All over Northern India -- I may say all over India -- we find the followers of Muhammad. They are very unequally distributed. In some districts they form the majority, in others their number is very small, while in the cities they abound. There is among them all the variety of station which might be expected in a community composed of millions, ranging from princes, wealthy landholders, and great merchants, down to labourers and beggars. There is among them all variety of culture, from profound learning in a narrower or wider groove, down to utter illiteracy and gross ignorance. There is also variety of character, many leading notoriously wicked lives, while others are noted for goodness, and are honourable and useful members of society.
Looking at the Quran and the Bible, one might suppose there is a close accord between them, as both assert the unity and sovereignty of God, both condemn idolatry, and in both the same names continually meet us, such as Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, and our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, however, in India, as elsewhere, Muhammadanism has shown itself intensely hostile to the Gospel. The reason is apparent. I think it is difficult for any one to read with candour the Quran on the one hand, and the Bible, especially the New Testament, on the other, without perceiving the marked contrariety between them, notwithstanding their agreement on some points.
A true follower of Jesus Christ, one imbued with the spirit of His teaching and bent on the imitation of His example, cannot fail to cultivate holiness of heart and life, to cherish a humble, lowly temper, to look on all with love, however unworthy of love their character and conduct may be, and to promote their good in every way within his power. A follower of Muhammad, so far as he is imbued with his teaching, regards God with profound reverence as the Sovereign of the universe, deems homage to Him most due, looks with indignation on the worship of idols, attaches immense importance to outward rites and services, glories in Islam, pays comparatively little attention to inward excellence, and sees no need for a change of heart. As a worshipper and servant of Allah, following the precepts of the Prophet of the later age, he deems himself the spiritual aristocrat of the race, and looks down with scorn on all outside the pale of his community, whom he is in some cases bound to put to death, and in all cases to subject to degrading conditions, so far as he has the power. However wicked his conduct may be, as a worshipper of Allah he is sure of more tender treatment in another world than that which awaits Christians and idolaters. Thus the typical Muhammadan is one who scrupulously observes the laws of Islam, goes through his devotions with all the regularity of a soldier on drill, fasts at the appointed season, gives alms to the poor, attends to all prescribed rites, and at least once in his life goes on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Outward religiousness, pride and self-righteousness, are his distinguishing characteristics.
[Sidenote: THE LICENTIOUSNESS OF MUHAMMADANS.]
Much has been said about the sensuality of Muhammadans. The sanction given by Muhammad to polygamy and extreme facility of divorce has borne bitter fruit. His own example has had a depraving influence. He alleged, indeed, a special Divine sanction for the dissoluteness of his later life, but this has not deterred his followers from thinking they could not go far wrong in imitating him. In addition to these facilities for a life of sensual enjoyment, the teaching of the Prophet in reference to female slaves has had a most depraving effect on family life. The Hindustanee expression for libertine, profligate -- luchcha -- is, I think, more frequently applied to Muhammadans in Northern India than to any other class of the community. It must be confessed, however, there is so much licentiousness among other classes -- not only among Hindus, but I am grieved to say among many from our own land, soldiers and others -- that I can scarcely join in declaring Muhammadans sinners in this respect above all others. There is this difference between the licentiousness of so-called Christians and Muhammadans, that in the teachings of the Gospel, while no unnatural restraint is laid on those who accept it, the strongest motives are brought to bear on them in favour of purity of heart and in opposition to licentiousness of life; while in the teachings of the Quran, amidst severe condemnation of the gratification of unlawful desire in some forms, there is much, if not to encourage, at least to give every facility for a life fatal to personal and domestic purity, a facility of which the adherents of Islam have largely availed themselves.
While agreeing with the views generally held by Christians regarding the teaching of the Quran and its influence in the formation of character, I cannot join in the sweeping condemnation of the Muhammadans which I have sometimes heard, as if they were one mass of corruption. In the middle and lower classes in Northern India we are told, by those whose testimony can be trusted, monogamy is the rule. Many lead a quiet, orderly life, with the domestic affections in full play which beautify and gladden the home. A Muhammadan writer, who may be supposed to know his own people, tells us that polygamy is getting out of favour, and that a strong feeling has set in in favour of a man having only one woman to wife. Among them there are undoubtedly persons of high character, whose bearing would do honour to the adherents of a far higher creed. I have conversed with some who seemed to me set on knowing and doing the will of God, who showed, so far as I could obtain an insight into their character, a reverent, earnest, humble temper, as if they had come under the power of the few passages, occurring here and there in the Quran, which inculcate spirituality of mind and love to all men, and as if they had in a measure escaped from the externalism so prominent in that book, and from its hard, fierce, bitter tone towards all who refuse to receive it as a revelation from heaven. With two Muhammadans I was for years on as friendly terms as I could be with any whose belief and practice differed so widely from my own. As to courteous, kindly demeanour, they were all that could be desired. I had many an earnest talk with them on the highest subjects, and I was struck with the apparent candour with which they listened to all I had to say. They read with evident interest books I gave them, and in the case of one such an impression was made that I hoped he was coming to the acknowledgment of Christ as his Lord and Saviour; but after going to his Moulvies he kept to Muhammad, though with manifest misgiving.
[Sidenote: MUHAMMADAN OPPOSITION TO THE GOSPEL.]
While I cannot join in the sweeping condemnation of Muhammadans, I must acknowledge my experience accords with that of my missionary brethren regarding those with whom I have come ordinarily into contact. When I have been speaking to a company of Hindus, and have apparently secured their attention, I have been sorry to see a Mussulman coming up, as past experience had prepared me for the immediate introduction of such questions as the Trinity, the Sonship of Christ, His propitiatory sacrifice, and not infrequently the eating of pork. I have done my best to stave off such untimely discussion, and to keep to the subject I was teaching, but in not a few instances my audience has been broken up by the new-comer insisting on being heard. During my long missionary career I have had many discussions with Muhammadans in public and in private, in some cases conducted with a calmness and fairness which promised good results; but in still more numerous cases with a readiness on their part to resort to the veriest sophistry, and fly from one point to another, and with a love of disputation which led to wrangling, and could accomplish no good. The controversy between Christianity and Muhammadanism has been carried on by the press as well as by oral discussion. In this department the late Dr. Pffander, Sir William Muir, and Mr. Hughes of Peshawur, have done excellent service.
It might be supposed that as Muhammadanism is so near to Christianity that it may almost be called a Christian heresy, and as we have in consequence much common ground, we might expect to find its adherents more accessible than Hindus to the Christian missionary. The opposite is the case, furnishing another illustration of the fact that no religionists are so antagonistic to each other as those who most nearly approximate. At the present time all over the world, Popery, under the conduct of the Jesuits, is far more hostile to Protestant missions than any form of heathenism.
It ought to be mentioned to the credit of Muhammadanism that it arose as a protest against polytheism and the worship of idols. This protest it has maintained down to our day. Not even a religious symbol is allowed to appear in their places of worship, and hence the marked contrast mosques present not only to Hindu temples, but to Christian churches.
Muhammadanism is a proselytizing religion as well as Christianity. During my Indian career I have heard of a convert now and then from Hinduism in the North-West, and very occasionally one from Christianity; but these accessions have been very few. In Bengal, on the other hand, it appears that during the last thirty or forty years a great number of low-caste people have been drawn into the Muhammadan ranks, many of them small farmers, who think that by belonging to a large and influential community they can the better contend with the landlords. It is said that the change is simply one of name and ritual.
The accessions from Muhammadanism to Christianity have been very few; but some of the best converts in the North-West belong to this class.
[Sidenote: HINDUS AND MUHAMMADANS IN CONTACT.]
For centuries Hindus and Muhammadans have been near neighbours in India. In the ordinary course of life they have had much intercourse with each other, and have exerted a strong mutual influence, the Muhammadans, especially of the lower class, having become in a measure Hinduized, while the Hindus of the lower class have become, if I may use such a word, in some degree Muhammadanized. I believe the stricter Muhammadans are of pure Mogul and Pathan descent, while the more lax are the many who at different times have been drawn or forced into Islam. Our Muhammadan servants speak continually of their caste, have many Hindu notions, and follow many Hindu practices. Low-caste Hindus, on the other hand, are prominent in some Muhammadan processions. Both Muhammadans and Hindus, as a rule, are satisfied with their respective position, as assigned to them by Allah or Fate, have no repugnance to each other, and no wish to disturb each other.
So far, however, as Muhammadans and Hindus are imbued with their respective systems they must be antagonistic; and their antagonism, though generally latent, every now and then breaks out into fierce strife, which but for the interposition of Government would lead to civil war. Early in this century there was in Benares a pitched battle between them, when they assailed each other with the utmost fury, and were separated by military force. All have heard of a recent conflict in Southern India, where blood was shed and property destroyed. About thirty years ago Oude was threatened with the outbreak of a war between the parties. There have been recently conflicts in Rohilkund on the occasion of processions, which but for prompt interference would have led to disastrous results.
[Sidenote: MUHAMMADAN REFORMERS.]
Of late years a reforming party has arisen among the Muhammadans with both political and religious ends in view. This party painfully realizes the loss incurred by their fellow-religionists on account of their neglect of the English language, and their failure to accommodate themselves to their new masters, thus allowing the Hindus to get in advance of them. They consequently discourage exclusive attention to Arabic and Persian literature, and advocate the cultivation of English. A few of this class have come to England to prosecute their studies, but for the many who must remain in their own land an institution has been opened at Allygurh, in the North-West, in which provision is made for imparting a liberal education. It cannot be expected that Indian Muhammadans can have a strong liking to the English Government, but this reforming party wishes to reconcile itself to the new order of things, and to identify itself with our rule so far as the Quran permits. In religious belief these reformers range from strict orthodoxy to rank rationalism. Their leader is an able and ardent advocate of Islam, though he has thrown off what he deems unauthorized and hurtful accretions, and many of his followers no doubt agree with him. A Bengalee Muhammadan, a graduate of Cambridge, has published a book entitled "The Life of Muhammad," which is saturated with rationalistic views. I cannot suppose he stands alone in his rationalism, but I have no means of knowing to what extent his views are shared by others. The whole party is the antipodes to the Wahabees, the extreme Puritans of Islam, who aim at following strictly the instructions of the Quran and the Traditions, and wage war to the knife against Christians and idolaters. Between the Wahabees and the reformers there is a very numerous party -- it is supposed the great majority of Muhammadans -- who have little sympathy with the strictness of the former, but as little with the looseness of the latter, who in their opinion are sacrificing Islam to their ambitious and selfish views. Between the reformers and those who cannot advance with them there has been sharp controversy, and there is no prospect of its coming to an end.