The Review of Religions (English), August & September 1920
I had come to see the Allahabad Exhibition and was well tired aft er the ramblings of a busy day, when I was suddenly pounced upon by some old acquaintances. They all seemed to be in high spirits, and aft er the usual words of greetings, they suddenly assailed me with a simultaneous volley of requests for a lecture. It was in vain that I pleaded to a raggedness of feeling, to the unsuitableness of the place and the time.
When they had found me, they said, they were not going to part without hearing something from their beloved Mufti. A bad job, I thought, but still one which ought to be made the most of.
I stood against a lamp-post, and told them that I had come, one among the many visitors to the exhibition. My old craze for books led me to where a number of stalls exhibited a most alluring prospect of a short hour’s “converse with the mighty minds of old.” A robust Brahmin with the orthodox caste-mark prominently visible on the forehead and crest, was in charge of a stock of books which looked venerable in their antiquity. The hope of a rare discovery soon led me to approach the pile. “What have you here? My friend!” I asked the gentleman in-charge. “Our ancient Shastra,” was the reply. Nothing could be better, I thought, being specially a lover of religious literature.
I pointed to a volume more hoary than the others and inquired what it contained. “It is the venerable Vedas, the Book of the Hindus, left by the Rishis for the guidance of men.” “And who, pray, were the Rishis!” I asked. “Why, the elect ones of God, who flourished in the first beginning of the race, to whom God spoke and delivered His will for the guidance of mankind.” O luck, a find! I thought. To be spoken to by God, to be delivered from all uncertainty and doubt, to feel His tangible presence, that would solve the whole problem of my life! “Well my friend!” I eagerly asked, “Will the book help me to become one like those happy Rishis, and have there been many Rishis, actually produced by following the guidance of the Vedas?” “Stranger!” said my interlocutor, “No, you know that Rishis are born only once in one cycle of the world?” “What was the Book good for then?” I cried, “and why do you display it at all in the exhibition? Send it to some curiosity-shop. The exhibition is intended to exhibit specimens of things purchasable or obtainable.” The Brahmin smiled at the show of petulance and I turned away disappointed.
Nearby was another camp, large, neat, and richly appointed. Everything about it was spick and span, everything up-to-date. The shop-people were active, attentive and obliging. At my slightest motion towards the camp, they came offering their services and assured me that their establishment was the one best equipped in the country and that they possessed varieties, suiting every taste and temperament. Their great book – the Bible – spoke about the son of God, who lived the life of a man and yet was God.
The statement seemed to me somewhat abstruse, but then the appearance and affability of the gentlemen had already won my good opinion. “You speak of a son of God” said I, “that is better than being a Rishi. Pray friend! Let me see the book which will show me the way to become a son of God.” “What version do you want?” one enquired, “There are several available.” I felt doubtful what to say. Then a thought occurred to me. “Which version,” I asked, “has produced the largest number of sons of God?” The question produced a surprising effect. The gentlemen fell back and seemed to be wanting an answer. At last, one said, “You have misunderstood us, I am afraid. Th ere is no more to be a son of God.” “What! Have you too run short of stock? I thought you intelligent gentlemen would see the folly of exhibiting catalogues of articles, which are no more procurable.” I withdrew in dejection.
I had not gone many paces before I noticed another stall. The shop men were a drowsy set of people, who evinced little anxiety to dispose of their goods. An emblazoned book on the shelf had attracted my attention. “What book is that?” I asked. “It is the Divine book, the Quran” was the reply. “The Divine book? Who wrote it? What does it speak about?” I enquired. It was revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him. It contains the story of the prophets.” What? A prophet? Th at is not as much as a son of God. But yet it is not the least to be spoken to by God and to be the bearer of His Message. But my experience had made me incredulous and as a caution I enquired: “Well gentlemen! Will the book enable me to become a prophet?” “Be gone, you mad chap,” snapped the shop-keeper, “the succession of prophets is closed with our Holy Prophet Muhammad, who was the last of the line.” The same reply, I inwardly whispered and was leaving the stall in disgust, when an eager voice called to me: “Stop, stop. Sir, the Divine book will tell you the way to become a prophet.” The words captured my attention, but I was still doubtful. “What! Will the book enable me to become a prophet, and be spoken to by God like the ones regarding whom the book relates.” “What else may I mean? Why else should we love and revere a book which otherwise is, but a dead record?” The boldness and frankness of the answer served partially to allay my suspicion and I enquired: “But, tell me, brother! Has the book ever actually produced a prophet in the long course of its existence?” “Yes, Sir! Even a short while back, there was one amongst us in the little town of Qadian.” “Heretic of an Ahmadi,” growled the shop-keeper. But I had already tasted of a new hope and muttered: “Heretic or thodox, I love a book that speaks to some purpose. Friend! Give me a copy.” It was the Holy Quran.