Chapter# 8: Conspiracy
The little company, led away to their place of confinement in the palace, entered it rejoicing, saying how good it was to suffer for the sake of truth. But throughout the city, when news of their imprisonment was made known, the utmost excitement prevailed. Crowds of people, not knowing the cause, came together in amazement, more especially the poor orphans and others who had been the subject of their kindness and care. There was nothing but noise and commotion in the streets. In this ferment and turmoil the people were divided, some saying one thing and some another. The upper classes, men of letters, the poets and such-like, cried out against the cruel treatment of men who were patterns of all that was virtuous and good, ornaments of society and pillars of the city. For what crime could it be? Every kind of accusation was levelled against Wali and his council. But, among the better informed, the truth by degrees came out.
As for Sheikh Nasir al-Din and his party, these, joined by many who had hatred toward the converts, spread it abroad in every corner of the city that the prisoners had not only become Christians, but (which few would believe) that they had also blasphemed the Prophet and the Quran, seeking thereby to stir up the mob against them. They further sought for means to bring the poor souls within the grasp of the penal law, and for that end assembled in the house of Sheikh Ahmed al-Keilani. After long discussion Abd ul-KarÎm summed up the matter: "We are all agreed that it is desirable for one to be condemned to death; after which, no doubt, others too will recant, and in the end all may come round. We must remember that at this lime it would not be possible to gel the government to sentence all, or even several of them, to death, because of the religious freedom that exists in the great states in alliance with our empire. And further, because the position of the rebels and their hold upon society is such, that their execution would create an uproar, riots, and loss of life in the city. We must not think of that, for we would not succeed; but against one we might."
When this had been agreed upon, they fell to discussing who that one should be. Various names were suggested. At last Sheikh Ali Attar spoke.
"It seems to me," he said, "that we should single out Omar al-Haris. He is young, has no connection to speak of, and is, moreover, disliked for his rough manners and temper. Further, he jacks the necessary insight to properly perceive the situation, and so will stubbornly persist in his talk, and be easily trapped by his own words. When he is condemned, the rest will soon back down too, the scandal to Islam will cease, and so we shall have achieved a great gain to the faith."
The project was well received by all, except by one, Sheikh Ibrahim, who had tilled now been silent.
"By my life!" he cried, "let us hold by the law and by the right, not change piety into deceit, morning light, as it were, into midnight darkness. I cannot be a participant in the death of a man like this, nor have any share in this wretched work. What harm is it to us that a neighbour should choose what he believes?"
Sheikh Ahmed angrily asked him not to interfere. "We do not ask you to join us; only, if you will leave, keep what you have heard to yourself."
"Very good," he answered; but as he went his way he cried, "The Lord confound your designs against this honest man!"
"Never mind him," said Sheikh Omar, "he and his group are always contradicting. If one says, 'Honey is sweet,' they say, 'No, it is acid'; or if one says, 'Vinegar is acid,' they say, 'No, it is sweet.' It was foolish of us to have such a fellow in our company."
Nasir al-Din commented: "Now that he is gone, let us return to our design, and see how we can best carry it out."
"Let us get permission to visit them," said Sheikh Ahmed. "Then, hiding our aim, we can secure their confidence by friendly conversation, especially with him whom we wish to convict. Let us ask I him these two questions: Is the Quran from God? And, Was Muhammed his messenger? The poor creature will not know what, in his confusion, to say, but will answer in his simplicity, without a thought of the consequences. If he agrees, we shall have won him back; if not, it will be ground for capital punishment."
But, said one, "Omar al-Haris is a man of few words, and will be hesitant to speak before his eiders. I doubt if you will get him to talk at all."
"Oh," replied Sheikh Ahmed, "trust me for that. I will prolong the friendly discussion till all join in, and he with the rest; and so, with the help of the Lord, we shall manage it."
Another said: "If we all enter together, they will suspect something, and we will not achieve our goal. Let three be chosen to visit them in their apartment. The rest of us can be about the palace, as if on some business of our own, and thus wait close by, for the result."
All agreeing, the three chosen were Sheikh Ahmed Keilani, Sheikh Ali Attar and Haj Yasin.
Now it happened that the Wali himself, and his courtiers, and certain of the council were also looking for reasons to condemn some of the converts, both in order to save the rest, and as a lesson to all the people in the city, but could find none. The Qadi and Mufti, on the contrary, were both against such cruelty, and were especially on their guard against any such schemes. In this they were helped by many of the old friends of the accused, who told his Excellency and those around him the danger of such a course.
The little company had been now four days in confinement when the three conspirators visited the palace. Having obtained permission, on the pretence of trying to win them back, they entered their apartment and addressed them with friendly greetings and every mark of sincere regard. For some lime the three visitors sat silent, as if in sad reflection, with downcast eyes. One could imagine them lost in an ocean of distress at the fall and misfortune of their friends, while in reality they thirsted for the blood of at least one of their number. At last Sheikh Ahmed opened his mouth, and after uttering expressions of deepest sympathy, he asked them to believe that the whole population had been thrown into alarm, small and great. Friends sorrowed, enemies rejoiced. The talk of the city was about nothing else. Some said they had lost their senses; others, that much learning had driven them mad. In every street and lane there was wrangling and fighting about them, and so danger to the public peace.
"Seeing all this," Sheikh Ahmed continued, "we decided to vigil you and do what we could to make you repent. We urge you, brethren, by the Lord, to conceal nothing from us that might be of benefit to you, nor refuse to answer our questions. (Omar Zaki, aside to Sheikh Ali, said: "A plot and a trick, this sudden anxiety for our welfare. Be on your guard!") How glad we would be if you returned! It would cast a beam of sunshine into your homes, where your poor families sit in bitterness of heart. But if your mind is made up, we do not wish you to change it. Indeed, we are even ready to go with you, if you could only show us that the path you have chosen is the right way; for the life to come is much more preferable to this present life. So give us answers to the questions we may ask you, with all confidence and friendship, as we, according to our ability, will answer any questions you may ask us. The Lord guides us into the right and blessed way!"
"Ask us then what you will," replied Sheikh Mahmoud.
Sheikh Ahmed began: "Well, we learn from the rumours that you believe the Old and New Testaments to be genuine. And so we are shocked, knowing that these, as now in the hands of Christians, claim in respect to Jesus, son of Mary (on whom be blessings!), His divinity, crucifixion, death, and atonement -articles of faith which the Quran denounces. Is not this to charge the Quran with Lying, despite the fact that believers hold the Quran to be a revelation from the Lord? We await your answer."
But the company held back from saying a ward, suspecting the net that was being spread before them. After a pause Omar Zaki spoke: "We see no reason to answer the question otherwise than that we do believe the Torah and Gospel to be the uncorrupted Word of God, for which, indeed, there are abundant proofs. But be not offended if I say we suspect you of being pretenders come to spy out our liberty -Lying in wait, if by chance something might escape our lips that could be used as a reason for complaint against us."
Sheikh Ali Attar said: "The Lord forbid! We love you as we love our own brothers. But about this Bible, we are beginning to be distressed, thinking that the Quran might not be true, containing as it does such contradictions to those articles of faith; or if it is true, then the Book of the Jews and Christians must have been tampered with."
From this he went on to say that it was their distress that had brought them to make this visit, and they did not expect such unworthy accusations. It broke their hearts; and so saying, they rose as if to go.
Sheikh Ali (one of the small group) exclaimed in simplicity: "Oh, do not go; do not heed our brother's words. We recognise your kind motives and good intentions. But the question is not exactly as you have put it, whether the Quran is false, implying as it does that all inquiry beyond it is forbidden as a sin. If you read the Torah and the Gospel, you will see as we have seen their wonderful agreement. Then compare them with the Quran." He went on with his explanation, when Sheikh Ahmed Keilani interrupted him: "We know all that," he said, "And it is all good and quite right, and we shall do what you ask hereafter, if the Lord wills. But what we are asking now is this: If one asserts the genuineness and purity of the Bible, is that not equivalent to a denial of the Quran?"
Ali, startled and taken aback, was silent, suspecting now, with good cause, the true purpose and honesty of the speaker. In short, the poor company were in a crisis, afraid of committing themselves to what might lead them into still greater trouble. They felt like a group of travellers, glancing on this side and on that, fearing an ambush.
Haj Yasin said: "Your alarm at finding us in your midst surprises us. (Omar, aside: "His assurance in saying that!") We are your brethren. Have you ever seen or heard anything from us to cause this alarm? Why this change of attitude toward us? Please tell us."
Omar al-Haris (the poor fellow was simple enough not to see the trap and the danger of approaching it) said: "Your urgency in pressing the question, for which there appears really no occasion, is what makes us suspect your motives, and puts us on your guard.
It would seem plain enough that our leaving Islam is a sufficient answer to the question. Why, then, are you pressing it? (Now the moment Omar began to speak, the countenances of the visitors brightened, and they prepared themselves, so that the arrow should not miss its mark.) No one doubts that the Quran contains many excellent things, taken from the Torah and Gospel."
Whereupon Sheikh Ahmed, standing forward and stroking his ' beard, interrupted him.
"Well said, my good sir. But has it been revealed to Muhammed (omitting, as part of the snare, the ordinary invocation of blessing on his name) -that is, revealed to him by inspiration?"
In a low voice Omar, caught in the snare, answered, "If I believed that, why then did I become a Christian?"
At these words the visitors cast off the veil of hypocrisy, and Ahmed, changing his soft and winning voice, cried out in loud and violent tones: "Then, my friend, you mean to say the Quran is not from God, and Muhammed, his Prophet, a deceiver, who has misled mankind with his lies. Mercy on us! God forbid! (Then growing louder) Oh, Omar, you have blasphemed the Quran and the Prophet in words past all endurance. Allahu akbar! Has it come to this? Ah, you have insulted our holy Book, blasphemed the Prophet, and reviled the faith!"
Now, while he was crying out in this excited way, the rest of his party, who, with a crowd of ignorant people, waited outside in expectation of something of the kind, look it for the signal to raise a tumult and storm around the prison house, as indeed it had already been planned. And so, gathering now into a mob, they rushed to the spot, crying out together: "Muhammed! Islam! Allahu akbar! Away with the infidels!" Then at the top of their voice, they screamed: "You dog! You swine! Ibn al-Haris, blasphemer of the blessed Quran, and of the Prophet, the Messenger of God! He calls the Quran a fabrication, and Muhammed an impostor who tricked the Arabs with his forgeries. Oh Prophet of the Lord, help! Oh true believers! This dog of an apostate has abused your Prophet and insulted your faith!" The screaming and shouting had reached a fearful pitch, when the angry crowd made a rush upon the prison door, but were beaten back by the palace guard.
On this, new multitudes, drawn by the commotion, kept running to the spot, bath of the common mob, and also friends of the little company within, and the fighting became tierce. You might have fancied it an attack of Timur (Tamerlaine) or Bonaparte, and fatal results might have followed, had not a battalion of guards and police come up, dispersed the riot, and arrested the ringleaders. These were at once taken before the Wali, who, presiding in the vice regal court at the moment, and frowning as they entered, denounced them for raising an uproar before his very gate. Such wild outbursts, he said, brought discredit upon their religion, and could be of no possible advantage to the Prophet or his revelation.
The accused answered: "Will our gracious Effendi, in his mercy, hear us, and after that do as it may please him?"
Permission given, they said that they had visited the palace on personal business, and, happening to pass the chamber in which the apostates were confined, heard Sheikh Ahmed and his friends talking with them and warning them. "So we said one to another, 'Let us leave these good people alone in their effort to bring the renegades back to the faith'; and so we continued with our own affairs. Shortly after, however, some of us passing by heard Omar al-Haris crying aloud that the Quran was not of God and that Muhammed the Koraishite was a liar and deceiver. On this, we all crowded back to the door, and such blasphemous words sounded in our ears from the apostate -worse than any Jew or Christian could utter -that our eyes flashed and our hearts burned with righteous indignation, and we could no longer restrain ourselves. We would give up our lives rather than listen to such abuse of Islam and our Prophet. And so the riot arose, and we became involved. We meant no offence to the state, but are the Effendi's humble and obedient subjects, who, admiring your grace and favour, thank your Excellency for patiently listening to us."
The Wali was satisfied, and ordered them to be seated. Then he called Ahmed and his two companions, asking them to submit a petition in the prescribed form. And this was the petition, signed by Ahmed, Ali, Yasin, Keilani, Attar, and Cabacabi:
Your servants humbly make complaint and say that, distressed at the apostasy which has occurred, we went with others to the apartment where the rebels are confined, vainly trying to convince them of their error, but we met with nothing but opposition. And when we asked whether the Quran de nies the divinity and crucifixion of the son of Mary, one of them, Omar al-Haris by name, said that the Quran did not descend from God. We answered, "But the Prophet and Messenger of God has said so." "Oh indeed!" said Omar mockingly, "how could he, as a Lying Koraishite that deceived the Arabs by his craft and falsehoods, have been a prophet?" At this our wrath was kindled, and we answered him angrily, as he deserved; which, when those standing outside heard, there arose the riot and violence which your Excellency has heard. This is our statement of what occurred. We leave the punishment of this slanderer and blasphemer of all that the true believer holds dear, to our Effendi's wisdom.
On this, the rioters were sent to prison, and the council was summoned. Omar al-Haris was then called into court. The presiding judge informed him of the charge of blasphemy set forth in the petition. He denied the charge, and explained exactly how it had all happened, concluding thus: "While I was admitting that the Quran contained much that was good, as taken from the Torah and the Gospel, Sheikh Ali Attar interposed, "Is not the Quran then inspired?' I replied to this charge, saying, 'If I believed that, why did I then become a Christian?' Whereupon the Sheikh shouted at me with the false charge here set forth; and he and his two companions, crying out, raised this commotion -this is conduct unworthy of an accomplished Sheikh like him."
The Qadi, aside, said, "The problem is that the two ever entered into discussion with one another at all."
The Judge said to Omar, "Surely the meaning of these words of yours is just such as is complained of, confessing as you did that you have blasphemed the Quran and the blessed Prophet before many witnesses."
Omar replied: "As to what your Honour says of the meaning of my words, I would say that all other people, neither being Muslims, nor believing in the inspiration of the Quran and the prophetic office of Muhammed, if they were questioned as I was, could only answer as I did. And are they punished for it? As for the other words attributed to me, I utterly deny them. The Lord knows they have been fabricated against me. God forbid I should be guilty of such folly! The accusers are enemies who desire my death; and your Honour knows that, with many, a lie supported with false evidence is lawful, if only the goal is in the interest of the faith. Now, if sentence is to be passed on the evidence of the mob who stormed the palace of our confinement, owing to my alleged blasphemy -such being their very motive for waiting there -would that be just? Is it in accordance with the law that a recent convert like myself should be condemned on the evidence of Muslims making such an attack against me, who, moreover, was at that very moment in confinement under the hand of the law? I plead for justice in accordance with the law."
"Silence!" cried the Wali. "We can show you no favour but what is in accordance with the law."
Then he ordered him back again into confinement.
The next day, when the council met, the prisoner's case was discussed by them in the presence of the Wali. Most gave their vote that he should be beheaded. The Oadi and Mufti objected, the former saying that neither by law nor statute could sentence I of death be passed on evidence of Muslims in such circumstances I as the present.
The president of council interjected: "It looks, my honourable friend Effendi, as if you sided with the apostate set. Does your Honour lean toward their persuasion?"
Qadi, smiling, said: "Be that far from me! But we are sitting in an imperial court, and we must decide in strict conformity with law and statute."
The Mufti agreed, saying: "In a council such as this, it is of necessity that we put aside all leanings, whether of religion or of race. Our empire is composed of many nationalities and peoples professing diverse faiths; and so, were we to decide apart from the imperial code, on sole consideration of religion, we should be opening the door of oppression, rebellion, and disaster. My humble advice is then: If, according to law and constitution, there is reason for the prisoner's execution, good and well; otherwise not. But the matter rests with you, most excellent Effendi."
After reflection, his Excellency said, "Let us first see the witnesses, and having heard their evidence, the council will be better able to advice."
Accordinglyhe called on the accusers to produce their witnesses; and having done so, he called to the Qadi; and when he had come, his Excellency whispered in his ear: "What do you think? I trust that the right thing will be done. We must see that the witnesses are not tram among the common folk, but respectable and trustworthy men. And now I trust that you will not take any further objection to the proceedings."
"As your Excellency pleases," said the Qadi who returned to his seat.
The accusers brought forward many witnesses, but their evidence was not deemed satisfactory. Finally, three were produced, of respectable appearance, mature age, and acknowledged piety. The accused, Omar al-Haris, was summoned. The witnesses, then put on solemn oath, gave circumstantial evidence similar to that of the accusers, and supported the charge of the prisoner's blasphemous statements. The Wali and his council frowned angrily at the offender as they listened to the seemingly indisputable testimony.
"What do you say to the evidence of these respectable witnesses?" asked the president.
Omar replied: "My prayer is that their respectability and credit may be multiplied abundantly. Decide what you will."
"No, but if you have anything to say in your defence, speak."
"Then 1 make bold to say how amazed and perplexed I am that men of age and standing like these should give such false and trumped-up testimony. Has speech like this ever been heard from me? The Lord pardons you! How shall you account for this on the Last Day, the Great Day of Judgment? To me it is of little importance; for me, death is better than living on in this wicked world. But let these conspirators know that my blood will not accomplish that which they desire. My trust is in the Lord, and He is the best of helpers."
"Silence, wretch and apostate!" cried the Wali. "Do not revile men who are better and truer than yourself."
But many in the council said secretly to one another, "Surely, Omar al-Haris is the truer and the better."
Omar was then taken back to prison. After the court had been cleared, the assembly continued their discussions. A number inclined towards the innocence of the prisoner, but their objections were overruled, and the sentence of death agreed to. A telegraphic dispatch was then prepared for transmission to the Porte, and the assembly broke up.
As the Qadi and Mufti walked home together, the former asked, "My brother, what do you think about the evidence of these men?"
"It seemed to me shamefully trumped up," said the Mufti. "I am shocked at respectable, religious-looking persons like these giving before God such testimony in a case of life and death. Have they no fear of the Lord before their eyes?"
And so they conversed as they went along. The Qadi on the way called to mind the story of a false witness discovered and discarded by a few close questionings of the Caliph Omar. "Just so," he said, "with these creatures who profess much piety, but practise it not, as it is said, 'They think to deceive God, but deceive only their own souls' (Sura The Cow2:8). Alas, that it should have come to what 1 feared; but did not I tell you so from the beginning? Signing the warrant of arrest for this innocent man has turned against us! And who knows but that the rest of the company may be likewise condemned on the evidence of such 'respectable' witnesses? Rather than that, I would quit my office and leave the city."
The Mufti, however, set his mind at rest on that point. He had heard reports of the plot to get Omar condemned, with the abject of having it be a lesson to the people, and also saving the rest, because he was poor, and had no influential relatives to back his defence. "It is different with the rest. Sheikhs Ali and Mahmoud have many powerful friends, and I myself will oppose any evil overtaking them, to the utmost of my ability. So, I think, my friend, you need not be under any fear for their safety."
"Thank God, my brother!" said the Qadi. "The Lord rewards you! You have lightened my heart and calmed my anxiety."
And so separating, each went to his own house.
As for the little company in confinement, the uproar that occurred after the conspiracy filled them with alarm -all except Sheikh Ali, who maintained composure throughout the ordeal. But when they heard of the fatal sentence, they all broke down and wept bitterly; for Omar was young, under thirty years of age, father of two small sons, handsome, gifted in speech, wise and able in conduct, far removed from all that was false and frivolous, and so was beloved by all around him. When he returned to his friends after the trial and sentence, he sat down in their midst, leaning his elbows on his knees, his eyes on the ground, and silent for a time. None of the company, immersed as they were in grief, could say a ward. At last, looking up through his tears, he said: "The time has come for me to leave you, beloved friends, and seal my testimony with my blood. If it be the Lord's will that I should die, then death to me is sweet, because it is the way that He directs. But I am weak and sorrowful; and one of my sorrows and anxieties is that, when you see your brother covered with blood for holding true to the Gospel, you shall become faint at heart and waver. But I pray that the opposite may be true and that God may strengthen you in the truth. My poor wife and two dear boys leave in my Heavenly Father's hand. I hear that she has gone with them to her father's house. I trust I may see them once again before I die. And I pray that my honoured friends, Sheikh Ali and Sheikh Mahmoud, would cast an eye of pity on the orphan children of their brother, who now transfers upon them his responsibility of bringing them up in the fear of the Lord, if it pleases Him again to free your path and give you standing in the city. As for me, I shall be put to death, as 1 think, tomorrow. But let not that grieve you too much; for I die not because of any offence, but for the truth's sake, and the sake of Him who died for me. This is my crown of rejoicing before the Lord. They may kill my body, but they cannot touch my soul. This separation is but for a moment, and there will be a joyful reunion before our blessed Redeemer. The Lord is my refuge, and to Him I fly as to a hiding place.
Then the rest began to speak comfortingly to him, one after another.
Sheikh Ali said: "If only the arrow had been shot at me, and that you had escaped! How evil the craft of mankind! If they put to death the blessed son of Mary, who came to bless them, is it strange for them to put to death His followers? Thank God, who has established your faith and strengthened your heart." With many such words he comforted Omar, and then ended: "May the Father of mercy and God of all grace bless your two sons, of whom, if it pleases God, we shall take the charge, as if they were our own."
Mahmoud followed in the same strain, with a cry of anguish: "Ah, the young are taken, and the old are left! Might it yet please the Lord to save him!"
And so they spent a great part of the night in sorrowful discourse and prayer.
The same evening a message came by telegraph from the Porte. It expressed the Sultan's grief and concern at the apostasy of the eight heretics, as reported in the first telegram, and at the charge of blasphemy against one of them in the second. "Now," it proceeded, "if, on the testimony of trustworthy witnesses, it can be proved that the accused spoke despitefully of the Quran and the Prophet, we ordain that he be executed by the sword on the day alter receipt of this command, in the presence of the officers of state, of the troops, and of the apostates themselves, as a warning to them. As regards these, however, as long as there is no offence against the law, change of religion does not of itself subject a convert to punishment. But if there be reasonable fear that their presence may cause commotion and disturbances in the city, then they must be removed to some other land for a period. But during their absence their goods, homes, and families must be protected."
On the receipt of this imperial dispatch, the officers of state, the general commanding the troops, the heads of the city, and other leading men were summoned by the police. When all were assembled before the Wali the order was read aloud to them, which, on hearing it, they shouted, as with one voice: "Long live our Sultan, Commander of the Faithful, and you, his Viceroy, our governor!" The Wali then said that the execution must proceed tomorrow, as commanded.
Some proposed an early hour; but the Qadi suggested after midday, so that the condemned man might have time for reflection, and for seeing his family and friends, who might be able to recall him to the faith. After some consultation with the Mufti, these, and the exile of the rest of the company on the 14th day of the month, were agreed to. The interpreter then made proclamation accordingly, whereupon all praised the mercy of his Excellency, and every man returned to his home.
In the morning the prisoner was formally notified of the sentence and time of execution. This being publicized, his family and friends grieved bitterly. His wife, taking her two little sons, one five, the other seven years of age, hurried along the road to the palace, followed by her mother, brother, and husband's sister, her garments torn, and her hair dishevelled, weeping as she went. Entering, she fell senseless at Omar's feet. Then, beating her face, and dwelling on his love for her, and hers for him, she begged Omar to have pity on her and her orphaned children.
"Alas and alas!" she cried, "think of these tender ones and of your handmaid, all robbed of their protector. Oh, as you love me, change your mind, or keep it all within your own heart, until the Lord shall open a way of safety!"
And again she fell at his feet, bathing them with her tears; the children cried bitterly. Omar raised her gently, and calling her the dearest object to him in the world, asked her to quiet her distress and listen to what he had to say. So she sat by him, as he wiped the tears from his boys' eyes, held them close to his bosom, and kissed them tenderly. Then, with difficulty restraining himself from an outburst of grief, he began to speak to his wife. In a long and loving address, interrupted over and again by fits of emotion, he dwelt on the changeableness of earthly things, and the reunion beyond. Separation from her, the flower of his life, his very heartís blood, was grievous; but to deny his Saviour would be still more grievous, makes him miserable here, and lost hereafter. Should he outwardly repent, keeping his faith in his heart, as she had suggested, out of love for her and the children that would be hateful hypocrisy toward God, and the selling of his Saviour. He could not go back, as he had often told her.
"If you truly love me," he continued, "cease with your request, and let me go to my Lord. Then, if you will join me in the path of truth, we will soon meet again above." And so he encouraged her and the relatives that accompanied her, to embrace the faith of Jesus, repeating John 3: 16, as well as other passages on the love of God and eternal life:
For God so loved the world
That He gave His only begotten Son,
That whoever believes in Him
Should not perish
But have everlasting life.
After that he entrusted his sons to the guardianship of Ali and Mahmoud, and holding them close to his bosom, prayed: "May the Fountain of mercy, grace, and comfort, bless you, my beloved sons, and guide you both, as your father has been guided, into the right way! Man may separate us now, but they shall not be able in His heavenly kingdom."
His sister, who had been standing by, weeping, embraced him now.
"My soul!" she cried, "How can I live without my brother, the light of my eyes? My only brother, dear! I would not add to your grief; but where shall I go, and what is life without you? If only I had never been barn, or that I had died before you. To see your blood shed -Oh, that my eyes were hardened to hide away the sight! Oh, that the Lord might yet keep this calamity from happening!" And she threw herself upon him, kissing his hands and neck and feet, with bitter crying.
He wept too, and kissed her. Then he quieted her with loving words, and begged that she should take his wife away.
"Never!" she said, "I will cling to your side as long as I may see your face. Do you not know that every moment by you are dearer to me than all my life?"
Just as this scene, which might have melted a heart of stone, was going on, the Qadi and Mufti came up to see if they could not make Omar repent; but he refused. Then the Qadi look him into an adjoining apartment by himself alone, and did his utmost to persuade him to return to Islam outwardly. Then he promised him a pardon, and that he would get him sent away to Europe, or to Lebanon, where he might in safety profess the Christian faith; and he gave him the Wali's solemn guarantee to that effect.
Omar thanked him kindly for the interest he had shown in him, both at the court and now. "But God forbid," he said, "that I should forsake the Gospel, even for a time or in appearance, or say with my tongue that which is opposed to my heart's conviction. But I well know that it is nothing but affection that has led you to make me this offer."
Then grasping his hand, with the prayer that every blessing might attend him, he kissed it, while the Qadi kissed his in affectionate return. After that the Qadi headed homeward with the Mufti, both deeply affected at the devotion and steadfastness of the youthful confessor.
Great numbers of friends and relatives kept crowding the room, in the vain hope of making him change his mind. And so things went on till the hour arrived, and his brethren and family embraced him with a last farewell. His wife and sister, since his return form the interview with the Qadi, had not ceased clinging to him in their uncontrollable grief, when the commandant of the guard entered, and, having hung across Omar's bosom the fatal decree, led him forth from the place of confinement with his family, friends, and the little company of converts. Just then the general appeared with a squadron of horses. The procession was formed at once. A column of gendarmes marched in front, and a body of the imperial troops in the rear. The prisoner and his friends, surrounded by the officers of state and other grandees, were in the centre. There followed a crowd of citizens, and a great multitude of common people. Most of the latter were pleased at the sight, but of the more intelligent classes many were distressed and sorrowful. And so they moved slowly on till they reached the place of execution. There the squadron, with its glittering weapons, was drawn up on one hand, and the gendarmes on the other, with the crowd on a rising ground behind. The Mufti now came forward, and separating Omar from his wife and sister, who had bath till now been holding his hands on either side, carried them to a suitable site nearby. Then having obtained permission, Omar spoke as follows: "I rejoice that it is not for any crime that I am about to suffer. Before Heaven I affirm that the evidence against me is false. May the Lord forgive them that gave it. I have done wrong, but am nevertheless ready to die for the Gospel's sake. And in the presence of the great assembly, the rich, the learned, and multitude of fellow-citizens, I confess that I have embraced the blessed faith of the Messiah. And I testify that Jesus, son of Mary, the wonderful 'Word of God' and 'Spirit from God,' has come to save you from a death far more fearful than the one I am about to suffer. Jesus came to give, through His death, eternal life to as many as receive Him as Lord and Saviour. Look on me, my fellow citizens, how I rejoice in this faith with the sword unsheathed above me. Thanks are to God for letting me tell you this! And now, if I have wronged anyone, I crave his pardon. The hour will come when we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Him who shall render to every man according to his deeds."
Having spoken this in a loud voice, before the whole assembly, he knelt down and prayed for a blessing on his home and people, on the Sultan and all rulers and governors, and on those who had sought his life, ending thus: "Oh Lord Jesus, the Messiah, into Your hands do I commend my spirit!" He ceased, and as he continued kneeling in perfect peace, with quiet and downcast look, his noble countenance lightened with tranquillity. Everyone stood awed at the sight -one which made an impression they would never forget.
At the fatal trumpet blast, the sword flashed upon his neck and the head rolled from the body which tell all gory to the ground. His relatives moved forward to the spot, weeping bitterly. His sister caught up the head and pressed it to her bosom, while the poor widow fell upon the corpse, wailing loudly. The remains were then placed upon a bier, covered over with a pall of crimson velvet, and, by order of the authorities, borne to the Christian burial-ground, where, with all reverence and regard, they were committed to the dust.
Index Chapter 7 Chapter 9