Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl of Gulpáygán

The conversion of Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl to the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is described in Chapter 5. He was to become the foremost scholar of that Faith.

The teaching activities of Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl began soon after he embraced the Faith. Almost all his Bahá'í career, stretching over a period of well-nigh forty years, was spent in teaching the Cause to members of the public and in deepening the Bahá'ís in the verities of the Faith.

About five years after Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl joined the ranks of the believers, Bahá'u'lláh in a Tablet1 commanded him to arise in His Name and invite the peoples of the world to come to him so that he might recount to them the news of the 'Most Great Announcement', might show them the vista of the 'Most Exalted Horizon' and might enable them to hearken to the 'Voice of God' in this day.

This Tablet and the command of Bahá'u'lláh exerted a galvanizing influence upon Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl. Some time later, quoting this Tablet and knowing that the confirmations of Bahá'u'lláh would surround him from every direction he wrote these challenging words addressed to the peoples of the world:

And lately this servant who considers himself to be the most insignificant among the servants of the Lord of creation, and one who has quaffed only a drop from the ocean of certitude, is prepared, bearing in mind the auspicious utterances of the Lord of Lords quoted above,* to inform

* A reference to the Tablet of Bahá'u'lláh which had been revealed for him.

1. Quoted in Kitábu'l-Fará'id, p. 424.
any person of any nationality in the world of the truth of this great Cause, and to prove to him its authenticity based on the clear proofs by which the truth of that person's religion is also established. If he be of the people of philosophy and logic, to prove by intellectual and rational proofs, and if he belongs to the people of controversy and contention, to convince and silence him by adducing compelling and binding proofs. This is in order that the right path may be distinguished from the path of error, truth from falsehood and health from disease. And, in what we say, we rely entirely upon God, exalted be He.2
They were not mere empty words that this great and godly man wrote and published in the Fara'id, one of his outstanding works. He lived up to everything he said. Not only did he hold discourses with countless souls of different backgrounds and religions, and converted hundreds of them to the Cause, but he also left for posterity the fundamentals of Bahá'í proofs from every point of view, that generations yet unborn might learn from them and deepen their knowledge and understanding of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh.

Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl was renowned for his knowledge. His name 'Abu'l-Fadl' which he had adopted when he was a Muslim, means the father of knowledge. 'Abdu'l-Bahá in a Tablet addresses him as the father of knowledge, its mother and its brother. But those who knew him have testified that as far as his knowledge and understanding were concerned there was a vast difference before and after he was a Bahá'í. He himself has testified that before his coming in contact with the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh he was the embodiment of vain imaginings and idle fancy and his vision was obscured by these. Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí writes of him:

His honour, the dearly loved Abu'l-Fadl,...has adorned the city of Isfahán with his presence. Since formerly he was a student in Isfahán, he is well known by the scholars and men of learning here. These men have met him and have realized

2. Quoted in Kitábu'l-Fará'id, p. 429.
that he is not the same person as in the past. They confess that his vast knowledge, learning and power of utterance puts him in the forefront of all. In the past he was as a drop, now he is as a billowing sea. He was then as a mere atom and now he shines as a brilliant star...3
Soon after embracing the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl was forced to leave his post as head of a theological college in Tihrán. The high esteem and honour in which he was held by the public as well as in government and ecclesiastical circles up till then, turned into abasement and persecution. He was twice imprisoned, the last time for about twenty-two months. He lived very modestly and earned a small income, often working as a scribe.* His attachment to Bahá'u'lláh knew no bounds. But he was as detached from this world as he was attached to His Lord, and this alone conferred upon him all his powers and virtues. Prayer and meditation were the cornerstone of his life and through them he polished the mirror of his heart so perfectly that he radiated the light of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh to those who came into contact with him.

When he was in Egypt, he did not disclose his faith at first. This was suggested to him by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. A great many scholars and professors of the famous University of Al-Azhar and others recognized the depth and profundity of his knowledge and were attracted to his person. Since they did not suspect him of being a Bahá'í there was no prejudice and they congregated around him in great numbers. So earnest was their quest for the outpouring of spiritual knowledge from his lips that they sat spellbound at his feet and some of them were enraptured with his explanations of the verities of the Qur'án and other spiritual subjects.

To cite one example of the homage that men of learning paid


* In those days people who were illiterate would engage the services of a scribe to write letters for them. Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl also used to earn a small sum of money by transcribing Bahá'í holy books, which were in great demand by the believers.

3. Unpublished biography of Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl.
to Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl, the following is a tribute by 'Abdu'r-Rahmán-i-Baraqúqí, a learned scholar and journalist of the time:

About eight years ago we heard that a learned man from Persia by the name of Abu'l-Fadl was living in Cairo. We were told that he had become a point of adoration for scholars and a centre of pilgrimage for those who yearn after knowledge and understanding. We sought his abode and went to see him. There we saw a man of slender build and of medium height. He was old, more than seventy years of age, but from the point of view of vitality, zest, intelligence and keenness of insight he looked like a man of thirty...He captivated our minds through the magic of his words and the sweetness of his utterances. Soon we became his devoted disciples in such wise that there was nothing more enjoyable than to sit at his feet and no story could be found sweeter than that which was recounted by him. The more we associated with him and examined his person, the more we respected him and became conscious of his exalted station.4
Among those scholars who venerated Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl there were some who went as far as to believe that he was endowed with divine powers which are bestowed only upon God's chosen ones. One such person was a certain Shaykh Badru'd-Dín-i-Ghazzí who later became an ardent believer, as about thirty other scholars did when they learned that Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl was a Bahá'í.

Shaykh Badru'd-Dín describes how he was enraptured by listening to Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl's discourses. After some time he came to the conclusion that Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl was one of the chosen ones of God, possessed of a great spiritual station and exalted above other men. In a spoken chronicle to a number of friends, he said:

I asked him about his station and he said that he did not have any. One day I told him plainly: 'O Master, why do you hide from me? If you are a chosen one of God and have a

4. Article in Majillatu'l-Bayán, a magazine, months of Shavvál and Dhíqa'dih, AH 1313.
station, please tell me, for I will accept and follow you.' He laughed at this statement and deferred the answer to this mystery to a later time. Time passed and I had to depart for Palestine. He then bade me attain the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá while there. I obeyed, attained His presence and discovered the truth of the Cause.

Some years passed and I did not see Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl. When I returned to Egypt, I met him there, and said to him: 'When in the past I came in contact with you, I considered you to be a unique person and one without a peer in this world, but when I attained the holy presence of the Master, I realized that you are no more than a drop in relation to that billowing ocean.' Hearing this, Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl became filled with joy, and in a state of ecstasy threw his arms around me and said: 'Now I know that you have recognized the truth.' 5

A striking feature of the life of Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl was his absolute submission to the will of his Lord. His steadfastness in the Covenant and obedience to the wishes of Bahá'u'lláh and the Master knew no bounds. He would rather die than contemplate even a small deviation from the words and teachings of the Cause. The following story recounted by a certain believer, Husayn-i-Rúhí Effendi, who knew Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl, illustrates this point clearly.

When I was in 'Akká, I procured a copy of a Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá known as Lawh-i-Dukhán which is written in honour of Muhammad-Husayn-i-Vakíl...When I arrived in Egypt I shared the contents of this Tablet which disapproved of smoking* with Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl.

I had not yet finished the reading of the Tablet for him when he took his cigar case, threw it out in the street and said that this was the end of smoking for him, although he


* This Tablet in the West is known as the 'Tablet of Purity' and is published in 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, pp. 146-50. Smoking is not forbidden in the Bahá'í Faith, but 'Abdu'l-Bahá has discouraged it for the sake of health and cleanliness.

5 . Mehrábkhání, Sharh-i-Ahvál-i-Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl-i-Gulpáygání, pp. 16-17.
was a chain-smoker. He used to roll his own cigarettes by hand, light a new one with the old, and smoke non-stop from morning till evening. He said to me: 'O Rúhí Effendi, I have been smoking for fifty-five years and I am addicted to it. And, soon you will see that because of the effect of nicotine a member of my body will be paralysed.

It did not take very long until one of his arms was paralysed and he could not move it. This lasted for two years. The doctors strongly urged him to resume smoking but he refused, saying, 'I prefer to die than to disobey 'Abdu'l-Bahá.' 6

The following is an extract from the Lawh-i-Dukhán:

Observe how pleasing is cleanliness in the sight of God, and how specifically it is emphasized in the Holy Books of the Prophets; for the Scriptures forbid the eating or the use of any unclean thing. Some of these prohibitions were absolute, and binding upon all, and whoso transgressed the given law was abhorred of God and anathematized by the believers. Such, for example, were things categorically forbidden, the perpetration of which was accounted a most grievous sin, among them actions so loathsome that it is shameful even to speak their name.

But there are other forbidden things which do not cause immediate harm, and the injurious effects of which are only gradually produced: such acts are also repugnant to the Lord, and blameworthy in His sight, and repellent. The absolute unlawfulness of these, however, hath not been expressly set forth in the Text, but their avoidance is necessary to purity, cleanliness, the preservation of health, and freedom from addiction.

Among these latter is smoking tobacco, which is dirty, smelly, offensive--an evil habit, and one the harmfulness of which gradually becometh apparent to all. Every qualified physician hath ruled--and this hath also been proved by tests--that one of the components of tobacco is a deadly poison, and that the smoker is vulnerable to many and various diseases. This is why smoking hath been plainly set forth as repugnant from the standpoint of hygiene...


6. Mehrábkhání, Sharh-i-Ahvál-i-Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl-i-Gulpáygání, pp. 328-9.
My meaning is that in the sight of God, smoking tobacco is deprecated, abhorrent, filthy in the extreme; and, albeit by degrees, highly injurious to health. It is also a waste of money and time, and maketh the user a prey to a noxious addiction. To those who stand firm in the Covenant, this habit is therefore censured both by reason and experience, and renouncing it will bring relief and peace of mind to all men. Furthermore, this will make it possible to have a fresh mouth and unstained fingers, and hair that is free of a foul and repellent smell. On receipt of this missive, the friends will surely, by whatever means and even over a period of time, forsake this pernicious habit. Such is my hope.

As to opium, it is foul and accursed. God protect us from the punishment He inflicteth on the user. According to the explicit Text of the Most Holy Book, it is forbidden, and its use is utterly condemned. Reason showeth that smoking opium is a kind of insanity, and experience attesteth that the user is completely cut off from the human kingdom. May God protect all against the perpetration of an act so hideous as this, an act which layeth in ruins the very foundation of what it is to be human, and which causeth the user to be dispossessed for ever and ever. For opium fasteneth on the soul, so that the user's conscience dieth, his mind is blotted away, his perceptions are eroded. It turneth the living into the dead. It quencheth the natural heat. No greater harm can be conceived than that which opium inflicteth. Fortunate are they who never even speak the name of it; then think how wretched is the user...

Make ye then a mighty effort, that the purity and sanctity which, above all else, are cherished by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, shall distinguish the people of Bahá; that in every kind of excellence the people of God shall surpass all other human beings; that both outwardly and inwardly they shall prove superior to the rest; that for purity, immaculacy, refinement, and the preservation of health, they shall be leaders in the vanguard of those who know. And that by their freedom from enslavement, their knowledge, their self-control, they shall be first among the pure, the free and the wise.7


7. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, pp. 147-50.

[Gambling and the use of opium...] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas p. 75
And, finally, the writings of Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl are the best proof that his person was assisted by the powers and confirmations of Bahá'u'lláh. It is no exaggeration to claim that apart from the Holy Writings and those of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, his are the most inspiring, the most informative, the most challenging and the most voluminous, in the literature of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. He may be described as the most able spiritual diver who immersed himself in the ocean of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and brought out in profusion pearls of infinite preciousness--truths and mysteries which lay hidden in its depths and filled the pages of his numerous books with their verities. Almost all the Bahá'í teachers in the East have used his writings as a basis for deeper study of religion in general, and proofs of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh in particular. His explanations and profuse quotations from the Holy Scriptures of the past, as well as the apologies he has written in defence of the Faith have been used by scholars and writers of both East and West.

It is beyond the scope of this book to enumerate the vast range of his writings or write in appreciation of them. Suffice it to say that from the literary point of view alone his writings have been acclaimed by critics of the time as superb, while their contents have, on the one hand, inspired the friends and the fair-minded, and on the other, discomfited and silenced the enemies. Indeed, one of his great contributions to the promotion and protection of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is his voluminous œuvre in defence of the Cause. Whenever the enemies opposed or misrepresented the Faith, his pen was ready to defend it with a vigour and assertiveness that confounded the enemy and strengthened the friends. The book of Fará'id, over 800 pages, written without revising or improving his original draft, from which it was printed, is the best example.

In praise of those who arise to defend His Faith, Bahá'u'lláh declares:


If any man were to arise to defend, in his writings, the Cause of God against its assailants, such a man, however inconsiderable his share, shall be so honoured in the world to come that the Concourse on high would envy his glory. No pen can depict the loftiness of his station, neither can any tongue describe its splendour. For whosoever standeth firm and steadfast in this holy, this glorious, and exalted Revelation, such power shall be given him as to enable him to face and withstand all that is in heaven and on earth. Of this God is Himself a witness.8

8. Gleanings, CLIV, I.