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Ahmed Fahmī
c. 1875
Presbyterian
Egypt

Ahmed Fahmī was an Egyptian Muslim whose conversion to Christianity was an important gain in the progress of the American Presbyterian missions in Egypt.

The only information available concerning Ahmed Fahmī's age is that which describes him as "a young man" in 1875, the year from which the first events in this drama are recalled. Ahmed had two brothers, Muhammad, the eldest, and Mahmud. Their father was chief clerk in the Muslim court of appeal.[1] The family was noted as being of "good position and some wealth" [2] and were known to be "very devout Muslims." [3]

Ahmed and his two brothers went to the "boy's school in Cairo" [4], also known as the "Mission School in Cairo" [5] where Ahmed learned English and French. He desired to learn more about the world and, as a result, he is said to have collected several books in his small home library. He couldn't conceal their effect on his life. While at the Mission School, as a Muslim, he also attended some religious instruction at al-Azhar. [6]

After he graduated, the mission hired Ahmed as an Arabic language teacher for the new missionaries in 1875. [7] Miss Smith and Miss Thompson were both new teachers at the school at the time. Reading a chapter of the Bible everyday was part of the language curriculum though we do not know whether the Bible used for their daily reading was in Arabic, English, or French. We might assume, nevertheless, that it was in Arabic in order to help teach the missionaries Arabic. In any case, this daily Bible reading did not sit well with Ahmed. Matters were made even worse for him every time the reading was followed by a protracted time of discussion. He could not hide his discomfort as Miss Smith observed: "Besides other books, we read everyday a chapter from the Bible. Of this, he tried hard not to think of the meaning, and if any argument was brought forward in favor of Christianity it irritated him very much so that he became angry and requested that nothing more be said on that subject." [8]

Nevertheless, the Bible continued to be read without comments or discussions, in keeping with Ahmed's request. The missionaries continued praying for him and God answered their prayers. Feeling hounded by a solemn truth he couldn't ignore, Ahmed soon decided he had no other alternative than to surrender his life to Christ--which he did on October 16, 1877. Elizabeth Kinnear Kelsey writes, "As Ahmed read the New Testament with Miss Smith, he decided he wanted to become a Christian and this was a start of one of the most exciting stories in the mission's history. [9]

The event caused a commotion within the Muslim community. They didn't spare any efforts to try to persuade Ahmed to recant his decision. He describes the struggle going on within him in the process that led to his eventual confession: "I was like a man tossed about by the raging waves of the sea and in danger of being drowned; near me was a ship I knew I could find safety, but I felt I would rather perish than be saved by that ship." [10] Watson explains Ahmed's situation thus: "At this time he had great conflict of soul. On one side was the honor of his family and friends, and the terrible disgrace he would bring upon himself and his loved ones (for he dearly loved his parents, brothers and sisters.), on the other hand, the terrible persecution and death that, perhaps, would follow; the hate that would take the place of fond love in the hearts of his relatives. Then there was the love of Christ and the promise of salvation through Him alone." [11]

Ahmed was baptized on November 25, 1877, shortly after his conversion. Little is known about the event except for a few observations from Miss Thompson's diary records. She says that Ahmed was baptized and received into the church by Dr. Julius Lansing, one of the long time Presbyterian missionaries. She adds that "Many of the audience wept but some were unhappy that he had not taken a new Christian name." [12] The relatives, friends, and other Muslims in the local community, however, were extremely disturbed by this conversion and tried in vain to reverse it. As the missionaries knew Ahmed's life was in danger, they decided Ahmed should move into Dr. Lansing's house, from whence he continued to do his work as an Arabic language teacher.

The news of Ahmed's conversion spread like wildfire throughout Cairo, causing a great commotion. Many of his friends and the city's learned men in the religion of Islam were called upon to come and dissuade him from being a Christian. After spending all possible, peaceful efforts in vain, his relatives decided to kidnap him. The circumstances surrounding the kidnapping are briefly related thus: "So on Thursday, December 20, 1877, towards sunset, his brother Muhammad and other relatives, dressed as fellaheen, watched for him on his return from the mission house, which was situated only a few yards from Dr. Lansing's house, pounced upon him, thrust him into a closed carriage, one of them keeping his hand on his mouth to prevent him calling out, and carried him off to his father's house." [13]

The missionaries were alarmed by Ahmed's disappearance and inquired as to his whereabouts. The neighbors who knew what had happened did not dare speak out for fear of reprisals. Anxiety grew in the missionary community. Fearing for his life, the missionaries took the matter to both the American and British consuls, who eventually found out that he was still alive and where he was being held. However, his relatives kept him prisoner him for five weeks. During this confinement, a "noted arguer, more an infidel than a Muhammadan, who has since become notorious, in Persia, England and Constantinople, Gamal ed-Deen, was brought to argue with him." [14] Other means were attempted as well to cause him to recant his acceptance of Christ: "A sheik noted for writing enchantments for protection and for injury, came and handed the relatives a little silk bag containing a sheet of paper written in Arabic in a mystic form, and folded in a triangular shape, and told him to put it under his fez, saying it would either cure him of his infidel tendencies, or, if he insisted on going back to the infidels, it would produce in him the wildest insanity." [15]

His family even threatened to kill him. His brother Muhammad is said to have shown him the weapons to be used to kill him because he had besmirched the family's honor by becoming a Christian. Ahmed, however, was not intimidated by these threats though he was showing signs of stress. The situation was so tense that his mother broke down with an illness that threatened to take her life. This illness was enough to cause Ahmed to temporarily return to Islam. However, as soon as he was released he returned to his newfound faith. The only way he could live in some security as a Christian was to stay at Dr. Lansing's home. After this incident he was in constant danger of being killed at any time and the government authorities could not guarantee his safety.

The situation finally eased up when Ahmed left his country to go to Scotland to pursue further studies. There he earned an M.D. degree from the University of Edinburgh. Afterwards the London Missionary Society sent him to work in China, as superintendent of the society's hospital at Chang Chew, Awoy, China.

The last information currently available about Ahmed Fahmī is from a record indicating that the mission had approved his request to return to Egypt where he was given the task of opening a clinic in Tanta, Egypt. [16] Further information about his life can undoubtedly be found in the records of the American Mission in Tanta.

Tukei Kennedy



Notes:

1. Earl E. Elder, Vindicating a Vision: The Story of the American Mission in Egypt 1854-1954 (Philadelphia: The United Presbyterian Board of foreign Missions, 1958), 76.
2. Charles R., Watson, In The Valley Of The Nile (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1908), 305.
3. Elizabeth Kinnear Kesley, She Sat Where They Sat: A Memoir of Anna Young Thompson of Egypt (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 38.
4. Watson, 161.
5. Ibid., 161.
6. Ibid., 161.
7. Kinnear, 38.
8. Watson, 20.
9. Kinnear, 38.
10. Andrew Watson, The American Mission in Egypt: 1855-1896 (Pittsburg: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1904), 306.
11. Watson, American Mission, 306.
12. Kinnear, 39.
13. Watson, American Mission, 307.
14. Ibid., 308.
15. Ibid., 308.
16. Elder, 77.

Bibliography:

Elder, E. Earl. Vindicating a Vision: The Story of the American Mission in Egypt 1854-1954. Philadelphia: The United Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, 1958.
Kinnear, Kelsey, Elizabeth. She Sat Where They Sat: A Memoir of Anna Young Thompson of Egypt. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971.
Watson, Andrew. The American Mission in Egypt: 1855-1896. Pittsburg: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1904.
Watson, Charles, R. In the Valley of the Nile. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1908.


This story, received in 2006, was researched and written by Tukei Kennedy, a student in the M.A.T.S. Program at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo as a requirement for a class on Middle East Christianity (III) under the supervision of Dr. David Grafton, DACB Liason coordinator.