Ch 4: The First Meeting
Isabella having left, Umar Lahmi and Muaz went to their houses and began to study the Holy Qur’aan and the Bible and noted down important points to be discussed. Next morning on Sunday the news of this discussion was known all over the city. The Christians had made arrangements that only a few Muslims should be allowed to enter the church. So many Muslims had to return disappointed. Umar Lahmi, Muaz and some Muslim divines came to the church and entered it on getting permission. They found eminent priests of Cordova present there busy in their worship. After some time, however, the discussion began. Isabella and all her companions were present.
Michael (Isabella’s teacher): We have learnt that you have some doubts about Christianity and have come here to resolve them and that you have promised that on getting convincing reply you will forsake Islam and adopt Christianity.
Umar Lahmi: We have not the least doubt about Christian beliefs and teachings but are fully convinced that doubts are baseless. But if you satisfy us and convincingly explain your beliefs we are all certainly ready to become Christians.
Then Michael reckoned to an elderly man to take up the discussion. He came forward and sat near Umar Lahmi. His name was Peter and he was known as an expert in Arabic learning and Islamic literature and had to his credit many books against Islam. He was supposed to be the most efficient debater against Muslims. He addressed Umar.
Peter (in a superior, rather commanding, tone): I am told that your great objection is why Saint Paul has called religious law a curse. But this is a minor and side issue. You are Muslims and believe in the Qur’aan and, therefore, the decision about Lord Jesus Christ and Christianity should be according to the Qur’aan.
Umar Lahmi: I had clearly defined the subject of discussion in my letter as you yourself admit, but now you want to discuss other matters. When I have written that the discussion should be on the religious law and curse, what objection can you have?
Peter: We will answer your question also but first let us deal with the basic issue and that too from your Qur’aan. Does not your Qur’an say about our Lord Jesus to be Ruhullah (the spirit of God), Kalimatullah (the word of God)? Has it not been mentioned in it that he used to bring the dead to life ? Then if you believe in the Qur’an, how can you doubt Lord Jesus being the son of God ?
Umar Lahmi: You have started quite a different discussion which is not even remotely concerned with our object. What I want is to understand the significance of religious law and the curse. If you are prepared to discuss it, then do it, otherwise let us take leave.
Peter: I put up the Qur’an before you and want that the basic issue should be decided first. If you want to avoid the basic question and enter into side issues, it means that you have no answer to it.
Umar Lahmi: Well, you want to discuss the basic issue apart from your religion and taking the cover of the Qur’an. If you want to discuss the basic issue, let us first decide whether Adam did commit a sin and if it is decided that he did, then we should discuss whether it passed on from generation to generation to the entire humanity, that is on account of Adam’s sin all human beings became naturally sinners. If this has happened, we will discuss how the blot of sin can be removed. Then we may discuss the chastity of Prophet Jesus (according to the Bible). Thereafter you shall have to prove that Jesus was God and he only can absolve humanity of sin. When all this is proved, you shall have to prove that Jesus was crucified and for all the sins he remained in Hell for three days. This is to be discussed and not what the Qur’an says about him.
Peter: All this is irrelevant. What I want is to prove from the Qur’an that Jesus was the “Spirit of God” and the “Word of God” and he brought the dead to life. Therefore Christian religion is just.
Umar Lahmi (pointing to Isabella): Now I appoint her the judge and ask her why we were called here. (To Isabella 🙂 Sister, you have to say now what I wrote in my letter and why you brought us here.
Isabella: In fact the real talk was as to whether religious law is a curse or not. If it is a curse, why do the Christians by following it become accursed? But the objection of our holy father (Peter) is also justified and my judgment is that first your objection should be met and then the Holy Father may put questions on the Qur’an.
Umar Lahmi: This is for me to leave the ground open for you. Now, I give you the promise that when you have dealt with our objection we will immediately allow you to put general questions. But when, as I have promised, I embrace Christianity, what need then there will be of any further questions?
Peter: Well, sir, then you state your question clearly.
Umar Lahmi: You go on replying each of my questions one by one and the matter will be clear. First, let me know whether not to steal, not to kill, not to oppress the neighbour, etc., are religious commandments and whether they are concerned with religious law.
Peter: Surely, all these are related to the religious law.
Umar Lahmi: And what is Saint Paul’s decree about religious law ?
Peter: What decree? I do not follow.
Umar Lahmi: You do understand it well, but you want to evade answer. Just say if Saint Paul has called religious law a curse.
Peter: Saint Paul has called religious law a curse in this respect that the core of religious law came in the form of Jesus Christ and it is a folly to leave the core and run after the skin.
Umar Lahmi: This is what I also mean that Saint Paul, taking Jesus as the soul and religious law as the body, has called religious law a curse, and since, as you said, this Commandment of Old Testament is related to religious law, there-fore to refrain from killing and fornication is also a curse.
Peter: The thing is that you cannot understand these mysteries without the help of the “Holy Ghost” and it is not necessary that a matter which you cannot understand is in fact wrong. Saint Paul has called physical religious law a curse and not all kinds of religious law.
Umar Lahmi: Agreed. Granted that Saint Paul has called physical religious law a curse. Now just tell me if not to steal, not to fornicate, not to oppress parents, etc., are physical religious law or simply internal, spiritual and moral.
Peter: You are hitting on the same topic. Just listen. What Jesus Christ has said is more preferable to what Saint Paul has said and our Lord has asked us to follow the Commandments of the Old Testament.[See Bible, Matthew, S : 19 to 10: 25.]
Umar Lahmi: That is, to obtain salvation it is necessary to follow the Old Testament. If this is so, why did you raise the problem of Atonement by crucifying the “Son of God”? Why this bogle of Atonement when it is necessary to follow the Old Testament? Is it necessary to follow the Commandments of the Old Testament even after the Atonement of Christ ?
Peter: We know nothing except that our Lord has directed us to follow the Old Testament. But salvation cannot be gained by merely following the Old Testament without Atonement.
Umar Lahmi: So Prophet Moses (Musa), David (Dawud), Solomon (Sulaiman), Joseph (Yusuf), Noah (Nooh) and other prophets must have been deprived of salvation, for their means of salvation was just following of the religious law. So also must their communities have been deprived.
Peter: Before the advent of Christ the only means of salvation was following the religious law, but the Lord’s Atonement changed it and now the only means is Atonement.
Umar Lahmi: First you rejected what Saint Paul had said that religious law was not a curse and then you rejected religious law as the basis of salvation. Can you quote any saint to prove that Saint Paul’s saying that religious law is a curse is not true?
A person: Gentlemen, in fact it is apostasy and disbelief to talk of these matters. All these elate to unseen mysteries. Saint Paul has certainly called religious law a curse and it is really so, but you people are unable to understand these mysteries. Our means of salvation is the divinity of Christ and Atonement, because Jesus was free from sins and an embodiment of God, who by his grace and benevolence suffered on the cross in lieu of us and gave us salvation.
Another person: Do not indulge in mutual quarrels. You have begun to refute Saint Paul.
Umar Lahmi: This is the result of untrue and baseless talks. Now, this other gentleman has broached the subject of Divinity and Atonement. First let the discussion of religious law and curse be concluded.
Peter: You have been given a conclusive reply. Now you may take eight days to ponder on the matter. If your doubts are not resolved during this time, you may come here again.
Umar Lahmi: You do not regard religious law a curse and your colleague says it is a curse and Saint Paul was correct. Which of you two is on the right?
Peter: Those who say this are not acquainted with the mysteries of Christian religion. You should not attend to what they say.
Umar Lahmi (to Isabella): Now, you say which of them is on the right and whether Saint Paul was wrong in calling religious law a curse.
Isabella: I came here to listen to your discussion and cannot intervene in any matter. But I will request my teacher Michael to resolve this question by his great learning and intelligence, since, apart from our honoured guests, I myself have not yet understood it.
These words of Isabella fell like a bolt from the blue on the entire assembly and everyone began to look at once at one another. Just then Michael got up.
Michael: Brethren, we have assembled here to search faith and it is certainly a very auspicious task. But for it, it is necessary that there should be a sincere heart and an urge to accept the truth. The question of faith is such that no one can succeed by his own effort without Divine help. We should, therefore, earnestly pray to God that He should manifest the truth to us through the help of the “Holy Ghost” and reveal to us the mysteries of the Christian faith. (Loud cries of Amen from all Christians.) Gentlemen, whether religious law is a curse or not is an irrelevant question. The real thing is that our Mohammedan brethren have no knowledge of Christian creed and principles and so they are indulging in polemics. The essence of our religion can be stated just in two words, i.e. the Divinity of Christ and Atonement. One who has understood these two has understood all the secrets of the Christian faith. How gracious is God that He sent His only son for our salvation to suffer all the troubles of this world and then at last he was killed on the cross as an atonement for our sins. So I will request my friend Umar Lahmi and his associates to give up the useless discussion of religious law and curse and think of the holy personality of our Lord Jesus and his matchless atonement and embrace Christian faith.
Umar Lahmi: We have not come here for mere talk. We follow a principle and want to discuss basic problems. We have already defined the subject of our talk in my note, whose witness is our sister Isabella here. Now, if you want us to give up the real subject matter and discuss the Divinity of Christ and Atonement, I am ready for that also, provided you give me in writing that we give up the subject of religious law and should talk on the Divinity of Christ and Atonement.
Peter: We do not mean to say that you should not discuss these problems, but that we may leave aside marginal issues and discuss basic problems.
Umar Lahmi: Then why did you call us here? Churches and mosques are not necessary for discussion. If you do not want to discuss, then say so clearly so that our time is not wasted.
Michael: You have misunderstood holy Peter’s talk. He did not mean that we should close the dialogue altogether. He only wanted to stress that you should put questions by thinking over the basic problem. But it is already noon and you may have to take lunch. Say when it will be convenient for you to come again.
Umar Lahmi: This time is very convenient. No one can say whether we shall have this auspicious occasion again.
Michael: But you have also to offer your prayer.
Umar Lahmi: We can offer our prayer in this very church.
Peter: I think we better take up the discussion again next Sunday.
Umar Lahmi: I think the discussion should not be put off for so long. Possibly we may be guided by Allah.
Michael: All right, we restart the discussion tomorrow at this time and continue till midday.
Isabella: If the discussion to be put off for tomorrow, then it should not end at noon but continue till the evening so that we may come to some conclusion.
Michael: Not at all, have we no other business?
Isabella: I think, no other business can be more important than this.
It was, however, decided that the discussion should begin in the morning and continue till noon.
This concluded the first meeting. Umar Lahmi, thanking all Christians, leaves for his home while the priests and Isabella remain sitting in the church.
One priest: It is regrettable that you gave the opportunity to these “unbelievers” to raise objections and let the Christian faith be ridiculed. The only way to treat these heathens is to put the Qur’an before them. Holy Peter did this in the very beginning but, unfortunately, they cleverly wriggled out and took up the discussion of religious law. If the same is done tomorrow also, we will be badly let down, because what they enquire about is of the Divine secrets which no one except saints can understand.
Michael: In fact, the discussion went into wrong channels in the very beginning, otherwise they would have been let down by their own Qur’an. Does not the Qur’an say that our Lord Jesus is the “life-giver” and brings the dead to life? Does not the Qur’an call him the “Spirit of God” and the “Word of God”?
Peter: But, now, the subject of discussion for tomorrow has been defined. It will be on the Divinity of Christ and Atonement. See how cleverly I wanted them to divert from it, but Michael put them again on it.
Michael: Do not blame me. It is all your handiwork.
Another priest: What is the use of indulging in mutual quarrels. It will be seen tomorrow, when Divinity of the Lord will come under discussion that our Christian religion is not a soft morsel which anyone can swallow at a gulp.
After this conversation all the Christians left the church and dispersed. Isabella also left with her companions and made for her home. On her way she spoke to her companions.
Isabella: Just see, behind the back of Muslims they boast that Muslims cannot stand before them, but when they were faced with Muslims they were thoroughly exposed. I am sorry that my father had to leave immediately after leading the prayer as he had full confidence in the ability and learning of Michael and Peter, otherwise he would have silenced these Muslims.
One companion: In fact, the problem is a bit too tough. What even your father could have done ?
Another companion: In fact, our beliefs and dogmas are poor. Otherwise our priests would not have been so beaten.
Isabella: God forbid ! Just a single discussion has upset you. Our beliefs are certainly well founded, but there should be someone to explain them. Now, tomorrow the Divinity of Christ will be discussed and you will see how badly they will fare.
They had now reached a crossroad where all the girls turned towards their respective homes.