Illustrious Martyrs

Áqá Najaf-'Alíy-i-Zanjání

A devoted believer who came to Adrianople in the early years of Bahá'u'lláh's sojourn there was Áqá Najaf-'Alíy-i-Zanjání. He was an admirer of Mullá Muhammad-'Alíy-i-Hujjat, and had been one of his companions during the struggle of Zanján.* After the horrid massacre there in 1851, forty-four of the survivors, including Áqá Najaf-'Alí, were despatched to Tihrán. All of them were put to death except for Áqá Najaf 'Alí whose life was saved by the kindness of a certain officer in the army. Later, he went to Baghdád and was permitted by Bahá'u'lláh to remain in 'Iráq. He was one of the devoted companions of Bahá'u'lláh who recognized His station during the days of Baghdád.

'Abdu'l-Bahá mentions1 that all the way from Baghdád to the port of Sámsún, Najaf-'Alí would assist Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí (Bahá'u'lláh's youngest brother) to erect the tent of Bahá'u'lláh in the various towns and villages in which the caravan stopped to rest. On one occasion they had some difficulty. The governor of the town, who was present, showed so much reverence for Bahá'u'lláh that he insisted on pitching the tent with his own hands.

In the year 1283 A.H. (1866-7), Najaf-'Alí was in Adrianople. Bahá'u'lláh sent him to Persia and gave him some Tablets to carry. Upon his arrival in Tihrán, he was arrested and taken to prison on the charge of being a follower of Bahá'u'lláh. They tortured him in order that he might disclose the identity of


* See The Dawn-Breakers.

1. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted by Fádil-i-Mázindarání in Asráru'l-Áthár, vol. V, p. 219.
those for whom he was carrying the Tablets. But Áqá Najaf 'Alí did not reveal any name. When the time for his execution arrived his body was already covered with deadly wounds as a result of these tortures. Bahá'u'lláh has referred to his martyrdom in these words:

They arrested his honour Najaf-'Alí, who hastened, with rapture and great longing, unto the field of martyrdom, uttering these words: 'We have kept both Bahá and the khún-bahá (bloodmoney)!' With these words he yielded up his spirit.2

Shoghi Effendi has also written this brief yet moving portrayal of the martyrdom of Áqá Najaf-'Alí:

Among the sufferers may be singled out the intrepid Najaf-'Alíy-i-Zanjání, a survivor of the struggle of Zanján, and immortalized in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, who, bequeathing the gold in his possession to his executioner, was heard to shout aloud 'Yá Rabbíya'l-Abhá' * before he was beheaded.3

Siyyid Ashraf and Abá-Basír

Another illustrious soul from Zanján who attained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh in Adrianople and later drank the cup of martyrdom in his native city was a youth by the name of Siyyid Ashraf.† His father, Áqá Mír Jalíl, a man of courage and considerable influence in the city, had been one of the companions of Hujjat in the struggle of Zanján, and was martyred. His mother 'Anbar Khánum, known in the Writings as Umm-i-Ashraf (Mother of Ashraf) is reckoned as one of the immortal heroines of the Faith.


* Literally 'O Thou my Lord, the Most Glorious', an invocation. (A.T.)

† Not to be mistaken for Áqá Mírzá Ashraf-i-Ábádi'í who was martyred in Isfahán, and concerning whom Bahá'u'lláh writes these words in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 72: 'Before them one named Kázim...and after them, his honour Ashraf, all quaffed the draught of martyrdom...'

2. Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 73.

3. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 178.

Siyyid Ashraf was born during the siege of Zanján in the fortress of 'Alí-Mardán Khán.* Neither the hardships and sufferings of that cruel and mournful struggle nor the martyrdom of her beloved husband succeeded in breaking down the fortitude of Umm-i-Ashraf. On the contrary, they served to steel her faith and reinforce her physical endurance. In spite of many privations and trials she reared that infant and two young daughters with great affection and care.

When the Message of Bahá'u'lláh reached Zanján, Umm-i-Ashraf and her children embraced His Faith, recognized His station and turned to Him with the utmost devotion. As a youth, to meet his Lord face to face, Siyyid Ashraf travelled to Adrianople and attained his heart's desire. There he basked in the sunshine of Bahá'u'lláh's bounties, became filled with a new spirit and returned home with a renewed zeal and enthusiasm. The fire of the love of Bahá'u'lláh which was burning within his heart prompted him to make yet another pilgrimage to the abode of his Beloved. This time, accompanied by Hájí Ímán, one of the survivors of the Zanján upheaval, he took one of his sisters with him to Adrianople. Bahá'u'lláh showered His favours upon them, and after a short stay directed them to return to Zanján.

The circumstances of their dismissal from the presence of Bahá'u'lláh are described by a granddaughter of Umm-i-Ashraf. When Siyyid Ashraf and his sister left Zanján, there was a good deal of speculation about their whereabouts, especially among Ashraf's paternal uncles who were not Bahá'ís. They were anxious to prevent Ashraf and his sister from becoming involved in the Faith, so they put a great deal of pressure on their mother. They blamed her for having been the driving force behind her husband's activities in the Faith, activities which had resulted in his martyrdom, and now for being the major factor in her children's involvement in the Faith. About four months after the party had left Zanján, three of the uncles came on one occasion to rebuke Umm-i-Ashraf for sending her chil-


* For further details of the Zanján upheaval see The Dawn-Breakers.

dren away to attain the presence of Bahá'u'lláh. They became very aggressive and at one point even suggested immoral intentions on the part of her daughter. Umm-i-Ashraf could no longer bear their malice and evil suggestions. She left the room crying bitterly, raised her hands in supplication to Bahá'u'lláh and prayerfully beseeched Him to send her children home.

Later, Siyyid Ashraf, by checking the date with his mother, was able to verify that it was the morning after this night that Bahá'u'lláh summoned him, his sister and Hájí Ímán to His presence. He told them that the night before Umm-i-Ashraf had prayed to Him to send them back. Therefore they were to leave at once. That morning He particularly showered His praise and bounties upon Umm-i-Ashraf. Ashraf is reported to have said to Bahá'u'lláh, 'Adam ate the forbidden fruit and was cast out of heaven, in our case it is our mother who has done this to us!'

On their way home it was very clear to many that Ashraf had been transformed into a new creation. He could not help but display such radiance of spirit that, as attested by Hájí Ímán, all those who travelled with the caravan were deeply moved. Along the way he used to chant, in a beautiful voice, some poems and Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh he knew by heart. Whenever he wanted to chant, he used to unwind his green turban, the sign of his lineage, and place it around his shoulder. On these occasions he radiated such love, and he conveyed such power and beauty through his voice that the caravan drivers would often leave their duties and walk beside him instead, slowing down the speed of the caravan. Once Hájí Ímán asked one of them to go away, and attend to his work, so that the pace could be speeded up. 'How can I go,' he replied. 'Can't you hear the exhilarating voice of the descendant of the Prophet. He is undoubtedly a holy man. I have never seen such a radiant face before.'

According to the advice of Bahá'u'lláh, the sister of Ashraf was joined in wedlock to Hájí Ímán on her return home. Throughout his long life, Hájí Ímán became the target of many


persecutions and spent some years in prison in Tihrán. At one time he shared with Mírzá 'Alí-Muhammad-i-Varqá* and his son Rúhu'lláh, both of whom were martyred, the weight of chains and fetters in the prison of Tihrán. But Hájí Ímán's life was providentially spared. He lived many years after, and served the Cause with great dedication. He travelled to 'Akká in 1330 A.H. (1913) where he attained the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He spent the remainder of his life in 'Ishqábád, and passed away in that city.

As to Siyyid Ashraf, he was directed by Bahá'u'lláh to teach His Cause to the sincere among the people of the Bayán. He began this work with unbounded zeal and enthusiasm. He built a room in the grounds of his estate outside the city and made it a centre of Bahá'í activities, praying, reading the Writings and meeting the believers. Having come in contact with the Source of divine power, and being transformed into a spiritual giant, Siyyid Ashraf radiated the love of Bahá'u'lláh to the friends, and enabled many of them to recognize Him as the Promised One of the Bayán.

A group of Bábís came to talk to Ashraf soon after his arrival from Adrianople. They were misguided by Mírzá Yahyá. One of them asked Ashraf about the station of Mírzá Yahyá. He simply replied that Bahá'u'lláh was the Sun of Truth resplendent and radiant in His glory, but Mírzá Yahyá acted as a thick dark cloud in front of it. These words caused the insincere and the unfaithful among the believers in Zanján to be separated from the true followers of Bahá'u'lláh in that city.

In his teaching work, Siyyid Ashraf was ably supported by Abá-Basír, whose name is for ever linked with the former. The original name of Abá-Basír was Áqá Naqd-'Alí. His father, a certain Hájí Muhammad-Husayn, was martyred in the struggle of Zanján. Áqá Naqd 'Alí was born blind but possessed such insight and understanding that Bahá'u'lláh gave him the title of


* Varqá was a distinguished poet and one of the Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh. We shall refer to his life in future volumes. Varqá married the daughter of Hájí Ímán. Varqá's children, however, were by a different marriage.

Basír (Seeing). He was one of the most steadfast followers of Bahá'u'lláh in Zanján. When it became clear to some members of his family that he had embraced the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh and was actively teaching it, they drove him out of his home. It was after this incident that Abá-Basír went to live with Siyyid Ashraf. The spiritual ties which united these two souls were further strengthened when Abá-Basír married the sister of Hájí Ímán, Ashraf's brother-in-law, and settled in that household permanently. Abá-Basír, in spite of his blindness, was a man of great capacity. He had memorized many verses of the Qur'án and the traditions, and had such a deep understanding of their meanings that many students of theology used to seek enlightenment from him.

The activities of Ashraf, Abá-Basír, and a few others, in promoting the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh, aroused the fears and antagonism of an enemy who vividly remembered the bloody struggle of Zanján only two decades before, when thousands of men and women had fought and died for their Faith with courage and heroism. The fire of hatred and fanaticism, which for some time had remained dormant, was now beginning to blaze, engulfing in its fury the most active and dedicated adherents of a revived and re-animated Faith. The divines issued the death warrant of Abá-Basír and Ashraf and handed it to the Governor of Zanján for implementation. As a result, orders were given that unless they recanted they must be put to death. Accordingly these two were arrested, and Abá-Basír was conducted to a meeting of the divines where he was asked to recant his Faith. Instead, he openly spoke about the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh and proved its divine origin most eloquently. This audacious confrontation only served to evoke the wrath of the clergy who unhesitatingly demanded his execution.

The executioner conducted Abá-Basír to the public square in front of the government house and beheaded him as he knelt in prayer, watched by thousands of men and women who had gathered to see him die. In the meantime, as these heart-rending afflictions were going on, Siyyid Ashraf was being cruelly


persecuted in the prison. Yet there were some people, including Siyyid 'Abdu'l-Vasí', the Imám-Jum'ih of the city and a relative of his, who were anxious to save him from his fate, for he was dear to many because of his marvellous qualities and good conduct. They tried very hard to persuade him to recant and, when they failed to achieve their object, they sent for his mother to come and make him recant.

The divines clamoured for Ashraf's death. He was beaten so hard that blood flowed from under his nails, and was taken to the same public square where the body of Abá-Basír lay on the ground, exposed to the eyes of the onlookers. As soon as he beheld the decapitated body of his companion, he ran towards it and held it in his arms. His mother, Umm-i-Ashraf, arrived when he was covered in blood. It is reported by one member of the Ashraf family that she went forward, threw her arms around her son, kissed him on the cheeks, wiped away the sweat and blood from his face, took his bloodstained skull-cap as a souvenir and urged him again not to barter his precious faith for the fleeting days of a mortal life. ' "I will disown you as my son," cried the mother, when brought face to face with him, "if you incline your heart to such evil whisperings and allow them to turn you away from the Truth." ' 4

Although his mother exhorted him to remain faithful to the Cause of God, Ashraf, who had attained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh twice, was by himself a tower of strength. He had reached the stage of certitude in his faith and could not entertain the thought of compromise.

As his friends were putting pressure upon him to recant, the fore-mentioned Imám-Jum'ih is reported to have taken Ashraf into his arms, whispered a few words into his ears, and then, as he stood on a high platform, falsely proclaimed to the teeming multitude that Ashraf had recanted his Faith and should no longer be considered a Bahá'í. When he heard this false declaration, Ashraf, who was standing beside him, raised his hands and in a loud voice denied the allegation and announced that he had never recanted, nor would he ever do so. He remained steadfast


4. Nabíl-i-A'zam, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 411 (Brit.), p. 562 (U.S.).
in his love for Bahá'u'lláh until the executioner moved forward and ruthlessly dealt him a deadly blow. He was beheaded as he held the body of Abá-Basír in his arms.

Of Ashraf and his mother, Nabíl writes:

Faithful to his mother's admonitions, Ashraf met his death with intrepid calm. Though herself a witness to the cruelties inflicted on her son, she made no lamentation, neither did she shed a tear. This marvellous mother showed a courage and fortitude that amazed the perpetrators of that shameless deed. 'I have now in mind,' she exclaimed, as she cast a parting glance at the corpse of her son, 'the vow I made on the day of your birth, while besieged in the fort of 'Alí-Mardán Khán. I rejoice that you, the only son whom God gave me, have enabled me to redeem that pledge.' 5

Bahá'u'lláh has revealed a Tablet of Visitation jointly for Ashraf, Abá-Basír and Áqá Mírzá Muhammad-'Alíy-i-Tabíb, who also laid down his life in the path of Bahá'u'lláh in the city of Zanján. He has also extolled the station of Ashraf and his mother in other Tablets. In one, He has revealed these exalted words concerning Umm-i-Ashraf and her son:

Call thou to mind the behaviour of Ashraf's mother, whose son laid down his life in the Land of Zá (Zanján). He, most certainly, is in the seat of truth, in the presence of One Who is the Most Powerful, the Almighty.

When the infidels, so unjustly, decided to put him to death, they sent and fetched his mother, that perchance she might admonish him, and induce him to recant his faith, and follow in the footsteps of them that have repudiated the truth of God, the Lord of all worlds.

No sooner did she behold the face of her son, than she spoke to him such words as caused the hearts of the lovers of God, and beyond them those of the Concourse on high, to cry out and be sore pained with grief. Truly, thy Lord knoweth what My tongue speaketh. He Himself beareth witness to My words.


5. Nabíl-i-A'zam, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 411 (Brit.), p. 562 (U.S.).
And when addressing him she said: 'My son, mine own son! Fail not to offer up thyself in the path of thy Lord. Beware that thou betray not thy faith in Him before Whose face have bowed down in adoration all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth. Go thou straight on, O my son, and persevere in the path of the Lord, thy God. Haste thee to attain the presence of Him Who is the Well-Beloved of all worlds.'

On her be My blessings, and My mercy, and My praise, and My glory. I Myself shall atone for the loss of her son--a son who now dwelleth within the tabernacle of My majesty and glory, and whose face beameth with a light that envelopeth with its radiance the Maids of Heaven in their celestial chambers, and beyond them the inmates of My Paradise, and the denizens of the Cities of Holiness. Were any eye to gaze on his face, he would exclaim: 'Lo, this is no other than a noble angel!' 6

In the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh refers to Ashraf and his mother in these words:

Ponder upon the conduct of Abá-Basír and Siyyid Ashraf-i-Zanjání. They sent for the mother of Ashraf to dissuade her son from his purpose. But she spurred him on until he suffered a most glorious martyrdom.7


When Siyyid Ashraf was in Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh revealed a Tablet in Arabic for him which is known as the Lawh-i-Ashraf (Tablet of Ashraf). A part of this Tablet has been translated into English by Shoghi Effendi and included in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh.* From its contents it appears that this Tablet was revealed some time after Mírzá Yahyá's attempt on the life of Bahá'u'lláh. In it He urges Ashraf to offer thanks to God for having enabled him to attain to His presence and behold His glory. He bids him take the Tablet of God back to


* Section LII.

6. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, section lxix.

7. Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 73-4.

his home and share it with those who have embraced His Cause. He directs him to inform the believers of His sufferings at the hands of the unfaithful and to impart to them the glad-tidings of His Revelation. He exhorts the faithful to arise and assist His Cause, counsels them to be as bountiful as the rain to those who believe in God and warns them not to be influenced by the misrepresentations of Mírzá Yahyá's followers, those who had opposed God, denied His proofs and mustered such audacity as to stand before His Face and make attempts on His Life.

In the Tablet of Ashraf Bahá'u'lláh admonishes the followers of the Bayán in these words:

...The blind in heart, however, among the people of the Bayán--and to this God is My witness--are impotent, no matter how long the Sun may shine upon them, either to perceive the radiance of its glory, or to appreciate the warmth of its rays.

Say: O people of the Bayán! We have chosen you out of the world to know and to recognize Our Self. We have caused you to draw nigh unto the right side of Paradise--the Spot out of which the undying Fire crieth in manifold accents: 'There is none other God besides Me, the All-Powerful, the Most High!' Take heed lest ye allow yourselves to be shut out as by a veil from this Day Star that shineth above the day-spring of the Will of your Lord, the All-Merciful, and whose light hath encompassed both the small and the great. Purge your sight, that ye may perceive its glory with your own eyes, and depend not on the sight of any one except yourself, for God hath never burdened any soul beyond its power. Thus hath it been sent down unto the Prophets and Messengers of old, and been recorded in all the Scriptures.8

Bahá'u'lláh in this Tablet summons Ashraf to hearken to the voice of Him Who is the Ancient of Days. He proclaims that the Blessed Beauty, in this day, has shed the radiance of the Greatest Name upon all other names and attributes. He exhorts

8. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, section lii.
him to adorn himself with goodly deeds and become steadfast in His love, so that he may abide under the shadow of His exalted Name.

The Tablet of Ashraf contains a significant statement concerning the power of prayer when freed from desire. He declares that the outpouring of grace in this day is so great, that should an individual raise his hands in supplication to God and ask for the treasures of earth and heaven, his wish will be granted even before he lowers his hands, provided that he is freed from attachment to all created things. Indeed, the key for attaining this glory lies in the word 'detachment'. From the study of the Writings it becomes clear that not until man reaches a state of absolute servitude wherein he dies to his own self, and has no desire except what God desires, can he ever ascend to such a lofty station.

The purest form of prayer is one which is freed from desire. Such a prayer will cause the bounties of God to descend upon the soul. Nevertheless, human beings have many needs in this life and when in difficulty, pain or grief, they turn to God for assistance. The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh have both revealed special prayers for various occasions to be said when one is in need. If a man must have a desire--and it is quite natural for him to do so--his prayer should be that in the end he may attain the good-pleasure of his Lord. For any other desire, even service to the Cause, meritorious though it is, will not necessarily result in his salvation. There have been some who rendered notable service to the Cause and yet spiritually their lives ended in tragedy. We may recall the words of Bahá'u'lláh:

How often hath a sinner, at the hour of death, attained to the essence of faith, and quaffing the immortal draught, hath taken his flight unto the celestial Concourse. And how often hath a devout believer, at the hour of his soul's ascension, been so changed as to fall into the nethermost fire.9

However, the most befitting form of prayer is that of praising God. Through it the channels of grace are opened up and He

9. Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 124 (Brit.), pp. 194-5 (U.S.).
bestows His powers and blessing upon the individual. Turning to God in prayer for the sole purpose of glorifying His Name and extolling His Attributes is the most natural move that man can make towards his Creator. It is like a plant which turns towards the sun. Although the sun pours out its energies regardless, yet, by its very nature, the tree cannot help but stretch its boughs and branches in the direction of the sun. For it to remain insensible to the life-giving rays of the sun is a sign that it is dead. To use another analogy, we see in nature that a babe cries for food and his mother feeds him. But if he does not hunger for food, he is not healthy even though the mother may feed him by force. This two-way relationship is the basis for growth. Similarly, God bestows His boundless favours and grace upon His creation, but man must by his own volition turn to Him in adoration and praise in order to receive them. If he fails to do this, he becomes deprived and spiritually starved. In The Hidden Words Bahá'u'lláh confirms this when He says:

O Son of Being!
Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.10

The sign of true spiritual life in man is to yearn after God and long to adore and glorify Him. The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh have shown us the way by revealing most of their prayers in praise of God. These prayers evoke in the soul feelings of utter self-effacement and absolute poverty, while the power of God and His glory become the motivating influence in guiding and sustaining it throughout its life.

The power which can be generated in the heart of the believer, when he is freed from all desire and turns to God with songs of praise and glorification, is beyond the comprehension of man. Suffice it to say that many heroes of the Faith have derived their courage and steadfastness from this source. At this juncture it is befitting to quote one of the prayers of Bahá'u'lláh in glorification of the Almighty:


10. Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, no. 5, Arabic.
Lauded and glorified art Thou, O Lord, my God! How can I make mention of Thee, assured as I am that no tongue, however deep its wisdom, can befittingly magnify Thy name, nor can the bird of the human heart, however great its longing, ever hope to ascend into the heaven of Thy majesty and knowledge.

If I describe Thee, O my God, as Him Who is the All-Perceiving, I find myself compelled to admit that They Who are the highest Embodiments of perception have been created by virtue of Thy behest. And if I extol Thee as Him Who is the All-Wise, I, likewise, am forced to recognise that the Well Springs of wisdom have themselves been generated through the operation of Thy Will. And if I proclaim Thee as the Incomparable One, I soon discover that they Who are the inmost essence of oneness have been sent down by Thee and are but the evidences of Thine handiwork. And if I acclaim Thee as the Knower of all things, I must confess that they Who are the Quintessence of knowledge are but the creation and instruments of Thy Purpose.

Exalted, immeasurably exalted, art Thou above the strivings of mortal man to unravel Thy mystery, to describe Thy glory, or even to hint at the nature of Thine Essence. For whatever such strivings may accomplish, they never can hope to transcend the limitations imposed upon Thy creatures, inasmuch as these efforts are actuated by Thy decree, and are begotten of Thine invention. The loftiest sentiments which the holiest of saints can express in praise of Thee, and the deepest wisdom which the most learned of men can utter in their attempts to comprehend Thy nature, all revolve around that Centre Which is wholly subjected to Thy sovereignty, Which adoreth Thy Beauty, and is propelled through the movement of Thy Pen.

Nay, forbid it, O my God, that I should have uttered such words as must of necessity imply the existence of any direct relationship between the Pen of Thy Revelation and the essence of all created things. Far, far are They Who are related to Thee above the conception of such relationship! All comparisons and likenesses fail to do justice to the Tree of Thy Revelation, and every way is barred to the compre-


hension of the Manifestation of Thy Self and the Day Spring of Thy Beauty.

Far, far from Thy glory be what mortal man can affirm of Thee, or attribute unto Thee, or the praise with which he can glorify Thee! Whatever duty Thou hast prescribed unto Thy servants of extolling to the utmost Thy majesty and glory is but a token of Thy grace unto them, that they may be enabled to ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being, the station of the knowledge of their own selves.

No one else besides Thee hath, at any time, been able to fathom Thy mystery, or befittingly to extol Thy greatness. Unsearchable and high above the praise of men wilt Thou remain for ever. There is none other God but Thee, the Inaccessible, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the Holy of Holies.11


11. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, section i.