MY EARLY DAYS
I was born on the 20th May, 1889, in a small village called Chawatiyan near the town of Akalgarh in Gujranawala District, now in Pakistan. My father, Muhammad Azim, was a zamindar. He also led the prayers in the village mosque. My family belonged to a community of Muslims called Bhatti-Rajput. Our forefathers were residents of Pindi Bhattiyan in Gujranwala District, Punjab.
I received my initial education in a school at Akalgarh under Mawlavi Imam al-Din. I studied Arabic, Persian and Urdu, the only languages considered worthy of study at that time. As a youth I was a genuine seeker after truth. I can still remember how I delighted in the regular prayers and even added to them some of the prayers considered optional. I enjoyed the company of the faqir and the sadhu and freely discussed religious masters with them.
After I attained a good knowledge of the Qur'an and the traditions, as well as Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, I began a study of logic and philosophy under my able teacher, Mawlavi Imam al-Din. The study of philosophy, however, turned me into an atheist. I questioned the belief that God would send sinners to hell. I was not prepared to acknowledge and to worship such a God. Though I outwardly continued to follow the practices of Islam, I knew that I was a nominal Muslim only. At the time I was seventeen years old.
CONTACT WITH CHRISTIANS AND CHRISTIANITY
Even as a young student I had acquired some knowledge about Christianity through Muslim periodicals. I especially remember those articles which blamed some of the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament (Holy Injil) for distorting the simple creed of Christianity by introducing into this simple creed such innovations as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the atonement. According to those articles the religion of Paul differed radically from the religion of Jesus.
In 1906 I happened to journey to Sargodha which in those days was still a small town in the process of developing. While residing at the home of a family friend, Malik Sher Muhammad Tiwana, I began to suffer from indigestion. He advised me to seek treatment at a mission hospital in Sargodha. There I met the medical missionary Dr. M. M. Brown, and a Christian compounder named Samuel, who later became a padre and dear friend to me.
The hospital staff played a strange trick on the patients! They were all gathered in a room and exposed to the preaching of the padre, as well as to Christian songs and prayers. At the time I had no taste for these things at all. After the patients attended the meeting, they received tracts which they were told to preserve carefully. Naturally the patients were eager to read the Bible verses printed on the reverse of these tracts. My tract contained the following verses:
"And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
"The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners" (I Timothy 1:15).
The last verse really impressed me. Later I discovered that the man who wrote this verse and called himself the greatest of sinners was Paul - the same Paul who was accused of distorting the simple message of Jesus. Could such a man be a deceiver? Never before had I heard of a man who boldly declared his sinfulness before others. Would not a man of such integrity speak the truth regarding the Messiah's deity and atonement? I immediately acquired a copy of the Holy Injil and began to read it. But when Malik Sher Muhammad Tiwana discovered it in my possession, he took it from me and tore it in pieces. After I acquired another copy, I had it bound and studied it whenever I found the opportunity.
As I read the Holy Injil, I was struck especially by the seventh chapter of Letter to the Romans. It dawned upon me that I too was a sinner in need of a Saviour. Hitherto I had heard that God favoured only those who did good works. However, the Holy Injil clearly declared that it was impossible to earn God's salvation by doing good works. According to the Holy Injil, God demands not merely good works, but a change of heart.
"But how," I asked, "can a corrupt heart become pure and undefiled?" I pondered the letter to Titus, where it is written,
Again I repeatedly asked: "When man's mind and conscience are defiled, what can make them pure?" With the help of Christian padres I learned that the Messiah is able to give man a pure mind and a clear conscience. Since the Holy Injil itself constantly confirmed the words of these padres, my faith in the Christian doctrines gradually grew stronger. I visited the padres frequently in order to acquire a greater knowledge of the Christian faith.
WATCHMAN AND WATER CARRIER
Dr. Brown was a man of God, a fine medical doctor and a zealous evangelist. It was his custom to go into the villages with his staff in order to heal the sick and to preach the Word of God. Camels served as their means of transportation. When I heard that the party was planning a winter tour into the villages, I decided to join them. I asked Dr. Brown for permission to go along with them as a worker. He told me that they were in need of a watchman. I agreed and was hired. As a watchman I took care of the tents in which the Brown family lived. Once Mrs. Brown told me that their former watchman also fetched water for use in the bathroom and kitchen. Since she expected me to follow the same pattern, I agreed to do this also.
The job of carrying water with two canisters suspended from a bamboo pole proved to be an ordeal for one unaccustomed to such work. Nevertheless, even though I injured my shoulder, I was well aware that my Rs. 8.00 salary was equal to that which a constable was receiving. I, a youth, considered myself fortunate and continued the job for several months.
During this period the Holy Injil was my constant companion. I studied it at night by the light of the lantern which the Browns had given me. Yet when the thought of becoming a Christian crossed my mind, I dismissed it as an evil thought from the devil. I recited the Qur'an before the simple minded camel owners, who addressed me as "Mawlavi Sahib".
PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
Nevertheless several problems left me with no peace of mind. I may state them briefly as follows:
"If Allah took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth ..." (Surah 35:45).
Both al-Bukhari and Muslim cite the following tradition:
Thus the Qur'an clearly indicates that, apart from the grace of God, no man can be saved. This Quranic testimony is confirmed by the tradition also. However, neither the Qur'an nor the tradition offer any rational explanation for the need of God's grace. Any such explanation must take into consideration how God can remain just, and how, at the same time. He is able to justify those who seek refuge in His grace, not only by forgiving them but by sanctifying them also. For it is evident that a type of forgiveness which does not reckon with perfect justice transgresses against justice and conflicts with the holiness and righteousness of God. Moreover, how is it possible that one who is simply forgiven but is not sanctified can have access to the Holy God and come into His presence? If darkness and light are irreconcilable, how can those who are evil have fellowship with the Holy One? Thus I could not find any satisfying explanation in the Qur'an and the traditions regarding the significance of grace and the blessing to be derived from grace.
Ibn Abbas and al-Bukhari agree on the following matter:
In addition one may note the present existence of a host of Biblical manuscripts, some of which antedate the appearance of the Qur'an by centuries. For example, the Codex Vaticanus, which was written in the early part of the fourth century, is still preserved in the Vatican Library in Rome. Still other manuscripts are of a more ancient origin. These manuscripts confirm the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures which exist today. They also invalidate any statements which assert that the Tawrat and the Injil are corrupted or fabricated works. Since the Tawrat and the Injil have suffered neither corruption nor extinction, we may therefore conclude that: a) there is no foundation to the common assertion of some Muslim religious leaders that the present Holy Scriptures are not authentic; b) the present Christian doctrines are correct doctrines because they are derived from the Holy Bible and are founded on the teachings of the Holy Bible.
It was in the Holy Scripture that I found the solutions to these problems. I was now convinced that the Holy Scriptures faithfully record the works and the teachings of the Messiah, and that the mystery of His deity, His death, His resurrection, and those other doctrines which once seemed so strange to me could not be construed as inventions of Paul. I now realized that man has access to salvation and newness of heart by virtue of God's grace in Christ, not by virtue of his own works. Thus it was that I became convinced in my heart the Holy Injil is the Word of God.
OBSTACLES TO BAPTISM
Very early one morning, as Dr. Brown was leaving his tent, I told him of my desire for baptism. Later the doctor's cook, Behari, informed me of the doctor's response: "Abdul Haqq's salary will not be increased because of baptism!" Astonished, I replied: "I will pay back all the salary I have received and will leave after I am baptised." When Dr. Brown heard this, he assured me of his concern and prayed for me.
The following Sunday many sweepers from the village joined in the service of worship. Since they had previously indicated their desire to become Christians, a Christian worker assisted in preparing them for baptism. Before the service began, another missionary padre invited all those who wanted to be baptised to come forward. As the sweepers went forward, I joined them. But the missionary signalled me to resume my place, whispering in my ear that on this occassion he wanted to baptise the sweepers only. Disappointed, I sat down.
After the service I complained to the missionary about his attitude towards me: "You are willing to baptise the sweepers who know nothing of the Injil. Yet, in spite of the fact that I am quite familiar with its contents, you have refused to baptise me." The missionary was quite surprised at my comment and then proceeded to ask me if I knew Urdu. I told him that I knew not only Urdu but Persian and Arabic also. He then tested my knowledge of Urdu, probably thinking that any watchman and water-carrier of the camp would not even be able to read Urdu. He asked me the meaning of a few Urdu words from the well known Urdu book, Taubatun Nasuh. One of the words was mas'la which he pronounced as masla. I corrected his pronunciation. Unconvinced, he sent for a dictionary. The dictionary confirmed that I was right and convinced him of my scholarship. I told him that I was familiar with the basic beliefs of the Christian religion and invited him to ask me any questions. The Browns and other of the partY soon apologized that they had paid so little attention to me and had given me such hard work. They suggested that I proceed to Sangla Hill, where I could be baptised.
At Sangla Hill also I did not succeed in obtaining baptism because of a technicality regarding my age, though I was at this time (in 1907) actually eighteen years old. I was really born on May 20, 1889. However, it was recorded on my school certificate that I was born two years later, a custom quite prevalent at the time. I then proceeded to Shah Kot. There the padre invited me to raise objections regarding such doctrines as the deity of Christ and the Holy Trinity. When I presented some objections which he could not answer, he began to rebuke me and to declare me unworthy of baptism, saying: "Anyone whose mind is occupied with such objections cannot possibly be a Christian."
MY BAPTISM AND LIFE AS A DISCIPLE OF THE MESSIAH
Finally, a well known padre, author of many books G. L. Thakurdas, agreed to baptise me after a probation period of two months. My baptism took place in Lahore on the first Sunday of October, 1908.
But life was not easy then. Many times I tried to get a job, but without success. I even lost my clothes, trunk and was left almost completely destitute. I continually prayed to God for His help and guidance. It became evident to me that I was depending more upon man than upon God. Then and there I resolved never to solicit work from any man. I committed my future life to the Heavenly Father.
Soon I received offers for work. I was requested to reply to questions presented by some members of the Ahmadiyya movement. The editor of the Christian publication, "Nur Afshan" appreciated my reply and hired me as a member of his staff.
After some time I was selected for the seminary in Saharanpur. During my stay there from 1916 to 1919 my marriage was arranged. Even prior to my seminary training I cultivated the art of debating with representatives from other religions, a practice much in vogue at that time. I especially recall debating with the leading apologists of the Arya Samaj and the Ahmadiyya movement.
After completing the seminary course, I served as a pastor and evangelist in several places. From 1926 to 1939 I was called as a professor to the theological college in Saharanpur. Later I served several other Christian organizations as evangelist, director, and author, and had much opportunity to visit most parts of India. Since 1957 I have been residing at Chandigarh where, by the grace of God, I am able to continue in the service of our Lord.
Since some of you who read this brief story of my life will be interested in knowing about my son, Akbar, let me introduce you to him also. He is the eldest son of my family of six sons and three daughters. He was born in Ludhiana on September 24, 1920.
Akbar studied at Gordon College in Rawalpindi, Murray College in Sialkot, and Government Oriental College in Lahore. During this period of study he acquired an MA in philosophy and an MA in Persian. Prior to independence he lectured at Foreman Christian College in Lahore. Later he studied in the USA, where he received his Ph.D. in the field of religion. After serving on the staff of the Henry Martyn School in Aligarh, he became principal of that institution.
In 1957 he resigned the principalship of the Henry Martyn School in order to become an associate evangelist of the Billy Graham team. This work he continues with the help of God until the present day. It was my privilege to have him as my interpreter when I visited the USA in 1952 as a representative of the National Missionary Society.
After the birth of Akbar, my wife and I dedicated him to the service of Jesus Christ. By the mercy of God he has been true to his calling.
A FINAL WORD
Let me conclude by repeating that I accepted the Lord Jesus as my personal Saviour in the year 1908. I can truthfully testify that during the past sixty years of my Christian life I have found a satisfactory solution for every spiritual problem in the teaching of the Holy Bible. I have continually experienced the power and the mercy of the living Lord Jesus Christ throughout my Christian life. In times of dreadful and perilous temptations how often, He has guided and protected me! He has blessed me with a genuine contentment and a perfect assurance of His salvation.
May I humbly suggest to you, my friend, that you prayerfully read God's Word, the Holy Bible, and taste the grace of God for you also. The Lord Jesus Christ has said,
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Matt 24:35).
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