by Sheik Abdul Aziz
The Central Bible Truth Depot 11, Little Britain, London, E.C.1
Mohammedanism is distinguished from the great world religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism, firstly, by appearing centuries after the beginning of the Christian era; whilst the others date long before the birth of our Lord; and, secondly, because it is the only great religion, outside of Christianity, that aggressively seeks to enlarge its border by missionary zeal. In the case of Mohammedans this takes the line of fanatical holy wars, whereby those they seek to convert have the choice of absolute submission to Mohammedanism, or to be put to death by the sword.
Arabia is the birthplace of Mohammedanism, spreading over Turkey, Egypt, Persia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and the Near East generally. In India and Pakistan there are about 400,000,000 inhabitants, of whom about 80,000,000 are Mohammedans, the rest being mostly Hindus, worshippers of innumerable idols. Even in London there are hundreds of Mohammedans. A mosque and a Mohammedan burial place are to be found at Woking, Surrey.
Mohammed, the founder of Islam (Islam, Arabic, to submit) was born at Mecca, Arabia, about A.D. 570. He was the posthumous son of an almost unknown father, Abdullah by name. His mother died when he was only six years old. He was brought up at first by a grandfather, and later on by an uncle. A rich woman-trader, Khadija by name, put him in charge of her caravans trading with Syria. At twenty-five years of age he married her, a widow of about forty years old.
Early in life he showed signs of a markedly religious disposition. He was given to dreams, practised fasting, retired betimes to caves in Mount Hira near Mecca for seclusion and meditation. It is said that he was subject to fits of epilepsy. He claimed to receive many revelations from God through the agency of the Angel Gabriel. The polytheism, that is the worship of hundreds of thousands of gods, which he saw all around him, he rejected, and emphasised that there is only one God. He refused the Christian faith of three Persons in the one Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and denied the truth of the Scripture which says:
"The LORD (Jehovah, singular) our God (Elohim, plural) is one LORD (Jehovah, singular)." (Deut. 6:4).
At first Mohammed's claims met with little acceptance and much persecution. When about forty years old he moved to Medina, Arabia, with about two hundred adherents, including his wife, Khadija, his cousin, Ali, and his adopted son, Zayd. He was encouraged to take this step, for he had received an invitation from some of his adherents in that town, who had prepared their fellow-townsmen to expect his arrival. This Hegira (Withdrawal) is said to be the real beginning of the Moslem era. At Mecca he was persecuted and his claims refused save by a few, at Medina he became the statesman, the executive, the mouthpiece of the new theocracy.
The Mohammedans trace their descent from Abraham through Hagar's son, Ishmael (Genesis 16). Their great book is the Qur'an or Koran, for which the most extreme verbal, divine inspiration is claimed. In it Jesus is acknowledged to be a great prophet of God, but inferior to Mohammed. They hold that our Lord was born of a virgin, and that He was the promised Messiah. They affirm that as the Koran superseded the Holy Scriptures, so Mohammed superseded our Lord. Mohammed made the most ridiculous claims for himself, saying, "I was a prophet when Adam was still between clay and water." He claimed that God said to him, "Had it not been for thee, I had not have created the world." The Koran contains outstanding inaccuracies, such as the confusing of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, with the virgin Mary; and depicting Haman, chief nobleman at the court of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, as a minister of Pharaoh, King of Egypt. Dr. S. M. Zwemer says, "The Koran has many historical errors, contains monstrous fables, teaches a false cosmogony and is full of superstition."
Islam sanctions slavery and the slave trade, allows each Mohammedan four wives, and the co-habiting with as many female slaves as he may possess. Mohammed at his death (A.D. 632) left nine wives to mourn his loss. The lot of a Mohammedan woman is indeed very sad and melancholy. She is confined to the Zenana (women's part of the house), and is cut off from all communications with the outside world. According to Mohammedan law no part of a woman's body from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet must be exposed to the public gaze. Yashmak, a term meaning a double veil, with slits for the eyes to look through, is one of the very sad sights; a Mohammedan woman, draped from head to foot in enveloping linen, gliding about like a ghost.
The use of the pig for food, alcohol, gambling and usury are strictly forbidden. Circumcision is compulsory, according to Mohammedan law.
To acknowledge one God, who is righteous, and exacts righteousness in the lives of His creatures, on the surface may sound immeasurably better than the million gods of the Hindus. But when we see the fanatical and bitter hatred to Christianity on the part of the Mohammedans, we begin to appraise it at its true worthlessness, and its origin as Satanic in conception and development.
We, whose happy lot has been cast in lands where the Word of God is honoured, can have very little idea how very, very hard it is for those brought up from impressionable childhood's days amid heathen beliefs and customs to break loose from these impressions and embrace the Christian faith. In such cases it seems as if all the powers of darkness were let loose to contest each inch on the road. There is no halfway house, no compromise possible. A mother in her fanatical frenzy will think she is doing God's service by putting poison in her son's food, and gloating over his dying agonies, if he dares to question her beliefs, and look favourably upon Christianity. A Christian convert cannot earn his living save by moving far away to a distant place, where he is quite unknown. He is beset by dangers and difficulties unknown in our favoured lands.
The writer of this foreword has visited India, and witnessed with his own eyes the unbelievable, hellish power set in motion to prevent at all costs any of their co-religionists embracing the Christian faith. You have to witness it on the spot to realise how real and terrible are the powers of darkness. It is well stated in Holy Writ that "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12). Christians can indeed be thankful for, and take comfort from the Scripture which reminds us that "greater is He [the Holy Spirit] that is in you, than he [the devil] that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
Whilst the following pages give us a very thrilling story of how one soul struggled out of the darkness of Mohammedanism into the light of the Gospel of the grace of God, it is good to remember there are thousands, we believe, at this very time, exercised in the same way, and passing through similar ordeals. Their victories may never be recorded on earth, but all are recorded in heaven, where "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents" (Luke 15:10).
Two things seem to operate markedly in such cases:
(1) A deep sense of sin and guilt, giving the strong urge to seek God's forgiveness; and
(2) a conception of God far removed from that of the heathen religions, attracting them to trust the Saviour of sinners.
Christianity stands out in vivid contrast to all other religions in that it alone offers a Saviour to sinful men. It was no wonder that the late well-known preacher, Joseph Parker, when giving a lecture on contemporary religions, paused impressively, saying, "Remember Christianity is not one of them." No, it stands altogether by itself in its own divine glory.
The ensuing narrative will show that it takes immense moral and physical courage to take such a step. It will be helpful to a right understanding of the narrative to keep clear in mind, that in India, where the author was brought up, there were, and still are, two dominant factors, Mohammedanism and Hinduism, with their deep and bitter hatred of each other. India was invaded by Mohammedan armies within a century of Mohammed's death. They conquered the Punjab and Sind in North India, establishing themselves as a great Moghul power, with Delhi as its capital, till it eventually became part of the far-flung British Empire, one of a Commonwealth of Nations, and now a Republic with Home Rule established.
The conversion of Sheik Abdul Aziz, a member of a wealthy Mohammedan family in India, is a very illuminating story of what it means to break through the fetters of Satan in a heathen land to the happy freedom of Him, who says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls; For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matt. 11:29-30).
There is no doubt that the conversion of Sheik Abdul Aziz made a great impression in the circle in which he lived, and wherever he went. He was surely led of the Lord to put on record the gracious working of God's Holy Spirit in his heart, till the glorious light of the Gospel of the grace of God entered his soul, and led him into the happy liberty, which nothing but that Gospel could have ministered to him. This narrative is surely an outstanding illustration of "the power [Greek, Dunamis, from which we get our English word, Dynamite] of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." (Rom. 1:16).
May this touching story be used to the conversion of many under God's good hand, and of some Christians being moved of the Lord to dedicate their lives to the furtherance of the only Gospel that saves from sin and bondage, even in countries where the people "sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79). May the risen Lord's own exhortation be answered to, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15). We hear the word of our Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Who will gladly respond, "HERE AM I; SEND ME" (Isaiah 6:8)?
A. J. Pollock.
From Mohammedanism to Christ
The Story of Sheik Abdul Aziz's Conversion to Christianity, as told by himself
We live in an age of enquiry. The questioning spirit is everywhere. Men are knocking at the door of truth and error. They seek a satisfactory explanation of the deeper things of life, of the "Here and Hereafter." They want to get at the root of everything, and to draw right conclusions from ascertained facts.
I am often asked the question, Why did you break away from the religion of your ancestors? Why did you cease being a Mohammedan and become a Christian? Is not one religion as good as another? Surely Mohammedanism is good for Mohammedans: Hinduism for Hindus: Christianity for Christians.
We are told it does not matter what we believe, as long as one's belief is sincere. Let me say at once that this is not true. Sincerity is not enough. Do I believe in a living, triune God, or in a mere myth? The truth is, everything depends on what I believe. If I were to take poison, sincerely believing it to be a dose of healing medicine, would my sincerity neutralise the effects of the poison?
I will now in all seriousness endeavour to tell you why I forsook Mohammedanism, and trace the steps that led me to accept Christ as my Saviour and Lord. I was born in Nagpur, a provincial town in Central India in 1862. My father, Sheik Hamed, came from Persia to India when very young. He was wealthy, and carried on trade between India and Persia. He was well educated and spoke several languages, including English. He belonged to the warrior tribe of Sheiks from which come their kings and great fighting men, and belonged to the Sunni section of that tribe, and was strictly orthodox. My mother died when I was very young, and I have no remembrance of her. My uncles and other relatives were landowners, and owned property near the gold mines at Kolar.
I received a strict training according to the accepted orthodox manner. For some years I attended a vernacular school, where I studied Hindustani, Persian and Arabic languages. Hindustani is the common language of that part of India in which I was brought up, and is also called the Urdu language. Persian is the classical language. Arabic, the language of the Koran, the great book of Mohammedanism.
It will help at the outset to make my story plain, if at this stage I say what Mohammedanism stands for. The terms Mohammedanism and Islam are interchangeable terms. The former is the name given to the followers of Mohammed; the latter the name given to the movement by Mohammed himself. The word, Islam, is an Arabic word, denoting resignation to the will of God. The Creed of Islam is summed up in the well-known statement, "La ilaha Allah, Mohammed resul Allah," which translated into English means, "There is no God but one, and Mohammed is his prophet." This is the great rallying cry of the armies of Islam. Their propaganda is carried on with fanatical zeal. Islam is a great system based on monotheism. It is the religion of one-sixteenth of the world's population. Within eighty years of its inception, it spread over a great part of Asia with phenomenal rapidity, and later to Africa, largely through the persuasion of the sword. It is based on two cardinal points, Iman, the Faith or Creed; Din, its Practice. The Mohammedan boasts of the simplicity of his religion, and that all we need to do to obtain salvation is to know and believe its teaching, and so an abundant entrance into paradise is assured. On these two words hang all the laws and morals of Islam. The God of Islam is almighty and all powerful, but not a God of love, nor even of justice. Much stress is laid on the intellectual and metaphysical attributes of God.
The Qur'an, or Koran, called the Recitation, is the Mohammedan's great book. It urges moral response on the part of man as created by Allah, foretells the day of judgment, and depicts the tortures of the damned, and the seductiveness of a very sensual paradise for the believer. With increasing fervour Mohammed stated that he received the very words of God, ipsissima verba, through the agency of the Angel Gabriel. It teaches that salvation depends on our good deeds outweighing our bad deeds. The reading of and the hearing the Koran read is considered productive of great good. Its recitation is supposed to expiate sin. It is claimed that Mohammed is the last and greatest of the prophets, that he superseded Christ, and abrogated the four Gospels (Arabic, Injil). It is taught that Mohammed intercedes with God on behalf of his followers, and that out of Divine mercy, and consideration for the prayers of the prophet, Allah will grant forgiveness of sins.
Mohammedanism enjoins as binding on all its adherents the following duties:
PRAYERS to be recited five times a day. These prayers are in Arabic, not understood by the common people of India. They are formulated in set forms, the exercise is simply mechanical and ritualistic.
FASTING (Arabic, Roza) is to be observed the whole of the ninth month (Arabic, Ramadan). During the days of that month, no food and drink are allowed, but liberty is given for the partaking of food and drink at night.
ALMSGIVING (Arabic, Zakath), one-fortieth of income and property is to be given to the poor every year.
PILGRIMAGE (Arabic, Hadj) to Mecca, the birthplace and burial place of Mohammed, is expected to be performed at least once in a lifetime, and is supposed to carry with it great benefits. Mohammed's tomb at Mecca is an object of fanatical adoration.
HOLY WAR (Arabic, Jihad) calls upon every adult male Mohammedan to answer to any legally valid summons to war against the infidels, the term of contempt attached to all who are not Mohammedans, especially to Christians. Those, who may fall in such wars, are esteemed as martyrs, and are assured of a triumphant entrance into paradise, there to be rewarded by the companionship of black-eyed damsels (Arabic, Houris), and to be endowed with perpetual virility.
Besides all this, there are endless purifications, and countless ceremonies.
Mohammedans got a footing in India by invasion A.D. 1001-1024 under their great emperors (Arabic, Moghuls). They were not of Indian origin. They converted many by the persuasion of the sword on the one hand, and the attraction of a brotherhood, not found in Hindu culture. Delhi became their capital.
Mohammedanism accepts the whole of the Old Testament, but refuses the New Testament, denying the Godhead of the Lord Jesus as the Son with the Father and Holy Spirit — one God, the atoning character of our Lord's death on the cross of Calvary is refused by them, and also the testimony of His resurrection. They daim that when the Jews were about to crucify our Lord, God caught Him up to heaven, causing His likeness to be put upon another, who was crucified in His place, expostulating all the time that they were crucifying the wrong person.
To resume my narrative, my father was a reformer in his way. I well remember as a child how Mohammedans of various sects, and holding various doctrines, were in the habit of meeting in my father's house to discuss knotty points in the mystic philosophy of Islam. When I was thirteen years old, my father, desirous of giving me an English education, sent me to a mission school at Bangalore, South India. My relations and friends objected to this course on the ground that a Mohammedan should not be educated by infidels, a term of reproach flung at all Christians. Others urged that my father ran a great risk of his son being drawn away from the religion of his ancestors, and ultimately becoming a Christian. Fortunately my father turned a deaf ear to their entreaties.
I prosecuted my studies with great diligence and attention. But being a Christian missionary school, which I attended, the teaching was saturated with the spirit of Christianity. The reading of the Bible was a compulsory subject. My father, however, warned me very seriously against taking any notice of the Bible, but exhorted me to concentrate on getting a thorough knowledge of the English language.
However, despite my indifference to the things of God, and my deep-seated prejudice against Christianity, I became deeply interested with what I read in the Bible. It exerted a great influence upon me. I became a diligent student of the Bible, so much so that I carried off all the prizes in connection with Scripture study. It taught me two things, which left an ineffacable mark on my mind. I learned that I was a sinner in God's holy sight, and as such was lost and needed a Saviour. I learned, too, that God had provided salvation through the atoning sacrifice of His only-begotten Son on Calvary's cross. This was the first awakening to the sense of sin in my heart, and of my condition before God. But I had a long way to go before I reached the point when I knew that I was saved.
I was held in high esteem because of my moral conduct, and was considered very religious by my Mohammedan friends. I went to the Mosque five times a day to pray. I fasted, and performed many external rites, and observed many ceremonial washings. I was self-righteous in my own eyes, wrapped up in pharisaical religiousness. Such was the unhappy state of my heart. All sorts of conflicting thoughts came into my mind. I did not wish the secrets of my heart to be disclosed. The question, What after death? oppressed me.
So when at last I told my father of the change that was coming over me, he was perplexed and suggested a careful study of the Koran and Hadis (sayings of Mohammed), so that I might compare the two religions, Mohammedanism and Christianity. I applied myself to a critical study of both religions and their founders. The following conclusions were forced upon me: — the Koran does not provide a way of salvation, nor does it prove to me that it is inspired of God, Mohammed too had no credentials, that I could see, to qualify him to be a prophet of God, and much less to be a saviour, seeing he had to pray for the forgiveness of his own sins. Thus my confidence in the religion of my ancestors was being undermined. The innermost craving of my mind was left unsatisfied by Mohammedanism.
My father next proposed that I should undertake the study of the doctrines of the sect, known as Suffists. He thought this was the only way to obtain the end I had in view. Their docrines are as follows: Absorption in God, the ultimate end of man; his mind and will, not only to be blended, but lost in God. That this experience can only be obtained by a process of contemplation, accompanied by mortification of the deeds of the body. This system is similar to what is taught in "Yoga," or Theosophic philosophy. I at once determined to give this system a fair trial, so my father arranged for me to become a Chela (Disciple) of a well-known priest in Mecca. I was placed under his instructions, and was taught to repeat certain passages from the Koran, and the name of Allah so many hundreds of thousands of times, holding my hands in a certain posture, so as to prevent the commission of wrong deeds. To my great disappointment I found this scheme did not work. It did not help me to break the fetters of sin entwined in my heart. If sin is suppressed in one form, it will burst forth in some other way. I was ready to exclaim with Buddha Gautama that salvation was not obtainable. It is easy to propound theories, and magnify the religion of my ancestors, but to get freedom from the guilt and power of sin is quite another matter.
Having most conscientiously tried the religion of my forefathers, in which I was brought up, and failing to get any relief to my soul, at last I was constrained to turn to the Holy Scriptures to find out what they said as to the way of salvation. I sought the companionship of Christians, seeking their help. I continued my search diligently. At this time I came in contact with many servants of the Lord, who sought to show me the way of salvation. To one in particular I have to render very grateful thanks. He led me to a right apprehension of the truth and thereby undermined my faith in Mohammedanism, but even this did not bring me to the point of deciding for Christ. I learned, however, that the Lord Jesus was the incarnate Son of God, who took upon Himself the form of a man, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, sin apart, and who died an atoning death on the cross of Calvary that I might be free.
The devil was slow to let me pass into liberty of soul. He magnified my difficulties, and told me that, if I embraced Christianity, I should be driven out of house and home, my own father would disown me, my relatives would treat me as one dead, and I would have no one to care for me. My family connections were very wealthy. I was not called to work hard for my living. It seemed very hard to leave such a beautiful home, to become a vagabond, to be buffetted, to be beaten, to flee from town to town, from city to city, and perhaps be murdered in the end. This is how Satan brought very heavy pressure to bear upon me.
Then the thought came to me, Might I not accept the Lord Jesus into my heart as Saviour, and keep the secret to myself? Was there any need to tell my Mohammedan friends that I accepted the Lord as my Redeemer? So I went on from day to day. Darkness swept over my soul. There was no sun in my sky. Dark menacing clouds hung over me. A struggle for life and liberty raged in my heart.
While I was going through this difficult time, my father realised somewhat of what was going on in my mind. In anger he made a bonfire of my Bible, books and tracts. He said to me, "Now perhaps you will be sensible, and leave these Christian books alone." I replied, "Father, you may burn my Bible, but you cannot burn what is deep down in my heart."
The working of the Spirit of God is very real. He carries on His own work in the soul, if only we will open our hearts, and let Him speak to us through the Scriptures. About that time a few Christians, who knew about my exercises, met to pray for me in the house of a missionary. I joined them, and felt the Spirit of God urging me to take the step of decision at once, come what may, joy or sorrow, friends or no friends, father or no father. That was a wonderful moment in my history. While I was praying there came a vision of Christ. I felt He was everything to me. There was great rejoicing as I prayed, "O Lord, accept me. I am under the dominion of sin, deliver me from its power." In the twinkling of an eye the answer came into my heart. There came a great change. I could not explain the change. It was truly beyond description. I had "passed from death unto life" (John 5:24).
After that I went home. My sister in pity for me disclosed the cruel intentions of my father. She told me he had decided to shut me up in a room, and never let me out of the house again. To escape this treatment I had no option but to leave home at once. I left quietly, and went out into the darkness, a vagabond from my own father's house. I went to a Christian's house, an Englishman, who kindly sheltered me for the night. Next morning the police arrived to know why I had run away from home. They came to the conclusion that I should leave the town at once, so I went to Madras. I was there for some months, getting into touch with the missionaries. I helped them to translate the Scriptures into Hindustani and Persian.
From there I went to Kolar in the Mysore Province, where I was baptised. When the fanatical Mohammedans heard this, their anger knew no bounds. As I was being driven by a Christian Colonel of the British Army in his dogcart, some two hundred infuriated men pulled me out of the vehicle, and beat me with thick sticks till I lay senseless on the ground. Believing that they had killed me, they departed. The police were powerless in the presence of such a large body of determined men, but they helped the Colonel to lift my senseless body into the dogcart. The kindly Colonel took me to his own home, where my wounds were dressed. The Superintendent of Police urged the missionary to send me out of the town, as he had not enough constables to deal with such a crowd.
For many years I had to be extremely careful when staying in missionaries' houses in South India, for when the Mohammedans got to know where I was, they would swarm round the house in order to attack me. I would have to disguise myself, and get away by an unexpected way, sometimes climbing over the compound wall, and disappearing into the jungle. Some account of my work for the Lord may be interesting. I met with the Salvation Army. I admired the simple way in which the Salvationists lived, how they mixed freely with the poorest in their homes, the earnestness with which they preached the Gospel, that they lived as one big family, eating native food, and sitting on the floor like the natives. Eventually I joined them, and was accepted as an officer. I spent thirteen happy years with them, till my wife's continued ill-health compelled me to leave. I retired with the rank of Major. During that time I witnessed hundreds of conversions, mostly among the low caste folk, who gave up their idols of wood and stone, were baptised, and became earnest followers of the Lord.
A young officer and myself were chosen to go to the United States of America and Canada to represent the Salvation Army in India. We spent several months visiting New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other places, and in Canada paid visits to Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, Quebec and other places. We had crowded meetings, and the privilege of seeing many conversions. Returning to England, we were just in time to be pall-bearers at the funeral of General William Booth's wife, the "Mother" of the Salvation Army. This was in 1890.
Returning to India, I took charge of mission work in the Telugu country, my wife taking charge of an orphanage. Our work lay entirely in the villages. Our headquarters were at Nellore on the east coast of India, on the Coromandel coast. The area of our labours was about 750 square miles, comprising about 400 villages with an average population of about 2,000 souls. The villages being widely scattered made visiting difficult. The roads were very bad, in some parts no roads at all. We often travelled across rough fields in bullock carts. There can be no more trying means of transport, especially travelling all night, as we often had to do to reach some distant village. The incessant jolting of the cart from side to side threw one from side to side, and we got no rest. The next day our bodies would be aching, covered over with many bruises. The bullock cart travelled no faster than two miles an hour.
We could not hold meetings through the day, as the men, and often the women, were working in the fields all day. At the end of the day they had to return home, cook an evening meal, and have a rest. It was often at 11 o'clock at night before we could begin our meetings. They were held in the open air, the congregation sitting on the ground, and reading by the light of paraffin lamps.
We had some adventures in visiting these villages. On one occasion when the meeting was over, I and my helpers started to walk home. Though we had lanterns we lost our way. At last in the dense darkness we found ourselves walking in water, getting deeper and deeper. In alarm I called on all to stand still. There we stood waist deep in water, while we prayed and sang hymns to keep up our courage. When at last morning came, we found we were standing in a deep lake. Had we gone further in the lake we should have all been drowned.
Another night returning home after a meeting, we were waylaid by robbers. They stretched themselves across the road, holding each other's hands, so making a barrier we could not pass. They demanded money and threatened to kill us, if we did not give them all we had on our persons. They told us they had just robbed a man, killed him, and stolen his bullock cart. We knew this to be true, for we saw the dead man and his cart by the wayside. We all carry sticks when visiting the villages because of snakes, so I called my helpers to defend themselves. Then I said sternly to the leader of the gang, "Let us pass, or it may be the worse for you, if one of us gets hurt, and we inform the Raj (Government), and how you killed this man."Whilst I was doing this, I was sending up a silent prayer to God for help and protection. Immediately the robbers dropped their arms, and we passed on, praising God for a great deliverance.
We conducted day schools for the children in various villages. The teacher residing in the village taught the school through the day, and held Gospel meetings in the evening, either in the school-house or in a shed. In one village there was a remarkable case of a young lad, who sang hymns and choruses to his father and mother, which he had learned in the mission meetings. This angered his father, who forbad him to sing hymns in his house. The lad was so happy, he felt he must sing, if not in the house then in the open air. This puzzled his father, so one day he announced his intention to attend the missionary's meeting, and hear for himself what they had to say. He began to attend regularly. God worked in his heart, till one night he was so wrought upon by the Holy Spirit of God, that he yielded to the Saviour, and rejoiced in the knowledge of sins forgiven. His wife was next converted, and then one by one all the members of his family. They were idol worshippers, and now all was changed. The lad gave a most convincing testimony, for as he spoke his face shone with the joy of the knowledge of the Lord.
There were happy signs of revival in these villages. Many conversions took place. I opened schools at two villages, Allur and Pollipunda, which promised to be centres of considerable Christian work. Quite a few converts were baptised at Pollipunda at this time. One night the whole village listened to the Gospel story till midnight. They requested us to build a Christian place of worship and a school-room.
India is pre-eminently a land of villages. Nine out of every ten live in villages. You may ask, What is an Indian village like? It is a collection of small huts, huddled together along narrow lanes with no sanitary arrangements. Each hut is built on a different plan, no pretence to order or neatness. The walls are made of mud, baked hard in the Indian sun, plastered over, and painted in white and red stripes alternately. The roofs are thatched with grass. The house is dark inside for there are no windows. There are no chimneys, so when a fire is lit on the mud floor, the whole hut is filled with smoke. The doors are small and low, so that a man entering in has to stoop. The furniture generally consists of a wooden stool, and a bed made of rough logs of wood, a mattress made of string, woven from side to side in criss-cross fashion. There is an assortment of brass and clay vessels, and a few domestic utensils of a simple character. A few huts have a verandah to afford shelter from the rays of the sun. Villages are usually surrounded with a cactus hedge, the height of the eaves of the houses.
Let us visit a village. We cross a raised path across the rice fields, and enter through a break in the cactus hedge. In one of the huts lives a Hindu Bhagath, meaning a country bard or poet. His name, Bhagwan Das, means Slave of God! He is well-known in the surrounding villages. We enter his hut, and sit down on the bed, the usual practice. No sooner are we seated but we hear the sound of tinkling bells, flutes and people shouting. As the evening shadows are falling, the workers return from the fields after their day's work. Among them we notice dark-skinned boys with shaven heads, girls with thin arms without a head covering, exposing their black hair to the sun.
Bhagwan Das willingly agreed for us to hold a meeting. By this time a big crowd gathered in the open air. We addressed the people in their own tongue, and told them the simple story of the cross of Calvary, that brings forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God to all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. An hour or two had passed when Bhagwan Das interrogated us. We reason with him. We asked him, What is the Hindu religion? He replied, It is the religion of my ancestors. We asked, What is the religion of your ancestors? He vaguely replied, The Brahman religion.
As a matter of fact the Brahman religion may mean anything. With some it is a collection of silly superstitions. With others it is simply a matter of mere external rites, having no moral or practical values. As time went on, the manner of Bhagwan Das changed. He became an anxious listener to the Gospel message. I said to him on one occasion, "Bhagwan Das, you remember the Hindu proverb, 'Though you may wash charcoal in milk, it will never become white, but, if you put it in the fire, it will at once become white'? Your mind is like that charcoal. Argument will never change you. You need the fire of God's Holy Spirit in your heart, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, to cleanse you from all sin." Without another word the old Bhagath fell upon his knees, and with bowed head cried out, "I believe it, I believe it. I want to be free from sin. I do. I do," his feelings finding relief in a flood of tears. Thus he entered into peace with God. Here is a sample of India's need. Would that hearts may be stirred to meet that need.
After this I took charge of a hostel for down-and-outs, whites and Eurasians. Some had lost their jobs through drink, and had no money to pay for a night's shelter, and were thankful to avail themselves of our invitations to stay at the hostel till they were in earnings. Some of these men gave up drink, attended the meetings, and some, thank God, were soundly converted.
Later on I went to Gujarat, a province in the North-West of India, which took us again into village work. Here we had a very extraordinary experience. We had to climb a very high hill in order to reach a village on the other side. It was toward evening, and the sun was setting. In India there is no twilight. As soon as the sun sets, the land is covered with darkness at once. When we got to the top of the hill we lost our way, and failed to find the right path, leading to the village, where they were waiting for us to hold a meeting.
Losing our way meant our camping all night on the top of the hill in the darkness of night without food or drink, or anywhere to sleep. To add to our distress there were wild animais in the jungle, such as tigers and leopards, besides snakes. Fortunately we had with us several oil lamps. All we could do was to huddle together and place the lamps around us, for wild animais and snakes are afraid of a light and avoid it. We prayed all night for God's help and protection, and that our lamps would not go out. In the morning when it was light, and the danger was past, we praised God for His protecting care.
At another time at Gujarat we had to cross the River Cambay to get to some villages, where we had arranged to have meetings. When we got to the river, we found to our consternation it was in heavy flood. We could not well go back, seeing the people in the villages were expecting us. We succeeded in finding a place where we could cross, took our clothes off, rolled them up in bundles, and placed them on our heads, holding to the bundles with one hand, and grasping the shoulder of the man just in front of us, and began crossing in single file. All went well till one man stumbled over a stone in the middle of the river, jerking our bundles of clothes off our heads into the water. Our clothes were soaking wet, and we began to wonder how we were to conduct a meeting that night. However, we reached safely the other side. The women of the village lent us their saris. A sari is the Indian woman's chief garment, consisting of a long piece of cotton or silk, of various colours, five or six yards long, wrapped round the middle. In these saris we wrapped ourselves, whilst our clothing dried in the sun, and so after all we held the appointed meeting.
In the Marathi country the work was more difficult. They were out-and-out heathen, knowing nothing beyond the worship of their gods. We felt it a great privilege to tell the Gospel story to men and women who had never heard it before. We felt so keenly the need of God's help in this work, that we spent all night in prayer once, and sometimes twice, in a week.
Baboo was one of these people, brought to us by the Patel (Headman) of a village nearby. This Patel acted as a railway police detective. It was strange that a Mohammedan should bring a young Hindu lad to us, knowing we were Christians. This young man was found wandering in the village of Nundurbar. When he first came to us he knew nothing of God, and could neither read or write a word of his own Marathi language. At the meeting he would sit with his mouth open, his eyes fixed intently on the speaker, listening carefully to all that was said. When the workers would go out to the villages Baboo would accompany them. On one occasion he asked leave to speak. He told the people how he had learned about God, not to steal, drink, or tell lies any more. The people listened with astonishment. They understood him better than the workers, for he could speak to them in their Bhil dialect. The Bhils, we may add, were driven into the hills and jungle of Rajputana, one of the then independent states of India. Baboo studied hard till at last he was able to read his Marathi Bible. He had to learn, however, that mere reformation of character, such as giving up stealing, lying, drinking, is not sufficient to merit salvation. This we all have to learn, if we are to be saved by God. Only through the grace of God, the all-sufficient atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the cleansing value of His precious blood to wash away all sin, could that blessing be his or ours. In due time he learned this lesson, was converted, and went on happily.
Here, alas! my record of our work for the Lord in India must abruptly cease, for my dear wife was suffering sadly from a bad type of malarial fever, and the doctors peremptorily ordered her to leave India. Seeing she married in India, she pleaded that, if she lived in the hill country, much more healthy than the plains, would that not suffice to meet the case. The doctors were insistent that she must leave India.
So to England, my wife's native land, we came in 1912, leaving our two little daughters buried in an Indian grave. In the British Isles I was very soon brought into contact with Christians meeting in the simple way that the New Testament indicates, and taking my place amongst them, I learned God's way more perfectly, and in connection with them I have been happily employed in service for the Lord in Great Britain. Many times in native costume I have told the story of my conversion from Mohammedanism to Christ to attentive audiences.
I was known in England as Sheik Elvin Aziz. This change was made to save letters going astray, as Abdul Aziz is a very common name in India. I thus made use of my wife's maiden name, Elvin. I mention this to some of my British readers, who may wonder that in my narrative I use my Indian name, Sheik Abdul Aziz, whereas they knew me as Sheik Elvin Aziz.
May the Lord graciously and abundantly bless this narrative of how I abandoned Mohammedanism and embraced Christianity to His own praise and glory, and the blessing of each reader.
NOTE. After serving the Lord happily and diligently in the British Isles up to about the beginning of 1947, our brother, Sheik Elvin Aziz, was laid aside with sickness and weakness for about eighteen months, which he bore without a murmur, taking everything as God's will for him. On October 26th, 1948, he passed into the presence of the One, to whom he had dedicated his life, and had served so faithfully. His wife testifies to the most wonderful peace filling the home, and the sense of the Lord's constant presence.
"Now the labourer's task is o'er,
Now the battle day is past;
Now upon the further shore
Lands the voyager at last.
Father, in Thy gracious keeping
Leave we now Thy servant sleeping."