Chapter#7: Summoned and Imprisoned

When Abd ul-Karim and his companion returned with the report of what had happened, the assembly still waiting in Sheikh Nasir's house gave vent in wild language to their feelings. The idea of a further attempt to reclaim the converts was abandoned. "It would be just as easy to cure the palsy," cried some. "May they be smitten by the plague!" said others, "Why did they not take our warning?" Still, others said, "They have fallen so low that there is no use trying to raise them." But the most popular cry was: "When they get into trouble, and are well punished, they will soon return to their senses."

Abd ul-Karim, hearing it, interrupted. He knew better. "Indeed they will not; and even if some, after falling into trouble, were to recant, most of them will persist in their heresy. Cut them into a thousand pieces!"

Just then Haj Cadur, who had been in the country, came in, and learning what had passed, fell into a raging passion. "Allahu Akbar!" he shouted at the top of his voice. "I marvel at your patience with these fellows. Away with them! They deserve hell for abusing our faith, blaspheming our Prophet, denying the Quran, sowing sedition in the city; and yet you allow them to spread the plaque. Truly, for this sort there is nothing but the double-edged sword!"

Sheikh Dervesh (raising his turban from his brow and stroking his beard excitedly) exclaimed: "By my life, he hits the mark! AI Haj is your man!"

"Yes," said AI Haj, "send me; I'll raise the city. I'll lay hands on them at once, this very night, lest they escape in the dark."

Abd ul-Rahim Omeyyah said: "Softly, my friend! Your zeal for Islam is good, but your words are foolish. What chance is there of laying hands on chief men like these? And if we could, it would at the present moment be the height of folly, for it would split the city into factions, and cause fatal quarrels, for which we will be held responsible. It is a delicate matter to lay hold of rebels like these, men of birth and honour. My ad vice is to report the matter early in the morning to the Qadi (a judge in matters of Islamic law) and the Mufti (a professional jurist who interprets Islamic law), and then at midday to lay it publicly before the authorities, whose concern it is. So shall we avoid raising a disturbance, the end of which it is impossible to know."

This advice was approved by all. Nasir al-Din and Abd ul-Cadir were chosen as a deputation to the Oadi; and the rest were to be ready at midday, to go in a group as complainants, laying their case before the Wali as he sat in court. This arranged, the company dispersed.

Early the following morning, Nasir al-Din and Abd ul-Cadir visited the Oadi. Courteously received in his hall of audience, they told their story, mingling with it much insult, to inflame his mind against the accused. He sat grave and silent as they spoke. When they had finished he said: "If this thing be as you say, it is most serious and distressing. But I must say that the learning and piety of these men is against it; there must surely be some exaggeration or mistake."

"No, by the life and head of our Prophet! It is every word as we have said; and you will yourself shortly hear it all in court."

"Alas and alas!" cried the Qadi. "There is no refuge but in the Lord! What are you going to do now?"

"We plan to tell the Mufti; and after that the matter will come up in court before the Wali."

Said the Oadi: "No need to tell the Mufti, for I shall see him shortly myself. Bring it; by all means, before the governor. But meanwhile keep it quietly to yourselves, lest it spread abroad in the city, and stir up commotion there."

"It shall be so, your honour"; which having said, they received permission to leave.

Now the Oadi was a wise and prudent man, with a kind heart and compassion. He told everything to the Mufti, who commented: "We must face the difficulty, which is all the greater because of the distinguished position of these men, some of whom are our relatives. If the case is as we have heard, then the citizens may even put up with it from feelings of cid friendship, yet the Wali and his court are strangers to us, and would feel no guilt for having them put to death. They have enemies, too, as you know, who, seeing them in danger, will not be slow to produce any sort of evidence to condemn them. And how, then, could we bear to see their orphans and their widows? Ah, it is sad! What do you say?"

The Qadi was much moved as he spoke. The Mufti observed his eyes moist with tears; whereat somewhat surprised, he said: "Recover yourself, my brother! It is a dreadful business, without doubt. I myself am also terribly distressed. But it is in God's hands. We are Muslims, and our position demands the utmost firmness, both in support of the faith and in the administration of justice. We must not, and cannot, depart from the law."

"True," replied the Oadi, "but 1 would rather resign my office, and beg my bread, with a dervish's staff in my hand, the wide world over, than have any part in the death-warrant of Sheikh Ali or Sheikh Mahmoud. Is it a light matter, my brother? No, but I hope and trust that by your help and persuasion they may yet be delivered from these delusive heresies. And so, "stretching his arms towards heaven he cried, "Oh Lord, I ask this of you. And you, my friend, will you assist me?"

"Indeed, it will be one of my first duties to do so," said the Mufti.

"And if all should fail, what will the end be?" added the Oadi. "If I could but only know!"

"We need not disturb ourselves with that just now," said the Mufti. "If they do hold to their errors, the best thing will be to exile them to some place where no Muslims dwell."

"Yes," said the Oadi, "that would be best; but who knows if we shall be able? May the good Lord guide us!"

So saying, they separated; and about the third hour of the day they met again in the courtroom of the Wali's palace. His Excellency, as usual, had taken his seat on the chair of state; when suddenly the hall was filled by a crowd of doctors, professors, and clergymen, with Sheikh Nasir al-Din and his company leading the way. The Wali and his council were surprised at the unexpected intrusion, but after the usual greeting his Excellency asked them to be seated. They refused until they had made known the alarming matter which had brought them there. The Wali's heart beat quickly.

"Alarming matter?" he cried, "What is it?"

"If it pleases my lord," said Oadi, "let the court be cleared of Christians and strangers, and let none remain but members of your Highness' council and officers of state; for the matter is indeed of serious importance."

So the Wali gave orders, and the court was cleared. The crowd of remaining visitors, at his Excellency's repeated command, then look their seats.

"Now," said the Wali to them, "what is this alarming matter that has brought you to my presence today?"

Thereupon Abd ul-Cadir got up, and after flattering the Wali as the most excellent of rulers, he proceeded thus:

"Regarding your Excellency to be the defender of the faith, it has become our painful duty to tell you that Sheikh Ali and some others" (naming in all eleven persons) "have gone over to the Christian religion, denying the Prophet and the Ouran. The cause thereof is a long-standing friendship between Sheikh Abd ul-Hady and a Christian from Aleppo. This man, some lime ago, wrote a letter to the Sheikh, which he called Divine Truth in the Book of the Living God, and the Christian Faith Set Forth Therein, the Only True Religion. This letter was read before the group mentioned previously, with which also your humble servant was associated. These all, except myself, inclined towards the heresy. With all my power I fought against the false teaching of the letter, basing my plea upon the authority of the Prophet and the Quran; and I begged them to cast it aside, painting out the subtle poison of polytheism and idolatry it contained. As they gave no heed to my words, I said within myself, I will wait to see the end. But when I found them going entirely over, I left them, and hurried to my master, Sheikh Nasir al-Din. Thereupon he wrote a letter, warning them of their danger and asking them to abandon their errors, couched in friendly terms. But they answered rudely, and openly admitted their heresy. Here, my lord is the letter in Sheikh Ali's own handwriting." And he handed it to the interpreter, who placed it before the Wali.

It was about to be read out, when Abd ul-Cadir asked permission first to finish his story, which being graciously accorded, he went on as follows: "Despite this offensive and hopeless answer, Sheikh Nasir al-Din thought it best, instead of bringing the complaint before your Excellency right away, to call together certain of the leading citizens -these now in court -and take counsel with them. It was resolved first to send two of their number as a deputation - they are now before your Excellency -with assurances of our distress, and endeavour to reclaim them by loving words and earnest pleas. It was all in vain. They confessed themselves Christians -believers in the divinity, incarnation, and crucifixion of Jesus. And more than this, they even sought to persuade the two visitors to join them in their apostasy! On their return we saw no alternative but to report the sad affair to the government, since it cannot but affect authority and endanger public tranquillity. This is what we have to lay before my lord Effendi, who will deal with it according to his most excellent wisdom and judgment."

The Wali then asked the rest of the visitors whether the affair was as Abd ul-Cadir stated it; and when they replied that it was entirely so, the interpreter by his command read out the letter before the assembly. They were all shocked and astounded at such words proceeding from any that called themselves fellow-citizens, and their faces flushed with anger. The Wali scowled scornfully. Then, turning with a courteous greeting to the citizens who were sitting with him in council, he asked whether they knew the handwriting to be that of Sheikh Ali. Assured that it was, he called the captain of his guard: "Take this list," he said, "And bring these men before me into court."

So they were summoned; and as they entered, all were amazed at seeing the little company, some of them aged men, and others among the most distinguished of their fellow-citizens for learning and piety; and still more, at their brave and fearless attitude. The Wali frowned upon them, but asked them to be seated. They excused themselves, but on the command being repeated once more, they obeyed. Then his Excellency requested the interpreter to read the letter over again, which he did in a loud voice.

"Who wrote this letter?" asked the Wali.

Whereupon Sheikh Ali answered, "It was I, my lord Effendi." And all marvelled at the brave reply.

"Are you, then, a Christian?"

"Yes, my lord, by the grace of God."

"Silence!"shouted theWali. "You idiot, for shame! Are you saying that by the grace of God you have become a Christian? Grace and mercy! That be far from you!" And, turning with a scornful laugh to the court, he said, "See how this fool thinks they have, by the grace of God, apostatised!" Then addressing the rest of the little company, he said, "And you, too, have you been led astray like him?"

"Not led astray, my lord; but guided to the truth which is in the Torah and the Gospel, the Quran itself being witness."

"Then does not the divine Quran suffice?" asked the Wali.

They answered: "How can it be so, since the Quran itself leads to the Torah and Gospel as to a revelation 'of everything that is excellent, a guide, and a light, and evidence from the Lord?' It was this testimony, my lord that led us to the study of the Scriptures, and acceptance of that which is revealed therein."

"Out with you!" cried the Wali. "As for the Gospel, it has been shamefully tampered with -even calling Jesus, son of Mary, both God and man; and pretending that this so-called God, after being crucified and buried, rose again the third day; and asserting that by His disgraceful death He has cleansed His followers tram their sins! Could any grosser fabrication be imagined, any greater insult affronted against the Deity, or any more glaring apostasy followed than this? No, by my life! God forbid it! What could have led you into this pit of depravity? I protest that, instead of worshipping the one true God, you have become idolaters and polytheists. Imagine that learned men like yourselves, by the weak and silly arguments of an infidel, to be thug suddenly led astray! Shame on you -brave warriors turning your backs at the first onset of the enemy! Now, I command you to turn tram this accursed heresy to the true faith- the faith of your fathers and forefathers. Confess your fault in the face of this assembly. Change your ways. So shall the Lord have mercy on you. Obey your Wali's command, and so it shall be well with you."

"Will you grant me a little of your mercy?" asked Sheikh Ali.

"Speak on," said the Wali.

"Let your Excellency then know that we have studied this question of the Book with anxiety and care, and that we find no trace therein either of change or of corruption. That which your Excellency has named as a proof of devilish tampering is in reality nothing but the truth from God, the purpose of the Torah and the substance of the Gospel. Of that we have most thoroughly satisfied ourselves. In every matter we obey your Excellency, except that of our faith; for, as the Wali well knows, that is a matter between man and his God. And we are constrained to obey God rather than man."

At these words the Wali, unable to restrain himself, called out in a tierce voice, "Silence, wretch!" and immediately ordered the captain of his guard to carry off the little company to prison, with irons on their legs. As this was being done, the Qadi approached the Wali, and asked that they might first be brought back again into court, in order that, if it pleased his Excellency, the influential gathering of citizens present might speak kindly with them, if by chance they might yet be persuaded to return to the faith. His Excellency consented, and on their reappearance motioned to the Qadi to address them.

"By the Viceroy's command," he said, "I am about to speak with you, my brothers. Be seated according to your rank, as usual, and listen to me, for the city is your own, and its government is for the welfare of yourselves and of your households. And now this assembly, by permission of his Excellency, receives you with all honour and welcome. We cannot bear to think that our worthy fellow-citizens should be led astray by such delusions. We trust that these have been dispelled by the solemn warning which our Wali, in his grief at what fell from your spokesman, felt bound to administer. Now sit down in comfort, and thank his Excellency for the interest he has taken in you."

So they sat down in their midst, with every mark of honour and respect. The Governor himself smiled graciously upon them, and ordered coffee and refreshments to be served, of which when all had partaken, his Excellency addressed them with every mark of cordiality and friendship: "Learned fathers, brethren in the faith, my children for whom I am responsible to our gracious sovereign! How can citizens of rank and learning like you leave the true faith for paths of infidelity? My heart is sore pained for the danger you are in, and also for the fear lest your example should lead others astray. If you were dishonourable men, the matter would be comparatively easy. But with you, the chief and most learned among us, it becomes an affair more serious than I can bear to think of. I urge you by Allah and by his Prophet -the Commander of the Faithful -and myself his viceroy, and these your brethren, and by all that is dear to you in the peace of your homes, that you rejoin the faith of your fathers. Turn the bitterness of my heart into joy; and this, the darkest of days for us all, into a day of light and rejoicing."

These fair-spoken words had an evident effect upon the little company, who remained silent, with downcast jacks; and this raised the hopes of the assembly.

"For, see," said they one to another, "and behold how gentle words are more effective than angry threats with men of culture like these."

Then the Oadi asked permission to speak.

"Speak on," replied his Excellency, "and, after you have spoken, any others of our brethren in this assembly who desire to say a ward may do so; for have we not met for this very purpose? And truly I know no reason more weighty than to persuade these our friends to return from their wanderings to the fold of the faith."

All praised the gracious words of his Excellency, and prayed for his long life and prosperity.

Then the Oadi uttered the following:

"Your hearts must be overflowing with gratitude at the mercy and tender concern of the Wali, as of a father for his children. This is no time for argument; rather it is a time for open discussion, forgetting, for the moment, rank and pride. My brethren, let us call to mind the happy days we have spent together, joining in worship in the house of prayer, and in religious and social conference, holding sweet conversation about the welfare of our dear ones, and of the land at large; how your own words have from time to time affected our hearts, and how, through your example, help, and influence, our city has become a pattern to the world. Will you, by a sudden reversal, blight ail these happy fruits? -and such a reversal! No, no dear friends. A baseless, evil heresy like this shall never deceive such men as you. I appeal to you by all the claims of friendship, and urge you by the Lord, to come forth from the wilderness into which you have wandered. And now, in this lordly gathering, and in the presence of this our gracious Wali, let us lay aside all ceremony, and unwind in such pleasant conversation as that of friends who, after long separation, meet again, and change our sorrow into joy. Disregard not the call of his Excellency, made with such wonderful grace and mercy, nor despise the invitation of your friends. The Lord be gracious to us and you, and gladden all our hearts!"

Then the Mufti spoke. He enlarged on the grief this affair had caused him. The first ward of it was like a bolt from heaven on his head, like an arrow barbed with tire at his heart. Companions of his childhood, friends of his daily life, parted thus suddenly in faith, in creed, in worship, and in future hopes; bitterer to the soul than death itself! As he prayed for them to soften and return, his eyes filled with tears, and his voice trembled with emotion: "You will return," he cried, "to the faith of your fathers, the way of peace and happiness. And if you will have argument, let it be hereafter, private and alone. But now, in the presence of this royal gathering, accept his Excellency's gracious call and the invitation of your brethren. And now let us, according to our custom, pass the lime in discussion and happy relaxation. And so, by the kindness of the gracious Viceroy, we shall recognise our obligations for your goodness and consideration towards us."

As he sat down, the small group, surrounded by this noble I assembly, were troubled and confined in their breast, as men on I whom some sore perplexity had fallen; and so the Wali desired that they should have time for reflection. Then he gave command for coffee and refreshing sherbets to be passed around. Thereafter they broke up into small parties, each member of the little company being occupied separately by two or three of their acquaintances in friendly converse. And as they walked through the halls and reception rooms of the palace, every kind of persuasion was brought to bear upon them. In the end three of the company, yielding to these influences, gave in.

When all, therefore, after this customary stroll, had reassembled in the hall of audience, these three stood up in their midst, and confessed that they had wronged their own souls, and done spite to the Lord and His Prophet by leaving Islam and joining the Christian faith. Then they acknowledged their belief in God and His Prophet. The assembly accepted their return to Islam with every expression of favour and delight. The Wali rejoiced, and the Qadi congratulated his Excellency on their return to the true faith, and itís forming a ground of hope for the others.

"For," said he, turning to the rest of the little company, "our joy will not be perfect so long as any of you remain behind, and frustrate our expectation. Come then, and bring back joy and peace to your homes and to the city. Now, in the name of the Lord, stand forth as these your brethren have, and bear testimony to the Lord and to His Prophet, openly and in proper form, signifying thus your return to the right way."

As the Qadi ended, Sheikh Mahmoud stood up. "I stand before the throne," he said, "and in the court of our great Sultan, of whose reign may the Lord advance the power and glory, and give victory over every rebel and enemy thereof. I beg you of your grace and compassion, noble Effendi, to hear a few words as to what is on my heart and the hearts of these my companions."

"Say on," replied the Wali.

"Most noble Effendi and honoured friends, truly you have broken our hearts by the excess of kindness and loving pressure you have shown -far more than we deserve. Our gratitude overflows towards your Excellency and our friends here present. But it must be manifest to you, my lord Effendi, that faith and conviction are matters of the heart; they do not issue forth except by evidence and reason. The brotherly influence you have brought to bear upon us, the warnings, the promises of honour and prosperity, have led some of us to give up that of which in our hearts we were firmly convinced. Such recantation can be but outward, not from within. It is not in our power to change conviction, nor in that of men to force it, or to alter our views of the authority of the Gospel, as now in our hands. We cannot, even on your Excellency's command, do violence to our conscience, nor obey otherwise than on clear evidence. But if you, my lord Effendi, and those here present, would graciously condescend to argue the matter with us, and bring proofs to convince us of our errors, it would be well-suited to the nobility and grace of such as you. If we are proved in error, we shall thankfully return to the faith of our fathers. If, in pity for our desperate condition, you will agree to this our humble request, good; but leave us free in the liberty wherewith our gracious Sultan has blessed all classes of his subjects. The matter lies in the hands of our lord Effendi, as it may seem right in his eyes."

During this address the Wali kept frowning angrily, and for some moments there was silence throughout the court. Then he commanded, and the little company were led outside.

"What do you think," said the Wali, when they had left, "of these apostates? And what shall be their punishment, now that we have failed by friendly treatment?"

"It is for his Excellency himself," they answered with one voice, "with his great knowledge and experience of such difficult cases, to decide."

"No," he replied, "but you must advise me."

Then one said, "Let two or three of them be put to death as an example to the rest"; others, "Let them be confined for a long term, with a heavy fine"; still others, "Banish them far away, and seize their property."

The Qadi sat silent till he was called upon for his opinion.

"I was sitting silent," he said, "and thinking; for it is no light matter to give an opinion in proceedings so grave as these. No doubt your Excellency is well aware that, by the law and code of the empire, every subject is given the right to private judgment; that is, freedom to reject whatever faith or religion he 'wishes, and equal freedom to embrace whatever faith or religion he may choose. Therefore, to punish these men for abandoning their ancestral creed would not be in accord with the law and constitution of the land. But even so, to set them at liberty at the present time would not be wise; for no one knows what might happen in the turmoil and excitement that would result. The way out of this difficulty I do not myself at the present see, but your Excellency's wisdom and experience for all emergencies will be sufficient."

The Wali was startled at the Qadi's explanation of the law, which he had never heard before.

"You have spoken what is right," he said. "And now, my good Mufti, Effendi, what do you say?"

"The matter," said Mufti, "stands as the learned Qadi has described it. I would advise that the accused be detained for a time in some convenient chamber of the court, and that, in the meantime, their case be reported to the Sublime Porte (the centre of Turkish government in Istanbul, where justice was administered) for orders. And so, youíre Excellency and all of us shall be spared responsibility in the matter."

This was agreed to; and so the little company was sent away to an apartment in the palace, and kept there under supervision until orders should arrive. Meanwhile their relatives and families, as well as the Qadi and Mufti, and other learned and leading citizens, had permission to visit them at certain times, on condition of doing their best to convince them to abandon their delusions and return to Islam. And a telegram, stating the case, and giving orders, was sent to the Porte.

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