A Statement on Bahá'u'lláh
Announcement to the Kings
The writings which have been quoted in the foregoing were revealed, for the most part, in conditions of renewed persecution. Soon after the exiles' arrival in Constantinople, it became apparent that the honors showered upon Bahá'u'lláh during His journey from Baghdad had represented only a brief interlude. The Ottoman authorities' decision to move the "Bábí" leader and His companions to the capital of the empire rather than to some remote province deepened the alarm among the representatives of the Persian government.68 Fearing that the developments in Baghdad would be repeated, and might attract this time not only the sympathy but perhaps even the allegiance of influential figures in the Turkish government, the Persian ambassador pressed insistently for the dispatch of the exiles to some more distant part of the empire. His argument was that the spread of a new religious message in the capital could produce political as well as religious repercussions.
Initially, the Ottoman government strongly resisted. The chief minister, ‘Alí Páshá, had indicated to Western diplomats his belief that Bahá'u'lláh was "a man of great distinction, exemplary conduct, great moderation, and a most dignified figure." His teachings were, in the minister's opinion, "worthy of high esteem" because they counteracted the religious animosities dividing the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim subjects of the empire.69
Gradually, however, a degree of resentment and suspicion developed. In the Ottoman capital, political and economic power was in the hands of court functionaries who, with but few exceptions, were persons of little or no competence. Venality was the oil on which the machinery of government operated, and the capital was a magnet for a horde of people who flocked there from every part of the empire and beyond, seeking favors and influence. It was expected that any prominent figure from another country or from one of the tribute territories would, immediately upon arrival in Constantinople, join the throngs of patronage-seekers in the reception rooms of the pashas and ministers of the imperial court. No element had a worse reputation than the competing groups of Persian political exiles who were known for both their sophistication and their lack of scruple.
To the distress of friends who urged Him to make use of the prevailing hostility toward the Persian government and of the sympathy which His own sufferings had aroused, Bahá'u'lláh made it clear that He had no requests to make. Although several government ministers made social calls at the residence assigned to Him, he did not take advantage of these openings. He was in Constantinople, He said, as the guest of the Sultan, at his invitation, and His interest lay in spiritual and moral concerns.
Many years later, the Persian ambassador, Mírzá Husayn Khán, reflecting on his tour of duty in the Ottoman capital, and complaining about the damage which the greed and untrustworthiness of his countrymen had done to Persia's reputation in Constantinople, paid a surprisingly candid tribute to the example which Bahá'u'lláh's conduct had been able briefly to set.70 At the time, however, he and his colleagues made use of the situation to represent it as an astute way on the exile's part of concealing secret conspiracies against public security and the religion of the State. Under pressure of these influences, the Ottoman authorities finally took the decision to transfer Bahá'u'lláh and His family to the provincial city of Adrianople. The move was made hastily, in the depth of an extremely severe winter. Housed there in inadequate buildings, lacking suitable clothing and other provisions, the exiles endured a year of great suffering. It was clear that, though charged with no crime and given no opportunity to defend themselves, they had arbitrarily been made state prisoners.
From the point of view of religious history, the successive banishments of Bahá'u'lláh to Constantinople and Adrianople have a striking symbolism. For the first time, a Manifestation of God, Founder of an independent religious system which was soon to spread throughout the planet, had crossed the narrow neck of water separating Asia from Europe, and had set foot in "the West." All of the other great religions had arisen in Asia and the ministries of their Founders had been confined to that continent. Referring to the fact that the dispensations of the past, and particularly those of Abraham, Christ, and Muhammad, had produced their most important effects on the development of civilization during the course of their westward expansion, Bahá'u'lláh predicted that the same thing would occur in this new age, but on a vastly larger scale: "In the East the Light of His Revelation hath broken; in the West the signs of His dominion have appeared. Ponder this in your hearts, O people..."71
It is then perhaps not surprising that Bahá'u'lláh chose this moment to make public the mission which had been slowly enlisting the allegiance of the followers of the Báb throughout the Middle East. His announcement took the form of a series of statements which are among the most remarkable documents in religious history. In them, the Manifestation of God addresses the "Kings and Rulers of the world," announcing to them the dawning of the Day of God, alluding to the as yet inconceivable changes which were gathering momentum throughout the world, and calling on them as the trustees of God and of their fellow human beings to arise and serve the process of the unification of the human race. Because of the veneration in which they were held by the mass of their subjects, and because of the absolute nature of the rule which most of them exercised, it lay in their power, He said, to assist in bringing about what He called the "Most Great Peace," a world order characterized by unity and animated by Divine justice.
Only with the greatest difficulty can the modern reader envision the moral and intellectual world in which these monarchs of a century ago lived. From their biographies and private correspondence, it is apparent that, with few exceptions, they were personally devout, taking a leading part in the spiritual life of their respective nations, often as the heads of the state religions, and convinced of the unerring truths of the Bible or the Qur'an. The power which most of them wielded they attributed directly to the divine authority of passages in these same Scriptures, an authority about which they were vigorously articulate. They were the anointed of God. Prophecies of "the Latter Days" and "the Kingdom of God" were not for them myth or allegory, but certainties upon which all moral order rested and in which they would themselves be called on by God to give an account of their stewardship.
The letters of Bahá'u'lláh address themselves to this mental world:
The vision of the "Most Great Peace" evoked no response from the rulers of the nineteenth century. Nationalistic aggrandizement and imperial expansion recruited not only kings but parliamentarians, academics, artists, newspapers, and the major religious establishments as eager propagandists of Western triumphalism. Proposals for social change, however disinterested and idealistic, quickly fell captive to a swarm of new ideologies thrown up by the rising tide of dogmatic materialism. In the Orient, mesmerized by its own claims to represent all that humanity ever could or would know of God and truth, the Islamic world sank steadily deeper into ignorance, lethargy, and a sullen hostility to a human race which failed to acknowledge this spiritual preeminence.