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Ch 5: The Second Meeting

On Monday the priests began to assemble in the great church. Many Christian women also came with Isabella to hear the discussion. A little later Umar Lahmi, Muaz and some other Muslim divines also arrived and the priests were perturbed on seeing them and they began whispered conversation among them. Just then Umar Lahmi addressed them.

Umar Lahmi: As decided yesterday, the Divinity of Christ and Atonement will be discussed today. Since it will be difficult to deal with both these subjects simultaneously it will be better to take them up one by one.

Peter: Both the problems are in fact one and interconnected, so you may take any one of them you like.

Umar Lahmi recited some verses of Surah Furqan. This changed the colour of the face of Isabella; she was so affected that she fell down in a swoon and her companions helped to raise her up. Peter and Michael asked the reason of her upset but she did not reply and warm drops of tears began to trickle down her face. She was revived with great difficulty and said on enquiry that she was having such fits for the last month which they should not mind but carry on the discussion. Some of the priests suspected that she was affected by Islam, but her assumed reply removed the suspicion and the proceedings of the meeting were resumed. After this interval Umar Lahmi got up again and spoke.

Umar Lahmi: Gentlemen, we have been told that the basic principles of Christianity are Divinity of Christ and Atonement, so I want to put just one question which will also solve the problem of the Divinity of Christ. What was the need of the sacrifice of the “Son of God” as an atonement ? For this purpose any pious man could have been selected who would have given his life as atonement for all sinners. Why in particular was the “Son of God” crucified?

To answer this question holy Peter was again selected, but he was in such a plight that he got up falteringly and spoke with a wavering tongue.

Peter: For atonement the “Son of God” was necessary, for all men, whether prophets or apostles are sinful and a sinner cannot atone for other sinners. Since Lord Jesus Christ was the only “Son of God” and free from sins, so he was sacrificed for the sake of all the sinners.

Umar Lahmi: Right, but just say what was crucified, whether it was divinity or the humanity in Christ. If the divinity of Christ was crucified, then it means that God as one and without any partner bore all the tortures of crucifixion and that death came on the personality of God, that is, “God” died. But if the humanity in Christ was crucified, then your answer loses all its force, as in that case crucifixion of a human being and not of God could have suited, for in both cases it was humanity in Christ that was sacrificed and not his divinity.

Peter: Surely, Lord Jesus was perfect divinity and perfect humanity, that both these were fully represented in him. But his humanity, like his divinity, was free from sins and so his sacrifice was necessary. As other human beings are all sinful, therefore, they could not suit for atonement.

Umar Lahmi: That is, because there was no human being in the world free from sin, “God” Himself had to come down, and His divinity was not crucified but His humanity. Suppose a person free from sins was needed for atonement, why did not God create a sinless man to die on the cross for atonement?

Peter: God alone knows His secrets. We cannot say why He did not do it and came Himself to the world for the purpose. But this much we know that God’s coming to the earth for atonement indicates His great love and affection. That is, God loved His creatures to such an extent that He sent here His only “Son” to give his life as a recompense for others. This purpose could never have been accomplished by sending merely a man.

Umar Lahmi: If God had such a great love for His creatures, why did He not send this Son in the very beginning to be crucified? Was there no humanity before Christ for God’s concern? Why did He manifest His love after thousands of years?

Peter: We do not know about this mystery. God’s mysteries are known to God only.

Umar Lahmi: My question still stands. Reference to mystery again and again does not serve the purpose. Now if you say it was humanity which was crucified, then God’s coming down was purposeless Some other person could have been sacrificed.

Peter: I have given my reply. Man being sinful could not serve for atonement. Christ’s humanity served for atonement and it was an embodiment of innocence and sinlessness.

Umar Lahmi: Since Christ’s humanity was innocent and sinless, it became necessary to put on it the burden of the sins of all humanity. Holy priest, even you cannot understand your logic. How can I? What harm would have been done if this “Son of God,” instead of taking on him the burden of others’ sins, had done some such good which would have dominated the sins of all? In this case neither the burden of sins of all should have been put on sinless Christ, nor had he been crucified, nor even would it have given rise to the controversy of divinity and humanity. The remedy of sin is doing good. Christ on coming to the world should have done such a good as to atone for all the sins, not to commit suicide for atonement.

Peter: We cannot advise God. He did as He liked. It is your impudence to teach God.

Umar Lahmi: You know that Christ was born from the womb of Virgin Mary. Now say whether this birth related to man or God, that is, whether it was “God” who was born, or was it man?

Peter: God is immune from birth. It was the humanity in Christ which was born.

Umar Lahmi: And who died on the cross, God or man ?

Peter: God is also immune from death. It was man who died on the cross that is humanity in Christ.

Umar Lahmi: So the birth and death relate to Christ’s humanity and not to his divinity.

Peter: Certainly, certainly.

Umar Lahmi (holding the Bible in his hand): Just see, it is written in the Book of Job (Ayyub) (15:14) that “he which is born of a woman” is sinful and since the birth was not of divinity but of humanity, therefore, according to the judgment of Job, even the humanity of Christ was sinful. And see it is written in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death,” that is, death is the proof that the dead is sinful, therefore, the question comes again : why did not God crucify some other sinful man so that His divinity was saved ? Further, according to you, a sinner cannot atone for the sins of others. So Christ did not serve for atonement.

Peter (perturbed and perspiring): I have also said that all these are Divine mysteries. God did as He liked. How can you or I criticise Him?

Umar Lahmi: If your religion is based just on Divine mysteries, then why did you call us here and thus wasted your time and ours for two weeks?

Since Isabella was keenly interested in theological questions, she listened to all this talk most attentively and felt in her heart that when these priests cannot answer a question, they take the cover of Divine mystery. Just then priest Michael rose.

Michael: Brethren, today is a confrontation between Christian religion and Mohammedan religion. But do you know what is Mohammedan religion? This religion allows for four marriages. It has ordered indiscriminate killing of non-Muslims and its Apostle married eleven women and…

Umar Lahmi: If you are unable to answer my questions, say so clearly, and then whatever criticism you have against Islam you may put forth and I am ready to answer all. But is this your morality to call us at your place and then indulge in abusive talk instead of answering our questions. (Pointing to Isabella 🙂 Now say if this attitude of your priests is proper.

On this Isabella at once got up and spoke in broken words.

Isabella: I have heard this talk from beginning to end. I am sorry that neither holy Peter nor Michael answered the questions put to them. Umar Lahmi’s demand is quite justified that either his questions should be answered or defeat admitted. But I think you will do neither. So it is better to conclude the discussion now so that Christian religion is not ridiculed and whatever your learning it is not exposed. It is quite strange that…

Peter: Isabella! are you mad that you have come down to such nonsense talk ? (Addressing the audience:) Surely this girl is possessed by the devil and she has deviated far from Christ, and no wonder if she has lost her senses.

Isabella : Instead of venting your anger on my poor self you should either answer the question of Muslims or end the discussion. I do not want to answer here the allegations made against me, but if this is the reward of my frankness I do not mind if you take me to be demented.

Michael: Will you not keep quiet? Talking, talking and talking. We have answered all questions of Muslims. If you have the courage, come forward and answer.

A priest: It seems that this girl has secretly become an unbeliever. How could she answer the questions of Muslims? Her respected father should be informed about her impudence and she should be duly punished.

Catherine (a companion of Isabella): It is unfortunate that you have not done justice and all of you fall upon poor Isabella. Some call her mad, others threaten her, but no one puts his mind to the real matter. Isabella is quite right to say that you people have not been able to answer the questions of Umar Lahmi, but it does not mean that Christian religion is not just. You people are worthless and are trying to give bad name to Christianity on account of your worthlessness.

Peter : Turn out these girls from here. Who allowed these wretched girls to interfere in our talk?

Umar Lahmi: If you allow me to speak I will explain what Isabella meant.

Michael: Do not interfere in our talk. It is a matter of our own.

Another priest: What if Isabella and Catherine have both become apostates!

Michael: We cannot say this just now. These girls are foolish and want to expedite the result of this discussion, although these matters take months and even years to settle.

These were adverse comments on these poor girls and charges framed and attributed. Seeing this tumult Umar Lahmi in his sonorous voice recited some versus of Surah Maryam, on which the whole assembly was struck dumb. Eminent priests closed their ears with fingers lest the words of the Qur’an should affect their hearts. Since there was praise of Prophet Jesus and his holy mother and the charges leveled against them by the Jews were refuted, Christians were favourably affected and Isabella’s face in particular brightened. But this time she exercised patience and firmly set. After the recitation Isabella spoke.

Isabella: Gentlemen, I call upon you to bear witness that I am a strict Christian and so I do not want that Christians should be humiliated. I do not mean that we have no answer to their questions, only our priests do not put their mind to them, as they think that the help of the Holy Ghost is needed to understand the creed of Christianity. Muslims attribute this to our weakness. I hope that after this there will be no misunderstanding about me. Now I request that the discussion be resumed.

One priest: We do not at all need any talk with these “unbelievers”. Already the talk has shaken our faith. What I mean is that these “unbelievers” should be at once turned out from the church.

Another priest: Do not talk in excitement. The matter should be decided after careful consideration. I also think that the discussion should end, as it is of no use.

Umar Lahmi: Gentlmen, you were very proud of the teaching of your Master that if anyone slaps you on one cheek you should present to him the other cheek also. But what is this that we see here? Have we entered here by force? Did you not call us here? Even now if you frankly say that you do not want to talk we will immediately leave. But I may tell you that we have delivered our message and Allah will not let our efforts go waste. Now, tell me if we should go or you want to talk.

Peter: Respected monitor, the thing is that you cannot understand the realities of Christian faith, nor have you come here for this purpose. But if you want to continue the talk you shall have to answer my questions.

Umar Lahmi; Very well. I give you full freedom to put any question and we shall calmly answer.

Peter: Has the Qur’an praised the Bible? Do you believe in the Bible?

Umar Lahmi; Certainly the Qur’an has praised the Bible and we, all Muslims believe in the Bible, Taurat (the Psalms) and all the books revealed to Prophets.

Peter: Then why do you not believe in our Bible ?

Umar Lahmi: Because it is not the Bible. If anyone composes a fiction and names it Bible we are not bound to believe in it. You may put before us the Bible which the Qur’an has praised.

Peter: Is the Bible of the Qur’an different from our Bible? Its proof?

Umar Lahmi: Because the Qur’an, while praising the original Bible, has falsified this Bible and pointed out its wrong statements.

Peter: What are the wrong statements of our Bible?

Umar Lahmi: For instance, the Gospel of St. Matthew in 12 : 46-50 has called Mary an unbeliever, while the Qur’an has called her Siddiqah (the truthful), which means that she was not an unbeliever but a believer and pious. Similarly, in the Bible (Matthew, 12:46-50 it is said about Prophet Jesus that he was very arrogant and used to be disrespectful to his mother, although the Taurat strictly enjoins respect and veneration to mothers. But the Qur’an refutes it and says that Jesus had said that he was obedient to his mother and has been enjoined to do good to her. Or just as the Bible says that Jesus was accursed and because of his being accursed he was crucified [*On Christ being accursed, see Galatians, 3 : 13. t iii, 45.]. But the Qur’an calls him the “Spirit of God” and the “Word of God” and that he was venerable both in this world and the next (wajihan fid-dunya wal-akhirah).

A voice: You are wrong. In the Bible he is said to be God.

Umar Lahmi: Yes, it is more surprising that according to you God can also be accursed. That you have cursed Christ while acknowledging him as God and do not mind at all how God Who is the Fountainhead of all good and perfections can deserve curse. It is the devil who deserves curse and not God. Islam does not deify Christ but calls him human and at the same time makes him innocent and free from sins. Now, you can judge whether an accursed “God” is better or a pure and sinless man.

Peter: The point is why you do not believe in the Bible. You have thrown into it the question of curse. If you have any original Bible which the Qur’an has confirmed, then bring that to us.

Umar Lahmi: You have no right to demand this from us. If you first agree that your Bible is made up and forged, then you can call for the real Bible. I have proved that the Qur’an does not affirm the validity of the current Bible but proves it false and has openly recounted its mistakes. Just fancy, can this Bible in which Christ has been deified and then killed on the cross be the Bible of the Qur’an which says that Christ says : “Inni ‘Abd Allah” [I am a servant of God) and that “Ma qataluhu wa ma salabuho” [he was neither killed nor crucified].* Has the Qur’an affirmed your Bible or proved it false?

Peter: Has not the Qur’an called Jesus the “Spirit of God” and the “Word of God” ? Is it not a proof that he was above humanity.

Umar Lahmi: Surely the Qur’an has called Christ “the Word of God,” but the Qur’an also says that words of God are innumerable and that if all oceans become ink and all trees pens they will not be able to recount all words of God as they are beyond count. So Christ also is one of these words of God. As to Christ being “the spirit of God,” this also does not make him above humanity for the same word is used for Adam in the Qur’an which says: “fa iza sav-vaituhu wa nafakhfu fihi min ruhi” [when I completed the form of Adam I breathed My Spirit into him]* so in that respect Christ is also like Adam. If Christ is “God,” then Adam and all his progeny are “God”.

Peter: If the Qur’an has called Adam the “spirit of God,” it is a mistake as there is no other “spirit of God” except Christ.

Umar Lahmi: You think the entire Qur’an is wrong, but it was you who wanted that the divinity of Christ be proved from the Qur’an and so I proved from the Qur’an that he was not divine. If he can be “God” just by being the “spirit of God,” then Adam was also “God”. If you think the Qur’an is wrong in this respect, then why did you bring in the Qur’an?

Isabella; But you believe in the divinity of Prophet Muhammad, although he initiated bloodshed in the world and ordered killing of non-believers.

Umar Lahmi: Allah forbid ! I seek protection of Allah from this perverse belief! We regard our Holy Prophet just a man, only Chief of all Apostles and Crown of all Goodness. The essence of our belief is “La ilaha ill Allah Muhammad Rasul Allah” [There is no one worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His apostle]. Anyone who regards the Holy Prophet as a God is a non-believer and against Islam. As to the Prophet’s initiating bloodshed in the world, this is utterly wrong. He surely waged war against non-believers as they wanted to annihilate the Prophet and the religion which he brought, but he did not touch those who were not so. The Qur’an enjoins fighting against those who fight with you.

Christian priests have since long spread calumnies against Islam and attributed various ills to it. It is these priests who used to defame Islam by alleging that Muslims regarded the Prophet as God. The question of Isabella is the result of this propaganda.

Michael: You say it again and again that our Bible is not real, although it has been compiled by Disciples with the aid of the Holy Ghost, whom even the Qur’an praises and regards them as believers. Further, the Christians of the world have affirmed them.

Umar Lahmi: This is just the question, whether this Bible has actually been compiled by the Disciples to whom it is attributed or some non-believers wrote their books giving Disciples’ names as authors. Even Christians do not agree that the Disciples have composed them. The Qur’an does not believe in the compiled Bible. It praises only that Bible which was revealed to Christ direct from Allah, as the Qur’an says : ” Wa atainanal, Injila” [We gave the Book to Christ] and Christ himself says : “Atain al-Kitaba” [God has given me the Book],

On the other hand, you yourself admit that the books of the Bible were compiled by the Disciples when the Qur’an affirms revelation of the Bible to Christ.

Just then Isabella’s father (the head priest) came and took the priests to task.

Head Priest: What is this wrestling ground you have put up here? You are talking to “unbelievers” in the holy church and disrupting the faith of Christians. Christians come to me daily and complain of your inability. Many Christians have wavered in their faith and say that even my daughter Isabella has become unrestrained. (To Isabella 🙂 You girl, who asked you to come here and what have you got to do with these discussions? You study the Quran secretly. I know all that you are doing. (Turning to the priests:) Yet she is a foolish girl, but what has happened to all of you that you are bandying words with these unbelievers and displeasing Lord Jesus. If you do any such thing in future I will dismiss all of you.

With this snub of the head priest all the priests were perturbed and Isabella’s face turned pale. No one could venture to give an explanation to the head priest. But one of the priests took courage and addressed the head priest.

The priest: Our holy father, what you say is quite true. Surely there is nothing but loss in talking with these “unbelievers”. But, O holy father! do you want us to be humiliated throughout Spain? Do you want Christianity to die out in Spain? By our Lord Jesus, if we do not suppress them we will not be able to show face in this country. I may also mention that none of us could answer the objections of Muslims. If you are kind enough to attend to our humble request I will say that the questions put forth by Muslims cannot be solved without your honour’s help. In the whole of Spain there is no better savant of Christianity than your honour, who can discharge this duty, and silence the “unbelievers” by terse answers. If your honour does not come forward to save Christianity at this time, then, our revered father, the consequences for us and for Christianity will be most serious and our preachers will be humiliated and defamed. May I hope that your honour will be ready to solve the problems raised by Muslims?

Head Priest: You have yourself given importance to this matter by calling over Muslims here. It is unfortunate that you have not been able to answer foolish questions of Muslims, even after studying the problems of theology. Will these Muslims be rightly guided on getting a satisfactory answer?

Michael: Yes, it is their promise that on being satisfied they will give up Islam and embrace Christianity. They have also given to us a written undertaking to this effect.

Head Priest (to Umar Lahmi): Say, what are your questions?

Umar Lahmi: It is only if you listen calmly to what I say that I will put my questions. The way you have treated us and demonstrated the Christian ethics demand that I should refuse to talk to you. But since I am a seeker of truth, I want to seek the light of guidance through you.

Head Priest: Gentleman, you should not take offence at my harsh words and if our talk has injured your feelings I seek your pardon on behalf of all. Surely you seem to be a lover of truth and surely our Lord Christ will help and guide you. So you may come to my house sometime tomorrow when your doubts and misunderstandings will be dispassionately set at naught. (To priests:) You, gentlemen, may also come so that you may know answers to the questions of Muslims and in future you may yourselves deal with them.

Isabella – A girl of Islamic Spain
Next Chapter

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.

Isabella – A girl of Islamic Spain
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Ch 3: A Letter

A few days later, Isabella again went in the evening to the same garden where she had heard the conversation of two Muslim divines. Soon after she had taken her seat, Umar Lahmi and Muaz also arrived and began to talk on different subjects.

Umar Lahmi: I have heard a curious and interesting report today.

Muaz (surprised): What is it?

Umar Lahmi: The objection, that you raised on a passage of Saint Paul’s Epistle the other day, has reached the ear of the Head Priest and there is a great commotion among the priests on account of it. It is also said that some sensible persons have even become sceptics.

Muaz: Well, this seems to be mere gossip. Who could have heard our talk that day?

Umar Lahmi: Who could have heard our talk? Is it for nothing that the priests have become so agitated?

Muaz: After all what is the cause of the commotion? Have the priests heard our objection for the first time?

Umar Lahmi: The reason I cannot tell myself, but what I have heard and why the priests have become agitated is just for our objection. Several meetings have been held among the priests to find a solution. The report has reached me through Christian sources.

Muaz: Just one objection has created commotion among the priests. All beliefs of Christians are ridiculous. While sin was committed by Adam punishment was given to all and the entire humanity became sinful. And has this belief any justification that in retaliation of the sins of all the sinners, an innocent person is punished and, to bear the burden of all the sins, “the son of God” comes to earth and is crucified. Is it not the very limit to make Divinity a weak and powerless person? If Christians have any answer to all these questions, let them come forward and explain.

Umar Lahmi (laughing): If it is not Christians who can go to that limit of absurdity, who else can do this? Everyone can talk reasonably, but there should be someone to talk nonsense.

Muaz: I think it is time that we exploit this Commotion.

Umar Lahmi: It is a very good suggestion and at this time let us publish a poster in which we should recount all the absurdities of the Christian belief.

Muaz: This is quite good and it will create a commotion among Christians all over Spain.

Isabella and her two classmates sitting in a corner of the garden were listening attentively to this talk and were cracking their fingers in anger. At last Isabella lost her patience and said to her companion; We must refute their allegations and do everything to convince them. May our Lord Christ attract them to his side! If these Muslims can be converted it will be such a great victory for Christianity that henceforth Muslims will never be able to raise their heads in this country. And Isabella raised her head to the heaven and earnestly prayed to God to bring these “unbelievers” and enemies of Christianity to the Christian fold that “Thy Greatness is manifested.”

A companion: Sister Isabella.’ These “unbelievers” are very hot-headed. How can they give up Satan and take the hand of Lord Christ? But the trouble is that our priests are also afraid of these Muslims. It was just yesterday that, on seeing your worry about the objection about our religious law and curse, I put it to the priest of our parish who ignored it saying that we should pay no attention to what these Muslims say. Their answer is not discussion but the drawn sword. When such is the condition of our priests, why should the Muslims not become arrogant?

Isabella: The thing is that our priests do not like to talk to these “unbelievers” and keep quiet. But their silence does not mean that they cannot solve their problems. Yet if they are assured that after being convinced most of the Muslims will be ready to embrace Christianity, they will face them most willingly.

The companion: Written promises may be taken from these Muslims and they should be made to talk face to face with our priests, so that on the one side our Christian divines are forced to talk to them and these Muslims are forced to embrace our faith.

Isabella: This is quite good. But will these Muslims be ready for it?

The companion: Why not, what have you just heard from their own lips?

Isabella: Then why to wait? Inform them just here that they should be prepared to discuss with our priests. I am giving you a chit which you may take to them and see what they reply.

The companion: But first ascertain from our divines. These “unbelievers” may be ready, and our divines may not agree.

Isabella: If these people give a written undertaking that on being convinced they will embrace Christianity; our divines will certainly have a dialogue with them.

Isabella then wrote out the note: “Please pardon me. I overheard your talk very attentively and since we are also interested in theological questions I hope you will not mind my intrusion. You have just told your companion that if Christians satisfactorily explained relation between religious law and curse you will embrace Christianity and you also want to challenge Christians on religious law and curse, so, as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly accept your challenge, provided you give a written undertaking of it.—A Humble Servant of Christian Faith.”

Her companion handed over this chit to Umar Lahmi who immediately showed it to Muaz and promptly wrote the answer: “We thank you for the trouble and we agree that if your elders explain to us the dilemma of religious law and curse, we assure you that I myself and my associates will embrace Christianity. Now say where and when we should come to discuss —A Humble Servant of Islam, Umar Lahmi.”

Isabella on reading this replied: “About time and place I will I come tomorrow and let you know.—A Servant.”

Coming’ out of the garden of Cordova Isabella’s first concern was to find out a learned man for dialogue with the Muslims and so, before going home, she went to her kind teacher and told him all that had happened. The teacher who was himself a priest and well versed in religious problems, on seeing Isabella’s worry, snubbed her and asked her if it was such a serious matter as to cause her worry. Isabella then showed him the note which Umar Lahmi had given her in the garden that evening and in which there was an undertaking that if this problem was solved, he along with his associates will accept Christianity. On this the teacher agreed to take up the matter and felt the need of some eminent scholars. He pacified the anxiety of Isabella and had her leave to depart saying that he would fix up the time by noon next day.

Isabella spent a restless night and the question continued to haunt her -what was going to happen the next day, for if her learned men were unable to satisfy Muslims then Christians will be browbeaten for ever. At last morning came and, after finishing her toilet, she began to study the Bible. Just at noon she took with her two of her friends and repaired to the house of the priest where she found a large number of priests gathered, waiting for someone on whose arrival the chair was offered to him; Isabella’s teacher, after the praise of Jesus Christ, explained the object of the gathering and earnestly requested the scholars to take courage and prepare for a dialogue with the Muslims trying to convert them to Christianity.

One priest: We wondered what was the grave problem for which we had been asked to meet together. On reaching here I found that it was a simple affair. Just call these Muslims even now and any one of us will convince them.

Another priest: It is true that the matter is not very grave as we often hold discussions with the Muslims. But since the news has gone out that Christians have no answer to the objection of Muslims, the issue has assumed importance and now we should fix time for the discussion.

A person: Tomorrow is Sunday and all Christians will gather in the great church, so Muslims should be called there tomorrow, and may Lord Jesus give them guidance.

A priest: This is a good suggestion. (Then addressing Isabella: Your respected father who leads prayer in that church should be present as possibly we may need his help at some stage since you are the intermediary for this talk between us and the Muslims.

Another person: Her father is the Head Priest of all Spain and there is no one else more learned in the problems of Christianity than he, and therefore his presence is essential.

Michael (Isabella’s teacher): Surely, surely.

So the proposal was unanimously adopted and Sunday was fixed for the dialogue. At Isabella’s request Michael wrote out a permit for Umar Lahmi to enter the church.

Now it was just one and a half or two hours for the sun to set. Isabella prepared herself to go to the garden when her other two companions also arrived and they slowly walked towards the garden where they found Umar Lahmi and Muaz already sitting and, unlike other days, some other people were also with them. Isabella herself handed over Michael’s letter to Muaz which was opened and read by everyone.

Muaz (to Isabella): We are very thankful for all your painstaking and if either of the parties gets guidance the credit of it will first go to you.

Umar Lahmi (to his companions): She is a scholar of Christian philosophy and well learned in theology. How praiseworthy is her zeal to try to take us out from “disbelief”!

Isabella: I am a humble servant of Jesus Christ and thank you for accepting the invitation.

One Muslim. Allah forbid! Just see how Christians assign partners to Allah and deify Christ. Surely, they are out of their senses, otherwise how can a living man…

Umar Lahmi: You have already entered into controversy. It has to be decided tomorrow at the great church. (To Isabella): You may assure the priests on our behalf that we shall certainly come to the church just after breakfast.

Isabella immediately left with her companions and did no longer stay at the garden as she used to do for she had to make arrangements and hold consultations for the next day’s gathering.

Isabella – A girl of Islamic Spain
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Ch 2: An Important Question

Entering the eastern gate of Cordova the young and beautiful Isabella took to the road which led straight to the Qasrul Shuhada (Palace of Martyrs). The Muslim government of the day had lavishly beautified the whole of Spain. The roads of Cordova were wide and well planned and beautiful lamps at short distances lighted them and, as Dr Draper says, one could walk twenty miles in their light. Isabella walked slowly and gracefully on the wide and bright road of the Palace of Martyrs towards her home and her pace today was thoughtful and dignified. After her evening stroll she used to call on her friends on the way while returning, but today she was heading straight to her home and seemed to be absorbed in some thought. In half an hour she reached her palatial house, where her maidservant was waiting for her at the door and greeted her. Giving some off-hand answer to the maid’s question as to her delayed return; she entered her room and, sitting in an easy chair, began to read a book. In the meantime the maidservant laid the dinner table and called her. But she was so absorbed in the book that she did not respond and continued in her study. The book she was reading was the Holy Bible and she was particularly studying Saint Paul’s Epistles with great care in which the religious law was denounced as a curse. She read the letters again and again but could not find a solution to her doubt, which became more and more firm as she went on reading. When her mind was tired she put away the Bible and resolved to ask her father who, she thought, could explain it.

She did not think that the problem was insoluble. If she could not find the solution, her father would easily find it as there was no man in Spain so learned as her father. So eased in her mind she took her dinner and began to read the Bible again. Sometime after she went to her bed.

Next morning rising early she went to the church, it being a Sunday. On her return her father called her and asked her what chapter of the Bible she had read last night as she was engaged in comprehending the inner meanings of metaphysics. If she had any difficulty in solving any problem she might ask him.

Isabella (kissing his hand): Father, I have read today 1 John, Chapter 3, and if you permit me I may ask a question as I have not yet been able to solve the problem.

Priest: Surely, surely, my child. Do ask it and I will resolve your difficulty.

Isabella: Our Lord has given us Twelve Commandments in the Old Testament through Prophet Moses. Are they not about religious law?

Priest: Yes, they all relate to religious law.

Isabella: The next thing is that Saint Paul has said in one of his letters that religious law is a curse.

Priest: Yes, religious law is a curse and it was to relieve us from this curse that Jesus Christ came to the world and was crucified.

Isabella: It is clear that religious law is a curse and so grave a curse that Jesus Christ came to the world to remove it and was crucified. It, therefore, means that to follow religious law is also a curse.

Priest: Surely it is a curse and now Christians, instead of following the religious law, should have faith in Jesus Christ, as religious law was effective until our lord was not crucified.

Isabella: Now, is stealing permissible for us?

Priest: What has this got to do with the religious law? My child, you should think carefully before asking a question as anyone else who bears this question will take you to be quite foolish.

Isabella: Forgive me. Probably I could not make myself clear. What I mean is that among the Commandments, which you have just said are part of religious law, one command is that you should not steal and another that you should not oppress your neighbour and the third that you should not disobey your parents. Now, these commandments are still parts of the religious law which, according to Saint Paul, is a curse. So to obey the Commandments of Old Testament (that is not to steal, not to fornicate) is abomination and not to steal and not to molest your parents are a curse.

Priest: My child, you have not yet understood the position of the religious law. But, first tell me who put this foolish question in your mind and what devil put this doubt in you?

On this Isabella reported all the talk between Umar Lahmi and Muaz which she had heard in the garden.

Priest: My child, you know it well that these accursed Muslims are “unbelievers” and have always been inimical to our sacred religion. Criticism of our holy books is the result of satanic thinking. My child, you should repent at once and in future do not give ear to the talk of Muslims. They are irreligious and castigate the true religion of others. Do you know, my child, what is their religion? Bloodshed is creditable in their religion. Just see, they invaded our country Spain and killed hundreds of innocent people and are forcibly imposing their religion. Now, I know that these objections you have heard from Muslims. If they were from your own mind I would have cleared them, but what reply can we give to them?

Isabella was sorry to have mentioned Muslims; otherwise her problems must have been solved. Now I will ask this question, she thought, from my teacher whom I ask questions which I do not understand in the course of my studies.

Next day Isabella put the same question to her teacher who also failed to satisfy her by some convincible answer. Up to this time Isabella had thought that her difficulty was due to her lack of understanding and the religious leader will solve it easily, but now she realised that it was not an easy but an important matter and her doubts were strengthened and continued to grow.

Isabella – A girl of Islamic Spain
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Ch 1: In a Luscious Garden

In a famous garden of Spain, well known for its beauty and freshness vying with the garden of Eden, which was always crowded by sight-seers, two learned men were engaged in a theological discussion in a corner. The sun at this time had completed its round and was preparing to set in the west; while the enchanting songs of birds returning to nests were exhilarating the passers-by. A Christian girl, whose name is given in history as Isabella, was also sitting with some friends in the garden and watching with delight the beauty of Nature. Aged about sixteen or seventeen she was the daughter of a Christian priest. In her “beauty and grace she looked like a hourie of Paradise, and nobles and religious leaders aspired for her hand to make their lives happy and joyful, but her father wanted her to be the model of virgin Mary and did not want to give her away in marriage. Since she was being given religious training, she was well acquainted with religious matters and took keen interest in theological discussions.

In a bed of roses, in a corner, as stated above, sat some Muslims, who appeared to be men of learning, engaged in some discussion.

First man: Saint Paul has written in one of his letters[ Epistle to the Galatians, 3 : 10] that religious law is a curse and Jesus Christ came to relieve us from that curse. What after all does this mean?

Second man (laughing): You want to understand it from me, although even Christian priests…

Isabella, who was sitting at a little distance with her girl friends was alerted on the words “even Christian priests” and said to one of her friends: These Muslims seem to be talking about our religion. Let us hear quietly what they say. A friend responded: Since these Muslims have come here our religion is in great danger.

Isabella: Stop talking. Keep quiet and let us hear what they say.

First man: Muaz! You have said that even Christian priests do not understand it. Do you mean to say that they are following Christianity without understanding it?

Second man: Umar Lahmi! Just put this question to some eminent priest and see what he says. But first you’ should tell me your Objection to what Saint Paul has said.

Umar Lahmi: There is no objection in fact. I Just want to understand it and since you have often talked to Christians and have also read their literature, so I want to understand it from you. What I want to know is that when religious law is a curse and Prophet Jesus came to relieve the Christians from this curse, therefore, theft, fornication, disobedience to parents will also be permissible although no Christian believes in their permissibility.

Muaz: How are theft and fornication and other such sins related to the religious law being a curse? I cannot quite follow you.

Umar Lahmi: What I mean is that the Old Testament is the religious law which enjoins that. One should not steal, should not fornicate, should not give trouble to his neighbour, should not disobey his parents, etc. But when the entire religious law is a curse, it will also be a curse to obey these injunctions as these injunctions are also religious law and the very core of it. If what Saint Paul says is correct, then Christians should also steal, fornicate and commit such other sins. But like us they follow this religious law, then they are accursed and Christians who object to these sins are condemned as they object to obedience of religious law.

Muaz : Funny, you want me to clear the very objection which I have put to Christians so often.

Umar Lahmi: Have you ever put it to Christians? What was their reply?

Muaz: They tried to explain it away and were perplexed.

Just then there was the call for the Maghrib prayer and the two learned men made their ablution in a nearby tank and offered prayer

Isabella had listened to this conversation very attentively being keenly interested in theological questions and felt the weight of the objection. She put her mind to it and tried to find out an explanation that she might put it to Muaz and Umar Lahmi. But despite all efforts she was unable to find a solution and, still absorbed in the question, she got up along with her friends thinking that she would ask her father about it.

Isabella left her companions at a crossroad and walked to the eastern gate of Cordova.

Isabella – A girl of Islamic Spain
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