal of the other two to obey their convictions. They conversed gladly on the kindness of God to them, and kneeling down, offered up thanks.
After Mustafa left the court, the Wali was astonished at the steadfastness of the man, as well as the result so contrary to all they had expected as the effect of the execution. But the Qadi said he had never approved the sentence of death, fearing an outcome such as this; and he was lost in admiration of the great strength and firmness of the confessor, despite the fierce and angry look of the Wali. Then one arose and said, "This was nothing more than the work of the accursed Satan, who got hold of vain and conceited souls, making them believe right wrong, and wrong right. Make them labour; that would be more effective than any load of threats and penalties."
"That would be true," answered another, "if these were low and conceited fellows, instead of some of our best and wisest citizens. But how such satanic delusions could have entered the minds of these men, I cannot conceive."
The Mufti admitted that the case which had just come up was not singular. The popular feeling had turned much that way. Omar, they said, was unjustly executed; the evidence was false and made up. Such errors should be refuted by argument, not by the sword. To use the sword in suppression of false beliefs was out of step with the times.
"What is all this you are talking about?" cried the Wali. "It is altogether out of order."
"No!" replied the Mufti, "by my life it is but the truth."
The Wali was very excited, and sat silent for a while, the marks of anger engraved upon his face. Then, quieting down, he said: "No more of this objectionable speech. We must act according to the law and custom of the land."
So they held their peace and planned to continue applying pressure upon the converts.
Now Nasir al-Din and his friends were very distressed and angry at finding their plots against the converts to have not succeeded as they had expected, but that, on the contrary, Sayyid Mustafa had gone back to them. So in their anger they set out to stir up the city, and ran through the bazaars and streets, crying out that the apostates still indulged in abusive language against Islam; and that, despite Omar's execution, persisted in their disruptive ways.
Chief among these was the half-witted Haj Cadur, already noticed, who went about the lanes, bazaars, and coffee-shops in his strange clothing, holding his hands up, according to his wild and crazy fashion, to attract attention, prancing on his toes, and with every silly movement and action, screaming, with crowds around him, against the converts. The populace enjoyed the sights, but most of the better class were shocked, and tried unsuccessfully to stop the crazy creature, who went about shouting in this way: "AI hamd ul lillahi. Praise the Lord! The idolater's head was cut off for abusing the Quran, and his soul has gone to hell. Why have not the rest of them been sent there too? It would be good for us to be rid of them all!"
Several times he had been stopped by the authorities, but he soon began again. One day, when behaving in this wild way, swaying to and fro like a drunken man, and screaming like a madman, he passed by the shop of Haj Ibrahim, a wise and pious Egyptian merchant, who had often before tried to stop him, and now called kindly to him to come near. Refusing to be reasoned with, he grew wilder and wilder, and like one possessed, poured forth his senseless chatter against the apostates, and eventually on the good Egyptian himself. At last a neighbour, interposing, asked the Egyptian what use it was to correct a fool who was always misbehaving, having been imprisoned and fined over and over for it. And so the good man, thanking him, gave up the attempt.
Now the families and acquaintances of the converts were alarmed at the treacherous attacks of the hostile party and their attempts to excite the people against them. So they tried in every way to stop the attempts made at their safety, and to free themselves from the risks that confronted them. Thus they attracted the attention of the Qadi and Mufti, and of the ladies of their households, and of many others, who like them were merciful and compassionate. The better part of the city was like-minded, sympathising with the sufferers, whereas the party of Nasir al-Din, along with the baser sort, and Haj Cadur at their head, continued with their schemes.
One day, as AI Haj was continuing in this wild way at one of the cafés of the town, Sheikh Hasan, Ali's brother, happened to pass by, and Ali's name caught his ear in connection with disrespectful and abusive words. Peeping through the lattice of the shop, he saw the fool in his antics, surrounded by a company of like-minded simpletons, screaming against the Christians, and dancing around like a crazy camel.
Now Hasan was a tall, handsome young fellow, strong and powerful, among the best athletes of the city, cultured and of gentle bearing, of few words, and as courteous as can be. He restrained himself as long as he could, till at last, suffering under the abuse of his brother and the other converts, he could bear it no longer, and standing before the door, called the maniac to account for seeking to drag his brother to a fate the same as Omar's.
"By the Lord!" he cried, "not a drop of his blood shall be shed, but, for every drop, fifty dogs like you shall die. If Sheikh Ali became a Christian, or even a pagan unbeliever, what is that to you, you wretch?"
The fool returned the threats in blustering language, calling Hasan a coward, apostate, and idolater.
At these words Hasan darted like an eagle on Haj Cadur, threw him to the ground, and kept tossing him about with his feet, like a ball, while the wretched creature screamed: "Oh followers of Muhammed, he is killing me! Oh Muslim brothers, this accursed Christian!"
The masses from all around flocked to the spot, and a riot and uproar occurred. But the friends of Hasan -a man very popular with the better classes, and who despised the capering fool- soon came to the rescue, upon which the mob turned and fled, all except Haj Cadur, who was so bruised with the kicking that he could not run away with the rest. So, stopping his screams, he slipped into the corner of a masque, and lay down for shelter there. But he had hardly rested at all, when the crowd rushed back again in still greater force -all the dregs of the city, young and cid. The riot became worse than ever, and if a company of soldiers had not arrived on the spot, the consequences would have been serious indeed.
AI Haj and Hasan, with a number of those who began the disturbance, were summoned before the magistrates, who sentenced the two, as ringleaders, to a year's imprisonment, with a fine of fifty liras; and the others to two months and a fine of twenty liras. After ten days, however, they were let out on the security of respectable citizens and the payment of a fine -a small matter for Hasan, but serious for Cadur, who had to borrow the money. On release, they were summoned before the Wali, who warned Cadur that if he slandered the men in prison again, or maligned the Christian religion, he would be severely punished.
AI Haj cried out in reply that he had done nothing to be attacked by Hasan in that way and now to be punished so, and fined, a poor man like him, with so heavy a sum!
"It is your own folly and ill-mannered ways," answered his Excellency, "that have brought this upon you. Be gone! Mind your own business. Do not interfere again in matters that do not concern you."
Hasan then made a feast for the four friends who were taken up with him, paid their fines, and sent them away rejoicing with handsome gifts. But as for the fool, he still talked foolishly, went about complaining that he had been punished because he spoke the truth about the apostates, and crying out, "Alas, alas for our religion!" After going on for some time in this way to the annoyance of the whole city, he fell sick and died.
Now the Wali was much bothered and troubled by these outbreaks, and fearing their recurrence, summoned an assembly of the leading men of the city into the hall of audience. As they were seated on his right hand and his left, he called on his private secretary to address them. So the private secretary arose. He recounted the circumstances from the beginning -the arrest of the rebels, the communications with the Porte, the execution of Omar, and the order to deport the rest for the sake of peace in the city. It was the Wali's earnest desire that all should cooperate in practising these arrangements, in which event they should have his favour as good citizens. But if there were any opposition or disturbance, the severest measures would be taken. It was his Excellency's wish, as a father, to promote the happiness of his children; but if there were any more rioting or up risings, they would have cause to repent.
The chief governor of the city made a courtly answer, thanking the Wali for his kind hand over them, and promising obedience. His Excellency had indeed treated them as any caring father would. There should be no more disturbances. They agreed in the wisdom of sending away the Christian converts, to prevent recurrence of excitement in the city, and hoped they might yet come back to their ancestral faith, bringing joy and satisfaction with them.
The Wali expressed his pleasure, and then commanded the order for exile to be prepared. Coffee and refreshments were served, and the assembly broke up.
When the converts in confinement heard of the outbreak they were much disturbed, not knowing what the consequences might be. Ali, especially, was greatly distressed, till, after a day or two, they heard the result. So when Hasan, now set at liberty, visited the prison chamber, his brother chided him for giving way to his anger: "Let the half-witted Haj and his fellows say what they like, and fabricate what lies they will. The Lord sees them, and the Lord is a sufficient Helper for us."
The others also ail enjoined self-restraint and patience on their friends.
Now, from the time of their final imprisonment, and especially since Omar's execution, not only the Qadi and Mufti, but great numbers of the chief citizens, as well as their immediate friends and relatives, crowded to their chamber with earnest requests that for the sake of their families they would return, at least in outward appearance, to the faith, and thus not be forced to leave the homes that were so dependent on them. These appeals were the sorest trial they had to bear. And, in truth, no one who has not himself gone through it all can tell the bitterness of it. Thus, wearied and distressed, they longed for the day when they should be taken away from the city. And thug they talked one with another.
"One's own tears comfort the heart," said Ibrahim, "but the tears of one's household smash it to pieces."
Suleiman added, "A mother's tears bind us as with a cord to the home below; grace in the heart as a cord to the home above."
Mahmoud continued, "Yes, her tears are sore to bear; he that can stand against them is sure to prevail even against the sword."
Ali spoke of the love of our Saviour for us on the cross, as an example to His followers to bear up against the bitterness of separation from one's home.
Then Abd ul-Halim added: "The tears of parents do not succeed in bringing back children taken away by death. How then can they help to bring back children who, like us, have died in Christ?"
With such living words did they pass the time, and comfort one another.
Now, after the order of exile, the Qadi and Mufti visited the city administrator, the treasurer, the imam of the Great Mosque, and certain of the provincial governors, and resolved with them on a last attempt to lure the apostates back to Islam. So, after asking the blessing of the Lord on their attempt, they waited on the little company in prison, and courteously saluted them.
Then, the Qadi arose and made a touching appeal. The order of exile had melted the hearts of all their friends. With much emotion he made mention of the inmates of their harems, and asked them not to harden their hearts to all these miseries. They came with the aim of recalling them to the faith of their fathers, and still had hopes that they would turn their weeping into laughter and joy.
The little company were greatly moved, especially Sherkh Mahmoud, who had a very tender heart. The visitors all addressed the converts in the same way, and then Sheikh Ali made reply.
He begged to be heard graciously, even as they would that the Lord should hear them. In terms of overflowing gratitude he thanked them for their goodness and concern. Referring to the letter which had led them to question the reliability of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, he challenged discussion and entered into the arguments which had caused them to accept the Gospel and the Christian faith. Conviction like this cannot be put aside.
They answered: "If we are proved wrong, we are ready to come back; but exile from city, home, and all our dear ones, is more tolerable to us than would be a return to Islam against our peace of conscience. Though we must hold to our decision, we do acknowledge your kindness, which we will never forget. It is the Lord's help we look for in our troubles and sorrows -He is the Great, the Merciful, the AII-Sufficient One, and the Best of Defenders."
To all this, the Mufti replied very briefly. They were distressed that their effort had proved fruitless. They came with no intention of entering into a discussion, because the company of converts were as learned as themselves on all these points -probably more so; and they felt it would be of no use. Grieved at heart, Sheikh Ali concluded the matter: "We can only leave you in the hands of the One who is able to deliver you from the paths of error, and plant your feet in the way of truth and peace."
And so the visitors left.
As the Qadi made his way homeward, he was much exercised in mind about all this -the brave attitude of the company, the powerful address of Ali, and the appeal to bring the matter to the test of argument. "What arguments had I," he kept saying to himself, "of equal strength? Can I shut my eyes to the appeal? Is it not a reasonable demand?"
The poor prisoners had become so distressed by continual visits of their well-meaning friends, that they longed for a place of quiet and peace. Yet they were much encouraged by the interview just described. "Was it fear," said one, "of not being able, that held them back from contradicting our arguments -fear of disgrace, and love of the world?"
Or, said another, "because they saw us so well prepared?"
And the effect was to give the little company confidence and assurance in the truths they held.
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