Page images

military, and equality of taxation was established for men of all religions.

The future foreshadowed in this Firman was one of almost democratic equality, and this admitted by men whose deepest prejudices were those of race and creed. The proclamation took place in the presence of the Sheikh ul Islam, the high priest of that conquering faith which had threatened even Europe and Christianity up to the days of our own William III.* And to whom else was it proclaimed ? To the patriarchs of the GREEK Church, which in her Articles owns the Scriptures as the foundation of her faith above all Councils, but which at that time had yet done so little to distribute them among her 80,000,000 of adherents.

It was proclaimed to the patriarchs of ARMENIAN and NESTORIAN Churches, who for thirty years previously, through the distribution of the Scriptures by England and America in their spoken tongues, had been rising from their ashes, hearing afresh the voice of God, which they had long treasured in their ancient languages. And, marvel of marvels! it was also proclaimed to the Chief Rabbi of the Jews, who came to receive for his oppressed race the promise of equality in their oun Holy Land from the ordinance of a Mohammedan Sultan! “Truly," said the “ Times” of that period, “ that religious freedom should have been proclaimed for the first time to the members of Churches so long persecuted by Emperors and Sultans, is like a vision of dry bones coming to life, or the disinterment of a city hidden for ages. Not only in Constantinople, but from the frontiers of Austria to the shores of the Persian Gulf, in Belgrade and Adrianople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Tunis, in the holy cities of Arabia, at the birthplace and at the grave

of the Prophet, this Imperial Edict, translated and printed in many tongues, will be read and pondered.”

* The Constantinople correspondent of “La Presse

says that the appointed Ulema for prayers was not present ; that another Ulema was called upon who, with uplifted hands, pronounced in the Arab tongue, which

very few around him understood, a fiery protest to heaven on what had just been done. One Pasha angrily declared this “prayer” to have been an anathema.

But although this was the actual turning on its long-closed hinge of the door of admission for the Word of God into the homes of the Turks, it is also a fact that more than ten years before the year 1856, British influence had been brought to bear upon the subject of religious freedom in the lands where the Book was written.

Lord Stratford de Redcliffe must count it among his highest honours that in his influential position as Ambassador to the Porte at that time, he was used of God to enable Mr. Layard to enter upon his grand task of disinterring ancient Nineveh, that mute but mighty witness to the history and prophecy of God's Word (since so much needed, in these days of doubt and daring infidelity); and also it was his still higher happiness to pave the way for all Mahommedans to read the Bible and embrace the faith of Christ; though, as it often happens, the blessing of their freedom followed on a cruel martyrdom. About the

1845 a

young man of the Armenian race and Church “ turned Turk” ; but after a time, disturbed by feelings of remorse, he threw aside the Koran and returned to his original faith. The Mussulman then knew no moderation in his revenge on a renegade who turned his back upon the creed of Mahommed after he had voluntarily embraced it. He could only expiate his crime through death by the hand of the public executioner.

This Armenian, therefore, was speedily denounced to the authorities, and condemned to die. Lord Stratford endeavoured to save his life by friendly intercession, in which the French Ambassador at first united with him, though he afterwards received no sanction for further action from his Government.

The Grand Vizier at that time was a Turk of the old school. Persuaded by the prejudices of his education that the surest road to Paradise would be one well paved with the heads of renegades, the poor Armenian found no mercy with him ; the headsman's yatagan fell on his submissive neck, and his body with his head, and an explanatory inscription, was exposed in a public street to tell (some say for three days and a half) the sad story of his religious inconstancy and barbarous punishment.

This painful incident affected Lord Stratford the more, as a

few days before the sufferer's death several of the nearest relatives had thrown themselves before the wheels of the English ambassador's carriage, imploring his assistance, which at that time was offered in vain. Little did they or the object of their useless intercession foresee that the sacrifice they then sought in vain to avoid, would be the means of saving countless other lives, and extinguishing, it was hoped for ever, a baneful and inhuman superstition.

These circumstances were reported without loss of time to the Governments of London and Paris, and in reply Lord Stratford, and Mons. de Bourquenet, were authorized by their respective Governments to remonstrate with the Porte, and to obtain, if possible, by an earnest exertion of joint official powers, the assurance that capital punishment would not in future be inflicted on renegades from Islamism to Christianity, or any other religion.

Lord Stratford, in pursuance of his instructions, sent in a formal note to the Turkish Minister, consigning it to his interpreter, who exclaimed, “ Your Excellency may be sure this will never succeed ;” but our Ambassador replied, with true AngloSaxon determination, “ M. Pisani, it shall; for my heart and soul," as he said, “were engaged in the matter; and I sought to impress on others the confidence which I yet scarcely felt in my own heart.”

The next morning, while thinking on the subject, it occurred to Lord S. that he had in his possession a Koran. He sent for it; and, strange as it may appear, in the very first page he opened upon, his eye fell upon a passage which indicated that the punishment of renegades, assigned by Mohammed, related to the next world, and not to this. He referred from the translation to the original, and his impressions were confirmed ; he then begged his linguist to call upon the Turkish Minister, with whom he happened to be personally intimate, and to call his attention to the discovery they had made. An argument ensued between the Turkish Minister and his Christian expositor. The former was fairly beaten, and in his distress sent for the Imaum to carry on the argument in his place. The Parson fared no better than the Pasha, and Lord S. had the satisfaction of thinking that if they were not convinced, their self-reliance was at least shaken, and a powerful influence brought to bear upon their resistance.

During days, if not weeks, of negotiation, things made but little progress towards a satisfactory result, and before the last struggle came on, the French Cabinet lost heart. Fresh instructions were sent to their Ambassador, who informed Lord Stratford candidly of the change, and tried, as in duty bound, to bring him down to his own level. His personal sentiments, he declared, were unaltered, and he would continue to support and sympathise in that sense, but he was no longer at liberty to act officially as he had hitherto done.

As Lord S. had no similar instructions to keep him back he made up his mind to push forward, and perseverance finally met with its reward. After much protracted reluctance the Porte at length gave way in a fashion of its own, which it became the business of England's Representative to improve into a more complete and satisfactory agreement.

The Sultan's ministers were to give him their assurance in rather vague terms, that the hideous practice complained of would be discontinued. The Sultan himself, in person, was to confirm that assurance in a more positive manner, and Lord S., in a formal note, recorded and acknowledged the double promise thus given, and did so in words which left no room for mistakes. The Secretary of State did all in his power to avoid accepting these notes, but Lord S. insisted with resolute determination, and finally carried the point. A reference to the official correspondence laid before Parliament will make up for any deficiency in this narrative.

The Editor received from the best authority the interesting particulars above recited at about the time (July in last year) when, owing to circumstances then occurring in Syria, great anxiety was felt by all Christian workers there lest the “ HATTI HAMAYOUN” (as the Turkish Edict of freedom was called) should prove after fifteen years a dead letter. It will therefore not be uninteresting to recall, as advised, from further Parliamentary papers

of 1855 a few more particulars concerning this subject. In May, 1855, a despatch of Lord Clarendon's declared to the Ambassador at Constantinople “ that Her Majesty's Government considered that there should not only be complete toleration in the Sultan's dominions of non-Mussulman religion, but that all punishments on converts from Islamism, whether natives or foreigners, ought to be abolished.”

The Turkish Missions Aid Society had presented a memorial through Lord Shaftesbury, then President, to Lord Clarendon, showing that, notwithstanding the pledges of the Turkish Government in 1845 to take effectual measures to prevent the putting to death of a Christian who is an apostate, cases had recently occurred at Aleppo and Adrianople proving that the sanguinary law was still in force.

The Society of Friends of Religious Liberty, through Sir Culling Eardley, likewise presented a memorial to Lord Clarendon, signed by persons from different parts of Europe, requesting him to induce the Queen to use her powerful influence with the Sultan to prevent the infliction of capital punishment upon Mahomedans who may embrace the Christian faith.

A letter from Lord Clarendon to Lord Stratford of September, 1855, after further investigation, is expressed in very decided terms. The subject was to be pressed on the most serious and immediate attention of the Porte. «The Turkish “Government cannot expect that the great Christian Powers of

Europe, who are making gigantic efforts and submitting to

enormous sacrifices to save the Turkish Empire from ruin and “ destruction, can permit the continuance of a law in Turkey “ which is not only a standing insult to them, but a source of “ cruel persecution to their co-religionists, which they never can “ consent to perpetuate by the successes of their fleets and “ armies. They are entitled to demand, and do distinctly “ demand, that no punishment whatever shall attach to the “ Mahomedan who becomes Christian, whether originally a “ Mahomedan or originally a Christian. In all cases the movements of human conscience must be left free.”

It would require a reference to the whole of this correspondence to perceive how, month after month, the Representative of Great Britain, supported by his Government, stood firm as a rock in conference with the Turkish Ministers, very little dis

« PreviousContinue »