The Wronged One of the World
The Prison Gates Open
About four months had passed since the death of the Purest Branch when, as he had wished on his death-bed, the gates of the prison of 'Akká were opened. Bahá'u'lláh, His family and companions left the barracks after being confined there for a period of two years, two months and five days. This transfer, which took place in the autumn of 1870, became necessary as the barracks were needed to accommodate Turkish troops. Bahá'u'lláh and His family were confined in a house while some of His companions took residence in other houses and the rest were consigned to the caravanserai, named the Khán-i-'Avámíd.
Bahá'u'lláh resided in a number of houses, staying a few months in each. First He moved to the house of Malik, and later the nearby house of Mansúr Khavvám was added to it. From there He moved to the house of Rábi'ih. Eventually His residence was transferred to the house of 'Údí Khammár. This house was attached to the house of 'Abbúd; the partition between the two houses was later removed, and the two houses became one, the whole becoming known as the house of 'Abbúd. The eastern section was the house of Khammár and the western, facing the sea, was that of 'Abbúd. 'Údí Khammár was a Christian, so was 'Abbúd, and they were close relatives. The house of 'Údí Khammár was very inadequate for the needs of Bahá'u'lláh and His household. Bahá'u'lláh occupied the small upstairs room in the eastern side of the house. The other room upstairs was overcrowded--at one time thirteen people
of both sexes had to sleep in that room in rows. It is a well-known story that one night the person who used to sleep on a shelf in that room fell down on the top of others while asleep!
As for the Khán-i-'Avámíd (Inn of the Pillars), it was a caravanserai unfit for a dwelling-place. Most of the companions of Bahá'u'lláh were consigned to this place, occupying rooms on the upper floor mostly in the western and southern wings of the building. 'Abdu'l-Bahá occupied one room Himself and for some time this was the room in which He entertained guests. The pilgrims arriving from Persia were first received by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in this room. He saw to it that they were ready to attain the presence of Bahá'u'lláh. Not only did the pilgrims learn from Him, through His courtesy and utter selflessness, lessons of humility before Bahá'u'lláh, but also they were helped to improve their outward appearance--for example by putting on new clothes when they were to attain His presence.
The rooms in the Khán-i-'Avámíd were damp and filthy. 'Abdu'l-Bahá sold a certain gift which had been given to Him in Baghdád and with the proceeds began to repair the rooms for the companions of Bahá'u'lláh. He left the repair of His own room to the last. The money ran out and as a result His room remained unrepaired and in very bad condition. Not only were its walls damp but the roof leaked and the floor was covered with dust. He sat and slept on a mat in that room. His bed cover was a sheepskin. The room was infested with fleas and when He slept under the sheepskin, fleas gathered and began biting. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had worked out a tactic of defeating the fleas by turning over his sheepskin at intervals. He would sleep for a while before the fleas found their way again to the inner side. He would then turn the sheepskin over again. Every night He had to resort to this tactic eight to ten times.
These companions of Bahá'u'lláh had to live in an austerity similar to that when they were in the barracks. Food was scarce and rations far from adequate for each person. Yet they spent
their time in the utmost joy. Their greatest longing was to be called to the presence of their Lord. Their attachment to Bahá'u'lláh was the source of their strength. It enabled them to live in the utmost happiness in spite of all the hardships which were heaped upon them in those gloomy surroundings. As time went on, however, the situation changed, the companions of Bahá'u'lláh were able to find other accommodation in town and managed to engage in some humble professions. The Khán-i-'Avámíd then became the first Bahá'í Pilgrim House in the Holy Land. Some individuals remained there and had the task of serving the pilgrims, who stayed for months--and some for years. Notable among those who lived there for a long time were Zaynu'l-Muqarrabín and Mishkín-Qalam to whom reference has been made in volume 1.
Lawh-i-Ru'yá (Tablet of Vision)
The Lawh-i-Ru'yá in Arabic, similar in style to the Lawh-i-Húríyyih,* was revealed in 1873 in the house of 'Údí Khammár on the eve of the anniversary of the birth of the Báb which in that year fell on 1 March.† Bahá'u'lláh revealed this Tablet for one of the believers in order to show him a glimpse of the world of the spirit in this dark world, stating that if it were His will, He could make manifest from an atom the lights of the sun, and from a drop the waves of an ocean. This Tablet, remarkable for its allusive language, portrays a spiritual vision beautiful in its concept and descriptive in its style of imagery. Its perusal uplifts the heart and fascinates the mind.
Bahá'u'lláh portrays His vision of the appearance of the Maid of Heaven before Him, a vision which is beyond the comprehension of mortals and cannot be understood in its reality. The 'Maiden' has sometimes been described symbolically as the personification of the 'Most Great Spirit',
* see vol. 1, p. 125.
† The birth of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh are celebrated in the East according to the lunar calendar.
[Lawh-i-Ru'yá] God Passes By, p. 221
which descended upon Bahá'u'lláh. The descent of the Holy Spirit in other Dispensations upon the Manifestations of God has been described figuratively in the form of the Burning Bush, the Sacred Fire, the Dove or the Angel Gabriel.
In the Lawh-i-Ru'yá Bahá'u'lláh describes His vision of a Maiden dressed in white and illumined with the light of God. She entered the room in which Bahá'u'lláh was seated upon His throne of Lordship. She displayed an indescribable enthusiasm and devotion, circled around Him, was enraptured by the inebriation of His Presence, was thunderstruck at His Glory. And when she recovered, she remained in a state of bewilderment. She longed to offer up her life for her Beloved and finding Him captive in the hands of the unfaithful, she bade Him leave 'Akká to its inhabitants and repair to His other dominions 'whereon the eyes of the people of names have never fallen', words which found their fulfilment nineteen years later with the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh. In the absence of a translation it is not possible to convey the beauty of the verses and the mystery of the subject revealed in the Lawh-i-Ru'yá. The theme of this Tablet is as enchanting as it is unfathomable and mysterious.
Soon after Bahá'u'lláh moved to the house of 'Údí Khammár, a serious crisis which had been growing within the community suddenly erupted into a major catastrophe which engulfed Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and other companions. This was the murder by seven believers of Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahání,* Áqá Ján-i-Kaj-Kuláh† and Mírzá Ridá-Qulíy-i-Tafrishí, all of whom claimed to be followers of Mírzá Yahyá. This heinous act, contrary to all the principles and to the spirit of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, brought the greatest sorrow to His heart and tarnished the good name of the Faith for a considerable time.
It will be remembered that soon after their arrival in the
barracks, Siyyid Muhammad and Áqá Ján had been transferred to quarters overlooking the city gate where they could spy on all Bahá'ís trying to enter 'Akká. In this way many of the pilgrims had been expelled from the city. Siyyid Muhammad had adopted the name 'Quddús Effendi' (Holy One) and Áqá Ján began to use the name 'Sayfu'l-Haqq' (The Sword of Truth), a title bestowed on him by Mírzá Yahyá. They then began to do everything in their power to misrepresent Bahá'u'lláh. One of their comrades was the above-named Mírzá Ridá-Qulí who had been used to associate freely with the companions of Bahá'u'lláh. But he lived a life contrary to the teachings of the Faith, and committed some shameful deeds in the company of some Christians in the city. Through his reprehensible conduct, he brought public disgrace upon the Faith and Bahá'u'lláh finally expelled him from the community.
Having been disgracefully dismissed, Mírzá Ridá-Qulí and his sister Badrí Jan,* an estranged wife of Mírzá Yahyá, joined hands with Siyyid Muhammad and Áqá Ján in a campaign of calumnies against Bahá'u'lláh designed to discredit Him in the eyes of the people, who had been beginning to unbend towards the company of exiles. The effect of this campaign of lies and misrepresentations was that the mind of the public was poisoned against Bahá'u'lláh and His faithful companions. The fire of sedition and strife which these four ignited in the hearts of the people of 'Akká began to engulf the community of the Most Great Name. People began to show open enmity and malice towards the believers. It was at this time that Bahá'u'lláh decided to close the door of His house to the faces of friends and foes alike. He did not allow anyone to attain His presence. 'Abdu'l-Bahá also left the Khán-i-'Avámíd and stayed close to His Father in the house of 'Údí Khammár. The seclusion of Bahá'u'lláh in His house, reminiscent of the time
* She had left Mírzá Yahyá in the Adrianople days and taken refuge in the house of Áqáy-i-Kalím, the faithful brother of Bahá'u'lláh. She and her brother had journeyed with the companions to 'Akká.
when He had retired to the house of Ridá Big in Adrianople, isolated Him from everyone, and brought grief to the hearts of His companions.
Lawh-i-Qad Ihtaraqa'l-Mukhlisún (The Fire Tablet)
Towards the end of 1871 Bahá'u'lláh received a letter from one of His devoted followers in Persia, Hájí Siyyid 'Alí-Akbar-i-Dahají, a nephew of Siyyid Mihdí, the Ismu'lláh.* In answer to his letter, Bahá'u'lláh revealed the Lawh-i-Qad Ihtaraqa'l-Mukhlisún, or the Lawh-i-Ihtiráq, translated into English and known in the west as the Fire Tablet. In the previous volume reference has been made to Hájí Siyyid 'Alí-Akbar, the recipient of this Tablet, and a brief account of his life and services to the Cause is given there.† He was so much loved by Bahá'u'lláh that when he passed away Bahá'u'lláh gave his uncle the name 'Alí-Akbar, in memory of that devoted believer.
The Lawh-i-Qad Ihtaraqa'l-Mukhlisún is one of Bahá'u'lláh's most celebrated Tablets; it is possessed of great powers, and the believers often recite it at times of difficulties and suffering. Of this Tablet Bahá'u'lláh states: 'Should all the servants read and ponder this, there shall be kindled in their veins a fire that shall set aflame the worlds.' 1 The Fire Tablet is in Arabic rhyming verse; it moves the heart when chanted in the original language. It was revealed at a time when great afflictions and sorrows had surrounded Bahá'u'lláh as a result of the hostility, betrayal and acts of infamy perpetrated by those few individuals who had once claimed to be the helpers of the Cause of God. Bahá'u'lláh pours out His heart in this Tablet and expatiates on His afflictions. For nothing brings more sorrow to the heart of the Manifestation of God than unfaithfulness and treachery from within the community. Imprisonment and all manner of persecution by the outside
† vol. 2, pp. 274-5.
1. Qad Ihtaraqa'l-Mukhlisún (The Fire Tablet).
enemy can do no harm to the Cause. What harms it are the actions of those who bear His name and yet commit deeds contrary to His good-pleasure. These few breakers of the Covenant of the Báb, who followed Mírzá Yahyá and rose up against Bahá'u'lláh from within, created such havoc in the community and among the inhabitants of 'Akká that the Pen of Bahá'u'lláh lamented in this Tablet in a manner unprecedented in all His Writings.
When this Tablet was revealed the followers of Bahá'u'lláh became aware of the immensity of His sufferings at the hands of the wicked and ungodly. He addresses Hájí Siyyid 'Alí-Akbar, its recipient, in these words: 'O 'Alí-Akbar, thank thy Lord for this Tablet whence thou canst breathe the fragrance of My meekness, and know what hath beset Us in the path of God, the Adored of all the worlds.' 2
In a passage (untranslated) addressed to the aforementioned Siyyid Mihdíy-i-Dahají, Bahá'u'lláh states that He revealed the Fire Tablet for the Siyyid's nephew so that it might create in him feelings of joy as well as igniting in his heart the fire of the love of God.
In order that the mind of man, limited and finite as it is, may be able to reflect and meditate on the sufferings heaped upon the Manifestation, and at the same time see a glimpse of His All-Glorious Being, Bahá'u'lláh has revealed this Tablet in a special way. It seems as if it is His human Person, as distinct from the Manifestation of God, that recounts His afflictions and dwells on the iniquities perpetrated by His enemies. Then comes the voice of God and Bahá'u'lláh's response to it. But in reality, Bahá'u'lláh, the Supreme Manifestation of God, cannot be divided into two. His human nature and divine spirit are so mingled together that at no time can He be regarded as a man devoid of the Most Great Spirit which always animated Him. It cannot be assumed that at times a Manifestation of God ceases to be a Manifestation and becomes purely a man. On the contrary, He is always a Manifestation of God,
2. Qad Ihtaraqa'l-Mukhlisún (The Fire Tablet).
although He often hides His glory* and appears to be like an ordinary human being. To appreciate this indivisibility, let us consider man with his two natures. We observe that whereas man combines within himself the animal and the spiritual natures, yet he is always a man and at no time can he be considered to be a pure animal devoid of the human spirit or temporarily become robbed of his powers as a man. Similarly, the Manifestation of God can never be divided into separate parts.
Probably the basic reason that Bahá'u'lláh in the Fire Tablet has spoken with the voice of man is to enable the believers to appreciate how grievous were the attacks launched against Him, and how much His companions suffered when they were unable to attain His presence. In the opening passages, Bahá'u'lláh refers to this separation between Him and His loved ones and invokes the Almighty to succour and comfort them.
Indeed the hearts of the sincere are consumed in the fire of separation:In other passages Bahá'u'lláh alludes to His withdrawal from everyone, such as when he refers to Himself being 'veiled by evil suggestions', or when He states that the 'sea of grace is stilled', and 'the door leading to the Divine Presence is locked'.
In this Tablet one comes across statements clearly referring to the evil doings of Siyyid Muhammad and his henchmen. He
* see p. 2.
refers to them as the 'infidels' who 'have arisen in tyranny', describes their activities as the 'barking of dogs', the 'whisperings of Satan', states that through their deeds 'the lamps of truth and purity, of loyalty and honour, have been put out', and affirms that through their evil spirit 'the leaves are yellowed by the poisoning winds of sedition'.
Bahá'u'lláh expatiates on His sufferings in this Tablet. He makes mention of 'abasement' and 'sorrows' which have afflicted Him, states that His 'Face is hidden in the dust of slander' and that His 'robe of sanctity is sullied by the people of deceit'. These heart-rending passages are clear references to the effects of the vast campaign of misrepresentation and slander carried out by Siyyid Muhammad against Bahá'u'lláh in public, and bear ample testimony to the harrowing afflictions which had been heaped upon Him.
Having dwelt on His sufferings, Bahá'u'lláh then, as the 'Tongue of Grandeur', replies to Himself. These are among His utterances:
We have made abasement the garment of glory,In this Tablet Bahá'u'lláh invokes the wrath of God for His enemies, when He asks, 'Where is the lion of the forest of Thy might?' 'Where is the meteor of Thy fire?' or 'Where are the signs of Thy avenging wrath?' God is loving and forgiving, but occasionally He appears in His wrath. One of these occasions is when some individual opposes His Manifestation while knowing who He is and the station He occupies. Whereas the Manifestation of God can invoke the wrath of God upon such
people, man has no right to do so. In this Dispensation Bahá'u'lláh has forbidden His followers to condemn other men.
In one of His Tablets3 revealed in 'Akká, Bahá'u'lláh refers to this subject. He quotes the following passage from the Fire Tablet: 'The necks of men are stretched out in malice; Where are the swords of Thy vengeance...', and states that although outwardly these words seem to contradict the teaching of God for this age and invoke His wrath and vengeance, they are not meant to advocate contention and strife. Rather, such statements were made in order to convey the enormity of the sufferings caused by a few wicked people. Their transgressions reached such proportions that the Pen of the Most High was made to lament in the way it did.
Having clarified the reasons for invoking the wrath of God, Bahá'u'lláh in this Tablet warns the believers against using such terms as a pretext for creating strife and sedition. He exhorts them to unity, love and compassion toward all the peoples of the world, states that the hosts which can render the Cause of God victorious are praiseworthy deeds and an upright character and asserts that the commander of these hosts is the fear of God.*
As we survey the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and those of the other Central Figures of the Faith, we observe that the greatest portion of these consists of exhortations and commandments on living a life based on the spiritual teachings of God. In most of His Tablets, Bahá'u'lláh exhorts His followers to goodly character, pure deeds, and praiseworthy conduct. He calls on them to foster the spirit of fellowship and unity among the peoples of the world and become the embodiments of loving kindness to all who dwell on earth.
Exhorting Badí'u'lláh, one of His sons, to live the life of servitude, Bahá'u'lláh has revealed the following passage. His counsels in this Tablet may be said to epitomize His teachings on the question of individual conduct in this life.
* see vol. 2, pp. 94-6.
3. Quoted in Ishráqát (A compilation of the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh), p. 15.
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbour, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.4Submission of the Manifestation of God to Trials
In the Fire Tablet we observe two different features of Bahá'u'lláh. The first is the station of sovereignty and lordship, a station exalted above the world of man. In this station He is not affected by the tumult and conflicts of this life, because He is animated by the Most Great Spirit which makes Him independent of all things except God. The other station is that of meekness and submission to God. This is a station in which Bahá'u'lláh is referred to in many of His Tablets as the 'Wronged One of the World'. In this station He submits Himself to His enemies, welcomes sufferings and accepts bondage and imprisonment so that mankind in this Dispensation may become freed from the fetters of tyranny and oppression and attain the light of unity.
4. Gleanings, CXXX.
["Be generous in prosperity..."] Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93; The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 4, p. 377.
In the Lawh-i-Sultán (Tablet to Násiri'd-Dín Sháh) Bahá'u'lláh makes these thought-provoking remarks:
By God, Though weariness lay Me low, and hunger consume me and the bare rock be My bed, and My fellows the beasts of the field, I will not complain, but will endure patiently as those endued with constancy and firmness have endured patiently, through the power of God, the eternal King and Creator of the nations, and will render thanks unto God under all conditions. We pray that, out of His bounty--exalted be He--He may release, through this imprisonment, the necks of men from chains and fetters, and cause them to turn, with sincere faces, towards His Face, Who is the Mighty, the Bounteous.5In another Tablet, Bahá'u'lláh makes it clear that He has accepted suffering for the sake of the redemption of human kind. These are His exalted words:
The whole earth is now in a state of pregnancy. The day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings. Immeasurably exalted is the breeze that wafteth from the garment of thy Lord, the Glorified! For lo, it hath breathed its fragrance and made all things new! Well it is with them that comprehend. It is indubitably clear and evident that in these things He Who is the Lord of Revelation hath sought nothing for Himself. Though aware that they would lead to tribulations, and be the cause of troubles and afflictive trials, He, solely as a token of His loving-kindness and favour, and for the purpose of quickening the dead and of redeeming all who are on earth, hath closed His eyes to His own well-being and borne that which no other person hath borne or will bear.6Here and in many other Tablets Bahá'u'lláh has stated that no one on earth has been, or will be, subjected to so much suffering as He. It may be difficult for those who are not fully
5. Quoted by Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, pp. 42-3.
6. Ibid. p. 47.
familiar with the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh to accept such a statement. They may argue that there have been many people who were afflicted with unbearable tortures and life-long sufferings. In order to appreciate the words of Bahá'u'lláh let us suppose that there was a community somewhere in the world whose people were savage, barbarous and brutally cruel. Those born and brought up within such a community, who had lived there all their lives and had never been in touch with civilization would find life to be normal. Although to the outsider the standard would seem to be very cruel, yet for the members of that community every event that took place in their midst would be a natural happening and accepted as such. As in every other community, there must be moments of joy and comfort as well as sadness and suffering for the people who belonged to this society. However, should a noble person who had lived in a highly civilized society be forced to join this uncivilized community, it is only natural that he would suffer much more than the rest. Because he had been used to a far superior standard in his life, it could be said of him that he had undergone such cruelties and hardships, both mental and physical, that no one else in that community had experienced.
It is the same with a Manifestation of God who is sent to live among men. There is a vast contrast between the world of man and the world of the Manifestation of God. The former is limited and full of imperfections while the latter is the realm of perfections far exalted above the comprehension of human beings. Coming from such a realm, possessing all the Divine virtues and embodying God's attributes, these exalted Beings descend into this world and become prisoners among human beings. Man's ignorance, his cruelty, his ungodliness, his selfishness, his insincerity and all his sins and shortcomings act as tools of torture inflicting painful wounds upon the soul of the Manifestation of God who has no alternative but to bear them in silence with resignation and submissiveness. One act of unfaithfulness--even a glance betraying the insincerity of the individual or an unworthy thought emanating from his
mind--is as painful torture to Him. But He seldom reveals the shortcomings of men, or dwells on His own pain and suffering. Like a teacher who has to descend to the level of a child and act as if he does not know, the Manifestation of God comes as a man appearing to be the same as others.* He has the sin-covering eye to such an extent that some may think that He does not know.
Throughout the forty years of His ministry, Bahá'u'lláh treated people in this way. He submitted Himself to His enemies and bore life-long hardships and persecutions with resignation; He always closed His eyes to the shortcomings of the believers unless someone was harming the Faith or bringing disgrace upon it. He poured upon His followers loving encouragement for whatever service they rendered. Even in the case of proud and conceited followers such as Jamál-i-Burújirdí or Siyyid Mihdíy-i-Dahají† who were actively engaged in teaching the Faith, He always showered his bounties and favours upon them, at the same time counselling them to rectitude of conduct and purity of motive. His sin-covering eye was so all-encompassing that these and many other people believed that Bahá'u'lláh did not know what was hidden in their hearts!
Murder of Three Azalís
Now, when Bahá'u'lláh retired to the house of 'Údí Khammár and allowed no one to attain His presence, Siyyid Muhammad and his associates took advantage of this. On the one hand, they began to mix with some of the faithful followers of Bahá'u'lláh, and on the other, they intensified their campaign to misrepresent the Author of the Faith. Mírzá Ridá-Qulí had some Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh in his possession. He and Siyyid
* see pp. 2-3.
Muhammad interpolated these Writings with passages designed to arouse the animosity of the populace, and distributed the falsified texts widely. Mírzá Ridá-Qulí and his sister Badrí Jan, who had been cast out of the community by Bahá'u'lláh, publicly claimed that they had left the Bahá'ís voluntarily and were now Muslims. Siyyid Muhammad and Áqá Ján did likewise.
Not long after the revelation of the Fire Tablet Bahá'u'lláh revealed another significant Tablet7 in which He clearly prophesied the appearance of a great affliction. He described it as the ocean of tribulation surging and its billowing waves surrounding the Ark of the Cause of God. It took only one day for Bahá'u'lláh's prophecies to be fulfilled. For in the afternoon troops surrounded His house, summoned Him to the office of the Governor (Mutasarrif) and kept Him in custody there. The reason was that Siyyid Muhammad, Áqá Ján and Ridá-Qulí had been slain by seven of Bahá'u'lláh's followers. This frightful act, so contrary to Bahá'u'lláh's admonitions, unleashed the anger and hatred of the inhabitants of 'Akká against the community and its leader.
It was Badrí Jan, the sister of the murdered Mírzá Ridá-Qulí, who went to Government House and shamelessly accused Bahá'u'lláh of ordering the death of these men. This she did in spite of the fact that she knew well that Bahá'u'lláh always exhorted His followers to avoid any act which might inflict the slightest hurt upon a fellow human being, how much more such an odious act. She knew that Bahá'u'lláh had expressly forbidden those of his followers who had asked permission to deal with the offenders themselves, from taking any action in the matter. She also knew that He Himself had cut off His association with the believers.
Indeed, Siyyid Muhammad himself had written several letters to the friends in Persia telling them that Bahá'u'lláh had completely dissociated Himself from all His companions.
The seven believers who, against the advice of Bahá'u'lláh and without His knowledge, perpetrated such a ghastly crime,
knew well that their action would invoke the wrath of Bahá'u'lláh. They knew that He who had expelled Mírzá Ridá-Qulí from the community merely on the grounds of misbehaviour in public, would disown them and drive them out of His presence for ever, if they carried out their intention which was far more reprehensible than the misdeeds of Mírzá Ridá-Qulí. Indeed, some of them had concluded that by committing such a crime and dishonouring the good name of the Faith, they would never be forgiven by God and their souls would be damned in all the worlds of God. But they could not bear to see Bahá'u'lláh and His loved ones being so mercilessly attacked with slanders and false accusations. They decided that they would rather sacrifice their spiritual existence by committing this reprehensible crime than allow their Lord to suffer in this way.
Bahá'u'lláh Himself has described the details of His imprisonment in a Tablet revealed in the words of Mírzá Áqá Ján, His amanuensis. Shoghi Effendi, writing about this tragic episode, has based part of his narrative on this Tablet. These are his words:
Their* strict confinement had hardly been mitigated, and the guards who had kept watch over them been dismissed, when an internal crisis, which had been brewing in the midst of the community, was brought to a sudden and catastrophic climax. Such had been the conduct of two of the exiles,† who had been included in the party that accompanied Bahá'u'lláh to 'Akká, that He was eventually forced to expel them, an act of which Siyyid Muhammad did not hesitate to take the fullest advantage. Reinforced by these recruits, he, together with his old associates, acting as spies, embarked on a campaign of abuse, calumny and intrigue, even more pernicious than that which had been launched by him in Constantinople, calculated to arouse an already prejudiced and suspicious populace to a new pitch
* Bahá'u'lláh and His fellow-exiles. (A.T.)
† Mírzá Ridá-Qulí and his sister Badrí Ján. (A.T.)
The balcony surrounds the room Bahá'u'lláh was later to occupy. The house of 'Údí
The caravanserai in 'Akká where many of Bahá'u'lláh's followers were
A modern view looking across to the room where Bahá'u'lláh was
A caravanserai in 'Akká where Bahá'u'lláh was kept in custody for one night
of animosity and excitement. A fresh danger now clearly threatened the life of Bahá'u'lláh. Though He Himself had stringently forbidden His followers, on several occasions, both verbally and in writing, any, retaliatory acts against their tormentors, and had even sent back to Beirut an irresponsible Arab convert, who had meditated avenging the wrongs suffered by his beloved Leader, seven of the companions clandestinely sought out and slew three of their persecutors, among whom were Siyyid Muhammad and Áqá Ján.
whose imprisonment lasted several years, were, after six days, moved to the Khán-i-Shávirdí, and there placed, for six months, under confinement.
8. God Passes By, pp. 189-91.
The perpetrators of the crime were sentenced to long imprisonment by the authorities. Others were kept in confinement for six months and were released as it gradually became apparent that they had not been involved. As time went on it became clear to everyone that Bahá'u'lláh Himself could never have had anything to do with such an odious act, let alone being the motivating force behind it.
Problems of Historical Evaluation
One of the tragic aspects of the life of Bahá'u'lláh is that the majority of people who came into contact with the Faith failed utterly to appreciate Him and His claims. The above incident provides some examples of this. Of course, it is to be expected that those who were His avowed enemies should misrepresent Him. Similarly some non-Bahá'í historians, orientalists and missionaries--those who were biased or prejudiced--gave false impressions of Him also. Yet even those who were unbiased or friendly could never succeed in making the right judgement, because they did not know the true nature of Bahá'u'lláh's claims or His station.
Bahá'u'lláh had strictly forbidden His followers to teach His Faith within the Ottoman Empire. This is why even some important personalities who were His well-wishers and admirers regarded Him as merely a religious leader or the head of a sect, One who was very great, whose majesty and authority overwhelmed them, but whose station they did not fully understand. For this reason we find that most non-Bahá'í contemporary historians and writers have left to posterity accounts which are either totally false and full of prejudice, or which contain a great deal of misinformation.
There is no way by which a scholar, however unbiased and objective he is, can write a true version of the history of the life of Bahá'u'lláh, or submit an authentic appreciation of His mission, unless he be a believer in His Faith. Just as a layman can never evaluate the work of a scientist except in a superficial
way--he has to be a scientist himself to understand the true significance of a scientific discovery--so he who writes the history of a religion has to relate historical events to the truth of God's Revelation which is enshrined in that religion. This is not possible for the sceptic. The art of writing any history lies not merely in describing events, but in relating them to each other and putting them into their proper context. And in religious history the Revelation itself is obviously central--it cannot be left out. The Founders of religions receive their teachings through divine revelation, an experience which man can never have. This makes it beyond scientific enquiry.
The only work of history that can portray, to a limited degree, the true image of Bahá'u'lláh and His Revelation is one written by a believer devoted to Him and well-versed in His writings--one who understands His claims and can interpret His actions and utterances in the light of His teachings. But even such a person can never hope to evaluate fully the events associated with the life of the Manifestation of God, for the simple reason that it is beyond man to fully understand Him. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book) Bahá'u'lláh states:
Say: O leaders of religion! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring balance established amongst men. In this most perfect balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it.9Several disciples of Bahá'u'lláh have written their accounts of Him, and each one in accordance with his spiritual capacity has recorded some aspects of the history of the Faith. Nabíl-i-A'zam has written a detailed narrative, a part of which is edited and published as The Dawn-Breakers. His narratives are considered by the Bahá'ís to be among the most authentic histories of the ministries of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh.
9. Synopsis, p. 22.
["Say: O leaders of religion!..."] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶99; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 128; Gleanings From The Writings Of Bahá'u'lláh XCVIII;
No account of the history of the Faith would be complete without mentioning God Passes By by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith. This book deals with the historical events associated with the ministries of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as well as the birth and development of the Administrative Order. It is a masterpiece of history--concise yet filled with vivid detail of the most significant events of the first Bahá'í century. Shoghi Effendi in his masterly style has condensed volumes of material within the compass of a few hundred pages. Almost every line of this book is laden with much information, superbly gleaned, without appearing to be, from numerous narratives and historical documents as well as profuse quotations from the vast reservoir of the writings of the Central Figures of the Faith.
Being the Guardian of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi was more qualified than anyone else to write such a book on Bahá'í history. As the unerring interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's Writings, he was, next to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, endowed with a unique capacity to understand and appreciate the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh to an extent that no other human being can ever hope to achieve. He elucidates every major event in the light of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and injects into every subject a measure of the truth of the Faith. In the course of writing the accounts of the lives of the Central Figures of the Cause and their disciples, he explains the true motive behind their actions, calculates the effects of these actions, puts into the right perspective the heroism and self-sacrifice of the Bábí and Bahá'í martyrs, enumerates the victories and crises that the Faith has encountered, recounts the downfall of its enemies, demonstrates the unfoldment of its world-embracing institutions and foreshadows its future destiny.
In contrast to the writings of Shoghi Effendi, one who had truly understood the station of Bahá'u'lláh and was in a position to explain His actions, we come across the writings of those who had very little knowledge of the Faith and have left behind much erroneous information. How can a man who is
God Passes By
either full of prejudice or, if unbiased, is blind to the reality of the Manifestation of God, write a correct account of His life and be able to interpret His words and actions? How could the unbelieving contemporaries of Jesus, including the Jews in His days, be expected to render a true appreciation of His life and teachings? They could not do this because they were veiled from His glory. The same is true in Bahá'u'lláh's day.
One example is the incident of the slaying of the three men in 'Akká. Many people, both high and low in the city, in the early stages considered Bahá'u'lláh as the instigator of this odious deed. But as time went on most of them realized their mistake and began to see the loftiness of His virtues and the purity of His deeds. Some Western writers heard biased stories and distorted versions of His interrogation, and wrote these down in their dispatches and memoirs. What these men did not realize was that those who heard Bahá'u'lláh speaking to the officials at the time of enquiry were not familiar with His claims, nor did they understand the terminology He used in His utterances.
For instance, while in the seat of honour and in the presence of officials and dignitaries of the city including the Muftí of 'Akká, Bahá'u'lláh recited, in a vibrant voice, some passages from the Súriy-i-Mulúk (Súrih of the Kings) and some other Tablets. Those who are familiar with these Writings know that unless one is well versed in Bahá'u'lláh's teachings and utterances, one will not be able to appreciate the significance of the various allusions He has made in these Tablets, allusions which were clear to the believers, but almost incomprehensible to others. The outcome of all this is gross misunderstanding by those non-Bahá'í authors who have written an account of Bahá'u'lláh's interrogation.
To cite one example: Laurence Oliphant, a traveller of note, in his book Haifa, or Life in the Holy Land, alleged that Bahá'u'lláh after being interrogated was set free as He had 'with an enormous bribe...purchased an exemption for all further attendance at Court'.10 Had Oliphant been interested
10. Synopsis, p. 190.
to learn a little more about Bahá'u'lláh, who had for almost thirty years submitted Himself unconditionally to His enemies, he could not have made such a gross misrepresentation. If Bahá'u'lláh had been interested in freeing Himself from imprisonment in the manner alleged, He could easily have freed Himself from the Síyáh-Chál of Tihrán, twenty years before, or from the sufferings of Adrianople or the barracks of 'Akká. If the writer of this account had been able to investigate, however summarily, the teachings of this Faith and the Divine perfections and virtues with which its Author was invested, he could have discerned that the story reported to him was a lie aimed at damaging the integrity of Bahá'u'lláh. Moreover, had he known about the life of austerity which Bahá'u'lláh and His family had lived and were living at the time, he would have written a different account altogether.
It is not the aim of this book to engage in refuting the misrepresentations of various non-Bahá'í writers. However, in this case it is interesting to look further into Oliphant's report which contains other untrue allegations. For instance, it is alleged that when Bahá'u'lláh was asked by the interrogating officer about His profession, He replied, '...I am not a camel driver...nor am I the Son of a carpenter'--allusions to the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ respectively. Here again the person who had made this malicious statement to Oliphant intended to introduce Bahá'u'lláh as a proud man and a heretic who had no regard for other Prophets.
Those who are familiar with Bahá'u'lláh and His teachings know that nothing could be further from the truth. In innumerable Tablets Bahá'u'lláh has paid glowing tributes to Muhammad and Christ. None of the followers of these two religions have ever written about their respective founders in a way which could match the sincerity, the power, the beauty, the profundity and eloquence of Bahá'u'lláh's utterances when He extols and glorifies the station of these two Manifestations
of God and pays homage to them. To cite one example: in the course of a Tablet revealed in answer to some questions by a certain Christian Bishop residing in Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh pays the following tribute to Jesus Christ.
Know thou that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. Its evidences, as witnessed in all the peoples of the earth, are now manifest before thee. The deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive, and resplendent Spirit.There are also many Tablets in which Bahá'u'lláh has paid exalted tribute to the Prophet of Islám. Moreover, there are numerous laudatory passages in His writings concerning the Manifestations of God in general. The perusal of the Kitáb-i-Íqán, for example, will enable the reader to observe the
11. Gleanings, XXXVI.
profoundly respectful language with which He refers to God's Chosen Ones on earth and extols their station. All these bear ample testimony to Bahá'u'lláh's noble vision of the Prophets of the past, and how He held them in high esteem and honour. Indeed, He would not tolerate it if anyone in His presence belittled their station or spoke of them in a discourteous manner.
The following story demonstrates this point. It concerns Mírzá Taqí Khán-i-Amír Nizám, who for many years was Persia's Prime Minister during the reign of Násiri'd-Dín Sháh. It was he who ordered the execution of the Báb, and committed great atrocities against the Bábí community.
'Abdu'l-Bahá recounts12 that one day Mírzá Taqí Khán attended a gathering (presumably in Tihrán) at which Bahá'u'lláh was present. He was referring to some verses of the Qur'án in a disrespectful manner and mockingly questioned the truth of the following verse:
He knoweth that which is on the dry land and in the sea; there falleth no leaf, but he knoweth it; neither is there a single grain in the dark parts of the earth, neither a green thing, nor a dry thing, but it is written in the perspicuous book [Qur'án].13Bahá'u'lláh's immediate response was to disapprove the attitude of Mírzá Taqí Khán and to affirm that the above verse was undoubtedly true. When he asked for further explanation, Bahá'u'lláh told him that it meant that the Qur'án was the repository of the Word of God; it contained various subjects such as history, commentaries, prophecies and so on. Within its pages were enshrined verities of great significance and indeed one might discover that everything was mentioned in this Book.
'Am I mentioned in it?' asked Mírzá Taqí Khán arrogantly.
12. Quoted by Fádil-i-Mázindarání, Asráru'l-Áthár, vol. 2, pp. 164-5.
13. Qur'án, vi. 59.
'It is strange', Mírzá Taqí Khán retorted with some degree of sarcasm, 'that I have not yet found a reference to myself in the Qur'án!'Another story which demonstrates that Bahá'u'lláh always defended the Prophets of the past is the following recounted by Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl.‡ It relates to the time when Bahá'u'lláh was a youth in Tihrán, before the birth of the Bábí Faith:
Although He [Bahá'u'lláh] had not entered any of the schools§ in Persia and had not acquired knowledge in any institutions of learning, nevertheless from His early youth signs of greatness and majesty, of good judgement and keen intelligence were strikingly apparent in His countenance. When He was in their gatherings, great men of learning were unable to speak because of His vigorous and awe-inspiring utterances which have always been the early signs
* Naturally, those who rendered the Qur'án into English have translated the word 'Taqí', which means 'fearful'.
† Translated as 'sacrifice'.
‡ see p. 91.
§ Bahá'u'lláh received the modest education customary for the people of His class. He did not attend the schools of higher learning which were set aside for theologians and divines. See vol. 1, pp. 18-20.
14. ibid. xix. 18.
15. ibid. iii. 183.
of the truth of the Manifestations of God.
learned man replied, "To be honest, I should be very frightened, would not be able to remain calm and even my tongue would be powerless to move." Bahá'u'lláh said, "A person who is in such a weak position ought not to utter such a claim!" Those present were awestruck at the firmness of His speech and amazed by the strength of His argument.16The Majesty of Bahá'u'lláh
Some of the disciples of Bahá'u'lláh who attained His presence have referred to the transcendental majesty of His person. This was such a striking feature of Bahá'u'lláh that people who came face to face with Him were awed by His presence and often became speechless. Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí in the course of recounting the stories of his own pilgrimage to 'Akká has commented on this in these words:
Outwardly He was a Prisoner, condemned and wronged, but in reality He was the Sun of Glory, the Manifestation of grandeur and majesty, the King of the Kingdom of poise and dignity. Although he showed much compassion and loving-kindness, and approached anyone who came to His presence with tender care and humbleness, and often used to make humorous remarks to put them at ease, yet in spite of these, no one, whether faithful or disbelieving, learned or unlettered, wise or foolish, was able to utter ten words in His presence in the usual everyday manner. Indeed, many would find themselves to be tremulous with an impediment in their speech.
16. Risáliy-i-Iskandaríyyih, a treatise by Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl.
not help but prostrate themselves at His door. They would then enter and sit down. When He showed them where to sit, they would find themselves unable to utter a word or put forward their questions. When they left they would bow to Him involuntarily. Some would be transformed through the influence of meeting Him and would leave with the utmost sincerity and devotion, some would depart as admirers, while others would leave His presence, ignorant and heedless, attributing their experience to pure sorcery.To cite one example: although in 'Akká Bahá'u'lláh occasionally allowed certain non-Bahá'ís to attain His presence, this was the exception rather than the rule and as the years went by He was less inclined to give audiences to people. There was a time when one of the Governors of the City of 'Akká wanted to attain the presence of Bahá'u'lláh and for years He would not give him permission to do so. Instead, he was to see 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Some years passed, and in spite of repeated requests permission was not granted, until the Central Government in Syria required the Governor to visit Bahá'u'lláh. This being so, he, in the company of a European General, was admitted into His presence. No sooner had they entered the room than they were both struck by His majestic presence. So much were they awed by His person that they
17. Bihjatu's-Sudúr, p. 158.
knelt at the door. Although Bahá'u'lláh had indicated seats for them, they did not change their position. It was unbearably difficult for the General to sit in that posture, especially as he was a stout man. Since Bahá'u'lláh had nothing to say to them and they remained silent throughout the audience, after about ten minutes they asked permission to leave.
As has already been stated in a previous volume,* Bahá'u'lláh used to associate freely with the public when in Baghdád and to a lesser extent in Adrianople. Now in 'Akká He almost completely dissociated Himself from the people of the city and left it to 'Abdu'l-Bahá to keep in touch with the public. The contrast between His days in Baghdád and those in 'Akká was great indeed. When in Baghdád, Bahá'u'lláh had not yet declared His mission. Officially, He and His companions were regarded by the public as the followers of the Báb. He had freedom and so He moved among the people. At one time in Baghdád, His typical engagements during the day were as follows:
After having breakfast in the inner section† of His house, He went to the outer apartment set aside for the reception of visitors. The friends used to gather in that room where they attained His presence for about a half to one hour. During this time He used to either sit or pace up and down the room. He then proceeded to an oriental inn (coffee house) in the old part of the city, accompanied by at least two believers. The inn was owned by a certain Siyyid Habíb, an Arab, who was not a Bábí, but a great admirer of Bahá'u'lláh and one who showed extraordinary reverence towards Him. Many people, both high and low, attained His presence in this inn. Bahá'u'lláh often used to speak to them about the Faith of the Báb and expound some verities of the Cause of God. After the meeting in the inn, which usually lasted over an hour, He used to return
* see vol. 2, p. 63.
† Houses in the Middle East had inner and outer sections. The outer apartments were always set aside for visitors and guests. The inner apartment was private.
to His house, where in the afternoon the believers were able to attain His presence again. He then went back to the inn and returned home about the time of sunset. Then, some evenings, the believers used to come to His house and attain His presence there. Also at times, some eminent personalities, civil and religious dignitaries, Persian princes, and others, came to His presence to seek guidance and sit at His feet, but Bahá'u'lláh never went to their houses although sometimes He visited the homes of the believers.
In Adrianople Bahá'u'lláh did not appear in public as much as He had done in Baghdád. Occasionally He visited mosques and sometimes received important guests such as the Governor of the city. But as we have already stated, as the years went by in 'Akká, He seldom received anybody outside the circle of the believers. Of course, there were always exceptional cases. For instance, a short time after the slaying of the three Azalís, the Governor, Sálih Páshá, who was ill-disposed towards Bahá'u'lláh, was dismissed and replaced by Ahmad Big Tawfíq, who was much more sagacious than his predecessor. Soon after he was installed as Governor, Badrí Jan, the sister of the murdered Mírzá Ridá-Qulí, went to see him intent upon discrediting Bahá'u'lláh. In an attempt to completely poison the mind of the Governor, she brought false and slanderous accusations against Bahá'u'lláh, representing Him as One who was aspiring to rule over all men, the kings included. To prove her allegations she left him a copy of the Súriy-i-Mulúk (Súrih of the Kings) and some other Tablets.
The reading of this Epistle had the opposite effect on the Governor. According to Bahá'u'lláh's own testimony in a Tablet18 revealed in the words of His amanuensis, Mírzá Áqá Ján, the Governor himself took the Súrih and other Tablets to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and told Him that as a result of reading those, he had been convinced of the truth of the Cause, and he begged to be allowed to meet Bahá'u'lláh. After some time, 'Abbúd came to Bahá'u'lláh and requested that permission be given for the
18. Má'idiy-i-Ásamání, vol. 7, pp. 236-8.
Governor to attain His presence, a request to which Bahá'u'lláh gave His consent. It was in the course of that meeting that the heart of the Governor was touched with love for Bahá'u'lláh and was deeply impressed with His spiritual powers. He begged to be allowed to perform a service for Him. Bahá'u'lláh declined the offer of a personal service, and instead suggested the restoration of a disused aqueduct for the benefit of the inhabitants of the city, a suggestion to which the Governor responded positively.*
It was this same Governor who had recognized the distinguishing qualities of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and had become His ardent admirer. He often came to the Master for guidance on difficult matters which he faced in the course of his duties. And it was he who raised no objection to the inflow of pilgrims from Persia, although he knew he was acting contrary to the provisions of the edict of the Sultán in this regard.
Although in 'Akká Bahá'u'lláh did not associate with the public generally, the outpourings of His grace and bounty upon the people did not cease. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, on behalf of His Father, spread His wings of loving-kindness and protection over the inhabitants of 'Akká and its neighbouring lands. To him came for advice and help both high and low. The governors, religious leaders, business men, tourists, the ordinary people of 'Akká and its poor came to either seek His help or to sit at His feet and receive enlightenment from His person. During the lifetime of Bahá'u'lláh, the modest room in which 'Abdu'l-Bahá received people was always open till the early hours of the morning. He attended to the peoples' needs with such genuine love and care that He earned the title 'Father of the Poor' and some referred to Him as the 'Master of 'Akká'. His all-embracing love and powers emanated from Bahá'u'lláh who had conferred upon His Son all the energies latent within His Revelation.
* For further details of this episode see pp. 24-5.