The Alexandrian Epistle: Biblical Prophecies about Islam
[Photograph on this page]
He is the All-Powerful!
My beloved friend,[*] your letter reached me and gave me much joy. Your discourse delighted me, for I perceived in it the glittering lights of knowledge and mystical insight, and the lightning flashes of proof burst forth from the clouds of its strokes. I praised God, my Lord and yours, for having showered on you His spiritual bounties though you are in the vitality of your youth and in spite of the fewness of your years. He has generously conferred on you His compassionate blessings in the prime of your days and while your boughs are yet luxuriant. I beseech Him to extend your life, to confirm you in aiding the Cause of your Lord, and to inspire you to that which is best for you in this world and in the next.
[*. The eminent scholar Abu'l-Fadl wrote this epistle in answer to a question from Husayn Effendi Ruhi. The latter asked him about places in the Holy Books where there are glad tidings of our lord the Prophet [Muhammad], after he had been involved in a dispute with a priest over this matter. — Faraju'llah Zaki Al-Kurdi [who helped finance the publication of the first Arabic edition of this book]
[Husayn Ruhi (1878-1960) was the son of Hajj `Ali Tabrizi, a Bahá'í teacher sent to Egypt by Bahá'u'lláh. For his biography, see The Bahá'í World: An International Record, vol. 13 (Haifa: The Universal House of Justice, 1978), pp. 938-39.]]
You ask about passages in the Pentateuch and the Gospel that might be cited concerning the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad. Know, my beloved friend,
that anyone who carefully examines all the Holy Scriptures will see that all such books contain two kinds of teachings. The first category contains the laws and ordinances the community will need over the period of its existence, and on which its success and prosperity will depend. The second category is the prophesies concerning the advent of the Day of God, the descent of the Spirit of God [Jesus], and the appearance of the Manifestation of the Cause of God. This Day is the great, terrible, and awful Day that has been referred to in the heavenly scriptures by various expressions, by such exalted names as the Day of the Lord, the Day of the Kingdom, the Day of Affliction, the Day of the Meeting, the Resurrection, the Hour, and so forth. The prophets stipulated conditions for the advent of that Day and mentioned signs, tokens, indications, proofs, and prerequisites for it. These are recorded in the ancient books and are clearly stated in these scriptures.
Know, my beloved friend, that it can be inferred from some books that since an ancient time whose beginnings remain unknown, the prophets have given the people the glad tidings that the Cause of God will come, and the dawn of the Day of God will break. Then will the gloom of disputes, heresies, wars, and hatreds between His servants be dispelled. However, owing to the obscurity of ancient histories, the lack of information about peoples in times past, the difficulty of preserving scholarly works (because printed works, paper, and so forth, were easily lost in those days), and the lack of cooperation, mutual aid, and acquaintance between ancient tribes, insufficient information can be had about the prophecies made by the prophets before Moses. For no book by them has survived and no traditions exist, that an inquirer might benefit from their contents or inform himself of the stipulations of
their prophecies. This being the case, we have no choice but to consider the Pentateuch the first Holy Book whose passages may be drawn upon, and from whose reflections the intended meaning may be gleaned.
Let us first of all begin with the verses of the Pentateuch, then proceed to the sayings contained in the books of the prophets of Israel, and conclude with the glad tidings found in the Gospel. We place our trust in God: He, verily is the best of Lords and the best of Guardians.
God said, according to Deuteronomy 33:2: "The Lord came from Sinai, and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone from Mount Paran, he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand." This blessed verse clearly indicates that before the striking of the Hour, and before the advent of the Resurrection, God will reveal Himself to His creation four times and will unveil four Manifestations. Only then will the generations of the children of Israel be completed, will they attain to the glorious Lord, will their scattered remnants be gathered together from the remotest lands, will they be protected from harm by mankind. Only then will they be settled in the Holy Land and will their ancient legacy be returned to them.
In accordance with this noble verse, there first appeared Moses. God became manifest to them by His Theophany from Mt. Sinai. Second, Jesus appeared, and God revealed Himself from Mt. Seir. Third, Muhammad arose, and God was effulgent from Mt. Paran. Then ages passed, and nights and days followed one another until the Chosen Lord manifested Himself and the fourth theophany was completed by the decree of the King, the All-Glorious, the All-Compelling.
There is no substance to the arguments of some
who refute this verse's relevance by saying that the words "dawned," "shone forth," and "came" occur in the past tense, and that if this verse were a prediction of four theophanies these would have been in the future tense. For the prophecies of the Holy Books, even of the noble Qur'an, often occur in the past tense as an evidence that their content must inevitably come to pass and is decisively true. There is for instance the verse."...and thy Lord came, and the angels rank on rank."[3-1] See also the fourteenth verse of the Letter of St. Jude, where the past is used to mean the future: "It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying `Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads.'"[3-2] But in fact, the interval between Enoch (who, historians have established, is the Prophet Idris) and Jesus is greater than the distance separating Moses from Muhammad.[3-3]
[3-1. Qur'an 89:22.]
[3-2. Quoted from Enoch 1-9.]
[3-3. See Qur'an 19:56-57 and 21:85.]
See also Deuteronomy 18:18, where God says, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." That this refers to the appearance of Muhammad is more likely than that it refers to Jesus, as some have attempted to maintain. For the Quraysh tribe is from the progeny of Ishmael. They are the "brethren" of the Hebrews in terms of lineage, since the Jews are descendants of Israel. Ishmael and Isaac were the two sons of Abraham: the Arabs appeared from the progeny of Ishmael, while the children of Israel came from the line of Isaac. The Arabs are therefore the brethren of the children of Israel, in genealogical terms.
As for Jesus' descent from Abraham, we have as yet found no dependable evidence for this. The Jews
themselves, who were the people of his House, denied Jesus' relation to them and claimed that he was a Samaritan. This is shown by John 8:48: "The Jews answered him, `Are we not right in saying you are a Samaritan and have a demon?'" This passage provides clear evidence that the children of Israel at that time, when their genealogies were still preserved and recognized, did not consider him one of them. They did not accept him as having the same origin as they. They were the people of the house, and as the proverb has it, "The people of the house know best what is therein."
No consideration can be given to the genealogies in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke relating him to David, since the chains of descent in these two genealogies contain disparities.[3-4] Matthew related Jesus to David through Solomon; and Luke through Nathan, Solomon's brother, which is altogether unreasonable. This is not to speak of the disparities in the number and names of the individuals mentioned in these two genealogies. Many attempts have been made to correct this error with unlikely interpretations. However, these are more likely to provoke laughter than to silence the skeptic, and more likely to raise doubts for a critic than to convince him. An earnest, critical inquirer will pay no attention to such attempts, except to doubt them and dismiss them.
[3-4. Matt. 1:1-6; Luke 3:23-38.]
Moreover, Christians do not consider Jesus a prophet. Rather, they hold him to be the only Son of God — and more, the third person of the Trinity which they believe constitutes God's essence. Therefore, this prophecy clearly does not apply to him.
In 1305 A.H. [1887-88 A.D.], when I was in Hamadan, I heard a Jewish rabbi of the line of Levi, who had taken refuge with the Mighty Pillar and
cleaved to the Glorious Cord of God. He said, "This prophecy applies solely to the appearance of Muhammad, for there is perfect resemblance between the Islamic and Jewish religions with respect to their legislation, lineage, laws, origins, beginnings, ordainers, and founders. They are thus twin branches of one tree, two sprouts from the same root."
He then recited Isaiah 63:1: "Who is this that comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he that is glorious in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength?" When he had recited the entire chapter, he said, "These verses warned with the greatest frankness of the calamities that befell the children of Israel at the appearance of Islam. For God forewarned them that a divine and heavenly man would come from Edom, which is the land falling between Palestine and Arabia; and Bozrah is one of its cities. It is also called Busra of Silks. The Arabian Prophet, with his uncle, Abu Talib, came to the coasts of Syria twice before his manifestation. It was in Syria that Bahira' the monk said to Abu Talib, `A great future lies before this nephew of yours ... guard him carefully against his enemies.'[3-5] The Caliphs of Islam conquered Syria and dispersed the children of Israel. The prophecies of this chapter must refer solely to the Prophet Muhammad, for Jesus did not come from Edom and never entered the city of Bozrah; so these predictions do not apply to him."
[3-5. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, trans. A. Guillaume (Lahore: Oxford University Press, 1974), p.81.]
In the eighth verse of this chapter, it is written: "For he said, `Surely they are my people, sons who will not deal falsely; and he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved him; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his holy
Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them."[3-6] Truly, anyone who reads this passage will see clearly that it contains prophecies concerning the three cycles which the children of Israel underwent during three dispensations. For he said that his people were the children of Israel, and he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old — that is, in the dispensation of Moses. But they grieved his holy Spirit, that is, in the dispensation of Jesus. For Jesus is the true Spirit of God, and the Jews grieved him and denied him. They dared to insult him and to curse him, and they decreed his death. Then the Spirit of God turned to be their enemy and fought against them, that is, in the dispensation of Muhammad. For he fought against them in the raid on the Qurayzah clan, when nine hundred of their men were killed in a single day. His caliphs expelled them from Syria, abolished their sacrifices, and forbade them to perform their rituals, as one can see in the histories. Because of fatigue and lack of space, this must suffice as a mention of the prophecies about Muhammad's appearance in the Old Testament. We beseech God to aid us in completing this proof on another occasion. He is, verily, our Protector in the beginning and in the end.
[3-6. Isa. 63:8-10.]
Now for the glad tidings of the Prophet's advent in the New Testament. Know, my beloved friend, that a human being cannot reach the station of prophet, messenger, or legislator, nor attain into divinity, unless a holy and celestial potency manifests itself in the temple of his body and a sanctified and divine spirit descends upon the throne of his heart. When this holy power become refulgent in the heart of a human being, when this heavenly bestowal descends upon his breast, when this divine breeze wafts over his soul,
and this celestial potency rests on him, then he is called the Prophet of God, the Messenger of God, the Word of God, the Most Exalted Countenance, the Loftiest Heaven, the Tree beyond which there is no passing, and the Ultimate Goal. "Whichsoever you call upon, to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names."[3-7]
[3-7. Qur'an 17:110.]
However, this station is bestowed, not acquired; it is given as a confirmation, not learned; and it is heavenly, not earthly. It is a single reality which is not multiplied by numerous manifestations, a single light that does not divide, even though it often shines forth, and a single effulgence that does not vary with difference of the Easts and Wests. Should it be manifest upon Sinai, it is that same divine potency; if it shines from Seir, it is that same heavenly pearl; and if it dawns from Paran, it is that same godly star. If it wafts from Persia, it is that same spiritual breeze; and if it glows, flares, shimmers, and scintillates from Tihran, it is that same, single Sun of Reality. It has always been effulgent from all eternity, and its light shall forever continue to gleam forth throughout the coming generations and centuries.
By your life, my friend! The affirmation of God's unity has no meaning save the recognition of this subtle point, and no man can escape the evil darkness of those who have joined partners with God save by attaining this noble goal. Moses alluded to this truth when he said, "For I lift up my hand to heaven and swear, As I live forever."[3-8] Jesus referred to it, saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega ... the beginning and the end."[3-9] Muhammad also pointed to it in the tradition, "The first thing God created was my light." `Ali said in this regard, "Verily, we are the first ones, the harbingers of this world and the next, the signs of all times. Whoever perished by us; whoever was saved, was saved by us."
[3-8. Deut. 32:40.]
[3-9. Cf. Rev. 22:13.]
Know that the prophecies Jesus made concerning his return and Second Coming, which are recorded in many Gospel verses, were first of all fulfilled by the appearance of Muhammad, by virtue of that essential unity we have mentioned above. The appearance of this Messenger of God truly represented the return of the Spirit of God, Jesus. In the same way, all the works, deeds, power, and potency that Jesus manifested were also shown forth by Muhammad. No importance can be attached to the multiplicity of Manifestations and bodies, for bodies are but instruments whereby spirits display their works. The pivotal factor in the realization of the divine essence is the spirit, not the body.
An example of this appears in the Gospel, where Jesus pronounced John the Baptist to be Elijah the Prophet.[3-10] However, both Jews and Christians agree that Elijah ascended to heaven nearly nine hundred years before John the Baptist.[3-11] If Jesus could declare that John the Baptist was Elijah — in spite of the difference in their names, times, lineages, forms, and bodies — because of their unity in spirit, then why cannot a scholarly researcher conclude the appearance of Muhammad? For exactly the same spiritual unity and essential harmony existed between them. Moreover, John the Baptist himself denied that he was Elijah, as is clearly stated in John 1:19-23. However, Muhammad never denied that he was the reality of the past prophets and messengers. Indeed, the verses "Our command is but one, like the twinkling of an eye" and "We make no division between any one of His Messengers" openly demonstrate that he is the reality of all the prophets and messengers, and his appearance represents the return of all those who came before. "Surely in that are signs for such as mark."[3-12]
[3-10. See Matt. 11:14. Cf. Mal. 4:5.]
[3-11. 2 Kings 2:11. Elijah died ca. 849 B.C.]
[3-12. Qur'an 54:50; 2:285; 15:75.]
By your life, my friend! I do not marvel that the people of the East were given pause by such ambiguities, found themselves impotent to grasp these points, and remained ignorant of the true meaning of these verses. This is because of their deficient understanding of natural science and astronomy. However, I am astonished, bewildered, and dumbfounded by those who believe themselves to be natural philosophers, astronomers, well-versed doctors, and mature scholars. They have measured the heavens cubit by cubit and weighed it particle by particle. They have discovered the constituent parts of the earthly elements and fathomed their natural mysteries. How then can they accept things that are rationally untenable and completely impossible? How can they wait expectantly for things that contradict the ways of God from ancient times?
Where are there composed minds, understanding hearts, sharp eyes, even dispositions, apposite perceptions, and serene understandings? Have all natures grown foolish? Have all feet stumbled? Have they forgotten God's ways in past times and days? Have the souls, after the world has ascended so high on the ladder of progress, degenerated into the skepticism of extinct peoples or sunk into the abyss of the idle fancies of the ancients? Do they expect anything but the path of those who passed away before them? "Say: Then watch and wait, verily I shall be with you watching and waiting."[3-13]
[3-13. Qur'an 7:71.]
To realize that by the descent of the Son of Man was intended the return of that Holy Reality who is essentially one in all aspects, is to recognize that this occurred when Muhammad appeared. However, God had certain foreknowledge that the people of this age,
in spite of their ample claims to progress and advancement, would fall into the same pit of doubt as had the ancients, and would cling to the same cord of vain imaginations as had there predecessors. He therefore desired to invalidate their proofs and useless fancies lest the people have any proof against God.
He therefore revealed in the Revelation of St. John prophecies of the Prophet Muhammad's appearance and openly proclaimed in this noble Book all the events associated with his dispensation, and that which would befall his community till the Resurrection Day.
It is recorded in the eleventh chapter of that book:
bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood p on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up hither!" And in the sight of their foes they went up to heaven in a cloud. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of that city fell; seven thousand people were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
As you see, the words of this chapter state and proclaim that after St. John, to whom these prophecies were revealed, God would raise up two heavenly witnesses, that is, two divine men, who would call the people to the religion of God. They would bear witness and confess the truth of Jesus' resurrection. You know that after the ascent of Jesus into the heavens of God's presence (or, to put it more clearly, from the time these revealed prophecies descended) until the dawn of the morn of the Day of God, no one arose with prophethood or guardianship to bear witness to the unity of God and to the truth of His prophets and messengers, from Adam to Christ, save our Lord Muhammad. And the gate to the city of his knowledge was `Ali. These two resplendent luminaries, these blessed olive trees, arose to proclaim the unity of God and the truth of His Messiah. Through their witness, great nations became believers, though they had not formerly recognized the oneness of God or the truth of Christ Jesus, the Spirit of God, but rather worshiped fire and idols. They came to believe and obey; they assented and attained certitude.
In this way the divine revelation was fulfilled, and the vision of John the Divine became a reality. After they completed their witness, their light spread and their word was established. Then appeared the frightful beast, that is, the vicious monarchy, the despotic caliphate of the Umayyads. The leadership of this Qurayhsi clan, the kings of the Umayyad caliphate, fought against them. Abu Sufyan made war on the Prophet; Mu'awiyah contended with `Ali and poisoned Hasan; Yazid waged war with Husayn; Hisham ibn `Abdu;l-`Aziz struck at Zaynu'l-`Abidin, the son of Husayn. Thus, every single member of this pure, prophetic clan and this blessed, `Alid family was poisoned
or killed by the order of one of these tyrannical Umayyad caliphs.[*]
[*. This is a reference to the holy imams, relatives of the Prophet Muhammad, who are accepted by Shi'i Muslims as his true successors.]
It is firmly established and plainly stated in the pages of the history books that when Husayn, the son of `Ali, was killed by the order of Yazid, they imprisoned the people of his household and carried them, barefaced and bareheaded, on packsaddles to Damascus. Among them were daughters of the Messenger of God, and Fatimah's own children. They delivered them in this state into the city of Damascus. The people of that metropolis (metaphorically called Sodom) issued into the streets to look upon the Prophet's daughters, bareheaded and weeping and swung over the humps of camels. The heads of the martyrs were carried aloft before them on spears and lances.
The people of Damascus celebrated as a festival the day the family of the Prophet arrived in chains. They cheered and laughed, and cursed and swore, owing to the bitterness they had nursed in their breasts from the battles of Badr, Uhud, Hunayn, and Siffin.[**] They refused to allow the heads of these martyrs to be buried, but circulated them throughout Syria so the people might rejoice at this clear victory. This they did for the three and a half years of the days of Yazid's caliphate.[***]
[**. Badr(624 A.D.) and Uhud (625 A.D.) were battles fought by the Muslims against their opponents, the Meccan polytheists. Hunayn(630 A.D.) was a large battle fought by the Muslims against a confederation of polytheist tribes after the Muslim conquest of Mecca. Siffin (657 A.D.) was a battle between the Imam `Ali's supporters and those of the usurper Mu'awiyah.]
[***. He has interpreted three and a half days as three and a half years following the scriptural convention that a day with the Lord is a year. — Farrju'llah Zaki al-Kurdi.
(See Num. 14:34).]
Finally, these remains were laid to rest in a Syrian city, where they remained until the Fatimid caliphate.[*] The Fatimid rulers then brought them to Egypt and ordered them interred here, where the people visit them even to this day. All the decline, the abasement, the degradation that has accrued to the Islamic community, and its conquest by its enemies, as you see today, is a direct result of this despotic caliphate, these tyrants of the past. This is indicated by God's saying, "We made the vision that we showed thee and the tree cursed in the Qur'an to be only a trial for men; and We frighten them, but it only increases them in great insolence."[3-15]
[*. The Fatimids were a Shi'i dynasty of the Isma'ili sect, which reigned in North Africa, and later in Egypt, from 909 to 1171 A.D. As Shi'is, or partisans of `Ali, they naturally had much affection for Husayn, `Ali's martyred son.]
[3-15. Qur'an 17:60.]
By your life, my beloved friend! A tree watered by pure blood will produce only the thorns of decline and loss; it will bear no fruit save the bitter-apples of ignominy and humiliation. The great scholar al-Firuzabadi, the author of al-Qamua [Dictionary], said concerning the word wadq (and these two verses are the only ones extant by `Ali ibn Abi Talib):
Therefore, he said, a wadq is a calamity. As you can see, this double calamity has taken the form of external and internal afflictions: heedlessness, estrangement,
and apathy within, and the cunning, plotting, and fanaticism of enemies from without.
When Yazid died, `Ali Zaynu'l-`Abidin, the son of Husayn, returned to Medina. His presence restored the imamate, and the doors of guidance were flung open a second time upon his companions. The Umayyad and `Abbasid caliphs always feared the Prophet's family, and they watched and spied on them. They harassed them one by one until 260 A.H. [874 A.D.], when the imamate ended. Then the paths of guidance were concealed, the pure souls ascended to the highest heavens, and the darkest gloom of night reigned over all. Centuries and cycles followed one another. Finally, the secrets of the scriptures were unveiled, and the call of the sunrise was heard in all regions. Now that the sun is gone from view and the Book of the Covenant has been recited to the righteous, one can see that the clouds of doubt are gathering, the thunder of covenant-breaking and faithlessness is crashing, and the hail of skepticism and uncertainty is raining down.[3-17] In this way, the glad tidings have been fulfilled, the prophecies have come to pass, and the clear signs have appeared. The Cause is God's, the Sovereign of earth and heaven.
[3-17. See Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-`Ahd (Book of the Covenant) in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, trans. Habib Taherzadeh et al. (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978) pp. 219-23. In this work, Bahá'u'lláh appointed his eldest son `Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbas (1844-1921) to be the Center of the Covenant after his own passing. This testament was rejected by `Abdu'l-Bahá's ambitious younger half-brother, Muhammad-`Ali, who led a tiny band of schismatics in an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to `Abdu'l-Bahá's authority.]
I would like to relate to you a humorous anecdote about the dispute that I had with a priest concerning the interpretation of this chapter of the Gospel — though I admit that this contravenes the principle of conciseness on which this essay has so far been based. I stopped over, in 1312 A.H. [1894-95 A.D.], in Syria and laid down by walking cane in the presence of the Lord of Righteous[*] and the Point of Adoration for the free. May God enable me to hold firm to the cord
of fidelity to him as long as there be day and night! There one day I met Abu Nimrud, an erudite minister of the Evangelical community, in the house of my beloved friend, Dr. Raphael.
[*. A reference to `Abdu'l-Bahá.]
We became engrossed in a discussion of how to vindicate the authenticity of the Prophet Muhammad's mission. He asked me to establish a proof for this. I answered that the rational evidence, the decisive, conclusive proof, and the signal miracle which will verify the truthfulness of any man's divine claim is the transcendent potency he demonstrates in promulgating his Word, establishing his religion, and perpetuating his law in spite of the opposition of all the nations, and in the face of the combined forces of all the world's peoples. This is a potency no other force can surpass, with which no power can compete, and which no might or solidarity can ever conquer. For it does not derive from the limited and recognized sources of human power such as outward, earthly sovereignty or authority, acquired knowledge or science, financial wealth or fortune, communal ties or solidarity, or from worldly glory or leadership.
This power rests upon an invisible, divine potency and emanates from a heavenly, celestial force. This force, in turn, ultimately derives from the Necessarily Existent, the Cause of causes,[*] which all investigators must recognize, even the philosophers — those who believe in causes and factors. Without this, the skeptic and denier will be compelled to wander astray in the darkness of vain imaginations, and to reject self-evident, primary propositions. He will cleave to logical fallacies such as circular reasoning, infinite chains of causation, the affirmation of the cause, and
so forth. This is a clear proof for all prophets and messengers; it is an obvious criterion which distinguishes between truthful and mendacious claimants. All this is to say that the more recently a messenger has appeared, the more manifest and powerful his proof will be. This is in accordance with the law of progress and advancement.
[*. That is, God.]
The minister responded that rational evidence is not considered dependable proof by Christians. He requested that I present evidence from the verses of the Old Testament and from the Gospel, as these are the bases among them for the establishment of proofs and evidence.
I replied, "If you do not consider rational evidence something to be concerned with, then you will be incapable of vindicating the truth of our lord Jesus to those who do not accept the validity of the Old Testament, such as the Buddhists, Hindus, and Zoroastrians. They do not know of Moses, and they do not recognize that the Old Testament is the Book of God, whose verses can be cited as evidence, and whose glad tidings can be presented as proof. How then will you establish and prove the truth of Christ to them? This is a sure sign that you are ignorant of the very meaning of proof and is an indication of your incapacity to attain a knowledge of the true path. Nevertheless, I will make this concession to you and quote for you some of the prophecies of the New Testament."
I recited for him the above-mentioned chapter and said to him, "These noble verses prophesy the arising of two great witnesses to God and to the truth of Christ. Muhammad and his eminent son-in-law and disciple arose to proclaim and attest the unity of God and the truth of our lord Jesus."
He responded, saying, "This is not the meaning of
witnessing. Muhammad should have borne witness that Jesus rose from the dead, saved the world, and redeemed all nations."
I said to him, "How is it that he has saved and redeemed all the peoples of the world, when you believe that most of the nations have persisted in a state of perdition until this very day? Let me ask you about them, nation by nation, lest we cleave to an illusion or rejoice for nothing. God be our witness, Abu Numrud, did our lord Jesus save the great Buddhist nation?"
He replied, "No."
I continued, "Then did he save the Hindu nation?"
He said, "No."
I asked, "Did he save the Zoroastrian nation or the pagan nations,[3-18] or even the Jewish nation?"
[3-18. Literally, fetishist.]
He responded, "No."
"Then," I suggested, "let us speak of the Christian peoples. As God is our witness, did he save the Catholics?"
He said, "No."
"Did he," I wondered, "save the Eastern Orthodox peoples?"
"Did he save the Jacobites, the Nestorians, the Melkites, or the others who are not Protestants?"
I concluded, "Then only the Evangelicals are left. And, no doubt, you believe that only the righteous among them are saved and redeemed. Yet this is a tiny portion of the world's peoples. How, then, can your assertion that he rose from the dead and saved all the peoples of the world be true? And were anyone to bear this witness, how could any rational person accept it?
"As for us" I continued, "our forefathers, the mighty nations of Persia, Arabia, Turkey, Gilan, and others too numerous to mention, used to worship fire and adore idols. They did not recognize the unity of God and did not know of Moses or Jesus. However, by the witness of this chosen messenger and appointed prophet they came to believe that there is no God but God, that Moses conversed with God, and that Jesus is the Spirit of God. We inherited this pure creed from generation to generation, preserved it in our breasts, and inscribed love for these messengers upon our hearts. No one can deny this. This is a veracious witness and a clear prophethood."
He replied, "Yes, surely. But these peoples will never attain the bounty of salvation, owing to their lack of faith. Should they believe, they would be redeemed. Salvation depends upon faith.
I answered, "Then, salvation has not occurred and redemption has failed. This being so, it is not true to bear witness that Jesus rose and saved the world. And so, first of all, how can you demand that the Prophet Muhammad bear this witness? Second, the dependence of salvation upon faith is not confined to the case of Christ. Rather, this is true in the case of every messenger and has been true to all the prophets. Had all the people believed in Moses, would not he have redeemed them all from perdition? Has not each prophet been sent to guide the people? Is not the meaning of guidance to show them the path of salvation and to guide them to the road of redemption? This is not something confined or specially granted to our lord Jesus. God would not, therefore, raise up two great witnesses to attest to something that, in the first place, never happened, and in the second, was not confined to him." At that point, our discussion ended and we went our separate ways in peace.
Let us now return from this lengthy digression to our quotation of the New Testament's prophesies. It is recorded in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation:
Know, my beloved friend, that whenever an animal or beast is mentioned in prophecies, this refers to kings and states. Moreover, as can be gathered from the holy Book of Certitude, the Kitab-i-Iqan, often "heavens" refers to the heavens of God's Cause and the heavens of religion.[3-19] "Sun" symbolizes the Sun of Reality, that is, Holy Power, the Divine Spirit, and the Prophetic Reality. "Moon" means the noble Branch that came forth from the Ancient Root, that is, the first satellite that rises in the heaven of the Cause after the Sun has set, which is called the moon of succession or the luminary of the imamate. "Stars refers
to the stars of the heaven of religion, and the heavenly lights in the sphere of certitude, including the temperate, the righteous, the martyrs, and the upright.
[3-19 Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqan: The Book of Certitude (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1970), pp. 33-49; 61-62; 66-68.]
Moreover, the meaning of the woman clothed with the sun in this prophecy is Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet. She is the glorious, noble, prophetic pearl whom the Messenger of God married to the moon of succession and the daystar of the heaven of guidance, the Commander of the Faithful, `Ali ibn Abi Talib. He covenanted and declared that the Mahdi of the Prophet's House, who, as the will of God had foreordained, would fill the world with equity and justice after it had been filled with tyranny and despotism, would appear from the lineage of these two radiant lights, this noble couple. God adorned the splendid crown of Fatimah with twelve stars, who were cynosures of guidance and moons of succession. These were the twelve imams, whose virtues have covered pages and filled tomes, and whose goodly traits became renowned to all the horizons, in spite of what the hand of tyranny and discord covered up, and what the artifices of despotism and hypocrisy concealed.
By the great dragon with seven heads and ten horns is meant the lawless Umayyad caliphate and the vicious Marwanid monarchy. The horns are the kings of that dynasty, and the heads are their senior appointees, the vastness of whose conquests the pens of flatterers yet celebrate, and the multitude of whose slaves, including captives and prisoners from various lands, the tongues of braggarts still vaunt. They do not realize that all the bitter torment the Muslim community is tasting in our own time is a consequence of this torrential flood of dictatorship, this frightful tempest of destruction. Whoever compares the speech made by Tariq ibn Ziyad when he conquered Spain, with the ode written by Sayyid Yahya of Cordoba
when this realm passed out of the hands of the Muslims, will see that there was a poetic justice in this retribution[*] War gives rise only to war, even if this requires centuries and generations.
[*. Muslims ruled Spain from about 722 A.D. until they were finally expelled by Christian armies in 1492.]
By the tail of the dragon is intended the general of these despotic caliphs and tyrannical kings, for they used to persecute the descendants of the Prophet. They killed every righteous man among the Muslims. Al-Hajjaj, the notorious oppressor should suffice you in this regard. He alone would allow the Umayyads to surpass all other kings of the world, should these ever boast of having had martinets for governors and butchers for generals.[3-20] The flame of his sword scorched mankind; the fire of his transgressions spared no one. I read in a well-regarded chronicle (I think it was (Goldwashings and Mines of Gems)[3-21] that Khalid ibn Yazid, Mu'awiyah's grandson, was passing through a sidestreet in Damascus and met al-Hajjaj in the road. When Khalid saw him, he lauded him as another `Amr ibn al-`As, with poetry celebrating his slyness and cunning.[**] Hajjaj haughtily rejected this comparison of himself with `Amr. He replied to Khalid, "I have slain with my sword a hundred thousand Muslims who used to bear witness to your father's unbelief." That is, he used to serve the Umayyads, and in order to build up their kingdom, slew ten times as many Muslims as `Amr ever did. How then could Khalid demean him by such a comparison? Among those murdered by the order of Hajjaj was Sa'id ibn Jubayr.
He was a renowned holy man who had few peers among the Muslims. From what we have said, you can understand the meaning of the words "His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth."[3-22]
[**. Amr ibn al-As (d. 663 A.D.) was a contemporary of Muhammad from the powerful Quraysh clan who at first opposed Islam then converted in 629-30 A.D. He played an important part in the Arab conquest of Palestine and Egypt. Later, he supported the Umayyad usurper Mu'awiyah against the Imam `Ali, who was then caliph, and led troops against him at Siffin.]
[3-20. Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusui (d. 714 A.D.) was the chief lieutenant of the Ummayad king `Abdu'l-Malik (r. 692-705 A.D.). Al-Hajjaj reduced Mecca to obedience, bombarding the Kaaba in the process, and he ruled the eastern half of the Arab empire with an iron fist. He openly used official terrorism as a means of controlling rebellious Iraq.]
[3-21. Abu'l-Hasan `Ali al-Mas'udi, Muruj adh-dhahab wa ma'adin al-jawhar, with trans. C. Barbier de Meynard, vol. 5 (Paris: L'Imprimerie Imperiale, 1869), pp. 288-359 and 382-96, gives damaging anecdotes about al-Hajjaj, but not, apparently, this one. Al-Mas'udi (d. 956 A. D.) was an Arab historian and geographer who traveled widely and collected tales.]
[3-22. Rev. 12:4.]
The child she brought forth, who was to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, was Husayn. He was caught up to God and His throne through martyrdom. Whoever refers to the discourses of the Commander of the Faithful, and the oral traditions from the House of the Prophet, will recognize the intent of our lord Jesus' prophecy. This prophecy contains intricate allusions, exalted subtleties, and sublime meanings. We shall, however, refrain from elucidating them at this point, owing to lack of space and opportunity, and shall postpone this task to another occasion, God willing.
Since you are in the prime of your youth and at the beginning of your education, you should know that debate and investigation have rules and laws that must be observed. Otherwise, you may push the questioner away from the truth, the matter may result in the opposite of what you intended, and concealed feuds and hatreds may break out afresh. The wise debater must show respect to his opponent and must give consideration to his feelings. He must not harm him with harsh references or injure his feelings with cutting statements. The goal for both parties should be to gain enlightenment one from another, not to revile or defeat the other in argument. Should the scholar hear from his opponent a spiteful phrase or a brutal remark, he must receive it with forgiveness and forbearance and must treat him courteously, with love and faithfulness, so as to bring him nearer to the truth and remove the veil of ignorance from his heart. Otherwise, the affair will certainly end in wrangling and
quarreling, rancor will be enkindled in the breasts of men, and in the end they will find themselves at war and in a vicious struggle.
It is well known that the gates of horrible warfare between nations have been flung open after religious disputes have broken out between them. The feelings of the two sides are injured by abusive tongues in scholarly quarrels. The leaders of the religious communities fix quills upon their pens to record their rebuttals, objections, exposes, and opposition to those whom the religions and denominations venerate. They write down all the lies and slander they can find about the founders of holy Causes and the ordainers of religion. Finally, the breasts grow agitated and the souls boil over. The war of words is transformed into a war of swords. The lines of pages become tanks of soldiers. Innocent blood is spilled, and civilized countries are reduced to rubble. No one can have any idea of the hideousness of such a scene, or the horror of its meaning, unless he has traveled throughout the regions, visited great cities, wandered through distant climes, and seen with his own eyes the aftermath of war, which most only read about in books. He stands upon forlorn ruins and amidst desolate rubble and weeps for what has come to pass because of impudent tongues and reckless pens.
I will never forget the bewilderment and confusion that gripped me when, in 1892 A.D., I visited the city of Shahristan in Turkmenistan, with some Russian officers. We gazed upon that city, which once produced the great scholar Muhammad ash-Shahrastani, the author of the book Religious Communities and Creeds.[3-23] It was devastated, desolate, leveled, and barren, inhabited only by foxes and rats. No one passed by it but Turkoman pastoral nomads. Truly, anyone
who travels to Khwarazm and sees the desert (which takes a Russian train about two days and nights to traverse, from the Caspian Sea to the Syr River, then passing through Bukhara and Samarkand) will witness nothing except the remains of former metropolises and the ruins of famous cities. These include Jurjan, Nasma', Darun, Abivard, Shahristan, Merv, and other capitals that once flourished with knowledge and science, and prospered with trades and crafts. Indeed, they were the refuge of civilization and culture, the birthplace of branches of the caliphate and the emirates.
[3-23. Muhammad ash-Shahrastani (1076-1153 A.D.), author of al-Milal wa'n-nihal (Religious communities and creeds), was born in Khurasan. He was the principal historian of religions in medieval Islam.]
These cities became desolate and ruined after the horrible and bloody battles that took place in them because of sectarian disputes between Sunni and Shi'i Muslims. Their street ran with blood, nearby villages were razed, and so many infants were orphaned, so many women and girls taken prisoner, that those who count could never reckon them. Now all that can be seen is empty, fallow countryside; deserted, barren farmland; worn and eerie ruins. Surely God, in His eternal justice and with His irrevocable decree, will visit retribution upon those divines who opened the gates of enmity between peoples, filled their hearts with hostility and hatred, and aroused aversion and antipathy in their breasts. It is they who were responsible for the blood that was spilled, the honor that was ravished, the countries that were destroyed, and the villages and farms that were rendered barren.
For a reasonable man, some verses of the Qur'an will suffice to epitomize all we have been saying: "But the parties have fallen into variance among themselves; then woe to those who disbelieve for the scene of a dreadful day. How well they will hear and see on the day they come to Us! But the evildoers even today
are in error manifest. Warn thou them of the day of anguish, when the matter shall be determined, and they yet heedless and unbelieving."[3-24]
[3-24. Qur'an 19:37-39.]
I have always sought an opportunity to point out to the people of learning that the world, with its rapid march toward progress and advancement, must one day ascend the scale of benevolence, refinement, virtue, and good breeding, to the highest levels of perfection and the loftiest stations of moderation. Then, as the Holy Scriptures attest, will war be put away. Then, as it is stated in the divine promises, will the earth of potentialities reveal its treasures and mysteries. The character of the people will change; the customs of the world's inhabitants will be reformed. They will exchange their malice for love, their estrangement for affection, their harshness for tenderness and amity. "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."[3-25]
[3-25. Isa. 2:4.]
Will not our descendants look back on us at that time with contempt and derision, just as we look back at the ancients? Will they not depict us as savages and barbarians, just as we depict our predecessors? Has the time not arrived for us to arise from our sleep, to shake off our paralysis, to come to our senses, and to meditate a little on where matters are taking us? Let us cast the burden of ignorant fanaticism from about our necks! Let us blot out from the pages of our hearts the lines of religious and sectarian rancor! Let us bring up our children with love and compassion instead of, as we have been used to, training them in animosity and malevolence! We should trace loving-kindness and fidelity upon their hearts, where before we inscribed aversion and loathing. We should recite for them the
verses of love and harmony, after having exposed their ears to the strains of hatred and discord.
All the regions of the earth will then rejoice at the portents of joy and felicity. The gardens of this world will blossom with the roses of happiness and delight. We shall become the heirs of the Gospel's saying, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," and "Blessed are the peace-makers."[3-26] We shall be the confirmations of the Qur'an verse, "That is the Last Abode; We appoint it for those who desire not exorbitance in the earth, nor corruption."[3-27]
[3-26. Matt. 5:5; 5:9.]
[3-27. Qur'an 28:83.]
These hoary hatreds will never fade from our hearts until the leaders of the various religious communities show respect to one another. None of them must speak of another save with the tongue of courtesy. No scholar must criticize another of a different religious persuasion save with the utmost deference.
Every scholar may be criticized; indeed, criticism is a sign of advancement. But the criticism differs from vituperation. The effort to enlighten and to be enlightened is quite another matter from abuse and invective. Should not a Christian, for instance, show respect for the statements and essays of the Muslim leaders; and the Muslim for the books and compositions of the Christian notables; and the Sunni for the eminent Shi'is; and the Shi'i for the Sunni leaders? Only thus can these ancient antipathies be eradicated, and the filth of these blameworthy morals be cleansed. Only then will the flowers of bliss and good cheer blossom in the hearts, instead of the thorns of estrangement. Only then will they inherit the paradise of true humanity in the presence of the ever-forgiving Lord.
No treatise or essay in recent days has given me nearly so much pleasure as a piece written by the erudite writer Gad `Id, a refined young man of the
Christian community who was graduated from Syrian schools. He wrote a reply to the owner of the newspaper Thamarat al-Funun, which is printed in Beirut, concerning the main issue in the debate that took place between M. Hanotaux, the former French minister of foreign affairs, and one of the learned scholars of Islam in Egypt.[3-28] Newspaper owners in Egypt disagreed on this question, and each faction arose to aid its leader. Words multiplied, argument and wrangling intensified, until the affair recently led to the demand for a debate.
[3-28. Gabriel Hanotaux (1853-1944) was an historian turned statesman who advocated the expansion of French colonialism. He was foreign minister from 1894 to 1898. During his time in the foreign service, French domination was firmly established in French West Africa, Madagascar, and Tunisia, and the hold on Algeria was strengthened.
The scholar referred to was Muhammad `Abduh (1849-1905). In his youth, `Abduh was a radical disciple of the anti-British Pan-Islamic agitator Jamalu'd-Din "Al-Afghani" (1839-1897). `Abduh was exiled from Egypt after the `Urabi revolt and spent time in Europe and Beirut. In Beirut he met and became an admirer of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Toward the end of the 1880's he gave up his earlier radicalism and returned to Egypt to work on language and education reform. In 1899 he was appointed Grand Mufti of Egypt, a post which allowed him to implement the liberal reforms of Islam he advocated. `Abduh's reply to Hanotaux is found in al-A'mal al-kamilah li'l-Imam Muhammad `Abduh (Collected works), ed. Muhammad `Imrah (Beirut: Arab Institute for Studies and Publishing, 1972), 3:201-240.]
A brief summary of what occurred between the two sides is as follows: M. Hanotaux wrote a series of articles in the Parisian newspaper Le Journal on the Islamic religion and the way in which the French government should take it into account when dealing with its Muslim subjects in Tunisia, Algeria, and other countries to the west. Among the things Hanotaux wrote was that the Islamic religion is based on the remnants of the ancient Semitic religion and is founded on those sick and barren beliefs. He claimed that it is a religion that leads to decline and decadence and produces lassitude and languor. This is owing to its belief in the unity of a God purified and sanctified from all that is related to the body or to bodily things. There is, he said, no link between Him and creation save that of blind worship and absolute submission to a predestined fate.
This is in contrast, he continued, to Christianity, which produces energy, combativeness, progress, advancement, and so on — including the highest imaginable human perfections and the most advanced level of humanity. It is, he stated, based on the Aryan religion, which was that of the ancient Greeks, who used to liken God to man in his characteristics and actions. He
argued that this belief would necessarily make it possible for human beings to draw closer to the divine Essence, until man will be counted among the ranks of the gods of heaven.
He then proceeded to discuss how the French government should deal with its Muslim subjects. He lamented that it has failed to pursue a well-defined course with these unfortunate people — either of severity and regression or gentleness and flexibility. For the politicians and leaders of thought among them have differed over this issue. Kimon and his like judged that Muslims should be treated with severity and harshness.[*] They believed Islam to be a bitter enemy of Christianity because of the secondary differences they found between the laws of the two religions. Kimon said in his book La Pathologie de l'Islam that the Muhammadan religion is a leprosy which has spread among the people, and he attacked it vigorously. He went on to say that Islam is an epidemic disease, a mass paralysis, a confused madness that plunges a man into lethargic torpor and only arouses him from it to shed blood, or to devote himself to addictive liquors, or to defiantly commit abominations. Muhammad's tomb in Mecca,[**] he asserted, is nothing but an electric pole that transmits insanity to the heads of the Muslims and compels them to manifest symptoms of epilepsy, mental stupor, and the constant, compulsive recitation of the word Allah. It inclines them to habits that turn them toward their primitive natures, such as
an aversion to pork, wine, and music. It produces in them a spiritual lunacy, melancholia, and a sequence of acts that derives from cruel and licentious thoughts and absorption in delectations. Kimon then concluded that one-fifth of all Muslims should be wiped out and the rest sentenced to hard labor. He advocated the destruction of the Kaaba and the removal of Muhammad's mausoleum to the Louvre Museum.
[*. D. Kimon (b. 1860) was an obscure French polemicist and proponent of Aryan racial superiority. The book referred to here is La Pathologie de l'Islam et les moyens de la detruire (The pathology of Islam and the means to destroy it) (Paris: by the author, 1897).]
[**. Muhammad's tomb is actually in Medina.]
On the other hand, M. Hanotaux continued, some French thinkers have maintained that Islam and its civilization are tied to the Christian religion and to Christian civilization by the bonds of brotherhood and friendship. Some have even gone to extremes and considered Islam to be more advanced in its principles and more sublime in its glory than Christianity. The erudite priest and renowned orator Hyacinthe Loyson has judged that Islam is an improved and modified form of Christianity. He has advised Christians who are groping for their lost religiosity to seek the help of Islam in finding the object of their quest. Others have suggested that Islam deserves respect because it serves as a bridge whereby idolatrous Africans can move away from their paganism toward Christianity.
After M. Hanotaux reported these differing statements and conflicting views, he requested that the leaders of the French government and the leading politicians come to some agreement. He asked that they choose an appropriate principle and an ideal course somewhere between these contradictory opinions on how to treat the huge Muslim community that comprises the inhabitants of half the African continent. Only thus, he said, could a good result be attained and the great French Republic be safeguarded. When Hanotaux published his essay, it reached Egypt and was printed in translation in the al-Mu'ayyad newspaper. It
aroused the emotions of the Egyptians, since it touched upon the honor of Islam.
The above-mentioned religious leader [Muhammad `Abduh] wrote a refutation of this article which was highly succinct, such as has no peer among the writings of contemporary Muslim scholars in the perfection of its exposition, the strength of its proofs, the fluency of its words, and the beauty of its argument. When the owner of al-Mu'ayyad[3-29] printed this rebuttal in his newspaper, the erudite received it with the utmost delight, their souls exulted, and their breasts were filled with joy. Then a group of Frenchmen undertook to raise objections to this rebuttal. Foremost among them was the owner of the famous daily al-Ahram. He wrote a series of pieces: sometimes he refuted the owner of al-Mu'ayyad, and sometimes he objected to the contents of Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh's essays. Among the things he wrote concerning this subject was that al-Mu'ayyad's editor corrupted Hanotaux's text by mistranslating it so as to distort its author's intentions.
[3-29. `Ali Yusuf was an Egyptian intellectual who published the moderate journal al-Mu'ayyad in Cairo.]
The affair spread and became famous, and news of this dispute reached beyond Egypt to Syria. The articles of both parties were distributed there, and the owner of the daily Thamarat al-Funun asked Gad `Id about the reality of these issues, especially the matter of mistranslation. Had the owner of al-Mu'ayyad really corrupted the translation of Hanotaux's article, or was it an exact rendering? This refined and cultured gentleman, in spite of his youth and his steadfast, upright adherence to Christianity, penned a treatise responding to those questions with the greatest fairness and moderation. I have never before seen a man, under such conditions, act so equitably and respectfully toward someone who is not of his own
religion. I would like to quote his very words, that they may serve as an adornment to this book and a radiant lamp to the possessors of insight:
themselves with printing what that great religious leader [Muhammad `Abduh] wrote, they would have truly served Islam. For truth is felled when one endeavors to make it known through curses and imprecations. Moreover, it was not only on the Muslims that Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh's rebuttal made such a great impression. Indeed, many eminent Christians referred to it often and gave it a noble place. I do not exaggerate when I say to you that I read it more than twenty times.
defend Islam in the ways that Islam itself desires. These ways are not mysterious to the eminent Muslims who have inculcated in their hearts a love of amity, meekness, and peace. The true defense of Islam is to incite the community to acquire sublime virtues in honoring its neighbors and supporting their rights, and to treat God's servants with equality, justice, and faithfulness.
that even the most despicable man among the Muslims would shed the last drop of his blood to defend the honor and nobility or someone who had sought refuge with him, if that person should ask him for protection?
Here we shall close this essay. We beseech God to confirm you and us under all conditions. He is, verily, the Confirmer, the Most High. This was completed by the pen of Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani of Iran, the son of Muhammad Rida, on 20 Safar 1318 A.H. (1900 A.D.].