The influence of German Biblical criticism on Muslim apologetics in the 19th century

by Dr. Christine Schirrmacher

Copyright © 1997 Christine Schirrmacher

From the Festschrift for Rousas John Rushdoony

"Christian Reconstruction means the reordering of every area of life and thought in terms of the whole word of God"[1]

This includes Oriental studies!

This article has been written in remembrance of the suffering of Rushdoony's Armenian family from Islamic persecution.

"Let me add that a powerful factor in my childhood were the stories by escapees of Turkish atrocities against Christians."[2]

The aim of this paper is to trace the development of a new Muslim view of Christianity in the 19th century, which still has an enormous impact on today's Muslim apologetical works. The composition of anti-Christian books has changed in character due to the achievement of a different view of Christian dogmas and Christianity itself in the 19th century[3].

The development of Muslim-Christian polemics dates back to an event in the middle of the 19th century. On the 10th and 11th of April in 1854 we find ourselves in the schoolroom of the British missionary agency 'Church Missionary Society' (CMS) in Agra, India, among several hundred Muslims and Europeans, mostly Christian missionaries, but also a few government officials of the British colonial power. They had all gathered in order to listen to a public debate initiated by the Muslim community of Agra. The debate was carried out between the German missionary, Karl Gottlieb Pfander (1803-1865), coming out of the pietistic movement in Württemberg, Swabia, and an Indian Muslim Shî'î theologian, Rahmatullâh Ibn Khalîl al-'Uthmânî al-Kairânawî (1818-1891)[4]. Despite the fact that this debate took place nearly 150 years ago, both of the opponents are still well remembered in the Muslim world today pertaining to matters of dialogue. The subject of discussion at this public debate, which lasted for two days, was mainly the deviation of the Christian scriptures (tahrîf)[5].

The challenger of the debate in 1854 was the Muslim theologian al-Kairânawî, who intended to publicly demonstrate the inferiority of Christianity and make it clear once and for all that Muslims should not be shaken in their faith because of the proclamation of the Christian creed by Protestant missionaries in India in the past decades.

India had been opened to Protestant Christian missionary activities by a decree of the British Parliament in 1813, and the first Anglican Bishop was secretly consecrated on 8th of May 1814 in Lambeth Palace, Calcutta[6]. In 1832/1833 non-British missionary agencies were allowed to follow and began to establish their net of Christian mission all over India, more or less officially supported by the Britains. It is interesting enough that the Shî'î al-Kairânawî represented himself in 1854 as the defender of the Muslim religion and obviously was accepted as such by the whole Muslim community.

Although it was planned to extend the discussion to subjects of the Trinity (tathlîth), the Qur'ân being the Word of God and the sending of the prophet Muhammad, the debate did not proceed further than the deviation of the Christian scriptures. The discussion centred on this point of controversy: al-Kairânawî insisted that the Christian scriptures had been abrogated and tried to prove this with examples taken out of the Bible itself, while the Christian missionaries persistently affirmed the integrity of the Old and New Testament. After two days the opponents seperated and "both sides claimed the victory"[7]. Also a few conversions to Christianity took place following the debate. Besides the well known Safdar 'Alî[8], who was baptized in 1864, perhaps the most famous Muslim convert to Christianity in India had been 'Imâd ud-Dîn (ca. 1830-1900), who was baptized in 1866, and ordained as an Anglican priest in 1872[9]. He had been involved in mosque-preaching against Christian missionary work before and afterwards wrote several apologetical works against Islam such as the famous book 'Guidance for Muslims' (hidâyat al-muslimîn) or 'Inquiry into the Faith' (tahqîq al-imân).

But why is this 1854-debate of such significance? Have there not been many more debates before and up until the present which have concentrated again and again on the main points of encounter between Islam and Christianity, like the deviation of the Christian scriptures (tahrîf)?

The 1854 Agra-debate is a historical milestone. Experts of the religious situation of India in the 19th century have asserted: "... there was in these days no debate on the scale of the high drama of the Rahmatullâh-Pfander debates of the 1850s"[10]. I will attempt to analyse the significance of this Muslim-Christian debate in India and its effects on future Muslim apologetical works.

Significance of place and time

Concerning the 19th century onwards Jacques Waardenburg has written:

"we see another period of confrontation, now mostly political, between Muslim states and the expanding West, heir to Christian tradition. In this time we witness a growing polemics of Islam, at first linked with the national movements, against religions like Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism ...[11]"

This is perfectly true for India: In the 19th century Agra, the former symbol of the Mughal power developped into one of the centres of Muslim learning and culture in India. The British government transformed it into their administration centre of the North-West-Provinces. In addition, the British government allowed foreign Mission agencies to enter the country. Especially in Agra, mostly British missionaries were stationed and they opened a huge orphanage after a disastrous famine in the year 1837. Several children were baptized as Christians, so that the growing influence of the Christian mission was universally recognized. In Agra itself several polemical Christian books against the Muslim creed had been published[12]. All of these facts made the Muslim population extremely aware of the presence of Westerners and missionaries as an instrument of British colonialism.

So we find ourselves in the heat of Christian-Muslim tensions in Agra in the middle of the 19th century: the Muslim 'ulamâ' felt threatened by the presence of European Christian missionaries and during the 1840s and 1850s underwent a severe crisis due to the decline of values of their own religion and culture. Different parties gathered in the middle of the 19th century in Agra and various lines intersected at this historical turning point: 1) the representatives of India's colonial power, being Great Britain the protector of the European missionaries, 2) the German pietist and Protestant missionary Pfander himself, his co-workers and perhaps a few of his converts, 3) representatives of the Anglican church, who were neither against the debate nor wholeheartedly supported it. Thomas Valpy French (1825-1891) should be named, who later became the first Anglican bishop of Lahore. He himself was not overly convinced of the benefit or the necessitiy of open encounter and proselytizing, but having been challenged by the Muslim theologians, was determined to defend the integrity of the Bible[13]. 4) There were Catholic missionaries in Agra, who obviously disliked the work of their Protestant colleagues and materially supported Muslims who helped them to refute the Protestant missionaries, and 5) the Muslim audience, including Shî'îs and Sunnis, while the Shî'î theologian al-Kairânawî prepared himself to defend the Muslim creed against Christian mission with the help of Dr. Muhammad Wazîr Khân, having worked since 1851 in a British medical hospital. He had received parts of his medical training in Great Britain where he collected material in order to prove Christianity to be false.

Significance of individuals involved in the controversy

Karl Gottlieb Pfander (1803-1865)

The German missionary Karl Gottlieb Pfander, who was involved in the controversy, was a few decades after his death still considered as "the greatest of all missionaries to Mohammedans"[14] or "one of the most interesting figures among the Missionaries to Muhammedans of the 19th century"[15].

In the West, he remained nevertheless quite unknown until the very present, but especially his controversial book 'Balance of Truth' (mîzân al-haqq) is still a current topic of debate in the Muslim world today. This apologetical work, written in 1829, originally in German[16] in refutation of Islam, intends to convince its readers of the supreme values of Christianity, mostly by defending the integritiy of the Old and New Testament and refuting the Muslim charge of the deviation of the Christian scriptures (tahrîf). After its first publication in 1831 in Armenian it was quickly translated into at least half a dozen Muslim languages, including e. g. Urdu (1840), Persian (1835), Turkish (1862) and Arabic (1865)[17] and has had an enormous influence. This book 'Balance of Truth' (mîzân al-haqq) still is both quoted by and refuted by Muslim apologists today. It has remained a subject of controversy in the Muslim world. Twelve years after Pfander's death, a participant of the Agra-debate of 1854 wrote: "He has passed away, but the stir and movement he exited has not passed ..."[18].

'Balance of Truth' (mîzân al-haqq), the "standard work of encounter between Christianity and Islam[19]" was used by generations of Christian missionaries as an apologetical tool to refute Islam, and for this reason was reprinted many times up until the present. Despite the fact that we also hear severe critiques concerning the work, especially in the 20th century[20], we can date the last Arabic and English reprints back to the year 1986[21], and these reprints are still used today for missionary activities among Muslims.

The author of the book, Karl Gottlieb Pfander, having been stationed as missionary of the British mission agency CMS in India from 1837-1857, was requested on the 10th of April, 1854 by Muslim theologians of Agra to publicly defend the Christian dogma of the integrity of the Bible. In fact, it was he himself who had opened the discussion by public preaching on the bazars, by writing and distributing books for several years. It should also be noted that Pfander tried to prove the high value which the Qur'ân attributes to the Bible with the help of Qur'ânic statements. He also quoted Muslim commentators in order to hint at the difference of their judgement about Christianity: "... the Christians were trying to show that in the Qur'ân itself Muhammad shows respect for Christianity and veneration for its beliefs and teachings.[22]"

Rahmatullâh Ibn Khalîl al-'Uthmânî al-Kairânawî (1818-1891)

Nevertheless, Pfander's opponent is much more interesting for the theme of Muslim-Christian historical encounter:

The Shî'î theologian Rahmatullâh Ibn Khalîl al-'Uthmânî was engaged in the battle against the presence of Christian missionaries in India from the beginning of the 1850s, and in 1855 had already written three polemical works against Christianity in order to defend Islam, probably with the help of the Bengali physician Muhammad Wazîr Khân. al-Kairânawî and Wazîr Khân belong to the most outstanding figures of Indian Muslim defense against Christian mission in the 19th century. They came into contact at the beginning of the 1850s in connection with their apologetical work. In 1854 both of them took part in the public Agra-debate, al-Kairânawî being the challenger and the leader of the discussion, Muhammad Wazîr Khân acting as interpreter between the Urdu and English speaking participants.

The influence of al-Kairânawî on 19th century Muslim views of Christianity

al-Kairânawîs influence is not restricted to this single event in Agra. This was only a prelude to his future impact, which is due to his written works. When it comes to Muslim apologetics, al-Kairânawî certainly comes to mind: The reason for this is his famous book 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq), which he composed as a response to Pfander's 'Balance of Truth' (mîzân al-haqq). Written in Arabic in 1867 by request of the Ottoman sultan Abdülaziz I. (1861-1876)[23], the book has seen several translations into Turkish (1876/1877), French (1880), English (ca. 1900), Urdu (1968), i. e. into almost the same languages as Pfanders 'Balance of Truth' (mîzân al-haqq) has been translated. Like 'Balance of Truth', the book 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq) has been reprinted up until the present. In 1964 a new edition came out, supervised by the 'Department for Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco', and a foreword was added by the adab-professor 'Umar ad-Dasûqî. The last Arabic editions date from the year 1978; one of the two was authorized by the late Shaikh 'Abd al-Halîm Mahmûd of al-Azhar-University, Cairo. In 1989 a short version in English came into being, published by Ta-Ha Publishers in London.

Only a few polemical Muslim works have become as famous as al-Kairânawîs 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq). It has been stated: "The first great classic of modern Muslim polemic has never been superseded"[24].

Ignaz Goldziher reported that during his visit in 1877 in Damascus, everybody was talking of al-Kairânawîs 'Demonstration of the Truth'[25]. Undoubtedly, the book played a key role for Muslim polemics in the past but it is still currently on the 'top ten' of Muslim apologetical works. Concerning the significance of the book, Georges C. Anawati wrote in 1969: "C'est le grand ouvrage de base qui a servi et continue à servir d'arsenal pour les apologistes musulmans de la fin du 19e siècle jusqu'à nos jours"[26], and again in 1981: "... et aujourd'hui encore, il reste le livre par excellence où les musulmans traditionalistes et peu ouverts au christianisme, puisent leurs arguments"[27].

Concerning al-Kairânawîs book 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq) it was stated in 1968: "The editor of the Urdu version has expressed the strong opinion that nothing written in the intervening hundred years on the theme of Islam and Christianity has replaced the books which were generated in the mind of Maulânâ Rahmat Allâh Kairânawî by the situation of extreme tension which faced the 'ulamâ' of northern India in the first half of the 19th century[28]"

The popularity of this apologetical work is also due to the fact that only a very cautious Shî'î coulouring can be found in the book. As far as it can be seen in the different editions form 1867 onwards, the reason for this is not any revision, but is rather the original tone of al-Kairânawî himself, who only once hinted at his own Shî'î background when dealing with hadîth. Therefore it could become the standard work of Muslim apologetics as well as in in 'orthodox' circles like al-Azhar.

In order to realize the influence of 'The Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq), it can be noted that the Sunni 19th century 'reform-wing' theologian Rashîd Ridâ made extensive use of al-Kairânawîs book when dealing with Christianity. Coming to the question of Muhammad's mission, he quoted the famous 'Abduh/Ridâ Qur'ân commentary 'Exegesis of the wise Qur'ân' (tafsîr al-qur'ân al-hakîm) about 60 pages from al-Kairânawîs 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq)[29]. Another name of a Muslim polemicist, making use of it, which should be mentioned is Muhammad Muhammad Abû Zahra[30]. In his famous 'Lectures on Christianity' (muhâdarât fî n-nasrânîya) he made use of al-Kairânawîs commentaries on the Christian creed[31].

Reasons for the influence of izhâr al-haqq

The very reason for the immense influence of al-Kairânawîs book 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq) can be found in his developing of a new method to prove Islam to be the only true religion: it is quite obvious that al-Kairânawî does not restrict the defense of Islam to a mere devalutation of the Christian creed or to a praise of Islam. al-Kairânawî took advantage of the new orientation of European theology which had taken place especially during the 19th century. From a former conservative standpoint in regard to the integrity of the Christian scriptures, European theology had undergone a rapid change to a more and more critical standpoint regarding the reliability of historical and textual questions especially since the 19th century. Critical and liberal standpoints found their way into universities and churches. In this evolution Germany was the forerunner for the whole Christian Occident. Numerous theological liberal works appeared and found their way into the Muslim world rather quickly.

al-Kairânawî was - ostensibly - the very first apologist in the Muslim world who refered to these books and Bible commentaries in order to fight Christianity with its own weapons. For the first time, he used different works of famous European theologians who were influenced by liberalism and historical criticism of European theology of the 19th century. During the Agra-debate, al-Kairânawî quoted these representatives of liberalism in order to show the conservative missionaries that Christian theology had already produced evidence that the Bible is unreliable.

European theology and philosophy influences Muslim apologetics

This is not the only example where the Muslim world borrowed fruits of European theology or philosophy which affirmed Islam. Before the 19th century, there had been a movement in European theology which was called rationalism. Representatives of German rationalism, e. g. Karl Friedrich Bahrdt (1741-1792) or the famous Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus (1761-1851) maintained that Jesus Christ has been crucified, but they neglected that he had really died on the cross; a standpoint which is again an 'outside' position today. Bahrdt writes at the end of the 19th century:

"This is my opinion on this last part of the history of Jesus. Jesus has been put to death: he underwent all the sufferings of an evil-doer, he endured the suffering of death, but he overcame death - he came from death to life - he came out of the mausoleum ... on the third day after having been put to death ... and he has shown himself to his disciples as somebody being revived from the dead"[32].

It is possible, even if not probable, that the Ahmadîya-standpoint (the Ahmadîya being a Muslim sect of Indian-Pakistani origin) of Jesus having died a natural death in India after he survived his crucifixion, did not originate in Islam itself, but was fostered by developments in Europe like rationalism; Muslim apologists claimed: "European theologians and scientists have proven that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion".

Some Christian university theologians even went so far as the climax of theological liberalism, which is, historically spoken, connected with enlightenment, that they neglected Jesus as a historical figure or at least his deity or his being part of the trinity. Muslim apologists have used these theories as proofs for their old affirmation that according to Sura 4,157-158 Jesus never died on the cross, even if he was perhaps crucified, which is doubtful.

The Gospel of Barnabas confirms Muslim apologists

Doubts of European theologians and philosophers concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ or concerning the reliabilty of the four canonical gospels also played a key role when the 'Gospel of Barnabas' was defended in numerous books and pamphlets by Muslim apologists as the only true Gospel of Jesus Christ mostly in the 20th century. Muslims had mostly taken over positive statements about the value of the 'Gospel of Barnabas' by European critics of conservative theology of the 18th and 19th century, while at the same time Christian missionaries tried to prove that it is impossible to date this Gospel back to the first centuries A.D. The 'Gospel of Barnabas' proves that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross; Judas was transformed into the likeness of Jesus and crucified, while everybody thought he was Jesus himself; so the Qur'ân is again affirmed in his refutation of the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Qur'ân is confirmed by 'objective' 'scientific' results: Muslim apologists name European theologians or philosophers like the well-known English deist John Toland (1670-1722), who positively mentioned the announcement of Muhammad in the Gospel of Barnabas. Muslim apologists concentrate on European authors who, on the one hand trace the Gospel of Barnabas back to the first centuries and herewith accept its value and who, at the same time doubt and critique the integrity of the Bible and the inspiration of the Old and New Testament[33].

It is possible that al-Kairânawî himself 'brought' the 'Gospel of Barnabas' to the Moslem world by mentioning it for the first time in 1854 in his Urdu work i'jâz-i 'Isâwî[34] and afterwards in 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq) from 1867 onwards as an old Christian Gospel which fortells the coming of the prophet Muhammad. In the middle of the 19th century, the 'Gospel of Barnabas' was not even published as a whole. Only a few fragments were known to the Western world when al-Kairânawî used it as a weapon against the Christian rejection of Muhammad, who had been foretold from the beginning of revelation. It is quite probable that Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ, who defended the Gospel as the only surviving reliable Gospel of the time of Jesus, and who published the first Arabic edition of the Gospel of Barnabas in 1908 under the title 'True Gospel' (al-injîl as-sahîh), was led to this Gospel through the work of al-Kairânawî. Several translations have appeared since 1908 to promote this 'only true Gospel of Jesus Christ' (Urdu 1916, English 1916, Persian 1927, Indonesian 1969, Dutch 1990, German 1994).

Changes of Muslim apologetics are due to developments in European theology

In the 19th century a new wave of criticism emerged in Europe and quickly found its way into the Muslim world. In European universities all miracles reported in the Old and New Testament were called into question, historical events were doubted, the formulation of Christology, trinity, and the deity of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection were discussed from their very foundation. All these doubts and critical remarks of European theology found their way into the Muslim world and were enthusiastically taken as proofs of the traditional Muslim view of a corrupted Christian Bible. This way of arguing against the reliability of the Old and New Testament has marked the form of controversy especially since al-Kairânawî.

During the Agra-debate, this method of controversy was used for the first time. al-Kairânawî confronted the theologically conservative missionary Pfander and his friends in 1854 with the newest results of European critical research. Pfander, who had already left Europe in 1825 as a missionary, had not witnessed the important developments which had taken place in European theology in the 19th century. Moreover, the pupils of the conservative Basel Mission Society (Basler Missionsgesellschaft), where Pfander was educated from 1821-1825, had allowed their pupils to visit the theological seminary at Basel, but had restricted its influence on the candidates[35]. David Friedrich Strauss' world-famous book 'Das Leben Jesu' (The Life of Jesus) was not published until 1835, when Pfander had already been ten years abroad. As the Agra-debate took place in 1854, Pfander had already suspected that his Muslim opponents were busily studying European theological works, but he either underestimated the far-reacting effects of these studies or he did not have enough knowledge himself of these new developments. Pfander wrote concerning his Muslim opponents: "... several of their friends in Delhi, have been for the last two or three years hard at work in studying the Bible, reading the controversial books we have published, and searching out our commentaries and critical writers ..., only to obtain material for refuting it.[36]"

al-Kairânawî and Muhammad Wazîr Khân presented during the Agra-debate the newest critical remarks on textual variations and on contradictions between different biblical texts of the latest theories in Europe. al-Kairânawî seemingly inherited most of his material from Muhammad Wazîr Khân, who received part of his medical training in Great Britain where he came into contact with European theologically critical works. In addition, al-Kairânawî received the latest European works from the Catholic missionaries in India, who strongly disliked the work of their Protestant colleagues[37].

In several polemical works against Christianity in Agra and later on, the Muslim theologian al-Kairânawî presented, for the first time, the latest scientific research from Europe. Against this new sort of attack Pfander was helpless since his books responded to the traditional Muslim charges against Christianity and not to the European results of higher or lower criticism presented from the Muslim side.

Europe did not have the slightest idea about the effects on its theological evolution to the Near East. Protestant missions were comparetively new to the Muslim countries, only dating from the 19th century[38] in which a new branch of Christian mission was extended to the Muslim countries, apart from single attempts in former centuries as for example undertaken by Henry Martyn or Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg. It can be added here that after the debate Pfander sought in Basel European authors who were refuting these theories, but only in order to demonstrate to the Muslim polemicists that the standpoint of these theologians is only one part of the prism of European theology[39].

Apart from the Agra-debate, we are able to witness that al-Kairânawî developed this method of proving the corruption of the Bible with European voices. In his book 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq), al-Kairânawîs draws all the evidence from European sources he can procure: he quotes Luther's critical attitude concerning the pope and King Henry VIII of England, European critical remarks on the apostle Paul's devastating influence on early Christianity, he refers to doubts among theologians as to whether the epistles of Jacob or Judas belong to the original biblical canon or not, he criticizes the forming of dogmas on the first Christian councils like Nicea about three hundred years after the death of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he refers to doubts about the authorship of the books of Moses, Josua, Judges, etc. When he comes to the genealogies of Christ, he detects "errors and contradictions", "absurdities" in the narrative of Eliah being fed by ravens, and he quotes commentaries on the Bible from Eichhorn, Horne, or Henry and Scott. I could continue with hundreds of contradictions al-Kairânawî 'detects' between single biblical texts[40]. In six thick volumes, 'The Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq) served as a summary of all possible charges against Christianity and was therefore used after al-Kairânawî's death as a sort of encyclopaedia since al-Kairânawî extended the material of former polemicists like 'Ali Tabarî, Ibn Hazm or Ibn Taymiyya to a great extent.

European theology changes Muslim views of Christianity

Here it is obvious that al-Kairânawî has changed the former Muslim view of the deviation of the Christian scriptures (tahrîf) and the Muslim view of Christianity as a whole: The dogma of the deviation of the Christian scripture (tahrîf) should, according to al-Kairânawî, no longer be understood as mere single alterations in the texts of the Old and New Testament, which had crept into the texts throughout the process of copying them during the centuries. Apologists in former times only criticized certain biblical dogmas such as the trinity or the dogma of the deity of Jesus Christ as the Qur'ân itself does. al-Kairânawî expanded the Qur'ânic criticism of the corruption of the Bible to a much larger extent. Leading Muslim apologists now follow the example of al-Kairânawîs 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq) and take over the 'results' of the textual studies of European theologians. al-Kairânawî came to the conclusion that the biblical texts are totally distorted, corrupted and unreliable in all their historical, dogmatical and narrative passages. This is for al-Kairânawî no matter of dispute, since the Christian 'ulamâ' of Europe themselves admit the complete distortion of all biblical texts. So al-Kairânawî and his followers feel confirmed in the traditional Muslim view that the Bible is corrupted just as the Qur'ân states. Muslim apologists have known this for centuries already, but now European theologians have confirmed it themselves through scientific studies in history, geology or archeology.

The effect of this use of European theology can be summarized: in today's Muslim apologetical works against Christianity we find numerous results of the severe studies in textual exegesis and different sciences undertaken in the West. With this transformation of the dogma of the deviation of the Christian scripture (tahrîf) in Christianity and the acknowledgment of European theology serving as a proof for the Muslim statements, the whole Muslim view of Christianity has changed. In former times, only certain dogmas of Christianity had to be refuted, but Christianity as a whole contained the same message as Islam. Now Christianity seems to have been proven to be corrupted as a whole: if Christian scientists and theologians in the West determine, that it is untenable to believe in this collection of fanciful stories and legends originating in heathenism or Greek Platonic philosophy, it is no longer tenable to praise this revelation. Muslim apologists only take seriously what the religious authorities of Christianity have discovered about their own creed. In contrast to this great error, Islam is the religion of understanding and intelligence. The Islamic dogmas are clear, understandable and reasonable.

Furthermore, we witness that Muslim polemical works following the al-Kairânawî-Pfander-battle always pursue this fundamental attitude: Christian theologians themselves admit, that the Old and New Testament is not inspired by God as we have it today, but both parts of the Bible are full of errors, misconceptions, contradictions, absurdities if not willfull distortions. Thus Muslim theologians are confirmed in their interpretation of the Christian Scriptures.

We can witness this form of controversy today when it comes to Muslim apologetical works: Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ used the results of European theological studies in his Qur'ân commentary 'tafsîr'. For him the apostle Paul is especially guilty for having introduced heathenism into Christianity. It was not until the council of Nicea in the year 325 A. D. that the dogma of trinity and redemption through the crucifixion of Jesus was established. With this development, the dogma of the unity of God (tauhîd) was replaced by polytheism (shirk)[41]. We witness the same tendency in Abû Zahras 'Lectures on Christianity' (muhâdarât fî-n-nasrânîya): Jesus Christ himself preached monotheism, but this dogma was distorted by the influence of syncretism, new-Platonic and Greek philosophy and Roman heathenism[42]. Ahmad Shalaby considers Christianity as a mixture of heathenism and of the convictions of the apostle Paul[43] and Jesus' miracles narrated in the four Gospels as unreliable[44].

Elwood M. Wherry remarks according to his personal view of course concerning the beginning of the 20th century: "The Muslims were obliged to abandon their own works and endeavour to save the day by a counter assault, in which they scrupled not to use the stock arguments of European infidelity in their effort to overthrow the authority of the Christian Scriptures. This characteristic has marked the Muslim method of controversy ever since.[45]"


1. In the 19th century a Muslim-Christian debate took place far away from the traditional centres of Muslim learning. In Agra in 1854, probably for the first time, Muslim theologians used European critical works as proofs against Christian missionaries.

2. The 19th century marks a turning point when it comes to Muslim apologetics: the Muslims developed a completely new method to prove Christianity to be the 'false religion' with the help of European sources being mainly Christian theological works (e. g. Bible commentaries).

3. After the publication of al-Kairânawîs 'Demonstration of the Truth' (izhâr al-haqq) this method of controversy became common among Muslim apologists such as Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ or Muhammad Muhammad Abû Zahra to prove the traditional charge of the deviation of the Christian scriptures (tahrîf).

4. The deviation of the Christian scriptures (tahrîf) is the center of Christian-Muslim apologetics of the 19th century (Christology or redemption the center of apologetics in the 20th century).

5. This leads to a new Muslim view of Christianity during the 19th century. The dogmas of Christianity are no longer distorted in fragments but rather as a whole.

[1] Quoted from Committees of Correspondence Dec, 1991, Update #1, p. 3

[2] From a letter by Rousas John Rushdoony printed in John Graham Child, Biblical Law in the Theology of R. J. Rushdoony: A Systematic Theological Analysis and Appreciation, (Master of Theology: University of South Africa, 1985), 323

[3] The following text is based on material of my dissertation C. Schirrmacher, Mit den Waffen des Gegners, Christlich-Muslimische Kontroversen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, dargestellt am Beispiel der Auseinandersetzung um Karl Gottlieb Pfanders 'mîzân al-haqq' und Rahmatullâh ibn Khalîl al-'Uthmânî al-Kairânawîs 'izhâr al-haqq' und der Diskussion über das Barnabasevangelium (Berlin, 1992)

[4] For a more detailed description of the debate see e. g. A. A. Powell, Contact and Controversy between Islam and Christianity in Northern India 1833-1857: The Relations between Muslims and Protestant Misisonaries in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh (unpubl. Ph.D. thesis) (London, 1983), 273 f.

[5] Arabic theological terms in brackets

[6] H. H. Dodwell (ed.), The Cambridge History of India, (New Delhi, 1932), 6:124

[7] E. Stock, "The C.M.S. Missions to Mohammedans", The Muslim World, 2/1912, pp. 128; W. H. T. Gairdner, The Reproach of Islam (London, 1909), 248

[8] The story of Safdar 'Alis conversion to Christianity appeared in Church Missionary Intelligencer, 2 NS/July 1866, pp. 215-221. Parts of his own report of his conversion are published in D. R. Paul, Lights in the World, Life Sketches of Maulvi Safdar Ali and the Rev. Janni Alli (sic) (Lucknow, 1969), 20-23+28-30

[9] The German magazine of the Basle Mission Society EMM (Evangelisches Missions-Magazin) published the story of his conversion under the title "A Mohammedan brought to Christ, being the Autobiography of a Native Clergyman in India" (14/1871, pp. 397-412), being probably a summary of his own tract dealing with his conversion in Urdu, which was republished in 1957 in Lahore and 1978 in Vanyambadi.

[10] N. Gupta, Delhi between two Empires 1803-1931, Society, Government and Urban Growth (Delhi, 1981), 79

[11] J. Waardenburg, "World Religions as seen in the Light of Islam", in ed. A. T. Welch; P. Cachia, Islam: Past Influence and Present Challlenge (Edinburgh, 1979), 248

[12] See A. A. Powell, "Maulânâ Rahmat Allâh Kairânawî and Muslim-Christian Controversy in India in the Mid-19th Century", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20/1976, pp. 42-63

[13] S. Neill, A History of Christianity in India 1707-1858 (Cambridge, 1985), 344

[14] Church Missionary Society (ed.), One Hundred Years, Being the Short History of the Church Missionary Society (London, 1898), 78

[15] Transl. from: J. Richter, Mission und Evangelisation im Orient, (Gütersloh: 1908/1930), 71

[16] The original handwritten text is still to be found in the archives of the Basle Mission Society headquarter (Basler Mission), Switzerland.

[17] In Turkey, where Pfander was missionary from 1858-1865, "the circulation of the Mîzân seems to have brought matters to a crisis..." (Pfander's letter of 16th Sept 1862 to the CMS, Doc. No. 63a; archives of Heslop Room/University of Birmingham). The Ottoman government resolved to expel all missionary agencies in consequences of the baptism of several converts to Christianity by Pfander and his co-workers in the year 1864.

[18] H. Birks, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, First Bishop of Lahore (London, 1895), 1: 70

[19] Transl. from H. R. Flachsmeier, Geschichte der evangelischen Weltmission (Giessen, 1963), 446

[20] See e. g. L. L. Vander Werff, Christian Mission to Muslims: The Record, Anglican and Reform Approaches in India and the Near East 1800-1938 (Pasadena, 1977), 42; E. Kellerhals, Der Islam. Seine Geschichte, seine Lehre, sein Wesen (Basel, 1956 2nd ed.: 334 f.

[21] The Publishers of the 1986 English edition wrote in their introduction to the book: "Perhaps the way of discussion seems questionable to some theologians in our century, but until today the book touches the central points in sincere dialogue between Muslims and Christians". "The Publishers", Introduction, in C. G. Pfander, D. D., The Mîzân-ul-Haqq, Balance of Truth (Villach, 1986)

[22] H. G. Dorman, Toward Understanding Islam (Edinburgh, 1948), 31

[23] Ahmad Hijâzî as-Saqqâ (ed.), Rahmat Allâh al-Hindî, izhâr al-haqq (Cairo: 1978), 29-30. al-Kairânawî had to go into exile because the British government suspected him to have participated in the anti-British revolt of 1857. al-Kairânawî fled to Mekka, and when the Ottoman sultan made his pilgrimage (hajj) to Mekka at the beginning of the 1860ies, he was informed about the events in India of 1854. al-Kairânawî had to stay in Mecca until his death in 1891.

[24] H. G. Dorman, op. cit., p. 44

[25] Goldziher wrote: "Während meines Aufenthaltes in der umajjadischen Chalifenstadt übte eine enorme Zugkraft auf das Lesepublikum aus das arabisch geschriebene polemische Werk izhâr al-haqq von dem indischen Muhammedaner Sheikh Rahmat Allâh gegen die mîzân al-haqq betitelte Missions- und Controversschrift eines englischen Predigers des Evangeliums, welcher mit den Geschützen christlicher Theologie die Bollwerke des Islam erschüttern wollte." I. Goldziher, "Ueber muhammedanische Polemik gegen Ahl al-kitâb", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 32/1878, pp. 343-344

[26] G. C. Anawati, "Polémique, Apologie et Dialogue Islamo-Chrétiens", Positions Classiques Médiévales et Positions Contemporaines, Euntes Docete, 22/1969, pp. 420

[27] G. C. Anawati, Les grands courants de la pensée religieuse musulmane dans l'Égypte comtemporaine, in: G. C. Anawati; M. Borrmans, Tendences et courants dans l'Islam arabe contemporain, vol. 1: Égypte et Afrique du Nord, Entwicklung und Frieden, Wissenschaftliche Reihe, (München, 1982), 26: 58

[28] A. A. Powell, "Maulânâ Rahmat Allâh Kairânawî and Muslim-Christian Controversy in India in the Mid-19th Century", loc. cit., p. 63

[29] Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ (ed.), tafsîr al-qur'ân al-hakîm (Cairo: 1347/1928, 1st ed., 9: 231-293)

[30] This is mentioned by the editor of one of the newest editions of izhâr al-haqq: Ahmad Hijâzî as-Saqqâ (ed.), Rahmat Allâh al-Hindî, izhâr al-haqq, loc. cit., p. 33

[31] Quotations of al-Kairânawî by Muhammad Muhammad Abû Zahra in his muhâdarât fî-n-nasrânîya (Cairo, 1966) 3rd ed., 32

[32] Translated from: K. F. Bahrdt, Ausführungen des Plans und Zweks (sic) Jesu (Berlin: 1784-1793), 10: 187

[33] E. g. J. Toland, Christianity Not Mysterious (London, 1696) had a rationalistic understanding of the wonders narrated in the Bible. In his work 'Nazarenus' he attributes at the same time a great probability to the Gospel of Barnabas going back to the very first centuries A. D.: J. Toland, Nazarenus or Jewish, Gentile and Mahometan Christianity (London, 1718). He defended the Gospel of Barnabas against the common charge from the Christian side as being a willfull forgery of a renegade of the Middle Ages: "How great ... is the ignorance of those, who make this an original invention of the Mahometans". J. Toland, Nazarenus, loc. cit., p. 17 or: "After this mature examination I coul'd safely say, that this Gospel might in the main be the antient Gospel of Barnabas ...". J. Toland, Tetradymus (London, 1720) 148

[34] Rahmatullâh Ibn Khalîl al-'Uthmânî al-Kairânawî, i'jâz-i 'Isâwî (Agra, 1853/Delhi 1876)

[35] Teachers of the Basel Mission Seminary thought about the lectures at Basel university, given from one of the most famous theologians of the 19th century and representative of biblical criticism, Wilhelm Martin Lebrecht de Wette (1780-1849): "Doch trug man Bedenken, sie bei De-Wette hospitieren zu lassen und sie so in die historische Kritik einzuführen. Überhaupt fürchtete man, die Zöglinge möchten aus diesen Vorlesungen nicht denjenigen Gewinn davontragen, der dem Zeitaufwand entspräche". P. Eppler, Geschichte der Basler Mission 1815-1899 (Basel, 1900) 16-17

[36] undated letter, perhaps to Thomas Valpy French, participant of the Agra-debate 1854: H. Birks, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, op. cit., 1: 71

[37] E. Stock, The History of the Church Missionary Society its Environment, its Men and its Work (London, 1899-1916), 2: 171

[38] The 19th century is called the 'Missionsjahrhundert' (century of mission) in Europe because of the founding of numerous Protestant missionary agencies and seminaries for the education and sending of missionaries to foreign countries.

[39] He asked for the books in a letter to his former school in Basel "... um den Mohammedanern, die sich mit denselben gar sehr brüsten, zu zeigen, daß diese Neologen und Pantheisten weit über den Koran hinausgehen und also gefährliche und schlechte Hilfsgenossen seien, teils um nachzuweisen, daß Strauß und Konsorten längst ihre Widerlegung gefunden haben..." C. F. Eppler, D. Karl Gottlieb Pfander, Ein Zeuge der Wahrheit unter den Bekennern des Islam (Basel, 1888), 152

[40] It is true what H. G. Dorman states for the real apologetical literature until the present time: "Through most of this material there moves a strain of suspicion and resentment. In only a few of the books is there an open friendliness in the approach. For the most part the polemists are fighting hard to win a declared battle and to overthrow the enemy. There is surprisingly little difference from the classical polemical methods of the earlier centuries." H. G. Dorman, op. cit., p. 113

[41] Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ, al-manâr 10/1325-1326, p. 386

[42] Muhammad Muhammad Abû Zahra in his muhâdarât fî-n-nasrânîya, loc. cit., p. 11

[43] Ahmad Shalaby, muqâranat al-adyân, Vol. 2: al-masîhîya, (Cairo, 1965) 2nd ed.: 64

[44] viz. p. 62

[45] E. M. Wherry, The Mohammedan Controversy (London, 1905), 2

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