« AnteriorContinuar »
But in Turkey, law is one thing, and the measures actually taken by rulers is often quite another thing. The haughty attitude towards Christianity, given to the Turks by their religion and their history, has often led them to trample arbitrarily upon the rights of even Europeans. Missionaries, the appointed agents of the despised religion, have been not a little obnoxious to such acts of oppression. The writer has travelled over regions, where the missionaries of Rome, though enjoying the patronage of ambassadors, have been imprisoned, bastinadoed, and banished, in endeavoring to propagate their faith among the nominal Christians of Turkey. How many thousands of dollars have been arbitrarily exacted from their establishments in Palestine and elsewhere, their accounts alone can tell. It cannot be forgotten, that our own Fisk and Bird, also, were once imprisoned in Jerusalem. Indeed, who does not remember, when the Turkish power was regarded as presenting such hindrances to missionary operations, that our first efforts in Palestine were undertaken with much fear and trembling.
Such was formerly the opposition of Mohammedanism to the spread of the gospel among Mohammedans, and among nominal Christians subject to Mohammedans.
In passing to speak of its present attitude, it cannot be said, that the anti-Christian articles of its code of laws have been repealed. The changes that have actually taken place in its general posture are two; one tending to liberalize, the other to humble, its professors. For the first time, probably, in its history, have innovations been formally introduced from Christian nations, as acknowledged improvements. Before, a wall of arrogance, cutting off the view of foreign superiority, hedged up Moslems to the contemplation of their own conceited exaltation. Be it that the innovations are military and in themselves of no moral value; they make a breach in this wall, and in their train may come in others, of a far different nature. They are an acknowledgment, that some good things may be borrowed from Christians, and their tendency is to liberalize the minds of Moslems for the admission of others more important.
Moslems have been humbled by the experience both of their intrinsic, and of their relative weakness. The authority of the sultan over his subjects, formerly rested upon a double basis; his ecclesiastical character, as head of the Moslem church, and his civil character as head of the Turk
ish empire. The former acquired himn the greatest veneration, and the most hearty obedience. His orders, issued in that capacity, for the head of an obnoxious pashá, had but to be displayed in the court of the victim, and the very officers of that court would aid in its execution. By his recent adoption of Christian improvements, he has severed this hold upon the veneration of his subjects. Some even scruple not to call him an infidel. To that religious fanaticism, in a word, which has ever been the strongest principle of obedience in the Turkish citizen, and of bravery in the Turkish soldier, he can no longer appeal. What a failure was his late attempt, by unfurling the sacred sanjak el shereef during the Russian war! Once he had but to impose the ban of empire upon the famous Aly Pasha of Yoannina, whose court even figured in the diplomacy of Europe during the war of the revolution, and the head of the outlaw soon graced the portals of the seraglio. Now, the same interdict is issued against Mohammed Aly of Egypt, and his victorious army only march the bolder toward the walls of the capital.Of the relative weakness of their power, the Turks have recently had more than one imperative lesson. The battle of Navarino, destroying their navy, and in its consequences dismembering Greece from their empire, was one. Another was the Russian war, which in its progress placed their capital at the mercy of a conquering enemy, and at its close drained the resources of their treasury. I have studied the Turkish character, and if it has one distinctive trait, it is that of humbling itself under the rod. This experience, therefore, of intrinsic and relative weakness, could not but act as an effective antidote to that arrogance, which has entered so essentially into the opposition of Mohammedanism to Christianity.
What alterations have these changes in the general posture of Mohammedanism, made in its particular attitude toward the spread of the gospel ? To the spread of it among Moslems even, opposition is wearing a milder aspect. That Moslems are yet reduced in their own estimation near enough to a level with other sects, to listen patiently to arguments from native Christians, upon the falsity of their faith, is not even now true. But to Europeans is at length assigned, in Moslem estimation, a relative standing, which begins to command for missionaries liberty to argue against Mohammedanism. From Egypt, where an attempt was once made to convince missionaries that openly to charge Mohammed with imposture, would endanger their lives, reports reach us of repeated discussions between missionaries and Moslems. From Damascus, the very seat of Moslem bigotry and arrogancewhere, when the writer knew it, a European must wear the costume of an Osmanly rayah, or be liable to be mobbed l; and where, since then, two travellers at one time found popular rage against Europeans so high, as to be forced to conceal themselves until they were sent away with a guard of thirty horsemen-from Damascus, even, we hear that an effectual door is opening for the circulation of the Scriptures. At Sidon, too, the gospel has been freely published to Mohammedans. Not many years ago, the wife and children of a leading Christian of that place, leaving home one morning as if to attend church, went before the governor, and renouncing their faith, returned Moslems. That hour made the man a widower, and childless. The mother was no longer his wife, nor were the children his; for no such relations could subsist between a Christian and Moslems. His property, even, was no longer his own; an officer accompanied them from the governor to enforce their claims to it. And he had not the right of complaining. In this very Sidon, has free discussion with Moslems been recently carried on for months, by Wortabet, himself a native Christian, though under European protection.
Such changes are great, they are astonishing. But we must impose upon ourselves a caution not to build
them too high expectations. How general and how deep they may be, time will determine. To bring Moslems to tolerate discussion of the merits of their faith, is one thing ; to bring them to tolerate apostasy from it, is another. Humbled as the Moslem's spirit is, that he can bear to hear his religion called in question by a missionary ; let a missionary baptize a Moslem convert, and the law against apostates, may be found to be not yet, even virtually repealed. This change is to be hoped for from the liberalizing process which is beginning in the Moslem character. May we not look for a public opinion to result from the innovations already making such inroads upon Turkish prejudice, which shall cause the intolerant law of the Koran to become a dead letter, and hold, men no longer accountable for changing their religion, to any other tribunal than to that of conscience and of God ? Such a state of public opinion, it is believed, is beginning to be formed. The causes which are to produce it, have been the
longest in operation in Egypt. And to their effect doubtless, in part, is to be ascribed the tolerance of religious discussion under that government already alluded to. The extension of Egyptian rule over Syria, has undoubtedly given increased facilities there for missionary operations. In Constantinople, too, the capital of Mohammedanism, similar appearances are beginning to be observed. A feeling is commonly remarked among its inhabitants, that with their imitation of European dress and military tactics, it behoves them to put on something more of the European character. When the writer was last at the depository of the British and Foreign Bible Society at that city, a gentleman was sitting, as he entered, attentively examining the Scriptures. At length he arose, and purchased a copy in Turkish, and another in Arabic. It was not until then, so much of the aspect of a European had he in his dress and appearance, that he was discovered to be a Turk. He was no stranger there. He had already been accessary to the distribution of a considerable number of Bibles. And the keeper of the depository affirmed, that this was not the only Turk, that felt that while other things were borrowed from Europeans, it was important also to look at their religion.
The reader may ask, whether the reasoning we have pursued does not build too much upon mere political events. Such a question is answered by what we are now ready to say. For the conversion of Mohammedans, two distinct steps have been requisite. A door of entrance among them needed to be opened, and that door needed to be actually entered by missionary laborers. The former step lay beyond the reach of direct religious means, in the sovereign control of Providence. We have traced out the interesting arrangements by which, in giving to Mohammedanism an attitude towards the spread of the gospel among Moslems, less haughty and less repulsive, Providence has been taking this step. He has done wondrously; and we have thus far looked on. We must look on no longer. It is now our turn to work.
The time may not yet have come for missions directly to the Mohammedans; but we ought to have missionaries enough among the nominal Christians of Turkey, for some one to be ever at hand to throw the light of divine truth into the opening mind of every Mohammedan inquirer ; and to increase, by all desirable means, the number of such inquirers.
If we take not some such measures, all this providential preparation will bring out no good result. Whatever of humbling and of liberalizing all the political causes in the world can effect in the character of Mohammedans, will never make them Christians, nor good men. In this singularly interesting attitude, this transition-state, into which the Moslem mind is now brought, the impulse of some positive Christian agency is needed, or it will not even remain where it is; it will grow worse. No faith can be had in reformations left in such hands as this now is in. The agents of Christ may stand aloof, but the agents of the devil will not. They are always at hand. It is now a study of many in Turkey, to accustom Moslems to balls, masquerades, and wine-bibbing, things formerly held in utter abomination. And in this they are succeeding. For, to imitate Europeans is now becoming common, and such specimens of Europe have heretofore been seen by Moslems, that to fall into practices like these, is in their estimation to be a European.-Can Christians fold their hands, and suffer such a golden harvest to be wholly reaped by the enemy? When shall the disciples of Christ come to have an activity in their Master's service, by which they shall anticipate the emissaries of Satan, and suffer them no longer to pre-occupy opening fields of usefulness!
Shall it never be, until Satan is bound his thousand years, and Christians can take their own sluggish course without competition ?
In reference to the spread of the gospel among the nominal Christians of Turkey, the opposition of Mohammedanism, it may be hoped, has entirely ceased. That those Christians themselves will call upon the civil power to suppress evangelical labors, (the only way in which opposition can assume a legal shape,) past experience gives us no reason to fear; except so far as Papists are concerned, and they in Turkey are comparatively few. The arbitrary oppression, in which Moslem opposition formerly chiefly consisted, may be considered as wholly passed by. A derangement of public authority amounting to anarchy alone, can bring it back. The Turkish government has lately received too many salutary lessons of civility, any longer wantonly to trample upon the rights of foreigners. European and American citizenship has now acquired sufficient respect, to secure even to the missionary his life and liberty, and the enjoyment of his civil rights; and he can go any where, that public law is respect