Reverend Imambux Bawa
An Encounter in the Garden
One day I was strolling in the Victoria Gardens (Ranicha Bagh and now Jijamata Udyan) in Bombay, when I noticed that a large crowd had gathered around an Englishman. My curiosity took me closer and I was infuriated when I found that he had been preaching in Persian. With uncontrolled anger, I abused him to his face, calling him a donkey, idiot, liar, thief and a cheat.
I had expected him to retaliate, in which case the Muslims around there would have beaten him up. But instead he stood there calmly, and quietly said to me, “Had you looked at my white beard and gray hair, you should have realized that I am like a grandfather to you. You could have spoken gentler words, suitable for your age and my stature. However, I tell you from the depths of my heart, that all that you said about me is true! I am indeed a donkey, a fool, a worthless, useless man in the sight of God! In spite of this, God has been merciful to me. The amazing story of God’s mercy is written in the Bible and I have come here to tell every one about it. I appeal to you to read the Bible. Concentrate on God and His message, instead of looking down upon my shortcomings or my mistakes”.
I was completely astounded by his words. He was clearly a highly educated man, fluent in many languages like Arabic, Urdu, Persian, Marathi, Gujarathi and English. He made me feel very insignificant, and I was in no position to argue with him. But then out of sheer defiance I said to him, “You fool, I know all your scriptures from beginning to end!”
To this he only replied politely, “I have been studying these scriptures for 33 years, and yet I am not certain that I have understood everything from beginning to end, may be, because, as you said, I am a donkey. I am happy to hear that a young man like you has understood it all. So I have a question for you: What was it that the Lord Jesus Christ said to the Samaritan woman?” I did not know the answer, so how could I say anything? I was confused and could only manage to say, “I have not read the Old Testament.” But this story is actually in the New Testament. I became very uncomfortable. My friends and other Muslims caused a big stir and the old man was made to keep quiet.
On our way home my friends congratulated and praised me and I felt very elated. I began to imagine that there could be no one as clever as I. I even stood up a learned Christian preacher. This exultant feeling stayed with me for a long time.
9. A Sleepless Night
After supper, even as I lay in bed, I continued to think highly of myself. But besides these delightful feelings, there were other thoughts too. “This learned man spoke to you so politely and calmly, and though you abused him with harsh words, he listened to you and quietly bore it all. Is this not a virtue? Have you thought about that? Is this not a rare human quality? Had he possibly received it from Jesus Christ, whose message he was preaching? After all, what did he say to you? ‘Read the Bible’, that is all. ‘Reject from it whatever is bad.’ But if any of it were good, where would be the harm in accepting it? What was wrong in his discourse? There doesn’t seem to be any harm in reading the Bible to find out what is written in it.”
10. Why I decided to Read the Bible
Such thoughts began to create a turmoil in my mind. At first I just brushed them away, thinking that Satan was putting them into my mind. I decided that I would never read the Christian Bible. Even then those thoughts continued to bother me over and over again. After being restless and uncomfortable for several days, I finally made up my mind that I should read the Bible. I convinced myself that my aim was to turn the tables on the Christians by proving that the Bible was wrong and make them Muslim instead of my becoming a Christian.
11. How I got a Copy of the Bible
Having decided to discredit the Christians, I went to the book store of the Bible Society. As I entered the store, the secretary of the Bible Society came forward and said, “Come in, come in, please tell me how I may help you.” I was very much taken aback by this cordial welcome. I had never received such a respectful invitation in any of the shops in Bombay. I was surprised but very much appreciative of the secretary’s attitude. At a loss for words, I said rather awkwardly, “I want a copy of the Bible.” He immediately pulled out a number of copies of the Bible and placed them on the table. After taking note of their prices, I bought one copy and after paying for it, I started for the exit. The gentleman came to the door to see me off and said, “You will come across many difficulties and have many questions in reading the Bible. I am quite busy and have very little spare time, but do come again. I will do my best to clear your doubts.” I was overwhelmed by these kind words, and did not know quite what to say. I climbed down the stairs, and I felt relieved when I reached the street. I asked myself, “What kind of love is this, how unassuming, and just to benefit a poor soul like me. Would the spread of religion be the only purpose of these people? Where does this love come from? Have they received it from God? Or is it from Jesus Christ, whom they follow?”
At the same time, contrary thoughts came into my mind, “Beware! Satan is pulling you in that direction. Are you drifting towards Christianity just because of this trivial incident? Throw away the book that is in your hand!” I wanted to do that, but somehow my hand would not let go of it. I went home with the Bible.
12. The Sermon on the Mount
I started reading about the life of Christ as written by Mathew. When I reached the fifth chapter, I was astounded when I read the sermon by Jesus Christ. About having a pure mind, reconciliation and loving one another. That even an impure thought about a woman was like committing adultery, that there is no difference in being unnecessarily angry and committing a murder. That it is wrong to take revenge. That you should overcome evil with good deeds, and bless those who curse you. These and similar and awe-inspiring principles were taught by Jesus Christ in the sermon which he gave sitting on the hillside.
Who can find a better sermon and whose heart will not be stirred with deep emotion? The same happened to me – I was overcome with deep emotion. But then a question arose in my mind, ‘Can any one truly follow these teachings?’
‘Be ye therefore perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ The Father who has given this commandment will help me and lead me to that perfection, was the assurance I received in my heart. For some time after reading the sermon, my thoughts were very subdued. I was being persuaded within to follow these teachings.
Today, I am convinced that I was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
13. Comparing the Scriptures
To keep such thoughts out of my mind, I tried to throw the book that had caused them, out of the window, but it fell inside. Whenever I happened to see it, I would read it for a while, and again throw it aside. After a while, it occurred to me that I should read my Muslim scriptures, and compare the two religions, which I started doing. I had always thought of myself as being a staunch opponent of the Christian religion. However like other devout Muslims, I too had a deep respect for Christ, which meant that I was not against Christ but against the Christian religion because of its attitude towards Mohammed. I really started reading both the scriptures in order to find out the mistakes in the Christian Bible. However, unknowingly, the Holy Spirit was working in me. Though I was not aware of it at that time, today I understand it well.
I would repeatedly caution my friends to keep away from Christians and their missionaries and priests, and I did likewise.
Even then, by divine intervention, I was beginning to see the new way. I was a very staunch enemy of the Christian religion, but by God’s grace my hatred was subsiding.
14. A Unique Experience
Around this time, by divine intervention, I came across a book. All the family members had gone out, and I was alone at home. While reading the book I felt that I saw a light. It could have been real or just my imagination, but at the same time I also felt that some one was asking me, “Will you keep on opposing me in this way?” It is again difficult to tell where these words came from. However, they had a profound effect on me and I exclaimed, “O Lord, from now on I am yours. I will never be against you. From today I have become yours and you are mine.” While saying this I picked up my Bible and kissed it according to the Muslim custom.
15. Jesus Christ: My Constant Companion
Almost 47 years have passed since that event. I cannot say that during this period I have not made any mistakes or not committed any sins, but one thing is sure and certain that the Lord Jesus Christ has helped me all the time. He has not left me even for a moment. In times of sorrow, when in danger, in times of plenty, in times of my downfall and disrepute, while feeling downcast, and in periods of disappointment, He has been with me all the while and has fulfilled the promise, “I will be with you always, till the end of the world”. In spite of my unworthiness, my being good for nothing, a castaway, He has been my constant companion. For this I am forever indebted to Him.
16. Change of Heart: Difficult but not Impossible
I had never thought that my firm belief in the Muslim faith would one day be shaken. The experience of many missionaries working among Muslims all over the world, is that it is very difficult to bring them to accept Christ. Although Islam has a closer relationship with Christianity than all the other religions; it is very difficult to create a sympathetic understanding of the Christian religion in the minds of the Muslims. As a result many missionaries who were keen to evangelize Muslims, had to accept disappointment and turn to people of other faiths. I do not think that this was the right thing to do. This endeavor must go on with absolute trust in God. However difficult a person may be, it is possible for Almighty God to bring about a change in his attitude. Things that are impossible for man are possible for God. We must keep doing our duty. That is all.
By divine grace, my stubborn attitude having changed into humility, I began to grow in theological insight and knowledge. Earlier I had felt that it would be impossible to be attracted to the Divine Truth in Christ, yet God made that possible. But there was a huge barrier to cross and that was to accept Christ and His teachings openly.
I had a great desire to read the Bible with understanding but did not know the correct way of doing so. I was very eager to pray, but did not know how. Since my acquaintance with the Christian religion was very recent how could I have known that one could pray without speaking aloud, or while lying down or while sitting or standing?
When I realized this, my mind would not be satisfied with just a simple prayer. I wanted to express my yearning to God in solitude, with the Bible in my hand. I knew that everyone would be watching me, not only the outsiders but also my relatives and close friends and they would surely chastise me. Naturally I was very discouraged. What I had set out to accomplish, I realized, was beyond my strength. But because His divine grace strengthened me, I found the courage to walk along the path He was guiding me along.
I lived in Bombay at this time. Bombay used to be a very busy city. One day I walked a couple of miles away from the city where it was not too crowded and where I would not be seen by any acquaintances. After choosing a quiet place I brought out the copy of the New Testament, which I had carried hidden in an inner coat pocket, and started to read, and satisfied my intense desire to pray. After spending a satisfying hour and a half, I returned home, with joy. I followed this routine for many days and received much peace of mind. I continued this practice for about two years. I felt that if I remain engaged in this private worship, my friends and acquaintances would not know and hence would not be offended.
It did not occur to me, at that time, that this was hypocrisy, to be one person outwardly and quite a different person within.
17. Guidance from Missionaries: Friendly and Unfriendly
I continued reading the Bible, but there were many passages that I wanted to be explained and clarified to me. So I began to look for some one who would teach me.
Some foreign missionary ladies from the Zanana Mission used to come to teach the women in our home. I would meet them and get some of my doubts cleared. But since these women belonged to the Zanana Mission, they felt awkward to let a man visit their bungalow so often. Whenever I did visit them they would pray with me and then explain the scriptures. In this way I began to understand the Bible more and more. They would also emphasize that Jesus Christ is the Savior.
Because of the rules and discipline of the Zanana Mission, the women found it difficult to meet me, so they introduced me to a missionary gentleman. When I went to meet him, he did offer me a chair to sit on, but I had to wait for almost three quarters of an hour because he was busy with other work. The women of the Zanana Mission would pray with me and express keen interest in my religious studies. I failed to see such an attitude in this gentleman. He had informed me that I should meet him at a particular time but he had kept me waiting. I began to feel that he thought of himself as the only busy man and that I had nothing to do. I had come to his house, eager to get spiritual knowledge. I had walked extra miles, avoiding places where acquaintances could have seen me. That is why I sadly wondered about his behavior. Finally he came to me somewhat hastily and asked why I had come and what was it that I wanted. I asked him a few questions regarding religion. He pulled out a few large books and handed them to me and said, “You will find all the answers to your questions in these books.” I stepped out of his house totally humiliated and felt as if some one had slapped me in the face. “How am I going to \ read through these thick volumes? Do I know enough of the English language to understand what is written in these books?” I thought, “This gentleman has come here to show the path of salvation to others, but instead of explaining the gospel of Christ in simple words, he seems to be playing a game with me. What is all this?” My mind was deluged with such thoughts. In spite of this I went to his house a few times, and always by appointment but every time the same thing happened, so I stopped going to his house. All missionaries may not be like this. Later I found that many have a keen desire to awaken and enhance religious feelings in others, and therefore I was glad.
Later I met a Methodist Missionary in church. He invited me to his home and I met him at the appointed time. Since there were many people around in the sitting room, he led me into another quieter room. First he offered a very sincere and earnest prayer, and then he began to answer my questions and very calmly and lovingly removed many of the doubts in my mind. He also gave me some booklets that were small and simple to understand. He asked me to meet him on a particular day of every week. I used to eagerly look forward to that day. Gradually, with his persuasive talk he instilled in my heart a greater love for Christ. To this day I am truly thankful to God for leading me to such a devout man, as also the sisters from the Zanana Mission for their guidance and spiritual direction. My Bible study was continuing, and I was secretly meeting the missionary friends. With the help of these friends God continued to fill my mind with the light of truth and thereby I began to realize how much I was falling short in doing my duty.
18. Continuing Turmoil
With that understanding, a question arose in my mind, “Is it proper to keep my discipleship of Christ a secret?” He had said, “Whosoever does not accept me openly, him will I not accept in the presence of my Heavenly Father. Whosoever loves his father and mother more than me is not worthy to be my disciple.” I became very anxious to know the meaning of these words. Earlier, I have mentioned a secret sect within the Muslim religion. “Will it be acceptable to Lord Jesus Christ, if such a secret sect were formed in the Christian religion?” I asked myself. I wondered whether I could truly call myself a disciple in accordance with his words, “Whosoever loves me, obeys my commandments.” These thoughts weighed on my mind constantly, but I would drive them out. I was not willing to accept any path that would make me leave my dear friends, my beloved mother, and my favorite sisters. The more I tried to push these thoughts away from my mind, the more forcefully they reappeared, and made me more and more restless.
19. My Mother
At times I felt that I must stop leading this double life. I had no fear of death. I used to think that it would be good if I died or if someone killed me. But then I would think of my mother, and recall how she had brought me up with selfless and whole-hearted love. She was a widow but she inculcated all the longing and thirst for knowledge, in me, which she herself had acquired. She kept her eye out for me under all circumstances. She was love personified. It was my firm resolve never to leave her.
I do not know how others feel, but one thing is certain that my mother was very dear to me. Her love for me and mine for her was so very deep that I could not bear for a moment the thought of being separated from her. If some one had killed me a thousand times and revived me, and having brought me back to life would kill me again, I would not have objected to it. But it would be extremely painful to be separated from my mother. This was my constant thought. She was a widow. She was very religious.
My mother was a firm believer in the Khoja religion. She often went to our ‘Jamatkhana’ (Community Worship Hall). Like any other Muslim she would regularly say her ‘Namaz’ and pray five times a day. I must mention here that the womenfolk of the Khoja community were allowed to eat in the Jamatkhana. My mother was 75 years old when she passed away. A year and a half before her death she had become extremely weak, she had great difficulty in moving her arms or legs, but even then she said her Namaz five times a day. Such was the religious sincerity of my mother. Whether as a Khoja or as a Christian, I have greatly admired this quality in her.
The sound of her voice is dearer to me than life itself. How good it would have been if I had received a small portion of her piety and religiousness in my present way of life. I thank God, from the depth of my heart for the deep impression she made on me by her virtuous living.
It had been my earnest desire never to be separated from my beloved mother. It was my firm resolve never to part from her, but the words, ‘whosoever will not confess me before the world, whosoever loves his mother and his father more that me, is not useful to me,’ kept haunting me. The words ‘If you love me, obey my commandments,’ would not leave my mind. Thoughts that I am not behaving according to Christ’s teachings, that I do not love Him enough, kept lingering in my mind, and continued to make me very restless. It became a great concern to me, who should I part with, my very own dear mother or my dear Christ. I became very depressed. I realized that it is against the Lord’s commandment to lead a life of double standards.
By my boldly and openly declaring that I am a disciple of Christ, if I would break my mother’s heart, how could I do such a cruel thing? Then again how could I give pain to Christ by my hypocritical behavior? This conflict continued in my heart for a long time. Finally I decided that, if I hurt my mother instead of hurting Christ, I would at least not be committing a sin against Him.
When my mother was in Poona (now Pune), I finally wrote to her and informed her about my decision, and from that day began my intense agony. The moment she read my letter she was shocked as if struck by lightning. She felt dizzy and she collapsed and suddenly became very ill. My elder brother, who was with her, wrote me a strongly worded letter, saying ‘if you carry out your resolve, it would be as if you killed your mother with your own hands. Mother is very ill and is eager to see you. Come here as soon as you get this letter’.
I immediately went to Poona, and saw for myself the critical condition my mother was in. She was semi-conscious and because of the high fever was saying over and over again ‘my son you have deserted me, you have brought to dust our family’s reputation, brought degradation to us. Oh my son, what have you done? It would have been better if you had driven a knife into my heart. What am I to do now? How can I show my shameful face to anyone? Gone! Gone! Gone! My dearest child has been snatched from me. How can I live without him? Oh death, you have taken thousands of people, why have you spared me to see this tragedy? Oh death, people call you a merciless, terrible tyrant, but you would have done me a favor if you had taken me, before this.’ These and other heart-rending utterances came from the lips of my mother. Even a stonehearted man’s heart would have melted on hearing these sorrowful words. My heart was not made of stone.
I have previously mentioned that I loved my mother from the bottom of my heart. On hearing the words my mother said, I burst into tears. I only saw darkness before me. Because of my love for Christ, I could not deny him. I said to my mother ‘Mother, I am not going to leave you, why should I leave you, I am your son and you are my mother, nothing can change that. Christ is not asking me to leave you or deny you. On the contrary He asks me to love you, to serve you, to devote myself to you as is my duty. That I love Christ is a fact I cannot hide, unless I lie. You yourself taught me that it is a sin to tell a lie. Let me love Christ, do not hinder me, and, please let me stay with you.’ Neither she nor my brother was willing to do this. I felt awful. ‘Deny Christ and live with us as you did previously.’ I was not able to do what they wanted me to do, and they would not agree to my pleadings. It is not as if we quarreled. Mother was lying in bed and she was weeping, I was sitting at her feet, and crying. I was confused. In this situation I prayed, ‘Oh Lord, give me death. Your purpose in my life has been accomplished. What more do I have to offer? Why do you allow my mother to suffer such agony? Each teardrop is like a burning ember, scathing my heart. Oh Lord, I cannot bear to hear her weeping like this.’
‘If I die at this time, my mother’s pain will lessen, and I will have died a disciple of Christ. Lord, allow my spirit to leave this mortal body.’ With these and similar words I continued to pray for a fortnight. But it seemed as if God had hidden his face from me. I felt that it would be better for me to jump into a well and commit suicide, rather than watch my mother’s sorrow. I controlled myself with the thought that if I commit suicide, I will not be able to meet Christ.
20. An Unanswered Prayer
One night when my mother was asleep, I went to the banks of the Mula-Mutha River to pray in solitude. The river was in spate and the water was gushing with great force. There was no one around, and I prayed very earnestly. I felt like jumping into the swollen river, so that if my body were to be found far away, people would not recognize me. While I lacked the nerve to commit suicide, I also had a very intense desire to meet Christ. My prayers did not receive any answer. With great disappointment I returned home.
21. My Mother’s Happiness and my own Sorrow
Seeing my mother’s condition, I lost all courage. I fell at her feet and said, “Mother, I will not become a Christian.” The moment she heard these words she felt relieved and happy. This was what she had wanted. Slowly she recovered and after a few days she allowed me to go to Bombay.
While I had made my mother happy, I was deeply hurt in my own heart, and felt that I had sinned. I became restless and started roaming around like an insane person. It was then that I met a Priest, and I poured out my heart to him.
He was very understanding but he disagreed with what I had done. In a resigned manner I said, “What was to happen has happened. Now what should I do?” He read out to me from the Bible, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago, and prayed very sincerely and earnestly. In a voice choked with emotion, I asked him again, “What should I do?” He answered me in English, “Undo what you have done, write a letter to your mother and let her know that what you did was wrong.” And that is what I did.
22. A Threat to my Life
My mother and brother rushed to Bombay. There was great commotion all around. Some people plotted to kill me. Once as I was walking on the street, a man accosted me and asked, “I hear that you are going to become a Christian, is it true?” With courage I replied, “It is true.” He then said, “I have been paid and sent to kill you. You do not know what a cruel and merciless man I am. I have come now with this purpose, but my heart does not allow me to take your life. You better stay away from lanes and bylanes, otherwise you will surely be beaten up.”
23. My Baptism
An American missionary informed me that our Khoja community was greatly disturbed on hearing that I was about to become a Christian. To prevent the situation from aggravating further, he sent me to Ahmednagar. There, on Sunday, 16 November 1879, at the age of 19, I was baptized by Rev. S. B. Fairbanks in the American Mission Church.
24. Lingering Questions
Even after my baptism, questions continued to bother me. “What had I really gained? Had I just moved from one religious order into another? Having abandoned the belief that Prophet Mohammed was God’s Messenger, I had accepted that Christ is the Savior, was that all?”
I had once heard a preacher say that the Christian religion is not of the head but of the heart. That had made me feel that my heart should be completely filled with love. I must experience God’s love and I must be able to behold Him personally. This longing grew into a passion.
I had heard another missionary preach in his sermon, “I have really experienced the closeness of the Lord. I am able to see His love when I look at the earth, the sky and the stars, the sun and the moon, the trees, the seas and the rivers”. I prayed that this love should grow in my heart too, and by God’s grace it did.
25. Overcoming the Grief of Separation
I could not get over the disappointment and sorrow caused by the separation from my mother, on the contrary they grew. In this extremely restless condition, I went down on my knees and prayed, “Oh God, have I been sailing through this ocean of sorrow, just for a change of religion? Have I moved heaven and earth only to be called a Christian instead of a Muslim? Or, by sacrifying my all, would I really see the face of God, as that Christian man had experienced? I do not ask for a hundred-fold, sixty-fold or thirty-fold gain in my property, or money or recognition, in return for what I have given up. I only seek to behold You. That is my only desire and craving.” I prayed in this manner for a long time, but I did not receive an answer. I was expecting a miracle to happen through my strong emotional desire. But that was wrong on my part.
There was yet another time when I knelt and prayed earnestly and persistently, “Oh God, I will remain on my knees till you let me have this experience. I will not get up till you bless me.” However, God in His grace did not grant my stubborn demand. Finally, having lost all hope, I got up and cried bitterly.
26. At Last: Experiencing the Love of God
But the Lord had not abandoned me. Within a few days, I actually had the experience that I had been longing for, something impossible to put into words.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ How can I describe it to anyone who has not experienced it himself? Instead of darkness I began to see light everywhere. By divine grace, I experienced the love of God that cannot be expressed in words. My heart was dancing with ecstasy. I began to feel that my soul was imprisoned within my mortal body. I saw so much love on the Lord’s face and all around me, that my heart went out in love towards everyone.
With every breath I felt inspired to pray for the salvation of all mankind. I began to feel sorry for those who disregard this experience and hence lose a great blessing. My heart urged me to even give up my life, like the Lord did, to bring sinners to the righteous path and to devote all my energy, knowledge and life for serving the Lord.
By accepting Christ the Lord, I have received peace beyond understanding and my journey in this world has been filled with delight.
May all my countrymen experience and receive this divine favor.
JESUS CHRIST is the Way, the Truth, and the Life Eternal. No man may come to HIM and remain as he was. If a man surrenders tot he truth of JESUS CHRIST then he will be Born Again and become a New man.
To be Born Again is to be filled with the Divine HOLY SPIRIT of Almighty GOD. When this amazing miracle occurs it will give you new eyes, new ears, and a new mind which with to understand all truth.
GLORY to JESUS CHRIST!