"A wholesale massacre!"
Section 1- The Ruined House
In considering the encounter between the Messenger of God and the rulers of the leading Western nations we have skipped ahead of events in the Near East. Before going on to the story of the fifth kingdom, let us glance quickly back at these events which brought Baha'u'llah out of His native land, and prepared the way for His announcement to the kings.
Baha'u'llah was still imprisoned in Teheran's "Black Pit" when an event occurred which appeared certain to lead to His release. The would-be assassin of Nasiri'd-Din Shah had enlisted the help of a demented youth. During the course of the persecutions, these two persons were arrested, and the former finally confessed his guilt. He alone had been involved from the beginning and his only helper had been his pathetic companion.
As soon as the confession was obtained, a representative of the Prime Minister went immediately to take down the words of that confession. The Russian ministry seized the opportunity to send its translator along because of its interest in the Prisoner. The confession, therefore, received impressive authentication.
Baha'u'llah's enemies were enraged. The thought that Baha'u'llah might escape from the dungeon when He had been so close to the grave infuriated them.
Before Baha'u'llah was released, these conspirators besieged the Shah with the new plans which they had contrived. They assured the king that they would be able to involve Baha'u'llah in grave troubles. They were confident that these intrigues would ensure His death. The Shah, pressed by his mother and accustomed to doing as he wished with those he feared, agreed to their schemes.
He summoned the Prime Minister and told him to send several detachments of soldiers to Baha'u'llah's home district of Nur. These soldiers were told that they were being sent to suppress dangerous "disturbers of the peace." It was expected that this sudden assault would generate widespread confusion and perhaps incite opposition from the villagers. The plan was to blame Baha'u'llah for these fresh uprisings, and then brand Him as an agitator of political revolt. Baha'u'llah's summer home was in the village of Takur, in the district of Nur. Although the Prime Minister, as soon as he heard the instructions, knew very well that the plan was directed against Baha'u'llah, he did nothing to prevent it.
A detachment of soldiers was placed under the command of an officer named Mirza Abu-Talib. As soon as his troops reached the village of Takur, Mirza Abu-Talib told them to prepare for an all-out attack.
The surprised and defenseless people of the village, upon becoming aware of the soldiers' approach, sent representatives to appeal to the officer. They asked him to give them some reason for such an onslaught. Mirza Abu-Talib refused to see them. Instead, he sent a curt message: "I am charged by my sovereign to order a wholesale massacre of the men of this village, to capture the women and to confiscate all property."
The soldiers attacked the house of Baha'u'llah as their initial act. Baha'u'llah had inherited the beautiful summer residence from His father, a minister of the Crown, and the building was known to be furnished with objects of great value.
Mirza Abu-Talib ordered his men to break open everything and take away the contents. He instructed that what could not be carried away should be burned or demolished. The walls of the rooms were disfigured beyond repair. The beams were torn down, the decorations destroyed, and the house was left in ruins.
From this opening assault, the troops went on to demolish the homes of other people in the village, after which the entire town was set on fire.
This deliberate provocation, premonitory of similar schemes which twentieth century tyrants were to use on a large scale against peoples they wished to destroy, was expected to incite fierce opposition. It was assumed that Baha'u'llah and His supporters would attempt to arouse the district against the government. The uprising would then be crushed, and Baha'u'llah condemned for treason.
"Our purpose is to abolish war and bloodshed from the face of the earth."
Section 2- Out of the Pit
The new conspiracy failed. Baha'u'llah and His family showed no inclination to incite opposition to the crown. And now that His innocence was at last made public, the opportunity to discredit and kill Him had passed. His enemies realized to their chagrin that it was no longer possible or wise to hold Baha'u'llah a prisoner.
A minister of the Crown was sent to summon Baha'u'llah from "the Pit." He was ordered to appear before the authorities so that He might be informed of His freedom. The Minister, Haji 'Ali, had once been a friend of Baha'u'llah. When he saw that foul prison with its filth and vermin-infested floor where Baha'u'llah had been kept, he was very distressed.
"May Mirza Aqa Khan be accursed!" he shouted, denouncing the Prime Minister. But when he looked upon Baha'u'llah Whom he had loved and respected, he burst into tears. Baha'u'llah's hair was matted and dirty. His clothes were torn. His shoulders were festered from the chains which had weighed down His neck.
Haji 'Ali wept aloud. He turned to Baha'u'llah in great sorrow. "God is my witness," he told Baha'u'llah. "I never realized you were being subjected to such treatment."
Haji 'Ali could not bear to look upon the torn soiled garments in which Baha'u'llah was clothed. He took off his own fine cloak and started to place it over Baha'u'llah's shoulders, entreating Him to wear it. As a member of one of Persia's oldest noble families, it seemed wrong for Baha'u'llah to appear at court in the condition in which the Minister had found Him. Baha'u'llah refused, He preferred, He said, to appear before them in the same clothes in which He had been cast into the dungeon. He would wear the garb of a prisoner, a garb which other innocent people still wore.
Baha'u'llah knew that the sufferings He and His friends had sustained in the Siyah-Chal were but a prelude to far greater troubles yet to come. Once the Shah and the clergy realized that He was not merely a prominent "Babi," but the One whom the Bab had foretold, a veritable flood of tribulations would engulf Him from all sides.
Baha'u'llah recalled those pregnant months in the Siyah-Chal when later He sent His letter to Nasiri'din Shah from the prison of 'Akka. He wrote:
"O King! I was but a man like others, asleep upon My couch, when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing [God]. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven, and for this there befell Me what hath caused the tears of every man of understanding to flow. -Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, page 11
Baha'u'llah was conducted from the dungeon-prison to the seat of the imperial government. He was ushered into the presence of the Prime Minister Mirza Aqa Khan. The conscience of Mirza Aqa Khan must have been stricken at the sight of Baha'u'llah. Baha'u'llah's treatment had been so severe that none who knew Him would now have recognized Him.
The Prime Minister had failed to redeem his promise to the Bab. He had not protected and safeguarded His followers. Instead, he, the leading minister in the land, had himself conducted and masterminded a carnage which European historians would describe as "unparalleled." The Austrian military attaché has written, "My pen shrinks in horror in attempting to describe what befell those valiant men and women."
Mirza Aqa Khan had proved false to his vows to both the Bab and Baha'u'llah, but he was still not prepared to face his conscience. Instead, he spoke harshly to Baha'u'llah, to cover his own shame.
"If you had taken my advice," he told Baha'u'llah "and cut yourself off from the Faith of the Bab, you wouldn't have suffered this agony and indignity."
Baha'u'llah looked into his eyes and replied simply:
"Had you, in turn, followed My Counsels, the affairs of the government would not have reached so critical a stage."
Who will ever know the thoughts that coursed through the mind of Mirza Aqa Khan? Did he recall the earlier occasion when, stricken with illness, he had heard the doctors give up all hope of his recovery? Did he recall how his friend, Baha'u'llah, had visited and cared for him? Did he remember his statements that Baha'u'llah had restored him to health? Did he reflect upon those prophetic words which he himself had once spoken to his own son about Baha'u'llah? "My son, those who now honor us with their lips, would condemn and slander us if we failed for a moment to promote their interests. It is not that way with Baha'u'llah. Unlike other great men around us, he attracts a genuine love and devotion which neither time nor enemies can destroy."
Was the Prime Minister thinking of those hours of agonizing choice when Baha'u'llah had been a guest in his home, and he had delivered Him to the Black Pit in order to protect his position as Chief Minister of the land? Was he still hearing the sounds of the joyful chanting of those martyrs who had been slain in the most fiendish manner conceivable, in the public square of Teheran?
We shall never really know. We do know that the Prime Minister was deeply disturbed by Baha'u'llah when He came up out of that dungeon-prison. He was shaken at the sight of what he had done to One from Whom he had received only kindnesses, on so many occasions. He could not remain antagonistic in that face-to-face encounter.
Mirza Aqa Khan made yet another of his pitiful periodic efforts to atone for the past. "The warning you gave," he told Baha'u'llah, "has come true. What do you now advise me to do?" Baha'u'llah replied that the Prime Minister should order the provincial governors to end the persecution of the innocent, to cease plundering their property and dishonoring their women. The government should abandon its feeling that it had the right to persecute the Bab's followers simply because of their religious beliefs.
This time, Mirza Aqa Khan did not hesitate. On that same day he issued an order to the governors of the realm. He instructed them to cease all their actions against the followers of the Bab.
Nasiri'd-Din Shah was not reconciled to Baha'u'llah's release from prison. He could no longer tolerate his victim's presence in Persia. Accordingly, he issued an immediate edict for the banishment of Baha'u'llah.
Within ten days, on January 12, 1853, Baha'u'llah began the exile which was to take Him forever out of His homeland and lead Him at last to the side of Mount Carmel, the "vineyard of God," in Israel.
Stripped of all His possessions, Baha'u'llah was given inadequate provisions and clothing for the cold wintry journey over the snowbound mountains of western Persia into Iraq.
The king and clergy were satisfied. At least they were rid of a hated enemy. The wings of death hovered about Baha'u'llah's Faith. To every eye, both the Bab and Baha'u'llah had been defeated. The Redeemer of men, the Unifier of the world, Baha'u'llah appeared to be a colossal failure.
Nasiri'd-Din Shah was confident that he had wiped out the new Faith. In fact, the opposite proved true. By sending Baha'u'llah into exile, Nasiri'd-Din Shah made certain that the bright light of history would be shed upon every event associated with Baha'u'llah's exile. Future historians would study every word and action concerning that historic journey.
By banishing Baha'u'llah, "the Glory of God," to Iraq, once the ancient land of Babylon, the Shah drove his Prisoner by enforced exile to the historic site near where Ezekiel had seen his "vision" of the "glory of God" by the ancient river Chebar. By his edict, Nasiri'd-Din Shah assured that Baha'u'llah would be exiled to the very spot where Ezekiel had made his prophecy concerning the One Who would come to the Holy Land from "the East," by way of "the gate."
Baha'u'llah was on His way!