IT is difficult for Americans, living in this Christian country, to understand the position of a missionary who goes into a Mohammedan community with the intention of converting its members.
The problem is exactly that which would confront a Moslem hodja, or priest, should he appear with two or three veiled wives in a devout Methodist community in Michigan and open up a campaign in behalf of the Prophet. As for the results of education upon a Mohammedan, whenever he is made to doubt his own religion, when he is educated out of it, he generally becomes an atheist. The spectacle of the Great War has profoundly influenced all non-Christian peoples and has made missionary work more difficult than ever. “Christ is not the Prince of Peace,” they say; and no amount of preaching can make them believe it. “Prince of Peace,” they sneer, “He is the Prince of the submarine, the bomb-throwing aeroplane, poison gas, the machine gun.” The supposed results of the teachings of Christ are more evident than the teachings themselves. One element of strength of the Mohammedan religion is that it is sincere and gives free play to the passions and impulses of man’s lower nature. Whatever the teachings of the Koran as to spreading its doctrines by the sword— for the interpreters of that sacred book are legion, and one may find anything he wishes in it—there is no doubt as to the example set by Mohammed, who founded his kingdom sword in hand, who was a polygamist, a robber of camel caravans and gave orders for the assassination of his enemies. This is not said in a spirit of defamation of the Prophet, but as a statement of well-known historic facts. While advocating many virtues, the Koran gives more play to the human passions and makes a greater appeal to the natural man than the asceticism of Christianity and hence spreads more rapidly among primitive peoples and those of a lower grade of civilization.
I once met a sweet missionary woman returning from Africa with her little child, who had fallen sick of fever, to America for medical treatment. She described the great advance of Mohammedanism in Africa and the seemingly hopeless task of the Christian missionaries there. She made a sort of map of mission stations and explained: “We are trying to put a barrier across Africa to prevent Mohammedanism spreading to the South, beyond the equator,” “From what you say to me,” I observed, “you can not do it.” “We can’t,” she said, “but God can.” This seems unanswerable and must appeal strongly to the religious devotee, but there is an answer and it is this: “God can, of course He can; but He doesn’t, and probably He will not.” It seems probable that the great gift of Christianity has been so abused and shamed by the so-called Christian nations that God is weary of them, and considers it presumptuous for them to send out missionaries to convert people of another faith. It has been abundantly shown to all reasonable human beings, who are not religious zealots, that money expended in the attempt to convert Moslems is money thrown away. Even the missionaries themselves in Turkey seem to have given it up.
The same story is heard everywhere. In “The Crescent in Northwest China”, by G. Findlay Andrew, a missionary, the author says: “Islam has often been referred to as the challenge to Christian missions. During the past few years a few Hwei-Hwei (Chinese Moslems) have been reached with the Gospel and, after a profession of faith, have been accepted as church members or as inquirers. The number has, however, been very small, and of those who have ‘kept the faith’ only about one remains in church fellowship at the time of writing.” And yet the good missionary sums this gloomy report up with the remark: “Great as the problem is, yet the triumph of the Cross over the Crescent in Kansu is assured.” It is difficult to follow the process of reasoning which derives this conclusion from these premises.
The attention of the reader has already been called to the fact that the Turks are the lowest of the Moslem races and it would not be fair to Mohammedans in general to say that they approve of butchery and rape as carried out by that people, so well characterized by Gladstone and many historians. In fact the Turks are not the greatest danger to the Christian church. They have accomplished their fell task, and their influence as a proselytizing power will not spread beyond their own dominions unless they wage another successful war.
A few quotations from that penetrating book, “The New World of Islam”, by Lothrop Stoddard, will suffice to show how Islamism is ousting Christianity in those places where it meets it face to face. The strongest and best organized proselytizing order among the Moslems are the Senussiya, well described by Mr. Stoddard:
“The beginning of systematic, self-conscious pan-Islamism dates from about the middle of the nineteenth century. The Sennussi are careful to avoid a downright breach with European Powers. Their long-headed, cautious policy is truly astonishing. For more than half a century the order has been a great force, yet it has never risked the supreme adventure. In many of the fanatic risings, which have occurred in various parts of Africa, local Sennussi have undoubtedly taken part, and the same was true during the Italian campaign in Tripoli and the late war, but the order itself has never officially entered the lists. The Sennussi program is the welding, first, of Moslem Africa, and, later of the whole Moslem world into the revived “Imamat,” of Islam’s early days; into a great theocracy embracing all true believers—in other words, pan-Islamism. But they believe that the political liberation of Islam from Christian domination must be preceded by a profound spiritual regeneration. Year after year and decade after decade the Sennussi advance slowly, calmly, coldly. They are covering North Africa with their lodges and schools; and to the southward converting millions of pagan Negroes to the faith of Islam. Every candid European observer tells the same story. As an Englishman remarked some twenty years ago: ‘Mohammedanism is making remarkable progress in the interior of Africa. It is crushing Paganism out. Against it the Christian propaganda is a myth.’ And a French protestant missionary remarks in the same vein: ‘We see Islam on its march, sometimes slowed down, but never stopped, toward the heart of Africa. It fears nothing. Even Christianity, its most serious rival, it views without hate. While Christians dream of the conquest of Africa, Mohammedans do it.’ These gains are being made at the expense of African Christianity as well. The European missions lose many of their converts to Islam, while across the continent, the ancient Abyssinian Church, so long an outpost against Islam, seems in danger of submersion by the rising Moslem tide. There is to-day in the Moslem world a wide spread conviction that Islam is entering on a period of Renaissance and renewed glory.”
Mohammedanism to-day covers the northern part of Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, nearly to the equator, far below which it has passed on the East; it surrounds Abyssinia, an island of degenerate Christianity; it holds solidly Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, Turkostan and has overrun large portions of China and Russia, where it is making rapid progress. It is one of the leading religions of India, and has reached the Dutch Indies and Philippines.
Pierre Andre, in his work “Islam et les Races”, gave the total number of Mohammedans in the world in 1917, as 246,920,000; Laurence Martin of the Library of Congress, in an article in “Foreign Affair”s for March, 1923, gives the total number as 230,000,000 a slightly more conservative figure; but any estimate must be revised yearly, as the number is increasing with astounding rapidity. It is probable that the number of Mohammedans in the world to-day is about 250,000,000.
To the above vast portions of the earth’s surface which have already been mentioned as solidly Mohammedan must now be added Asia Minor, the last hope and outpost of Christian civilization in the Near East, which was rapidly spreading and developing with the aid of our own and other Christian schools, but which has recently been cleared out by fire and massacre with the aid and connivance of the Christian powers.
It has already been asserted that conversions from Mohammedanism to Christianity are extremely rare, while the former is taking heavy toll from Christian converts. It seems also that there are well-authenticated cases of Europeans and Americans having embraced Islam. Professor T. W. Arnold in his ingenious defense of Mohammedanism, “The Preaching of Islam”, cites the case of an English solicitor, Mr. William Henry Quillam, who embraced Mohammedanism and became a missionary of that faith in the city of Liverpool. By 1897, ten years after his own conversion, Mr. Quillam had made one hundred and thirty-seven proselytes.
An American, Mr. Alexander Russell Webb, at one time United States Consul to Manila, after having embraced Mohammedanism, opened a mission. Mr. Webb had been brought up as a Presbyterian. In 1875, a Methodist preacher named Norman became converted to Mohammedanism and began to preach it in America.
While I was in Smyrna a native-born American, who was weary of a devoutly Christian and ascetic wife, so good that he could not get a divorce from her, became a Mohammedan in order to marry a young woman with whom he had fallen in love, and with whom he was living happily, as man and wife according to Mohammedan law, up until quite recently. There is also the well-authenticated story, which, for obvious reasons, has not been given wide publicity, of the American missionary woman who married a rich Turk and became a member of his already well-stocked harem. A number of her former associates wont to see her and endeavored to persuade her to return to them. She replied:
“I have always desired to be married and live the natural life of a woman, for which God intended me. I saw the years slipping away, with no chance in sight of fulfilling the functions for which the Creator made me and I rebelled. No Christian man has ever made me an honorable proposal of marriage, though several have paid me court with shady intentions. This man offered me a union honorable according to his religion and the laws of the country, and I accepted. I would rather have a quarter of a man than none at all. I am soon to become a mother; I am perfectly happy, and I don’t want ever to hear anything more about missionaries or missionary work.”
The two last cases are significant as they reveal one of the reasons why Mohammedanism is less difficult to preach convincingly, under favorable conditions, than Christianity. It solves, both for men and women,’ some of the inconveniences of our civilization, which exist despite the greater and greater efficiency of our divorce courts.
These pages are written without any spirit of fanaticism and with the sole object of giving the world, especially the Christian world, the truth about certain matters of great historic significance. The Mohammedans, in the organized propaganda which they are making against Christianity, both by written arguments and by their extensive system of lay missionaries, are well aware of the unchristian history of the Christian world, and the fearful spectacle of the Great War has added a powerful argument to their already full quiver. They are aware also that the teachings of Christ, while never having dictated to any great extent the policies of governments, have also failed to regulate as they should the lives of individuals. Mohammedanism does not ask so much of the individual as does Christianity, and hence is easier to live up to. There is consequently less hypocrisy. For instance, the marriage relation is very lax in the Prophet’s creed and polygamy is permitted. A Mohammedan writer says that the social evil is unknown in Mohammedan countries, and a writer in “Armenia”, the defunct Boston periodical of that name, replies that this is true for the reason that the Moslem is permitted by his religion to make his own home a brothel. The Moslem propaganda argues that their various women have an open and honorable standing, while the Christian has illicit relations, which frequently ruin his victims, whom he abandons to a life of dishonor.
But we are approaching the Mohammedan in the matter of loose marriage relations, and in the need of missionary work at home. In 1922, more than one out of every eight married couples were divorced in the United Status, and it is frequent with us to have a succession of partners, rivaling the Mohammedan in this particular. In 1922 there were 184,554 divorces in the United States, as against 112,036 in 1916. In 1922 there were fifty-two lynchings in the United States. In 1922 there were 4,931,905 illiterates in this country, and in the same year a percentage that reached nearly twenty-three of illiteracy among the Negroes of seven Southern States. (“A Survey of Southern Illiteracy”, published by the Education Board, Southern Baptist Convention, Birmingham, 1923.)
The Koran does not permit the use of wine, and devout Mohammedans abstain from the use of intoxicants. In the United States the Constitution is very generally violated by large masses of the population and the day of Christ’s Nativity is largely celebrated by drunken orgies. Secret vice is prevalent in the United States to a much larger extent than many people dream of. Every few days some automobile overturns, killing a guilty couple, or some girl, in fear of the vice inspector, jumps out of a window, revealing depravity in circles where it was least expected.
Christianity lost her power as a world-conquering religion—and thus became an easy prey to Mohammedanism—as soon as she became obscured in a smoke-screen of controversy. The innumerable and bewildering quibbles which arose, giving rise to many sects, and the violent hatreds and schisms engendered, form a history in themselves. At the time when Mohammed appeared on the scene, the Church was already split into quarreling sects, who had lost sight of the simple teachings of the Master. Christians had become depraved and general immorality and degeneracy were rife.
To-day the Christian world is about evenly divided between Protestants and Catholics, rival sects, showing little spirit of compromise. Recent statistics, given by “Whittaker’s Almanac”, place the total number of Catholics in the world at 272,860,000 and of Protestants and other denominations, (like the Eastern Church), who deny the jurisdiction of the Pope, at 290,000,000. Any one who has lived for any time in countries where missionaries are active will testify to the saintly character of Catholic Sisters, and the devotion of the Brothers. They will equally bear witness to the high character, courage and beauty of life of Protestant missionaries, men and women. But the two sects are antagonistic.
In Smyrna during the Greek administration, a Y. I. C. A. was started and was doing excellent work, as also a Y. W. C. A. A notice was posted in all the Catholic churches that such institutions were of darkness and not of light and that all true Christians must keep away from them. A Catholic teacher in the Y. W. C. A. who was being paid a good salary and who needed it was compelled to resign her post. This is but one instance of many that could be given. When a Mohammedan is asked to be a Christian, a common answer is, “What kind? There are so many kinds of you, each warning us against the others.” There is less hope today of pan-Christianity than of pan-Islamism. Says Kurtz, already referred to: “To-day Mohammedanism is the one rival of Christianity to become a world religion,” and a writer in the “Moslem World” for January, 1925: “The Christian Church, after thirteen centuries of hard struggle finds Islam still a most baffling problem. It is true historically that Islam has been born after Christianity and has displaced it almost wherever it has spread. The history of the whole of North Africa, Palestine and Syria, and present Asia Minor shows this plainly.”
The Reverend George Bush in his “Life of Mohammed”, published by the Harpers in 1830, makes the following reflection:
“Indeed in this, as in every other instance where the fortunes of an individual are entirely disproportionate to the means employed, and surpass all reasonable calculation, we are forced to resolve the problem into the special Providence of God. Nothing short of this could have achieved such mighty results”
If there is no other explanation of Mohammedan success, it is evident that the Divine intention has not varied in the last ninety years. This is the view-point of the deeply religious man, who believes in God’s personal management of all the affairs of this world, attributing to reasons of Divine wisdom matters too deep for human penetration. The student of history will understand the spread of Mohammedanism at the expense of Christianity, and the chief reasons have appeared or will become plain in the course of this narrative.
A stouter and more virile figure than Mohammed attempted to establish a similar creed on this continent. He failed to become a world influence, a permanent factor in history, for geographical reasons, mainly. The part of the world in which Brigham Young planted his polygamous creed was not so well adapted to its expansion as the scene of Mohammed’s early activities. Western civilization, following close on the heels of the gold rush, overwhelmed the American apostle and intimate of the Angel Gabriel. The chief reason why Christianity has lost so much ground before Mohammedanism, and is likely to lose much more, is that there has never been much real Christianity in the world.
The history of the so-called “Christian Nations” has been a long tale of bloody wars, of treachery and robbery, of St. Bartholomew Days and of Catholics martyrized by Protestants; of persecutions, of saints and witches burned at the stake.
And the situation among the “Christian Nations” that allowed the Turks to burn Smyrna and massacre and abuse its inhabitants was such a culmination of infamy and shame as shows that the world is becoming less Christian as the years go by.
Surely there is no reason to expect God to aid Christian missionaries, after such a disappointment and travesty. If, as the Reverend Bush remarks, the wonderful spread of Mohammedanism can only be explained as some special Providence of God, He may be inspiring the Sennussi to spiritualize their religion and develop the better features of it. If the Christian faith has had so feeble effect upon the conduct of Christian nations and has so little harmony that it lacks the force to convert Mohammedans, then the only alternative open to wisdom, finite or infinite, would be to make the best of some other creed. When our missionaries have finished putting the Turkish administrations “on a sound basis,” they might come home and teach us to be better Christians. Unless Christianity is saved in -those countries where it still has a nominal existence, it is doomed, and their civilization will go with it. The Bolsheviks understand this, as witness the war they are waging against religion.