Bahá'u'lláh in Exile

When Bahá'u'lláh came out of prison, stripped of His possessions, His back bent by the weight of the fetters, His neck swollen and injured and His health impaired, He did not intimate to anyone His experience of Divine Revelation. Yet those who were close to Him could not fail to witness a transformation of spirit, a power and a radiance never seen in Him before.

The following is an extract from the spoken chronicle of the Greatest Holy Leaf, the daughter of Bahá'u'lláh, recounting her impressions of Him at the time of His release from the Síyáh-Chál:

Jamál-i-Mubárak* had a marvellous divine experience whilst in that prison.

We saw a new radiance seeming to enfold him like a shining vesture, its significance we were to learn years later. At that time we were only aware of the wonder of it, without understanding, or even being told the details of the sacred event.1

Bahá'u'lláh spent the month preceding His exile in the house of His half-brother Mírzá Ridá-Qulí, a physician. The latter was not a believer though his wife Maryam, a cousin of Bahá'u'lláh, had been converted by Him in the early days of the Faith and was one of His most sincere and faithful followers within the family. With great care and affection Maryam, together with Ásíyih Khánum, the wife of Bahá'u'lláh, nursed Him until His condition improved and, though not fully recovered, He had

* Literally, the Blessed Beauty, referring to Bahá'u'lláh.

1. Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 45.
gathered sufficient strength to enable Him to leave Tihrán for 'Iráq.

Throughout His exile, Bahá'u'lláh often recalled the loyalty and devotion of Maryam and showered His bounty and blessings upon her. To her, from 'Iráq, He addressed some of His Tablets known as the Alwáh-i-Maryam which are unique in their tone and sentiment. In language at once moving and tender He poured out His heart to her and recounted the afflictions heaped on Him by some of His unfaithful kinsmen and friends within the community:

The wrongs which I suffer have blotted out the wrongs suffered by My First Name [the Báb] from the Tablet of creation . . . O Maryam! From the land of Tá [Tihrán], after countless afflictions, We reached 'Iráq, at the bidding of the Tyrant of Persia,* where, after the fetters of Our foes, We were afflicted with the perfidy of Our friends. God knoweth what befell Me thereafter!...I have borne what no man, be he of the past or of the future, hath borne or will bear.2

Maryam was devoted to the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh. She longed to attain the presence of her Lord again, but some members of the family who were ill disposed towards the Faith prevented her from leaving home and she died sad and disappointed. Bahá'u'lláh favoured Maryam throughout her life, honoured her with the appellation 'Crimson Leaf' and, after her death, revealed a special Tablet of visitation in her memory.

Bahá'u'lláh departed from Tihrán for 'Iráq on 12 January 1853. Among those who accompanied Him in His exile was His eldest son, nine-year-old 'Abbás, who later assumed the title of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Servant of Bahá). He had such spiritual insight that, as a young boy, He intuitively recognized the station of His Father. So highly did Bahá'u'lláh esteem Him that in Baghdád He used to address Him, while still in His teens, as the Master--a designation which Bahá'u'lláh had also used for His own father while in Tihrán. He later conferred


* Násiri'd-Dín Sháh.

2. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 118, for the words of Bahá'u'lláh.
upon 'Abdu'l-Bahá such exalted titles as the 'Most Great Branch', the 'Mystery of God', the 'Limb of the Law of God', and 'He around Whom all names revolve'. Next to the Revelation itself, He may be regarded as Bahá'u'lláh's most precious gift to humanity. He was destined to succeed His Father as the Centre of His Covenant, to be fully entrusted with the Cause of God and to become, after Bahá'u'lláh's ascension, the fountainhead of the spiritual energies released by Bahá'u'lláh for the regeneration of mankind.

Another member of the Holy Family who accompanied Bahá'u'lláh on this journey was His six-year-old daughter Bahá'íyyih Khánum, titled Varaqiy-i-'Ulyá (The Greatest Holy Leaf). She occupies a unique position in the Bahá'í Dispensation and is regarded as the outstanding woman of this age. Her life was so filled with trials and tribulations that few within the Holy Family ever endured a comparable adversity with such resignation and fortitude. To the sufferings she bore with Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá were added the sorrow and anguish she felt for the cruelties which were inflicted upon Them. No words can express adequately the degree of dedication with which this exalted Leaf* of the Abhá Paradise served Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and no pen can depict the virtues of her saintly life.

The Greatest Holy Leaf renounced the idea of marriage in order to be free to serve her Father. Over the years she managed, by perseverance and the potency of her faith, to alleviate some of the hardships to which Bahá'u'lláh and the Holy Family were subjected. In her life she reflected the very qualities and attributes which distinguished her illustrious Brother 'Abdu'l-Bahá--the Exemplar of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh.

The Greatest Holy Leaf played a unique part in the advancement of her Father's Faith. After the ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, it was the Greatest Holy Leaf who, at an advanced age, held the


* Varaqih (Leaf) is a feminine designation which Bahá'u'lláh uses for His next of kin, although He has occasionally conferred this title upon someone outside His family.



The Centre of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh
A photograph taken in Adrianople



The Greatest Holy Leaf, daughter of Bahá'u'lláh
A photograph taken circa 1895

reins of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh in her able hands for a short period and rallied the believers around Shoghi Effendi, whom 'Abdu'l-Bahá had appointed the Guardian of the Cause. She died in 1932 and is buried near the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel.

Also accompanying Bahá'u'lláh on His journey was His wife, Ásíyih Khánum, surnamed Navváb and designated 'the Most Exalted Leaf' by the Pen of Bahá'u'lláh. Navváb was the daughter of a nobleman, Mírzá Ismá'íl-i-Vazir. She had a compassionate and loving nature and was endowed with noble qualities. Her daughter, the Greatest Holy Leaf, has described her in these words:

...I always think of her in those earliest days of my memory as queenly in her dignity and loveliness, full of consideration for everybody, gentle, of a marvellous unselfishness, no action of hers ever failed to show the loving-kindness of her pure heart; her very presence seemed to make an atmosphere of love and happiness wherever she came, enfolding all comers in the fragrance of gentle courtesy.3

Her faith in Bahá'u'lláh, Whom she regarded as her Lord, was resolute and unshakeable. In the path of His love she suffered with resignation and patience the agonies and hardships of four successive exiles. Bahá'u'lláh in one of His Tablets, which was revealed after her death, in 1303 A.H. (about A.D. 1886), bestowed upon her the unique distinction of being His 'perpetual consort in all the worlds of God'.

On account of their love for Him, two others with the utmost willingness accompanied Bahá'u'lláh into exile. They were His younger brother Mírzá Músá, surnamed Áqáy-i-Kalím by the Pen of Bahá'u'lláh, and the youngest half-brother Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí who was in his teens. Both brothers remained with Him and shared the hardships of repeated banishments from land to land.

Áqáy-i-Kalím, whose heart was awakened on that historic occasion when the envoy of the Báb delivered His message to


3. Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 40.
Bahá'u'lláh, was the most loyal of His brothers and a trusted supporter, staunch in his faith and indefatigable in his efforts to shield and protect Bahá'u'lláh. Until 'Abdu'l-Bahá assumed such functions, he would frequently deputize for Bahá'u'lláh in meeting ministers, government officials, notables and divines. His life of service and devotion elevated him to a rank foremost among the Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh.

The other brother Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí, who was only about seven years older than 'Abdu'l-Bahá, had from childhood developed a strong attachment to Bahá'u'lláh, for their father had died soon after Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí was born and he was, consequently, brought up by Bahá'u'lláh. He had a quiet disposition and a loving nature and, throughout his life, remained a true servant at the threshold of his illustrious Brother. He was accorded the honour of pitching the tent of Bahá'u'lláh on the way from Baghdád to Constantinople, as well as on other occasions, and often used to serve tea in His presence.

As for the eight remaining brothers* of Bahá'u'lláh, only one, Mírzá Muhammad-Hasan, who was older than Bahá'u'lláh and much esteemed by Him, is known to have been a loyal follower. The others with the exception of Mírzá Yahyá, who became the arch-breaker of the Covenant of the Báb and a great enemy of Bahá'u'lláh, had either died before the Revelations of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, or remained untouched by the light of God's new-born Faith.

The journey to Baghdád, undertaken in the middle of a severe winter across the snow-bound mountains of western Persia, inflicted much hardship and suffering on the exiles. Bahá'u'lláh remained about ten years in 'Iráq, spending two years alone in the wilderness of Kurdistán and most of the remaining time in Baghdád.

The enemies of Bahá'u'lláh, among whom were the Persian Consul-General in Baghdád and certain divines, eventually succeeded in having Him banished again. As a result of representations made by the Persian to the Ottoman Government,


* One of these was by a former marriage of Bahá'u'lláh's mother.

the Sultán's decree was issued and Bahá'u'lláh was called to Constantinople. On the eve of His departure from 'Iráq in 1863, Bahá'u'lláh, outside the city of Baghdád, declared His station to His companions as 'Him Whom God shall make manifest', the One foretold by the Báb and anticipated by His followers.

After He had remained five months in the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, His enemies again sought to banish Him. They succeeded, and He was sent to Adrianople, a city called by Him 'the remote Prison'. There the Sun of His Revelation ascended to its zenith and He proclaimed His Message for the whole world. Having endured five years of tribulations in this city, Bahá'u'lláh was finally exiled to the prison-city of 'Akká in the Holy Land.

The last twenty-four years of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry were spent partly in 'Akká and partly in the surrounding countryside. The sufferings He endured during the first nine years of His imprisonment within the walls of 'Akká were so grievous that, as Bahá'u'lláh remarks in one of His Tablets, 'upon Our arrival at this Spot, We chose to designate it as the "Most Great Prison". Though previously subjected in another land [Tihrán] to chains and fetters, We yet refused to call it by that name...' 4


4. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 185.