Karl Gottlieb Pfander

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Karl Gottlieb Pfander (1803–1865), spelt also as Carl Gottlieb Pfander or C.G. Pfander, was a Basel Mission missionary in Central Asia and Trans-Caucasus, and the Church Missionary Society polemicist to North-Western Provinces—later became Agra Province - present Agra in Uttar Pradesh -- North India. He was renowned for using controversy to win Muslims for Christ and top of all the missionaries of his day as the Christian champion against Islam—used his entire life in the effort to convert Mohammedans.[1][2][3][4][5]

He authored Mizan al-Haqq (The balance of truth), an apologetic, Remarks on the nature of Muhammedanism, and more.[1][2][3][4][6]



One of nine children, the son of a village baker was born on 3 November 1803 at Württemberg, Germany—Württemberg, his birthplace was one of the few places notorious for Pietistic form of Evangelism, influenced by Pietists like J.A. Bengel and F.C. Oetinger. Pfander attended a local Latin school, and then grammar school in Stuttgart. At the age of sixteen, he had already decided to become a Protestant Christian missionary; accordingly, he got his missionary training in Germany between 1819 and 1821. In due course, he was accepted for training at the newly established Evangelical Institute at Basel in Switzerland between 1821 and 1825, and became fluent in Persian, Turkish, and Arabic languages. During his first appointment with the Basel Mission(BM)[German: Evangelische Missions Gasellschaft] at Shusha in Karabakh Khanate, Azerbaijan, he quickly learned Armenian and Azerbaijani languages, and fine-tuned his Persian language skills; he served for twelve years at BM society between 1825 and 1837, studying the Arabic language and Quran. He married Sophia Reuss, first wife; a German, in Moscow on 11 July 1834; however, she died in childbed in Shusha on 12 May 12, 1835. In 1837, he joined the Church Missionary Society(CMS) when BM was closed by Russia in Central Asia; consequently, he was sent to India for sixteen years between 1837 and 1857. He married Emily Swinburne, second wife; an English woman, in Calcutta on 19 January 1841, who bore him three boys and three girls. In 1858, he was sent to Constantinople by CMS following an uprising against the British rule in India. Pfander returned to Britain when CMS activity in the city was suspended as Ottomon opposed his controversialist approach. He died on 1 December 1865 at Richmond, London.[1][2][3][4][5][7]

Missionary work[edit]

Pfander's genial, extroverted self-confidence equipped him well for the life of an itinerant evangelist and his days were spent in the distribution of Christian literature and controversial discussion with Muslims.[7]

South Caucasus(1825-1836)[edit]

In 1825, after Pfander was Ordained, he was stationed at Shusha, provincial-capital of Karabakh, Transcaucasus—also called South Caucasus - north of Russia, west of Turkey, and south of Iran - All of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Pfander did missionary work in Karabakh and neighbouring lands. Out of several Basel Mission missionaries, some missionaries concentrated on reforming Armenian Orthodox Church, which they believed to be corrupt and bankrupt—one-third of the local population were Armenian Christians—This newly established province had migration of Armenian people before and after 1828 from Persia (present Iran).[4][5]

Pfander, on behalf of Basel Mission concentrated in evangelizing and communicating Gospel to local Moslems—about two-third of local population were Muslims. Pfander believed that if Muslims read New Testament translated into Persian language, their preferred language, they would automatically abandon Islam and acknowledge it's superiority and truth. For this, Pfander made several excursions to Iran and also spent a year at Baghdad, Iraq, to master Persian language. From 1825 to 1829, he worked in Shusha and neighbouring lands.[4][5]

In 1835, Russia forbade all missionary operations in Shusha except those of the Greek church; consequently, he was forced to leave Shusha. He returned to Shusha in 1836 after he went to Constantinople in 1835, but left to Calcutta, India, in 1837.[4][5]

Central Asia(1829-1835)[edit]

Between 1829 and 1831, he worked with Anthony Norris Groves, Baghdad, and for a year assisted Groves' efforts to establish a mission base and school there. From March 1831, he worked in Persia, and returned to Shusha. While working in Trans-Caucasus, he made several visits to Central Asia -- Iran—to master Persian language.

Agra Province(1841-1855)[edit]

With British parliament opening up for Protestant missionary activities in 1813 in India, several missionaries started operating in India, that were under control of East India Company. In 1814, the first Anglican Bishop was secretly consecrated in Calcutta. From 1832, non-British missionaries were also allowed to operate in Indian subcontinent. Agra, notorious for Muslim learning and culture, had been already transformed into an administrative centre for India's North-West province by British government. Agra was home not just to Muslims but also had strong presence of British missionary, who had been translating and publishing polemical books against the Muslim creed locally. For example did the former Jewish Christian missionary Joseph Wolff attract the ulama´s attention by preaching the near apocalypse in 1833, an idea that Shiite Muslims could apply to their own expectation of the twelfth Imam.[8] In addition, with a disastrous famine in 1837, a huge Orphanage was opened by the authorities, and several children were subsequently baptized as Christians.

With the financial success of the Orphanage, East India Company launched Orphange Press employing Orphans at Agra itself. The success of Serampore press, a money-spinner for East India Company in lower Bengal by Serampore Trio was soon replicated at Sikandra in the 1840s for printing Urdu and Persian tracts in criticism of Islam in the 1840s and 1850s. This further escalated with the transfer of "Sadr courts" from Allahabad to Agra.[3]

At the heart of this new publishing activity, CMS recruited Pfander, a German pietist missionary with Swiss missionary training and considerable linguistic skills combined with experience in preaching on the Persian frontier (Central Asia). Pfander had been posted to Agra to evangelize the Muslims who underwent the worst famine in that region, and also to assist the already working German missionary colleagues, who like Pfander had been exiled from Central Asia with Tsar's prohibition of any further Pietist missionary activity. Pfander as CMS missionary had come Agra to distribute newly prepared Urdu and Persian translations of his books among the city's ashraf and ulama clans, in a hope to stir up the kind of response from local Muslims, which he had failed before in Baghdad and Kermanshah. On the other hand, with growing influence of European Christian missionaries threat and their role as instruments of British colonialism, Agra Muslim community intended to demonstrate the inferiority of Christianity by calling for a public debate between Muslims and Christians. Head of this movement was the religious teacher and mir munsi of Delhi, Rahmatullah Kairanawi, (sunni).[2][3][9]

Pfander started to India in 1837 and arrived at Calcutta(present Kolkata) on 1 October 1838, due to closure of his previous mission station in the Russian Caucasus—South Caucasus. On his arrival, he had an impression that Muslims in India were on the verge of turning to Christianity; accordingly, he translated some of the books on Islam and Christianity which he had already written during the previous years into Urdu. Mizan al-Haqq was one such book that was used as starting point at Agra, but was also translated into several languages of the Muslim world. With consent from the Basel Mission, he joined CMS on 12 February 1840.[2][3]

In January 1841, the CMS posted Pfander to Agra in Northern India. As soon as he took his new job at Agra, he immediately begun engaging with local Muslims through written letters, sending copies of the Persian and Arabic Bibles. East India Company also posted the administrators who were sympathetic to evangelicalism, especially like James Thomason as Lieutenant general of North-West Provinces and William Muir, who played a prominent role in unfolding of munazara and to remain in the region for next forty years was posted to North-Western Province, just before Pfander's arrival to Agra. These new Company's recruits provided unofficial support for Protest missionaries preaching, publishing, and educational initiatives. Stephen Wheler, a Colonel notorious for his provocative role in preaching Sepoys at Barrackpore, too started a second Orphanage at Fatehgarh, near Agra in 1838—with his departure, he handed over Orphanage maintenance to American Presbyterian missionaries. In 1854, under these circumstances and context with East India Company support, Pfander engaged in a famous public debate with leading Islamic scholars at Agra.[2][3]

Pfander Vs Rahmatullah debate[edit]

While in India, he engaged Muslim religious leaders in public debates and disputations at Agra on 10 and 11 April 1854. These took the chance to suppress the meanwhile escalated missionary activities in Agra and to break the alliance between British Regime and awakened missionaries. Not without good reason they held Pfander for one of the triggers of the Delhi crisis, where the established religious harmony had been destroyed by putting European rationalist sciences in contradiction to traditional muslim sciences, such as Aristotelian logic or Neo-Platonism.[10] Several hundred Muslims and Europeans gathered in the school room of Agra's Church Missionary Society to listen to a series of public debates between Pfander, a German CMS Protestant missionary, and Al-Kairanawi(other names: Rahmatullah Kairanawi or Sheik Rahmat Kairanawi or Rahamatullah ibn Halil al-Utmani al-Kairanawi or Al-Hindi or Maulana Rahmat Allah), a Sunni theologian. The debate had following participants -- Pfander supporters: British East Indian Company servants, who represented India's colonial power and its protection of European missionaries; Pfander's co-workers and his converts, worth of beeing mentioned by name is his adjutant Thomas Valpy French, who later questioned Pfander´s offensive missionary strategies and after the Rebellion of 1857 and Queen Victoria´s 1858 proclamation of tolerance focussed rather on mission through education[11]; and representatives of Anglican Church, neither wholeheartedly supported nor opposed the debate, but were determined to defend the integrity of Bible against the challenges from Muslim theologians -- Rahmatullah supporters: local Shites and Sunni audiences; local Catholic missionaries, who disliked the work of Protestants; and Muhammad Wazîr Khân, a physician in British-run medical hospital.[2][3]

Although, the debate had been slated to address the topics of Quran as the word of God, trinity(tathlit), and the sending of the Prophet Mohammed, it seems, the debate had actually centered around a single point—the deviation of Christian scriptures(tahrif). Christian missionaries tried to defend the integrity of New Testament and Old Testament, while Al-Kairanawi insisted that the Christian scriptures had been abrogated and tried to corroborate with examples taken from Bible. Main point of discussion was the dubious Gospel of Barnabas, which had been edited by a Christian missionary to end the debate about it´s possible contents risen during the Reconquista, and was now referred to by the Muslims as the only acceptable Gospel[12]. After two days of debate, both sides claimed victory; however, it marked a turning point in Muslim apologetics, as it was for the first time that Muslim theologians used European critical methods to try to disprove Christian belief. In fact, it had influenced not only the modern form of apologetics but also Muslim view of Christianity.[2][3]
The debate´s aftermath happened to influence the interaction between educated Muslims and Christian missionaries fundamentally. Its polemic tone was picked up and led to mass-adressing Bazar preachings. Intellectual exchange came to a standstill for the next 30 years. It rose again in the late nineteenth century, when William Muir provoked Syed Ahmad Khan and others to defend Islamic Culture and Civilization against his providential history writing. This discurse was aleady influenced by Muslim reference to European, secular and rationalist sources, first applied by Dr. Wazir Khan in Agra 1854, which helps to explain Syed Ahmad Khan´s emphasis on the historical roots of Islam and his ignorance of Islam in India (that he paradoxically tried to reform).[13]

The interest the debate aroused led a number of Muslims to read Pfander's literature and consider the questions that had been discussed. Some, such as the leading Sufi scholars and theologians Imad ud-din Lahiz and Safdar Ali, professed conversion to Christianity.

William Muir, Secretary to the Government of the North West Provinces, described these debates between Pfander and Al-Kairanawi in an article published by the "Calcutta Review," along with recent history of Christian mission to Muslims. Having observed the debate by himself, he later published these articles as The Mohammedan Controversy in 1897.[14]


In 1837 the CMS relocated Pfander to strategic location Peshawar, doorway to Central Asia and South Asia, on the north-west frontier of India, where he continued his distribution of literature and his controversial discussions. At the outbreak of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, he "went on preaching in the streets right through the most anxious time, when plots to murder all the Europeans were revealed by intercepted letters."[15] That same year he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Cambridge University in recognition of his scholarship.

Constantinople (1858–1865)[edit]

He was sent as CMS missionary to Constantinople in 1859. When he arrived at Constantinople, many Turks showed interest in the doctrines of Christianity for the first few years.[16] When in Constantinople, then-Ottoman capital, while he was on Middle Eastern mission, he commented:

However, with ill-advised[citation needed] comments and attacks on Mohammed, Turks soon made violent attacks against Christian missions, seized printing presses used by the missionaries, closed rooms and bookstores of the missionaries, including imprisonment of missionaries, forcing[citation needed] the British government to interfere to liberate the missionaries. The mission never recovered from that blow, forcing them to forbid Constantinople for good.[2][3][16][17][18]


Pfander's chief legacy to posterity is undoubtedly his book Mizan ul-Haqq (The Balance of Truth), modelled on the style of Islamic theological works, and attempting to present the Christian gospel in a form understandable to Muslims. He offered reasons to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, neither corrupted nor superseded, and argued that the Qur'an itself testifies to the reliability of the Christian scriptures and the supremacy of Christ. He attempted to prove from the Qur'an and other Islamic writings some alleged fallibilities in Islam and its prophet, noting a historic contrast between the violence of Islamic expansion and the peaceable spread of the early church. The Mizan ul-Haqq stimulated a number of carefully argued refutations from Islamic scholars, followed by further writings from Pfander himself. It marked an important new phase in Muslim-Christian relations, when profound theological issues were addressed for the first time by recognised scholars.

In his history of the CMS, Eugene Stock described Pfander as "the greatest of all missionaries to Mohammedans." Temple Gairdner remarked that Pfander possessed the three great requisites for public controversy: absolute command of his subject, absolute command of the language, thought and manner of the people, and absolute command of himself. Samuel Zwemer defended his dogmatic and controversial methods, pointing out that Christ and his apostles engaged in similar public debate with individuals and crowds.

William Muir writes[edit]

William Muir, having arrived India before Pfander, devoted his leisure time during and after his forty years of service at North-West province, to the study of early Islamic history and the writings of evangelical tracts for Muslims. Responding to Pfander's call for reliable account of the life of Muhammed, he began serious and detailed work on a biography The Life of Mohammet and History of Islam, where Muir explained Pfander's role in urging him to make available critical materials on the early sources of Islamic history.[3][14]


He wrote his own apologetic entitled Mizan al-Haqq(The balance of truth), translated from German language entitled Wage der Wahrheit, as he was frustrated by the lack of evangelical literature for Muslims. He used this work to defend the integrity of Bible and the truth of Christian revelation against the Islamic views of its textual corruption and impugned the veracity of Quran and Muhammed's prophethood. This work typified Pfander's role in shaping missionary controversy with Islam in the nineteenth century.[1][6]

While in Shusha, he drafted Wage der Wahrheit, considered till-today as missionary classic, in German language in May 1829. It had been translated later into Persian language entitled Mizan al-Haqq in 1835 at Shusha, and also into Armenian, Turkish, and Urdu languages afterwards. Urdu translation is done in 1843 at Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, after Pfander arrived India. It has been translated into English as The balance of truth. This work is considered as a cogent and incisive attack on Mohammedanism.[4][6]

While in India, he engaged Muslim religious leaders in public disputations in Agra and Peshawar;

In 1840, he published Remarks on the Nature of Muhammedanism that dealt with popular Muslim faith, emphasizing the importance of Islamic traditions(hadith) in the ways Muslims interpret the Quran and practice their faith.[1]

In 1844, he published Miftah al-Asrar(The key of mysteries) that presents an account of Jesus and the Trinity; and discusses the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity.. He also published Tariq al-Hayat(The way of life) or Taríqu'l-hyát(The Path of Life) -- presents the Christianc understanding of salvation as against the Islamic understanding of sin.[1][20] [21][22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Anderson, Gerald H. (1999). Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 532. ISBN 978-0-8028-4680-8. ISBN 0-8028-4680-7. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Carl Pfander the catalyst: Pietism and mission". ktp.isam.org.tr. Pfander, Carl(Karl) Gottlieb, born 3 November 1803 at Waibllngen, Germany. After attending the local Lateinshcule, he started missionary training in Germany. Retrieved May 15, 2012.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Powell, Avril Ann (1993). Muslims and Missionaries in Pre-Mutiny India. Routledge. pp. 132–. ISBN 978-0-7007-0210-7. ISBN 0-7007-0210-5. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "PFANDER, pfān'der, KARL GOTTLIEB: Missionary to the Mohammedans". ccel.org. Retrieved May 19, 2012. He married first Sophia Reuss, a German, in Moscow, July 11, 1834, who died in childbed in Shusha, May 12, 1835; second, Emily Swinburne, an Englishwoman, in Calcutta, Jan. 19, 1841, who bore him three boys and three girls, and survived him fifteen years. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "The legacy of Karl Gottlieb Pfander. (missionary in the Muslim world)". highbeam.com. Retrieved May 21, 2012. Karl Gottlieb Pfander has been described as the "foremost champion of his age" in the assault upon "the embattled forces of the False Prophet." - In 1825, after completing his course, Pfander was ordained in Lutheran orders and stationed at Shusha, the provincial capital of Karabagh in Russian Armenia. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Carl [Karl] Gottlieb Pfander". muhammadanism.org. Retrieved May 24, 2012. Dr. Pfander's writings, which consist of three treatises: first, Mizan-ul-Haqq, or "Balance of Truth"; second, Miftah-ul-Asrar, or "Key of Mysteries"; and third, Tariq-ul-Hyat, or " Way of Salvation." They were originally written in Persian, but have also been published in Urdoo 
  7. ^ a b "C. G. Pfander". facebook.com. Retrieved May 20, 2012. Karl Gottlieb Pfander (1803–1865) was born in Württemberg in southern Germany. 
  8. ^ Powell, Avril A.: Muslims and Missionaries in Pre-Mutiny India, London, 1993
  9. ^ Schirrmacher, Christine: Mit den Waffen des Gegners. Christlich-muslimische Kontroversen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, dargestellt am Beispiel der Auseinandersetzung um Karl Gottlieb Pfanders „Mizan al-haqq“ und Rahmatullah ibn Halil al-´Utmani al Karanawis „Izhar al-haqq“ und der Diskussion über das Barnabasevangelium. (Islamkundliche Untersuchungen; 162). Berlin, 1992.
  10. ^ Powell, Avril A.: Muslims and Missionaries in Pre-Mutiny India, London, 1993
  11. ^ Powell, Avril A.: Muslims and Missionaries in Pre-Mutiny India, London, 1993
  12. ^ Schirrmacher, Christine: Mit den Waffen des Gegners. Christlich-muslimische Kontroversen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, dargestellt am Beispiel der Auseinandersetzung um Karl Gottlieb Pfanders „Mizan al-haqq“ und Rahmatullah ibn Halil al-´Utmani al Karanawis „Izhar al-haqq“ und der Diskussion über das Barnabasevangelium. (Islamkundliche Untersuchungen; 162). Berlin, 1992.
  13. ^ Powell, Avril A.: Muslims and Missionaries in Pre-Mutiny India, London, 1993.
  14. ^ a b "William Muir". newworldencyclopedia.org. Retrieved May 18, 2012. In early 1850s he reported on the correspondence between Karl Gottlieb Pfander the German-born CMS missionary and the Muslim scholar, al-Kairanawi. He described these debates in articles published by the Calcutta Review, also summarizing the recent history of Christian mission to Muslims and reviewing relevant literature. These articles were later published as The Mohammedan Controversy (1897). 
  15. ^ Stock, Eugene, The History of the Church Missionary Society (London, Church Missionary Society, 1899), p. 220
  16. ^ a b "The Armenians. 1864-1866.". centurymysteries.com. Retrieved May 22, 2012. But when copies of Dr. Pfander's book were brought to Constantinople, which defended Christianity against Mohammedanism, and assailed the latter, it was detained at the custom-house; yet copies got abroad in some way, without foreign agency, and were sought by Mohammedans who were interested in the great question it discussed. 
  17. ^ "ARABO-TURKISH AND ARMENO-TURKISH VERSIONS". justus.anglican.org. Retrieved May 14, 2012. In 1859 the C.M.S. sent to Constantinople the ablest of their Mohammedan missionaries, Dr. Karl Gottlieb Pfander and Koelle. Pfander (1803-1865) 
  18. ^ Cox, Jeffrey (2002). Imperial Fault Lines:Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818-1940. Stanford University Pres. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-0-8047-4318-1. ISBN 0-8047-4318-5. 
  19. ^ Sir William Muir, The Mohammedan Controversy: Biographies of Mohammed, Sprenger on Tradition, The Indian Liturgy, and the Psalter, T. & T. Clark, 38 George Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1897, pp. 20.
  20. ^ "2002 Site Updates". muhammadanism.org. Retrieved May 16, 2012. Carl [Karl] Gottlieb Pfander. This book discusses the doctrine of the deity of Christ and the Trinity. In English, the book is known as Miftah-ul-Asrar: The Key of Mysteries. 
  21. ^ Pfander, Carl Gottlieb (1912). Taríqu'l-hyát: (The Path of Life). William St. Clair Tisdall (Christian literature society for India). 
  22. ^ Pfander, Carl Gottlieb; William St. Clair Tisdall (1976). The Mizanu'l haqq:the Mohammedan controversy. the University of Michigan (Indo-Asiatic Publishers). 
  • Dann, Robert Bernard, Father of Faith Missions: the Life and Times of Anthony Norris Groves, (Authentic Media, 2004) ISBN 1-884543-90-1
  • Powell, Avril Ann, Muslims and Missionaries in Pre-Mutiny India (Richmond, Curzon Press, 1993)
  • Schirrmacher, Christine, "The Influence of German Biblical Criticism on Muslim Apologetics in the 19th Century", <http://www.contra-mundum.org/schirrmacher/rationalism.html>

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