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PRESENT ATTITUDE OF MOHAMMEDANISM, IN REF
ERENCE TO THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL.
By ELI Smith.
MOHAMMEDANISM has its principal seat in Turkey, where it has been the lot of the writer of this article to labor and journey. Heretofore it has raised there a haughty front against the religion of Jesus. Its laws have ever imposed tribute or the forfeiture of life upon unbelievers, and denounced inevitable death upon apostates. Its professors have long held at the disposal of their arbitrary will, large bodies of subjugated Christians; they once triumphed over the chivalry of Europe; and their sovereigns have for centuries sat upon the subverted throne of the Cæsars. Its doctrines and its history, in a word, have long placed Mohammedanism in a high attitude of contempt towards the gospel, and of opposition to the spread of it, both among its disciples, and among nominal Christians subject to them.
Let us dwell a moment upon this past attitude of Mohammedanism, before we speak of that which it is now assuming.
In reference to the propagation of Christianity among Mohammedans, its opposition has held the form of law-of law strictly executed. In Egypt even, where some of the institutions of Europe have been for several years professedly imitated, when the writer first arrived there, an instance of its execution occurred. A Mohammedan woman was discovered to have connected herself with the Greek church; a proof of her new faith was found in a cross stamped indelibly upon her arm; she was seized, carried to the Nile, and sunk in its waters. It has, in fact, long been the boast of the semi-independent inhabitants of Lebanon, that their mountain is the only spot in Turkey, where a Mohammedan can with impunity renounce his religion.
The law, or at least the execution of law, went farther than to punish Moslems who apostatized; it punished Christians who dared defame Mohammed. When at Alexandria, the writer was informed of a poor Christian, who had been insti
gated by some sudden provocation in the bazar, to curse Mohammed. He was instantly seized, and it was only by embracing Mohammedanism, that he saved his life. No Christians in Turkey dare, in the presence of Mohammedans, curse the false prophet. They would be glad to do it, such is their hatred of his followers; and they are ready to mention it as one of their grievances, that they are denied the privilege.Missionaries wish not to curse Mohammed. They wish, by sober and convincing argument, to prove that he is a false prophet. But the two stand, in the estimation of Mohammedans, not far asunder. Missionaries have been formerly told, that by openly arguing against Mohammedanism, they would so trample upon the laws of the land, as to forfeit their European protection, and expose themselves without refuge, to Moslem vengeance. They have never, it is believed, found it true. But any direct attempt to proselyte Mohammedans to Christianity, has ever been regarded as a high offence. A German missionary, under the protection of the Russian army during its late invasion of Turkey, undertook to reason with the Turks, in the bazars and streets of Erzroom, against Mohammedanism, and in favor of Christianity. Only a few days elapsed, before the kady and the mufty informed the general, that, such was the popular displeasure at the missionary, they could not hold themselves responsible for his life.
In reference to the spread of the gospel among the nominal Christians of Turkey, the opposition of Mohammedanism has held, not so much the form of established law, as of arbitrary oppression. When a Christian had paid his capitation and other taxes, the Moslem government prosessed to regard with indifference the particular religious dogmas he might adopt, or the ecclesiastical connection in which he might place himself. From considerations of state convenience, it held indeed the ecclesiastical head of every sect, responsible in some respects for all in his communion; and of course was ready to aid, by the civil power, in supporting his authority. Still it remained for such dignitaries themselves to move the first complaint against measures leading to dissent or reformation. If they remained quiet, foreign missionaries might put the Bible in every Christian's house, and, with aid from above, implant the seeds of grace in every Christian's heart in Turkey; and find no Mohammedan law crossing their movements. And at the worst, the law could not touch their life, or their liberty.
But in Turkey, law is one thing, and the measures actually taken by rulers is often quite another thing. The haughty attitude towards Christianity, given to the Turks by their religion and their history, has often led them to trample arbitrarily upon the rights of even Europeans. Missionaries, the appointed agents of the despised religion, have been not a little obnoxious to such acts of oppression. The writer has travelled over regions, where the missionaries of Rome, though enjoying the patronage of ambassadors, have been imprisoned, bastinadoed, and banished, in endeavoring to propagate their faith among the nominal Christians of Turkey. How many thousands of dollars have been arbitrarily exacted from their establishments in Palestine and elsewhere, their accounts alone can tell. It cannot be forgotten, that our own Fisk and Bird, also, were once imprisoned in Jerusalem. Indeed, who does not remember, when the Turkish power was regarded as presenting such hindrances to missionary operations, that our first efforts in Palestine were undertaken with much fear and trembling.
Such was formerly the opposition of Mohammedanism to the spread of the gospel among Mohammedans, and among nominal Christians subject to Mohammedans.
In passing to speak of its present attitude, it cannot be said, that the anti-Christian articles of its code of laws have been repealed. The changes that have actually taken place in its general posture are two; one tending to liberalize, the other to humble, its professors. For the first time, probably, in its history, have innovations been formally introduced from Christian nations, as acknowledged improvements. Before, a wall of arrogance, cutting off the view of foreign superiority, hedged up Moslems to the contemplation of their own conceited exaltation. Be it that the innovations are military and in themselves of no moral value; they make a breach in this wall, and in their train may come in others, of a far different nature. They are an acknowledgment, that some good things may be borrowed from Christians, and their tendency is to liberalize the minds of Moslems for the admission of others more important.
Moslems have been humbled by the experience both of their intrinsic, and of their relative weakness. The authority of the sultan over his subjects, formerly rested upon a double basis; his ecclesiastical character, as head of the Moslem church, and his civil character as head of the Turk
ish empire. The former acquired him the greatest veneration, and the most hearty obedience. His orders, issued in that capacity, for the head of an obnoxious pashá, had but to be displayed in the court of the victim, and the very officers of that court would aid in its execution. By his recent adoption of Christian improvements, he has severed this hold upon the veneration of his subjects. Some even scruple not to call him an infidel. To that religious fanaticism, in a word, which has ever been the strongest principle of obedience in the Turkish citizen, and of bravery in the Turkish soldier, he can no longer appeal. What a failure was his late attempt, by unfurling the sacred sanjak el shereef during the Russian war! Once he had but to impose the ban of empire upon the famous Aly Pasha of Yoannina, whose court even figured in the diplomacy of Europe during the war of the revolution, and the head of the outlaw soon graced the portals of the seraglio. Now, the same interdict is issued against Mohammed Aly of Egypt, and his victorious army only march the bolder toward the walls of the capital. Of the relative weakness of their power, the Turks have recently had more than one imperative lesson. The battle of Navarino, destroying their navy, and in its consequences dismembering Greece from their empire, was one. Another was the Russian war, which in its progress placed their capital at the mercy of a conquering enemy, and at its close drained the resources of their treasury. I have studied the Turkish character, and if it has one distinctive trait, it is that of humbling itself under the rod. This experience, therefore, of intrinsic and relative weakness, could not but act as an effective antidote to that arrogance, which has entered so essentially into the opposition of Mohammedanism to Christianity.
What alterations have these changes in the general posture of Mohammedanism, made in its particular attitude toward the spread of the gospel ? To the spread of it among Moslems even, opposition is wearing a milder aspect. That Moslems are yet reduced in their own estimation near enough to a level with other sects, to listen patiently to arguments from native Christians, upon the falsity of their faith, is not even now true. But to Europeans is at length assigned, in Moslem estimation, a relative standing, which begins to command for missionaries liberty to argue against Mohammedanism. From Egypt, where an attempt was once made to convince missionaries that openly to charge Mohammed with im
posture, would endanger their lives, reports reach us of repeated discussions between missionaries and Moslems. From Damascus, the very seat of Moslem bigotry and arrogancewhere, when the writer knew it, a European must wear the costume of an Osmanly rayah, or be liable to be mobbed; and where, since then, two travellers at one time found popular rage against Europeans so high, as to be forced to conceal themselves until they were sent away with a guard of thirty horsemen—from Damascus, even, we hear that an effectual door is opening for the circulation of the Scriptures. At Sidon, too, the gospel has been freely published to Mohammedans. Not many years ago, the wife and children of a leading Christian of that place, leaving home one morning as if to attend church, went before the governor, and renouncing their faith, returned Moslems. That hour made the man a widower, and childless. The mother was no longer his wife, nor were the children his; for no such relations could subsist between a Christian and Moslems. His property, even, was no longer his own; an officer accompanied them from the governor to enforce their claims to it. And he had not the right of complaining. In this very Sidon, has free discussion with Moslems been recently carried on for months, by Wortabet, himself a native Christian, though under European protection.
Such changes are great, they are astonishing. But we must impose upon ourselves a caution not to build upon them too high expectations. How general and how deep they may be, time will determine. To bring Moslems to tolerate discussion of the merits of their faith, is one thing ; to bring them to tolerate apostasy from it, is another. Humbled as the Moslem's spirit is, that he can bear to hear his religion called in question by a missionary ; let a missionary baptize a Moslem convert, and the law against apostates, may be found to be not yet, even virtually repealed. This change is to be hoped for from the liberalizing process which is beginning in the Moslem character. May we not look for a public opinion to result from the innovations already making such inroads upon Turkish prejudice, which shall cause the intolerant law of the Koran to become a dead letter, and hold men no longer accountable for changing their religion, to any other tribunal than to that of conscience and of God ? Such a state of public opinion, it is believed, is beginning to be formed. The causes which are to produce it, have been the