Chapter# 12: Exile and Return

Next morning, the Mufti, having heard of the conference, visited the Qadi, and hoped the result had been satisfactory. The Qadi gave him a brief outline of what had passed. The Mufti, amazed, sat for some time thinking. At last he said: "I have always felt it a mistake that such traditions, as you speak of, are found in our religious books. I have gone over the Old and New Testaments repeatedly and never have I found anything of the kind in them. Thinking that possibly they might have been removed by the Christians, I once visited a Jewish rabbi of integrity, who assured me, on the most solemn of Jewish oaths, that there was no mention of such things in their Scriptures. And of course you remember the late Sheikh Abbas Ishmael Ahmed, who learned Hebrew by the aid of a Jewish doctor, for the purpose of being able to judge for himself the value of these traditions, to which he was extremely fond. When he found that they had no existence in the Torah, he gave up one article of faith after another, till at length nothing remained but the simple rites and faith of the Khârejites. And when I asked him once, 'How about the testimony to Muhammed in the Quran?' he laughed and said, 'Oh, it is all nonsense.' The fact seems to be that the Jews, knowing the Prophet to be unlearned, and wishing to curry favour, told him such-like stories, or rather, perhaps, told them to his Companions, and made them take it all in; and they, to further spread Islam, gave heed to the fictions, as if, to reliable evidence."

"Strange that our Prophet should have been deceived by the Jews of Medina," admitted Qadi; "and if deceived by them, where is his prophetic claim? If liable to be deceived in other matters, why not in the Quran itself, which contradicts both the Old Testament and the New, especially as regards the nature and the death of the Messiah?"

"Enough for the present," said the Mufti. "The Lord knows what the truth is. Are you not aware that multitudes of our experts are in doubt about the faith? They live; resting in the name, but know nothing of its reality."

"How, then, are we to find a way out of it all?" asked the Qadi. "Can we rest in hypocrisy and falsehood, or not rather search for a path that shall lead us to certainty and truth in respect of the true Messiah and revelation?"

"Let us stop for now. We can resume this weighty question hereafter, if the Lord wills; and He will guide us aright," said the Mufti.

So the Mufti went his way, leaving the Qadi confused and troubled in spirit.

On the following day the Wali summoned them both, with the rest of his council, to decide on the country to which the little company should be sent. Some said Rhodes, others Armenia, others again, Crete. The Qadi (whose habit it was not to speak till all the others had spoken) was then called on by the Wali.

"ln reply to your Excellency," he said, "I would suggest, as the most suitable place, some town in Lebanon. It is outside the province of Damascus."

Said the Wali: "But it is close at hand, and not like banishment from the land of Syria." Then he turned to the chief judge, who said, "Indeed, it is quite close, and, in fact, just like leaving them in their own homes."

"Yes it is near" exclaimed the Mufti, "but it will answer all the objects in view. We are not called on to punish them, but simply to remove them away from the city and neighbourhood, with the view of avoiding further disturbance in the city; and it is still far off enough for that."

The rest of the council opposed this view, saying that the Qadi and Mufti were always on the side of the apostates. Lebanon would be of no use; offenders like them should be banished to the utmost limits of the empire. The president said that such charges against the Qadi and Mufti were quite unnecessary. It was their kindly hearts that had influenced them. Some of the company were aged and weak, and a lengthened journey would be hard for them; if any were to die, the government would be blamed. There could be no possible harm or disturbance for Syria in this arrangement. Thereupon the remainder were silent, and at last the Wali approved the proposal of the Qadi, on whose judgment he greatly depended. The Qadi showed his acknowledgments, and the Wali turned to him again, saying, "But what place shall it be in Lebanon?"

"Deir al-Qamar," he replied, "which is the farthest from the seat of your Excellency's government."

So it was agreed that they should be sent away there, on the 14th of the month, after midnight; but the decision was for the present to be kept secret.

On the 13th of the month it was made known to the company that the time for departure was at hand, but neither the hour nor the destination; and the hearts of some sank within them. But most held themselves bravely, especially after the Qadi had, by the Wali's permission, given them some general idea of the direction, and of the arrangements for the journey. So, on the 14th after midnight, they were awakened suddenly, taken out, and mounted on beasts with a guard of fifty regulars, and as many police. They had been asleep only two or three hours, and some were aged, and weak from having been so many days in confinement. They were affected to tears at having to leave so suddenly, without the opportunity of once again seeing their families. The escort made them travel all that night and the next day without stopping. During the darkness, as they were carried along, the moon shone forth full and bright -a light, as Sheikh Ali said, that might remind them of a light which was leading them to the rest above. The dawn beginning to break, Sheikh Mahmoud said it was like the journey through life to the morning beyond. And then, as the sun arose, Abd ul-Rahim spoke of it as a type of the true light, revealing clearly all that had been dark around them. With such reflections they comforted one another, and whiled the time away. Tired and wearied, they asked their conductor to allow them a little rest. At first he refused, but, offered some money, he allowed them to stop at midday, and again in the afternoon and evening. They reached their destination the following midnight, and rested outside the walls until the morning, when they made their entry. The leader then gave his letter to the governor of the district, by whom the company were graciously welcomed, and accommodated in suitable quarters. The escort was then dismissed.

On the morning after their departure, when their friends and families discovered that they had been sent away during the night, they were much distressed, and assembled before the palace, crying out against their secret exile. The Qadi appeared and quieted them; but he could not make known their place of banishment. After a couple of months, however, it was revealed, and then Hasan, the brother, and other relatives of Ali, and a company of the children, kinsmen, and friends of the others, set out to vigil them.

The joy at this meeting knew no bounds. The exiles embraced them and wept aloud, shedding tears of affection and delight, and inquired after the welfare of their beloved ones at home. They received also, at their friends' hands, supplies of such things as they had need of. Their friends remained with them fourteen days, during which time Ali and his companions taught them many things regarding the Christian faith; and they drank in their words, especially a Sheikh and an Effendi, even as the dry land drinks in the generous showers of rain. Several of them and of their sons were baptised, in the same way as the exiles themselves had been; for these had been baptised shortly after their arrival at Deir al-Qamar. At last they were sent back.

"Return, dear friends," said the exiles, as they bid them good- bye, "return now to your homes with the peace of God; and tell them there of our welfare. But do not forsake the Book of God and prayer; for light and blessing spring there from. Fear not man, but fear God, who has created you, and breathed into you the breath of life; and we shall hope to meet again in peace."

So they departed, and talked joyfully by the way of what they had seen and heard. On getting home, they made known to their families the place of exile, their health and welfare, and their kind treatment by the governor and all the people of the town and country, from the very day of their arrival at Deir al-Qamar.

Now love and affection for the exiles had sunk deep into the hearts of the dwellers in Lebanon. They visited them day and night in great numbers, and held them in high regard for their culture, piety, and learning. They received them with distinction and honour also in their public places, halls, and houses, and whenever they went abroad. Moreover, the heads of the Christian religion, of whatever church throughout the country, came to visit them, and rejoiced in their company. Their conversation turned much upon questions of spiritual growth and the interest of the faith, and all marvelled at their rapid advance in the Christian life, their quick understanding of Scriptural doctrine, and their wisdom, piety, and devotion. The exiles were so filled with gratitude to the people of the town and villages around, that they spoke thus one to another: "If it were not for the love we bear to our home and country, we should prefer remaining always here, instead of returning to Damascus."

Now the exile of the Christian company was made known throughout the various lands; and so the narrative thereof came to be published in the European journals. The circumstances thus coming to light, the consuls of the various powers and other representatives in Syria made inquiry into the matter, and in the end a representation was submitted to the Porte, with the prayer that the Sultan would give permission to the exiles to return at their free discretion to their families and homes. The following revision was accordingly issued by the Porte:

"Let it be known to you that the Christian converts were not exiled because of their embracing Christianity; which, indeed, would have been in contradiction to our desire that there should be among all our subjects perfect freedom in the choice of their religion. The reason was that conversion to Christianity was so new and unusual a thing in Damascus, and the inhabitants thereof so backward in civilisation, and so fanatical and intolerant, that, for the peace and safety of the city, and to avoid consequent tumult and disturbance, we consented, on the representation of the authorities, to the converts being sent away for a time to some place outside the province. And so they were removed to Deir al-Qamar, in Lebanon, a spot not very far from their own homes; the inhabitants of which, moreover, are all of the Christian faith. Our desire is for the peace and comfort of our subjects, of every faith and race. And so we shall now command our Wali to report to us as soon as there may be no more threat of tumult and disturbance in the city. Then we shall give orders for their return, in accord with our desire for the comfort and happiness of all."

Accordingly, in the beginning of the second year of their exile, an imperial order was issued, permitting them to return to their homes, and directing such perfect liberty in their profession of faith and performance of religious rites as they might desire.

On receipt of these orders, kept secret from the city, the Wali sent an officer with a troop of horses to conduct them from their exile. So, when the officer arrived at Deir al-Qamar, he handed the Wali's letter to the governor of the town, in which permission was given for the return of the exiles to their homes. The governor, and with him all the dwellers of Lebanon, rejoiced exceedingly at the good news; except only that they grieved at the prospect of their separation.

Now, the same evening, the governor and all the chief men of the place assembled publicly in the city hall to test if y their joy at their friends having been allowed to return home; as well as to assure them of their grief at the prospect of separation, and the loss their departure would mean to the town.

To this, Sheikh Ali made reply: "Words fail to express our sense of the kindness and benefits you have showered upon us -your Excellency, the governor, the authorities, and all of the dwellers in Lebanon and its surrounding villages, without exception. We are returning to our city, but our hearts remain captive here to your love and affection, which have almost made us forget our own city and its people. So long as we live we shall never forget your goodness to us. It is not in our power to repay the favours which you have so abundantly showered upon us; but we ask the Lord (who suffers not even the cup of cold water to be forgotten) that He would grant you an abundant reward."

The governor responded thus: "They were all conscious," he said, "of how far the town and district around had come short of their duty to such angel visitors. The debt they owed for the pleasure and benefit of their friendship would remain always in their hearts. The sad distress of their friends and households at Damascus had brought a blessing to Lebanon, and they thanked God for it, and prayed that He would give their friends a prospero us journey, and every blessing in the future. Finally, they hoped hereafter for news from them of their peace and happiness."
The exiles then look their leave, with expressions of gratitude and thankfulness. Early in the morning they started on their journey, accompanied by their escort, and also by a party of horsemen sent in their honour by the principality to lead them down into the plain. They journeyed leisurely and in comfort, where they liked, and rested as they chose. On the morning of the second day they entered Damascus, and were conducted to the presence of the Wali, who received them with a certain amount of favour. By his desire, the order of the Sublime Porte was read aloud to them; and they were dismissed to their homes with the command to observe quiet and peace, and warned not to bring up the subject of religion in conversation with their Muslim neighbours.

Meanwhile, the expected return of the company becoming known, their families were anxious as to how they would be received in the city, and concerned themselves as to how they should act. Just then the sons of Ali, and the families and brothers of the other exiles, gathered together in the house of their uncle, Sheikh Hasan, in much watchfulness. They were talking over the serious aspects of the matter, when a knock was heard at the door.
Hasan was startled, and his heart beat quickly, for he said, "That truly, was like the knock of my brother," so he hastened and asked who was there.

"Open, Oh Hasan!" came a voice; and all knew, rejoicing, who it was.

Opening the door, Hasan beheld his brother Ali; and he embraced him and kissed him, and Ali seized his hands and kissed them, as the drops fell from his eyes for joy. Then the whole party entered and welcomed him. And when he told them that all had returned, and were at his house, they left on the wings of joy. There was passed there a night of rejoicing such as is past description -a grand reunion after so long a separation.

In the morning, when their return was made known, men began to come in multitudes to welcome them. Then they returned their friends' visits, and settled down as before. By their virtuous lives and exemplary citizenship, they had gained a high place in the esteem and respect of all. It is true that Nasir al-Din and his people -their enemies and detractors -maintained their hostility, and indulged in their slander as before; but few now minded their words.

It was about this time that Ahmed Effendi al-Khotli, already mentioned, made public profession of his faith in Christ, and became a zealous adherent of Sheikhs Ali and Mahmoud and their party. Ever since becoming an inquirer he had entertained the highest regard for the letter which had first caught their attention. So one day he said to them: "How much we are indebted to the writer of that beautiful letter that guided us to the truth! Have you ever sent him any acknowledgment of our thanks and obligations for the great service he has rendered us?"

Sheikh Ahmed replied that they had intended doing so while at Deir al-Qamar. "But," added he, 'after making inquiries about him and his residence, we heard that he had died some eight months before; and we were distressed that we had not written to him earlier."

So, al-Khotli wrung his hands, saying: "If only he had lived to see the fruits of his work!"

Yes," answered Ahmed, "but he will see them in a more glorious way, in the presence of his Lord. The righteous pass away, but their fruits die not. They shall reap the harvest they have sown in that day when not a single grain shall fall to the ground."

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