Karl Gottlieb Pfander

Karl Gottlieb Pfander

Karl Gottlieb Pfander (1803-1865) was born in Wurttemberg in southern Germany. His background lay in the Pietist wing of the Lutheran state church, with its strong tradition of disciplined Christian living heartily enjoyed by evangelical craftsmen, tradesmen, and shopkeepers.


One of nine children, the son of a village baker, Pfander attended a local school, and then grammar school in Stuttgart. At the age of sixteen he had already decided to become a Protestant Christian missionary. In due course he was accepted for training at the newly established Evangelical Institute at Basel in Switzerland. His studies there included the Arabic language and the Qur’an, and during his first appointment with the Church Missionary Society, at Shushi in Georgia, he quickly learned Armenian, Persian and the Tartar dialect of Turkish. His wife died in Shushi a year after their marriage.

Pfander's genial, extroverted self-confidence equipped him well for the life of an itinerant evangelistfact|date=October 2008, and his days were spent in the distribution of Christian literature and controversial discussion with Muslims. In 1830 he joined Anthony Norris Groves on his way to Baghdad, and for a year assisted Groves' efforts to establish a mission base and school there.

In 1837, the CMS appointed Pfander to Agra in northern India, and here, in 1854, he engaged in a famous public debate with leading Islamic scholars. The debate itself went badly for Pfander, and he decided to withdraw from it. The Muslim side was headed by Rahmatullah Kairanawi and Muhammad Wazîr Khân. The interest the debate aroused led a number of Muslims to read his 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.

In 1837 the CMS relocated Pfander to Peshawar 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." [Stock, Eugene, "The History of the Church Missionary Society" (London, Church Missionary Society, 1899), p. 220] That same year he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Cambridge University in recognition of his scholarship.


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

cquote|bgcolor=#F0FFF0|We pass on to the consideration of Dr. Pfander's writings, which consist of three treatises: first, Mîzân-ul-Haqq, or "Balance of Truth"; second, Miftâh-ul-Asrâr, or "Key of Mysteries"; and third, Tarîq-ul-Hyât, or " Way of Salvation." They were originally written in Persian, but have also been published in Urdoo, excepting the last which is in progress of translation. From his residence and travels in Persia, Pfander possesses advantages which fortunately qualify him in an unusual degree for the great controversy with our Moslem population. He was attached for ten or twelve years to the German mission at Fort Shushy on the confines of Georgia, from whence he made frequent and protracted visits to Persia, penetrating as far as Bagdad, and returning by a circuitous tour through Isfahan and Teheran. In 1836, the Russian Government, unable to tolerate the presence of foreign ecclesiastics, put a stop to the mission, and thus proved the means of providing us with labourers who in the field of Persia had acquired so valuable a knowledge of its language and so intimate an acquaintance with the religion and tenets of the Mohammedans. Pfander joined the Indian mission of the C. M. S. in 1838.

Our author has not been backward in improving his peculiar privileges, or in availing himself of the help which the previous controversy and such writings as those of Dr. Lee afforded him. His first and most important work is the Mîzân-ul-Haqq, or "Balance of Truth," as between Christians and Moslems; and being of extraordinary value, we shall endeavour to present our readers with a complete account of it. The original Persian edition was published at Shushy in 1835, and the Urdoo translation was lithographed at Mirzapore in 1843. The argument is prefaced by a statement showing that the soul can alone be satisfied with the knowledge and favour of God, to which man in his present state is unable of himself to attain. To secure this end a revelation is necessary which must fulfil the real desires, and satisfy the spiritual wants of man's soul; coincide with the principles of right and wrong implanted in his heart; exhibit the Deity as the just and holy, omniscient and unchangeable Creator; be consistent in 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, [http://www.muhammadanism.org/Controversy/p20.htm pp. 20] .]


* "Mizan al-Haqq"
* "Miftah al-Asrar"
* "Tariq al-Hyat"
* "Remarks on the Nature of Muhammadanism"


*Dann, Robert Bernard, "Father of Faith Missions: the Life and Times of Anthony Norris Groves", (Authentic Media, 2004) ISBN 1884543901
*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",

External links

* [http://books.google.com/books?id=-dS2fLNkCskC&dq=%22went+on+preaching+in+the+streets%22 "The History of the Church Missionary Society" at Google Books]
* [http://answering-islam.org/Books/Pfander/ Pfander's works]

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