Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí of Isfahán

Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí was one of the outstanding disciples of Bahá'u'lláh and foremost among His trusted teachers who travelled extensively throughout Persia. He is to be forever regarded as one of the most able defenders of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, one who championed the Cause of God during the Ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, helped to protect it from the onslaught of the Covenant-breakers and rallied the believers around the Centre of the Covenant.

Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí was born into a Shaykhí family in Isfahán. He spent his youth in Kirmán in the service of Hájí Mírzá Karím Khán,* the arch-enemy of the Faith of the Báb. But soon he discovered that the man he was serving was devoid of spiritual qualities. Disillusioned, he returned to his native town of Isfahán. In that city, a few years after the martyrdom of the Báb, he came across one of the Báb's followers who familiarized him with the Faith. Through study of the Writings and especially through the steadfastness of the believers in the face of persecution and martyrdom, he recognized the truth of the new-born Faith of God.

Soon after his recognition of the Faith, Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí was introduced to other believers including Zaynu'l-Muqarrabín.† But meeting the friends demanded the utmost caution, otherwise their lives would be endangered. Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí himself recounts the story of how he used to go at the dead of night to the house of one of the Bábí friends. To ensure that no one would see him leave his house, he had to


* See vol. 1, Appendix IV.

† See vol. 1, pp. 25-6.

climb out through a window and return the same way. At the home of his friend, they used to hide their lamp in a hole inside a room, then hold the Writings of the Báb beside the hole, read the verses of God and receive spiritual sustenance through them.

Soon Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí became confirmed in his faith and conversant with the Writings of the Báb. One thing which above all captured his imagination and overwhelmed his mind was the glad-tidings of the coming of 'Him Whom God shall make manifest'. To recognize Him when He revealed Himself, and to attain His presence, was Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí's ardent desire and the sole object of his life. Through the purity of his heart he also realized that Mírzá Yahyá, although the nominee of the Báb, had none of the requisite spiritual qualities.

Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí travelled around Persia, visited the believers and spoke to them about the advent of 'Him Whom God shall make manifest'. In the course of these visits he suffered persecution from the enemies and sometimes opposition from those friends who had set their affections upon Mírzá Yahyá.

From the early days, Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí became attracted to Bahá'u'lláh, especially when he read the Kitáb-i-Íqán. Then he acquired new vision and was further confirmed in his faith. He regarded Bahá'u'lláh as the source of Divine Revelation and championed His cause after His declaration. He travelled to Adrianople, attained His presence and as a result became a new creation and a spiritual giant of this age. We have already referred to some of his experiences in Adrianople and Constantinople.

After spending about fourteen months in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, where he served the Faith acting as a channel of communication between Bahá'u'lláh and the friends, he was directed by Bahá'u'lláh to proceed to Egypt to teach His cause. He was particularly advised to be very discreet and cautious in his teaching work and not to arouse the antagonism of fanatics. In a Tablet to him Bahá'u'lláh had prophesied that he would be


afflicted by ordeals and persecutions, had counselled him to be thankful and joyous when sufferings were inflicted upon him in the path of God, had exhorted him to remain steadfast and immovable as a mountain in His Cause and had assured him of ultimate deliverance and protection. Bahá'u'lláh had also promised Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí, both in person and in writing, that his eyes would once again behold the beauty of His Lord and that he would attain His presence. These prophetic words were fulfilled. Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí went through the most harrowing afflictions during his life in Egypt and the Súdán, afflictions that lasted almost ten years.

He succeeded in teaching the Faith to a number of Persians resident in Egypt, but soon news of his activities spread among that community. Mírzá Hasan Khán-i-Khu'í, the Consul General and a vicious enemy of the Cause, disguised himself as a seeker of truth and invited Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí to his home. After several meetings at which Hájí spoke openly about the Faith, the Consul arrested him along with two other friends and imprisoned them in the Consulate. Their feet were placed in stocks and chains put on their necks. Later the number of prisoners was increased to seven Persians who were charged with being followers of the new Faith and one Egyptian who had befriended Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí, but was not a believer.

In the meantime the Consul succeeded in arousing the anxiety of the Egyptian authorities by introducing the prisoners as subversive elements teaching a new religion and working against the security of the state. He managed to secure an order condemning them to an indefinite period of imprisonment in the Súdán. The story of the ordeal of this journey to the Súdán and their imprisonment there is recorded in detail by Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí and is one of the most heart-rending episodes in the history of the Faith.

The prisoners, chained and fettered, endured many hardships in the Consulate. Their daily food consisted of a slice of bread each and a small cup of water. The Consul did everything


possible to humiliate them in the eyes of the public. Hájí Mírzá Haydar 'Alí writes:

During the forty-five days we spent in the home of the Consul we suffered as in hell because of his staff and servants, but the soul was in the utmost joy beyond description.1
Eventually they were handed over to the Egyptian authorities and placed in a government jail. Later they were transferred to another jail, and were tied together with a chain and placed inside a dark cell. Into this locked cell no light could enter, nor was there a lamp. The end of the chain was brought out through a hole in the door and was held by a guard.

Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí decided that this was an occasion for rejoicing. He taught his companions to chant the Lawh-i-Náqús. The voice of the prisoners chanting this aloud and in unison echoed through the building. The guards who heard those soul-stirring verses were attracted by them and soon they realized that the prisoners were men of God and not criminals. They opened the cell, took the chains away, gave them a light and would only lock the door when an officer was coming. The prisoners stayed in this prison for about fifty days during which time their bodies recovered from the effects of malnutrition and their souls were in the utmost joy. Hájí writes:

We were very happy because we were freed from this world and willing to lay down our lives in His path.2
However, they were then transferred to yet another jail where they faced the hardest ordeal of their life. One day, the authorities called blacksmiths and carpenters to the jail to chain the prisoners permanently for their journey to the Súdán. Four of the prisoners each had their right foot inserted in a huge iron collar and the other four their left foot. Each collar had a large iron loop attached to it. Then they were tied in pairs by joining the two loops with a heavy chain of about two yards long. Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí writes:


1. Hájí Mírzá Haydar 'Alí, Bihjatu's-Sudúr, p. 105.

2. ibid., p. 110.

The fastening of the iron collars and their connecting chains was such a painful operation that we could not control ourselves. We yelled, screamed and also laughed. The guards, officers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and all the others who were present wept over us and condemned their own jobs and professions for forcing them to torment the servants of God.3
Then came the turn of the carpenters. They were to make stocks for the prisoners' hands. A heavy piece of timber about one yard in length and very thick was constructed having two grooves in which the right and left hands of the same couple were placed. Then another piece of timber was securely nailed on the top thus closing the grooves. Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí writes:

The stocks caused greater hardship than the chain and the collar upon our feet. For we might have been able to lighten the burden on our feet by lifting the chain with our hands when walking. But the stocks had tied each pair so inflexibly that our movements became extremely restricted and difficult. The placing of chains and stocks took a long time to complete. It started about two hours before noon and ended soon after sunset.4
Immediately after this, the prisoners were moved to a ship and were accommodated in an enclosed quarter which served as a store.

The Persian Consul had so wickedly misrepresented the prisoners to the Egyptian authorities that the Government had become alarmed. They had been led to believe that these men were the most vicious criminals, whose aim was to wipe out the religion of Islám, assassinate the king and overthrow the Government. Therefore orders were issued that the prisoners must be kept in chains, and guarded all the time. The journey, which involved travelling by ship and crossing the desert, sometimes on foot and sometimes by camel, lasted about five months.


3. Hájí Mírzá Haydar 'Alí, Bihjatu's-Sudúr, p. 111.

4. ibid., p. 112.

Until the prisoners arrived in the Khartoum prison where the chains and stocks were removed and replaced with smaller chains, Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí and his companions bore the weight of these gruesome tools of torture. They suffered agony and hardship beyond description. Tied in pairs in this appalling fashion, they sat, slept, and were forced to walk for miles together. During this period the rigours of the journey, the agony of being in chains and fetters, the effects of starvation, malnutrition and gross ill-treatment, the pains of associating with the vilest of men, criminals and murderers, and the crushing force of many other unspeakable sufferings which were inflicted upon them, reduced them to such physical frailty that several times they were brought to the verge of death.

But because of the spiritual powers of Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí the prisoners were content and happy. It was also through the influence of his radiant personality that the authorities were charmed by his character and recognized his greatness.

It so happened that as the prisoners were travelling to the Súdán, Ja'far Páshá, the Governor of the Súdán was on his way to Khartoum. He met Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí at Aswan and was so struck by his spirituality and greatness that he ordered the officers to extend more consideration towards the prisoners. Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí writes:

He [Ja'far Páshá] assured us that he would see that we were more comfortable, and he instructed the guards to show as much kindness as was in their power. The Páshá left us and we stayed in that spot for three days. On the day that we were to resume the journey we were handed to new soldiers who brought camels for us to ride. But as we were tied together, it was difficult to mount...They placed both tied feet and hands of each couple on the saddle, one person hanging on one side of the camel, the other on the other side, and tied the hanging bodies to the camel with the help of cotton sheets. Remaining in this position was extremely difficult. One cannot think of a torture more agonizing than this. But the fact is that there was no alternative. This journey took five or

six hours, during which time they halted five or six times. They untied us, and helped us to dismount to have a rest. The guards expressed their sympathy and apologized, saying that previously they had escorted thieves and murderers to the Súdán similarly chained, but they had to walk. In our case, however, Ja'far Páshá had ordered that we ride and they could not think of a better way...Although we were in great pain and torture, nevertheless as we watched each other hanging, we used to laugh very heartily, and managed to reach the Nile alive...5
After these and many more grievous experiences, the prisoners arrived in Berber in the Súdán and were transferred to a prison which was so overcrowded with thieves and murderers that it was difficult to find a place to sit without being attacked by the inmates or stung by the scorpions. For about forty-five days they stayed in that area until they embarked in a sailing ship on the last leg of their journey. This lasted no less than thirty-six days, during which they endured many more afflictions. At last they arrived in Khartoum and were placed in a prison which was more crowded than the one in Berber. Later, by the orders of Ja'far Páshá, mentioned above, the prison authorities removed the ghastly chains and stocks and replaced them with a lighter chain. They were also allowed to sleep in a small hut made of reed and timber which was especially erected for them.

For about nine months the prisoners remained in the Khartoum jail, but soon people recognized the heavenly qualities and spiritual gifts of Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí. He wrote a letter to tha Shaykhu'l-Islám of Khartoum, proclaimed the mission of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh to him, described their sufferings, expatiated on Bahá'u'lláh's glory and majesty, His loftiness and grandeur, extolled in glowing terms the qualities of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, explained all the circumstances of his own imprisonment and that of his companions and demanded the intervention of the Shaykhu'l-Islám in order to secure the release of the prisoners. The Shaykhu'l-Islám shared the letter with Ja'far


5. Hájí Mírzá Haydar 'Alí, Bihjatu's-Sudúr, p. 114.
Páshá who was moved by the story. He went to the prison and issued orders to remove the chains from the prisoners, to issue wheat flour to them instead of corn and to supply them with meat and other necessities to which they were not entitled. He permitted them to leave the prison during the day and return at night. He also requested the authorities in Egypt to relax their restrictions and allow the prisoners to live freely in Khartoum. Two of the prisoners engaged in work as engravers, one practised medicine, and Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí was asked by the Governor to become a scribe. Soon many of the inhabitants of Khartoum became aware of the wonderful character and qualities of Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí. Some even attributed miracles to him. Many officials flocked to see him in the evenings in the prison where he spent all his earnings and entertained them. His prison chamber became the centre of attraction for the learned and wise who sat at his feet and enjoyed his company.

Then Ja'far Páshá's term of office came to an end and a new Governor arrived. It was during the latter's reign that the Egyptian authorities agreed to the request by the former Governor to allow the prisoners to leave the jail and live freely in the city. At this time so great was the prestige of Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí that the new Governor would turn to him for guidance and enlightenment when in serious difficulties about personal matters affecting his career. Another Governor who admired Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí was Ismá'íl Páshá. He had known him since his early days of imprisonment, and had a greater appreciation of Hájí's wisdom and spiritual gifts than his predecessors had done. He often used to call on Hájí for companionship and visit him in his home.

From the early days of his arrival in Khartoum, Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí kept on writing to Bahá'u'lláh. For some time, not knowing that Bahá'u'lláh had been exiled to 'Akká about the same time that he was imprisoned in Egypt, Hájí continued to send his letters to Adrianople and these never reached Bahá'u'lláh. However, soon after His arrival in the prison of 'Akká,


Bahá'u'lláh established contact with the believers. He sent a special messenger to the Súdán to find Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí and the other prisoners and assure them of His bounties and confirmations. The messenger was Hájí Jásim-i-Baghdádí who disguised himself as a dervish, travelled on foot to Khartoum and succeeded in contacting Hájí during the period that the latter was still a prisoner but free to move about. The arrival of Bahá'u'lláh's special messenger brought indescribable joy and assurance to the prisoners in general and to Hájí in particular. For forty days, Hájí heard everything about Bahá'u'lláh's whereabouts, His imprisonment and other afflictions from Hájí Jásim. Later a Tablet of Bahá'u'lláh reached Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí and over this he rejoiced more than over his meeting with Bahá'u'lláh's messenger.

After this initial Tablet about four to five Tablets a year would be revealed for the prisoners and sent to them in the Súdán. It was also arranged that copies of Tablets and various Writings of Bahá'u'lláh would be sent from Alexandria to them, and some years later Bahá'u'lláh sent another messenger to meet the believers in Khartoum.

Concerning his release from the Súdán, Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí writes:

When Bahá'u'lláh sent me away from His presence in the land of mystery [Adrianople], He promised that I should attain His presence again. Similarly, in His holy and blessed Tablets which through His bounty were despatched to Constantinople, Egypt and the Súdán, He clearly gave the joyous tidings of attaining His presence. Therefore, I was assured and confident of my deliverance.6
The release of Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí from the Súdán was due to the recommendations and influence of General Gordon, known as Gordon Páshá, the British Governor of the Súdán who succeeded Ismá'íl Páshá. When Gordon Páshá arrived, Hájí presented him with a beautiful gift which was made under his supervision and with his help. It was a large mirror (about

6. Hájí Mírzá Haydar 'Alí, Bihjatu's-Sudúr, p. 147.
two and a half metres by one and a half) on which a complimentary phrase was inscribed in gold in English. This pleased the General so much that he sent him an order to make a similar one for his sister in England. Hájí complied and one day brought the mirror to Gordon Páshá. This is how Hájí describes the story:

He [Gordon Páshá] thanked me for the article and said 'It is so beautiful that I cannot pay enough for this gift. You yourself fix the price.' I knew this was the opportunity to say something about freedom, so I told him that I did not want anything except to be released and allowed to leave the Súdán. He said 'Write a letter [addressed to the Khedive of Egypt] and plead that you have been imprisoned here without your case being investigated, that you are far from being guilty of the crime they ascribe to you, and that matters relating to one's conscience are not within the jurisdiction of kings. They are concerned with God, the King of Kings. Then beg him to set you free so that you may return to your home and be thankful.7
Six of Hájí's companions, including the Egyptian, decided to remain in the Súdán. Only Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí and Mírzá Husayn-i-Shírází,* made this application. The text of the letter was cabled to the Khedive. Gordon Páshá described this imprisonment and exile as unlawful and recommended the release of the prisoners. Soon orders arrived for their freedom, but they were not allowed to enter Egypt.

Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí, accompanied by Mírzá Husayn, set off on the journey to 'Akká via Mecca and Beirut. This was in the year 1877. Concerning their departure from Khartoum Hájí writes:

On the day of our departure from Khartoum, the dignitaries

* Known as Khártumí, he was also promised by Bahá'u'lláh that he would attain His presence. It should be noted that Mírzá Husayn's deeds in Khartoum and later in India were unworthy of a true Bahá'í. After the passing of Bahá'u'lláh, he became a Covenant-breaker.

7. Hájí Mírzá Haydar 'Alí, Bihjatu's-Sudúr, pp. 147-8.
and authorities of the city, along with great multitudes, came to the ship to bid us farewell. The signs of affection and faithfulness were manifest in the faces of all. A few Muslims and Christians escorted us all the way to Berber. Thus the meekness and abasement of our entry into that city were turned into glory and honour...whereas Mírzá Hasan Khán, the cruel Consul, was swiftly punished by God. We had not yet arrived in the Súdán when the Persians resident in Egypt complained to the Sháh about his acts of cruelty and injustice...Strangely, orders were given to investigate the allegations. The result was that his wickedness and evil character were exposed. He was forced to pay everything he had acquired through extortion...and co-incidentally he was taken to Tihrán in chains and fetters where he tasted the fruits of his actions.8
After all these sufferings the most rewarding moment was when Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí was ushered into the presence of His Lord in 'Akká. The ecstasy and contentment that he evinced on those memorable occasions when he sat in the presence of Bahá'u'lláh are indescribable. We hope to share some of his reminiscences in future volumes. After a stay of about three months in 'Akká, he left at the behest of Bahá'u'lláh for Persia via 'Iráq. As a result of his attaining the presence of Bahá'u'lláh, he had become like a flame burning with His love, which he radiated to friend and foe alike. For several years he journeyed throughout the length and breadth of Persia strengthening the believers in their faith and imparting to them a measure of the glory of the Cause and the majesty of its Author. Then he returned to 'Akká once again and basked in the sunshine of Bahá'u'lláh's presence. On his second pilgrimage to 'Akká, as on earlier ones, Hájí was so enamoured of the glory of Bahá'u'lláh that he was utterly unaware of his own self and it seemed as though he lived in the realms of the spirit, oblivious to the world and all who dwelt in it. However, this pilgrimage was short-lived and lasted only about two months. Bahá'u'lláh sent him again to Persia, where he continued with unflinching

8. Hájí Mírzá Haydar 'Alí, Bihjatu's-Sudúr, pp. 148-9.
loyalty and zeal to invigorate the faith of the believers and teach the Cause to those who were ready to embrace it.

An outstanding feature of the life of Hájí Mírzá Haydar-'Alí was his awareness of the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. From the first time that he came in contact with Him in Adrianople, he realized that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was endowed by Bahá'u'lláh with supernatural powers and divine attributes far beyond the ken of men. After the passing of Bahá'u'lláh, and in accordance with the provisions of His Will, Hájí, like the great majority of the believers, followed 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He turned towards 'Abdu'l-Bahá with the same dedication and self-effacement that he had shown towards Bahá'u'lláh. His passionate love for and devotion to the Centre of the Covenant may be regarded as the distinguishing features of his life after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, qualities through which he shed great lustre on one of the most turbulent periods in the Heroic Age of the Faith. His long record of service to the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, spanning almost the full period of the Ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, may be regarded as the fruit and glory of a life wholly dedicated to the Cause of God. To recount the stories of his many activities in this period is beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say that he defended the Covenant with such faith and vigour that in his confrontations with the Covenant-breakers and especially their leaders such as Jamál-i-Burújirdí and Siyyid Mihdíy-i-Dahají who arose to divide the Faith, he demonstrated, with characteristic resourcefulness, the ascendancy of the Cause of God, and the invincibility of the Covenant. He exposed the evil designs of the Covenant-breakers, pointed to their folly, warned them of the consequences of their actions and urged them to save their souls from ultimate extinction by turning to the Centre of the Covenant. He also helped and inspired thousands of believers throughout Persia and the neighbouring countries to remain steadfast in the Covenant when the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh was plunged into a severe crisis reminiscent of the rebellion of Mírzá Yahyá.

Next to attaining the presence of Bahá'u'lláh, the crowning


glory of his life was the inestimable privilege of spending his latter years in the Holy Land under the loving care of the Master whom he served with the utmost devotion and love. For many years he was a trusted companion to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and a true counsellor to the pilgrims and resident believers. He passed away in Haifa at a great age in December 1920, and is buried on Mount Carmel.