Some Early Believers

It was not long after Bahá'u'lláh's return from Sulaymáníyyih that His Writings began to reach the Bábís in Persia. This gave them fresh hope and new vision. Some were inspired by these Writings; others were so moved and excited as to undertake, in some cases on foot and with extremely limited resources, the long and hazardous journey to Baghdád in the hope of attaining His presence and discovering in His person the mystery of God's Revelation which was to come; and a few who were endowed with spiritual insight, through the mere perusal of these Writings, recognized in Him the One designated by the Báb as 'Him Whom God shall make manifest'.

Mullá Ridá of Muhammad-Ábád

A notable example of a man of insight was Mullá Muhammad-Ridá, a native of Muhammad-Ábád in the province of Yazd. He was a divine known for his piety, eloquence and courage. He had embraced the Bábí Faith in the early years of its inception and became a great light among the followers of the Báb in Yazd. The following is a brief account of how he recognized the station of Bahá'u'lláh.

Soon after the return of Bahá'u'lláh from Kurdistán, a well-known Bábí surnamed Rada'r-Rúh, noted for his knowledge and learning, travelled to Baghdád and attained His presence. Although he met Bahá'u'lláh face to face, he failed at that time to recognize the full glory of His station. On his return to Yazd, Rada'r-Rúh shared with Mullá Ridá the Qasídiy-i-Varqá'íyyih revealed by the Pen of Bahá'u'lláh. Upon perusing this single


Tablet, Mullá Ridá, through the purity of his heart and the clarity of his vision, recognized Bahá'u'lláh and exclaimed with great joy: 'I can see the Promised One of the Bayán made manifest and seated upon the throne of the words which have been revealed in this Tablet'.1 Rada'r-Rúh, who had actually attained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdád, became somewhat perturbed by the attitude and claims of Mullá Ridá, and pointed out that Bahá'u'lláh Himself had not made such a claim. After some time, however, Rada'r-Rúh also accepted Bahá'u'lláh and His Faith, suffered much persecution in His path and, finally, about the year 1868 died a martyr's death in the village of Mihríz outside Yazd.

The story of Mullá Ridá's life is a fascinating one. The following account is based on a biography of him:

Mullá Ridá belonged to a well-known family and had received his education as a Muslim clergyman. From the time he embraced the Cause till the very moment he passed away in Tihrán prison his whole life was dedicated to teaching work. He ought to be regarded as a great hero whom the Almighty had raised in the early days of the Cause to proclaim His Message and upon whom He had bestowed a sword-like power of utterance with which he tore asunder the veils of ignorance and superstition, and by doing so constantly exposed himself to intense pain and suffering. In fact, seldom a day passed without his being handed a cup of woeful trials which he would sip with abundant joy and satisfaction.

Mullá Ridá was an old man with a tall and shapely stature that enhanced his dignified bearing. His mode of behaviour was governed by a rare combination of frankness, humour, eloquence and exceptional courage, and dominated by his passionate love for Bahá'u'lláh. No one is known to have surpassed his unusual power of endurance. Of him it is authoritatively said by the friends that while he was detained in Yazd for Bahá'í activities and prior to his expulsion from the town, the Governor ordered that the bastinado* be

* The victim is made to lie on his back while his feet, inserted in a loop, are raised and the soles beaten with a cane or a whip.

1. Masábih-i-Hidáyat, vol. I, p. 216.
inflicted on him in public at seven crossroads during a single day so as to dissuade the inhabitants from going over to the new creed. At each appointed spot, Mullá Ridá would remove his abá [cloak], turban and socks and place them on a handkerchief which he would spread on the ground; then after lying down and inserting his feet into the loop, he would cover his face with the hem of his garment and ask his persecutors to proceed. At no time during these rounds of torture did he breathe a word, or make a sign or move that implied a painful feeling. At one point his unusual calm in the face of brutal lashings made the stupefied onlookers imagine that the victim had collapsed. However, when his face was uncovered, they found him cleaning his teeth in a quiet manner!

As a teacher, Mullá Ridá was highly qualified, exceptionally well-informed and audacious. No one could rival him in speech or in the knowledge of the Qur'án and Islámic law and tradition. While in Tihrán prison, he was summoned on several occasions to answer questions about the Faith at gatherings of princes and notables of the realm. And at each session he prevailed over his distinguished opponents in argument and laid bare their ignorance and the absurdity of their notions.

Mullá Ridá was a man of broad vision and great enterprise, though sometimes his imagination seemed to be bordering on the fantastic. For instance, he had a firm conviction that the organic unity of all substances will be established during the Bahá'í era and moreover he is quoted to have said that 'if I were guided to discover this transmuting alchemy, I would build a town and erect in it a Mashriq'ul-Adhkár* of crystal. Its central hall would be supported by ninety-five pillars and each of its 19 X 9-metre doors would be made of solid gold!'

Far from being cautious and calculating, Mullá Ridá was extremely bold and frank in his manners, deeds and assertions. Always he spoke on the spur of the moment, unguardedly and effectively. He was not one to 'seek' opportunity for teaching; rather he would 'force' openings for himself in


* Literally, Dawning-Place of the Mention of God: a Bahá'í House of Worship.

[transmutation of elements]: The Kitáb-i-Aqdas Note 194; The Kitáb-i-Íqán p. 157; The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 2 p. 268, vol. 4 p. 225.

order to speak about the Cause to almost everyone he met. The dungeon life, dismal and dreary as it was, failed to curb his heroic spirit or to prevent his bold adventure in teaching work. On the contrary, it brought him new opportunities and spiritual powers which he grasped and exploited to the full, always disregarding the fact that such an indiscreet manner of public teaching in the presence of fanatical prisoners and authorities would entail fresh dangers and sufferings not only for himself but also for the rest of the friends who shared his dire fate. 'His public discussions', Siyyid Asadu'lláh-i-Qumí, his companion in jail narrates, 'sometimes became highly controversial and the excited fanatics who looked for such opportunities would join in with their derisive and insulting words. We used to point out to him that these ignorant people who passed such abusive remarks about the Cause certainly were not seekers of truth, but only trouble-makers. But he contended that the Cause is great and therefore is bound to encounter great opposition and that those who try to defile its fair name through abuse and vituperation surely will never succeed in doing it any harm. What they actually do, he maintained, is to let everyone know how stupid they themselves are. Their foolish act resembles that of a man who tries vainly to spit on the sun.'

This same Siyyid Asadu'lláh further states that 'again and again we argued with Mullá Ridá, begged and urged him to be moderate and sparing in his talks but nothing proved of any avail.* Then as the situation grew worse and new dangers loomed ahead, the sense of fear and anxiety in our hearts prompted us to take a step that soon brought in its wake a grievous trial for him and a world of sorrow for us all. As a precaution against incidents, we went to the jailer, Mashhadí 'Alí, and asked him to tell Mullá Ridá not to speak in public about the Cause, hoping that his words and authority would induce him to change his attitude. But alas, how little did we know then that no earthly power, no amount of pain and suffering could ever curb his uncompromising


* Although Bahá'u'lláh had counselled His followers to teach His Cause with wisdom, the character of Mullá Ridá, his enthusiasm and devotion, perhaps led him to overlook this injunction.

spirit or dissuade this aged man of God from placing teaching work above safety and other personal considerations. So when he had refused to comply with the jailer's order, the latter grew angry and told his men to inflict corporal punishment on him. They took Mullá Ridá into the prison yard and most brutally flogged his bare back. However, in spite of old age and the rigours of prison life, he remained steadfast as a rock throughout the ordeal. He neither budged nor did he raise the faintest cry, nor did his face bear the slightest expression of agony. It seemed as if he had momentarily lost his sense of feeling. All the friends were profoundly shocked and shaken at the sight of his suffering and soon after the torturing, I hurriedly went over to offer my sympathy and to dress his wounds. Mullá Ridá, greatly surprised at my behaviour, shouted triumphantly: "O, Siyyid Asadu'lláh! Do you really think I am hurt? At the time of flogging I felt like a drunken elephant and never felt the slightest pain. I was in the presence of Bahá'u'lláh, talking to him." '

Among the non-Bahá'í prisoners who witnessed this harrowing scene there was a distinguished man by the name of Ghulám-Ridá Khán, whose heart was deeply touched and transformed at the sight of the superhuman endurance manifested by the victim, and the interest and surprise thus aroused led him to investigate. His search for truth was soon rewarded by confirmation and he eventually became a devoted believer. When released from prison, this same man was asked how he happened to become a Bahá'í. 'I received my light from the floggings,' he said and added, 'If instead hundreds of verses from the Qur'án had been recited to me or a thousand reasons adduced to convince me of the truth of this Message, none would have influenced me as did the unruffled calm which the old, stout-hearted Mullá Ridá evinced under torture.'

Another story told by Siyyid Asadu'lláh is the following. 'There was a poor prisoner of Jewish persuasion in our midst. One day Mullá Ridá called me and said: "Do you see this Jew, how miserable and lonely he is? None of the Muslims ever speak to or associate with him, nor do they let him enter the public bath because they regard him as unclean. And look


what dirty, ragged clothing he wears. Now would you not help me to bathe this poor Jew by the side of the prison pool?" He insisted so much that at last I consented to assist him in this odious task. We made the Jew sit beside the pool and removed the untidy clothing which barely covered his squalid figure. Then I kept pouring water over him while Mullá Ridá scrubbed and sponged his foul body. Having washed him clean, Mullá Ridá brought some clean clothing for him to wear. Throughout the whole time the Jew was lost in bewilderment. "Are you people angels or human beings?" muttered the Jew. "Why, surely you are not of the Jewish fold, yet so very kind and generous!" he added. "O, you wretched fellow!" exclaimed Mullá Ridá, "it is none but the word of your Father that prompted me to wash and clothe you. But alas! You don't know your Father, do you? Nor have you heard this word of His: 'Consort ye with the peoples of all religions in a spirit of love and fellowship'." '

Mullá Ridá was a man of peculiar conduct and of a trend of thought unusual by our standards. He had attained a station from which he saw in every object a sign or a reflection of the glory of Bahá'u'lláh, and the love he cherished for Him dominated his whole being and to it he subordinated every other impulse. Mírzá Husayn-i-Zanjání, another Bahá'í prisoner, gives the following account concerning Mullá Ridá: 'For sixteen months I was his close companion during which I dedicated myself to his service. I prepared his food, washed his clothing, did everything in my power to make him comfortable. However, he seldom thanked me; instead he would say, "I thank the Blessed Beauty for the comfort and help He has provided for me." Whenever I brought him food he used to say: "I render Thee thanks, O Bahá'u'lláh!" Or when he happened to give away something as charity or do a service to others he would say: "I give this to Bahá'u'lláh..." One day they brought in a prisoner who had no shirt on. Mullá Ridá on seeing him turned to me and said: "This poor young man is a servant of Bahá'u'lláh, though he does not know his Lord. As he is half-naked we would better let him have the spare shirt we have between ourselves. We do not need to have a spare shirt in prison; it


is a sort of luxury and surely we can do without it." I said "Very well, you put on this spare shirt which I have just washed and give this boy the one you are now wearing." On hearing my suggestion, Mullá Ridá lost his temper and shouted at me indignantly: "Do you mean to say that I put on the clean shirt and place my used one in the hands of the Blessed Beauty? How dare you make such a cruel suggestion? Aren't you a Bahá'í? Bahá'u'lláh says it is not charity unless you give away the things you hold dear. I wonder how long it will take you to attain and understand." '

Mírzá Husayn further states: 'Early during the reign of Muzaffari'd-Dín Sháh [1896-1907], the friends in Tihrán petitioned the Sháh on several occasions and succeeded in obtaining a decree for our release. On the day of liberation we were paraded in chains along the thickly crowded route to the house of the Farrásh-Báshí,* where we were taken into custody, awaiting necessary formalities to be over. Throughout that anxious time we begged and cautioned Mullá Ridá to keep calm and silent, lest a heedless word to the authorities create fresh troubles and suffering for us. Yet, notwithstanding our constant warnings and against our advice, he went to an adjoining room to talk to a group of theological students headed by a fanatical evil-minded Siyyid. We could hear their conversation, as it developed into a heated dispute. Mullá Ridá was hitting hard with the solid weapon of proofs. accompanied by a flood of verses from the Qur'án. The hostile group were utterly confounded and, as none could challenge him in argument, they grew hysterical and abusive, inflicted blows on Mullá Ridá and ejected him from their midst. This tragic incident, however, did not end there. It led to grievous consequences. The same day through mischievous machinations on the part of the malicious Siyyid, Mullá Ridá was ordered to go back to jail, while the rest of us were released.

'This new development brought immense grief and anxiety to our hearts but failed to disturb Mullá Ridá in the least. He remained bold, happy, imperturbable and as jovial as ever. However, as there was no one to look after him in


* Chief police officer.

prison, the dire privations and hardships there made themselves strongly felt on his frail and aged frame and served to hasten his journey to the shores of eternity. His days of suffering were now numbered and his illustrious soul, only ten days after this last confinement, took its flight to the abode of the Beloved.'

The two wonderful Tablets revealed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to his imperishable memory show how glorious is his rank as a teacher as well as a martyr, and how heroic an example he set in serving the Cause of God.2

Whereas Mullá Ridá recognized the station of Bahá'u'lláh through a mere perusal of one of His Tablets, there were others who, though sincere in their search for truth, were deprived of this vision and because of their learning and knowledge took time to acknowledge the authenticity of the Message of Bahá'u'lláh.


Of those who travelled to Baghdád and attained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh, unquestionably the most learned and erudite was Mullá Muhammad-i-Qá'iní, later surnamed Nabíl-i-Akbar* by Bahá'u'lláh. This great man was endowed with extraordinary qualities and intellectual powers. Some considered him a prodigy among scholars and learned men. His eminence may be judged from the fact that, after several years' study at home, he spent about six years in 'Iráq studying theology and various other subjects associated with Islámic jurisprudence. His teacher was the renowned Mujtahid† of Karbilá, Shaykh Murtidáy-i-Ansárí, the head of the Shí'ah community, who was well disposed towards the Faith. He was a divine whose standards were so exacting that he reputedly gave the title of mujtahid to only three people during his entire life. One of


* Not to be mistaken for Nabíl-i-A'zam, the famous Bahá'í historian, author of The Dawn-Breakers.

† Doctor of Islámic Law.

2. 'Bahá'í News and Reviews', a Journal of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Írán, no. 12, September 1948 The account was written by Habíb Taherzadeh.
these three was Nabíl-i-Akbar. In His writings Bahá'u'lláh has extolled Shaykh Murtidá and numbered him among 'those doctors who have indeed drunk of the cup of renunciation'. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has also described him as 'the illustrious and erudite doctor, the noble and celebrated scholar, the seal of seekers after truth.' 3

Nabíl-i-Akbar was acknowledged as one of the most outstanding men of learning in Persia. His fame had spread throughout the country to such an extent that once, when he spoke incognito to a number of divines in far-off Kirmán, his listeners were lost in admiration of his superb discourse and some were heard to say that the only person in the whole country who could rival such a man in the field of learning and knowledge would be the famous Mullá Muhammad-i-Qá'iní (that is, Nabíl-i-Akbar himself).

He embraced the Bábí Faith about the year 1853. Some six years later, while in Baghdád, he went to visit Bahá'u'lláh. There he was warmly received by Him, and was accorded the honour of staying in the outer apartments of His house, normally reserved for the reception of visitors. Mírzá Áqá Ján was instructed by Bahá'u'lláh to act as host to him. The following is an extract from the spoken chronicle of Nabíl-i-Akbar relating the events of those few days that he spent in the house of Bahá'u'lláh:

One afternoon I was seated in the room talking with Mullá Muhammad-Sádiq-i-Khurásání, known as Muqaddas.4 He was a learned man of great dignity and stature. As we were talking together, Bahá'u'lláh, Who had just returned from the town, arrived in the outer apartment accompanied by Prince Mulk-Árá whose hand He was holding. Mullá Sádiq, who was the embodiment of dignity and solemnity, immediately rose to his feet and prostrated himself at the feet of Bahá'u'lláh. This action did not please Bahá'u'lláh Who angrily rebuked Mullá Sádiq and ordered him to rise immediately, after which He went out of the room followed by the Prince.


3. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 143, for the words quoted.

4. Mullá Muhammad-Sádiq-i-Khurásání is described by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Memorials of the Faithful, pp. 5-8 and by Nabíl in The Dawn-Breakers (consult the index).

I was amazed and bewildered at such behaviour on the part of Mullá Sádiq as I had never expected such an important person to act in this manner. Having witnessed Bahá'u'lláh's reaction also, I expressed my disapproval of Mullá Sádiq's behaviour and admonished him for it, saying: 'You are a man who occupies an exalted position in the realm of knowledge and learning and, above all else, you had the honour of attaining the presence of the Báb Himself. Your rank is next to the Letters of the Living and you are one of the Witnesses* of the Dispensation of the Báb. It is true that Bahá'u'lláh is an eminent person Who belongs to the nobility and His ancestors have occupied high positions in the government. It is also true that He has suffered persecution and imprisonment as a result of embracing the Cause of God, that all His possessions have been confiscated and that He has finally been exiled to this land. Yet, your behaviour towards Him this afternoon was like that of an unworthy servant towards his glorious Lord.'

Mullá Sádiq refrained from answering me. He was in a state of spiritual intoxication, his face beaming with joy; he merely said to me, 'I beseech God to tear asunder the veil for thee and shower His bounties upon thy person through His abundant grace.'

After this incident, I decided in my heart to investigate and began to observe the person of Bahá'u'lláh and His actions very carefully. The more I observed the less I discovered any sign which could point to His claiming a station. On the contrary, I observed in Him nothing, either in word or deed, except humility, self-effacement, servitude and utter nothingness. As a result, I was led into grievous error, believing that I was in every way superior to Bahá'u'lláh, and preferred my own self to Him.

It was through my vain imagining that in the gatherings of the friends I always used to occupy the seat of honour, assume


* Certain believers were nominated as 'Witnesses' to the Bayán--the Mother Book of the Bábí Dispensation--to testify to its validity and authenticity as the Word of God, until the appearance of 'Him Whom God shall make manifest' (i.e., Bahá'u'lláh) when their function as 'Witnesses' would come to an end.

the function of the speaker and would not give an opportunity to Bahá'u'lláh or anyone else to say anything. One afternoon, Bahá'u'lláh arranged a meeting in His house and a number of friends had gathered, as usual, in the same large room, a room around which, according to the Pen of the Most High, circle in adoration the people of Bahá. Again, I occupied the seat of honour. Bahá'u'lláh sat in the midst of the friends and was serving tea with His own hands.

In the course of the meeting, a certain question was asked. Having satisfied myself that no one in the room was capable of tackling the problem, I began to speak. All the friends were attentively listening and were absolutely silent, except Bahá'u'lláh Who occasionally, while agreeing with my exposition, made a few comments on the subject. Gradually He took over and I became silent. His explanations were so profound and the ocean of His utterance surged with such a power that my whole being was overtaken with awe and fear. Spellbound by His words, I was plunged into a state of dazed bewilderment. After a few minutes of listening to His words--words of unparalleled wonder and majesty--I became dumbfounded. I could no longer hear His voice. Only by the movement of His lips did I know that He was still speaking. I felt deeply ashamed and troubled that I was occupying the seat of honour in that meeting. I waited impatiently until I saw that His lips were no longer moving when I knew that He had finished talking. Like a helpless bird which is freed from the claws of a mighty falcon I rose to my feet and went out. There three times I hit my head hard against the wall and rebuked myself for my spiritual blindness.5

The eyes of Nabíl-i-Akbar were at last opened. He attended another meeting, this time in Kázimayn in the house of a certain Hájí 'Abdu'l-Majíd-i-Shírází. Bahá'u'lláh was present at this meeting. He spoke about the mysteries and origin of creation. Here a new world, full of fresh significances, dawned upon Nabíl-i-Akbar who considered every word of Bahá'u'lláh's to be like a priceless gem. All that Nabíl-i-Akbar had heard and studied during his life appeared to him to be but the talk of children.


5. Masábih-i-Hidáyat, vol. I, pp. 446-9.
At this point he decided to find out directly from Bahá'u'lláh Himself what His station was and wrote a letter to Him which he begged 'Abdu'l-Bahá to deliver. The next day he received a Tablet in which Bahá'u'lláh alluded to His lofty station. This was the end of Nabíl-i-Akbar's search for truth, for he wrote a second letter to Bahá'u'lláh, this time humbly acknowledging Him as the Supreme Manifestation of God and begging Him to guide his steps in His service. Bahá'u'lláh instructed him to return to Persia and teach the Cause of God there.

Nabíl-i-Akbar dedicated his whole life to the service of the Cause, suffering much persecution from the enemies of the Faith. He rose to such heights of service and dedication that few among the Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh have been able to rival his attainments.

He died in 1892 soon after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh and was buried in the city of Bukhárá. 'Abdu'l-Bahá asked that a delegation of nine believers visit his grave on His behalf and there chant a Tablet of visitation which He had written especially for him. A few years later He instructed the nephew of Nabíl-i-Akbar to transfer his remains from Bukhárá to 'Ishqábád--a move which proved providential as the graveyard was demolished soon after by the authorities.

In the same way that Nabíl-i-Akbar came to Bahá'u'lláh and saw the light of Divine Revelation, many of the followers of the Báb did likewise. Some were learned and some were uneducated. They all sat at His feet and received, according to their varying capacities, a measure of the spiritual outpourings from His person. Most of the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh which were revealed in that period were written in honour of these men.