Dr. Abdul Karim
Professor of Oriental Studies
About the Author:
Dr. Abdul Karim Germanus is a well known Orientalist of Hungary and is
a scholar of world repute. He visited India between the wars and for
sometime was also associated with Tagore's University Shanti Naketen.
Later on he came to Jamia Millie Delhi. It was here that he embraced
Islam. Dr. Germanus is a linguist and an authority on Turkish language and
literature and it was through oriental studies that he came to Islam. At
present Dr. Abdul Karim Germanus is working as Professor and Head of the
Department of Oriental and Islamic Studies at the Budapest University,
It was on a rainy afternoon in my adolescence that I was perusing an old
illustrated review. Current events mingled with fiction, and descriptions of
far-off countries, varied in its pages. I turned the leaves indifferently
for a while when suddenly a wood-cut arrested my eyes. The picture
represented flat-roofed houses from among which here and there round cupolas
rose gently into the dark sky enlivened by the crescent. The shadow of men
squatting on the roof clad in fantastic robes stretched out in mysterious
lines. The picture caught my imagination. It was so different from the usual
European landscapes: it was an Oriental scene, somewhere in the Arabian
East, where a story-teller told his gaudy tales to a burnoused audience. It
was so realistic that I fancied I could hear his melodious voice as he
entertained us, his Arab listeners on the roof and me, a sixteen-year-old
student sitting in a soft arm-chair in Hungary. I felt an irresistible
yearning to know that light which fought with the darkness in the picture. I
began to learn Turkish. It soon dawned upon me that the literary Turkish
language contains only a small amount of Turkish words. The poetry is
enriched by Persian, the prose by Arabic elements. I sought to master all
the three, in order to enter that spiritual world which spread such a
brilliant light on humanity.
During a summer vacation I was lucky to travel to Bosnia, the nearest
Oriental country adjacent to ours. As soon as I settled in a hotel I dashed
forth to see living Muslims, whose Turkish language had only beckoned to me
through its intricate Arabic script from the pages of grammar books. It was
night, and in the dimly-lit streets I soon discovered a humble cafe in which
on low straw stools a couple of Bosnians enjoyed their kayf. They
wore the traditional bulging trousers kept straight at the waist by a broad
belt bristling with daggers. Their headgear and the unfamiliar costume lent
them an air of truculence. It was with a throbbing heart that I entered the
kahwekhame and timidly sat down in a distant corner. The, Bosnians
looked with curious eyes upon me and I suddenly remembered all the
bloodcurdling stories read in fanatical books about Muslim intolerance. I
noticed that they were whispering among themselves and their topic was my
unexpected presence. My childish imagination flared up in horror; they
surely intended to draw their daggers on the intruding `infidel'. I wished I
could safely get out of this threatening environment, but I dared not budge.
In a few seconds the waiter brought me a cup of fragrant coffee and
pointed to the frightening group of men. I turned a fearful face towards
them when one made a gentle salaam towards me accompanied with a
friendly smile. I hesitatingly forced a smile on my trembling lips. The
imagined `foes' slowly rose and approached my little table. What now? ----
my throbbing heart inquired --- will they oust me? A second salaam
followed and they sat around me. One of them offered me a cigarette and at
its flickering light I noticed that their martial attire hid a hospitable
soul. I gathered strength and addressed them in my primitive Turkish. Is
acted like a magic wand. Their faces lit up in friendliness akin to
affection --- instead of hostility they invited me to their homes; instead
of the falsely anticipated daggers they showered benevolence upon me. This
was my first personal meeting with Muslims.
Years had come and passed in a rich variety of events, travels and study.
Each opened new vistas before my curious eyes. I crossed all the countries
of Europe, studied at the University of Constantinople, admired the historic
beauties of Asia Minor and Syria. I had learnt Turkish, Persian and Arabic,
and gained the chair of Islamic studies at the University of Budapest. All
the dry and tangible knowledge that was hoarded up throught centuries, all
the thousands pages of learned books I had read with eager eyes --- but my
soul remained thirsty. I found Ariadne's thread in the books of learning,
but I yearned for the evergreen garden of religious experience.
My brain was satiated but my soul remained thirsty. I had to divest
myself of much of that learning I had gathered, in order to regain it
through inner experience, ennobled in the fire of suffering, as the crude
iron which the pain of sudden cold tempers into elastic steel.
One night Prophet Muhammad appeared before me. His long beard was
reddened with henna, his robes were simple but very exquisite, and an
agreeable scent emanated from them. His eyes glittered with a noble fire and
he addressed me with a manly voice, "Why do you worry ? The straight path is
before you, safely spread out like the face of the earth; walk on it with
trusty treads, with the strength of Faith.
"O Messenger of God", I exclaimed in my feverish dream in Arabic, "it is
easy for you, who are beyond, who have conquered all foes when heavenly
admonition has started you on your path and your efforts have been crowned
with glory. But I have yet to suffer, and who knows when I shall find rest
He looked sternly at me and then sank into thought, but after a while he
again spoke. His Arabic was so clear that every word rang like silver bells.
This prophetic tongue which incorporated God's commands now weighed upon my
breast with a crushing load; `A lam naj'all'l-Arda mihadan --- Have
We not set the earth as a couch, and the mountains as stakes, and created
you in pairs, and made your sleep for rest ... !
"I cannot sleep." I groaned with pain. "I cannot solve the mysteries
which are covered by impenetrable veils. Help me, Muhammad, O Prophet of
God! help me!"
A fierce interrupted cry broke forth from my throat. I tossed chokingly
under the burden of the nightmare --- I feared the wrath of the Prophet.
Then I felt as if I had dropped into the deep --- and suddenly I awoke. The
blood knocked in my temples, my body was bathed in sweat, my every limb
ached. A deadly silence enveloped me, and I felt very sad and lonely.
The next Friday witnessed a curious scene in the huge Juma' Masjid of
Delhi. A fair-haired pale-faced stranger elbowed his way, accompanied by
some elders, through the thronging crowd of believers. I wore an Indian
dress, on my head a small Rampuri cap, I put on my breast the Turkish
orders, presented to me by previous sultans. The believers gazed at me in
astonishment and surprise. Our small party paced straight on to the pulpit,
which had been surrounded by the learned, respectable elders, who received
me kindly with a loud salaam. I sat down near the mimbar,
(pulpit) and let my eyes gaze on the beautifully ornamented front of the
mosque. In its middle arcade wild bees had built their nests and swarmed
undisturbed around it.
Suddenly, the adhan (call to prayers) was sounded and the
mukabbirs, standing on different spots of the courtyard, forwarded the
cry to the farthest nook of the mosque. Some four thousand men rose like
soldiers at this heavenly command, rallied in close rows and said the prayer
in deep devotion - I one among them. It was an exalting moment. After the
Khutba (sermon) had been preached, `Abdul Hayy took me by my hand
and conducted me to the mimbar, I had to walk warily so as not to
step on someone squatting on the ground. The great event had arrived. I
stood at the steps of the mimbar. The huge mass of men began to
stir. Thousands of turbaned heads turned into a flowery meadow, curiously
murmuring towards me. Grey-bearded `ulama (Savants) encircled me
and stroked me with their encouraging looks. They inspired an unusual
steadfastness into me, and without any fever or fear I slowly ascended to
the seventh step of the mimbar. From above I surveyed the
interminable crowd, which waved below me like a living sea. Those who stood
after stretched their necks towards me, and this seemed to set the whole
courtyard in motion. `Ma'sha Allah` exclaimed some nearby, and
warm, affectionate looks radiated from their eyes'.
"Ayyuh al-Saadaat al-Kiram", I started in Arabic --- `I came
from a distant land to acquire knowledge which I could not gain at home. I
came to you for inspiration and you responded to the call'. I then proceeded
and spoke of the task Islam had played in the world's history, of the
miracle God has wrought with His Prophet. I explained on the decline of
present-day Muslims and of the means whereby they could gain ascendancy
anew. It is a Muslim saying that all depends on God's will, but the Holy
Qur'an says that `God betters not the condition of people unless they
improve themselves'. I built my speech on this Qur'anic sentence and wound
up with the praise of pious life, and the fight against wickedness.
Then I sat down. I was aroused from the magnetic trance of my speech by a
loud `Allahu Akbar', shouted from every nook and corner of the
place. The thrill was overwhelming, and I hardly remember anything but that
Aslam called me from the mimbar, took me by the arm and dragged me
out of the mosque.
"Why this hurry ?" I asked.
Men stood before me and embraced me. Many a poor suffering fellow looked
with imploring eyes on me. They asked for my blessing and wanted to kiss my
head. "O God!" I exclaimed, "Don't allow innocent souls to lift me above
them! I am a worm from among the worms of the earth, a wanderer towards the
light, just as powerless as the other miserable creatures. The sighs and
hopes of those innocent people ashamed me as if I had stolen or cheated.
What a terrible burden it must be for a statesman, in whom people confide,
from whom they hope for assistance and whom they consider to be better than
Aslam liberated me from the embraces of my new brethern, put me in a
tonga and drove me home.
The next day and the following ones people flocked to congratulate me and
I gathered so much warmth and spirit from their affection as will suffice me
for a lifetime.