A Discussion with Mr. Youngson, a Christian Missionary June, 1911
In the name of Allah, the Gracious, Ever Merciful
We praise Allah and invoke His blessings upon His noble Messenger
Human beings experience many things in their lives. If the important episodes of their life are preserved and committed to writing they can be a source of help and blessing for the individual themselves and also for many others. Sometimes, even an insignificant occurrence can bring such great, momentous and fruitful results that for those who read and hear these accounts it becomes a source of guidance.
Among the Christians the Sermon on the Mount is celebrated as a most profound and insightful teaching against which all other scriptures and pieces of writing in the world pale in comparison. It has been pondered over for the last 1900 years and many are drawn to its elegance and beauty. I do not know the sentiments under which the Messiahas spoke these words, but for Christians it serves as a guide and a shield against grave future calamities, pitfalls and reckoning and if one acts upon (this teaching) he may be safeguarded from all kinds of pains and afflictions.
Sometime back, I happened to visit Dalhousie1 where I had the opportunity to discourse with a renowned cleric of the Punjab. In my view this text is as significant for seekers of truth as the original Sermon [and therefore I have recorded this discussion]. As it was held with a Christian at a hill station I have deemed it appropriate to entitle it ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ It is hoped that the Christian clergy will pay due attention to the discourse and not be offended by the ideas expressed therein.
[One afternoon] after the Asr prayer, as was our custom, a friend and I went for a walk from Dalhousie to Balun. On our way back home in the evening we saw a tall clergyman with a long beard on the road. I wondered where he had come from and what had motivated him to come to this far-flung and secluded hill station. And so I decided it was apt to make his acquaintance to commend him on his enterprise. I asked Syed ‘Abdul Muhyi ‘Arab Sahib, who was accompanying me, to approach him and to express my wish to meet him and whether there was anything objectionable in that.
[From the moment of our approach] the priest was delighted, and seeing us as easy prey for Christian proselytism, he warmly invited us to his home. He informed us that his bungalow was situated on the left side below the post office and that we could meet him whenever we desired.
The second or third day after this encounter we chanced upon him once again in the Dalhousie bazaar. He was carrying a bundle of books and virtually all of them were against Islam written with the intent to distribute among ignorant and simple-minded Muslims and cause them to leave Islam and join Christianity. He gave us two tracts, which were extremely derogatory to Islam and its Holy Foundersa from various perspectives. Upon reading it; I became very passionate and resolved to conclude this matter.
Several days after our unexpected meeting, I, along with two friends, made some time to call at his residence. After searching for half an hour, we finally found the location of the clergyman’s residence. It was a grand mansion located in the most scenic and beautiful surroundings which reminded one of Jesus’ saying than it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. There are many mansions dotted around Dalhousie, situated in the grandest location, but the beautiful and charming house owned by the Christian Mission was the most splendid. Since it was Arab Sahib who had originally initiated our discussion with the Priest, he was therefore put forward to seek permission to enter.
The clergyman was stood in the veranda of his house and upon seeing us, extended a warm welcome and sat all three of us in the living room. He left the room for a short while and upon his return, we spoke on various affairs, including current events in England. During the course of the conversation we found that he had been a priest for a period spanning over 35 years and had served in places like Gujrat, Wazirabad and Sialkot. At the time he had been stationed in Pune. During our meeting, we found Rev. Youngson2, for that was his name, to be amicable, gentle and well-mannered just as many who knew him told us he would be. He was keen to divert the conversation to the blessings of Christianity and wanted to go into detailed and lengthy discussions about Christianity, especially its impact on Europe, but we told him that due to a shortage of time, it would perhaps be better at the moment to talk on a single subject – in this case Trinity. The priest happily consented.
Although our talk lasted for almost two hours, to the best of my recollection, the contents of the exchange are reproduced below. Our discussion proceeded in the form of a question—answer session. I made it clear that I wanted to ask him certain questions not as a follower of a particular religion, but as a seeker of truth. Hence, in the dialogue that follows I will use for myself the term, ‘seeker of truth’.
Seeker of Truth: Reverend, what is your concept of the Trinity?
Reverend: In my view the Trinity comprises the union of three uqnum – God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I recognize the godhood of all three.
Seeker of Truth: Reverend! What do you mean by uqnum?
Reverend: (With a smile) it is a word taken from your own language.
Seeker of Truth: True, but we do not use this term for God. Therefore, we fail to understand the meaning of this word when applied with reference to God the Exalted.
Reverend: I cannot suggest any other word.
Seeker of Truth: If you cannot suggest a word in Urdu or Arabic, what about English?
Reverend: In English we would say ‘personality’.
Seeker of Truth: I once asked an American priest who told me that it means ‘capacity’.
Reverend: No! No! ‘Personality’ would be a more accurate rendition.
Seeker of Truth: I neither understand uqnum nor personality. I want you to clearly explain to me what role these three beings serve. For instance, who created this world?
Reverend: You know that God is love and His very essence and attribute is love, but everything in this world is transitory. It was therefore necessary that there exist a being like a son that God could love. You will agree that without such a being His love would go in vain.
Seeker of Truth: Reverend, what you say stands to reason, but right now I want to understand the Trinity, not its need. My question was how this world came into effect and who created it?
Reverend: God created it from the Word.
Seeker: Did the Word become the world and is this world a part of it or did God say ‘Be’ and it became?
Reverend: (With a smile) No. We do not say the world was created ex nihilo. This is an Aryah view. Once an Aryah Samaj member asked me how the world was created and how something could come from nothingness. I replied, that it is not our viewpoint that God can create a thing from nothingness; that God said, ‘Be’ and it became.
Seeker of Truth: A fine response indeed, however, my question was whether the world came into effect from the Word, or the command of God.
Reverend: The Word is the Messiah. The Gospels say that in the beginning there was the Word and the Word was with God and God itself. It encompassed everything, even life. Thus, the Messiah was with God since the beginning and the world was created from the Messiah. In Islam too the Messiah has been called the Word. Would you like me to enlighten or inform you about this?
Seeker of Truth: Reverend, at the very beginning of our discussion I mentioned that I have come to you as one who considers all religions to be equal. And though I am a Muslim, currently I seek to discourse with you as a person who is still researching into the world’s religions. Please, therefore, speak to me with reference to the Gospels. If I need to know something from the Holy Qur’an, what need is there to consult a priest. I would go to a maulawi [Muslim cleric] to know about the Qur’an and I will look for a pundit to enquire about the Vedas. It makes no sense to go to a maulawi to learn about the Bible, or to go to a priest to learn about the Qur’an. Please converse with me from the Bible.
Reverend: (With a smile) From the Bible we learn that the world was created from the Word.
Seeker of Truth: Reverend, why then do you believe in the Trinity? The Word is one of the many attributes of God just like “the All-Hearing”, “the All-Powerful”, “the All-Knowing” and “the Creator”. Why is the attribute, “the Word” singled out? Surely, All His attributes should be considered as God. Thus, according to the principles of your own religion, Godhood should comprise of more than just the trinity.
Reverend: Oh, but you have misunderstood. Do you consider God’s speech like human speech? You also aver that God is not like human beings and that His Word is not an attribute but a power.
Seeker of Truth: Reverend, words are a means of communication through which we manifest to others what is in our hearts, and as you have said, God is very different from humans. He is the Creator and we are the created. However, you assert that like God, humans are also endowed with many attributes like sight, hearing and knowledge; similarly, you also deem those faculties to be different from the attributes of God the Exalted. Why do you distinguish between His Word and His other attributes? You consider His knowledge and hearing an attribute, but deem His Word a different entity altogether under the pretext that God is unlike humans. When we call out to someone to come to us they respond to this instruction. This is a means of communication, but we do not consider our speech to be a separate person like ourselves nor do we say that we are two; that is to say “us” and “the Word.” To refer to God’s Word as a being, and not do the same in the case of His other attributes like hearing and sight, is to prefer one thing over another without reason. Why do you only regard the Word from which the world was created as a Divine being? And why do you not consider the Torah, the Gospels and other Prophetic scriptures as Gods especially since John says ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’
Reverend: [With a smile] No! No! We do not consider the Bible as God. This goes against our religious teachings. We consider the Word an entity not an attribute.
Seeker of Truth: What exactly do you think the Word is?
Seeker: You consider the Word to be power, but power has no independent existence. For example, I have the power to hold something in my hand but this is subordinate to my will. It has no independent knowledge of its own. When I direct my hand to grasp something it does. With these very hands, I can hold the most beneficial and injurious objects. For example, I have just instructed my hand to pick up this object – and in accordance with my will and knowledge it has – but my hand has no understanding of its actions. If you refer to the Word as the Messiah and then at the same time call it power as well, even then, the Messiah and the power he possesses cannot be considered two separate beings. Every being is invested with some sort of power and capacity, therefore, according to your philosophy; we must assume that every single being possesses two entities. Secondly, as I have said earlier, in such a case it suggests that the Messiah [being a Power] was bereft of knowledge and intention, because Power is completely subordinate to the knowledge and will of God. Anything that is an instrument in the hands of an All-Knowing and All-Powerful God and has no say cannot itself be God. Only God is without blemish and worthy of all excellence.
Reverend: We do not consider the Messiah devoid of knowledge – He is All-knowing.
Seeker of Truth: Indeed, it is true that you believe the Messiah to possess knowledge, and yet, in the Gospels the Messiah claims not to possess any knowledge. But this is not my concern at the current time. [Let us suppose for a moment] I believe in what you say and the Messiah is a god. But this is only a matter of belief. As I have mentioned before, I have come to you as a seeker of truth looking to compare the various creeds of the world to arrive at a conclusion as to which is correct. And since one who searches for the truth does not follow any scripture – it is necessary that they are convinced by logic and reason. As I have already mentioned, if the Messiah is the Word, then he is without knowledge. Either he is not the Word, or if he is, then he is bereft of any knowledge.
Reverend: No doubt this is what logic and reason dictate, but the Gospels differ.
Seeker of Truth: Can one understand the Trinity through logic?
Reverend: Man cannot comprehend Divine reality and nature.
Seeker: God has made the intellect a means of acquiring understanding so how can one believe in anything without intellect. Yes, there are things beyond our intellect, but no Divine religion would expect people to believe in something illogical. I agree with you that human knowledge cannot encompass the reality of God since it is limited, but such beliefs on which our salvation depends must be within our understanding, otherwise the door to salvation will forever be closed to us. For example, belief in the existence of the Almighty is essential for our salvation; and the proof for the existence of God should be such as does not oppose our rationality. We see that in reality, through various means, man’s intellect is compelled to believe in God’s existence. Without this, the mind cannot conceive of the existence of God. Therefore, Divine religions have never sought to dwell on such things. As for Divine attributes, of course they have been mentioned, since they were something that could be grasped. Similarly, according to your beliefs the Trinity is the most integral prerequisite to attain salvation in Christianity; therefore it was essential that it be explained in such a way by means of which the human intellect may grasp it.
Reverend: Yes! This stands to reason but one must first believe in the Gospels then the Trinity.
Seeker of Truth: One can accept the Gospels only if they are satisfied with the tenets of Christianity. How can one accept the Gospels before these issues are resolved?
Reverend: As I have already said, it is difficult to understand the tenets without first accepting the Gospels.
Seeker: All right, the idea of the Trinity cannot be resolved through logic and reason. Then please answer this for me – who conducts the affairs of the universe, God the father or God the son?
Reverend: According to the Gospels it is the responsibility of the Messiah, the son.
Seeker: Does this mean that God the Father is now idle.
Reverend: No. The suspension of Divine attributes is not possible. God the Father administers the heavens and the earth.
Seeker: Reverend! You have just said that it is the Son who governs the universe. Three inferences can be drawn from this: first that one [of the Father and Son] is inactive and in a suspended state whilst the other is active and exercises his responsibilities. But this cannot be accepted as it would necessarily mean the suspension of the attributes of the other entities comprising the Trinity. Secondly, that both the Father and Son divide governance between themselves because they cannot fulfil these responsibilities on their own. This, God forbid, again places limitations on the power of God and is thus unacceptable. The third case is that both do the same things at the same time. This is also unacceptable because God does not engage in superfluous activities.
Reverend: I reiterate that these matters cannot be understood through logic. One must first believe in the Gospels – the Word of God.
Seeker of Truth: How can one study the Gospels when the fundamental principles of Christianity are beyond comprehension? You yourself have admitted that the Trinity cannot be understood through reason. We will beg leave now, as further discussion is futile. There were certain other matters we wished to discuss – perhaps we might converse on them another time.
Reverend: The human intellect cannot encompass Divine existence, we therefore lay greater stress on the principle of atonement. I hope we will continue with our discussion in the future.
We promised to meet again and returned to our lodgings where his answers continued to astound us for a long time.
1. A hill station in the foothills of Himalayas. [Translator]
2. 2 Rev. J.W. Youngson: Principal Scotch Mission High School, Founder Principal Murray College, Sialkot (1889-1891) [Translator]