Shaykh Muḥammad Taqī al-Dīn al-Hilālī al-Maghribī said: “So Smith said to me: ‘Are you a Muslim?’ I said: ‘Yes.’ Then he said to me: ‘Surely Muḥammad did not know history!’ So I said to him: ‘And how would you know that?’ Then he said: ‘Because he said in the Qurʾān in Sūrah Maryam:
۞ يَا أُخْتَ هَارُونَ مَا كَانَ أَبُوكِ امْرَأَ سَوْءٍ وَمَا كَانَتْ أُمُّكِ بَغِيًّا
“O sister of Aaron, your father was not an evil man and your mother was not unchaste!” (Q 19:28)
So then I said to him: ‘You have not really acquired much knowledge of the tricks of the Christians and their enmity towards Islam, like that of George Sale, who was the first to translate the Noble Qurʾān into English. And he said in his commentary of this verse: ‘Several Christian writers think the Koran stands convicted of a manifest falsehood in this particular, but I am afraid the Mohammedans may avoid the charge…’ 1 ‘This is because none of the Muslims explain that Aaron mentioned in this verse to be the brother of Moses, such that it could be said that between the time of Moses and his brother Aaron, and the time of Jesus and his mother were many generations.
He said: ‘Mr. Aḥmad Khān, the founder of Aligarh Islamic University, recognised this objection.’ So I said to him: ‘As for me, then I don’t recognise Mr. Aḥmad Khān, nor do I know him. And I have certainly heard this response from the tongue of one of your predecessors who harbored animosity towards Islam, so there is really nothing more for you to say.’ Then he said to me: ‘There is a contradiction in the Qurʾān, since it says in Sūrah al-Māʾidah:
۞ وَلْيَحْكُمْ أَهْلُ الْإِنجِيلِ بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ ۚ وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
‘And let the followers of the Gospel judge by what Allah has sent down therein.’ (Q 5:47)
And in Sūrah Āli ʿImrān [there is]:
۞ وَمَن يَبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الْإِسْلَامِ دِينًا فَلَن يُقْبَلَ مِنْهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
‘And whoever desires other than Islam as a religion, then it will never be accepted from him and in the hereafter he will be from amongst the losers.’ (Q 3:85)
So how can we reconcile between these two passages?’ I thought for a moment and then responded with inspiration from Allāh ﷻ: ‘Before we address this objection, we must think about the conflict that existed between the Prophet ﷺ and the Christians, and exactly what was the nature of it?’ He said: ‘Tell me.’ So I said: ‘It was concerning Jesus, the son of Mary, since the Christians from Najrān came to the Prophet ﷺ and accused him of belittling their esteemed associate. Then he inquired: ‘Who is your esteemed associate?’ They said: ‘Jesus, the son of Mary.’ He responded: ‘And how have I belittled him?’ They said: ‘You have denied that he is the son of Allāh ﷻ and you have said that he is human like the rest of mankind.’
So he discussed this with them and established the evidence for them, but they stubbornly opposed it, and then Allāh ﷻ sent down two verses in Sūrah Āli ʿImrān regarding the matter of Jesus:
۞ إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكَ فَلَا تَكُن مِّنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ
‘Certainly, the example of Jesus is like the example of Adam. He created him from dust and then He said to him be, and he was. This is the truth from your Lord, so do not be one of those who doubt.’ (Q 3:59-60)
So when they insisted upon remaining obstinate and claimed that he was the son of Allāh and that he was one of three, Allāh ﷻ commanded him to invoke the curse of Allāh ﷻ upon the liars (al-mubāhalah2). Then once he set out to invoke the curse of Allāh upon the liars, (al-mubāhalah) they feared that and thus reconciled with him. It is regarding this conflict that Allah ﷻ said:
۞ وَلْيَحْكُمْ أَهْلُ الْإِنجِيلِ بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ ۚ
‘And let the followers of the Gospel judge by what Allāh has sent down therein.’ (Q 5:47)
The story of the delegation from Najrān to the Prophet ﷺ and their offering of Christian prayer in his Mosque, with his permission is mentioned in the books of prophetic narrations (ḥadīth) and history.³ ‘ Then Smith said: ‘However, the Gospels indicate that he is the son of Allāh ﷻ and one of three.’ So I said to him: ‘I have not read the Gospel, but I believe with certainty that the Gospel is true, and from Allāh4, and what is from Allāh ﷻ contains no contradiction. And it must be consistent with the Qurʾān regarding the monotheistic worship of Allāh and the fact that Jesus the son of Mary was a servant of Allāh.’ Then he said to me: ‘This is your condition. Zealousness prevents you from reading the Torah and Gospel. As for me, then I have the Qurʾān in three languages.’
Then I said to him: ‘As for the Gospel in Arabic, then its language is archaic and not understandable. And as for English, then I study it in order to read it.’ Then he said to me: ‘Promise me that you will read it and I will order you a copy from London which will arrive in a month.’ So I promised him, and once the copy arrived he wrote me a note with it in English which contained the following: ‘I ask Allāh to give you through this book many blessings.’
So I began to read it and I extracted the words that I didn’t understand from dictionaries and then I read it a third time. And I mentioned those issues in a small piece I titled, ‘Ḥawāmish Shattá ʿalá Injīl Mattá’ and I published this in the magazine, al-Shabān al-Muslimīn, which is circulated in al-Baṣrah and was published by our friend al-Ḥājj Ṭa Ha al-Fayyāḍ. Once I informed the prince Shakīb Arsalān of these notes, he asked me about them and so I said that they were lost at the printers, to which he was sadly disappointed. I am now prepared to author a similar set of notes or perhaps an even better set. However, many of our Muslim brothers do not place much emphasis on defending their religion and likewise do not help those who wish to defend the religion; in fact some desert them. And concerning people like this, the following lines of poetry were written:
‘If I was from the tribe of Māzin, my camel would not be considered lawful by the people of al-Laqīṭah from the tribe of Dhuhl ibn Shaybān.//
[They are] a people when evil arises, their fangs come out and they rush towards it altogether and individually.//
They don’t ask their brother when he calls upon them regarding proof for the reasons they were called upon.//
[Due to extreme weakness my tribe] they reward the oppressors who oppressed them with forgiveness and reward the evildoers with good.//
If only my tribe were a people who when they mount their horses, they strike aggressively as well trained cavalry and horsemen.’ 5
When the book reached me, I responded to Smith with thanks. Once I read it and understood its meanings, I wrote him another note and said to him: ‘Certainly, Allāh answered your supplication and gave me through this book many blessings. However, it opposes what you are upon and invalidates it, since you said to me during our discussion such and such. Yet I found in the book in chapter such and such, verse such and such, that what you said was incorrect and that the Gospel affirms what the Qurʾān affirms regarding the monotheistic worship of Allāh ﷻ exclusively. It affirms the humanity of Jesus and his station as a servant of Allāh with the utmost clarity in many different places.’ I swear that this young pastor was sincere in his call and extremely overzealous. Since every time I said to him that this opposes the intellect, he would respond by saying that the intellect is deficient and that the speech of Allāh is perfect and that Allāh ﷻ knows what we do not.
I visited him once in his centre before the arrival of the book and found that he would not eat meat, whether he was by himself or in front of the people. So he used to order his cook to prepare for him food that was vegetarian and prepare for his wife and son food with meat, so I spoke to him about it. He said to me: ‘Certainly the pagans that I invite to enter into Christianity severely hate eating meat so I am compromising for them. And I have left eating meat for the sake of the Messiah.’ So I said to him: ‘But they don’t see you in your home?’ Then he said: ‘I cannot lie to them and claim that I don’t eat meat while I really do.’ For this reason, his call influenced them and I saw thirty men with their wives and children conferring with him regarding the building of a church; they built it with their own hands in spite of their extreme poverty, as opposed to that other pastor who used to teach me English in the city of Lucknow. No one believed in him since he was not a true believer, and sincerity is the secret of success even as it relates to falsehood.
1 Translator’s note: See: The Koran commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammad with explanatory notes by George Sale pages 250-251.
2 The term al-mubāhalah refers to the gathering of a people whenever they fall into dispute regarding something such that they are accompanied by their children and women and they all invoke the curse of Allāh the Exalted and His punishment be upon the liars from amongst the two parties.
3 The story of the coming of a Christian delegation to the Prophet and his discussion with them and his call for them to invoke the curse of Allāh upon the liars (al-mubāhalah) is authentic and can be found in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukharī and other than it from the collections of prophetic narrations (ḥadīth). As for his permitting them to offer prayer in his Mosque then this is not authentic and Allāh knows best.
4 He means in its original form, the Gospel is from Allāh the Mighty and Majestic before it was affected by distortion and alteration. And this book regardless of how much it has been affected by alteration, it still contains elements [of truth] that have endured. The same can be said about the Torah just as the Prophet extracted the ruling of stoning the married adulterer from the Torah of the Jews.
5 Translator’s note: These lines of poetry are attributed to Qurayṭ ibn Unayf al-ʿAnbarī.