Chapter 2: Deep Waters
The reading of the letter had a strange effect upon Suleiman, one of the company. On his way home from the assembly, he was lost in thought, hardly knowing where he went, till his head knocked against the lintel of his door. Entering, he could think of nothing else. Now sitting, now rising, he contemplated thus: "The Quran bears testimony to the Torah and to the Gospel; yes, yes; and they cannot have been altered since. Six hundred years after Christ they were attested by the Prophet as the Word of God. So Jesus must have been divine, dying for our sins. Oh Suleiman! What way is there out of this dilemma? Can it be that the Quran is not true? Never! That cannot be; and yet it contradicts the Book to which it bears testimony. How can I escape from this maze in which I wander? I must forget it all; and yet I cannot. Ah! What shall I do? I am not clever like the rest. I will go and reveal my doubts in the morning to Sheikh Mahmoud (one of the twelve), if indeed he can help me."
And so he went on ail night until daybreak; when, wearied, he went off to sleep. In a couple of hours he awoke, and, having first asked God's guidance, went straight away to Mahmoud's house. Shocked at his tired appearance, the Sheikh invited him into his garden, where they seated themselves under a shady tree. Then, with some hesitation, Suileiman began: "I was awake ail night, thinking of that letter they had been reading. A voice kept ringing in my ears that it was true. I tried to banish it, but a cord kept seeming to draw me back to the dilemma, till, exhausted, I fell asleep. Upon waking, I said, 'I will go and reveal my thoughts to my friend, and seek for guidance at his hand.'"
Sheikh Mahmoud, having listened, sat silent for a time.
"My brother," he said, "the matter that has disquieted you is indeed of supreme importance; and, believe me, the anxiety which has kept you awake is a blessing in disguise, for which you may yet thank God. Be comforted, for I myself have passed through the same experience. Will you give an attentive ear to what I now have to say?"
"Good master, say on," replied Suleiman.
"You know the earnestness and devotion with which I used to read the Quran, and how it used to move me even to tears. Weil then, while thus occupied, I stumbled, as it were, upon a verse in the Sura Cattle 6:156, that struck me dumb with astonishment: 'Lest you (Oh people of Mecca) should say, "Truly the book has been revealed unto two peoples before us (that is, Jews and Christians), and we were neglectful of their reading of the same.'" Now, thought I, if this was a rebuke from God against the Meccans for their neglect of reading the Bible, how can we, without reproach, be neglectful of the same? Then, again, this other verse came suddenly upon me: 'If they (Jews and Christians) observe the Torah and the Gospel, and that which has been revealed unto them from their Lord, truly they shall eat (of good things) from above, and from beneath their feet' (Sura The Table Spread 5:75). And yet further: 'Oh you people of the Book! You are not grounded upon anything until you observe the Law (Torah) and the Gospel, and that which has been revealed unto you from your Lord' (Sura The Table Spread5:77).
"Pondering over these texts, I marvelled that I had never observed them before; and, longing to see the books that are praised thus in the Quran, I searched for them, like a weary traveller for a fountain in the desert. I succeeded at last in buying an Old Testament from a Jew. I hesitated getting the Gospel from any Christian, lest he should have inserted words concerning Christ's divinity and death. But at last I got one at a book depot, and also A Guide to the Holy Scriptures, which I borrowed from a friend. Reading these eagerly, I found the Torah and the Gospel to be in tact but one; then, indeed, I understood why, in the Quran, they are called the Book -for they are one in spirit, one in abject.
"Comparing the Scriptures with the Quran, I found them to agree in certain points, such as where, in the latter, Jesus is called 'the Ward of God' and 'a Spirit tram Him,' but to differ in others, as in the divinity of Christ, His death and atonement, etc. It distressed me beyond measure, seeing the Old and New Testaments in agreement concerning these doctrines, and yet to find them denied in the Quran. For many days I remained downcast and distracted, afraid to let my doubts be known, and tell into a weak and sickly state. At last I made up my mind to visit a learned friend, Sheikh Rashid, to whom I confessed my perplexity which arose out of the tact that, whereas the Quran bears witness to the Bible, it contradicts some of its leading doctrines. After a long argument with Rashid, in which I quoted texts tram the Quran and passages tram the Bible (such as Isaiah 53) opposed thereto, the Sheikh frowned upon me as an apostate, and warning me of my danger, stood up to leave. I kissed his hand, and begging of him still to regard me as a friend, departed, marvelling at the force of prejudice which makes a man cling to what he has been barn and brought up in, and blind to ail arguments against it.
"After that I retired into my closet, imploring with tears that the Lord would guide me. Thus I continued to read and pray, often in great distress, tossed about like a tiny boat upon the waves, until in Ali's house I heard the letter in company with you. Then arose the dawn upon my heart, which, please God, will shine on unto perfect day."
This discourse, towards the close of which Mahmoud himself was much affected, produced a deep impression on Suleiman, who thanked God that he had been led to one who had passed through such deep waters. Then followed a long conversation, in which Mahmoud answered various difficulties of his friend regarding the alleged discrepancies in the Bible (after which he said there were far more in the Quran), showed that none were material, and that a Muslim must accept the Old and New Testaments as they stood in the seventh century, on the testimony of the Quran itself. Then they went over the wonderful terms in which Jesus is described in the Quran, involving attributes that could apply to none but a divine person.
"Strange," said Mahmoud, "that our learned scholars should not have been struck by this. I have myself read the Quran over and over five hundred limes and more, yet never thinking of Jesus with a tenth part of the reverence I regarded Muhammed with; and yet He is the Sun (the Quran itself being witness) around whom the prophets revolve as stars. Let us trust Him as our Saviour and Giver of eternal life. But having this faith, my friend, we must boldly claim it in the coming conference, not dogmatically, but bringing it out gradually by questions and discussion.
"And now," he said, "let us call another of our company, Sayyid Omar al-Haris, whom I have known as a thoughtful believer tram his childhood, one who has often spoken wisely concerning the Old and New Testaments, that he may stand by us; for a three strand cord is not easily broken."
So Omar came, and the three having revealed their most secret thoughts, found themselves of one accord and one mind. Omar agreed to be with them in the coming assembly.
"I am but weak in faith and argument," he said, "as you see, compared with those of riper years; but the Lord will be my Helper."
Then they went to their homes. And throughout the week the three met every evening by some hills outside the city, and talked these matters over.
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