Section 1- The Prisoner
What fate bound together the tragic kings of Germany, Russia, Turkey and Persia? Why had violence struck them down in almost the same hour? Their story is one of the great dramas of our generation. Why haven't we heard more about it? These were not mythical kings. Their overthrow and destruction was not part of a historical novel. It was not a suspense story taken from the pages of popular fiction. These were ruling monarchs. They, and later their thrones, were swept away in a titanic upheaval that has since engulfed and swamped no less than twenty kingdoms in half a century. Indeed the fate that overtook them has since seemed to pursue their elected successors in the republics which took the place of their fallen thrones.
The link binding together the four kings and their associates was a Prisoner, a solitary condemned figure in a cell in a Turkish fortress on the coast of Palestine. It would have been hard to find a candidate less likely to challenge the rulers of the world, or anyone more helpless than the Prisoner who arose to challenge them all.
Two of these same kings had already brutally persecuted and humiliated him. Although determined to silence him, they had been totally unsuccessful. Attempts to kill him developed into almost a comedy of errors. Every stroke the kings devised to eliminate the Prisoner seems, in retrospect, to have raised him and lowered themselves. Gradually, it was they who became prisoners, and he who became, as one British historian has said "the object of a love that kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain."
There has never been a story like it. The Prisoner was stoned three times. He was scourged until his skin was broken and the blood flowed from his body. He was weighted down with chains, a one-hundred pound yoke iron yoke lacerated his shoulders and scarred him for life. His feet were locked in stocks. He was chained to his companions and to the floor of his prison. He was poisoned three times. The edicts of the kings stripped him of his wealth and position. He was torn away from his relatives and friends, and banished from his native land forever. On four separate occasions he was exiled, each exile more cruel than the previous one. At last the kings banished the Prisoner to the most dreaded penal colony in the Near East, a place in which they felt certain he would perish. The final imprisonment locked him up in a fortress surrounded by moats and battlements. He was encircled by enemies in an inhospitable climate, an area rampant with disease.
The kings were confident that the Prisoner would die and be heard of no more. That should have been the end of the story. In fact, it was only the beginning. In the midst of death and suffering, the Prisoner foretold the coming collapse of the dynasties of each one of these kings. He described the inevitable extinction of their empires. His prophecies had a precision that was frightening. One solitary condemned exile, writing from prison in the historic "Holy Land," warned the kings of coming doom. One mysterious figure reached out his hand into both Europe and Asia and "shook the kingdoms" until the structure trembled and fell.
Yet, in spite of all that he had suffered at the hands of these rulers, the Prisoner offered to help them prevent the coming calamity. Had the rulers heeded his words they could have avoided their fate. Instead, a flock of monarchs has vanished, one by one, from the contemporary scene.
Who was the Prisoner? And what did a condemned exile have to do with four of the mightiest monarchs of his day? The Prisoner declared that had everything to do with both kings and governments. He told them plainly that his mission in life was to awaken the rulers of the earth to their social and spiritual responsibilities in a new age. The Prisoner said he was an instrument sent to protect the rights of the downtrodden and underprivileged. He challenged the kings in these words: "If ye stay not the hand of the oppressor, if ye fail to safeguard the rights of the downtrodden, what right have ye then to vaunt yourselves among men?"
The Prisoner called upon the kings and leaders of men to unite in an energetic world- wide effort so that the peoples of the earth might attain social justice and peace: "Arise thou amongst men in the name of this all-compelling Cause, and summon, then, the nations unto God . . . " Why should any king pay attention to such "ravings?" Who would believe a madman who announced publicly the collapse of the world's greatest kingdoms? If he couldn't even save himself from prison, how would he be able to control the destinies of kings?
Yet, that is precisely what he did.
Kings were shut up in prison and the Prisoner was, released. Monarchies were overthrown and vanished while the Prisoner's ideals have permeated the thinking of all mankind. It happened exactly as foretold in the letters from the prison cell in Palestine, and it happened with frightening precision, step by step, until each despot was dethroned, each King was shorn of his power, and the dynasty of each monarch was forever extinguished!
It is the most remarkable story of our times.
"Give me a chance to fling my stone in His face!"
Section 2- The Drama of the Bab
The story begins in Persia, in 1844. Despite the country's long history of cultural achievement, Persia in the nineteenth century was a land of almost unequaled corruption and decadence. The Shah was a despot, his government conducted by an equal mixture of graft, flattery and brutality. Day-to-day control of affairs was in the hands of venal politicians and fanatical clergymen.
Suddenly, at this lowest ebb in the country's history, a spiritual revolution broke out. No other nation in modern history has experienced anything like the nine years that followed. A radiant young man called the Bab ("Door" or "Gate") arose to declare that the "Day of God" had dawned. All over Persia tens of thousands of people flocked to the new cause. The most ardent of them were students from the colleges and seminaries. For a moment in history, it looked as though the entire nation would accept the Bab's teachings of social justice and spiritual regeneration.
The clergy and the courtiers prevented this from happening. Realizing that their own privileges were endangered, they persuaded the Shah that the Bab was a threat to the state. Although the Bab had shown every respect for civil authority, the Shah chose the side of his advisers. A campaign of terror was launched. Thousands of the Bab's followers were hounded throughout the country, betrayed, tortured, and massacred. Finally, on July 9, 1850, the Bab was executed.
One of the Bab's leading supporters was a young nobleman named by the Bab "Baha'u'llah." Because of the prominence of his family and the respect which his own life had won him at the Persian Court, Baha'u'llah was not killed in the general massacres. His leadership of the persecuted "Bab'is," however, made him a marked man. Highly placed opponents of the Bab appeared determined to put him to death. There was, however, no believable pretext on which so prominent a personality could be could be condemned. Baha'u'llah was widely admired.
The pretext came in 1853 when two youths fired a shot at the king as he emerged on horseback from his palace. Immediately the responsibility was placed on all the followers of the Bab and Baha'u'llah. Implacable hostility swept the nation. All attempts to inquire into what had really happened were cast aside.
The Shah, his ministers, the clergy, and the people united in relentless hate, delighted to have at last an excuse for annihilating one whom they had come to fear as a danger to the state.
Many who were merely thought to be friendly or sympathetic to the new faith were arrested and slain, unless they were wealthy and could fill the coffers of their persecutors. In Baha'u'llah's case, the authorities knew that the sentence of death and his execution must be done with cunning. Baha'u'llah and his family were still highly respected in the land. Baha'u'llah's father had been a leading nobleman, a highly esteemed and honored minister of state.
During those hectic days when one of the waves of persecution reached its peak, Baha'u'llah was a guest of the new Prime Minister, Mirza Aqa Khan. He, should have been safe there. This same Prime Minister was understood to have promised the Bab that he would protect the innocent victims of the king's wrath if the Bab would help the minister. The Bab had done so. Now the new Prime Minister, Mirza Aqa Khan, faced the crisis of having to redeem that pledge.
No one knew better than the Prime Minister that Baha'u'llah was innocent of any crime. Unhappily for the soul of this troubled minister, his loyalties constantly fluctuated back and forth throughout his career. One moment he would be inspired to try and help the mistreated followers of the Bab, the next he would cringe in fear, dreading the loss of his position. He would then begin attacking them. In the end, fear pushed out courage and decency. It also precipitated the downfall and disgrace of the Prime Minister. At first, Mirza Aqa Khan tried to effect a reconciliation between the Shah and Baha'u'llah. He sent a warm letter to Baha'u'llah in Karbila, Iraq, where Baha'u'llah had been exiled briefly by the previous Prime Minister, telling him of these plans and inviting Baha'u'llah to return to the capital. For a month he was the honored guest of Mirza Aqa Khan. During this time a great number of notables and dignitaries from Teheran flocked to meet Baha'u'llah. So much attention and honor was paid to him that it aroused the envy and fury of his enemies.
Baha'u'llah was a guest in the village of Afchih when news came of the attempt made on the life of the Shah. He condemned the act in the strongest terms, but he also refused to listen to the pleadings of the Prime Minister's brother who urged him to flee into hiding in the neighborhood. Instead, Baha'u'llah set out on foot for the Shah's residence, and the headquarters of the Imperial Army in Niyavaran to prove his innocence. He refused even the offer of an armed escort.
When Baha'u'llah reached the village of Zarghandih he was met and conducted to the home of the Secretary of the Russian Minister, Prince Dolgorukov. The news of Baha'u'llah's arrival was conveyed at once to Nasiri'd-Din Shah. The king was greatly amazed at Baha'u'llah's boldness in coming directly to his encampment. Prince Dolgorukov proposed to the Prime Minister, Mirza Aqa Khan, that he protect Baha'u'llah in his own residence from the enemies who sought his destruction. The Prime Minister was afraid to extend any further consideration to Baha'u'llah for fear he might permanently lose his own position and prestige. Baha'u'llah was, therefore, delivered into the hands of a group of his enemies among the military.
They stripped him of his headgear. Barefoot and bareheaded, and in chains, Baha'u'llah was marched the full distance from Shimiran to Teheran under the blazing sun. Several times along the way, his outer garments were torn from his body by the soldiers and the mob. He was struck by the officers accompanying him, overwhelmed with abuse and ridicule, and pelted with stones and refuse.
As Baha'u'llah was approaching the capital, a fanatical old woman rushed from the crowd with a stone in her hand. Her whole frame shook with rage as she raised the stone, but the procession was moving too rapidly for her to keep pace. She tried to them, shouting, "I entreat you! Give me a chance to fling my stone in his face!" Baha'u'llah saw her hastening after him. He halted the guard long enough to give the old lady her chance, saying: "Deny her not what she regards as a meritorious act in the sight of God."
"He bringeth out those who are bound with chains."
Section 3- The Black-Pit Prison
Baha'u'llah was thrown into a subterranean dungeon. There he was to spend four months. The dungeon was pitch-black. Baha'u'llah was led along a gloomy dark corridor, then down three flights of stairs to the underground pit. His body was bent over so that he could be chained to the floor. He was also chained to his companions and his feet were placed in stocks.
Baha'u'llah's fellow-prisoners numbered about one hundred and forty. Among them were thieves, highwaymen, and assassins. There was no outlet from the pit other than the one door they had entered. It was alive with rats, and a hotbed of disease. Chill damp and fever-ridden, it stank abominably from the constantly accumulating filth.
For three days and three nights no food or drink was given to Baha'u'llah. Two famous chains, each weighing nearly one hundred pounds, used only for punishing the most notorious criminals, were in turn fastened around his neck. That iron yoke lacerated his flesh. Sleep was impossible to him.
Shortly after Baha'u'llah entered the prison, it became evident that there was no basis for the suspicions against him. Still, he was kept chained in that loathsome place. Each day, the jailer would open the door sending a shaft of light to penetrate the gloom, and would call out the names of those who were to be executed that day in the public square. The misery and suffering which befell these innocent victims of the wrath of their sovereign can hardly be imagined.
It was in that pestilential prison that the Mission of Baha'u'llah began. Just as the dove had descended upon Christ in the river Jordan heralding the beginning of His Ministry, so did that same Holy Spirit touch Baha'u'llah in that odious pit, into which He had been cast by the King of Persia.
Baha'u'llah wrote of that occasion, saying:
" . . . this all-glorious word was heard from all sides: 'Verily We will aid Thee to triumph by Thyself and by Thy pen. Grieve nor for that which hath befallen Thee, and have no fear . . . Ere long shall the Lord send forth and reveal the treasures of the earth, men who shall give Thee the victory by thyself and Thy name wherewith the Lord hath revived the hearts of them that know.'"
Long afterward. Baha'u'llah in His Letter to Nasiri'd-Din Shah, spoke of the days which He had spent in that dark prison. He recalled the twenty long years during which He had borne in patience the further imprisonments and banishments. In spite of all this, Baha'u'llah still addressed the Shah with patience, forgiveness and loving-kindness, saying:
"O King, . . . Of a verity, God hath made thee His shadow amongst men, and the sign of His power unto all that dwell on earth. Judge thou between Us and them that have wronged Us without proof . . . They that surround thee love thee for their own sakes, whereas this Youth loveth thee for thine own sake, and hath no desire except to draw thee nigh unto the seat of grace, and to turn thee toward the right hand of justice. Thy Lord beareth witness unto that which I declare."
Baha'u'llah's words warned Nasiri'd-Din Shah that if he did not withdraw his hand from injustice, all his pomp would vanish. His wealth would be turned into poverty, and his glory into abasement. Baha'u'llah made it plain that the Word of God could not be restrained by the walls of prisons, and that He, Baha'u'llah, would come forth from prison to claim His kingdom which was in the hearts of men. There could only be sorrow and despair, Baha'u'llah said, for a king who would not be warned. He wrote:
"No doubt is there whatever that these tribulations (of Ours) will be followed by the outpourings of a supreme mercy and these dire adversities be succeeded by an overflowing prosperity. We fain would hope, however, that His Majesty the Shah will himself examine these matters, and bring hope to the hearts. That which we have submitted to thy Majesty is indeed for thine highest good. And God, verily, is a sufficient witness unto Me . . . "
The Shah's only interest, from the beginning, was that he should hear no more about Baha'u'llah. The mother of the Shah was far more inflamed with anger against Him. She branded Baha'u'llah as the "would be murderer of my son." She was determined to put Him to death. One of the strangest features of the story is that she and all her fellow- conspirators were unable to convince the Shah to give the order for Baha'u'llah's death. They broke their spears against a seemingly invisible armor of the spirit surrounding Him.
By His coming "out of prison" and by His "exile" Baha'u'llah would fulfill promises from the scriptures of all religions, just as He had fulfilled them by being cast into prison. Baha'u'llah would be freed and would proclaim His Mission to the kings of the world. His followers would publicize His fame in every corner of the planet, sharing His Letters to the kings with the heads of state in all parts of the world. In the light of these events, the words from the world's scriptures of the past become even more striking.
There is no description of these events in all of the Old Testament which is more fascinating than that in Job and Psalms. They described Baha'u'llah's imprisonment in the "pit," His "sufferings," His "deliverance," and the world-wide proclamation of His Faith. It is almost as plain as going to the Automobile Association and getting a road-map for a journey from Montreal to Vancouver.
Job, in one single chapter, describes the prisoner who will be cast into a "pit," who will have his feet placed "in stocks," who will undergo great suffering and "pain," who will be "innocent," who will be touched by the "breath of God" and "utter" a message of "knowledge" and "wisdom" for mankind, who will be "delivered from the dungeon," from the plots of his "enemy," whose new-found knowledge will come "in the night" in a "vision," and who will "speak" to man not "once" but "twice."
This incredible account is matched by a similar description of the prisoner in the Book of Psalms. He delivered from a "horrible pit," in his "mouth God will put "a new song," his coming will be mentioned "in the volume of the book," he will not "conceal" his message, but will proclaim it to "the great congregation" of the world. It was this same Job who said "I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." Job promised that this great One would "break in pieces mighty men" and "lead princes away spoiled." This same Job prophesied that the "lightings" of the Lord would come in the last days and say, "Here I am!"
On May 24, 1844, the day following the birth of the Baha'i Faith, Samuel F.B. Morse sent his telegraph message flashing from Washington to Baltimore: "What hath God wrought?" The press of that spoke of it as the "lightings of Job."
Explorers have found Mycenae, Troy and Cuzco with far fewer clues to go on than we have been given in our search for the Promised One, Baha'u'llah. The gold to be found in the Teachings of Baha'u'llah out-values them all.
"I do not know Him."
Section 4- Sounds in the Night
During His four months imprisonment in the darkness of that dungeon-prison, Baha'u'llah constantly cheered the hearts of His companions. He encouraged them to remain confident. He assured them that nothing could prevent the future triumph of God's faith.
Baha'u'llah, recalling those hours in the Black Pit, has written:
"We were all huddled together in one cell, our feet in stocks, and around our necks fastened the most galling of chains . . . No ray of light was allowed to penetrate that pestilential dungeon or to warm its icy coldness. We were placed in two rows, each facing the other. We had taught them to repeat certain verses which, every night, they chanted with extreme fervor."Baha'u'llah taught His fellow-prisoners to chant the praises of God. One row would chant:
"God is sufficient unto me: He, verily, is the All-Sufficient!"The second row would reply:
"In Him let the trusting trust!"The sound of their voices pealed out in the early hours of dawn. The echo of their singing was so loud that it resounded up from the depths of that dungeon and rang out across the square to the royal residence.
The sound awakened Nasiri'd-Din Shah. It alarmed him. He could not determine what the noise was, nor from where it came. The Shah sent a courtier and inquired: "What is the meaning of this sound in the night?" Nasiri'd-Din Shah was told that it was the chanting of Baha'u'llah and His companions in the Black Pit prison. "In spite of their sufferings," the Shah was informed, "these mad ones sing the praises of God." The king turned away in silence. He could not understand such enthusiasm in the face of the horrors and the threat of death with which he knew they were surrounded. The king felt uneasy.
It would have unsettled him entirely had the Shah been able to read the future. On the very site where he now listened to the God-intoxicated voices of Baha'u'llah's companions, a pen would soon set down the signature which would wipe away forever the dynasty of Nasiri'd-Din Shah and all the Qajar kings. Kings of Persia would live to see the shattering fulfillment of the prophecies pronounced against them by Baha'u'llah.
In spite of the plots to destroy Him, no evidence whatsoever could be found implicating Baha'u'llah in the crime of which He was accused. This forced His enemies to devise fresh schemes in order to assure Baha'u'llah's death. They sent for a young man named 'Abbas. He had been assisting them by pointing out the followers of the Bab on the streets of Teheran. They decided to use him as a tool against Baha'u'llah.
'Abbas had net Baha'u'llah many times in the past. The authorities promised 'Abbas a generous share of the money which they would be able to confiscate from Baha'u'llah's possessions, if only he, 'Abbas, would point to Baha'u'llah and say; "Yes he too is guilty." "We need only one such witness," they told him. The mother of the Shah was particularly insistent: "What a humiliation for me!" she deplored. "That the mother of the Shah should not be able to inflict on a prisoner the punishment which he deserves."
The old queen promised 'Abbas a rich reward if he would betray Baha'u'llah into her hands. She ordered the young man to go into the pit and look into Baha'u'llah's face. She told him that he would see in that face the would be murderer of her son. 'Abbas was led into the presence of Baha'u'llah, not once, but several times. Each time the young man met Baha'u'llah, he stood transfixed, gazing upon the Prisoner's face, but then said, "I do not know Him." And then he would turn away, and leave. Nor could any threat or promise of riches persuade him.
"Order a wholesale massacre of the people of this village."
Section 5- The Weight of Chains
Baha'u'llah's enemies failed in all their attempts to destroy Him. Yet the publicity which the charges had received among both the public and foreign embassies required some action. When they realized they would be unable to execute Him publicly, they resorted to cunning, deciding upon poison.
A few of those in authority, hoping to curry favor with the Shah's mother, and perhaps receive a generous and grateful gift of money, hatched a plot to kill Baha'u'llah secretly before He was released from prison. They intercepted the food which was being sent to Baha'u'llah. They mixed it with what they felt would be a fatal dose of poison. Even this attempt failed. Baha'u'llah became desperately ill and His agonies in that dungeon-prison were greatly increased. He suffered from severe ill-health for years because of this poisoning attempt, but to the frustration of His enemies He did not succumb to it.
Baha'u'llah's eight year old son, 'Abdu'l-Baha, visited His father while, Baha'u'llah was a prisoner in the Siyah-Chal (Black Pit). 'Abdu'l-Baha's account of that meeting tells how terribly altered Baha'u'llah appeared. Pain and suffering were written on His face. 'Abdu'l- Baha recalled that sad and moving scene: "His hair and beard [were] unkempt. His neck galled and swollen from the pressure of a heavy steel collar, His body bent by the weight of His chains." The sight made a never-to-be forgotten impression on the mind of a sensitive boy.
This was but the beginning of nearly half a century of such persecution and suffering. What seems incredible about the story to us today is that at no time did Baha'u'llah's persecutors lay any formal charges against Him. At no time was He given the opportunity of a formal trial. None of the sufferings inflicted on Him resulted from a conviction for any crime. A lifetime of banishment, abuse and imprisonment was inflicted on Him solely on the personal authority of two royal dictators.
The demand which Baha'u'llah's story makes on us goes far beyond one of mere human sympathy. The life of the Manifestation of God is as prophetic as His teachings are. In Jesus' sufferings were prefigured those of the peoples of the Mediterranean world who had rejected His message of peace and brotherhood. Were millions of men in the twentieth century to follow Baha'u'llah down the path of exile, humiliation, imprisonment and suffering to which the leaders of men had condemned Him?
The answer lay with the rulers who held the real power in the world of the nineteenth century: the kings and leaders of the great nations of Europe: France, Britain, Russia and Germany.
To these men the Prisoner addressed Himself.