Chapter#6: Intimidation and Alarm
After Sheikh Nasir al-Din and Abd ul-Cadir had made the matter known among their friends, there gathered together that same night in the Sheikh's house an excited group of sheikhs, holy men, professors, and others, waiting impatiently for Ali's answer. When it came and was read aloud, they were thrown into a storm of passion at the little company having joined the Christian apostasy.
"How Satan," they cried, "has hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes!" And they ceased not to shout the Takbir, "Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!" at the top of their voice, bowing themselves low in prayer and adoration. Calming down after a time, they began to discuss what they should do -whether to agree to the conference requested by the apostates, immediately report the scandal to the court, or once again repeat their warning.
At length Abd ul-Karim, calmer than the rest, begged to be heard.
"Ali and his comrades," he said, "are men of learning, discernment, and culture; some of them, indeed, for knowledge and ability, are in the very foremost rank. They have become, moreover, able in argument, and were we to begin a discussion with them, they might confuse us by dates, quotations, and such-like, gotten from their Christian friends, which we might not know how to answer; and so the result might very possibly influence other lukewarm believers. Better not stir up slumbering ashes, or the end may be worse than the beginning. Rather let us send a couple of our number to address them in a friendly way, without entering into controversy, and urge them to return. It will be a last appeal, and if it should fail, then, in the interests of Islam, we must report them to the authorities. "This was no sooner agreed to than the speaker himself, with another, left on the errand, the whole assembly crying after them: "Go in the name of the Lord! The Lord speed you! We shall not leave from here till you return."
After the letter had been dispatched and the company had broken up, Suleiman thought that something might happen during the night to their risk, in consequence of the letter; so he went back to Ali and advised that their friends should be recalled for consultation. Ali agreed: "But let it be in Sheikh Mahmoud's house," he said, "and I shall be there myself before supper."
So the company again assembled there, about the first hour of the night, and began to talk the matter over. Some said that their enemies had no doubt already spread abroad the tidings, to stir up an uproar against them; or that they had very probably giver notice to the authorities, who might take them up that very night.
Sayyid Ibrahim went calmly over all the possibilities. He agreed that the news of their defection from Islam had very likely been told all over the city, and that it might go hard with them in a land where free inquiry was not tolerated. Anyhow, he did not think that the authorities would lay hands on them until they first had had some warning.
Sheikh Ahmed spoke. He thought it quite possible for them to be arrested that very night, or in the morning. "Suppose," he continued, "that they decreed our banishment or death. Are we ready to stand firm or, to save ourselves, would we be tempted I recant and leave our faith? Christian resolve, my friends, stands not in knowledge, but in power from above to bear punishment and contempt; for such has ever been a leading evidence of the faith, as Christ Himself bore the burden for us, even to the death Shall we then not follow after His example, and with Him be partakers of the reward? "Whosoever shall be ashamed of ME" He said, "and of my word, in this evil generation, of him shall I be ashamed before the angels of My Father in heaven"; and again, "Whosoever does not take up his cross day by day, and follow Me, is not worthy of Me" -nor is it possible for any, unless he be ready, for His sake and the Gospel's, to do so unto death. Should we, instead, prefer our ease and pleasure, it would be a fatal error, and a departure from our Lord. But if we resolve to live for Him, instead of for ourselves, He will support us through all our troubles to the very end."
At this appeal there was a general response to such effect as this: "We Gannat draw back from the way of life in which, in the name of the Lord, we have entered. We are weak, but the Lord will strengthen and support us."
On hearing this Mahmoud arose and said, "My soul rejoices exceedingly. What is this but the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, even as the love of Christ, who gave Himself for us -a love beyond conception! Is it then a great thing that we, for His name's sake, should suffer shame and persecution? Even as one of His apostles has said: 'Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. "My dear friends, let us but trust in the Lord, and He will be our Helper."
He was yet speaking, when they heard one knocking at the door of the hall in which they sat. Mahmoud stopped, and opening the door, was told by his servant that two persons stood outside.
"One of them is Sheikh Abd ul-Karim," he said, "who wants to see Sheikh Ali and yourself." Whereupon all exclaimed that it was just as Sayyid Ibrahim had led them to expect. Mahmoud then asked his servant to let the strangers in. They entered with the ordinary friendly greeting, whereupon the company arose and invited them to be seated. So, after the customary welcome, and after coffee had been served, Abd ul-Karim said the following: "Dear friends, we have been sent by your brethren, Sheikh Nasir al-Din and a company of others, who are much concerned and grieved that you, chief men of the city, and pillars of the faith, should have been tricked by the idolatrous Christians to follow their corrupt imaginations. After long consideration, therefore, they have sent us, a friendly deputation, with a brotherly warning. We have not come to argue. A ward for the wise is enough. Think for a moment of our grief -not only our grief, but the grief of the whole community -at being separated in faith and worship from men with whom, in times past, we have taken sweet counsel together; and expel from your hearts the evil thoughts which the devil has cast into them. Return, and let us, as brethren, end our days in peace under the shadow of Allah and his Prophet, until, at last, we reach the blessed paradise through which living fountains flow, where there are pleasures for evermore."
After entreating them with many such passionate words, his companion followed up the appeal: "If it had been the scum of society, it would not mean so much," he said, "but you have been our chiefs and our guides -the salt of the land; and now you have become a source of grief and a trial for us! There is no believer who will not regard this lapse with horror and dismay. Beware, lest thus acting, you lose both this world and the next. I urge you in the name of your brethren, to return from the path of destruction to the ways of peace that lead to the gardens of delight. The Lord is merciful, and will surely pardon your offence. Give us to carry back an answer that shall gladden the hearts of them that sent us."
Sheikh Ali made reply: "They were thankful," he said, "for the kindness of their friends in sending them, but they would be still more indebted if, instead of bidding them to leave the path they had entered on, they would point out wherein it erred and led astray. A plaintiff is not rejected till his complaint is proven groundless, nor a defendant condemned till his evidence has been heard. Equally unjust was it to threaten them with the law until they had heard their reasons. If they recanted, it would only be a changing of the outward garb; their conviction would still remain. Where would they then be on that day when neither son nor father would be of any help?"
Then, after briefly noticing the testimony of the Quran to the Torah and the Gospel, and to Jesus as the "Word" and "Spirit from God," Sheikh Ali added: "This, then, is my faith, according to the testimony of the Lord, and I count not my life dear unto me now that I have known my Saviour. Nor do I mean that I am bolder than these my brethren; but they shall speak for themselves."
All then answered: "The faith of Sheikh Ali is our faith and his confession our confession. The Lord is our help and He is the best of helpers."
Then Sheikh Mahmoud arose and said: "We ask you, dear friends, to think over what Sheikh Ali has been saying. Why should you desire our destruction and the overthrow of our homes? We have not injured you at all; neither the government not the people. Let us live the rest of our lives in that freedom of conscience which is the gift of God to His creatures. If you are pleased to enter into discussion with us, we shall give our reasons to the best of our ability. But we cannot disregard the voice from within that calls us to refuse your demands. Have compassion on us, as you would yourselves have compassion from the Lord."
The company confirmed the words of both speakers, and prayed that their brethren, giving up their plan to report them to the Wali (Turkish ruler or governor), would rather enter into argument with them, either by word or letter.
The deputation replied: "We shall carry back your answer to our comrades, but we do not see how they can comply with your request. We were sent to warn you, and now you begin to preach, seeking to drag us into the same pit into which you yourself have fallen! We can only warn you of the evils and calamities that await you."
The company replied: "We trust in the Lord. If calamities do overtake us, He will give us strength to bear them."
On this the visitors stood, and with an angry scowl departed.
When they had gone, the little company sat some lime in silence. Then they began to speak one with another, and to say that they felt it necessary to pray to God for protection from the dangers arising all around. Before doing so, Sheikh Ahmed, taking up the Gospel, read aloud the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Christ according to John, as well as the three following chapters. All were soothed by the comforting words of our Saviour, so suitable to their present trial. Then they knelt down, while Sheikh Mahmoud prayed. He began by praising God for the gift of His Son, and for bringing them out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel. "We ask you," he cried, "to strengthen our weak hearts to bear the burdens before us, so that our walk and conversation may be in harmony with your word, and with the glory of your blessed name. Have mercy on our neighbours, who have thought to turn us from your ways by threats. Enlighten their souls, Oh Lord, as you have enlightened us; guide them as you have guided us." Then he prayed for the government, the Sultan, their Wali, his council and advisers that they might rule in righteousness and the fear of the Lord; and for themselves, that they might be vessels fit for the Master's use; and ended by praising the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
They rose from their knees with lightened countenances. Then Mahmoud, bringing forward a table with refreshments, asked them all to partake of the same, for it was now past midnight. So they all ate a little, and then departed to their homes in good cheer, praising the Lord for His goodness to them.
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