Chapter 1: The Letter
There lived at Aleppo a Christian, Yohanna Gheiyur by name. Between him and a
certain citizen of Damascus, a Sheikh called Abd ul-Hady, ther grew up a close
and lasting friendship. They used often to discuss questions bearing on their
respective religions; and, as a result, the Sheikh one day received from his
friend an earnest and well-reasoned letter: Divine Truth in the Book of the
Living God, and the Christian Faith Set Forth Therein, the Only True Religion.
While deep in study, Abd ul-Hady was visited by a pious and learned Sheikh, Ali
Omar, whom he asked to read it, and advise whether it should be answered, and if
so, how. Ali found the arguments so hard to answer that he declared himself
unable, without the advice of fit and learned friends, to say whether any reply
should be given. "And after ail," he added, "two are better than one; what do
you think?" Abd ul-Hady agreed, and so Ali at once invited a learned company of
friends to come for that purpose to his house. Some were Sheikhs, some Sayyids
(Islamic chiefs or leaders), and two Effendies (Arabs or Turks of noble birth);
in ail, with himself and a friend, twelve in number. So when, after supper, they
had assembled in his private chamber, he explained his purpose, begging them to
listen to the letter which his friend had received in support of the Christian
religion, and thereafter to advise how it should be dealt with. Whereupon, at
his motion, Abd ul-Hady arose and read it in their hearing.
The letter is of considerable length; it will suffice briefly to summarise the contents. (The arguments are ail brought out in the later discussions, so that it would be unprofitable to give the letter here in full.) Its object is to establish the authority of the Bible (as borne testimony to by the Quran), and of Christianity as based thereon. Holding it reasonable that man should look for a revelation of his Maker's will, the writer proceeds to show how that will was gradually unfolded to a chosen race, and embodied in the Books of Moses; and how, as a result of their apostasies, prophets were sent from lime to lime to recall the Israelites to the worship of the one true God. Such revelations ceased some four hundred years before the mission of Jesus Christ; and about one hundred years later (that is, about three hundred years before the Christian era) were collected in the form in which we now have them. Their genuineness is confirmed by various arguments: the fulfillment of prophecy, predictions of the Saviour and of His rejections, and the frequent story of the sin and backsliding of the chosen race --subjects which, had the Israelites been inclined to tamper with their Scriptures, would surely have been removed there from. Of the many religions prevalent on the earth there can be but one true religion, as there is but one true God; and for that we must look to His revealed Ward. The Hebrew books abound with references to the coming Saviour; and He was expected by the nation, as, for example, in the story of the woman at the well of Samaria. His mission was established by miracles and His death and resurrection by the testimony of His followers who were threatened with persecution even unto death. The Incarnation, though beyond our reason, is in no way opposed to it; for nature abounds in things we believe, yet cannot understand. As little children take their father's ward for things beyond their comprehension, so should man his Heavenly Father's. We must accept with all humility what He in His word has revealed to us of His own nature.
His friend sent him a couplet by a profane poet, who asked, "How could God suffer, and where was the Father when the Son was crucified?" Such language shows incredible ignorance of what Christianity really teaches. It was in His human nature that Christ died, and His divine nature was not affected (just as the golden tissue remains when a scarf is burned). If the Father, out of infinite compassion, sent the Son to bear our nature, and as predicted in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, to bear our sins, is it for the creature to raise objection? If Divine Justice is satisfied -as illustrated in Abrahamís offering his son and by the institution of Jewish sacrifices -should not man be infinitely grateful? Passing over the objections of agnostics, who believe in nothing, and of the great mass of mankind who believe only in the religion they were born and raised in, the writer will address certain objections levelled against the Christian Scriptures. Alleged discrepancies are shown not to touch the essence of the revelation.
The series of books from the beginning to end of the Bible forms an integral development of the divine will. Six centuries after Christ, the Quran gave clear testimony to both the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures. Copies of these in the original; and translations into many languages, had by that time spread ail over the world, and were in the hands of many conflicting sects, so that alteration since that date is an impossibility. In fact, the Quran accuses Jews and Christians, not of tampering with their sacred books, but of neglecting their precepts, and it scolds them in such terms as these: "Oh people of the Book, you are nothing unless you be grounded on the Torah (Old Testament) and on the Gospel, and that which has been revealed unto you from your Lord" (Sura The Table Spread 5:72).
"How then is it possible" (thus ends the letter) "for you, my friend, without insulting the Quran, to cast the Old Testament and Gospel behind your back, seeing that they are the very same Old Testament and Gospel, genuine and unchanged, as were borne testimony to in the seventh century? If you receive the Quran, you cannot but accept the Bible. I call upon you to read it as the revelation of God. Admitting it as such, you cannot claim that it was intended only for Jews and Christians. God is one, and His revelation must be equally one -a manifestation of the divine will for ail mankind. Reading the Holy Scriptures, the truth will dawn upon you that, just as there is one sun which illumines the whole world, even so the Son of Righteousness, the Saviour, is the light for ail mankind. And in accord therewith, the divine command runs thus: 'Go ye into ail the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.
Presuming on your kindness and love of truth, I have ventured, my friend, to write thus freely to you, and pray that you may find the blessed Gospel to be your guide unto everlasting life.
Your faithful friend, Yohanna Gheiyur
Having finished the reading, Abd ul-Hady sat down, and the company for some minutes remained silent. At last Sheikh Ali said: "My friends, you have heard the letter. What do you think?"
Sayyid Ibrahim answered: "The reasoning is weighty, and the arguments, at first sight, difficult to answer. We need to discuss them one by one, and then we shall be able to say in what way it should be treated."
Thereupon Abd ul-Cadir spoke: "Friend," said he, "the Sayyid is garbling the truth and leading you astray. Though I am the youngest among you, I warn you not to forget that you are followers of the blessed Prophet and glorious Quran." With that, he began praising Islam -a religion which, for him, provided the only means of salvation; and he warned them to beware of the subtle attempt to undermine their faith. "The honeyed morsel is steeped in poison; away with it," he cried, "if you are true believers!"
The aged Abd ul-Halim, arose then and spoke, leaning on his staff: "Abd ul-Cadir has said nothing wrong about the danger of heresy. But let us not judge hastily by first appearances. Everything red is not a cinder. Jewels may be hid in the sand, and in the clod a precious stone. With Sayyid Ibrahim, I advise that we do not cast the letter aside hastily. It contains no word of abuse against our faith, but rather, words of love and friendship. So, as wise and thinking men, let us study its contents. What is false we shall reject, and if there be in it any truth, we shall accept the same."
Omar Effendi then closed the conference. Agreeing with Abd ul-Halim, he objected to casting the letter aside as unworthy of notice. "Rather," said he, "let us consider it as learned and impartial Muslims should, and then reply to its criticisms. But the day is now far spent, and if it pleases you, we shall end our sitting now, and come together again, when, having had lime to ponder over the various arguments, we shall be better able to come to just conclusions."
To this they ail agreed. And so, after they had partaken of the refreshments, which Sheikh Ali placed before them, they departed each to his own home.
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