RELIGIOUS FORCES AT WORK IN TURKEY IN 1898
The most striking historical event in Syria in the year 1898 was without question the visit of the Emperor and Empress of Germany and his address at the dedication in the German Protestant Church in Jerusalem.
Five great religious forces are now contending for religious supremacy in Syria and Palestine, the Jewish, the Mohammedan, the Papal, the Orthodox Greek, and the Protestant.
1. THE MODERN JEWISH ELEMENT, backed by the Rothschild colonization scheme and the Zionist movement, is striving to buy land, to erect buildings, and gradually get control of the ancient land of Israel. It is antagonized by the Ottoman government and by the fellahin of the rural districts of Palestine, who regard this influx of foreign Jews as a menace to their own rights and privileges. In the vicinity of Jerashm cast of the Jordan, where a small Jewish colony had been planted, the Moslem fellahin recently drove out the colonists, ruined their houses, and uprooted their trees. The rabbis, embittered by the fiery persecutions against the Jews in Russia and other parts of Europe, are extremely hostile to Christianity in every form and continually issue their anathemas against Christian missions. The recent Jewish immigrants are under the protection of the countries from which they have come, but no one foreign power stands forth as their champion.
2. THE MOHAMMEDANS, Who constitute about one-half of the population of Syria and Palestine, enjoy the special favour and protection of the Sultan and regard themselves as the lords of the land. Where they are in the large majority, as in Damascus, they do not trouble themselves to persecute the Christians and Jews, but look down upon them with a feeling of haughty superiority. Where they are in the minority, as in Beirut, the lower classes are insolent and offensive in their attitude towards Christians and are often allowed to use personal violence with little fear of punishment.
There has been of late a great resuscitation of Mohammedan esprit de corps. Their newspapers report news from all parts of the Mohammedan world and urge a Pan-Islamic Alliance. Just now they are especially earnest in advocating the recovery of the Sudan from the false teaching of the Mahdi and his Khalifa Abdullah el Taaishy. They are trying to stir up the Moslem world to emulate the English in founding the Gordon College in Khartoum, and found Moslem schools to save the poor Sudanese from being won to Christianity by the kindness and medical services of Christian medical missions.
The Moslems are using the press and schools for boys and girls as a means of keeping abreast of the age. And it is a striking fact that since the British occupation of Egypt the Turkish government has obliged the newspapers everywhere to abuse the English and never allow an article in praise of their just and successful administration of the affairs of Egypt. Up to 1878, the Turkish journalists could not say enough in praise of the English Since 1882 all is changed, and within the past few years all their love and sympathy has been transferred to Germany whose emperor was silent and sympathetic in 1896, when Armenian massacres were horrifying the world; active and auxiliary in 1897, during the Greek War, and most demonstrative and effusive in 1898 during his visit to this empire.
The Mohammedan official and unofficial journals have exhausted a vast vocabulary of adulation, for which the Arabic language is so famous, in praising the friend and ally of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan and they love to descant upon the magnificent German army and the rapidly growing navy. There must be a divine purpose in all this and we will speak of it before closing this chapter.
It is sometimes said that Islam has ceased to be aggressive in Turkey and is in a state of stagnation. This is not true. Not less than eighteen emirs of the princely family of Shehab in Mount Lebanon who have been Maronites and Greek Catholics for about one hundred years, have recently become Moslems and have been appointed to lucrative posts in the Turkish civil service. They were originally Moslems of the family of Koreish and the Turks are straining every nerve to bring them back to the fold of the prophet of Mecca, and we hear from various places of Oriental Christians won over to Islam by bribery and favouritism, while all Moslems becoming Christians are obliged to suffer persecution and generally to leave the country to save their lives.
3. The PAPAL FORCES in this is land are numerous, organized, and intensely aggressive. The Maronites of Lebanon are equal to the peasantry of Spain in their subjection to the priesthood and in ignorance and fanatical hostility to the Bible and the Protestant faith. The Jesuits and papal nuncio lead the van, followed by a host of patriarchs, bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. They glory in the protection of France, and the French consul-general is open and untiring in encouraging the papal campaign of conquest of the Holy Land. France expels the Jesuits from France and expends millions of francs yearly in supporting them as political agents, educators, and intriguers in Turkey. Whatever may be the strength of the Russo-French Alliance in France, it does not exist nor appear in these lands. It is Latin against Greek, French priests and nuns against Russian priests and nuns, jealousy and bitter ecclesiastical hatred. The Latins have exhaustless supplies of money, men, and women. They are buying land and erecting buildings in all the towns and many of the small villages throughout the land. Beirut is full of their fine establishments. One of their zealous propagandists remarked that they had orders to open schools in every place where Protestants are at work and if possible on land adjoining Protestant schools. They are following up the Greek schools in the same way.
France is their idol. On France they lean for protection and every blow aimed at France is felt to be aimed at Rome and the Church. Some of the Syrian Romanists are getting their eyes partly opened. One of their leading merchants in Beirut recently asked their bishop, "Why is it that Catholic countries are everywhere declining and Protestant countries rising in power? Why are Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy going down and England, Germany, and America really ruling the world?" The bishop replied, "It is true, but I do not understand the reason."
4. THE ORTHODOX GREEK element in these lands is like the conies, "a feeble folk." They are divided into three parties, the native Syrian Greeks, who are the rank and file of the Church; the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, an Hellenic foreign Greek party of immense wealth in Jerusalem, enjoying the special favour of the Turks and engaged in constant intrigues to control the patriarchates and bishoprics; and thirdly, the Russian party backed by holy Russia, supported by its consuls and just now intesely active in resisting the aggressions of the Papists and Protestants on the Greek Church constituency.
The Russians have entered in earnest upon the work of saving the Greek Church in Syria and Palestine from disintegration. They have opened schools within a few years and are pushing this work on every hand. It is a saving feature in their work that they are introducing the Arabic Scriptures published at the American Press into all their schools.
They antagonize the monks of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre and aim at securing Syrian bishops and patriarchs over the churches instead of the Hellenic monks.
The conflict is now waging in Damascus between the patriotic Greek bishops and the Hellenic party in trying to elect a patriarch. They have been in session nearly a year without coming to an election. The Russians support the native Greek bishops; and the Hellenes, through their influence and money power in Constantinople, are opposing them, as every Christian bishop's election must be ratified by the Sublime Porte.
It is a humiliating and painful spectacle and a scandal that the Mohammedan Turks should control the election of a Christian bishop.
In Palestine itself the Russians are active in buying land and erecting buildings and mingling political and religious considerations in all their operations, striving first of all to thwart the schemes and projects of Rome and of France, the tool of Rome in the East.
5. PROTESTANTISM in Syria and Palestine is represented by the American, English, Scotch, Irish, and German Missions, by a native evangelical community of nearly ten thousand adherents.
In former years, England stood forth as the great protector of Protestantism and of religious liberty. The word of a British consul made pashas tremble, and the persecuted looked to England for relief. This state of things still continues to some extent but consular interference is generally officious and not official.
Protestantism has become an established and recognized element in the empire and does not ordinarily suffer greater disabilities than the other Oriental sects.
The change of attitude on the part of the Turks towards England naturally threw a shadow over the Protestants all over the empire who are supposed to be in sympathy with England. But the most important Protestant literary institutions in the empire, being American, have kept steadily on their way, growing in number and influence, and there are more children and youths in Protestant schools than ever before. In some places the free tuition and books supplied by Jesuits or Russians have enticed children away from the Protestant schools but the more thorough teaching given generally brings them back again.
The Syrian Protestant College in Beirut has increased so rapidly in numbers that new buildings are imperatively needed. It has three hundred and seventy students in its halls this year, of whom seventy are in medicine and pharmacy, one hundred and four in the collegiate department, and one hundred and ninetysix in the preparatory department. It ought to have at once new buildings to accommodate two hundred additional pupils. Its language is English and the people of Asia Minor and Egypt, as well as those of Syria and Palestine, appreciate the importance of a thorough English education for their sons and the demand will increase in years to come.
It is not my purpose to give statistics with regard to the other societies labouring in Syria but they are all encouraged by the growing interest of the people in Protestant education. And their willingness to pay is a good proof of substantial interest. In the first year of the college there were sixteen pupils, all charity pupils. This year the college receipts from the students were 3,700 pounds. This is a remarkable fact and full of encouragement But this brief summary of the status of the five religious forces at work in Syria and Palestine would be incomplete without reference to the British Syrian Schools with fifty schools and four thousand pupils, Miss Taylor's school for Moslem and Druse girls, schools of the Church of Scotland, and the Free Church; of the Friends in Brummana, Miss Procter in Shwifat, of the Church Missionary Society in Palestine, the London Jews' Society, and lastly the extensive work carried on by the Germans in Beirut, Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in hospitals, orphanages, boarding-schools, and industrial schools, as well as in their chapels for German colonists, they are doing a solid work for the sound training of the people, and the exhibition of the Spirit of the Master.
With all these religious forces and elements in view, the question is asked, What has been the effect of the German emperor's visit on the public mind?
1. It has brought Protestantism to the front and given it dignity in the eye of the Mohammedans, who look upon the emperor as the great exponent of the Protestant faith.
2. It has dealt a crushing blow to the French prestige in all this empire. Even among the French Catholics, Germany is praised on account of the liberal spirit shown by the emperor in buying and presenting a plot of ground in Jerusalem to the German Catholics and pledging the protection of Germany to all German Catholic subjects in the East.
3. It has no doubt drawn out the sympathy of the Turkish government, the army, and the common people towards a great Protestant power. With all due respect to the emperor, we cannot but feel that he made a mistake in his speech in Damascus. The Moslem sheikh who welcomed him spoke of the three hundred millions of Mohammedans in the world. The emperor in reply declared himself the friend of all these three hundred millions. As the most exact statistics make the highest estimate less than two hundred millions, it was a great mistake to echo the grandiloquent utterance of the sheikh and thus give sanction to a statement which has puffed up the Moslems to a new sense of their own importance in the world. I sent to the Beirut censor of the press an exact table of the census of Islam in the empires of the world (taken from the Missionary Review) with reference to publishing it in our Arabic journal and he prohibited the publication as it was not in accord with the emperor's Damascus address.
Whether the Mohammedan regard for the emperor will help Protestantism does not appear, It will certainly give the German ambassador at Constantinople and their consuls throughout the empire a mighty influence for good in insisting on liberty of conscience for all the, people.
And who knows but that the emperor has come to the throne for some great and good end in this empire? His influence is now unequalled. German commerce will thrive more than ever, and if the new hopes of near approach between England, Germany, and the United States are realized, we may yet see Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon influence displacing and effacing French and Russian influence throughout the land.
We do not put our trust in princes, but our God and King can use them as His own servants to accomplish His will on earth.
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