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The Life and Letters of George Alfred Lefroy, D.D.
Bishop of Calcutta, and Metropolitan

By H. H. Montgomery

London, etc.: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Chapter IX. Mahommedanism, its strength and weakness

I HAVE already stated that Lefroy published two articles on Mahommedanism. In 1894 there appeared "An Occasional Paper," and after thirteen years an article in "Mankind and the Church." The following is a summary of his views in the first of these. He begins by saying that he had tried to enter as fully as possible, and with sympathy, into the truths in that religion. And in this connection he speaks warmly of Archbishop Trench's Hulsean Lectures, "Christ the Desire of all Nations," published in 1845, commending them as giving the wise and generous attitude towards all religions. Lefroy could not believe that "any who have been created in the image of God can wander wholly away into the blackness of error." The main points in the pamphlet are as follows: The study of Mahommedanism ostensibly based on the Old Testament and on some New Testament stories in distorted form, is of peculiar interest because of the extraordinary moral problem which it presents, for "nowhere have light and darkness been so interwoven the one with the other. Nowhere have high truths of God and man been so clearly stated, and yet at the same time so neutralised in their practical effect, if not perverted to evil results, by the admixture of falsehood in its system." The strength of Islam consists in belief in One Living God, in the general Resurrection, and in the fact of Revelation followed by an intense guardianship of it. Again, it consists in the position assigned to Jesus Christ; it holds the Virgin Birth and His entire and unique sinlessness. The Ascension is taught, but not the Resurrection, for the fact of the Crucifixion is denied. His Second Coming is an article of faith; not, however, to judge the world, but to prepare the way for a great Mahommedan revival. The titles given to Christ are the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Lefroy then turns to the dark side: where the Mahommedan Creed has had fullest and most urestrained scope, there error has prevented enlightenment, progress, and the happiness of mankind.

"I believe Mahommedanism--and so far as I know all uninspired faiths--to be the reflection of the dual character of man. There are in it still the traces of God's Holy Spirit, there is a feeling upward toward God, but there is also present in it, in very high degree, the craft and power of the devil marring the work of God's Spirit and dragging man down." "Just because I do want that we should be fair to Mahommedanism, I deplore the more that indiscriminate partisanship of it, for I believe it will do the utmost injury to the cause which we have so much at heart, and by provoking a certain reaction will land us again in that position of unreasoning denunciation and unqualified abuse from which we are trying to escape." He speaks, next, of the evils inherent in the Mahommedan system. The conception of God is fundamentally erroneous. Stress is laid on the metaphysical and intellectual attributes almost to the exclusion of the moral. Power being put as a primary attribute, the dominant conception of God is of Arbitrary Will. He speaks of "the arbitrary character of the Quranic morality." There was nothing blasphemous to Mahommed in attributing certain decrees of God about women, "since such decrees are not necessarily and irrevocably opposed to His nature." "All true idea of God as the pattern and standard of man's life, or of a true loving fellowship with Him has vanished." Again, the nature of their worship is fearfully mechanical. The low views of paradise and of its bliss are a very sad fact. Lefroy relates how a Judge of the Sessions Court, "an Englishman without much hold on definite Christian belief, and inclined to an eclectic attitude towards creeds generally," once said to him, "I put Mahommedanism at the very bottom of all other faiths; short of actual fetishism I think it stands as low as possible." In this connection Lefroy speaks sadly of Mahommed's own attitude towards women, and refers specially to three of his acts: (a) his declaration that God had freed him from laws laid down for all others; (b) his marriage with Zeinab, the wife of Zeid, his adopted son; (c) the affair with Mary, an Egyptian slave. He concludes by saying, "It should be remembered that Mahommed was not merely a teacher occupying, so to speak, an external position towards the creed which he taught, but his own life down to his most trivial words and acts and habits has been treasured up, and constitutes for all time the standard and pattern of the true believer." "I believe that with the access of power there came a fatal lowering of aims, and of the tone of his whole life till--from regarding himself so long as the mouthpiece of God--he permitted himself first to disregard his conscience, and then to take that last and awful step, in which he is not alone among those whom God has called to noble aims and privileges, of identifying the voice of God with the promptings even of his lower nature, and claiming the divine authority for that which he ought to have repelled as, what it indeed was, the very tempting of the evil one himself."

In 1907 Lefroy wrote in "Mankind and the Church" on "The Attempt to Estimate the Contribution of Great Races to the Fulness of the Church of God." ["Mankind and the Church," by Seven Bishops. Edited by Bishop Montgomery (Longmans).] He points out that Islam cuts across racial differences, and impresses upon all it touches the characteristics of a religious system. "It is one of the striking proofs of the strength of the creed of Islam that it does thus force into the background the distinguishing racial characteristics of the people to which it has come." "The Mahommedan type of character is as definite and clear cut a thing as possible." The following points are worth noting in his attempt to do justice to the good in Islam. By it "a need of our own time is met when it is shown on a large scale of human life that a truth about God lies at the base of one of the strongest social and political structures which the world has ever seen, and that this strength and power is due rather to a religious truth than to any maxims of practical morality." "It is the knowledge of God which lies at the base of human life and gives strength to human society." Islam also makes its power felt from what may be called the institutional side of religion: the regularity of the ordinances for prayer in large bodies is noticeable, "utterly different from a vast mass of modern religious sentiment which is almost Manichaean in its fear of the body and of bodily acts . . . and has almost lost the sense of the power of corporate acts of worship." Notable also is the chivalrous pride which the Mahommedan takes in his faith. "A Christian will allow the name of our Blessed Lord to be abused in his presence far more easily than a Mahommedan would allow the name of his own prophet to be so treated." Nor does he consider ritual unreal or effeminate. "In Islam we find one of the most ritualistic peoples in the world essentially manly and strong." Again, "the brotherhood of believers is another vital and much needed truth which, it may well be, Mahommedan converts will help to reaffirm and press home on the Christian consciousness."

It must be specially noted that these extracts are chosen to illustrate only the good in Islam. The whole article should be read in order to gain the balance on the other side. I have already given the two sides on pp. 97, 98.

The two following letters give the fruits of labour:

New and happy experiences.

"This week Haig and I have been twice, for nearly four hours each time, to a Mahommedan mosque, where we have found a Mahommedan priest and a certain number of his disciples ready and willing to have a really good talk over matters, and on sensible lines with Commentaries, etc., and really very nearly without prejudice and unfairness. I cannot in the least convey to you what it has been to me. It must seem to you very simple and probably the sort of thing you supposed we had been doing all along; but in point of fact, in this particular form, it is to me a perfectly new experience and one of the very happiest and most promising kind. He certainly does load us with blessings, even when we are least worthily using those already received. The chief thing one needs more and more is to remember that all one has is given to one by Him; each such gift by all reason and common sense ought to do so much more to make one humble and yet it may so easily be perverted to an exactly opposite purpose. This is as distinct an answer to prayer as anything could be, and it is the more pleasant that it did not come originally to me, but it was Haig who came upon the man first, and got the invitation which led on to the whole thing. I do trust now we may be able to keep it up and extend it."

"Delhi: Aug. 7, 1895.--We had great excitement down at the Hall last Friday. There is a keen wave of excitement passing over them in connection with our preaching and the meetings have been very largely attended. I had had a discussion, shorter than usual and I think satisfactory, with a Mahommedan on Eternal Life as viewed from the Christian and Mahommedan standpoints. Just as I was closing the meeting a poor looking Eurasian stepped forward and said, 11 want to become a Mahommedan.' Excitement rose to white heat. I turned to the chairman, a Mahommedan, and said, 'Now, you are responsible for seeing that nothing further is said here. If he wants to profess Mahommedanism the mosque opposite is the place. Let him go there.' He was good about it, and with a good deal of difficulty got the man and his own co-religionists out of the Hall and over to the mosque. The Mahommedans were of course very jubilant, and I hear it is all over the city that half the Padres have been converted and the other half are on the brink. On leaving the Hall I learned that the man had been begging from Mr. Papillon in the morning, and not getting any help there had apparently determined to try another quarter. Subsequently, however, I learned that there were further wheels within wheels. It seems that an Association of Mahommedanism which has much influence in the Punjab had sent a rather strong remonstrance to the chief men who come to the Hall, saying that their presence gives e"clat to the meetings; if they stayed away others would not go, and urging them to at once discontinue the discussions and attendance. My friends did not like this, so they arranged a little plan with this poor man when he went begging for some help from them, that he should attend the Hall in the evening and make a profession of Mahommedanism. They now point to this as a magnificent result of the discussions, showing how converts are won and entirely silencing the adversary. It is not a very high level to move on, and gives you a little insight into the initial difficulties of utter want of ordinary honesty and moral sense which we meet with in all our work. The result, however, pleases me well enough, for what I want is to secure the continuance of the good meetings at which many hear the Word under circumstances at any rate more favourable, I think, than any others I could get them under."

"Aug. 14.--I am having tremendously interesting meetings at the Hall and carrying the war more into the enemy's country than I usually do. I wonder if you know a very interesting little book, 'The Testimony of" the Koran to the Holy Scriptures," by Sir W. Muir (S.P.C.K.). If so that would give you the drift of my last two lectures. The last one was not outwardly a success, for they marshalled a lot of Arabic scholars against me and quoted verses freely, and I am not scholar enough to see the real meaning and correct mistakes: so, though I know my case is really overwhelmingly strong, I had to suffer apparent defeat. It is such experiences, however, that lead to victory. One learns what their lives are and what arguments need to be met. I had a very interesting talk with an able and unusually impartial Maulvi at Karnal last Monday when sitting quietly in scholarly talk, with the Arabic authorities before us. He entirely admitted the overwhelming force of the argument as to the existence of pure copies of the Scripture in Mahomet's time--though he had, of course, his own explanation as to their subsequent corruption and disappearance. This is the ultimate dilemma on which I believe, as learning and some sort of appreciation of other faiths and positions develop amongst them, Mahommedanism must split: there is the very strong assertion in the Koran of the divinity and authenticity of the Bible, coupled with the denial of its leading teaching.

A much later letter, and when he was a Bishop.

"Dera Ghazi Khan: Feb. 6, 1900.

"I had one experience which--after twenty years in the work, was quite novel. A Mahommedan of good family belonging to the place was baptised a good many years ago. I admitted him to priest's orders in Advent. He is plainly much respected in the place. He asked me to come to his house as he wanted me to meet some of his Mahommedan relatives. I went, expecting of course to meet his brothers or other males. There were some of them present, but after a few minutes' talk he said, 'Please come in here, some of the women are in this room.' I went in and to my astonishment there were six respectable Mahommedan women, one his mother, the others I believe wives of brothers, who shook hands with me, keeping their faces of course partially veiled but by no means entirely so, and then listened for ten or fifteen minutes while I spoke to them of the faith. At the end the eldest brother, who is a Mahommedan (the one who has been baptised is the eldest of all), asked me to pray for him and others of the family that they might have grace given them to follow their brother's footsteps. It was very remarkable altogether, and I thanked God for it. As we came out my Padre brother said,' Well, they throw the faults and failings of the Christians in our faces often enough, but the fact remains that they wouldn't have dreamt of allowing one of their own Maulvis to go in there, but they trust a Christian Padre!'"

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