George Alfred Lefroy was an Anglican priest and missionary in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was born into an eminent Christian Irish family. After studying at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge he was ordained in 1879. He joined the Cambridge Mission to Delhi the same year and eventually became head of the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts) Mission in Delhi.  George Lefroy became the Bishop of Lahore in 1899 and served there until 1913 when he was appointed as Lord Bishop of Calcutta.

Bishop Lefroy was known for his keen interest in holding religious debates with Muslims. He even tried to learn Arabic and would deliver lectures in Urdu with great command and frequently held debates with the religious scholars of Dehli. Lefroy’s interaction with Islam is detailed in his biography ‘The Life and Letters of George Alfred Lefroy’ by H.H. Montgomery which is mainly based on his letters acquired from his family after his demise. In Chapter 7 ‘Lefroy and Islam’ it is written that:

“In no heroic mood but as a simple piece of ordinary duty George Lefroy prepared himself for his mission to Moslems in the Lord’s name. He continued the study of Hebrew, and added Arabic to it. He had already become an eloquent speaker in Urdu: he studied the Koran, and many Moslem classics, as well as the best and most generous books on the Christian side. Then he flung himself into the hottest part of the fight, namely, the bazaars, for preaching and disputation, till he won the distinction, surely almost unique, of being invited to meet thousands of Moslems in their own mosques.”

Bishop Lefroy happened to be in Lahore on one occasion in 1891. At the time the editor of the AlHakam[1] Sheikh Yaqub Ali Irfanira was a student of Government Model School of Lahore and had a passion to discuss various religious matters with different religious orators and lecturers. He writes:

An announcement was carried out regarding the gatherings of Reverend Lefroy in the Rung Mahal Mission School of Lahore. After his lecture in Lahore, a session of questions and answers was held for the first time in his gatherings. He delivered lectures on the superiority of Jesus Christ and the atonement. 

I had a debate with Reverend Lefroy regarding these lectures and this was the first occasion when the Muslims, carrying opposing views [to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat], accepted that the Ilm-e-Kalam (science of discourse) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat was most supreme in countering the arguments of Christianity. Various people who witnessed this debate are still around. At last, a special debate with Reverend Lefroy was held at the residence of Reverend Grey, which continued for several hours. I told him that I would accompany him wherever he would deliver a lecture on Islam, but he said that he would return to Delhi. 

This happened in 1891 when only a year had passed since the claim of the Promised Messiahas. In those days, emotions were high in Lahore and elsewhere, so Reverend Lefroy did not pay a visit to Lahore again for his cause. However, as soon as he was appointed as the Bishop of Lahore, he renewed his resolve and started to hold gatherings of a similar kind in 1900.[2] 

In 1899 the Bishop Lefroy returned to Lahore as the Bishop of Lahore. Sheikh Yaqub Ali Irfanira had already returned to Qadian a few years earlier as an editor of AlHakam. Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra another companion of the Promised Messiahas was present in Lahore when Bishop Lefory delivered a lecture entitled ‘The Innocent Prophet’ on the 18 May 1900. After delivering this lecture he allowed the Muslims to make a response.

The lecture described Jesusas alone as sinless and all other prophets as sinners. The Editor of AlHakam writes that this lecture was in fact a reproduction of a pamphlet ‘Innocent Prophet’ published years earlier by the Christians where all prophets except Jesus were regarded as sinners.  He further writes that the reason why Christians had to resort to such an idea was because according to the Jews, the death of Christ was considered to be an accursed death.

Amongst those Muslims present at the lecture, only Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra stood up to respond to the Bishop. The summary of his reply is as follows:

The sayings of Mark or Luke have no credibility in the eyes of a researcher in the face of the clear statement of Jesus himself. It is better to see what Jesus says himself about his own piety and righteousness. In response to a question by his disciple, Jesus said, ‘Why callest thou me good? There is none good but One, that is, God.’ In other words, Jesus denied being called good. Mufti Sahib presented further references from the Bible in support and then presented various proofs with regards to the Holy Prophet of Islam’s piety and sinlessness. He explained the meaning of Istighfar (Repentence) and Zanb (Sin) is often mistranslated and words  Khata, Jurm and Junah are all incorrectly understood to mean sin. “And Allah will protect thee from men”[3] Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra argued that infact all the Prophetsas of God were innocent and sinless. The Bishop was perplexed by this response.[4]

On 24 May 1900 after the Asr prayer, Mufti Muhammad Sadiq Sahibra reached Qadian and briefed the Promised Messiahas about the activities of Bishop Lefroy. He informed Huzooras that the following day, the Bishop would deliver another public lecture on the topic of “Living Prophet”. The Promised Messiah wrote an article on the topic of The Living Prophet within two hours and had it published in Qadian. The Islamic organisations of Lahore could not find a local cleric who was able and willing to confront the Bishop. They then turned to Maulvi Sanaullah of Amritsar and invited him to be their champion, but he too lacked the courage to take on the Bishop. Maulvi Sanaullah did not just decline, but also proposed that the Muslims should boycott the lecture. This was not acceptable in the opinion of leaders among the Muslim community who rightly argued that not to confront the Bishop was tantamount to admitting defeat and would be a disgrace to Islam. Finally, they concluded that the only suitable person for confronting the Bishop was either Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian or a person from his Movement.[5]

The Promised Messiahas published two announcements on May 25, 1900 the first entitled, “A Plea to the Bishop of Lahore for an Honest Decision,”.[6]

The Promised Messiahas in his first leaflet dealt with the subject ‘The Innocent Prophet’. He pointed out that the concept of sin in different religions was so very different that discussion was not of much use. The taking of alcohol, for instance, is a sin in one and a religious act in another. With some it is adultery even to look upon a woman with lust, while there are others who look upon Niyoga[7]  as a social and religious necessity. It is a sin even to kill an insect according to some, while others consume cows and sheep as if they were vegetables. Above all, Jesus is put forward as sinless by Christians even with all his claims to divinity, while according to Islam there is no greater sin than idol worship or claiming oneself to be God. The discussion, therefore, as started by the Bishop of Lahore was pointless; Moreover, sinlessness is after all a negative virtue. To eschew a mere evil is not in itself a very great accomplishment. It is the doing of good which is creditable. Therefore, the subject for discussion should have been human perfection or ‘The Ideal Prophet‘.

At the end the Promised Messiahas mentioned that if the Bishop of Lahore was genuinely interested in the truth, he should hold a public discussion with Muslims as to who, of Jesusas and Muhammadsa, was the greater Prophet in respect of knowledge, personal example, and spiritual influence. He wrote,

If the Bishop is, in fact, desirous of investigating the truth, then he should publish an announcement to the effect: We want to carry on a discussion with Muslims as to which of the two prophets is the more distinguished and superior from the point of view of the excellence of their beliefs, morals, and blessings, their efficacy, their sayings and actions, their faith and mysticism, their knowledge and their holiness, and their way of living. If he (the Bishop) does so, appoints a date, and informs us accordingly, then we promise that someone from among us will be present on the appointed date before the gathering.”[8]

The second announcement published, was the lecture written in less than two hours by the Promised Messiahas and read out by Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra entitled “An Important Account on the Lecture “The Living Prophet” of Respected Bishop”. The significance of this article became apparent when it was read out on May 25, 1900. Every argument made by the Bishop was comprehensively rebutted in the Promised Messiah’s as article. The contents of the Bishop’s lecture had not been disclosed prior to May 25, and so the fact that a response to each and every argument of the Bishop was included in an article written prior to the event, was a clear sign of Divine support. This debate was held on the evening of May 25, 1900, in Rang Mahal High School and was attended by over 3000 persons. Both announcements were also distributed among the people present.

As the Bishop finished his lecture, Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra stood up to respond and read out the lecture of the Promised Messiahas. This article of the Promised Messiahas advanced irrefutable arguments in establishing the death of Jesusas and that the Prophet that lives for ever was none else than the Holy Prophet whose beneficence shall continue till the end of days. A true and practicing Muslim through complete subservience to the Holy Prophetsa is able to experience divine communion and granted acceptance of prayer.

The Promised Messiahas presented himself as the living proof of this claim and that none from all the peoples can stand against him. The Promised Messiahas concluded:

“God has sent me to provide the proof that the Everlasting Book is only the Holy Quran and that the Living Faith is only Islam and that the only Living Prophet is Muhammad, peace be on him. Listen, I call the heaven and the earth as witness that all that I tell you is true, and the true God is the One described in the Muslim Creed “There is no God but Allah”.[9]

The Bishop in his reply said that he could not say much because the points raised in the leaflets were quite new and that he had come to know of them only for the first time.

The HomewardMail July 2 1900
The Homeward Mail July 2, 1900

This lecture was also reported in the British newspaper ‘The Homeward Mail’ July 2, 1900, page 876:

A direct correspondence with the Bishop was initiated to convince him to hold a discussion with the Promised Messiahas, the challenge of which had already been given in the first announcement of the Promised Messiahas. Yet the Bishop did not come forward. The entire correspondence and newspaper reactions were published in the September Issue of the Review of Religions 1902.

A letter was sent to the bishop with the signature of various scholars within the movement as well as from other Muslim intellectuals. (The transcript is reproduced from the September Issue of the Review of Religions 1902).

“Reverend Sir,

‘We, the undersigned, respectfully beg leave to submit the following proposal to you. As our transient worldly life is passing away like a summer cloud and the time draws near when it shall pass away into eternity and leave not a rack behind, it is our deepest concern that the pilgrimage of life should come to a close in true righteousness and heavenly bliss, that we may breathe our last as professors of a faith which shows the path to Divine Will. If we are not on the right path, we are ready heart and soul to accept the truth provided it is elucidated to us with clear and cogent arguments. If anyone can pluck up courage to come forward and prove to us the truth of the Christian religion, he shall lay us under the greatest obligation. It is our hearts’ inmost desire and we are always anxious that an inquiry be made into the comparative merits and excellences of Christianity and Islam, and that on the result of the investigation we should bow submission to the Holy Prophetsa who transcends the whole world in the purity of heart, excellence, Divine power and moral rectitude.

Since we have heard of your lectures at Lahore on the subject of ‘The innocent Prophet’ and ‘The Living Apostle’ we are of opinion that among the Christians of this country you are unrivalled in religious learning. It has since occurred to us that no one can better represent the Christian faith than yourself on account of your vast and practical knowledge, your acquaintance with Arabic, Persian and Urdu languages and your amiable and polished manners. On the other hand, when we cast a glance on the learned men among the Muslims, we are convinced that the best representative of Islam is Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Chief of Qadian, who not only lays claim to the Promised Messiahship but has made good that claim by strong and conclusive arguments, and has proved himself to be the Promised One whose appearance has been foretold in the Holy Quran and the Bible. About thirty thousand persons living in different parts of the world have a staunch belief in his doctrines and admit him as their spiritual leader. In short, among the learned Christians in the Punjab and India your presence is of the utmost importance, and among the Muslims that of the Mirza Sahib Whom God has chosen and anointed with His own hands. Fortunately for us, therefore, we may avail ourselves of your abilities on the one side and of God’s Messiah’s on the other. On these considerations we humbly request you to hold a controversy with the Promised Messiah on several contested points.

The Review of Religions September 1902
The Review of Religions September 1902

The Promised Messiah has kindly given his consent to discuss the following five questions:

1. Which of the two Prophets, Jesusas and Muhammadsa, can be shown, from his own book or by other arguments, to be perfectly Ma‘sum[10]?

2. Which of them can on the same authority as above be deservedly called the living Prophet and possesses Divine power?

3. Which of them is on like authority entitled to be the intercessor?

4. Which of the two religions, Christianity and Islam, can be called the living faith?

5. Of the teachings inculcated in the Holy Quran and the Bible, which is the more excellent and natural? Discussion on Unity and Trinity falls under this head.

The controversy shall be regulated by the following conditions:

One day shall be dedicated to the discussion of each question, and thus the controversy will come to an end in five days.

Three hours shall be allowed to each party every day.

Each party shall bring forward proof in support of his own Prophet or book and shall not be allowed to attack the book or the Prophet of the opposite party. For, such attacks are not conducive to any good and often injure the feelings of the party attacked. The public on a comparison would be able to know the strength or the weakness of the arguments brought forward by each party. Each party shall, however, have the right to refute attacks which could in all likelihood be made by the other.

The controversy shall be conducted in writing and each party shall be attended by an amanuensis who shall write whatever is dictated to him. Each party shall also be attended by a person who shall read aloud to the audience the contents of the writing. After this a copy of the writing duly signed shall be furnished to the opposite party. The controversy shall take place at Lahore. The fixing of the place of the meeting and other necessary arrangements shall be in your power.

After the close of the controversy either or both of the parties shall publish the speeches of both parties in the form of a pamphlet. No addition or alteration shall be made by either party. The Promised Messiah, the leader on the Muslim side, has given his consent to these conditions and as they are very plain and equitable, we hope they will meet also with your approval and that you would kindly inform us at your earliest convenience as to the time when you are prepared for holding such a controversy. We also humbly beseech you not to reject this proposal but to accept it in the name and for the honour of Jesus Christ.

We hope that for the sake of that beloved and chosen Prophet of God you will intimate to us your acceptance of our proposal by means of a printed letter. In this request there are no absurd conditions or terms from which reason may recoil. The controversy is to be conducted on entirely civilised principles and is based on good wishes and a search after truth. Moreover, when our request to an eminent person like yourself is accompanied with an adjuration in the name of Jesus Christ, we are quite certain that you will accept this proposal, although the time at your disposal may be short, without any alteration or amendment for the honour of Jesus’ name. For we know that if a similar request had been preferred to us by anybody in the name of Jesus Christ, we would have looked upon its rejection as a deadly sin and an affront to Christ’s dignity. How can it be expected then of you who lay claim to an unbounded love for Christ, of judging which we have got this first opportunity.”

The Pioneer wrote: ‘The letter has a great many signatures, of which the first few names will be sufficient to indicate the widespread interest and expectation with which the Muhammadan community are looking forward to the encounter.’

A part of this letter was also published in the UK by the Homeward Mail on 9th July 1900 page 910.

image 7
The Homeward Mail July 9, 1900

The Bishop replied from Harvington, Simla, on June 12th, 1900. His letter is also copied in the September 1902 Issue of The Review of Religions. He expressed his inability to accept the challenge on the grounds summarized below:

I am not willing to debate Mirza Ghulam Ahmad because he has used the title of Messiah that belongs to our Lord Jesus, whom I worship, and by so doing, he has insulted him greatly.

Mirza sahib has severely criticized the doctrines of Christianity.

I cannot accept Mirza sahib as an advocate of Muslims because many Muslims consider him a heretic.

 I am the Bishop of this diocese and am constantly engaged in works for the welfare of the Christian community. I, therefore, have no time to debate.

A further effort was made by the committee of the Muslims requesting the Bishop to reconsider his decisions.  The falsity of his reasons was also mentioned and refuted at great length[11]. In reply to the Bishop’s inability to accept the discussion it was stated:

‘Right Reverend Sir, Your Lordship’s reply refusing to enter into a fair controversy with Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Chief of Qadian, was intimated to the Committee and received with deep regret. The reasons on which your Lordship’s refusal is based are the result of certain misconceptions and errors, and I have been directed to deal with them at full length in a pamphlet which will shortly be published in case the reply to this request is as disappointing as to the former…. The proposal was made in an earnest and sincere spirit to lead, if possible, the public out of the sea of doubt in which it floated as to the true religion. The terms were as fair as could be desired, for hostile attacks were excluded from the pale of the controversy. Your Lordship’s work as a Missionary for many years in this country, your-acquaintance with the manners, creeds and language of the Eastern people, the toleration with which you allowed Muslims to refute your arguments in the lecture delivered by you at Lahore—to which facts immense importance was added by your present exalted position—all combined to convince the Muslims that you would be the best representative of Christianity in the fair field of controversy. Your initiative in calling upon the Muslims to prove the innocence and life of their own Prophetsa against those of Jesus Christ as a sort of controversy in which one side was quite unprepared and unrepresented was a further inducement to Muslims to offer to Your Lordship a field of discussion in which the merits of both the religions and their founders could be more properly and fairly tested……Although your Lordship deems the reparation of the Christian Church from within as your primary duty, yet it cannot be denied that the primary duty of every good Christian must be that of bringing light and life to those who in his opinion have fallen into the pit of death and darkness and who are, therefore, in a much more dangerous state than those who have received baptism. The latter at any rate are saved from hell while the former shall, according to the Christian belief, be doomed to everlasting fire and punishment. As to which is the business of first importance, whether ministering to the needs of those who are already out of all danger or taking those by the hand who are falling into the pit of death and darkness, I leave to your Lordship’s conscience to decide. Could the proposal be rejected on the ground that your Lordship cannot set apart five days out of your whole life for such a good deed?

Again, your Lordship has declined to meet Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in any friendly relationship for his having assumed a name which the Christians honour and worship as their Lord and Master. Had it been even as your Lordship thinks, it could not have been a good ground for hatred and the cessation of friendly relations, for the Holy Bible inculcates love towards enemies. Treatment of this nature towards an adversary cannot be expected from the followers of any religion, not to say anything of a Christian and especially of a Church dignitary whose duty it is not only himself to act upon Matthew 5:44, but also to teach that doctrine to the laity and to preach it to the non-Christians. But I may assure you that the Mirza Sahib does not assert that he is actually Jesus Christ but one coming in that Prophet’s spirit and character and preaching after his manner, as Johnas came in the spirit and power of Eliasas. Moreover, the Muslims honour Jesusas as a true and eminent Prophet and the Mirza Sahib, being the foremost Muslim of his day, pre-eminently does so, whereas millions of people who do not profess the Christian or Muslim faith do not look upon him even as a Prophet and thus offer the greatest affront to his dignity, and your Lordship must often, I suppose, have come into contact with such persons. Yet I do not think that your Lordship has ever expressed the same feeling of hatred towards them as you express towards Mirza Sahib in your letter to me.

Here, however, I must state another point of material importance for your Lordship’s consideration. When this matter was referred to the Mirza Sahib and he was asked whether, as your Lordship declined to meet him in a friendly way, he also was disposed to entertain similar feelings towards your Lordship, he gave the following reply:

 “I do not look upon anyone in the world as my enemy. I hate not individuals but the false beliefs they entertain. As regards individuals, my feelings towards them are of the utmost sympathy and good wishes. How can I then regard any one as my enemy who enjoys respectability among his own co-religionists and is moreover honoured for his position and learning. I love him though I do not like his doctrines, but my hatred towards these doctrines extends only so far as the attributes of God are ascribed to human beings and human faults and weaknesses to the Lord of the universe. I am not averse to meeting his Lordship in a friendly way for it is possible that either party may reap some advantage from the other, as the seed of sincerity must bear fruit. It is the first requisite in the performance of a man’s duties as a reformer or preacher that he should receive those who hold views differing from his own in the most cordial and cheerful manner. In truth, I would not only be departing from my functions as a reformer but dealing at the same time a death-blow to all moral laws if I regard as my enemies persons who deserve compassion for having unfortunately fallen into error. Such a step on my part would only deprive a large majority of those noble and holy truths which it is my duty to preach to all.”[12]

The Indian Spectator commented on the Bishop’s refusal: ‘The Bishop of Lahore seems to have retired with more haste than dignity from a challenge which he had himself provoked. His Lordship some time back, set before himself the task of proving to Muhammadan audience that Christ was the true Messiah and the challenge was taken up by Mirza Ahmad of Qadian to whose claims of Messiahship we referred sometime ago in these columns. Now, Mirza Ahmad may, for aught we know, be a rank impostor, or he may really believe himself to be what he claims to be. In either case we do not see why the Bishop should decline to argue with him. His Lordship speaks of Mirza Sahib as offering “a grievous insult and dishonour to Christ by venturing to call himself the Messiah.” The Jews of two thousand years ago crucified Christ for the self-same reason. They felt insulted by his venturing to call himself the Messiah. What is even more strange is the Bishop’s pointing to the fact of Mirza Ahmad’s claims “being treated with ridicule and contempt by an overwhelming majority” of Punjab Muhammadans, as conclusive proof of the falsity of those claims. When Pilate asked assembled Jews as to whom they would like to be liberated on the day of the passover Christ or Barabbas? they unanimously voted for the impenitent thief. Did that prove that Christ’s claims to Messiahship were unfounded? We are not among the followers of Mirza Ahmad and have no intention of upholding his claims in preference to those of Christ, but we object to the logic of the hustings being introduced in discussion on religion. If the whole Muslims would have acclaimed the Mirza, would the Right Reverend prelate of Lahore have altered his opinion of his mission? Religious beliefs in his country are in a state of dissolution just now. It behoves those who are anxious to see them crystallize round the truth not to employ arguments which are not of the purest temper.’[13]

This was an easy way out for the Bishop as he knew what was to come if he had entered a debate with the Promised Messiahas. Specially after the reply to his second lecture on the topic of “The Living Prophet”. He was not confronting a local mullah but an appointee of God. The absurdity of his reasoning for denying this opportunity can be seen from the fact the Bishop himself had initiated this event by giving two lectures in Lahore on the topics of “The innocent prophet and The Living Prophet”. Similarly, due to the opposition of the Promised Messiahas by other Muslims the Bishop presented another excuse that because the Promised Messsiahas was considered a heretic by other Muslims he could not debate with him. We find many intellectuals who signed the letter sent to the Bishop of Lahore and thus chose the Promised Messiahas as their representative but even if that had not been the case, the Promised Messiahas was in no need of approval from other Muslim clerics. His claim to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi ultimately made him the authority. When Muslim organisations could not find a cleric to respond to the bishop and clerics like Maulvi Sanaullah were telling Muslims to boycott the lecture, it was the Promised Messiahas who defended the honour of the Holy Prophetsa thus fulfilling the revelation of God.

ھذا رجل یحب رسول اللہؐ

This is the man who loves the Messengersa of Allah.[14]

There is a saying in Arabic الفضل ما شھدت بہ الاعداء that true excellence is that, the testimony of which is given even by the enemies. Therefore, a quotation from the preface of the Urdu translation of the Holy Quran by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Hazrat Shah Rafi-ud-Din, published in 1934 in Delhi by Nur Muhammad, mentions the efforts of the Promised Messiahas. It is written:

image 6
Preface of the Urdu translation of the Holy Quran by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Hazrat Shah Rafi-ud-Din, published in 1934 in Delhi by Nur Muhammad

In that period, Bishop Lefroy gathered an army of missionaries and left England, promising that he would soon convert the whole of India to Christianity. Having collected an excessive amount of money from the people of England, and assurances from them of continuing assistance in the future, he entered India and raised a big storm. His attacks on the traditions and fundamental principles of Islam were futile…… But the attack based on the argument that Jesus was alive in heaven in his physical body, while all other prophets were buried in the earth, was in his view proving to be effective upon the general public. At that juncture, Maulvi Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani stood up and addressed Lefroy and his group, saying: ‘The Jesus you talk about is dead and buried like other mortals, and the Jesus whose coming is prophesied is myself, so you must accept me.’ By this means he made things so difficult for Lefroy that he could not shake him off. In this way, he defeated all the Christian missionaries from India to England.”

[1] First official urdu newspaper of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jammat

[2] Al Hakam, 14 Januray 1919 (English translation from AlHakam website)

[3]  Surah Al-Ma’idah Ch 5 V 68

[4] AlHakam 31 May 1900

[5] Ibid

[6] Majmu‘ah Ishtiharat Vol 3 Page 253,Announcement 218

[7] Niyoga was an ancient tradition of Svayambhuva Manu sect, In which a woman (whose husband is either incapable of fatherhood or has died without having a child) would request and appoint a man for helping her bear a child.

[8]Majmu‘ah Ishtiharat Vol 3 Page 260, Announcement 218

[9] Majmu‘ah Ishtiharat Vol 3 Page 267, Announcement 219

[10] Innocent

[11] The Review of Religions September 1902 P. 356

[12] The Review of Religions September 1902 P. 359

[13] The Review of Religions September 1902 P.362

[14] Tadhkirah P.55

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