On 18 January 2002, the Archbishop of
Canterbury suggested that Muslims should read the Bible and Christians
should read the Koran. This was not necessarily an inspired idea. Klaus
Bung's story 'The Conversion' has some bearing on this question. In
this story, one of two Muslim twin brothers from Bradford becomes a
Christian. Some years later the two meet in order to decide once and
for all which is the true faith. (Based on a German story by Johann
Click here to read Hebel's
(with apologies to Johann Peter
Two twin brothers, Yasin and Ali, lived in
Bradford and worked in their father's business in peace and harmony for
many years, until Ali became a Christian and Yasin remained a Muslim.
From that day onward they tormented each other as much as they could
and their father's house was no more a house of peace. Eventually the
father could not stand the bickering any longer, and he sent Ali to
Liverpool where a business friend had offered him a job.
For many years there was no contact between Ali and Yasin, and
Ali did not feel like coming home even for Eid, for he had now embraced
the true faith, and he thought it was better to fast during Lent than
during Ramadan and to celebrate Easter rather than Eid.
But Ali felt lonely in the big city and especially away from
his brother, even though he now had the true faith and worshipped the
right God. So eventually he wrote a letter:
'Bhai, I have been thinking how sad it is that we don't have
the same religion and will not go to the same paradise, and perhaps to
none. If you can make me into a Muslim again, I will be content, and if
I can turn you into a Christian, that will be even better.'
Since Ali had to go to London on business and Yasin to
Birmingham, they agreed to meet in Manchester, which was on the
crossroads. 'That's where we will decide the issue.'
For several days they did not make any progress at all and
might as well have been in Stormont or Jerusalem. If Yasin said, 'God
doesn't have a son, that's blasphemy', Ali said, 'your Prophet had too
many wives, and he was an impostor'. If Ali quoted Saint Paul, Yasin
said, 'I have nothing against him but he wasn't Jesus and he wasn’t one
of the companions of the Holy Prophet, so what does he know!'
But come Thursday, Yasin was sharing his brother's bacon.
'Brother,' he said, 'Denmark is not as wicked as I thought'. On Friday
Ali joined his brother in the Central Mosque for Namaaz-e-Juma'ah.
'Brother,' he said, 'your Imam doesn't chant so badly after all.'
On Sunday they decided to go together first to the cathedral
for Sung Eucharist and then to Mosque for their namas. Then they would
return home, listen to the voice of God, and whatever He would tell
them, they would do.
But when they returned to their hotel from Evensong and The
King's Head, God admonished them, but they did not realise it.
The Bishop of Rochester,
(c) BBC News 2002
Ali found an angry letter from his boss. 'This very instant
you continue your trip to London. I am not paying your wages so that
you can attend the World Parliament of Religions. You are not the
Bishop of Durham and even less the Bishop of Rochester. If you want to
serve God, show our samples to our customers and do not talk
Yasin found a letter from his father: 'Bachá, come home as
fast as you can. Your mother is in hospital, I need your help in our
shop, and they are asking for you at Mosque.'
So they parted the same evening without having settled the
matter and each of them pondered what he had heard from the other.
Six weeks later Yasin wrote a letter to his brother: 'Dear
Brother, your arguments have convinced me. Now I am a Christian like
you. Mother doesn't mind, but Father is so angry that he never wants to
see me again.'
Then Ali, overcome by pain and anger, rent his shirt and sent
his brother an e-mail: 'Oh you vessel of divine wrath, are you
determined to race towards damnation by renouncing the true faith?
Yesterday I returned to Islam.'
So it was that the Christian converted the Muslim, and the
Muslim converted the Christian; and everything went on as before except
that their resentment was greater.
'Vohi gadha, vohi palang', said the Imam and stroked his white
beard: 'Same old donkey, same old saddle'.
Remember: Do not brood and speculate about religion, lest you
lose the strength of your faith. Do not argue with people of different
religions, least of all with people who know as little about it as you,
and even less with scholars, for they try to overpower you by their
learning and the artifice of their words and not by touching your
heart. Instead live by your faith and do not make simple things
complicated -- unless your conscience drives you to change.
Note: This story is based on, and partly translated from, the
German story 'Die Bekehrung' (The conversion) by Johann Peter Hebel
© 2002 Klaus Bung
Notes for translators
These notes are NOT meant for
publication. They are intended to help translators, especially
those coming from very different cultures. However, if a magazine
editor wants to publish any of them in conjunction with the story or
use them to write an introduction, she is welcome to do so.
- Bachá: 'my son' (Urdu)
- bacon: Muslims are not allowed to eat pork. As a result of
a long tradition even the thought of it fills them with genuine
disgust, even more so than imagining somebody breaking the prohibition
of drinking alcohol.
- Bhai: 'brother' (Urdu)
- Bishop of Durham: Dr David Jenkins (1925-....), one-time
Bishop of Durham (until 1994), became famous for many of his learned
and unorthodox views which interpreted Christian doctrine in a
- Bishop of Rochester: Michael Nazir-Ali, Anglican bishop of
Rochester (still in that office in February 2002), born in Pakistan of
parents who converted from Islam to Roman Catholicism. As a teenager he
became an Anglican. Unlike David Jenkins conservative in his
theological outlook (e.g. sexual morality, family attitudes).
- blasphemy: The Koran condemns the Christian teaching that
Jesus is the 'son of God' as a blasphemy:
'... admonish those who say that Allah has begotten a son. Surely of
this they could have no knowledge, neither they nor their fathers: a
monstrous blasphemy is that which they utter.' (Surah 18)
'Such was Jesus, the son of Mary. That is the whole truth, which they
are unwilling to accept. Allah forbid that He Himself should beget a
son!' (Surah 19: 90)
This is based on a literalist interpretation of the word 'son': to
beget a son, the father must have sexual organs and must have used them
in the traditional way. To imagine God engaged in such a vulgar
activity is what is blasphemous in the notion that Jesus is the son of
God. This interpretation ignores the fact that nowhere in the New
Testament, nor anywhere else in Christian theology, is it suggested
that God had sexual intercourse with the Virgin Mary, who, it is
asserted, remained a virgin even after giving birth to Jesus. This
latter doctrine shows clearly that the word 'son' does not have the
usual anatomical implications.
- Bradford, town in Yorkshire (England) with a large Muslim
- companions: The companions of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.)
were the first converts to Islam, who saw the Holy Prophet in the
flesh. The most famous of these were Abu Bakr, the first Khalif, and
Umar (Omar), the second Khalif. Their status is similar to that of the
12 Apostles in Christianity.
- Denmark: Much of the bacon consumed in England comes from
- Easter: the highest-ranking Christian festival, preceded
by Lent, the period of fasting
- Eid: major Muslim festival celebrated at the end of
- Evensong: evening prayers in the Anglican church
- house of peace: Dar-as-Salaam
- Imam: The Imam leads the prayers at mosque.
- Jerusalem ('town of peace'): the scene of many intractable
conflicts and negotiations between Jews (Israelis) and Muslims
- Lent: the Christian forty days of 'fasting'
- Namaas-e-Juma'ah: Namas = 'prayer' (Urdu), juma'ah =
'Friday' (Urdu). Namaas-e-Juma'ah are the Friday Prayers, the most
important prayers of the week. Friday is the Muslim holy day.
- namas: 'prayers' (Urdu)
- Ramadan: the Muslim month of fasting
- Saint Paul: author of the oldest parts of the New
Testament, and most successful proselytiser for Christianity.
- semantics: academic discipline concerned with the meaning
of words and language; popularly used in the sense of 'splitting hairs'
- Stormont: seat of Parliament in Northern Ireland, for
years the scene of much bitter quibbling and unsuccessful negotiations
between Catholic and Protestant parties
- Sung Eucharist: Solemn Sunday service in the Anglican
- The King's Head: popular name for English pubs, where
alcohol is consumed (a corresponding German name is 'Der grüne Baum'
[the green tree]).
- vessel of divine wrath: (Romans 9:22), a person
predestined for eternal damnation
- World Parliament of Religions: a series of international
assemblies of representatives of many religions begun in Chicago in
1893, whose purpose it was to create greater understanding among
The German original of this story
Johann Peter Hebel:
Zwei Brüder im Westfälinger Land lebten
miteinander in Frieden und Liebe, bis einmal der jüngere lutherisch
blieb und der ältere katholisch wurde. Als der jüngere lutherisch blieb
und der ältere katholisch wurde, taten sie sich alles Herzeleid an.
Zuletzt schickte der Vater den katholischen als Ladendiener in die
Fremde. Erst nach einigen Jahren schrieb er zum ersten Mal an seinen
Bruder. "Bruder", schrieb er, "es geht mir doch im Kopf herum, daß wir
nicht einen Glauben haben und nicht in den nämlichen Himmel kommen
sollen, vielleicht in gar keinen. Kannst du mich wieder lutherisch
machen, wohl und gut, kann ich dich katholisch machen, desto besser."
Also beschied er ihn in den "Roten Adler" nach Neuwied, wo er wegen
einem Geschäft durchreiste. "Dort wollen wirs ausmachen." In den ersten
Tagen kamen sie nicht weit miteinander. Schalt der Lutherische: "Der
Papst ist der Antichrist", schalt der Katholische: "Luther ist der
Widerchrist." Berief sich der Katholische auf den heiligen Augustin,
sagte der Lutherische: "Ich hab nichts gegen ihn, er mag ein gelehrter
Herr gewesen sein, aber beim ersten Pfingstfest zu Jerusalem war er
nicht dabei." Aber am Samstag aß schon der Lutherische mit seinem
Bruder Fastenspeise. "Bruder", sagte er, "der Stockfisch schmeckt nicht
giftig zu den durchgeschlagenen Erbsen"; und abends ging schon der
Katholische mit seinem Bruder in die lutherische Vesper. "Bruder", sagt
er, "euer Schulmeister singt keinen schlechten Tremulant." Den andern
Tag wollten sie miteinander zuerst in die Frühmesse, danach in die
lutherische Predigt und was sie alsdann bis heut über acht Tage der
liebe Gott vermahnt, das wollten sie tun. Als sie aber aus der Vesper
und aus dem "Grünen Baum" nach Hause kamen, ermahnte sie Gott, aber sie
verstanden es nicht. Denn der Ladendiener fand einen zornigen Brief von
seinem Herrn. "Augenblicklich setzt Eure Reise fort! Hab ich Euch auf
eine Tridenter Kirchenversammlung nach Neuwied geschickt, oder sollt
Ihr nicht vielmehr die Musterkarte reiten?" Und der andere fand einen
Brief von seinem Vater: "Lieber Sohn, komm heim, sobald du kannst, du
mußt spielen." Also gingen sie noch den nämlichen Abend unverrichteter
Sachen auseinander und dachten jeder für sich nach, was er von dem
andern gehört hatte. Nach sechs Wochen schreibt der jüngere dem
Ladendiener einen Brief: "Bruder, deine Gründe haben mich unterdessen
vollkommen überzeugt. Ich bin jetzt auch katholisch. Den Eltern ist es
insofern recht. Aber dem Vater darf ich nimmer unter die Augen kommen."
Da ergriff der Bruder voll Schmerz und Unwillen die Feder. "Du Kind des
Zorns und der Ungnade, willst du denn mit Gewalt in die Verdammnis
rennen, daß du die seligmachende Religion verleugnest? Gestrigs Tags
bin ich wieder lutherisch worden." Also hat der katholische Bruder den
lutherischen bekehrt, und der lutherische hat den katholischen bekehrt;
und war nachher wieder wie vorher, höchstens ein wenig schlimmer.
Merke: Du sollst nicht über die Religion grübeln und tüfteln,
damit du nicht deines Glaubens Kraft verlierst. Auch sollst du nicht
mit Andersdenkenden darüber disputieren, am wenigsten mit solchen, die
es ebensowenig verstehen als du, noch weniger mit Gelehrten, denn die
besiegen dich durch ihre Gelehrsamkeit und Kunst, nicht durch deine
Überzeugung. Sondern du sollst deines Glaubens leben und, was gerade
ist, nicht krumm machen. Es sei dann, daß dich dein Gewissen selber
treibt zu schanschieren.