"The (indelible religious) marking of Allah. And who marks better than Allah! And for Him we are worshipers." (Qur'an 2:138)
It is a great pity that the Evangelists have not left us a complete and detailed account of the sermon of John the Baptist; and assuming they ever did, it is nothing short of a crime on the part of the Church not to have preserved its text. For it is impossible to imagine the mysterious and enigmatic words of the Baptist in their present shape could have been understood even by the most erudite among his audience We know that the Jewish doctors and lawyers asked him to explain himself upon various points and to make his declarations more explicit and plain (John i. 19-23 and v. 33). There is no doubt that he elucidated those vital points to his hearers, and did not leave them in obscurity; for he was "a burning and enlightening candle," who "gave witness concerning the truth" (John v. 33, 35). What was this witness, and what was the nature of the truth about which that witness was given? And what makes it still more obscure is the fact that each Evangelist does not report the same points in identical terms. There is no precision about the character of the truth; was it about the person of Christ and the nature of his mission, or was it about the Messenger of Allah as foretold by Jacob (Gen. xlix.)? What were the precise terms of John's witness about Jesus, and about the future Prophet who was his superior?
In the third article of this series (1) I offered ample proofs that the Prophet foretold by the Baptist was other than Jesus Christ; and in the fourth article (2) we find several arguments in favor of the Messenger of Allah as being a superior and more powerful Prophet than John. Those arguments, in my humble opinion, and in my solid conviction, are logical, true, and conclusive. Each of those arguments could be easily developed so as to make a voluminous book. I am fully conscious of the fact that these argumentations will present a jarring sound to the fanatical ears of many a Christian. But truth exalts itself and extols him who propagates it. The truth about which John gave witness, as quoted above, we unhesitatingly believe to be concerning Prophet Muhammad. Prophet John gave two witnesses, one about the "Shliha d'Allaha" - according to the then Palestinian dialect, which means the "Messenger of Allah" - and the other about Jesus, whom he declared to have been born of the Holy Spirit and not of an earthly father; to be the true Messiah who was sent by Allah as the last great Jewish Prophet to give a new light and spirit to the Law of Moses; and to having been commissioned to teach the Jews that their salvation rested on submitting to the great son of Ishmael. Like the old Jews who threw into disorder their Scriptures, the new Jews of the Christian Church, in imitation of their forefathers, have corrupted their own. But even these corruptions in the Gospels cannot conceal the truth.
------------Footnote: (1). Vide Islamic Review for March - April, 1930. (2). Ibid., May, 1930. ------------ end of footnote
The principal point which constitutes the power and the superiority of the Prince of the Messengers of Allah is the baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The admission by the author of the Fourth Gospel that Prophet Jesus and his disciples also used to baptize with water simultaneously with John the Baptist is an abrogation de facto of the parenthetical note that "Jesus did not baptize himself, but his disciples only" (John iii. 23 and iv. 1, 2). But granting that he himself did not baptize, the admission that his disciples did, while yet initiates and unlearned, shows that their baptism was of the same nature as that of John's. Considering the fact that Jesus during the period of his earthly mission administered that rite exactly as the Baptist was doing at the streams or pools of water, and that he ordered his disciples to continue the same, it becomes as evident and as clear as a barn door that he was not the person intended by the Crier in the Wilderness when he foretold the advent of a powerful Prophet with the baptism of the Spirit and fire. It does not require much learning or an extraordinary intelligence to understand the force of the argument - namely, Jesus during his lifetime baptized not a single person with the Holy Spirit and with fire. How, then, can he be regarded as the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit and with fire, or be identified with the Prophet foretold by John? If words, sermons, and prophecies mean anything, and are uttered in order to teach anything at all, then the words of the Baptist mean and teach us that the baptism with water would continue to be practiced until the Appearance of the "Shilohah" or the Messenger of Allah, and then it would cease and give place to the exercise of the baptism with the Spirit and fire. This is the only logical and intelligible conclusion to be deduced from the preaching as recorded in the third chapter of the First Gospel. The continuation of the Christian baptism and its elevation to the dignity of a Sacrament is a clear proof that the Church does not believe in a baptism other than that which is performed with water. Logic, common sense, and respect for any sacred writ ought to convince every impartial reader that the two baptisms are quite different things. The Prophet of the desert does not recognize the baptism with fire in the baptism with water. The nature and the efficacy of each baptism is distinctly stated and defined. The one is performed by immersing or washing the body with water as a sign or mark of repentance; and the other is performed no longer by water but by the Holy Spirit and the fire, the effect of which is a thorough change of heart, faith, and feeling. One purifies the body, the other enlightens the mind, confirms the faith, and regenerates the heart. One is outward, it is Judaism; the other is inward, it is Islam. The baptism of Prophets John and Jesus washes the shell, but the baptism of the Messenger of Allah washes the kernel. In short, the Judaeo-Christian baptism is substituted by the Islamic "Ghusl" and "Wudhu" - or the ablutions which are performed, not by a prophet or priest, but by the believing individual himself. The Judaeo-Christian baptism was necessary and obligatory so long as the baptism of Allah - the Qur'anic "Sibghatullah" - was anticipated; and when Prophet Muhammad thundered the Divine Revelations of the Qur'an, then it was that the former baptism vanished as a shadow.
The extreme importance of the two baptisms deserves a very serious consideration, and I believe the observations made in this article must considerably interest both the Muslims and other readers. For the point under discussion, from a religious standpoint, is vital to salvation. The Christians, I honestly maintain, are not justified in perpetuating their baptism with water ad infinitum, since their own Gospels foretell that it will be abrogated by another one which will exclude the use of water altogether. I submit the following observations to the thoughtful and impartial judgment of my readers.
WHAT BAPTISM IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
(a) It is within our rights to agree or to disagree with a doctrine or a theory, but nothing can justify our conduct if we deliberately distort and misrepresent a doctrine in order to prove our own theory about it. To distort the Scriptures is iniquitous and criminal; for the error caused in this respect is irreparable and pernicious. Now the baptism of John and Jesus is plainly described and illustrated to us in the Gospels, and is entirely alien and opposed to the baptism of the Churches.
We are not positively certain about the original Hebrew or Aramaic word for the Greek baptism. The Pshittha Version uses the word "ma'muditha" from the verb "aimad" and aa'mid," which means "to stand up like an a'muda" (a pillar or column), and its causative form "aa'mid" "to erect, set up, establish, confirm" and so on, but it has no signification of "to immerse, dip, wash, sprinkle, bathe, as the ecclesiastical baptism is supposed to mean. The original Hebrew verbs "rahas" "to bathe", "tabhal' (read "taval") "to dip, to immerse," might give the sense conveyed by the Greek word "baptizo" - "I baptize." The Arabic versions of the New Testament have adopted the Aramaic form, and call the Baptist "al-Ma'midan," and "ma'mudiyeh" for "baptism." In all the Semitic languages, including the Arabic, the verb "a'mad" signifies in its simple or qal form "to stand erect like a pillar," and does not contain the meaning of washing or immersion; and therefore it could not be the original word from which the Greek "baptismos" is the translation. There is no necessary to argue that both John and Jesus never heard of the word "baptismos" in its Greek form, but that there was evidently another Semitic nomenclature used by them.
(b) Considering the classical signification of the Greek "baptismos" which means tincture, dye, and immersion," the word in use could not be other than "Saba," and the Arabic "Sabagha," "to dye." It is a well-known fact that the Sabians, mentioned in the Qur'an and by the early Christian Fathers - such as Epiphanus and others - were the followers of John. The very name "Sabians," according to the celebrated Ernest Renan (La vie de Jesus, ch. vi), signifies "Baptists." They practiced baptism, and like the old Hassayi (Essenians, or al-Chassaites) and Ibionayi (Ebionites) led an austere life. Considering the fact that their founder, Budasp, was a Chaldean sage, the true orthography of their name would be "Saba'i," i.e. "Dyers" or "Baptists." A famous Chaldean or Assyrian Catholics of the fourth century, Mar Shimon, was called "Bar Saba'i," "Son of the Dyers." Probably his family belonged to the Sabin religion. The Qur'an writes this name "Sabi'm"' with the hamza vowel instead of ain as it is in the original Aramaic "Saba'i," I am cognizant, however, of other interpretations placed on the name "Sabian": some authors suppose it to be derived from "Sabi'," the son of Sheth, and others from the Hebrew "Saba," which means "army," because they used to have a kind of special devotion to the stars as the host of heaven. Although they have nothing in common with the Christian Churches, except their peculiar 'Sab'utha," or Baptism, they are wrongly called "the Christians of St. John-Baptist." The Qur'an, as usual, writes all foreign names as they were pronounced by the Arabs.
An extensive and deep research in the religion of the Sabians, who had almost overrun the Arab nation long before the light of Islam shone with the appearance of the Holy Prophet of Allah, will show us several truths. There were three forms of baptism practiced by the Jews, the Sabians, and the Christians. The Jewish baptism, which had no origin in their sacred books, was invented chiefly for the proselytes. Each religion had its definite baptismal formula and a special ritual. The Jewish "Cohen" (priest) baptized his convert in the Name of Allah; the Sabian in the Name of Allah and of John; but the Christian "Qushlsha" (in Arabic "qassis" or presbyter) baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, in which the names of Allah and of Jesus are not directly recited. The diversity and the antagonism of the three baptismal systems is apparent. The Jew, as a true Unitarian, could not tolerate the name of John to be associated with that of the Elohim; whereas the Christian formula was extremely repugnant to his religious taste. There is no doubt that the Christian baptism, with its sacramental character and polytheistic taint, was abhorred also by the Sabians. The symbol of the convenant between Allah and His worshipers was not baptism but circumcision (Gen. xvii), an ancient institution which was strictly observed, not only by the three religions, but also by many pagan Arab tribes. These diverse baptismal forms and rituals among the Semitic peoples in the East were not an essential divine institution but only a symbol or sign, and therefore not strong and efficacious enough to supplant one another. They all used water for the material of their baptism, and, more or less, in similar form or manner. But each religion adopted a different name to distinguish its own practice from that of the other two. The original Aramaic "Sab'urtha" - properly and truly translated into the Greek "baptismos" was faithfully preserved by the Saba'ites (Sabians). It appears that the Semitic Christians, in order to distinguish their sacramental baptism from that of the Sabaites, adopted the appellation of "ma'muditha" which, from a linguistic point of view, has nothing whatever to do with baptism or even with washing or immersion. It is only an ecclesiatical coinage. Why "ma'muditha" was adopted to replace "Sab'utha" is a question altogether foreign to our present subject; but en passant, I may add that this word in the Pshittha is used also for a pool, a basin for ablution (John v.2). The only explanation which may lead towards the solution of this problem of the "ma'muditha" is the fact that John the Baptist and his followers, including Jesus the son of Mary and his disciples, cause a penitent or a proselyte to stand straight like a pillar in a pool of water or in a river in order to be bathed with water, hence the names of aa'mid" and "ma'muditha."
(c) The Christian baptism, notwithstanding its fanfaronade definitions, is nothing more or less than an aspersion with water or an immersion in it. The Council of Trent anathematizes anyone who would say that the Christian baptism is the same as that of St. John's. I venture to declare that the Christian baptism has not only no spiritual character or effect, but it is also even below the baptism of the Baptist. And if I deserve the anathema of the Church for my conviction, I shall deem it as a great honor before my Creator. I consider the pretensions of a Christian priest about the baptism as a means of purification of the soul from original sin and all the rest of it as of a piece with the claims of a sorcerer. The baptism with water was only a symbol of baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and after the establishment of Islam as the official kingdom of God all the three previous baptisms vanished and were abolished.
(d) From the meager and scant account in the Gospels we cannot get a positive definition of the true nature of the baptism practiced by Prophets John and Jesus. The claim that the Church is the depository of the Divine Revelation and its true interpreter is as absurd as it is ridiculous the claim that the baptized infant or adult receives the Holy Spirit and becomes a child of God.
If the Greek word "baptismos" is the exact word for the Aramaic "Sab'utha" or "Sbhu'tha," which I am sure it is, then the Arabic "Sibghat" in the Qur'an, not only does it solve the problem and uncover the veil hiding the mysterious prophecy of John the Baptist,but also is a marvelous proof that the sacred scripture of Islam is a direction Revelation of Allah, and that His Prophet true and the real person whom John predicted! The baptist ("Saba'a") plunges or immerses his neophyte or an infant into a pond, as a dyer or a fuller plunges a cloth or garment into a kettle of dye. It is easily understood that baptism is not a "thara." purification or washing, nor "Tabhala," an immersion nor even a "rahsa," a bathing or washing, but "sab'aitha," a dyeing, a coloring. It is extremely important to know these distinctions. Just as a "saba'a," a dyer, gives a new color to a garment by dipping it into a kettle of tincture, so a baptist gives his convert a new spiritual hue. Here we must make a fundamental distinction between a proselyte Gentile and a penitent Jew and Ishmaelite Arab. The former was formally circumcised, whereas thee latter baptized only. By the circumcision a Gentile was admitted into the family of Abraham, and therefore into the fold of God's people. By baptism a circumcised believer was admitted into the society of the penitent and reformed believers. Circumcision is an ancient Divine institution which was not abrogated by Prophet Jesus nor by Prophet Muhammad. The baptism practiced by John and the Christ was only for the benefit of the penitent persons among the circumcised. Both these institutions indicated and presented a religion. The baptism of John and of his cousin Jesus was a mark of admission into the society of the purified penitents who promised loyalty and homage to Messenger of Allah whose coming they both foretold.
It follows, therefore, that just as circumcision signified the religion of Prophet Abraham and his adherents (his slaves were also circumcised), so baptism signified the religion of John and Jesus, which was a preparation for the Jews and the Gentiles to accord a cordial reception to the Messenger of Islam and to embrace his religion.
(e) According to the testimony of St. Mark (i. 1-8), the baptism of John had the character of the "remission of sins." It is stated that "all the country of Judaea and the inhabitants of Jerusalem went out to him and were all baptized by him in the River Jordan while confessing their sins." This is tantamount to saying that millions of the penitent Jews confessed their sins, were baptized by the Prophet, and then their sins were obliterated by the waters of baptism. It is generally admitted that St. Mark's Gospel is the oldest of the Four Gospels. All the ancient Greek manuscripts do not contain the last twelve verses added to chapter xvi. of this Gospel (verses 9-20). Even in these supplementary verses the formula "in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" is not inscribed. Jesus simply says: "Go and preach my Gospel unto the whole world; he who believes and is baptized shall live, and he who does not believe shall be damned."
It is evident that the baptism of Jesus was the same as that of John's and a continuation of it. If the baptism of John was a sufficient means of the remission of sins, then the assertion that the "Lamb of God carries away the sins of the world" (John i.) is exploded. If the waters of the Jordan were efficacious enough to cleanse the leprosy of Naaman through the prayer of the Prophet Elisha (2 Kings v), and to remit the sins of the myriads through that of the Prophet John, the shedding of the blood of a god would be superfluous and, indeed, incompatible with the Divine Justice.
There is no doubt that until the appearance of Paul on the scene, the followers of Jesus Christ practiced the baptismal ritual of Prophet John the Baptist. It is significant to note that Paul was a "Pharisee" belonging to a famous Jewish sect - like that of the Saducess - whom Prophets John and Jesus denounced as "the sons of the vipers." It is also to be observed that the author of the fifth book of the New Testament, called the "Acts of the Apostles," was a companion of this Paul, and pretends to show that those baptized by John the Baptist had not received the Holy Spirit "and therefore were rebaptized and then filled" with the Holy Spirit (Acts viii. 16, 17 and xix. 2-7), not through baptism in the name of Prophet Jesus, but through the "laying of hands". It is clearly stated in these quotations that the two baptisms were identical in their nature and efficacy, and that they did not "bring down" the Holy Spirit upon the person baptized whether by John, Jesus, or in the name of either of the two. By the "laying of their hands" of the Apostles upon a baptized person the Holy Spirit touched his heart, to fill it with faith and love of God. But this Divine gift was granted only to the Messengers who were really prophets, and cannot be claimed by their so-called successors.
(f) If the Gospels mean anything at all in their statements concerning baptism, they leave behind the impression that there was no difference between the two baptisms, except that they were administered in the name of one or other of the two Prophets. The Pharisee Paul or Saul of Tarsus has not a single kind word about John the Baptist, who had branded the sect of the Pharisees with the opprobrious epithet "the children of the vipers." There is a tinge of grudge against Prophet John and against the value of his baptism in the remarks made by Luke in the "Acts of the Apostles." And Luke was a disciple and companion of Paul. The admission by Luke that the baptism in the name of Jesus, too, was not carried out by the Holy Spirit is a sure proof against the Church which has arbitrarily and wantonly transformed it into a sacrament or a mystery. The Church's baptism was a perpetuation of John's baptism and nothing more; but the baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire was reserved only for Islam. The expression that some twelve persons in Samaria "had not yet received the Holy Spirit, because they were only baptized in the name of our lord Jesus" Acts vii. 16, 17), is decisive to frustrate the pretensions of the Church.
The last three verses in the passage cited are held by many to be an interpolation. They did not exist in the oldest existing MS., which is, of course, the origin of all subsequent versions of the Bible, including the Vulgate. A document is absolutely unworthy of serious judicial notice if a portion of it is proved to be a forgery. But here we go a step farther for the said addition to the original text is admitted to be such even by those who speak of its genuineness.
But let us take the prophecy as it stands. I need not say that it speaks of things at which ordinary common sense can guess, seeing that the events foretold are always occurring from time to time in the course of nature. Pestilence and war, famine and earthquakes have visited the world so often that a mention of them in a prophecy as a sign of its authenticity would deprive it of any importance it might otherwise possess. Besides, the first followers of a new faith are sure to meet with persecution, especially if they chance to be of inferior social position. But apart from this, the prophecy speaks in one strain of several things, which may or may not occur together at any one time. They have never yet so occurred. The persecution of the disciples began immediately after the departure of Jesus from Judaea. They were "delivered up to the synagogues and into prison, and brought before kings and rulers" for his name's sake. The prediction, however, did not need a prophetic mind, since the persecution had started even when Prophet Jesus was with his disciples. These events were the natural sequel of teachings distasteful to the Jews. The disciples no doubt bore every conceivable hardship and trial with patience and courage, but they were sure of the return of the Master in accordance with his promise: "Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done." Belief in these words created a wonderful patience in the generation referred to. But his words passed away though the time did not come for the "heaven and the earth to pass away." Moreover, the days of the disciples' persecution did not witness any unusual phenomena in the form of earthquake, fighting, or pestilence. Even in the period immediately following, the prophesied four events did not synchronize. In the last two scores of years of the last two centuries we heard "of wars and commotions." "Nation" did "rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom." "Great earthquakes" were experienced in divers places and famines and pestilence, but neither did the sun become darkened nor the moon fail to give its light, which things had to occur before "the coming of the Son of Man." These words may be taken in a metaphorical sense, but in that case, why should the Adventists look for the second coming in its literal sense? Moreover, most of the abovementioned phenomena have taken place at times when those who preached and taught in the name of Jesus were not likely, for political reasons, to be brought before kings and rulers for punishment. On the contrary, they had obtained free access into lands that had long been closed against them. All of which goes to prove that either the prediction is folklore or a legendary account of the things of which Jesus spoke on different occasions. Either he himself had had but a hazy notion of coming events, or the recorders of his life, who wrote two centuries after, mixed up hopelessly different things dealing with different matters.