Copyright
H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

The life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore online

. (page 37 of 46)
Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 37 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


raise up the foundations of many generations,' &c.

The other mosques are removed by a great distance from this
proud and very ambitious erection, in which it seems as if all
their costliest and most exquisite and laborious efforts had been
expended. Some of them are in rather a ruinous and crumbled
condition ; one only is richer in colouring and mosaic, and in
rich pattern and artistic design, if I judge rightly. I was
disappointed to find the zaviya (which means comer, but is used
for a joint monasteiy and school and place of retirement for old
and learned or saintly men) connected with my favourite author,
Abd-ul-Kadir, quite deserted, apparently, this morning by men ;
only two or three women clothed in black, face and all, made



Digitized by



Google



KAIROWAN 339

their appearance and apologized for the absence of the old
devotees, absorbed in their studies and devotions, I suppose.
I thought if I could have got hold of some of these, their more
reverent regard for our Lord than many of their brethren might
have opened a door for sympathy and attention to the gospel
message. However, I was disappointed in this to-day; only
in two other places, one the outer gate of a mosque, I got
a fairly attentive audience ; and the more learned hearers repeated
the substance in more popular and indigenous vernacular to the
less educated, which is really a great help to me. Often the
words are equally well known to me, and so I learn which of
the forms in books are usually employed here. I feel that having
got a little entrance even, and rather kindly reception, in this
strange and weird old city, known for its bigotry, I ought not
to run away from it all at once and visit spots of more general
interest, but where there would be the distraction of a larger
European population, such as Constantino and Bona. I may yet
have other opportunities of visiting these, which I do long to see
rather, Bona especially, as the Hippo of St. Augustine. . . .

To Mrs. French.

Kairowan, Dec 8, 1890.

I have been trying to get an entrance to a number of mosques,
but have only succeeded in three of them in delivering such
poor witness as I am able, and that only to young people, not
to any of the old muallims or imams whom I want to reach.
Yesterday I had a juvenile audience at the gate of the zaviya of
my favourite author, Abd-ul-Kadir, and was encouraged to try
again there to-day ; but I did not find the best disposed of them
in. Sunday, in the afternoon, I had the largest full-grown
congregation, and perhaps the greatest attention ; to day at
a smaller mosque three of the ladies of the family of the imam
invited me to call on the imam, a courteous young mooUah,
confined to his bed by an accident, and by his bedside gathered
a group of men and women, who listened respectfully at least
to the message I brought. But I have not quite a door of
entrance or of utterance, still less of success, given and set open
before me : and I have need to wrestle more with Him who opens
and no man shuts, and shuts and none opens. Still I cannot
regret that I resolved to secure over a full week here, as I ought
to improve at least in the colloquial, if nothing else results :
and I seem at least to be trying and proving my armour afresh,
and to be more in the lines I followed in Kajputana in those
happy days of your close companionship, with the tent all to
ourselves and our babes. It brings them back so fresh again,
and all you bore and ventured for my sake, and for the Gospel's.

My hotel here is a very second-rate one, and there is another
of a much higher order, yet I have nearly all I require, and the

z 2



Digitized by



Google



340 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

bedroom is clean, and with my two shawls and an Arab burnous,
a white woollen over-cloak which I bought in Tunis, as I found
the Koman fathers at Carthage (les P^res Blancs) wear them,
with a sort of white woollen apron also underneath, I can keep
well warm even these cold nights, though I wish I had brought
my little mosquito curtain. So far as I can gather there is not
a single Roman priest here, and the French soldiers and those
in civil employ live utterly irreligious lives, and there are many
children unbaptized. It were well if the Archbishop of Carthage
(La^agerie) could stop and supervise his flock better instead of
making orations in Europe. I told my host and hostess (French
rustics I should think) that if they or any of their neighbours,
Eoman or Protestant, would like to come in for me to read to
them, I would do my best (I could at any rate be a pere blatic,
which I prefer rather to being a pere noir /). I only have two or
three French Bibles with me, as I came for Arabic work, and
thought there would be little chance of making use of them
among Roman Catholics. The streets are remai'kably clean,
well-levelled, and smooth to the feet, being narrow mostly,
and with lofty, white, T^dndowless walls ; whatever windows
there are looking into the little square courts, also of white clay
or chalked over. The people are very well behaved, even the
children, and I walk through the most retired streets unmolested,
wearing my Afghan choga, which is at least more native-looking,
and my big Arabic Bible is hidden well in its folds — the same
I had always on the study table. There is scarcely a street
without its mosque, and every door of every mosque has its
columns on either side from Christian churches.

I have written to Mr. E. Stock by this mail, expressing my
readiness at least to go and make a report from pei'sonal obser-
vation of Muscat as a mi&sion station, saying also that though
I thought I was too old, and it would be vain-glorious for me
to call myself or be called a leader and founder of a mission
there, yet I might see my way, if God prospered me, to
accompany the founders and share in their counsels, and use
the Eastern languages I have toiled so much to acquire. This
seemed all I could well say. I have also obsei-ved that I fear
Bishop Blyth will be disappointed that the spheres he proposed
in his diocese, in Cairo and Jerusalem, are set aside. But I think
that I really have waited long enough for some more decisive
action on the bishop's part to fix my destination at some centre
whence action might proceed. I think you will rather like my
being all hut, if not quite, in my old diocese again. Muscat
certainly came twice in my circle of visitation, though on the
way home, being quite worn out, I did not attempt to land.
I have begged also it may be undei*stood that each second
summer I spend, please God, at home with you, for six months
or so. Of these six months I dai-e not hope for many at our age !



Digitized by



Google



KAIROWAN 341

But I feel the next fifteen or sixteen months ought to be given
to uninterrupted Arabic study in Moslem lands, if I am to be
of any real service to the cause. I might therefore spend next
summer in North Africa, in Bona (St Augustine's Hippo),
which is a hill station, much as Murree in India, in the extreme
heat, and in fairly cool summer months visit other Arab centres,
L e. if there is no such retreat near Muscat. I must write to
Bishop Blyth for the next mail and tell him what I purpose.

Northward of this city lies a range of hills, whence rivers
flow to the north coast at intervals, the greatest of them
being the Medjasda, a fine stream with many affluents, and
watering fine fruitful valleys ; through these the French propose
now to cany railways. Southward is the boundless Sahara;
westward one only sees an immense cemetery, where generation
after generation for twelve centuries lie interred ; eastward the
Mediterranean, which makes a sudden curve southward, east
of Cape Bon. If the Society resolves on Muscat and wishes my
help, it will soon be mentioned ; till then I shall be glad for the
plan to be kept seci-et.

Dec. 9. Two long readings and exhortations this morning
with different groups, one headed by a learned man, the mufti
(judge in religious causes), with a forehead and eye of singular
power. I asked him to read some Arabic with me, and answer
some questions as weU as ask others. I think one may well be
ready to do this after our gracious Lord's example. He seems
thus to have acquainted Himself in the temple with the manner
of thought and teaching of those on whom His authoritative
appeals were to be enforced after.

Such first attempts as I am now making must be very much
preparations of myself for bolder summons to repentance and faith.
I am sure St. John Baptist's teaching must be much needed here,

A French lady called this morning and sat some time, well
educated, a widow she said ; she has accompanied her son here,
who has some post, I suppose \ Perhaps she had been sent to
spy out who I was and why come here ? She asked a good deal
about my favourite authors; fortunately she knew the French
biographies I have read so much of, St. Francis de Sales, and
thinks much of Lacordaire and St. Thomas Aquinas, so we got
on pretty well. She Inquired much also about the position of
the English Church towards the Church of Kome. I tried to
say a little which might be of use to her. It is curious to be
so completely shut up to French and Arabic as one is here, not
a word besides — not even Greek, as in Tunis ! There seem no
gardens here, no vegetables in the bazaar, and but little fruit,
except a few dates, olives, early oranges. I must close here, as
I must make another trial to get hearers this afternoon, and



' He afterwards found her son was the chief resident.



Digitized by



Google



342 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

should like to post this first. I take comfort from remembering
that even St, Paul went among the Corinthians at one time with
*fear and mudi trembling/ or else I should despond of myself as
a would-be missionary I

The bishop was so much interested in his work at
Kairowan that he stayed there till Sunday, December 14,
when he had to leave in haste by densely crowded tram
to catch the French mail steamer. On leaving he wrote
to Mrs. French : —

' I trust I may fairly hope to be in Alexandria by Christmas.
I do believe I have been guided thus far. Kairowan has intro-
duced me into plain, direct missionary work such as I have
scarcely had for many years back, except by fits and starts as at
Quettah, Peshawur, Shiraz, and Ispahan, and a few spots in Syria
and Palestine ; but none quite so direct as this.'

In an article written from Muscat for the Indian Church
Quarterly Review, on the 'Moslem in Arabia and North
Africa,' which reached India two days after his death, and
was published posthumously July, 1891, the bishop gave
some further account of the influence of Abd-ul-Kadir and
of the Moslem brotherhoods. Of these latter he wrote : —

'They are said to number a hundred at least, but from the
careful researches of some French writers, who have studied the
subject mostly in its political bearings, it would appear that only
five or six of these have assumed such weight and dimensions as to
be seriously taken into account, and expected to play an important
part in any future struggle between Moslem and Christian powers.

' The greatest of all these is called Senoussiya, or Snoussiya,
from the name of its founder, Sheikh Si-Snoussi, whose son,
Mohammed Ahmed, is the rival Mahdi to the Mahdis who have
encountered us in the Soudan. Djar-Boub (so the French authors
call it), in the veiy heart of Africa, is the head centre and resi-
dence of the chief of this sect, and claimant of the disputed title ;
a magnificent city, it appears, crowded with hosts of suppliant
pilgrims, and enriched with amplest spoils and stores of barbaric
wealth, contributed by the Arab merchants and sheikhs of the
largest territorial possessions. It would be enough to startle and
appal the stoutest if one could implicitly believe all that these
French writers maintain as to the supreme soul-enslaving ascen-
dency by which both father and son, successively heads of the
Senoussiya, hold in chains of iron, cruel and remorseless, the tribes
spread over a large portion of Northern Africa. The city is known
by the name of the "lesser Mecca"; and very many of those
bound on a pilgrimage to Mecca in these regions consecrate their



Digitized by



Google



MOHAMMEDAN BROTHERHOODS 343

vows by a preliminary visit to this place to i-eceive the sheikh's
blessing, whose superior sanctity, however, is said to render him
rarely accessible, the honours and duties of his office being fulfilled
by his younger brother, Mohammed Sharif, the elder brother being
occupied in holding the reins of this vast, despotic, spiritual sway,
receiving despatches and issuing instructions, borne hither and
thither in fabulously rapid marches by a system of camel-riders —
the finest camel-service in the world, it is said. Hundreds of
zaviyas (which word blends in one hospitals, schools, monastic
cells, and places of worship) are spread throughout North Africa,
each under the conduct of a mukaddam, or religious superior,
appointed by the Sheikh Si-Snoussi.

' Thus the Snoussiya stands first and foremost among the con-
freries which have almost metamorphosed, and for good or evil
hold under so potent and inspiring a spell, the myriads of North
Africa. It has concentrated most vigorously and pertinaciously
under one head the great end ever present to the Moslem, **the
Universal Imamat, the Panislamic Theocracy." The Wahhabees,
the sister sect or order, was a desperate effort put forth in the
same direction ; but it was not, it would seem, so perfectly
systematized ; it met with fiercer opposition, and achieved less
decisive success than the Snoussiyas in Africa.

' Personally, the more interesting to me is the brotherhood of
the Kaderiyas or Qadiriyas, the closest and most persistent
followers of the Sheikh Abd-ul-Kadir already referred to. I was
accidentally led to a study of some of his works in Arabic many
years ago, and was struck especially with the deeper spiritual
fervour, and mystic devotion, and intenser thirst of the soul for
nearness to God and fellowship with Him than one finds in
average Moslem works. Most of his life was spent, if his works
are genuine and bespeak his true character, in exercises of prayer,
piety, and charity ; solution of doubts and difficulties ; preaching
of repentance ; exhortation to bear trial, humiliation, and suffer-
ing patiently ; and to submit implicitly to the will of God. In
some of his works, tolerably accessible in India, I came across
some passages singularly expressive of homage to, or at least con-
fidential respect for, our Saviour. Further acquaintance with his
works has made me feel that these terms of respect, sprinkled
here and there at long intervals, are frivolous and superficial
enough, set by the side of the grossly blasphemous and idolatrous
eulogiums he lavishes on the false prophet ; . . . but it is impossible
to doubt that Abd-ul-KAdir was a truly great and remarkable
personality, and that what is recorded of him in its infinite
diversity of incident and variety of expression betokens an un-
broken unity and singular uniqueness of character, which goes far
to account for the excessive homage rendered him over the western
portion of the Mohammedan world. Pilgrims flock to his tomb
year by year at Bagdad, the fact that I was refused admission to



Digitized by



Google



344 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

it, though allowed to have a glance at it from a distant doorway,
proving that the weight his name carries in Bagdad is decisively
anti-Christian, and he is in no way regarded as a witness for
Christ Addressing a small gathering of Moslems at his tomb in
that great city, I could not help invoking him as a witness.
I quoted some words of his to them, and said, "Your sheikh
prayed much ; and he tells us on one occasion, nay, repeatedly he
says the same, * In my prayers to God I have been used to put up
this petition : O Lord, there are two boons I ask Thee to grant
me ; if Thou grant me but these two, I will never ask of Thee
any petition more. First, I ask Thee to give me the death in
which there is no life ; and second, to give me the life in which
there is no death.* "

* On which I naturally remarked, " Your sheikh had probably
very little idea of all that these words imply, if rightly under-
stood ; at any rat.e, you have no conception of the sense. Hear
St. Paul's words in Bomans vi, * Reckon yourselves to be dead
indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ om'
Lord.' If God's good Spirit lay this teaching on your hearts, then
and then only will you have the true and saving interpretation."
And many a time since I have found this word seem at least to
win its way for a gospel message to a Jewish and Moslem heart.
. . . The Tejaniya, or Tijaniya, is another of these communities
whose ranks are swollen by large accessions of recruits. This
confr6rie, however, has one or two noticeable peculiarities. One is
that the practice of mutual affiliation, and the tendency to approxi-
mate to each other s doctrine and ritual, which prevails among
the other communities, finds no place among them, haughty
seclusion and rigid separation being their rule. Another is that
they have cultivated the favourable regard and good offices of the
French invaders by tolerating, and even secretly favouring, the
annexation, and have invariably kept aloof from any conspiracies
fostered by their neighbours to arrest the course of foreign occu-
patioth The French Government, on their part, have not been
slow to appreciate and reward this reasonable, however warily
concealed, disaffection and desertion of the common cause.

*The Shadiliya, or Madaniya, is another brotherhood of some
importance, and Fournel represents it as one of the most bitterly
hostile to the Christian faith and the entrance of the foreigner.
On the contrary, the American missionaries, whose schools
I catechized and visited at Sidon about two years since, spoke of
the readiness of some of the Shadiliya chiefs on some of the lower
heights of Mount Hermon to send their sons to the mission
boarding-schools at Sidon, whose education is on a very high
scale, and the hold on the people considerable.

* It would be far too venturous to attempt to predict at present
what these restless changes indicate as regards the future of the
Moslem and the Chiistian in North Africa. They supply matter



Digitized by



Google



ABD-UL-KADIR 345

at least for anxious thought, and for what is not, I trust, pre-
sumptuous hope. It was impossible not to feel that in some of
the leading communities by which the Arab mind is most forcibly
swayed, both by their mystic and spiritual teachings, and the
extraordinary reverence enteiiained for what seems to them the
superhuman sanctity of the founders, Mohammed's once unques-
tioned and unrivalled supremacy over the Arab heart is losing
ground.

* In Eairowan, the common rendezvous of these confr^ries, you
could not mention the name of Abd-ul-Kadir without observing
the raising of the hearer's hand to his foi'ehead with some word
expressive of marked honour. Mohammed's name called forth no
such action symbolic of devout esteem. The* very fact that a place
has been found in this century in so conservative a race for dis-
quieting movements and widespread searchings of heart is of
itself ominous and significant of further probable change. . . .

' The sheikhs bore with me sometimes when I reminded them
that, with all their wealthy, wide-spread and far-famed brother-
hoods, there was yet one brotherhood, and a far higher and
holier one, which they had deep need to add to those they
had laboured to create, and which would be fraught with richer
blessings, — the brotherhood of the divine Word — the " Word that
was in the beginning with God, and was God." Is it too daring
a hope, one which will flit across one's brain, and shed a glint
and gleam of hope on the heart in happy moments, that, like
as the gi-adual laying to rest of the Arian controversies brought
over from the ranks of heresy some who were to be of the
stoutest and most practised and inflexible champions of the
Christian faith, so from the receding tide of Islam may be
gathered back to us, and be associated with us, some of the most
strenuous and courageous confederates in the Christian warfare ?
What might the results be, under God, of the raising up of
a Christian Abd-ul-Kadir?'

At Goletta, en route for Malta, the bishop first received
the full text of the Lincoln judgement, and wrote enthusi-
astically in its praise : —

To Mrs. Fbekch.

Steamer Uiebes, Dec 17, 189a

The archbishop's judgement will be quite a historical epoch
in Church of England annals: through its complete, compre-
hensive, and most wisely digested and statesmanlike summary
of the questions before the court: which will I hope (or at
least ought to) have the effect of making extreme partisans of
both sides thoroughly ashamed of themselves, and ready to
acknowledge the sound and wise counsels to which the fathers
of our Church have been led, under the guidance, I cannot
doubt, of the Spirit of truth. ... I cannot but heartily praise



Digitized by



Google



346 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

God for the moral and high spiritual basis on which the whole
judgement was founded, in which direction much more was
suggested, and to he read under the lines, than was actually
expressed and outspoken : and especially for the father- like,
yet also judicial and judicious, reproofs administered with the
archbishop's left and right hand to both parties (the violent
among them and the irreconcilables) in their turn : and the
impartiality with which his two edged sword was wielded 1 The
passage on the openness of Church of England ritual and pro-
cedures generally, and its frank, considerate, respectful bearing
towards the laity, is a valuable inheritance bequeathed to our
Church in its battle with Eome, and all that is extreme and
unscriptural in sacerdotalism. If any people ask you what
I thought of the judgement (which probably nobody, at least in
Chislehurst will), you could tell them something of what I have
said : for my heart is full of the subject. It was worthy of
the archbishop's dignity and singular strength of character and
self-reliance <not without heavefv-reliancey I am persuaded), not
to be goaded by impatient and indignant writers in public
journals to precipitate things, and deliver a premature and
half-digested judgement, from which further reflection and study
might compel an unfortunate retreat, disastrous in its results
and destructive of confidence for the future. Even my own
study of the questions had led me very nmch to the same
results: only I had not had it in my power to make any
historical survey of them so wide, and covering practically the
whole ground, and weighing so precisely the proportionate value
of the varied evidence produced.

The bishop reached Egypt upon December 20, and spent
about three weeks in the country, dividing his time in
almost equal parts between Alexandria and Oairo. As usual
he made himself familiar with the mission work of all
kinds in progress at both places, and pursued his studies.
He did but little sight-seeing, except in visiting the great
museum at Gizeh and the famed Moslem university at El
Azhar. On Christmas Day he preached and celebrated the
Holy Communion for the first time in the new church at
Ramleh, erected through the liberality and energy of Mr.
Alderson, whose guest he was. Rumours of the increasing
differences (at that time) between the C. M. S. and Bishop
Blyth, due to the recent publication of a primary charge \

^ These differences led to an episcopal inquiry by the Archbishop of
Canterbury and four assessors, and in their * Letter of Advice ' the action
of the C. M. S. was, in the main points, justified.



Digitized by



Google



ALEXANDER CHARLES MAITLAND 347

strengthened his own determination to go southward to
Muscat, as he was anxious not to get embroiled. When
thus minded he met his old friend, Alexander Maitland,
at Cairo on January i, 1891, his own sixty-sixth birthday.

*From whom,' he said to Mrs. French, * should I find a card
but from Mr. Maitland of Delhi ? ... He seems to think it would
bo a great help and comfort to him to travel a few weeks with
me towards Aden and Muscat. This will be after your mind
every way I think, for you so much wished a companion for
me, and you could scarcely wish me a better than Mr. M. . . .
He saw a notice in the Egyptian paper of my having preached
at Alexandria, so was on the look-out for me. It is a singular



Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 37 of 46)