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Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 11

Next to Livingstone, whose last pathetic appeal to the civilized world to "heal the open sore of Africa" stands engraved in marble in Westminster Abbey, no better witness can be summoned in regard to the slave trade and the influence of Islam generally in Eastern and Central Africa than Henry M. Stanley. From the time when he encountered the Mohammedan propagandists at the Court of Uganda he has seen how intimately and vitally the faith and the traffic are everywhere united.

I give but a single passage from his "Congo Free State," page 144.

"We discovered that this horde of banditti--for in reality and without disguise they were nothing else--was under the leadership of several chiefs, but principally under Karema and Kibunga. They had started sixteen months previously from Wane-Kirundu, about thirty miles below Vinya Njara. For eleven months the band had been raiding successfully between the Congo and the Lubiranzi, on the left bank. They had then undertaken to perform the same cruel work between the Biyerre and Wane-Kirundu. On looking at my map I find that such a territory within the area described would cover superficially 16,200 square geographical miles on the left bank, and 10,500 miles on the right, all of which in statute mileage would be equal to 34,700 square miles, just 2,000 square miles greater than the island of Ireland, inhabited by about 1,000,000 people.

"The band when it set out from Kirundu numbered 300 fighting men, armed with flint-locks, double-barrelled percussion guns, and a few breech-loaders; their followers, or domestic slaves and women, doubled this force.... Within the enclosure was a series of low sheds extending many lines deep from the immediate edge of the clay bank inland, 100 yards; in length the camp was about 300 yards. At the landing-place below were 54 long canoes, varying in carrying capacity. Each might convey from 10 to 100 people.... The first general impressions are that the camp is much too densely peopled for comfort. There are rows upon rows of dark nakedness, relieved here and there by the white dresses of the captors. There are lines or groups of naked forms--upright, standing, or moving about listlessly; naked bodies are stretched under the sheds in all positions; naked legs innumerable are seen in the perspective of prostrate sleepers; there are countless naked children--many mere infants--forms of boyhood and girlhood, and occasionally a drove of absolutely naked old women bending under a basket of fuel, or cassava tubers, or bananas, who are driven through the moving groups by two or three musketeers. On paying more attention to details, I observe that mostly all are fettered; youths with iron rings around their necks, through which a chain, like one of our boat anchor-chains, is rove, securing the captives by twenties. The children over ten are secured by these copper rings, each ringed leg brought together by the central ring."

By a careful examination of statistics Mr. Stanley estimates that counting the men killed in the raids and those who perish on the march or are slain because supposed to be worthless, every 5,000 slaves actually sold cost over 30,000 lives.

But there are Arabs and Arabs we are told. The slave-dealers of East Africa and the barbarous chieftains who push their bloody conquests in Western Soudan are bad enough, it is admitted, but they are "exceptions." Yet we insist that they illustrate the very spirit of Mohammed himself, who authorized the taking of prisoners of war as slaves. Their plea is that they save the souls of those they capture; many of these traders are Mollahs--Pharisees of the Pharisees. Canon Taylor, Dr. Blyden, and others have given us glowing accounts of "Arab missionaries going about without purse or scrip, and disseminating their religion by quietly teaching the Koran;" but the venerable Bishop Crowther, who has spent his whole life in that part of Africa where these conquests are supposed to be made, declares that the real vocation of the quiet apostles of the Koran is that of fetish peddlers.[118] If it be objected that this is the biased testimony of a Christian missionary, it may be backed by the explorer Lander, who, in speaking of this same class of men, says: "These Mollahs procure an easy subsistence by making fetishes or writing charms on bits of wood which are washed off carefully into a basin of water, and drank with avidity by the credulous multitude." And he adds: "Those who profess the Mohammedan faith among the negroes are as ignorant and superstitious as their idolatrous brethren; nor does it appear that their having adopted a new creed has either improved their manners or bettered their condition in life." Dr. Schweinfurth also describes the Mohammedan missionaries whom he found at Khartoum as "polluted with every abominable vice which the imagination of man can conceive of." In answer to various statements which had been published in regard to the rapid missionary progress made by Mohammedans in West Central Africa, Bishop Crowther wrote a letter to the Church Missionary Society at the beginning of 1888, giving the results of his own prolonged observation. He describes the methods used as:

1. War upon the heathen tribes. "If the Chief of a heathen tribe accepts the Koran his people are at once counted as converts and he is received into favor, and is thus prepared to become an instrument in conquering other tribes. But on the refusal to accept the Koran war is declared, the destruction of their country is the consequence, and horrible bloodshed. The aged, male and female, are massacred, while the salable are led away as slaves. One half of the slaves are reserved by the chief, the other half is divided among the soldiers to encourage them to future raids."

2. Another cause of large increase is polygamy. "For although but four lawful wives are allowed, there is unlimited license for concubinage."

3. The sale of charms is so conducted as to prove not only a means of profit but a shrewd propaganda. "When childless women are furnished with these, they are pledged, if successful, to dedicate their children to Islam."

And Bishop Crowther verifies the statement made by others in reference to East Africa, that the priests "besides being charm-makers are traders both in general articles and more largely in slaves."[119]

We have only time to consider one question more, viz., What is the character of Islam as we find it to-day, and what are its prospects of development? It is a characteristic of our age that no religion stands wholly alone and uninfluenced by others. It is especially true that the systems of the East are all deeply affected by the higher ethics and purer religious conceptions borrowed from Christianity. Thus many Mohammedans of our day, and especially those living in close contact with our Christian civilization, are rising to higher conceptions of God and of religious truth than have been entertained by Moslems hitherto.

Canon Taylor, in a little volume entitled "Leaves from an Egyptian Note-Book," has drawn a picture of Islam which Omar and Othman would hardly have recognized. In the first place it should be remembered that, as he confesses, his reputation as a defender of Mohammed and his system had gone before him to Cairo, and that he was understood to be a seeker after facts favorable to his known views. This opened the hearts of friendly Pashas and served to bring out all the praises that they could bestow upon their own faith. It appears accordingly that he was assured by them that polygamy is widely discarded and condemned by prominent Moslems in such cities as Cairo and Alexandria, that many leading men are highly intelligent and widely read, that they profess belief in most of the doctrines held by the Christian Church, that they receive the inspired testimony of the Old and New Testaments--except in so far as they have been corrupted by Christian manipulation. This exception, however, includes all that is at variance with the Koran. They advocate temperance and condemn the slave trade. They encourage the general promotion of education, and what seems to the credulous Canon most remarkable of all is that they express deep regret that Christians do not feel the same charity and fellowship toward Moslems that they feel toward Christians!

Now, making all due abatement for the _couleur de rose_ which these easy-going and politic Pashas may have employed with their English champion, it is undoubtedly true that a class of Mohammedans are found in the great cosmopolitan cities of the Levant who have come to recognize the spirit of the age in which they live. Many of them have been educated in Europe; they speak several languages; they read the current literature; they are ashamed of the old fanatical Mohammedanism.

Though they cherish a partisan interest in the recognized religion of their country, their faith is really eclectic; it comes not from Old Mecca, but is in part a product of the awakened thought of the nineteenth century. But Canon Taylor's great fallacy lies in trying to persuade himself and an intelligent Christian public that this is Islam.

He wearies himself in his attempts to square the modern Cairo with the old, and to trace the modern gentlemanly Pasha, whose faith at least sits lightly upon his soul, as a legitimate descendant of the fanatical and licentious prophet of Arabia. When he strives to convince the world that because these courteous Pashas feel kindly enough toward the Canon of York and others like him, therefore Islam is and always has been a charitable and highly tolerant system, he simply stultifies the whole testimony of history. He tells us that his Egyptian friends complain that "whereas they regard us as brother-believers and accept our scriptures, they are nevertheless denounced as infidels. And they ask why should an eternal coldness reign in our hearts."

Probably they are not acquainted with Samadu of Western Soudan and his methods of propagandism. They have forgotten the career of El Mahdi; they are not familiar with the terrible oppression of the Jews in Morocco--with which even that in Russia cannot compare; they have not read the dark accounts of the extortion practised by the Wahabees of Arabia, even upon Moslems of another sect on their pilgrimages to Mecca,[120] nor do they seem to know that Syrian converts from Islam are now hiding in Egypt from the bloodthirsty Moslems of Beyrut. Finally, he forgets that the very "children are taught formulas of prayer in which they may compendiously curse Jews and Christians and all unbelievers."[121]

A more plausible case is made out by Canon Taylor, Dr. Blyden, and others on the question of temperance. It is true that Moslems, as a rule, are not hard drinkers. Men and races of men have their besetting sins. Drinking was not the special vice of the Arabs. Their country was too arid; but they had another vice of which Mohammed was the chief exemplar. Canon Taylor is doubtless correct also in the statement that the English protectorate in Egypt has greatly increased the degree of intemperance, and that in this respect the presence of European races generally has been a curse. Certainly too much cannot be said in condemnation of the wholesale liquor trade carried on in Africa by unscrupulous subjects of Christian nations. But it should be remembered that the whiskey of Cairo and of the West Coast does not represent Christianity any more than the Greek assassin or the Italian pickpocket in Cairo represents Islam. Christian philanthropists in Europe and America are seeking to suppress the evil. If Christian missionaries in West Africa were selling rum as Moslem Mollahs are buying and selling slaves in Uganda, if the Bible authorized the system as the Koran encourages slavery and concubinage, as means of propagandism, a parallel might be presented; but the very reverse is true.

As a rule Nomadic races are not as greatly inclined to the use of ardent spirits as are the descendants of the ancient tribes of Northern Europe.

The difference is due to climate, temperament, heredity, and the amount of supply. The Koran discourages intemperance and so does the Bible; both are disregarded when the means of gratification are abundant.

The Moguls of India were sots almost as a rule. Wealthy Persian Moslems are the chief purchasers of the native wines. Lander, Schweinfurth, and even Mungo Parke all speak of communities in Central Africa as wholly given to intemperance.[122] Egyptians even, according to Canon Taylor, find the abundant supplies afforded by Europeans too tempting for the restraints of the Koran.

One of the most significant indications that the sober judgment of all enlightened men favors the immense superiority of the Christian faith over all ethnic systems is the fact that even those zealous apologists who have most plausibly defended the non-Christian religions have subsequently evinced some misgivings and have even become advocates of the superior light of Christianity. Sir Edwin Arnold, seeing how seriously some ill-grounded Christian people had interpreted "The Light of Asia," has since made amends by writing "The Light of the World." And E. Bosworth Smith, on reading the extravagant glorification given to Islam by Canon Isaac Taylor, whom he accuses of plagiarism and absurd exaggeration, has come to the stand as a witness against his extreme views. Without acknowledging any important modification of his own former views he has greatly changed the place of emphasis. He has not only recorded his condemnation of Canon Taylor's extravagance but he has made a strong appeal for the transcendent superiority of the Christian faith as that alone which must finally regenerate Africa and the world.

He has called public attention to the following pointed criticism of Canon Taylor's plea for Islam, made by a gentleman long resident in Algeria, and he has given it his own endorsement: "Canon Isaac Taylor,"

says the writer, "has constructed at the expense of Christianity a rose-colored picture of Islam, by a process of comparison in which Christianity is arraigned for failures in practice, of which Christendom is deeply and penitently conscious, no account being taken of Christian precept; while Islam is judged by its better precepts only, no account being taken of the frightful shortcomings in Mohammedan practice, even from the standard of the Koran."[123] No indictment ever carried its proofs more conspicuously on its face than this.

E. Bosworth Smith's subsequent tribute to the relative superiority of the Christian faith was given in an address before the Fellows of Zion's College, February 21, 1888. I give his closing comparison entire; also his eloquent appeal for Christian Missions in Africa. "The resemblances between the two Creeds are indeed many and striking, as I have implied throughout; but, if I may, once more, quote a few words which I have used elsewhere in dealing with this question, the contrasts are even more striking than the resemblances. The religion of Christ contains whole fields of morality and whole realms of thought which are all but outside the religion of Mohammed. It opens humility, purity of heart, forgiveness of injuries, sacrifice of self, to man's moral nature; it gives scope for toleration, development, boundless progress to his mind; its motive power is stronger even as a friend is better than a king, and love higher than obedience. Its realized ideals in the various paths of human greatness have been more commanding, more many-sided, more holy, as Averroes is below Newton, Harun below Alfred, and Ali below St. Paul.

Finally, the ideal life of all is far more elevating, far more majestic, far more inspiring, even as the life of the founder of Mohammedanism is below the life of the Founder of Christianity.

"If, then, we believe Christianity to be truer and purer in itself than Islam, and than any other religion, we must needs wish others to be partakers of it; and the effort to propagate it is thrice blessed--it blesses him that offers, no less than him who accepts it; nay, it often blesses him who accepts it not. The last words of a dying friend are apt to linger in the chambers of the heart till the heart itself has ceased to beat; and the last recorded words of the Founder of Christianity are not likely to pass from the memory of His Church till that Church has done its work. They are the marching orders of the Christian army; the consolation for every past and present failure; the earnest and the warrant, in some shape or other, of ultimate success. The value of a Christian mission is not, therefore, to be measured by the number of its converts. The presence in a heathen or a Muslim district of a single man who, filled with the missionary spirit, exhibits in his preaching and, so far as may be, in his life, the self-denying and the Christian virtues, who is charged with sympathy for those among whom his lot is cast, who is patient of disappointment and of failure, and of the sneers of the ignorant or the irreligious, and who works steadily on with a single eye to the glory of God and the good of his fellow-men, is, of itself, an influence for good, and a centre from which it radiates, wholly independent of the number of converts he is able to enlist. There is a vast number of such men engaged in mission work all over the world, and our best Indian statesmen, some of whom, for obvious reasons, have been hostile to direct proselytizing efforts, are unanimous as to the quantity and quality of the services they render.

"Nothing, therefore, can be more shallow, or more disingenuous, or more misleading, than to attempt to disparage Christian missions by pitting the bare number of converts whom they claim against the number of converts claimed by Islam. The numbers are, of course, enormously in favor of Islam. But does conversion mean the same, or anything like the same, thing in each? Is it _in pari materia_, and if not, is the comparison worth the paper on which it is written? The submission to the rite of circumcision and the repetition of a confession of faith, however noble and however elevating in its ultimate effect, do not necessitate, they do not even necessarily tend toward what a Christian means by a change of heart. It is the characteristic of Mohammedanism to deal with batches and with masses. It is the characteristic of Christianity to speak straight to the individual conscience.

"The conversion of a whole Pagan community to Islam need not imply more effort, more sincerity, or more vital change, than the conversion of a single individual to Christianity. The Christianity accepted wholesale by Clovis and his fierce warriors, in the flush of victory, on the field of battle, or by the Russian peasants, when they were driven by the Cossack whips into the Dnieper, and baptized there by force--these are truer parallels to the tribal conversions to Mohammedanism in Africa at the present day. And, whatever may have been their beneficial effects in the march of the centuries, they are not the Christianity of Christ, nor are they the methods or the objects at which a Christian missionary of the present day would dream of aiming.

"A Christian missionary could not thus bring over a Pagan or a Muslim tribe to Christianity, even if he would; he ought not to try thus to bring them over, even if he could. 'Missionary work,' as remarked by an able writer in the _Spectator_ the other day, 'is sowing, not reaping, and the sowing of a plant which is slow to bear.' At times, the difficulties and discouragements may daunt the stoutest heart and the most living faith. But God is greater than our hearts and wider than our thoughts, and, if we are able to believe in Him at all, we must also believe that the ultimate triumph of Christianity--and by Christianity I mean not the comparatively narrow creed of this or that particular Church, but the Divine Spirit of its Founder, that Spirit which, exactly in proportion as they are true to their name, informs, and animates, and underlies, and overlies them all--is not problematical, but certain, and in His good time, across the lapse of ages, will prove to be, not local but universal, not partial but complete, not evanescent but eternal."[124]

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 97: Sprenger's _Life of Mohammed_, pp. 40, 41.]

[Footnote 98: It is a suspicious fact that the first chapter of the _Koran_ begins with protestations that it is a true revelation, and with most terrible anathemas against all who doubt it. This seems significant, and contrasts strongly with the conscious truthfulness and simplicity of the Gospel narrators.]

[Footnote 99: Nor have later defenders of the system failed to derive alleged proofs of their system from Biblical sources. Mohammedan controversialists have urged some very specious and plausible arguments; for example, Deut. xviii. 15-18, promises that the Lord shall raise up unto Israel a prophet from _among their brethren_. But Israel had no brethren but the sons of Ishmael. There was also promised a prophet like unto Moses; but Deut. xxxiv. declares that "_There arose no Prophet in Israel like unto Moses_."

When John the Baptist was asked whether he were the Christ, or Elijah, or "_that prophet_," no other than Mohammed could have been meant by "_that prophet_."]

[Footnote 100: Rev. Mr. Bruce, missionary in Persia, states that pictures of the Father, the Son, and Mary are still seen in Eastern churches.--_Church Missionary Intelligencer_, January, 1882.]

[Footnote 101: Sales, in his _Preliminary Discourse_, Section 1st, enumerates the great nations which have vainly attempted the conquest of Arabia, from the Assyrians down to the Romans, and he asserts that even the Turks have held only a nominal sway.]

[Footnote 102: China owes her present dynasty to the fact that the hardy Manchus were called in as mercenaries or as allies.]

[Footnote 103: Dr. Koelle: quoted in _Church Missionary Intelligencer_.]

[Footnote 104: Sales: _Koran and Preliminary Discourse_, Wherry's edition, p. 89. One of the chief religious duties under the _Koran_ was the giving of alms (Zakat), and under this euphonious name was included the tax by which Mohammed maintained the force that enabled him to keep up his predatory raids on the caravans of his enemies.]

[Footnote 105: _Mohammed and Mohammedanism_, p. 123.]

[Footnote 106: Dr. Koelle gravely questions this.]

[Footnote 107: One of the most wicked and disastrous of all Mohammed's laws was that which allowed the free practice of capturing women and girls in war, and retaining them as lawful chattels in the capacity of concubines. It has been in all ages a base stimulus to the raids of the slave-hunter. Sir William Muir has justly said, that so long as a free sanction to this great evil stands recorded on the pages of the _Koran_, Mohammedans will never of their own accord cease to prosecute the slave-trade.]

[Footnote 108: According to Dr. Koelle, the number of women and children who fell to the prophet's share of captives at the time of his great slaughter of the surrendered Jewish soldiers, was two hundred.]

[Footnote 109: _Mohammed, Buddha, and Christ_, p. 112.]

[Footnote 110: _Mohammed, Buddha, and Christ_.]

[Footnote 111: Ibid, p. 112.]

[Footnote 112: Says Sir William Muir: "Three radical evils flow from the faith, in all ages and in every country, and must continue to flow _so long as the Koran is the standard of belief_. _First_, polygamy, divorce, and slavery are maintained and perpetuated, striking at the root of public morals, poisoning domestic life, and disorganizing society.

_Second_, freedom of thought and private judgment in religion is crushed and annihilated. The sword still is, and must remain, the inevitable penalty for the denial of Islam. Toleration is unknown. _Third_, a barrier has been interposed against the reception of Christianity. They labor under a miserable delusion who suppose that Mohammedanism paves the way for a purer faith. No system could have been devised with more consummate skill for shutting out the nations over which it has sway from the light of truth. _Idolatrous_ Arabia (judging from the analogy of other nations) might have been aroused to spiritual life and to the adoption of the faith of Jesus. _Mohammedan_ Arabia is to the human eye sealed against the benign influences of the Gospel.... The sword of Mohammed and the Koran are the most stubborn enemies of civilization, liberty, and truth which the world has yet known."--_Church Missionary Intelligencer_, November, 1885.]

[Footnote 113: Osborne, in his _Islam under the Arabs_, and Marcus Dodds, in _Mohammed, Buddha, and Christ_, have emphasized the fact that Islam, however favorably it might compare with the Arabian heathenism which it overthrew, was wholly out of place in forcing its semi-barbarous cultus upon civilizations which were far above it. It might be an advance upon the rudeness and cruelty of the Koreish, but the misfortune was that it stamped its stereotyped and unchanging principles and customs upon nations which were in advance of it even then, and which, but for its deadening influence, might have made far greater progress in the centuries which followed.

Its bigoted founder gave the _Koran_ as the sufficient guide for all time. It arrested the world's progress as far as its power extended.

Very different was the spirit of Judaism. "It distinctly disclaimed both finality and completeness. Every part of the Mosaic religion had a forward look, and was designed to leave the mind in an attitude of expectation."

Mohammedanism, in claiming to be the one religion for all men and all time, is convicted of absurdity and imposture by its failures; by the retrograde which marks its whole history in Western Asia. As a universal religion it has been tried and found wanting.]

[Footnote 114: It has been claimed that the spread of Mohammedanism in India is far more rapid than that of Christianity. If this were true in point of fact, it would be significant; for India under British rule furnishes a fair field for such a contest. But it so happens that there, where Islam holds no sword of conquest, and no arbitrary power to compel the faith of men, its growth is very slow, it only keeps pace with the general increase of the population. It cannot compare with the advancement of Christianity. I subjoin an extract from Sir W. Hunter's paper in the _Nineteenth Century_ for July, 1888:

"The official census, notwithstanding its obscurities of classification and the disturbing effects of the famine of 1877, attests the rapid increase of the Christian population. So far as these disturbing influences allow of an inference for all British India, the normal rate of increase among the general population was about 8 per cent, from 1872 to 1881, while the actual rate of the Christian population was over 30 per cent. But, taking the lieutenant-governorship of Bengal as the greatest province outside the famine area of 1877, and for whose population, amounting to one-third of the whole of British India, really comparable statistics exist, the census results are clear. The general population increased in the nine years preceding 1881 at the rate of 10.89 per cent., the Mohammedans at the rate of 10.96 per cent., the Hindus at some undetermined rate below 13.64 per cent., Christians of all races at the rate of 40.71 per cent., and the native Christians at the rate of 64.07 per cent."]

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