As I look forward from this height to the future of Syria I am full of hope. For twenty-three hundred years Semitic Syria has been a vassal of Indo-Germanic races, Macedonians, Greeks, Romans, Franks, and Turks. And there is little hope that it will ever be governed by a Semitic ruler. There will be anew Syrian people and a new Syria. But it will not be evolved chiefly from political changes, nor by commercial development, but by the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These effete systems of Oriental Christianity will be vitalized by casting off the graveclothes of dead forms and standing up in the purity and life of a true Christian faith. The scores of monasteries and nunneries, which have appropriated the hard earnings of the poor peasants of the Greeks, Maronites, and Greek Catholics for ages, until they dominate whole provinces by the money power, holding the people as tenants at will' will be confiscated, as has been done in Italy, Spain, and France, and the proceeds devoted to schools and hospitals instead of supporting an army of lazy, corrupt, and worthless monks.
There will arise from among the Moslems themselves earnest men who will see in Jesus, the son of Mary, their true prophet, priest, and king, and call on the Moslem world to accept Him as their Lord and Redeemer.
The evangelical church of Syria will carry on the work of evangelizing the Bedawin Arab tribes. The American missionaries, leaving the care of the native churches to the people themselves, will devote their energies to instruction in the universities and colleges, to the theological schools, the seminaries for girls, and the work of publication.
Woman, emancipated from the hareem and the veil, will take her proper place in Oriental society, supreme in the home and eminent in Christian service.
Can all these things take place under Mohammedan despotic rule? I do not venture to say, but the verdict of history is that despotism and reform are incompatible. Whoever is on the throne, will have to grant absolute liberty of conscience, abolish bribery and corruption in the courts, and make all men equal before the law. The interference of priests and bishops, Ulema and sheikhs, in the courts of justice will be stopped. No man entering a court will be asked, "What is your religious sect?" or "What pull or backing have you?" but each man will be treated as a man and a citizen. No Christian will be told as now that "You cannot testify, as testimony is a religious act, and only Mohammedans are true believers, therefore they only can testify," but this colossal principle of religious bigotry will be abolished. The thousands of emigrants to America, returning with their foreign-born children, will bring into the old East the free ideas and sterling principles of the West. And the broad uncultivated acres of the Hinterland of Syria will teem with new villages and a crowded, enlightened, and happy people.
The Arabic Bible will supplant the Arabic Koran: not the mutilated and manipulated Bible of the modern sappers and miners, but the Old Testament as we have it from the Jews, and the New Testament as accepted by the early Church.
The scholars of the Syrian Evangelical Church, born and bred in an Oriental atmosphere and accustomed to Semitic forms of thought and expression, accept the Bible as it is, and find no difficulty in matters which men trained in Western and European surroundings regard as insuperable objections to the Scripture veracity and verity. And the Arabic Bible, which has no peer in Arabic literature, and which as a translation is known to stand nearest to the original text, will continue to mould the literature of the Arab race in the future, as the Koran has done in the past.
The finer qualities of the Syrian character, their courtesy and hospitality, their sympathy with the sorrowing and bereaved, their loyalty to family and home, will be hallowed and sanctified by the added graces of Christian faith and love - and certain defects, incident to a people oppressed for centuries, will be gradually eliminated by the wholesome air of civil and religious liberty,
It is a great comfort, to one able to compare the dark past with the brightening present and the brighter future, that all the modern awakening of the Syrian people is ascribed by the people themselves to the institutions planted by the American missionaries eight decades ago. The Moslems and Oriental Christians alike used to tell us that the education of girls was not only impossible but dangerous.
Now they vie with each other in founding and conducting schools for girls, building fine edifices, using modern methods, discussing the benefits of female education in their journals, and insisting that the stability of society depends upon educated mothers. One wonders at the transformation. This now departure is leavening society. Girls and women are beginning to think.
On Sunday P. M., July 26th, as we were leaving the little Aleih chapel after the English service, Consul-General Ravendal startled us all with the telegraphic news that the Midhat Pasha Constitution of 1876, which had been suppressed by Abdul Hamid for thirty-two years, had now, July 23d, been restored by a bloodless revolution effected by the Young Turkey Party headed by Enver Beg and Niazi Beg, commanders of the Turkish army in Macedonia in the name of the Committee of Union and Progress. The threat of marching on Constantinople with 100,000 men brought the Sultan to terms, and after vain attempts to evade the issue he was obliged to send telegraphic orders throughout the whole empire reestablishing the Constitution, and requiring the immediate election of members to the Ottoman Parliament.
There is no need of going into details which are so fresh in all minds and so generally known, but we, as well as the world at large, Were electrified at the sudden transition.
It was not only the transition of the Turkish Empire from despotism to constitutional government, but a transition from an exasperating censorship of books and newspapers to perfect liberty of the press. From a cruel and intimidating system of espionage managed by that arch intriguer and deceiver of the Sultan, Izzet Pasha, to the abolition of the whole system and the flight of Izzet himself; from a grinding system of internal tezkeras (passports) to free right of transit to all; from constant banishment and imprisonment of enlightened men, Moslems and Christians, suspected of belonging to the Young Turkey Party, - hundreds having fled from their country, -to a full and free amnesty to all political exiles, hundreds of whom are now returning to their loved native land; from a condition in which no public meeting could be held, no public speech uttered without special permission from a fanatical censor, to free speech, free right of assembly, and freedom in criticizing the acts of the government; from an irresponsible rule of hungry and bribe-taking pashas, to a parliament of representatives from all parts of the empire, elected by the people from all sects, Moslems, Christians and Jews!
The whole empire burst forth in universal rejoicing. The press spoke out. Public meetings were held, cities and towns decorated, Moslems were seen embracing Christians and Jews, and inviting one another to receptions and feasts. The universal voice of the Moslems was, "We have been compelled by orders from the Sultan's palace to hate one another. Now, we are brethren and we can live in peace. We shall henceforth know each other only as Ottomans." "Long live liberty! Long live the army! Long live the Sultan!"
The pent-up feelings of the populace everywhere burst forth in loud hurrahs in the public streets. Syria has never seen such real rejoicing. Can it be true? Will it last? were questions in all mouths. It was startling to those who had left Syria early in July under the old regime to be greeted in New York harbour
with the news of free institutions in Turkey. It seemed too good to be true, and for weeks we here, foreigners and Syrians alike, seemed to be living in a dream. The Golden Age seemed to be dawning.
While the large majority believed in the genuineness of this radical change in the institutions of the empire, not a few doubted, and it is true that the old Islamic spirit of intolerance, held in check temporarily by the popular enthusiasm, has turned out to be like a smouldering flame ready to burst out whenever favourable occasion should offer. This appeared in various ways: in the sullen attitude of the sheikhs and religious fanatics; in anonymous papers printed in Damascus and Aleppo asserting that the Constitution was destructive to the Sacred Shareaa (Islamic law) of the Koran, and in other ways of which I shall speak later.
A striking instance of the practical outcome of this ferment working in the popular mind after the promulgation of the Constitution was the attempt made by non-Christian pupils in our Syrian Protestant College to evade the rule requiring attendance upon religious worship. In December, 1908, the college had a larger roll of pupils than ever before, of whom 120 were Mohammedans. Repeated efforts had been made by them, their families and their sheikhs to have them excused from attendance at prayers and all religious exercises, including classes for Bible study, on the ground that this was the new era of "religious liberty." They were reminded that the college is a Christian missionary college, founded by Christian men, controlled by Christian trustees in New York, endowed with Christian funds and that its fundamental rules require all students to attend all the religious exercises. This, however, was well known to all the Moslem parents who send their sons to the college as it has been the policy for forty years, and is made perfectly clear in statements in the college prospectus and catalogue. No one is forced to enter the college, there is perfect "liberty" in that, but if he enters he must conform to all its rules: There is no discrimination against non-Christian students. All are treated alike: Moslems, Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Catholics, Druses and Protestants, and these 870 students, living, studying and exercising together for four, eight, or twelve years will learn to act together harmoniously in the future as citizens of a free country, to respect each other and be the leaders in reform and progress.
This was the case until the close of 1908 when ninety of the Moslem students, incited by fanatical men in Beirut, and intriguers among their own number formed a league of rebellion and took an oath on the Koran that they would "neither attend the religious exercises of the college nor leave the college." A considerable number of the Moslem students refused to join the league, but seventy Jewish students took similar ground, and the faculty, in the absence of the president, had to face the problem of either trying to expel 160 students by force, or yielding temporarily to their demand to be excused from college prayers and Bible study. The latter course was adopted as a temporary expedient, but in March, 1909, after the president's return, this action was-modified. The non-Christian students were excused from chapel exercises, but those who wished to remain in the college were required to attend the regular Bible classes. This compromise was to be a "modus vivendi" until the end of the college year in July, with the understanding that when the college opened its doors in October, 1909, it would be on the old basis of required attendance on religious exercises. This maintains the missionary character of the college, and will be gratifying to all its friends in this empire and in America.
The history of this difficulty in the college has been ably summarized in a printed statement (April, 1909) issued by President Bliss.
The dawn of a new era is breaking. A parliament assembled in December, 1908, not, this time, to be suppressed again as in 1877. The entire army of the empire, on which the Sultan Abdul Hamid relied to sustain his throne, has become constitutional in its policies. It produced the bloodless revolution and it will see to it that there is no going back.
The parliament, as at present constituted, is a fair exponent of the racial and religious elements of the empire.
There are 259 members of which
Turks . . . …………....119 - All Mohammedans
Arabs ……………...72-71 Mohammedans, 1 Catholic Christian
Greeks . . . . …………..23 - Orthodox Greek Christians
Albanians . . ………… 15 - All Mohammedans
Gregorian Armenian… 10 - Armenian Christians
Kurds . . . . ……………..8 - Mohammedans
Spanish Jews . …………4 - Jews
Bulgarians . . …………. 4 - Orthodox Greek Christians
Servians………………...3-Orthodox Greek Christians '1
Wallachs . ……………...1- Orthodox Greek Christians
This gives 213 Mohammedan members
42 Christian members
4 Jewish members
As this is their first experience of parliamentary rules and duties, this first session should be regarded as a training-school. The people in the provinces complain bitterly of the present state of disintegration and disorder, and of the failure of Parliament, after a few months in session, to give relief and security to the empire. But the people must be patient. They have started on a new career, and have many able and level-headed men among their leaders. The two great needs today are money-to buildup the country impoverished by the rapacity of the office-holders - and honest men.
The Syrians may well pray, "Give me men to match my mountains, give me men to match my plains, Men with empires in their purpose, men with eras in their brains. " And, may I add, men of conscience, integrity and principle. Alas, that they are so few!
We must anticipate fanatical outbreaks against the constitutional government. Lord Cromer says, "To reform Islam is to evidently believe this and resist destroy it." The fanatics reform. The unclean spirit first rent the lad and then came out of him. The evil demon of Moslem fanatical hatred of light and liberty will be cast out, but let us not wonder if it first rend and tear the Ottoman body politic.
The question which naturally confronts us is, How will all these great changes affect the religious future of the empire?
We can be sure that the free publication and importation of books, magazines and newspapers will give a great impulse to popular enlightenment and tend to break down prejudice. Popular education in government schools as well as the independent schools, native and foreign, must be vastly extended and improved, as hereafter primary education will be compulsory. Heretofore all the government primary schools have been for Moslem children only and under Moslem teachers. It remains to be seen whether government aid will be given to schools for Christian children.
The Thumrat, a leading Moslem journal in Beirut, insists that the only sure means for fusing the sects of the empire and making all Ottomans brethren is the mixing of Moslem and Christian children in the common schools to study and learn the same lessons from the same books. It is not clear that the Oriental Christians will consent to this. Moslem children are so foul-mouthed and use such vile language in common conversation that Christian parents dread to have their children associate with them. But if a government allowance is given to separate schools for the time being, the difficulty may be gradually removed. We cannot expect patriotic Turks and Christians to do in a year what our ancestors have attained only after centuries of struggle and experiment.
What the effect will be on liberty of conscience to Moslems, one cannot predict. They can at least buy the Bible and Christian books openly, which they could not do before. One great reason for government opposition to Moslems becoming Christians has been that the army of the empire is a Moslem army, only Moslems being allowed to bear arms-hence every Moslem convert to Christianity was a loss to the army, a renegade from conscription. A late proclamation by the new party of "Union and Progress" declares that henceforth the Christians may enter the army and the military schools for training officers. When this is carried into effect, the government, as such, will not care what a man's religion is, as all will belong to the army as loyal soldiers under the Constitution. It will develop a spirit of manly independence among the youth of the Oriental Christian sects instead of the cowed, cringing attitude into which they have so long been driven by their inferior condition.
What will be the effect of the Constitution on Pan-Islamism?
1. It will not promote it. [Enver Beg, the head of the reform party, declares that the new Constitution will have nothing to do with Pan-Islamism.] The policy of the late despotism of "Yildiz" was to elevate, promote, and reward Moslems and to depress, oppress, and suppress Christians. The new policy of equality and justice will elevate Christians and remove fanatical prejudice. It will make it difficult for any Sultan in the future to proclaim a Pan-Islamic crusade.
2. It will modify it. It proclaims the absolute equality of all sects and religions. It claims that Islam favours justice, liberty of conscience, and civilization. If it incites Moslems elsewhere to fraternize with Christians and Jews, and upholds Islam as the bond of brotherhood with all men, it will be a large step forward. A free constitution extracts the fangs of the old Pan-Islamic monster nurtured so long at "Yildiz."
3. The fanatical tribes of Asia and Africa will be slow to accept the counsels of a Sultan at the head of a free, self-governing, civilized people.
4. Arabic scholars are already printing tracts to prove that Islam is the mother of modern civilization, and promotes brotherhood among the nations. This is a hopeful sign. The new parliament will never vote a Jehad or Holy War!
5. The right of free assembly and free speech will bring the educated young men, Moslems and Christians, into a new fellowship and a new feeling of dignity and manhood. As a Damascene scholar has just said, "Under the old regime we were mere ciphers. There was no manhood and no self-respect. Suspicion and alienation were universal, but now we can hold up our heads; we are men, we are brethren. We have rights and we have a country. Life is now worth living!" This experience of independent manhood is one of the most hopeful features of the present outlook. There may be excesses and errors. In the present transition state of the empire there is great confusion and unrest. The reactionaries are numerous and full of intrigue. But the reform government seems to be preparing to do thorough work. The great difficulty is to find honest officials. No matter. A free people will soon learn in the school of experience.
The state of Turkey up to July 23, 1908, was like the state of Rome up to September 20, 1870, when the Italian army entered the Eternal City. Up to that time Rome was a nest of spies, informers, and persecutors, governed by the Inquisition. Every Protestant foreign traveller had his Bibles and books taken from him, his steps were dogged by spies, and informers listened at the keyhole of his room. No Protestant book or newspaper could enter the city. Every enlightened Italian was persecuted and banished. But on September 20th the gates flew open. Light and liberty entered. The horde of spies hid their heads. Bible and book shops were opened and travellers unmolested.
So in Turkey, before July 23, 1908, the whole empire was under a reign of terror. The best men in the empire were assassinated or exiled. Spies charged innocent men with conspiracy and crime and they were dragged from their beds and thrust into loathsome dungeons. Secret police dogged the steps of every foreigner, seized books and newspapers, and levied blackmail on native travellers, until the people were driven to desperation, and while publicly shouting "Long live the Sultan!" inwardly invoked the curse of God upon him. But On July 24th all was changed. The Sultan power was curtailed. His horde of corrupt palace officials imprisoned and banished, and proclamation made of a free press and free right of assembly, free speech, free transit, no more spies, or secret police, or arbitrary arrests. The exiles called home, no censorship of newspapers, books or telegrams, and for the first time in history. Turkey has a "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
The month of July will hereafter be known as the mouth of liberty July 4th, America. July 14th, France. July 23d, Turkey. Truly "this is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes " (Ps. 118: 18: 43).
6. The seed planted in Syrian soil in 1822 by two young Americans was slow in germinating, but the root took firm hold of the soil. Decade after decade it spread over the empire, from village to village, city to city, and province to province. The school and the press gradually did their work, until thousands of the best youth in Syria, Asia Minor, Palestine, and Egypt are now thinking men and women. Tyranny and misrule have driven them forth to the ends of the earth to breathe a free air and find
scope for their energies. They will gradually return, some of them at lent, prepared to join in the civil, moral, and political regeneration of the empire.
Now is the time for distributing God's Word and spreading a Christian literature. A free press will print more bad than good books. Let all interested in these historic lands supply the means for giving the people a wholesome literature.
Let us have faith in the Orient, long oppressed and blinded by centuries of misrule, and just beginning to "see men as trees walking."
A chain of parliaments from Portugal to Persia is a fact no one would have credited when I came to Syria. God's hand is in it. He changes the hearts of kings and their people. We have doubted long enough. Let us have faith in God and humanity. Christ will yet come to His own. -- His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion endureth throughout all generations."