When a man desires earnestly to know God, it only indicates that he is responding to God's search for him, and such a desire, if sincere, must culminate in God's finding him. My life's pilgrimage reached another milestone which forms one of the most memorable landmarks in the outstanding events of my life. It originated in a simple event. A copy of the gospel was given to me by a Muslim friend who himself had received it from a preacher or a colporteur. On a previous occasion I had torn it into pieces, for when attracted by its title "Injil " a term with which I was familiarized by the study of the Quran, I had taken it to my teacher I was warned in all seriousness not to read it because it was not a true Injil of which the Quran testifies, but a corrupted form of it, and consequetly containing blasphemous teachings, the very acts of pronouncing its words pollute the mind and the soul of a believer. My inner longing, however, to read the book revealed to Jesus was very great, and it was intensifled by my close acquaintance with Sufism which speaks of previous prophets, and of their books in a manner
as to raise them in one's estimation. On this occasion I was prompted to read it. If it was a corrupted book, so I justified to myself its reading it must contain at least parts of the original revelation as for its blasphemous contents surely they can be easily detected and consequently discarded as lies and interpolations introduced into it by wicked Christians. The result of my first reading was startling. In the first place I did not find a single sentence or a clause which in any sense could be interpreted as blasphemous or Satanic, and I had read it with a mind vigilant to detect any expression which implied any such notion directly or indirectly. Secondly my common sense told me that if certain followers of religion were to corrupt their sacred books or introduce interpolations into it, they must have an adequate reason or sufficient motive behind it. An enterprise as such which is not only highly impious but also extremely presumptuous would not and could not be undertaken by any class of people unless they were to derive some great advantage or benefit from it.
In the light of this principle I closely examined every passage of the gospel and I found none which would supply an adequate ground for such an act on the part of the Christians. I was impressed with the high ethical teachings of the gospel. If the Christians were to corrupt their book the standard of its ethical teachings would have been lowered. The narratives of the gospel studied under this light suggested no motive for alteration or corruption in the text. The story of the crucifixion was an outstanding event in all the narratives concerning the life of Jesus,
which completely contradicted the idea of the gospel being corrupted. No follower of religion would intentionally invent a narrative which would attribute to his leader or founder such a shameful treatment at the hands of his enemies. It is no matter of pride to be a follower of one who was shamefully put to death. The appearances of Jesus subsequent to His death were confined to His disciples only and hence they made no redeeming feature of His ignominious death. The enemies remained triumphant over His death. Why? If the Christians were to alter or expurgate anything from the gospel, the account of the crucifixion would have been the first thing to be removed or modified. How plainly it refuted their claim for Jesus to be the Son of God. The incongruity between the claim made by Christians on His behalf and the narrative was obvious. Call this argument childish, but such was the line of thought of a child earnestly trying to arrive at truth.
The second reading of the gospel produced in me the deep conviction that it was the true "Injil." It was God's word and His Revelation. The inner urge to know God was to find satisfaction through it. The effect produced on the mind by its reading was so very different from that of the recitation of the Quran. The latter in its original language was something sublime, its recitation was charming, its eloquence fascinating, and sometimes its passage had thrown me into ecstacy, but in the "Injil" I found something which spoke to my soul. The gospel spoke to me in my own mother tongue, whispering to me the secrets of God. Its reading was comforting to my soul, every sentence touched it to its very depth,
and it roused the slumbering faculties of my soul to a new state of consciousness. If the gospel was not true the sun was not shining, the moon was not bright and the stars did not illuminate the path of heaven. I find it difficult to describe the experience that I had at the reading of the gospel on that memorable day; words are inadequate to express it. It was something like an object finding its missing complement. My spiritual life was incomplete without it, but as it had never known that which was intended to complete it, it never missed it till it came to it. It can be illustrated by a piece from a jig-saw puzzle which will not fit in any other part of it but in the particular corner for which it is intended. The gospel dovetailed my soul, and in the person of Christ that it presented I found the object of my deeper and inner urge, and of the unsatisfied longing of my heart. It was like a stream of fresh water in a desert to a man dying of thirst. The words of the gospel were the words of God for they conveyed to me the message of Him who was my Maker - it was soul speaking unto soul, and deep calling unto deep.
It was sufficient. I decided to become a Christian. Christianity, of which, mind, I had not learnt yet anything beside the reading of a single gospel, was after all to me the only true religion, for it could not be otherwise. It was a great discovery, but not mine. It was God discovering His erring and wandering child. I was His creature with the possibility of becoming His child, and He "has laid eternity" in my heart. For this reason I was seeking Him, but, as expressed truly by a modern writer, in my seeking I was
trying to run from Him. Only a moment ago Christianity was hateful to me and its followers were pollution to God's creation. It was inconceivable that I would decide to become a Christian. So I repeat that it was not the result of my search, but God in His mercy had been strenuously concerned about me, as He is concerned about others and His world, and my decision to become a Christian was a triumph of His grace over my arrogance and my sinful nature.
Looking back across the chasm of years which divides the present from that moment when reading the gospel I experienced what I have been trying to describe, I find it difficult to conceive how as a child I could have followed the line of argument that I had taken in accepting the gospel record to be genuine and true contrary to the firm belief of the Muslims and how my untrained and uneducated mind could have received the impressions which I can recall even to this day so vividly. Yet it should offer no surprise, for it only proves that it is through the operation of the Divine Grace that man can turn to Him and find Him; St Paul himself exclaimed, as he surveyed those whom the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved: "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called!" And our Lord Jesus himself when He saw how the babes and ignorant came and listened to Him gladly while those who considered themselves wise and prudent found an occasion of stumbling in Him, He exclaimed saying: "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight."
The decision to become a Christian was not an easy thing to carry out. In deciding on the step that I wanted to take I was not counting the cost that it would entail. There was a complete absence of fear. In fact I was not conscious of any consequences involving physical or mental suffering in the event of my forsaking Islam and accepting Christianity. My one obsession at that moment was how to become a Christian. The obsession was so great as to make me oblivious of all consequences. After this great decision I found that my next step was to find someone who could make me a Christian. Ignorant of the Christian societies engaged in the evangelistic enterprises in my city, I considered it a regular procedure in order to change my religion to approach any one who by his costume and general appearance looked to be a Christian and reveal my intention to him and he would do the rest. So day after day I watched in the streets of Calcutta the passers-by dressed in European clothes, Europeans, Anglo-Indians and even the police sergeants on duty, desiring to ask them how I could become a Christian, but their forbidding appearance, that was how I regarded them in those days, never gave me sufficient courage to go up to them and speak to any of them of my desire. There was one Christian, however, in Calcutta who seemed to attract every one in the city. Men would follow wherever he would go, children would run to greet him as he would appear in the street. He seemed to love all mankind. Street children dirtily clothed, students in their clean garments, men of all types and profession were attracted to him. People told me that he was an imam of the Christians, their padre. This information was a matter of great joy to me, aud I decided to speak to
him and ask him to make me a Christian. In public he was always surrounded by people, and so it was not easy to have an interview with him in a crowd. One day, determined to speak to him of my desire, I followed him to his residence but at its gate he dismissed the crowd and disappeared inside the huge building. It was the Oxford Mission House at 42, Cornwallis Street, and the padre was the Canon E. F. Brown. Next day I went to his residence but I was told by the gatekeeper that the padres were fasting, observing retreat, and not receiving visitors for a certain number of days. I counted the days and when they were over I called again at the Oxford Mission House and desired an interview with Canon Brown, but when face to face with him, great was my perplexity on finding that he could not understand my language nor could I follow his English. So the interview ended in nothing.
So the search for a Christian to help me to become a follower of Christ continued. Churches were either closed or it was too difficult to find anybody in one who could understand how to talk to a Muslim child. One Sunday evening, finding that a crowd had assembled in a Church in the Bowbazar Street near its crossing with Harrison Road, to worship, I ventured inside expecting to meet somebody who could help me to become a Christian, but I was dazzled by the sight that met my eyes. There were statues along the wall, aud right in the front a priest in his rich vestment in a cloud of smoke rising from the burning incense was conducting the worship facing a large picture and a crucifix. The rest of the people in great solemnity were kneeling and saying their prayers. The sight was
impressive, but a person closer to me evidently not pleased with my curious glances asked me to go out, an order which was instantly obeyed.
One day in my customary search for a Christian I came across a preacher at the corner of the crossing of Bowbazar and Amherst streets. He was an Indian Christian and was preaching in Hindustani to a crowd. I waited for him to finish his message which he concluded, making an earnest appeal to his audience to accept Jesus Christ as the only Saviour for sinners. I went up to him and told him that I wanted to be a Christian. He very kindly invited me to his home which was gratefully accepted and followed by several profitable visits. But finding that he made no move to make me a Christian, and moreover being not satisfied with the method of his instruction I discontinued my study with him. In his instruction he had taken the line of controversy, and was anxious to teach the Muslim objections and how to meet them, a subject in which I was not interested at all. The subject of one absorbing interest to me then was how to become a Christian.
Sometime during this period in an old book shop in Cornwallis Street, I found a copy of the English Bible with references, and secured it for my study. The first few days I spent in picking out of it any book that would attract me by its title, and later I started to make a study of it beginning with the Gospel of St. Matthew. In the reading of this gospel what impressed me most was the fulfilment of the prophecies in Christ. My friend, the Indian preacher, had already acquainted me with the use of references in the Bible, and so I was able to turn to the Old Testament for the
recorded prophecies as indicated in the New Testament. The search for the fulfilled prophecies gave me an exciting time. As a Muslim I was taught to believe that all the previous Scriptures pointed to the coming of Muhammad, the last of the line of the Prophets beginning with Adam, but my study of the Bible proved to me conclusively that Christ was the last of all to come as His final Messenger, and being His Son He could not be superseded by another. Moreover the promise was to Isaac and not to Ishmael, Muhammad's ancestor. By the time that the New Testament was finished I was familiar with the most of the prophetic passages in the Old Testament. The passages in the book of Isaiah Ch. 53 helped me a great deal to understand the nature of the death of Christ: "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." The allusion to the incident in the wilderness when Moses lifted up the serpent for the healing of those who were bitten by the fiery serpents made a deep impression upon my mind and gave a new understanding of the cross. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Such passages were too significant to leave me unimpressed. It is true that Muslims have peculiar difficulties in accepting Christianity. Islam coming after Christ takes a cognizance of His claims and then categorically denies them. It claims not only to correct but to supersede Christianity. It is for this reason that the objections of a Muslim to Christianity are of a different
nature than those of the followers of other religions I was aware of these, but since my reading of the gospel I was not troubled by them. The gospel at its very first perusal inspired me with a new sense of confidence in the veracity of the Christian religion and I was perfectly willing to ignore what others said about it. I have come to believe, for instance, that the term Son for Jesus could never mean what the Muslims have asserted in their objection and I was quite confident that the Christians who derived their faith from the Injil (Gospel) never held that God needed a wife to beget a son? Similarly I believed that the doctrine of the Trinity could never be interpreted on the basis of the crude and materialistic plurality as was implied by the Muslims in their objections to it. In fact I had come to the conclusion that as the Muslims have proved themselves to be mistaken as to the nature of the current New Testament by calling it corrupted, spurious and Satanic, so in their opinion as to the forms of Christian belief they must also be wrong. If the Maulvis were flagrantly mistaken in their views of the Christian Scriptures, how could they be relied on regarding what they said and taught as to the nature of the Christian beliefs?
God granted me the grace to accept the great truths of Christianity which I had learnt directly from the Holy Scripture. At this stage of my Christian experience they were as follows: There was one God, but His unity somehow consisted of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that Jesus Christ, His eternal Word, existing from all eternity as the Wisdom of God, was His Son. The idea of Jesus being the wisdom of God I had derived from my personal reading of the Book of Proverbs and especially from the passage found in its
eighth chapter: "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was" vv. 22, 23. To my mind it compared so well with the opening verses of the Gospel of St. John and especially with the third verse of its first chapter: "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made." I further believed that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and that he died for the sins of the world and for my Sin, and that He rose again from the dead and now lives making intercession on my behalf, and that He will come again.
My general idea of Christianity, however, was still legalistic, and consequently I desired to know the form of Christian prayers, corresponding to the Muslim namaz. Sometimes I wanted to go to Church and find out how Christians worshipped, but the crowd consisting chiefly of Europeans and Anglo-Indians made me afraid of venturing inside the building lest I be turned out as I was once asked to leave a Church in Bowbazar as already stated. One day, however, in an old book shop I found a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and I secured it gladly, thinking it to be a manual of Christian Prayers, such as Muslims have. I started using it every morning and evening observing the instructions as given in the rubrics. With the exception of the singing of hymns, and repeating the service of the Holy Communion which then puzzled me, I would read the appointed Psalms, the daily portions of the Scriptures from the Old and New Testaments and the usual prayers. Through the Prayer Book I learnt the Confession, Lord's Prayer, the Creed and the Catechism.
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