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The Bab and the Babi Religion
Published in the Egyptian journal al-Muqataf in 1896 in the wake of the assassination of Iran's Nasiru'd-Din Shah, for which many at the time wrongly blamed the Babis or Bahá'ís, who were both at that time often referred to simply as Babis. The editors introduced it thus:
There has recently been a great deal of talk about the Babi religion as a result of the death of the late Nasiru'd-Din Shah. We therefore suggested to the erudite scholar Sayyid Mirza Fadlu'llah al-Irani [Mirza Abu'l-Fadl] that he write for us a full-length article on their history and a summary of their teachings. For we found him to be a knowledgeable research scholar concerning the history of the East, intimately acquainted with the Babi religion. He favored us with the following piece:
It is no secret that the Babi religion was founded by two famous men from among the people of the East, and they are the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh. The Bab, named Mirza `Ali Muhammad, was a noble youth from Shiraz, the capital of Fars province, where he was born in Muharram 1235 [20 October 1819] into a merchant family renowned as descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his grandson, Imam Husayn. The Bab's father, Mirza Muhammad Rida, died before he was weaned, and he was raised in the house of his maternal uncle, Haji Mirza Sayyid `Ali, the merchant, in Shiraz.
From his childhood he was devoted to worship and constant in his prayers, and when he reached young manhood he grew famous for being pious and God-fearing. He was handsome of countenance, full of dignity, solemn in appearance, and of noble mien. He engaged in commerce with his above-mentioned uncle in the city of Bushire and in Shiraz. Before he made known his claims, he traveled to Iraq on visitation to the shrines of the Imams — as is the custom among Shi'is — staying in Iraq less than five months. There his name first attained renown among the people.
When he returned to Shiraz and reached the age of twenty-five, he put forth claims to be the Bab. This took place on 5 Jumadi I 1260 [23 May 1844]. The first to believe and have faith in him was the famed Mulla Husayn, entitled among the Babis "the Gate of the Bab," from Bushruyah in Khurasan. In the same way, several persons began to follow him, until their number reached eighteen souls, on whom he bestowed the epithet "the Letters of the Living." He commanded them to set out on journeys throughout Iran and Iraq to inform the learned of his advent and call on them to follow him, but to conceal his name until he should announce it himself in his own time.
[1. Among Shi'is, the Bab is the deputy of the Promised One or Mahdi.-EDS. OF al-Muqtataf.
[2. Because this phrase is numerically equivalent to eighteen in the abjad system. — EDS. OF al-Muqtataf.]
Various persons interpreted the name "the Bab" quite differently, each according to his own imagination, in an unfounded manner, as can be concluded from what some of the Egyptian newspapers have recently written. Some understood it to mean "the gate of knowledge," others to mean "the gate of heaven," and still others "the gate of reality." But it can be
deduced from his own books that he is the Promised One giving glad-tidings of the descent of the glorious Savior and the entry of the world into a new age. For this reason, his followers have become known as Babis and gained renown throughout Muslim lands by that name.
When the month of pilgrimage arrived he set out for Mecca. After performing the prescribed rites, he announced his claim at a great gathering — after which his name became famous, his claim spread, and his reputation rose. He returned to Iran and disembarked at the city of Bushire on the Persian Gulf. He was arrested by the governor of Fars, Husayn Khan (entitles Nizamu'd-Dawlih), remaining imprisoned in the city of Shiraz for a number of months until a severe plague struck. Most of the inhabitants fled and they neglected to keep him under guard, so he returned home.
He then traveled to Isfahan, staying at the home of the Imam-Jum'ih, Mir Sayyid Muhammad (entitled Sultan'l-`Ulama'). At that time the governor of Isfahan was Mu'tamadu'd-Dawlih Manuchihr Khan, who was attracted by the beauty of his utterances, was inclined toward him, and came to believe in him. At his request the Bab wrote the volume entitled The Special Prophethood (An-Nubuwwah al-khassah) on the virtues of our lord the Messenger of God [Muhammad] — may the blessing and peace of God be upon him and his House. He also penned his work called "Commentary on the Surah of Abundance" ("afsir surat al-kawthar") at the urging of Sultanu'l-`Ulama'.
[1. Friday Prayer leader.]
[2. Qur'an 108.]
The Bab spoke publicly and wrote his treatises extemporaneously, so that it came to be said he could write a thousand lines of Arabic or Persian in only four
hours, with the most excellent penmanship and beauty of style. Debates took place between him and the Muslim clergy, most of them recorded in historical works, in which he astonished them with the power of his genius, the swiftness of his pen, and the beauty of his utterance.
A major dispute attended with great agitation arose among the Muslim divines concerning him. Some believed in him, like Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarris al-Hirawi and Habibu'llah al-`Alawi, while others declared him mentally unbalanced, such as Mir Sayyid Muhammad and his followers. Most issued legal rulings declaring him an unbeliever and demanding his execution, including Muhammad Mihdi al-Kalbasi and his like. The governor removed him from the house of Sultanu'l-`Ulama' to hiding in his own home, giving it out that he had sent him to Tehran at the command of the late Muhammad Shah.
He remained hidden in the mansion of Manuchihr Khan until that governor passed away and his nephew, Mirza Gurgin Khan, assumed control of Isfahan. He did dispatch the Bab to Tehran at the order of Muhammad Shah. When he approached within about a day's journey from Tehran, they sent him away instead to Azerbaijan, where he remained imprisoned in Chihriq and Maku, the two fortresses in that province. Then Muhammad Shah died, and His Majesty Nasiru'd-Din Shah acceded to the throne in Iran.
Meanwhile, the rancor between the followers of the Bab, on the one hand, and the clergy of Iran and the rulers of the country, on the other, intensified. They arose as one against the Babis, agreeing on the need to exterminate them. War broke out between them in Mazandaran, Zanjan and Nayriz.
A brief account of these events is as follows. The
above-mentioned Mulla Husayn was journeying with his companions from Khurasan, heading for Karbaba in Iraq, when Haji Mirza Muhammad `Ali al-Mazandarani (known among the Babis as Quddus) and Mulla Muhammad Sadiq al-Khurasani (whom the Shi'is called al-Muqaddas), both great religious scholars, caught up with them. They raised the black banners and set off. When they reached Sari — the capital of Mazandaran — the city's leading cleric, Mulla Sa'id, decreed that it was necessary to make war against the Babis and to root them out.
The 313 Babis took refuge at the tomb of Shaykh Tabarsi, one of the famous Muslim scholars, fortifying it and preparing to defend themselves. The two sides engaged in skirmishes from which the Babis emerged victorious. Then the government ordered the military commander `Abbas Quli Khan al-Arijani to battle against the Babis, and he joined the governor of Mazandaran, Mihdi Quli Mirza, in surrounding them with artillery and disciplined troops. The Babis responded by taking the offensive and killing a huge number of them. But the troops and cannon continually fired on them, the siege became a prolonged one, and in the course of it their leader, Mulla Husayn, was killed.
Hunger began to devour them, when finally the governor and his general promised them safe passage. Yet as soon as they emerged from their encampment and surrendered their weapons, they were surrounded by infantrymen who poured hot lead into them and dispatched them all save their leader, Quddus, and some of his companions. These survivors were sent to Sari, where the chief cleric Mulla Sa'id had them killed, with the cooperation of the Shi'i theological students. He burned their bodies.
Likewise, in the city of Zanjan hostility waxed fierce between the Babis and the Shi'i clergy, with the Babis being led by Haji Mulla Muhammad `Ali Zanjani, himself a famed religious scholar. The local governor, Amir Arslan Khan Majdu'd-Dawlih, was a maternal uncle of the late Nasiru'd-Din Shah. He instigated the clergy to wipe out the Babis, so that fighting broke out among them. The governor, faced with severe difficulties, sent to Tehran for reinforcements, receiving troops and artillery. Then the Babi leader fell, but his immediate followers fought to the last man. The rest were captured and sent to Tehran, where they were later executed.
In Nayriz, a city in Fars province, fighting started up between the two groups. The Babis there were headed by the renowned religious scholar Sayyid Yahya Darabi, the son of Sayyid Ja'far al-Kashfi, the author of such works as The Brilliance of Lightning )Sana barq), and A Gift for Kings (Tuhfat al-muluk), and so forth. The incident ended when Sayyid Yahya and his companions were killed after they had been falsely promised safe passage.
When Muhammad Shah died in 1848 A.D. and Nasiru'd-Din Shah acceded to the throne on 10 September of that year, Iran was a land of anxiety and strife because of the country's mismanagement at the hands of the Turks from Ervan who had monopolized official posts in the department of the first minister, Haji Mirza Aqasi. The governor of Khurasan, Muhammad Hasan Khan Salar, announced his secession from the Iranian state, claiming to be an independent monarch and making peace with the rulers of Bukhara, of the Afghans, and of the Turkomans.
All these vexations increased with the appearance of the Babis and the bloody battles that occurred because of them. Then Mirza Taqi Khan, the new first
minister, determined to execute the Bab — thinking that he could root out the Babis by dispatching their leader. He issued an edict ordering his death to Hishmatu'd-Dawlih Hamzah Mirza, the governor of Tabriz and the paternal uncle of Nasiru'd-Din Shah. The governor, however, refused to obey, saying: "I am disillusioned and disappointed. I had hoped that the Iranian government would command me to make war against one of the great Powers. I never thought it would order me to kill one of the pious children of the Prophet, who never misses saying his supererogatory prayers and lacks no noble moral human characteristic." The first minister therefore ordered his own brother, Mirza Hasan Khan, the commander of the troops in Azerbaijan, to kill the Bab. He was hung in a public square of Tabriz and executed by firing squad on 28 Sha'ban 1266 [7 July 1850].
[1. Muhammad Nabil-i A'zam Zarandi, The Dawn-Breakers [Matali'-i anvar], trans. and ed. by Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1936) ch. 23; Momen, The Babi and Bahá'í Religions, pp 77-82.]
Things were made even worse when a youth named Muhammad Sadiq Tabrizi fired at His Majesty Nasiru'd-Din Shah in 1268 A.H. [1852 A.D.] when His Majesty emerged from his palace to go hunting in the village of Niyavaran, about two hours journey from
Tehran. In Tehran and elsewhere the Babis were severely persecuted and were arrested as a group, whether innocent, obedient, or rebellious. They killed many of them in the most painful and horrible manner.
Among those slain in this incident was the famed Mirror Qurratu'l-`Ayn [Tahirih], the daughter of Haji Mulla Salih, the leading cleric in Qazvin. she was the wonder of her age in her knowledge, eloquence, beauty of expression, and her mellifluous tongue. She had adhered to the Shaykhi school, devoting herself to studying works of theology. When the Bab made himself manifest and his treatises gained a wide audience, she embraced his teachings, becoming one of his greatest supporters. She was at that time in Karbala, conducting debates with the clergy there and silencing them with the power of her eloquence and the wealth of her knowledge.
The religious scholars of Iraq grew greatly agitated, and she was forced to go to Baghdad, where she stayed with some of her companions and servants at the home of the renowned Ibnu'l-Alusi, the chief juris-consult [mufti] of Baghdad. He was the author of the Qur'an commentary The Spirit of the Meanings (Ruh al-ma'ani), published at the Bulaq press in Egypt. She stayed at his house for about two months, debating the Muslim clergy in Baghdad. They raised her case to Istanbul, and she was forced to return to Iran at the order of the Ottoman sultan `Abdu'l-Majid.
When she reached Iran, she continued to debate the clergy in Kirmanshah and Hamadan. She arrived in Qazvin and lived in the house of her father until her uncle was murdered in that city. She then went to Tehran where she stayed at the home of the famous Legislator, Bahá'u'lláh. After a while she was captured, remaining imprisoned in Tehran until the incident of 1852 mentioned above, when she was strangled to
death and her body was thrown down a well at the garden known as Bagh-i Ilkhani.
Ibnu'l-Alusi wrote, "The Qurratis are followers of a woman named Hind, known as Umm Salmah. She was given the epithet Qurratu'l-`Ayn [Solace of the Eyes] by Sayyid Kazim Rashti in his correspondence with her, and after Rashti's death she joined those emulating the Bab. But she opposed him in several matters, including religious laws abolished. But I never noticed any such tendency during all the two months she stayed at my home. What numerous discussions we two had, during which she threw off all dissimulation and hostility! I witnessed such erudition and perfection in her as I never saw in most men. She was intelligent, humble, extremely chaste, and upright. I have written an account of what passed between us during our discussions elsewhere, and if you read that it will be clear to you that her great learning is not in doubt."
The Bab left behind numerous treatises and books written in Persian and Arabic, two of which were mentioned above. They included the Treatise on Justice concerning Islamic Duties, the Commentary on the Surah of the Cow, The Best of Stories, the Book of the Names of All Things, and the Persian Bayan. His enemies accused him of departing from the canons of eloquence and breaking the rules of grammar. It was said that when he was thus criticized he replied that the words had been enchained and when he appeared he freed them from their imprisonment.
[1. Ar-Risalah al-`adliyyahfi al-fara'id al-Islamiyyah; Tafsir Surat al-Baqarah' Ahsan al-Qisas; Kitab asma' kull shay' al-Bayan al-farsi.]
But I noticed in the Bayan that he responded to
that objection by first saying that he had never studied grammar and conjugation, and had not studied in school. He said he never claimed to be a scholar. Rather, he was an unlettered Persian youth given a command by his Lord and inspired by His knowledge. Second, he said that those who rejected the Qur'an criticized the Messenger of God in exactly the same way, and he gave examples of Qur'an verses to which objections had been made as breaking the rules of grammar and linguistic principles. The truth is that the books of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, and the treatises of the latter's son `Abbas [`Abdu'l-Bahá], are not such as can be criticized in this manner.
The Bab made precise calculations, but this is not the time to discuss them in detail. For instance, he expressed the number 19 by the word wahid [one] in accordance with the numerical value of the letters in Arabic. And he expressed the product of its multiplication by itself [19 x 19 = 361] by the phrase kullu shay' [everything]. On the number 19 he constructed a calendar, ordered the ranking of his companions, divided the chapters of his books, and arranged the laws and manners attending on his path. He ordained very severe and difficult commands, and since they proved impossible to implement, Bahá'u'lláh revised and improved them, as we shall explain.
Bahá'u'lláh, whose name was Mirza Husayn `Ai, was born on 2 Muharram 1233 [12 November 1817], and his father was Mirza `Abbas, known as Mirza Buzurg Nuri, a prominent minister of the government of Fath-`Ali Shah. The Nuri family is well-known in Iran.
When the Bab arose and his renown spread far and wide, Bahá'u'lláh believed in him, lending great strength to the Babis. Their word was exalted, their
communities increased in number, and their teachings spread in Tehran and Mazandaran. Bahá'u'lláh carried on a clandestine correspondence with the Bab. Their intermediator was Mirza `Abdu'l-Karim Qazvini, the amanuensis who wrote out the Bab's Tablets. When the events of 1852 occurred, as we said above, Bahá'u'lláh was arrested and imprisoned for about four months. He was arraigned before a council of ministers and was defended by the Russian ambassador. When his innocence of the accusation that he conspired with the would-be assassins of the shah was established, that sovereign ordered his release and his banishment to Iraq. He therefore left Tehran, escorted by Iranian soldiers and some horsemen from the Russian embassy sent to safeguard him against being murdered on the way. He arrived in Baghdad in 1269 A.H. [1853 A.D.].
In Baghdad as well, he proved a mainstay for the power of the Babis, whose condition was improved by his arrival. He was extremely dignified, majestic, and mild tempered. He began improving the deteriorating morals of the Babis, reforming their untoward works and uniting them. Their call attained great renown, their fame spread far and wide, and Bahá'u'lláh's writings acquired a large audience. He lived in Iraq about twelve years, until rancor and hatred burst forth in the breasts of some of the Iranians dwelling there and the flame of enmity and strife was ignited between the two groups. This lead to Bahá'u'lláh's exile to Istanbul at the command of the Ottoman sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz. After staying there about four months, he was commanded to proceed to Edirne in Rumelia, where he settled for about five years. He exerted himself in promulgating the teachings of the Babis until a new outbreak of opposition and complaints led to his
further banishment to `Akka in Ottoman Syria. In 1285 A.H. [1868 A.D.] he set out for that city with his family and servants.
His determination to advance his followers and raise their morals never faltered, in spite of the persecution he suffered, he enjoined on them just laws and honored their ears with beautiful homilies. He adorned his works, which numbered more than a thousand, with the best moral counsels and advice, embellishing them with the most comely parables and examples. He made it incumbent on them to educate their children, both male and female, both intellectually and ethically, and to concern themselves with spreading knowledge and extending its range. It is even said he commanded that teachers inherit along with relatives.
Further, he ordained that they should busy themselves in industry or commerce and forbade sloth and inactivity. He commanded them to love other human beings of whatever sect or religion — teaching them that religions were revealed for the sake of love and concord, and that they should not make them a source of contention and disunion. He encouraged them to obey their rulers and to comply with the laws of the state, forbidding them to interfere in politics. He explicitly proclaimed in his books that the authority of rulers is divinely bestowed. He therefore prohibited them from speaking badly of kings and rulers.
He made a distinction between social behavior and ritual worship, referring matters of worship to the revealed Book and matters of social behavior to councils of justice. He strictly proscribed the esoteric interpretation of scripture. In addition, he forbade them to curse, swear, use foul language, backbite, slander, murder, commit adultery, or to do anything that would be at variance with true humanity, or would introduce
anxiety or turmoil into the body politic. He even enjoined them against bearing firearms, except with the approval of the state, and outlawed the practices of temporary marriage and the taking of concubines, commanding them to content themselves with one wife — and certainly never more than two. He made divorce more difficult. They fast, pray, perform pilgrimage, and contribute to religious charity according to the laws ordained for them in religious books. Bahá'u'lláh succeeded in spreading his teachings and improving the morals of his people, passing away on 29 May 1892, corresponding to 2 Dhu'l-Qa'dah 1309.
[1. `Abdu'l-Bahá has interpreted the text of the Kitab-i Aqdas [Most Holy Book] to mean that only one wife is actually permitted, though Babi law allowed two. In Islam, up to four wives and unlimited concubines were allowed by the Qur'an under certain circumstances.]
The first to record the history of the Babis was Mirza Taqi Mustawfi Kashani [1801-1880], known as Lisanu'l-Mulk, the author of the book Supplanter of Past Chronicles (Nasikhu't-tawarikh). In his chronicle of the Qajar dynasty, he mentioned the advent of the Bab and the events that succeeded it according to the account that had gained prominence among the enemies of the Babis. He ascribed to them moral corruption and atheism and said things about them that create an aversion toward them in hearts and disgust the souls of men. For during the period when the Babis were being persecuted, their opponents endeavored mightily to spread slanders against them, accusing them of licentiousness and immorality. There was no sin but that he ascribed it to them, no vice but that he characterized them by it.
Rumors were rife and minds grew perplexed, and
the Babis remained obscure to the Europeans. Therefore, a group of learned and judicious scholars arose to discover the doctrines of the Babis and to investigate their customs. Among them is the erudite Mr. Edward Browne, a teacher of Oriental languages at Cambridge University. He journeyed to Iran in 1305 A.H. [1888 A.D.], where he associated with the Babis and acquired some of their books. He then traveled to Syria and entered `Akka, meeting with Bahá'u'lláh. He returned to Europe and published accounts of what he had witnessed in learned journals.
Likewise, Professor Baron von Rosen, an educator in St. Petersburg, translated some of Bahá'u'lláh's writings and published them in Russia and elsewhere in Europe. Also among them is Captain Alexander Tumansky, an officer who travelled to the city of Ashkhabad and thence to Iran, meeting with the Babis and gaining an intimate knowledge of their ways and morals, who has begun a work on their history.
Some Easterners have undertaken to compose histories of the Babis, including Mirza Muhammad Husayn Hamadani, who wrote The New History. He accompanied His Majesty Nasiru'd-Din Shah on his first trip to Europe, and on his return he stayed in Istanbul and discovered something of the Babi path. When he arrived in Iran he wrote his above-mentioned history, which was subsequently translated into French and English in Europe. Also among them is the itinerant historian Abu'l-Fadl Muhammad ibn Muhammad Rida Gulpaygani, a resident of Bukhara and the author of the book The Decisive Decree (Fasl al-khitab).
As for Lisanu'l-Mulk, mentioned before, who wrote the Supplanter of Past Chronicles, he moderated his tone a bit in that book when he again discussed Babi history. What he wrote about the Babis in the
original text of the chronicle is closer to reality than his account in the volume dedicated to Qajar history. Time will no doubt tear the veil from the wondrous events associated with the Babis, which have been concealed out of political motives. This should suffice anyone desiring to investigate the matter. God is the preserver of guidance and the granter of confirmations.
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A Letter to Tripoli
Some scholars of Syrian Tripoli wrote to the erudite Shaykh Muhammad Badru'd-Din al-Ghazzi — may God preserve him — and asked him to seek from me an explanation of certain phrases appearing in one of my articles on the history of the Babi religion that was published in the popular journal al-Muqtataf.
[1. These scholars included the famous Rashid Rada (1865-1935), who later settled in Cairo and studied with the liberal modernist Muhammad `Abduh, rector of al-Azhar University and grand mufti of Egypt. Although `Abduh advocated liberal reforms and was a good friend of `Abdu'l-Bahá, his student Rida became a leading proponent of fundamentalist reform of Islam and a major enemy of the Bahá'í Faith. Indeed, in the 1920s Rida opposed a provision in the new Egyptian constitution granting freedom of religion on the grounds that it would benefit the Bahá'ís. See Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 (London: Oxford University Press, 1970) ch.9; Malcolm H. Kerr, Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muhammad `Abduh and Rashid Rida (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966); and Rashid Rida, Tarikh al-ustadh al-imam ashaykh Muhammad `Abduh, 3 vols. (Cairo: al-Manar Press, 1931) vol. 1, pp. 930-39. For a translation and discussion of the latter source see Juan Ricardo Cole, "Muhammad `Abduh and Rashid Rida: A Dialogue on the Bahá'í Faith," World Order 15 (1981) pp. 7-16; see also Juan R. Cole, "Rashid Rida on the Bahá'í Faith: A Utilitarian Theory of the Spread of Religion," Arab Studies Quarterly, 5 (1983) pp. 276-91.]
The letter said, "We implore you to kiss for us the
hands of my teacher and yours, the learned man of the age, the revered Shaykh Fadu'llah Effendi [Mirza Abu'l-Fadl]. Please ask him on our behalf for clarification of a passage from the piece he published in an issue of al-Muqtataf in reference to his statements about Bahá'u'lláh. The latter asserts a distinction between ritual worship and the rules for social behavior, and makes the Book the authority for such religious matters while referring judgments about social behavior to councils of justice. Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh forbade concubinage and commanded men to content themselves with one wife, and to take no more than two under any circumstances. Is there any basis for all this in Islamic revealed Law?"
We reply that, first of all, a historian cannot really be asked about the soundness or invalidity of the tenets of religions. He is solely responsible for accurately reporting them and for describing their history and scriptures in an unbiased and impartial fashion. There have been frequent references to the Babi religion in the wake of the assassination of His Majesty Nasiru'd-Din Shah. However, the wire services inform us that the assassin was not a Babi, but was rather a member of a political faction seeking reform and liberty. Moreover, reporters have given conflicting accounts of the beliefs of this religious community and how it came into being.
Europeans, Arabs, Indians, and Iranians have written stories based on pure conjecture such that, were any scholar to scrutinize them, he would find them full or contradictions and would be startled at the amount of sheer fabrication they contain. He would witness with the eye of certainty that they have only dabbled in the field of history and toyed with the art of recording events, thinking that sound investigation
would overlook their errors and the eye of criticism would wink at their mistakes.
Then Dr. Ya'qub Sarruf, the respected editor of al-Muqtataf, asked me to write an article on the real history of the Babis and their beliefs and customs based on what I had myself seen during my travels in vast regions and my association with various communities. So I penned that concise account, which was published, pursuing therein the path of fairness and avoiding bias and arbitrariness. It turned out — praise be to God! — to be a brief but sufficient description, empty both of praise and commendation, on the one hand, and of reproach and libel, on the other. This is the historical point of view on the reality of the history of the Bahá'í community.
It is on the theological point of view that the answer to the questions raised by the respected inquirer depends. This requires a meticulous discussion of whether Bahá'u'lláh arose to reform the religion [Islam] and to purify it from heresies and views reached by individuals on the basis of their own reason, or whether he laid down claim to a divine mission and founded a new religion with its own God-given laws. Although the matter is quite clear, views on the aims of the Bahá'ís vary greatly just as do statements about their history and doctrines. Let us treat both possibilities fully, supplicating God to confirm and guide us.
Let us say that Bahá'u'lláh's mission is one of reform and purification. Certainly, the current situation is such that any sound intellect will judge reform necessary. The insightful recognize that religions grow corrupt and undergo heresies and schisms only when their adherents become remote in time from the age when their prophets appear. They come to content themselves with their clergy's opinion about religious
laws and doctrines. The closer the believers are in time to the Center of revelation, the more distant they are from passions that could lead them astray. The further removed they are from him, the more likely they are to give themselves over to passions and to follow mere opinions. The Prophet Muhammad — may the peace and blessings of God be upon him — referred to this truth when he said, "The best of centuries is my own, then the one that follows it, and then the one that follows that."
This was also the situation among bygone peoples and ancient religions, and our Prophet has warned us about them in saying, "Follow the footsteps of your forebears inch by inch and step by step." In the first and second Islamic centuries [622-815 A.D.] the seeds of dispute were sown and the thorns of dissension were planted in that lush garden, both in essentials and in secondary matters. These grew and blossomed in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries A.H. [816-1106 A.D.]. Every time a century passed, the twigs of contention and disunion multiplied and branched out and the storms of partisanship and separation howled more fiercely. Finally, the Muslims lost their sense of religious brotherhood altogether, and the bonds of community binding them were broken completely. The Muslims treated each other in the harshest manner, killing more of one another in wars and battles than can be reckoned in a brief essay. In the end, the Qur'an verse applied to them: "Say: `He is able to send forth upon you chastisement, from above your or from under your feet, or to confuse you in sects and to make you taste the violence of one another.' Behold how We turn about the signs; haply they will understand."
[1. Qur'an 6:65.]
These sects and rites grew up because of disagreements
among the religious scholars on essential and secondary matters. Any close scrutiny of the issues would reveal that most of them are trivial and barren, rather than being glorious causes. This is particularly true of matters of essential doctrine, such as their argument over who was the most deserving of the Prophet's companions to succeed him as caliph. This clash split the community into two major branches, called the Shi'i and the Sunni. The religious scholars expanded the range of dispute on this issue, starting the battle. They debated and criticized endlessly, filling volumes with refutations and rebuttals, until the argument finally reached the point where they declared each other as to be unbelievers, morally corrupt, and fought wars so terrifying as to turn a young boy's hair white.
Any rational person who abandons blind prejudice will see that the differences among the religious scholars over the right of the Commander of the Faithful, `Ali ibn Abu Talib, or of Abu Bakr the truthful, to succeed Muhammad as caliph after his death can yield no conceivable benefit whatsoever. Some usefulness could be imagined for such a debate while they were alive and the successions to the throne of the caliphate had to be decided. Then the process of consultation could be put into practice, so that the faith could be preserved and the rights of the community safeguarded. But after their passing such a dispute can yield only harmful dissension and destructive disagreement.
The same is true of all the other matters of contention, such as their difference over whether certain foods are forbidden or not; or whether God creates everyone's actions or human beings create their own actions; or whether the Qur'an is created or preexistent; and so forth. These debates are useless and fruitless, serving only to waste time and to divide the
religious community. When we look at the biography of our lord the prophet Muhammad, his companions, and the second generation of Muslims — may God be pleased with them — we find not one word of all this ascribed to any of them or any indication that they discussed such matters in their gatherings.
What I saw in one town in Iran astonished me. Some of its scholars were wrangling over whether the urine of the Imam (they meant one of the Twelve Imams) was ritually pure, or, like other urine, unclean. I have no idea where they found the urine of their Imam, such that it posed a problem for them. Then they disagreed over whether Salman was better or `Abbas, the son of `Ali ibn Abu Talib; and over whether an Imam can see through curtains and walls or simply knows what is behind them; and over many other such questions. It was enough to make a rational person weep and to provoke even the bereaved to gales of laughter.
Differences over subsidiary issues, in law rather than in doctrine, are worthy of being discussed and explored at greater length, for religious law is the knowledge of acts of worship and social behavior that the community needs. Thee is no doubt that there are texts dealing with some of these matters in the Book or in the sayings of the Prophet, but others are not dealt with in these sources.
The learned inquirer is no doubt aware that among the Europeans law consists of just legislation enacted by prominent members of the community. This involves social give-and-take and public administration, owing to the silence of the New Testament, for the most part, on matters of law and politics. They are able to rewrite laws according to changing conditions and to legislate new laws to meet the needs of the time in order to protect individual rights.
But among Islamic nations the sources of law are limited to four: the Qur'an, the sayings and deeds of the Prophet, consensus, and legal analogy (or individual opinion, or rational evidence, different technical terms being employed among Sunnis and Shi'is for the last). The holy Book is rationally evidential; it is a divine, firm cord and a universal and clear proof. But there is no denying that some of its verses are obvious while others are figurative, and that some verses abrogate others, that some have a general meaning and some a specific one, and that some are concise summaries while others explain themselves at length.
The same difficulties of interpretation present themselves in the case of the reported sayings of the Prophet, but in addition the collections of these sayings include many that contradict one another. In latter times these discrepancies have led to differences of opinion and the proliferation of sects. They can even result in error, if one does not hold unwaveringly to the firm handle and the Center of the circle of guidance, avoiding any missteps from the path of piety. As God said, "Thereby He leads many astray, and thereby He guides many; and thereby He leads none astray save the ungodly."
[1. Qur'an 2:26.]
Since we know that on some issues there is no pertinent text in the Book or in the Prophet's reported sayings, and that opinions differ when evidence for various positions is considered, we can easily deduce the reasons religious scholars depend on consensus and rational proofs. I shall not refrain from a quick observation that the early religious scholars' understanding of consensus and rational arguments, and considerations of public benefit as legal proofs in settling cases, differed from the interpretation put forth
by later jurists. But I must defer any discussion of this issue until another time, God willing.
It was revealed in the Bo9ok that it contained everything necessary for the salvation of the community and encompassed all sources of prosperity for the nation, for God said, "And We have sent down on thee the Book making clear everything,: and "We have neglected nothing in the Book," and in the Surah of Joseph: "It is not a tale forged, but a confirmation of what is before it, and a distinguishing of everything." The Prophet also enjoined consultation with those possessing the power to loose and bind, and with prominent persons in the community. Necessarily, such consultation will pertain to matters not covered by scriptural text, with a view to changing the former rulings to meet the needs of new circumstances.
[1. Qur'an 16:89; 6:38; 12:111.]
Here it is possible to distinguish between, on the one hand, essential principles wherein no change is conceivable save through changing the religion and, on the other, accidental subsidiary matters that can be altered without transforming the religion or affecting its basic structure. How often has it happened that the leader of the community has seen the need to change the law concerning a subsidiary matter. For instance, during his caliphate, `Umar — may God be pleased with him — forbade Muslim men to contract temporary marriages with women. He made a speech in which he said, "Two things existed in the time of the Prophet that I have forbidden and the commission of which I will punish..." Another example is `Ali's prohibition on the sale of captured princesses when he was brought Hurmuzan and Shahrbanuyih from Iran after it fell to the Muslims.
These leaders made such rulings only because no relevant revealed text dealt with these two issues and because the holy Legislator [Muhammad] delegated the settling of such issues to the process of consultation and the opinion of the leader. This also shows us why consensus is considered a proof in legal cases, but not in issues of essential doctrine. For essential principles depend on rational proofs of a decisive nature, unlike subsidiary matters of law, which are related to verbal evidence. It also tells us why some jurisprudents have permitted changes in fixed ordinances, and why some founders of the legal rites have adopted the personal opinion of the judge as a source of law.
Avecenna said in the last section on metaphysics in his book ash-Shifa': "The custom in ritual worship must be moderate, not severe or lax. Many cases, particularly pertaining to social behavior, must be delegated to individual reasoning. For the times make judgments that cannot be restrained." There is a wide field here for extensive discourse that would resolve all ambiguity, but the circumstances dictate brevity.
[1. Avicenna [980-1037], Muslim physician and philosopher born near Bukhara. His Kitab ash-Shifa' (literally the "Book of Healing") is in reality a work of philosophy.]
God has fashioned in the world natural faculties and created things upon which invisible laws act and which submit to ordained decrees that cannot be resisted by any power and cannot be hindered by any force. These laws are like a torrential deluge that cannot be obstructed by rigid doctrines or turned back by mountains of knowledge. Let persons of insight contemplate how events occur in the matrix of natural laws, and how certain phases are superseded with the coming of new cycles. The will then perceive that an
unseen power exists in the world that influences and controls the legislation of religious and social laws, shaping them according to the needs of current conditions in order to preserve the fabric of society.
The knowledge of these naturally inevitable events, and the distinction between them and human actions, has been hidden from most observers. Many theologians have fallen into the abyss of false beliefs such as the doctrine of predestination, denying the ability of human beings to act freely and rejecting their capacity to benefit themselves in the future by their own energy. Inflated by their pride, they have propped themselves up with the idea of fate. It would seem that they have denied freedom to human beings in areas where it has actually been bestowed on them, and have permitted it to them where it has actually been withheld and is beyond their power and ability.
Let us coin a parable, even though some of the haughty, claiming to be more civilized, have dismissed parables as a deceptive sort of proof, owing to their ignorance of the meaning of "proof" and of the distinction between it and supporting evidence and approximations. But what relationship do we have with them? We walk in the footsteps of the prophets, not in the paths of the arrogant.
To proceed: There are in the body natural needs that God has ordained to take precedence over the rational faculties. Do human beings not witness that their hunger overwhelms their reason" For though they know that the rational faculties are majestic and exalted above mere nature, reason can function in an orderly fashion only if the natural faculties are also steadily working. The same principle applies to the larger cosmos. It has natural necessities that bring about changes in ordained laws when appropriate to
new circumstances. Likewise, the requirements for educating a person differ when he is an infant from those needed when he has reached maturity. In this manner, the wider world is protected from disintegration, thus demonstrating the wisdom of the Wise Creator, the All-High.
Know, my astute and learned friend, that God has preserved the privilege of ordaining religious laws for Himself, and He Himself causes the Word of faith to have an effect by His command. Without the permission of God no mere mortal, whether he be a powerful ruler, a scholar or philosopher, or a person of distinction and wealth, can arise to legislate a religion or claim to possess divine revelation such that the nations embrace it and it remains firm and lasting in the world.
Yes, we do not deny that some of the prideful, as can be seen in works of history, claimed that the legislation of religious laws proceeds from human reason rather than depending on divine revelation and bestowal. Their base nature tempted them, and they reckoned it an easy matter to renew religion, arising to ordain religious commandments from their own selves and fabricating sayings out of their diabolical imaginations. But the power of God refused to allow the false to conquer, lies to succeed, or the ephemeral to endure. God wiped them off the face of the earth and made them an object lesson to their successors. By the Life of God, the truth has no meaning save that which endures, and falsehood is naught but transience.
So that God might make it clear to His sincere servants that the legislation of religious laws and the endurance of the religions depends solely on His desire and permission, He purified the Manifestation of His Cause and the recipients of His revelation from worldly
privilege, ensuring that they lacked all those things mortals desire. He sent forth as prophets the unlettered, singling them out for poverty and indigence, making them the target of opposition from powerful tyrants and of persecution at the hands of the authorities. Thus might the perspicacious, and even philosophers wedded to natural casualty, know that the establishment of religious laws doe not depend on knowledge, wealth, power or kinship allegiance, but on the leave of God and His will.
Remember God's saying: "Or do they have associates who have laid down for them as religion that for which God gave not leave?" This proof is known among steadfast scholars as the proof from constancy. It is the strongest argument in distinguishing between truth and falsehood, between a genuine claimant and an imposter. The holy scriptures have attested to it, and all the divine books have agreed in putting it forth as a proof. Verses were revealed in the holy Qur'an demonstrating the conclusiveness of this proof, some in the form of clear statements and others in the form of parables. But it would unduly extend the length of this essay to quote them all.
[1. Qur'an 42:21.]
I shall therefore recite for you a selection of them, that you might gain insight into your religion and take the shortest path to the presence of your Lord. God said, "Hast thou not seen how God has struck a similitude? A good word is as a good tree — its roots are firm and its branches are in heaven; it gives its produce every season by the leave of its Lord. So God strikes similitudes for men, haply they will remember. And the likeness of a corrupt word is as a corrupt tree — uprooted from the earth, having no stablishment." He
said as well: "And those who argue concerning God after that answer has been made to Him, their argument is null and void in the sight of their Lord; anger shall rest upon them, and there awaits them a terrible chastisement." Further verses in this vein are: "And Our host — they are the victors" and "Surely falsehood is ever to vanish."
[1. Qur'an 14:24-26; 42:16, 37:173; 17:81.]
One of the most amazing things I have seen in the works produced during the Middle Ages, which in itself proves how low the standards of scholarship had fallen at that time among the Muslims, was the North African Ibn Khaldun's spirited defense of the corrupt men and women who attacked the pure family of his Prophet. He supposed that there was no longer any hope for the arising of the Promised One [Mahdi] from the House of the Prophet because the kinship solidarity of the Hashimite clan had dissipated and the ethnic bonds linking them had been broken. Therefore, he argued, it was impossible for a messianic figure to arise from among them or to raise a call, since he imagined that the advent of the promised Mahdi would be like the rise to power of caliphs and kings — a worldly affair. The Promised One would then need troops and kinship solidarity. He did not know that his advent would be a religious one and his Cause heavenly, that he would be flanked by the power of
holiness and confirmed by divine might, just as was described in the Qur'an verses.
[1. `Abdu'r-Rahman Ibn Khaldun, fifteenth century founder of the discipline of sociology and author of Prolegomenin: An Introduction to History, trans. F. Rosenthal, 3 vols. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967). An upper class Sunni, Ibn Khaldun argued against vilifying any of the early Muslims and attempted to downplay the political vigor of North Africa Mahdism by arguing that it was a spent force.]
In sum, we must recognize that the arising of divine men does not conform to the ideas of the people, and these men cannot be vindicated by recourse to the usual proofs. They are flanked by signs and tokens, aided by the hosts of earth and heaven. We shall now leave off any further discussion of this point, citing the holy verse: "To Him is the call of truth; and those upon whom they call, apart from Him, answer them nothing, but it is as a man who stretches out his hands to water that it may reach his mouth and it reaches it not. The prayer of the unbelievers only goes astray."
[1. Qur'an 13:14.]
Know, my erudite friend, that in the eyes of God religion is a single reality, which does not differ when expressed in other customs or languages, and note even when it involves different religious duties and commands. In the same way, the Manifestations of the Cause of God and the repositories of His revelation are the manifestations of a single Reality and the dawning-places of the one true Sun. They are mirrors reflecting the effulgence of one holy Power characterized by a real, essential unity that does not become plural even though the mirrors be many. This is the center of divine unity, the point on which tests and trials depend, the scale of profit and loss, and the criterion by which the idolater is distinguished from the believer in divine unity and the evil from the good. Just as the divine Essence does not become multiple, though it may have numerous Manifestations, even so religion itself is the same even though it be manifest through different laws and bestowals.
This abstruse point, which has proved to be a
stumbling block for the feet of the nations, can be deduced from the Qur'an itself, for it is written: "He has laid down for you as religion that with which He charged Noah, and that which We have revealed to thee, and that with which We charged Abraham, Moses and Jesus: `Perform the religion, and make no divisions regarding it.'" If we considered the obvious differences in the laws of the existing religions, including the duties, obligations, and moral behavior they prescribe, to have caused divisions in the reality of religion, we would have to conclude that the prophets violated God's commandment, ignoring His prohibition, dividing up and differing over His religion.
[1. Qur'an 42:13.]
Since this is unthinkable, any alert person will at this point perceive that in talking of the revelation of these religions, God meant the single reality that remains unaffected in its essential oneness by accidental variations such as differences in the laws governing fasting, prayer, marriage, divorce, and social behavior. The sense of the holy verse cited above requires that the Islamic revelation be identical to the Christian revelation, and to the Jewish revelation, and to the revelation bestowed on Noah. In the same way, the good and righteous revealers of these religions were all Manifestations of a single reality that is called the Spirit of God and His Cause. "We make no division between any one of His Messengers."
[2. Qur'an 2:285.]
Those on whom God has bestowed seeing eyes recognize that bygone peoples and deniers who lived during the empty centuries before Islam — whom God has made object lessons for us and whom He warned us not to follow — fell into the snare of idolatry and the
pit of rejection only because they were heedless of this clear truth. They falsely imagined that the phrase "confirmation of the revelation" implied that its relative external form would be eternal. They asserted that the bounties of God were forever cut off from the believers, that the gates of His loving-kindness were barred to those seeking after Him, and that the hand of God was chained up and prevented from renewing the religions or sending new prophets and messengers.
However, the great metaphysicians attained the intended truth, insofar as they referred to essences as "subsisting essences" and referred to creation as an evolutionary process through regular stages. In this light, it is possible to reconcile sayings that the ignorant see as contradictory, but which the wise understand to conform with one another perfectly.
For our lord Moses — peace be upon him — said, "For I lift up my hand to heaven and swear, As I live for ever." Our lord Jesus said he was the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. Our lord Muhammad stated, "The first thing God created was my light." The Commander of the Faithful, `Ali, said in his renowned sermon known as at-Tutunjiyyah: "Are we not the first and the last offerings? Whoso perished, perished by us and whoso was saved was saved by us." Let us also leave off this discussion by making an allusion to the meaning reposited by God in the holy verse: "Joseph brought you clear signs before, yet you continued in doubt concerning that he brought you until, when he perished, you said, `God will never send forth a Messenger after him.' Even so God leads astray the prodigal and the doubter."
[1. Deut. 32:40; cf. Rev. 1:17.]
[2. Qur'an 40:34.]
May God confirm you with a spirit from Him! Know that the various sects are essentially contradictory to religion. That is, the peculiar characteristic of the sect is opposed to and different from religion, a contradiction that is obvious and tangible. For it is the nature of religion to unite various elements and to bind distant groups together into one religious community. This requires loyalty, love, the preservation of individual rights, power and authority, and the influence of its Word. The property of a sect, however, is to divide and separate the members of a community who had previously been in accord and to meddle in matters outside the scope of religion. Sectarianism requires backwardness, dissension, enmity, and disastrous civil wars that bring peoples to the edge of extinction.
Consider the Christian religion. With the advent of our lord Jesus, God joined together many nations under a single name of Christendom through the powerful influence of His Word, binding them to one another with the bonds of religious brotherhood. When any sect or schism grew up among them, those divinely bestowed bonds inevitably vanished; in the end they were divided into the well-known divisions of Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jacobite, Nestorian, Melkite, and so forth. They fought among themselves lengthy struggles and horrifying wars, and at the order of priests and monks they burned thousands of innocent souls alive.
These religious wars among the Christians did not die out until toward the end of this era, when their monarchs undertook to protect the European nations and to strengthen the Christian elements. The trend was for them to conquer the Asian countries of the East or the western wilderness of Africa.
It was the same with the religion of Islam. Our lord the Prophet arose and, from the borders of China to the furthest reaches of Africa, he united many nations under the name of Islam, delivering them from the gloom of idolatry and fire worship into the light of monotheism and faith. He linked them in religious brotherhood and made that link the strongest to be witnesses in the countries of the East and West. This bond was not severed, this brotherhood did not disappear among the Muslims, and they did not treat one another harshly until after sects began to grow up and differences appeared.
You now know, in your erudition, that religion is the perfect principle, the straight path, and the sole means of reaching the most sublime goal and the highest aim. It is intrinsically incompatible with sectarianism and partisan spirit, and excludes all division and separation. You have further recognized that sects are no more than ways of behaving, and have no effect on central beliefs. To blame them for causing unbelief or faith is a real deviation from the path of right and a clear contradiction of the text of the Book, as we shall discuss below. Knowing all this, you can now help unite diverse sects, efface the hatred from hearts full of rancor, spread love among warring nations, with what God originally desired when He sent forth prophets messengers.
Because of their distance in time from the age of the Revealer of their religion and their heedlessness of the goals of their Prophet, the Islamic sects have sunk into the worst of states, each and every one of them becoming constricted within a narrow circle of unnecessary doctrines and beliefs built up from unfounded
assumptions and selfish passions. They were based on the principles of aversion and contention, in violation of the revealed texts concerning the need to preserve the rights deriving from fraternity and loyalty. These sects can never escape the narrow straits of their imagined doctrines because they believe that to give them up would be equivalent to apostasy from the true faith. Yet these very doctrines mandate the abandonment of that mutual cooperation commanded in the holy scriptures and the adoption of a divisive sectarianism forbidden in the noble Qur'an.
Have not the possessors of insight seen that God forcefully prohibited divisions and sects, equating them with idol worship and unbelief? He said, "And be not of the idolaters, even of those who have divided up their religion, and become sects, each several party rejoicing in what is theirs." Although there was a wide field here for a discussion of sectarianism as idolatry, I have avoided it for fear that misunderstanding might arise and because it would digress from my present purpose. I have contented myself with the points made above, even though they might be a bit ambiguous.
[1. Qur'an 30:31-32.]
God also said, "Those who have made divisions in their religion and become sects, thou art not of them in anything." That is, they have no part of you. These are some scriptural texts that we have cited as a reminder to the possessors of insight. But the sectarian parties have forgotten what they were told, and have adopted what they were forbidden. In the end, each sect became like a ship lost at sea in the darkness of
passions, pounded by tempests and gales, its captain drowned in the deluge of carnal appetites and the intoxication of bodily pleasures, heedless of the calamities that have befallen him.
Now that these preliminary points have been made, we have recognized that God does not neglect His people and does not allow His religion to be exposed to ruin because of the negligence of its adherents. We, therefore, do not find it strange that God should confirm with a spirit from Him one individual from the community, that he might arise to reunify the religion and to reform those of its rules that had been vitiated, making straight the crooked and repairing the weaknesses in its structure. We have said that the true Promised One will be supported by a holy power, fully informed of the divine ordinances, aware of the needs of the times, inspired by his Lord, commanded by His decree, and speaking by His will.
One would have no need to fear for the religion form such a one, for he would never command those things arrived at by individual jurists through their own efforts. He would conceive of reform only as bringing the revealed Law into accord with current requirements and as the purification of the religion's reality from heretical innovations. Should the divine Reformer order that a heresy be abandoned, a custom changed, or a practice altered, he could not be criticized for contravening the divine Law or reproached for proposing something not in the practice of the Prophet Muhammad.
Let us consider the question of marriage. God, although He permitted the taking of up to four wives [in the Qur'an], forbade polygamy if the husband feared he would do a wrong to any of his spouses. It was as if He were commanding the husband, should he
so fear, to content himself with but one wife, as a means of ensuring justice. Therefore, it is not so unlikely that Bahá'u'lláh preferred monogamy and forbade more than two wives as a means of preserving that praiseworthy justice and of avoiding reprehensible unfairness.
This is especially so when we see that the Western nations have criticized Islam and Muslims for polygamy and for failing to observe the rules and requirements that should safeguard the spouse's rights in this supremely important relationship which constitutes the most central human bond. They point to polygamy, the permissibility of concubinage, and the sale of slave girls as proof of the falsehood of the Muslims' religion and the need to eradicate them or subdue them.
We said that some commandments are essential, such that to tamper with them would alter the character of the religion, while others are accidental and inessential, such that changing them affects the religion not at all. The abolition of concubinage would have no impact on the reality of the religion, nor would forbidding the selling of slave girls result in the abrogation of the holy Law. Were the entire world to embrace Islam, then in any case no slave would be left that could be sold, or slave girl that could be a concubine. Would it be said in that case the Islamic law had changed or that the Prophet's revelation had be abrogated.
[1. Since Muslims by the law of the Qur'an may legally enslave only non-Muslims.]
Then there is the matter of referring issues of ritual worship to the decree of the Book and those concerning social behavior to Assemblies. This principle accords with the holy Law completely. For I know from
reliable sources that Bahá'u'lláh clearly stated in his Tablets that the most righteous and virtuous members of the community — the purest men of religion and the best of those with certitude — should be singled out for membership on the Assembly. They would therefore constitute no threat to the religion, for they would necessarily be knowledgeable about the texts of the holy Law and experts in religious principles. Indeed, were a fair-minded individual to consider the matter, he would see that they would help the religion to become manifest at that time in a perfect form, to shine forth with radiance of glory, and to adorn itself with the ornament of exaltation. From its horizon the lights of success would shine forth and the Word would be implemented.
Any intelligent person recognizes that if the various branches of Islam refuse to compromise on some of their beliefs, if each does not abandon some of its doctrines, and if they grit their teeth and cling tenaciously to the very thing that truly has brought about their decline and fall, then it is unimaginable that they should reach accord and conduct reforms. There would be no hope that they could progress or triumph, and they would remain unable to recover their ancient glory and revive their upright religion. Is it not high time that they awaken from their stupor and arise from their fall, shaking off their heedlessness, returning to their senses, and loosing their fetters? They cannot be assured of their final end. Other similar cases have passed away before them, and luminous verses have been revealed warning others about them.
Let us now consider the possibility that Bahá'u'lláh's mission is to renew religion and call people to a new revelation. This would require more persuasive evidence, a divine proof, and celestial verses. For it
would require that our lord the Mahdi arise and Jesus Christ descend, that the meaning of the Resurrection and of the Hour become clear, that the hidden interpretation of the Qur'an become manifest, that the heavens of the religions be rolled up and the world be renewed, and that concord reign among the nations. To discuss these issues would require the composition of a huge volume and would demand an intricate discourse which we must leave to others.
[1. For Muslim conceptions of the Last Days, see L. Gardet, "Kiyana," Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 5 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1960-); for Christ, see G.C. Anawati, "'Isa," also in EI2. For the Bahá'í view see Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i Iqan.].
The Muslim scholars have differed over what holy Law Jesus Christ will call for after his descent from the heavens. Some have averred that he will ordain the Islamic system of law, while others have stated that he will give judgments only according to the Hanafi rite of Islamic law. The Shi'is claim that he will promulgate the Imam Shi'i branch of Islam. But the steadfast scholars have left the decision to God. They have realized that Jesus would be the Spirit of God coming down from the heaven of the divine will, arising at His command, overcoming all obstacles by His decree. He might contradict the views of those who engage in idle speculation and know not whereof they speak. This is indicated by God's saying: "Upon the day when the Caller shall call unto a horrible thing." For nothing is more horrible for the peoples of the world than the renewal of their religion and the alteration of their religious laws.
[2. Qur'an 54:6.]
A widespread spiritual plague has infected all the
religions and, indeed, all of their sects as well. It consists in the belief that their religious laws are immutable and forever unchanging. They have thereby fallen into the snare of tests while heedless, and God has made manifest to them that on which they had not reckoned. But the high-minded and the possessors of radiant insight have agreed that the reform of the world depends on this very thing. Other than through this wondrous cause and most sweet path that God has especially bestowed on His people, there is no hope that we can eliminate the rancor hidden in the breasts of the nations, extinguish the flames of enmity whose conflagration has encompassed all human habitation, and quell the disturbances that, should they continue, will no doubt end in the destruction of civilization.
During the period of my travels in distant lands and vast regions, I have witnessed that this group [the Bahá'ís] possesses extensive knowledge, vision, genius, and the ability to face danger and to persevere in tribulations. They desire only good for all the nations, whatever their race or religion, calling them to concord and harmony through their Book and their tongues.
In closing, we ask God to guide us and you to the right path and to inspire us with the truths reposited in His Book. He is, verily, the Guardian over His righteous servants. Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds. Abu'l-Fadl ibn Muhammad Rida Gulpaygani, known as Fadlu'llah al-Irani 26 Dhu'l-Hijjah 1313 [28 May 1897]
On Tests and TrialsIn His Name, the Most Glorious.
My sincere and respected friend:
Your virtues are still traced on the mirror of my heart and your noble characteristics are recorded in the book of my soul. Your letter reached me while I was in Haifa, where I was honored to attain the presence of the one [`Abdu'l-Bahá] around whom circle all names, to whom the heads of the mighty are bowed, and from whose shining lights the night birds of Covenant-breaking and retreat have fled into the hidden gloom of obscurity. I shared it with the Master, who read it and then honored you with his munificence, mentioning you very highly and in the most eloquent terms at a gathering of the respected friends. He spoke of your exemplary manner of aiding the Cause of God in that distant shore.
I implore and beseech God to make you one of His glowing, most great signs and an unfurled banner guiding His servants in the major countries of the world. This may be hoped for, given the fine character you possess, and the flawless way in which you have behaved at each step, obeying His every wish and command. He is the best of helpers and supporters.
I spent a few days indeed in that Holy Land, as the wish was expressed [by `Abdu'l-Bahá] that I prepare to leave Egypt for the lands of the West and that I reside in those distant regions for a considerable
period. For the darkness of doubt and misgiving has spread over that land. The will of God has decreed that the new souls be subjected to the trials of uncertainty, that the bad may be distinguished from the good and imposture from sincerity. Thus may truth be known from falsehood and steadfastness from inconstancy.
[1. For the schism of Kheiralla and his inability to split the early American Bahá'í community see Richard Hollinger, "Ibraham George Kheiralla and the Bahá'í Faith in America," in Cole and Momen, From Iran East and West, pp. 99-134.]
My friend, you well recognize the principle of testing and purification that has been revealed in all the holy books and decreed in the divine promises inscribed in the celestial scriptures. Refer to Daniel 12. Thus may you know how God tests souls to distinguish the pure and genuine from the false and wretched.
[2. "But at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."]
Look at the New Testament, that you may see how the Lord will, on the day He descends from the heaven of glory, raise up a band on His right hand and a host on His left hand — the former to happiness and everlasting life and the latter to eternal scorn and contempt. As for the people of the right hand, peace be upon you from the people of the right hand. They will subsist beneath the spreading shade, with water poured forth for them, carpets outspread, and fruits abounding; unfailing, unforbidden. As for the people of the left hand, what shall explain to you the people of the
left hand? They will abide in burning winds and boiling waters and the shadow of a smoking blaze, neither cool nor goodly. Thus has the Preexistent Lord informed us in the holy Qur'an.
[1. Cf. Qur'an 56.]
A person is astonished and dumbfounded, my friend, at their false teachings and their laughable interpretations. Some American friends came on pilgrimage to the Holy Land recently and we met them at Beirut and traveled with them to that fragrant spot, the city of Haifa. They told us things that would amaze the knowledgeable and bewilder the wise. How did the Word of God become influential in those vast and distant regions in spite of these unfounded and misleading interpretations put forth by ignorant and deceptive persons? Is this not a result of the greatness of God's power and might, the radiance of His verses, and the clearness of His signs?
Our American friends attained the presence of the Master and heard for themselves his blessed talks. Then they went to Egypt where they encountered some of the correct teachings. The three darknesses have descended on the Cause in America, and they have caused that great and honored nation to enter among the dead. But God controls His Cause, encompasses His servants, knows the secrets hidden in their breasts, and is aware of the mysteries concealed in their hearts. He is the Eternal Truth, the Omniscient, the Invisible.
A noble Tablet was revealed in your name and reached us when we were in Port Said. I am sending it along to you with the reply, that your eyes may be solaced, your breast be filled wit joy, your spirit be
revived, and your confirmations and your victories increase. Please convey my regards and great respect to your honored wife. I hope that by the grace of my Lord she and the two apples of your eye are in the best of health and are happy and content. Likewise, please give my greetings, out of your love for me, to all the friends of God in that area. May God confirm all of them with His unshakeable power, and may He preserve you with eye of watchfulness that never sleeps. As for meeting with the respected Father M. Loyson, it is not necessary. This has been decided by the Most Great Wisdom. Upon you be praise, greetings, and glory. October 1900 Abu'l-Fadl
On Perfection and ImperfectionIn the name of our Lord, the Most Glorious
Last night you asked me an amazing question. You said "God is perfect in His essence, and His creation must be perfect also. Why is the creation of the world imperfect, and what is the source of deficiencies in the universe?"
Know first of all that the difficulty of translation, because of differences in the languages and varied uses of technical terms, as well as variations in intelligence and perceptiveness, has often prevented such knotty problems and obscure paradoxes from being solved. In spite of their difficulties, I submit to you that your question implies that you believe God to have created the world at a particular point in ancient times, and to have brought this act of creation and invention to a close. You suggest that He left it imperfect or at the mercy of unforeseen faults which will eventually result in its disappearance and annihilation.
The fact is that the word "Creator" is one of His names, and Creatorhood is one of His attributes. He has always been a creator, bringing beings into existence, fashioning them, and causing them to be. Under all conditions He is characterized by the attribute of being the creator of contingent things. Whatever you see that is imperfect is simply an indication that the creation is not yet completely molded or perfectly
formed, and needs the passage of more time for the realization of its full potentialities, so that the contingent worlds may reach the pinnacle of their perfection.
For instance, if the unripe fruit on a date tree is green, it is not therefore to be said that the universe is imperfect. In what sense is the yet unformed fruit imperfect? It is simply that its creation is still in process. Now, except for the human race, all the sorts of created things you see in the world have been completely fashioned and finally molded by God. As for the human race, it is also perfect and balanced in its bodily form and its natural genesis. But from the point of view of its spirituality and knowledge — that is, the perfections from which praiseworthy civilization and humanity proceed — it is still not complete, and the time of its perfection and exaltation has not yet arrived.
For if God had created the human race perfect in its essence from all eternity, that would have contradicted the meaning of choice and free will on which humanity is founded. Far be it from God to leave the fashioning of the universe incomplete and the book of creation half finished. Rather, out of the vastness of His compassion, the abundance of His grace, the flawlessness of His creative activity, and the all-embracing range of His power, He sends forth prophets and messengers and raises up martyrs and holy ones in every age and era to ordain new religions, reveal holy books, safeguard the laws of religion, and to extend spiritual knowledge, that thereby He might perfect the creation of the human worlds and bring to fruition the highest qualities of human beings: "Has there come on man a while of time when he was a thing unremembered?"
[1. Qur'an 76:1.]
Far be it from God to leave human beings in futility. For they were striplings planted by His own hand and were the trees of His orchard, the fruits of His knowledge and wisdom, and the dawning lights of His handiwork and power. It is inevitable that the world will reach the apex of perfection in regard to knowledge, and that all creatures will attain the utmost balance. For the true scriptures and holy books prophesied it in bygone ages and previous generations.
Know, gentlemen, that it is not easy to understand the meaning of the creation and its modality, nor can just any mind penetrate the reality of such matters. For God did not cause any of His servants to witness the creation of the heavens and the earth, and for this very reason some of the philosophers and naturalists have denied it, particularly the partisans of materialism and Darwinism. For they cannot understand the meaning of real preexistence, denying all things metaphysical. They believe that substances have always existed in regard to their essences and that changes occur in them owing to substantial motion. They hold that these substances are set in motion and directed solely by elemental nature.
But the light has dawned on the people of faith and certitude from the sun of the knowledge of God. They have learned the proof from the rising Cause of God — as I have explained in detail in the book I am now writing for you on the divine Covenant. They therefore know that beyond the power of nature lies an all-subduing divine Power which acts on souls and spirits as well as on material things and figures. This divine Power and holy Reality possesses sovereignty over minds and abstractions, just as minds and abstract thought have authority, by the decree of the
Lord, over matter and material things. This Power was described by the prophets as the Spirit of God and the Essence of God, and by the metaphysicians and philosophers as the Cause of Causes and the reality of the Necessarily Existent.
This power, as we stated above, acts on all things and subdues all that is on earth and in the heavens. Its action on things is termed creation, fashioning, and molding. To acquire a knowledge of the Manifestations of this invisible Power and heavenly Might is the first and most important duty for wise human beings, far transcending in significance their knowledge of the reasons for the imperfection or perfection of the creation, or their ideas about fixing the beginning point of its genesis and the appointed time for its disintegration. For some nations attained glory and others met destruction; some were formed and others annihilated, depending on whether they recognized the Manifestations of that all-subduing Power and manifest Might.
This is not the case with knowledge of how the creation began and discussions of its genesis. For the knowledge of these things holds out little hope of any great benefit, nor would ignorance of them incur any significant damage. This is the reason our lord Jesus said, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
[1. Matt. 10:28.]
If you contemplate this truth you will recognize the real meaning of such words as creating, fashioning and molding, which were mentioned from all eternity in the words of the messengers and prophets but were meddled and tampered with by the misconceptions of
the sages and philosophers. You will also know the meaning of all that we have said above. God has never stopped creating and fashioning new communities and religious laws through sending the Manifestations of His Cause and the Dawning-Places of His command. Thus might the world reach the peak of balance and ascend to the zenith of glory and perfection.
It is also apparent from what we have said that how the world came into being and how substances were created — even though we confess the perfection of their creation and handiwork — are not subjects about which conclusions can be reached through reason. For they were not discussed in the heavenly scriptures, and they have not been established by the proofs of the philosophers in a manner that would dispel doubts and misgivings as is the case in the rational and the physical sciences.
On this question, the best arguments of those savants and philosophers who hold fast to religion are still no more than fanciful analogies and proof. For this reason the materialists and the Darwinians have poisoned the discussion with benighted thoughts. The best the materialists and Darwinians have been able to do in refuting the theists and demonstrating that substances have always existed, and in rejecting metaphysics, has been to argue that they found no proof that these substances were created. Their proof consists in failure to find a proof.
But this is a weak argument which a rational person would not consider at all in regard to such an important topic. It is as if the two contending parties are deadlocked and equal. The former have been unable to demonstrate a proof of their proposition which would convince their opponents and bring all minds to an accord,
and neither have the latter. The question has therefore remained obscure and unresolved, as it was from the beginning.
It is for this reason that we said this problem is not one that reasoning can settle, and no great benefit lies in understanding it, nor is there harm in failing to comprehend it. Nevertheless, some self-proclaimed philosophers, and others who obstinately insist on debating falsehoods, have adopted it as a means of confusing minds and sowing doubts in souls. They have imagined that discussing it was a grand act of philosophy and have spent their lives immersed in it, such that a not inconsiderable group idled their minds and thoughts by devoting them to resolving this problem. They produced nothing but bewilderment in people's minds, convincing them of impossibilities and causing them to neglect matters more necessary to them and more beneficial in the hereafter.
That is why some of the great holy ones and messengers forbade listening to their sophistry and allowing oneself to be deluded by their elaborate rhetoric. Just as Paul the Apostle said in his letter to the Colosians: "See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ." Examples of this sentiment are numerous in the letters of that noble apostle and great man. Far be it from him to forbid the people beneficial philosophy, whose fruits are obvious in civilizing the world and supplying the needs of the nations. For there is no contradiction between this latter sort of philosophy and divine religion or sublime spiritual knowledge.
[1. Col. 2:8.]
Religion is naught but a law prescribed by divine decree that guarantees the preservation of society, through which eternal and everlasting life can be attained. This is the precise meaning of lofty civilization and constitutes the goal we have long sought. Rather, Paul enjoined them against immersing themselves in matters that would not benefit them and which their minds could not comprehend, those things wherein lives can come to an end without words coming to an end.
There are some scholars who claim to know all the mysteries of creation and all the truths of its genesis. But I do not know the number of the stars or how many grains of sand are in the sea. I have not learned the names of the created things on the moon, or counted how many souls are on Mars, nor do I ask why God did not give human beings wings or eyes in the back of their heads. I cannot fathom the wisdom that led Him to single out the dove for pleasant warbling and the crow for raucous cawing. I have no idea what mothers will be naming their daughters in the future or what fathers will call their sons.
Does the status of these matters as unknown mean that they so deserve to attract our attention that we should spend our lives trying to understand them while neglecting the divine promises whose time of fulfillment has arrived? It is incumbent on you, honored gentlemen, to gaze on the truths inscribed in the holy scriptures and sanctified Tablets, that they may help you attain a good and everlasting life and divine, invincible power. Or it behooves you to consider the sciences that will help to build the earth and lead to the reformation of its peoples.
Do not immerse yourselves in that which holds no benefit for you at all, whether in regard to spiritual
knowledge or to the progress of civilization. Thus may you attain, by the might of God, a station that none before you among the ancients ever reached, and beyond which none of the moderns will ever go. Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds. 23 Ramadan 1318 [12 January 1901] Abu'l-Fadl
On Reaction in Egypt to His WritingsIn the name of our Lord, may His praise be exalted.
My dear sir:
To you I praise and exalt our Lord, by the radiance of whose Manifestation the horizons have been illumined. The lights of the virtues of His Essence, the grandeur of His signs, and the power of His utterances shone forth, when the sun of the covenant, the luminary in the heavens of the testament, dawned forth. The hand of His might turned the pages of the scroll of the universe, from the left of contention to the right of harmony, from the gloom of disunion to the brightness of concord.
I give to Him praise, the splendor and luminosity of which scintillate through passing ages and centuries. I offer Him thanks, the fragrance of the sincerity of which diffuses over eras and cycles, that He enabled me to receive your brilliant letter and aided me to gaze on your luminous missive. Every line of it proclaims the reality of your love and faithfulness, and every sentence bears witness to the purity of your affection and loyalty. I read it with the utmost longing, reciting it in a state of burning excitement, bewildered at the elegance of its phrases and attracted by the sweetness of its allusions. I reread it time and again, and each time the flames of yearning blazed forth and the fragrance of sublime live wafted from the fire of separation.
Blessed are those souls swaying in the gales of the Resurrection Day, and how happy are those breasts gladdened by the passing breezes of the Call of the Lord, the Forgiving. How desirable is the state of those who morals have been renewed, whose tastes have become good and wholesome, whose fountains have been purified, and whose springs have become pleasant by virtue of that pure beverage. Their spirits are inebriated, their souls are reeling, and they have found easy what the people of luxury and arrogance found difficult, growing intimate with that which repelled pleasure seekers and evildoers. The dove of eloquence warbled their praises in former times and ages.
By your life, my beloved friend, nothing has made me forget the wonderful days we were together, and no concern could drive from my mind the memory of your pure love and loyalty. I swear by Baha' and the countenance of Baha', by the land whose fragrance perfumed the horizons of the world, and by the dawn of the lights of his Covenant — the radiance of allegiance to which has illumined the hearts of the people of fidelity. The rustling of the trees brings me no joy, the resonance of the lute gives no delight, the birdsongs amidst the flowers do not rend my heart, and recitations of the rhyming prose of the holy books does not attract me in the way I am given joy and delight by reading the passages of your address an in the way my heart leaps when the post office gives me the glad-tiding that a letter has arrived from you. It is more pleasant to my ears than the melodies of the nightingales and the cadences of the psalms.
How could I forget you or let your conversation or our meeting slip from my mind? How could the knot of our brotherhood become undone, when it was tied between us by the love of your Lord and Master. You
well know, my beloved friend, that it is a cord of affection and loyalty that has entwined me, though the swords of kings and rulers have endeavored to sever it. It is a knot of fraternity and sincerity that has enfeebled the ruses of the philosophers and scholars who attempted to untie it. It is a knot tied by the will of the Giver of life and the Lord of revivification, not by cunning politicians.
This bond will never dissolve or be forgotten, nor need one fear for it. But it is a constant struggle, a fearful obstacle, a never-ending concern which I have learned, experienced, known, and seen. It involves inevitable opposition, attacks of illness, great obstructions, and mighty impediments. The latter include loneliness and solitude, lack of supplies and preparation, the collapse of faculties and feebleness in the limbs, continuous sickness, and successive hardships and afflictions.
The most bitter, calamitous, harmful, and painful part of it all — and I have seen a small portion of its enormity and tasted a draught from its lake — consists in the assaults of foes, the malevolence of rogues, the conspiracies of enemies, and the onslaught of the hateful. They have united (in spite of their differences in race, religion, and sect) to make war on the friends and to persecute the faithful. How appropriate to our plight is what one of the philosophers who was a poet said:
Behold us, our secret in the east and the west. We stir awake the earth and all who therein rest!
Do you remember what I said to you in Cairo when you met me with Shaykh Isma'il at-Tarabulusi
and a group of other scholars from Syria? You suggested to me that I write a book refuting the Essay on Islam by the Englishman George Sale, recently republished with a commentary by someone hiding behind the pseudonym of Hashim ash-Shami. This was a book never equaled for its fabrication of heinous accusations against the Master [Muhammad] of the brilliant revelation, or for its refutations and objections concerning the eloquence of the verses of the Qur'an. The author provided evidence from the texts of scholarly Muslim commentators, experts in rhetoric and the art of eloquence.
[1. This refutation was written and is published in Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Galpaygani, Miracles and Metaphors [ad-Durar al-bahiyyah], trans. by J.R. Cole (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1982).]
When you proposed that I refute the doubts he raised and reveal the hidden fallacies of his arguments, I excused myself. I said there were numerous impediments to such a project, the greatest and most severe of which was a huge obstacle raising difficulties no sane man would consider easily resolved. This was a steed no wise man would mount, for the hearts of those who contented themselves with only the name of Islam and with only the calligraphy of the Qur'an had long been nourished on a diet of the dry crusts of real issues. Works had been composed on questions that represent mere sophistry. Finally, these hearts had grown remote from the pith of the Book and become ignorant of the real meaning of its speech.
I said: Let us suppose that in order to rebut those objections and demonstrate the falsehood of those criticisms, we unveiled the truths behind the Book's allusions and made manifest the meaning intended by its actual phrases, so that the forms of the truths hidden
like houris in the palaces of its verses were to reveal themselves and the faces of meanings concealed in the inner chambers of metaphors were to gleam forth. This would, first of all, provoke the rancor smoldering in the breasts, would widen divisive religious disputes, and heap fuel on the blazing flames of sectarian hatred. This loathing has harmed the Eastern nations and led them into bondage to the Western states, has enfeebled proud souls attempting to carry its burden, and has defied all attempts at resolving or healing it on the part of clear reason.
May God confirm you! Look how the truth of my words and the correctness of my view have become clear. Perhaps you heard what occurred after the publication of Miracles and Metaphors [ad-Durar al-bahiyyah] at the instigation of the seminary students at al-Azhar University. The clamor of disapproval grew loud and the raucous sounds of cursing and excommunication intensified. They possessed naught but the din of their outcry. They knew nothing better than this vile habit, were armed wit nothing but the sword of oaths and cursing, and had studied no lesson but anathema and foul language. As you know, these are the weapons of the weak and impotent, and the proofs of the false and contemptible.
[1. The publication of Mirza Abu'l-Fadl's Bahá'í work ad-Durar al-bahiyyah in Cairo in 1900 caused a furor at al-Azhar and was denounced by Muslim fundamentalists like Rahsid Rida, who called on Muslims to burn the book. However, it was also praised by Muslim figures like the nationalist activist Mustafa Kamal.]
For a person in the right, the proof itself would suffice against an incoherent argument, and the correctness of the proof would allow the people of truth to dispense with shouting, clamor, curses, and slander.
The most amazing part of it is that they have yet to grasp the difficulties of their situation and the evil end they have met. They remain ignorant of the reason that their enemies have conquered them and their rules have been abased before them, or that they have been encompassed by frightful calamities.
May God preserve you. Consider what they would do if they still possessed their former might and previous power, when the flames of their tyranny were blazing and the burning coals of their oppression had not yet been extinguished. Let us praise our Lord, the Living, the Powerful, and fervently extol the All-Seeing, the Omnipresent, that He left the people of despotism no implements or resistance to which they could resort in opposing the faithful, and allowed the ferocious beasts of tyranny no claws or fangs with which to tear the honor of the people of certitude. All they have are these impudent tongues and reckless pens, and even these He shall take from them, making them an object lesson to any who contemplate them and an example to all who take admonishment.
Think, my friend, on the triviality of their dreams and the crookedness of their understanding. Instead of trying to curb the defiance of their foes, they attempt to oppose their friends. Rather than writing something that would demonstrate the falsity of the doubts raised by one who attacked their religion and criticized their scriptures, they are concerned to pen a refutation of one who vindicated the truth of their path and arose to aid the Master of their revelation. They see that their own young men collapse before these doubts and submit to these foolish words, and that they have, moreover, given up all religion and engrossed themselves in the ugliest passions. How patient they are in the face of this burning shame, and how stiff-necked they are in bearing the weight of this ignominy.
More laughable and astonishing than all this is their grumbling about the disunity of the Muslims and their regret at what escaped their forebears because their hearts were divided by competition. They still yearn and pine for, and vie with one another in calling for, unity among opposing factions. They have not yet realized that disunity resulted from precisely this sort of cursing, swearing, excommunication, and provocation. No religious community fell into differences save through such curses.
They do not consider this clear point and manifest truth: if they [Muslim seminarians in Egypt] proved unable to apply sufficient pressure against freedom of religious belief when they were virtual dictators, how can they hope to enforce their views and coerce people's thoughts at a time when they are under colonial domination [by the British]? If curses, swear words, and obscenities gave them no benefit when they were in power, how can they profit from them when they are subdued? Far be it from them to change their ways or abandon their evil deeds until they land this unhappy community in ruin and perdition. They will then exemplify the holy verse: "Hast thou not seen those who exchanged the bounty of God with unthankfulness, and caused their people to dwell in the abode of ruin?""
[1. Qur'an 14:28.]
My wise friend, I have lengthened this letter and expanded on the subject that you might know with absolute certainty that I have not forgotten you, and that none of your attributes or qualities is in the least displeasing to me. But truth to say, you forgot the advice of Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:6: "Do not throw your pearls before swine." For the [publishers] have publicly proclaimed the pearls of mysteries exalted
meanings before those who do not deserve for you to address them, to treat them civilly, to sit with them, or to associate with them. How then will they serve as a repository for the divine wisdom and lordly mysteries? Cleave, then, to wisdom; be extremely prudent. Conceal the pearls of your wisdom and the gems of your knowledge.
To reveal secrets causes one to be deprived of inspiration. This is true even in dream visions, and the interpretation of dreams is something we consider insignificant in these days. Seek the help of God with patience and prayers, and increase me by the righteousness of your supplication at all times. Upon you be greetings, praise, exaltation, and glory. Upon you be that which the dove cooed while ornamenting the leaves, in praise of Him around Whom circle the names. God has illumined with the glory of His visage the horizons of the earth and heaven. 12 Shawwal 1318 [2 February 1901] Abu'l-Fadl
On the Meaning of AngelsIn the Name of our Lord, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
My blessed friend:
May God aid you by bestowing on you piercing vision and sound views, and may He support you with insight. Divine providence enabled me to read your insight. Divine providence enabled me to read your elegantly written letter, and I was engrossed in its fine turns of phrase. I gave due praise to the glorious Countenance, the most exalted Lord, the shining Reality, the luminous Essence, the Face of splendor, and the Glory of all on earth and in the heavens. I spoke forth with a sincere greeting to the Holy One about whom circle all names and towards whose most radiant visage turned the hearts of the people of fidelity.
Praise be to God that He has planted towering trees in the garden of His Cause, made scintillating stars manifest in the heaven of His religion, and created lofty-minded souls among the number of His chosen ones. He has trained under the eyes of His devoted ones pure and unblemished believers who refuse to be content with sophistry and mere ornamented speech. They avoid journeying into the gloomy night of delusion and the labyrinth of idle imaginings, seeking perspicuous light and quaffing from the fountain of certitude. These are the righteous and godly chosen ones endued with insight who have discovered abstruse truths and mysteries. Upon them be the blessings and compassion of their Lord, for they shall prosper.
Supplicate, my faithful friend, to God the Exalted and to His glorious Beauty in your prayers and devotions, your private moments of worship, that He may draw you nigh unto His name, the Eternal, and inspire you with the truths lying at the heart of all the sciences. Implore Him to bring you to that station wherein you are encompassed by knowledge, and to unveil for you the meaning of His obscure verses and psalms, and of the prophecies of His prophets and messengers. Be not content with the study of calligraphy, of technical terms, of ordained punishments, and of analogies. Halt not at any stage of the journey, for there is no end to knowledge and perfections.
Ascend with the feet of effort, struggle, sincerity, and piety to the highest ranks of knowledge and mystical insight, and soar on the wings of love, humble prayer, and supplication to the center of the circle of guidance in the farthest heaven of contemplation and certitude. In the course of this distant journey and laudable flight, avoid the slough of misfortune and iniquity, and the snare of pride and vanity. By awaking before dawn and turning in repentance to God, seeking His pardon, you may reach that station wherein those nigh to God will envy you and the righteous will emulate your example.
You asked about the interpretation of the verse revealed in the Surah of the Battlements: "And We appointed with Moses thirty nights and We completed them with ten, so the appointed time of his Lord was forty nights." Know, my friend, that the literal interpretation of the verse is well known and correct. For when Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and they wandered in the desert, they were following their ancient pre-Mosaic religion. Moses promised his
people that he would go up on the mountain for thirty nights to ask his Lord to bestow on them a divine law that would guarantee them life and honor and preserve them from death and abasement.
[1. Qur'an 7:142; cf. Exod. 24:18.]
When Moses went up and left his people, his absence lasted forty nights. The children of Israel were seduced and returned to worshipping graven images. The rest of the story has been recorded in works of history, and there is no need for a lengthy discourse on it here.
We can also offer an allegorical, esoteric interpretation. In that case "night" would refer, as you have heard me say repeatedly, to the period during which the Sun of Reality was absent. And the word "day," according to the Hebrew Bible, is reckoned to mean a year. Now when Moses left Egypt, fleeing from Pharaoh and his hosts to Midian, he was thirty years old. He lived in Midian for ten years, working as a shepherd in the employ of Jethro the prophet. During that period of time, which was like a dark night of unrelieved gloom because of the tyranny of the pharaohs and the delusions of paganism, he worked to purify and improve his character and cleanse his heart. He prayed to his Lord in solitude, and when his character was polished and his formation completed, God sent him forth as a prophet to guide the children of Israel and he led them out of that unwholesome environment.
[1. That is, the Manifestation of God.]
The phrase "forty days" refers to the forty years that Moses lived in Egypt and Midian. The phrase "We appointed" does not invalidate this figurative interpretation, though its literal meaning would, in this context, require that the Lord had talked with Moses before giving him his prophetic mission. But such
phrases are often employed to mean, not revelation, but anything which is bestowed on the heart and which inspires the soul. This is so even in the case of animals, as is proven by the verse: "And thy Lord revealed unto the bees, saying: `Take unto yourselves, of the mountains, houses.'"
[1. Qur'an 16:68.]
There follows the verse: "And Moses said to his brother Aaron, `Be my successor among my people, and put things right, and do not follow the way of the workers of corruption.'" The literal sense of the blessed verse indicates that Moses made his brother Aaron his lieutenant when he was with the people in the desert, as it is mentioned in the histories. But the ancient chronicles are extremely obscure, insofar as their authors depended on what is in the Pentateuch and other works of antiquity. We have, however, shown in Miracles and Metaphors (ad-Durar al-bahiyyah) that such evidence is weak in scholarly terms. It is possible that Moses appointed Aaron his lieutenant in order to safeguard the people while Moses was in Midian.
[1. Qur'an 7:142.]
The children of Israel had maintained their monotheism, received from their ancestor Abraham. But when Moses left, they performed rituals to a calf, one of the gods adored by the Egyptians, following the ways of Pharaoh and his people. It was as if they had taken on the Egyptian nationality and believed in the pagan religion. When Moses returned and saw them in this evil state of worshiping a falsehood, he blamed Aaron for it, as the historians have mentioned. Since the children of Israel were well known for the strength of their opinions, it is unreasonable to suppose that
they would abandon their inherited religion simply because or Moses' ten-day delay in returning to them. But this point would require a lengthy discourse for which there is no space here.
The passage continues:
And when Moses came to Our appointed time and his Lord spoke with him, he said, "Oh, my Lord, show me, that I may behold Thee!"Know that our religious scholars have differed as to whether it is possible to see God or not. The Shi'is and the Mu'tazilis denied that it is possible, since it would require that He have form and dimension and possess the characteristics of a body — being limited, having a boundary, and so forth. But they say God is exalted above such attributes, since they understand by the word "God" nothing save the Essence, and there is no doubt that the Essence is purified of these characteristics.
The Sunnis have claimed that it is possible to see God, depending [for their proof] on the literal text of the verses and the genuine sayings of the Prophet. They held fast to this doctrine through the Islamic Middle Ages, when they began to mix with it delusions. During those centuries theological discussions
and deficient scholastic sciences spread among them. They not only held that it was possible to see God, and that He would be seen on the Resurrection Day, but they began to say that seeing Him would not consist of encompassing Him with your sight. You would see the Essence of God without form, dimension, modality, or the ability to be encompassed. But his belief is obviously based on erroneous imaginings. The truth lies in rejecting the visual perception of God.
The Bahá'ís, who have sought the shade of the noble Branch that has sprung forth from the blessed, exalted Tree, know that, according to what they have been taught by the most high Pen, the Essence of God, by virtue of its intrinsic abstraction and its sanctity, cannot be perceived, described, named, pointed to, or specified in relation to mortal minds. The names and attributes and all that which is ascribed to Him in reality refer to His Manifestations. It is therefore easy for them to understand the meaning of phrases revealed in the holy scriptures such as the vision of God, the presence of God, the Manifestation of God, and the Advent of God. These are all familiar to scholars and researchers, and this point has been explained in detail in Miracles and Metaphors.
Then know, my friend, that the people of the Bayan have often employed the term "mountain" as a metaphor in referring to great persons, whether government officials or renowned scholars. The same word was used by the Commander of the Faithful, `Ali, for Malik ibn al-Harith, known as al-Ashtar, when he heard of his death. Iman `Ali's eloquent skill with words is well known to you, and his letters and talks need no praise here for their beauty and grace. His use of this phrase is recorded in the Path of Eloquence
(Nahj al-balaghah), and this metaphor is extremely appropriate and elegant.
[1. Muhammad ash-Sharif ar-Radi, compiler, Nahj al-balaghah, ed. by Muhammad Abu'l-Fadl Ibrahim, 2 vols. (Cairo: Dar Ihya al-Kutub al'Arabiyyah, 1963) vol. 2, p. 406.]
For great persons are like mountains bearing down on the earth, lending it stability with their weight, whether that "earth" be knowledge, religion, the community, or the state. The prophet David often used this term for God in his psalms, as did the other prophets of the children of Israel, in their books. For instance: "I say to God, my rock: `Why hast thou forgotten me?'" And it is written, "Be thou to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me, for thou art my rock and my fortress." There are numerous other examples.
[2. Ps. 71:3.]
Now that this has been demonstrated, know that Moses only asked to see God because the people suggested to him that he show them God, as is indicated by the verse: "Show us God openly." But God told him that seeing Him depended on whether the mountains of knowledge and faith could remain unmoving in their places, continuing to obey and have certitude. Because they had failed to reach the station of unswerving steadfastness in their knowledge and certainty, it was inevitable that the mountains of their existence would crumble and the foundations of their submission to the Object of their worship should be subverted when they entered His presence.
[3. Qur'an 4:153.]
Then their faith was transformed into unbelief,
their certitude into doubt, and their acceptance into rejection. For they had not yet achieved the final stages of mystical knowledge; the basis of their belief had not yet reached the highest level. They had not yet attained the station wherein the beatific vision and His Presence could be attained; they had not ascended to the stage of steadfastness and eternal life. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary that prophets should appear and holy ones arise to cultivate the trees of human existence and perfect their faith-related knowledge over the passing ages and succeeding centuries. Finally they would reach the point where they were able and steadfast, when the Lord would shed His effulgence on earth and heaven, and the mature ones among them would attain the station of the beatific vision, entering His presence.
In sum, our allegorical interpretation of this verse is that when Moses said to his Lord: "Show me, that I may behold Thee," because the people had demanded to see God, God replied to him: "Thou shalt never see Me." For the children of Israel had not reached the stage of perfection in their beings, nor had they attained the ability to persevere in their certitude. At the point when the mountain of existence might maintain its stability of faith and certitude when the effulgence of the Lord was unleashed on it — not quaking or moving from its place on witnessing it — then it would be ready to enter the presence of God and would deserve to stand in His audience, honored by the beatific vision.
Therefore, the Lord shed His effulgence on just one person from that nation, who was among the leaders of the people and considered a mountain of faith and certitude. Then his being crumbled, his faith was shaken, he regretted that he had asked for the vision of
God at the behest of his people, and he said, "Glory be to Thee: I am the first of the believers."
Know, my friend, that addresses are often directed at Messengers when the intent is their followers. Consider the verse revealed in the Surah of Jonah: "So, if thou are in doubt regarding what We have sent down to thee, ask those who recite the Book before thee. The truth has come to thee from thy Lord; so be not of the doubters." This blessed verse was addressed, according to outward appearances, to the Messenger of God [Muhammad]. But the Muslim community is really meant, as it is unreasonable to suppose that the Prophet would question the truth of the Qur'an, or would need to ask the Jews and Christians in order to allay his doubts and accept the truth of the Word of God. Examples of this are numerous in the holy scriptures. Whoever knows the decisive decree and the truths of the Book will recognize them where they appear. This should suffice for those with insight.
[1. Qur'an 10:94.]
As for your question about the meaning of angels in the holy verse revealed in the Surah of the Shrouded: "We have appointed only angels to be masters of the Fire, and their number We have appointed only as a trial for the unbelievers." Know, my friend, that the word "angel" [malak] is the singular of "angels" [mala'ikah], and in the Arabic language this term is identical in form and meaning to the Hebrew. For it is derived from the same Semitic source, from which the Syriac, Hebrew, Arabic, Assyrian, and Chaldean languages all branched out. The connotation of the word is ownership, taking possession of a thing.
[2. Qur'an 74:31.]
[3. Modern research has established that the Arabic word for angel is actually derived from L'K, a root meaning "to send."]
The terms "angel" and " "angels" were used in the words of the prophets preserved in the holy scriptures for holy souls and leaders guiding others, because they clothed themselves in human form yet possessed spiritual and heavenly attributes. They took hold of the reins of guidance and became sovereigns of the realms of guardianship. It was as though they were given absolute authority over the happiness and affliction, the guidance and perdition, of the people.
This is the meaning of the absolute guardianship referred to in the reported sayings of the Imams: it was for this reason that the commander of the righteous was referred to as the guardian of the gates of paradise and of hell. This word was also used in the utterances of the Prophet for the leaders of the evildoers and the chiefs of the wayward, for they are guides to the iniquitous, leading them to the flames. For this reason God termed them angels and leaders in His saying: "And We appointed them leaders, calling to the Fire."
[1. Qur'an 28:41.]
In the ancient holy books the words "angel" and "angels" were also used when referring to the latter, as in Revelation 9:11. The author prophesied the advent of the unjust Umayyad caliphs [r. 661-750 A.D.] in the Islamic dispensation by his words: "They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon." This is the rendering of the Protestant version. As for the Latin, which is to say the Catholic, version, it is: "They have an angel, and he is the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon,
and in Greek he is called Apollyon, which means destroyer."
The reference is to the leaders of wrong and the chiefs of that despotic caliphate which misruled the Muslim community until they ended in ruin and abasement, as you can see with your own eyes. God knows best what will be the end of this distressed community and this heedless people, given that they have been overwhelmed by their enemies and by the ill intentions and ignorance of their leaders. Their feebleness, lassitude, indifference, and confusion is such as to bring tears to the eyes, to provoke anxiety, to make the heart bleed, and to excite apprehension.
Let us abandon this sorrowful and grief-inspiring subject and return to our discourse. The malady is one that defies the treatment of the wise, and the remedy for which is precious to the wise. In Revelation 12:7 it is also written: "Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and thee was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him."
"Michael" refers to the Manifestations of the Cause of God, and his angels are his supporters and lovers. The great dragon and the ancient serpent, or Satan and his angels, are the tyrannical leaders and chiefs of wrongdoing along with their adherents and partisans. For in each dispensation the spirit of error has become manifest under a different name. In the Islamic cycle, as we have explained in numerous places, it appeared in the guise of the despotic [Umayyad]
caliphate, insofar as its rulers resisted the Manifestations of holiness [the Imams] and made war against the House of the Prophet until the distressed community was so burdened down that it faced perpetual ruin and abasement.
Then know, my pure friend, that just as religions are the gates to paradise and to the good-pleasure of God when they are revealed, they are also the doors to hell and the wrath of God when they are abrogated and transformed. For instance, just as the religion of Moses and the holy Law of the Hebrew Bible were a gate to heaven whereby innumerable souls entered the realm of God's contentment, the very same religion became a gate to perdition in the dispensation of Jesus, whereby numbers of souls entered into the flames of God's displeasure. For because of their religion, the Jews rejected the Spirit of God [Jesus] and contended against the Cause of God.
Likewise Christianity, when it was first ordained, caused multitudes to gain paradise. But because of it, the Christians denied the Messenger of God, labeled His Prophet false, and plunged into the flames of God's anger. It is the same with all the other religions in every age. Just as it is appropriate to apply the term "gate" to the religions because they are entranceways for the people to the garden of good-pleasure, in the same way it has been applied to the prophets and chosen ones by virtue of its aptness to the meaning mentioned above.
For this reason, this expression was used for the Twelve Imams in the Comprehensive Pilgrimage [Az-ziyarah al-jami'ah, attributed to the Tenth Imam, `Ali al-Hadi] where it is written of them: "You are the door of God that gives and takes away." It is also referred to in the blessed verse: "And a wall shall be set up between
them, having a door in the inward whereof is mercy, and against the outward thereof is chastisement." Know that the doors of paradise in the dispensation of the Primal Point [the Bab] were nineteen, including eighteen Letters of the Living and the single Point. By them the sincere ascended to the loftiest peak and entered into the sheltering garden.
[1. Qur'an 57:13.]
When the Point vanished the most glorious Lord [Bahá'u'lláh] manifested himself, he was opposed by that scoundrel referred to in the Islamic Traditions as the Antichrist [Mirza Yahya Nuri, Subh-i Azal]. That false one appointed nineteen persons from his leading companions and wily friends, giving them the name "Witnesses to the Bayan" so as to mislead the faithful and to hinder the Beauty [Bahá'u'lláh] of the All-Merciful. This notorious deceiver was prophesied in great detail by the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians.
The angels of fire in Qur'an 74:31 are these companions of the Antichrist and chiefs of error. The believers, after the martyrdom of the Bab, were seduced by them and depended on them. They turned away from the right path because of the doubts those persons sowed, and opposed the truth because of their vain words. The people of faith were seduced by their number, as nineteen was the holy number for the people of that era, just as the number nine is sacred and revered among the faithful in this praiseworthy dispensation and glorious cycle.
They counted the gates of hell as three. These three are also angels of Hades who lead the people of the left hand to the painful chastisement. The highness of their rank and station helped deceive the ignorant and mislead the people of the left hand, as is indicated
in the blessed verse: "Depart to the triple-massing shadow unshading against the blazing flame."
[1. Qur'an 77:30-31.]
In every age and time God's words have criteria that are known by the people of Faith, the memorizers of the scripture, the treasuries of wisdom, and the suns of elucidation. For the two opposing spirits of guidance and error ever course through the people, and the springs of unbelief and faith always flow among human beings. God's Manifestation has no prescribed limits or specially appointed time. May His power be glorified: He constantly gazes on the hearts of His servants, and when He perceives in them a readiness to accept it, He makes His Cause manifest immediately.
It is, therefore, necessary that the touchstones for His words be present in every age and that the gates of paradise and hell remain open at all times. Here let us bring our discourse to a close and content ourselves with what has been said. We implore God in this conclusion to purify your heart, cleanse your breast, lend strength to your shoulders, and inspire you with the truths of the Book. May He nourish you with the quintessence of knowledge in every field and reveal to you the proof, and decisive decree, that you may arise to aid the Cause of your Lord with a power that will rend asunder the veils of the people of doubt and illumine the hearts of the righteous. He is, verily, our Guardian in the beginning and the end.
I ask you, my dear friend, to give my sincere greetings and peace to all the friends, and to remind them of my lasting love for them, that perhaps they may increase their devout prayers for my sake when they perform their devotions. Give my special regards to Shaykh `Izzat, and inform him that his letter arrived
and that the passage where he reminded me of the days when we first met revived and refreshed me, renewing in my mind the image of his comely visage. But there may be a delay of a few days before I can send him a reply because I have no leisure at present and am extremely busy.
Writing the book that the Master commanded me to author is no easy task to be taken lightly, especially as I am alone, weak and feeble, always on medicine. I have very little of the time necessary to complete such a weighty project. It has to be finished before the coming spring, which leaves insufficient time for such a lengthy work. By your life — a serious oath, as you know — this is an endeavor that engages my senses and thoughts to the extent that I have forgotten all other activities. It has reached the point, at this time, that my mind is scattered and my thoughts are jumbled as I write. I plead with him to understand the delay in my answer, taking pity on my state.
Please do send my quickly the finished copy of that essay, and do not forget, as my honored friend Kurdistani forgot, to dispatch to me the final copy of his book. In closing, I hope destiny favors you. Greetings and peace. Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani 20 Shawwal 1318 [10 February 1901]
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The Reality of the Holy SpiritHe is the All-Glorious
O righteous and splendid friend:
May God give you and us the wonderful gift of patience. Know that the sanctified reality which those nigh to God refer to as the Holy Spirit, the Universal Soul — and which God called in the Qur'an the Trustworthy Spirit — is invisible in its essence, abstract in its reality above the body and corporeal things. It cannot be described in terms of material beings. It cannot be mentioned by reference to its attributes and is above all egress and regress, limitation or incarnation. It is, rather, a reality that sheds its effulgence in the Manifestations of the Cause of God.
Its throne is the hearts of the pure ones; the mirror in which it shines forth is the breasts of the holy ones. Its dawning and rising in sanctified souls is like the reflection of the sun in mirrors. No one says that the sun has incarnated itself in the mirrors; rather it has appeared in them, it shines in, and is reflected by them.
Then know, my erudite friend, that the Holy Spirit is still rising from its dawning-places — one, united, and single in its essence — with no multiplicity in its reality or interpretation in its radiance. The luminous realities referred to as the divine Word (such as Moses, Christ, and our lord the Prophet [Muhammad]) are dawning-places of that rising sun. It continues to rise from the horizons, to safeguard religion throughout creation, and to shed light on all regions. It
rises or sets only in accordance with the wont of God in all ages and centuries.
In closing, I ask God to make you steadfast through the authentic Word. He is, verily, the Guardian of the righteous and the Bestower of illumination. Upon you be greeting and praise as long as night follows day.
Then know, if you seek to ascend to the lauded station, that such questions, whose answers you seek from your illustrious friend Shaykh Muhyi'd-Din, do not end with treatises. The assurance of hearts depends on making mention of God. Consider His saying: "In God's remembrance are the hearts at rest." Among the preconditions for arriving at that station are true struggle and cleaving to the hem of the fear of God. God said, "And fear God; God teaches you," and "But those who struggle in Our Cause, surely We shall guide them on Our ways." Patience and prayer, my friend, ease every difficulty and make light every hard task.
[1. Qur'an 13:28.]
[2. Qur'an 2:282, 29:69.]
As for theological matters, these also depend on meetings. When God helps you meet with Shaykh Muhyi'd-Din, he will elucidate for you with words and speech what cannot be said in a letter of book. May God guide us to the path of right, and bestow glory and majesty upon you by His grace in the beginning and the end. He is, verily, the Mighty, the Bestower. Abu'l-Fadl
This was a letter sent via the publisher of this collection to my spiritual friend Haji Shaykh Ahmad Effendi Durdi. — [Mirza Abu'l-Fadl]
Did Moses Prophesy Muhammad?He is the Living, the Eternal
May my life be your sacrifice:
Your letter of 14 Rabi' I 1330 [2 April 1912] arrived and was read with great care from beginning to end. I deeply pondered the question you raised and am now answering, in spite of my weak eyesight, my arthritic hands, my shortness of breath, and my other illnesses and worries. But before I respond to this inquiry, I must note that you referred to a dispute among the friends arising from the different interpretations of various commentators, and you mentioned the results.
This provoked the greatest amazement, as it indicates that some have fallen short of the rank of maturity. For the interpreter of the Book and the celestial judge who arbitrates the disputes of various groups is the Master [`Abdu'l-Bahá] of humankind — may our lives be his sacrifice. His firm judgment is the decisive decree judging between truth and falsehood. It was written in the Most Holy Book that we should refer whatever we could not discover in the Book to the Branch that sprung forth from that ancient Tree. Today, even though he is traveling in the lands of the West — praise by to God — the road is still open and it is possible to inquire of him. It is possible to ask about the truth with the greatest of ease.
This being the case, what reason can there be for dispute? The interpretations offered by all other commentators depend for their validity on scriptural citations, evidence, and proof, that is, assuming they do not contradict that which issued from the Most Holy Pen. In the latter case they are invalid.
Let us turn to the original question, which dealt with the intent of the prophecies found in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. Here, God commanded the children of Israel to obey a prophet whom He would send from among their brethren. You wished to know if this verse referred to Jesus of Muhammad. There are two pieces of evidence that could make it difficult to apply the text to the Prophet.
[1. The passage reads: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren — him you shall heed — just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, `Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' And the Lord said to me, `They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.'"]
The first piece of evidence is that Jesus himself said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me." If the passage in Deuteronomy 18 were interpreted to refer to Muhammad, there is no other passage in the Hebrew Bible that could apply to the advent of our lord Christ. Therefore, it has to be said that the holy one was the promised Christ, for
the interpretation above would require — -I take refuge in God — that he had lied.
[2. John 5:46.]
The second piece of evidence is that Luke wrote in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles 3:22-24 that the glad-tidings given by Moses in Deuteronomy 18 prophesied the advent of Christ.
The answer to the first proof is that a large number of researchers are convinced that the Hebrew Bible contains prophecies of all the Manifestations of God, from the advent of the Prophet Muhammad to the Last Day and the appearance of the countenance of God, the Most Glorious. But the advent of Jesus is referred to with the word "Lord," and allusions are made to the diaspora of the people of Israel. The appearance of the Prophet Muhammad is indicated with the word "prophet" and the responsibility of the people of Israel. The advent of Bahá'u'lláh is prophesied with the phrase "Manifestation of God" and the descent of the Lord in poetry of joy. The ingathering of the Jews and their reestablishment in the Holy Land with everlasting glory and happiness is also foretold.
All these cycles, which have been referred to very briefly, were mentioned in the celestial verses that make up the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy32. They include the beginning of Moses' ministry and how the tribes of Israel were saved, then their increasing arrogance, the appearance of Jesus, and the subsequent dispersal of the people of Israel. And then, the ages-long trials land afflictions that beset that holy people, until the Day of God, the advent of the Manifestation of the Cause of God, and the redemption of the Jews. These events have been described with the utmost subtlety and eloquence, if one possesses the exalted power to perceive it. Moses only revealed these words in the form of a song, which is to say, lyric poetry, so that the
children of Israel could memorize it and sing it. It was so they might become aware of its meaning.
But not only did the people of Israel not understand it, I have yet to see anyone who did pay attention to it and discover its real content. If my health were better and I possessed the leisure, I would compose a commentary on this blessed song. Likewise, I would have commented extensively on the second epistle of the honored disciple Peter. Thus might the people perceive that all the events which would be associated with the people of Israel, from his [Moses'] death to our own day, were clear to that illustrious apostle, and that Peter likewise read the entire dispensation of the great Christian nation as a single page before his eyes and in his radiant mind. That is the grace of God; He bestows it on whom He will.
For instance, look at Deuteronomy 32:18, at the point in the blessed song where he addresses the people of Israel, saying: "You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth." That is, you were heedless of that solid rock and towering mountain that brought you into being, forgetting the God Who created you in the beginning. "The Lord saw it, and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and daughters." That is, when God witnesses this, He rejected His sons and daughters in rage and fury, and He said He would hide His face from them.
[1. Deut. 32:19.]
In these perfect words, by "the Lord" is intended Christ, for at the appearance of that holy one the doors of degradation and dispersal were opened on the children of Israel, and the divine countenance was concealed
from them. That is, after Jesus no prophet was sent to them, and no divine words were revealed to them. Their fear and poverty increased day by day.
You should not believe that everyone can comprehend the meaning of the prophecies in the holy scriptures and can unravel the allusions and figurative speech of the prophets. If every soul understood the celestial words, none of these disputes would have arisen. The Jewish scholars, in spite of their descent from the prophets, rejected these very glad-tidings of Christ, while Christian doctors employ these verses to establish the truth of the advent of Christ. Is this not the strongest proof for the difficulty of understanding the words of the prophets? Not only did this difference in comprehension arise among the Jewish and Christian scholars, but among half the scholars of Europe this disagreement occurred and provoked numerous debates and disputes.
In the sixteenth Christian century, two great philosophers and prominent scholars conducted a debate on the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. One was named Hugo Grotius and the other Johannes Cocceius. Grotius said that all the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible were fulfilled before the advent of Christ, and that the proof texts to which the disciples resorted in the New Testament represented an esoteric interpretation in
which they attempted to force the meaning to apply to Christ. Cocceius replied that whatever was in the Pentateuch and the books of the prophets prophesied Christ, his works and deeds. Christians divided into two factions, one half following Grotius and the other half Cocceius. The dispute continues to this day.
[1. Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), the Dutch Humanist philologist who wrote on law and theology, laid some of the groundwork for modern international law. His "On the Truth of the Christian Religion" was translated into thirteen languages, including Arabic and Urdu. Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) was a German Protestant exegete and theologian, a leading exponent of covenant theology.]
Now for the second proof, that Luke in the Acts of the Apostles reported the address of the Apostle Peter in which he said that Moses' statement represented a prophecy of Christ. The answer is that scholars have differed concerning the station of the writers of the New Testament. Some, particularly Eclidus, agree that the disciples of Christ, particularly the writers of the Gospels, were inspired and infallible. Others, especially the philosophers, believe that they were not inspired, but that their judgment was like that of any other man.
But this servant says that Luke himself never wrote that he was inspired. Nor do we have any document from Christ indicating that Luke was inspired and could commit no error. If we scrutinize the sayings of the first generations in the books of the Apostles and the translations made of them, we will see that the soundness of such proofs needs further investigation, and that without such research and examination of this translation, no reliance on them can be justified. Luke was the disciple of Paul and had not himself attained the presence of Christ. His position is, therefore, equivalent to that of the second generation of early believers in the Islamic dispensation.
Certainly the people of truth were expecting the advent of a prophet. This is clear from John 1:19-21, where it is written,
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"
He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ."
This passage clearly indicates that the people were awaiting Christ and Elijah and a prophet. Otherwise, these questions are meaningless.
I fear I have no further time for writing this letter. In closing, I implore the Lord of humankind to bless with honor and health you and all the friends — nay, all the people of the world. For He is the Generous, the Compassionate.
[1. This letter was written to Dabir Mu'ayyad.]
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A Commentary on the Saying "Knowledge is Twenty-seven Letters"In the Name of God, the Possessor of Grandeur and Splendor
After giving praise in the court of glory, and expressing my thanks and gratitude in the most holy presence of the sovereign of the kingdom of names [`Abdu'l-Bahá], who is refulgent in the world of creation in the ornament of servitude to God, the Lord of the earth and the heavens, I give my greetings to Aqa Sayyid Asadu'llah, visitor to the blessed threshold. May God confirm him in that wherein lies his glory and give him success in that wherein lies his exaltation and happiness.
[1. This letter was written to Aqa Sayyid Asadu'llah Gandum-Pakkum.]
You asked about the saying of Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq [d. 765 A.D.], which was quoted in the Book of Certitude. The text of the saying is as follows: "Knowledge is twenty-seven letters. All that the Messengers have brought is only two letters, and the people to this day know only these two letters. When our Promised One arises, he will reveal the other twenty-five letters."
You said the Na'ib Rida Quli Khan — may God aid him to serve His cause in the shadow of the banner of
his Covenant — expressed a wish that you supplicate the holy presence of the Master for a commentary on this saying. But since you saw with your own eyes the burden of work that weighed down the Master of the worlds, you dared not approach him with such a request. You then asked this feeble servant for an interpretation of the saying. As I am also suffering from several maladies, and in addition lack the necessary books on reported sayings of the Imams, I cannot fulfill the duty of adequately explaining the saying. Nevertheless, I am obedient to your command and shall present a brief commentary.
The Imam meant to indicate with these statements the supreme greatness of the Last Day, in every respect, over the days of past Manifestations. Since the greatest cause of the progress of nations is knowledge and sciences, that holy one set up a vast range of knowledge as the criterion for proving that the day of the Advent of the Promised One is greater than any other day. By means of this delicate phrase he prophesied to those with hearts that the Sun of reality on that triumphant Day will shed twenty-five degrees more light than in the days gone past, and that the rain of compassion from the sky of bounty will be far increased over that in the time of previous messengers.
For if those endued with sight examine fairly the signs accompanying this Most Great Theophany, and the tokens that signaled the Manifestations of the past, they will bear witness to the supremacy of this blessed Manifestation and to the truth of the holy saying. They will arise to thank and praise God for the advent of the Promised Day. This meaning can be gained from numerous sayings of the Imams of guidance. But the ravages of chronic diseases, and the necessity of obeying the Master's command that I complete the refutation of objections made by heedless souls, prevent
me at this time from discoursing on this matter at length. If the wondrous blessings raining down on me from the Master of humankind — `Abdu'l-Bahá, the glory of all who are in the realm of creation — should aid me, I will expend on this subject in another place.
Among the oral reports from the Imams with a similar significance is another saying that is also cited in the Book of Certitude from The Book of the Worlds (Kitab al-`awalim) by `Abdu'llah ibn Nuru'llah al-Bahrayni. The Imam said, "Every piece of knowledge has seventy aspects, but the people possess only one. When the Promised One arises he will disseminate the other aspects among the people." Another reported saying giving the same meaning is in the section on the life of the Promised One in the volume on the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam, Oceans of Light [Bihar al-anwar, compiled by Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1699)]. It was related by Humran from Imam Baqir, Ja'far's father, who said, "It is as if I see that this religion of yours will always be enslaved and tested with its own blood, and it shall only be returned to you by a man who is from among us, the People of the Prophet's House. He will give you two bestowals each year and will nourish you twice each month. You will be granted wisdom in his time until the woman gives decrees in his house according to the Book and the custom of the Messenger of God."
[1. `Abdu'llah ibn Nuru'llah al-Bahrayni, Kitab maqtal al-`awalim (Tabriz: Dar Tiba'at al-Hajj Ibrahim at-Tabrizi, 1878).]
[2. Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, 107 vols. (Tehran: al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah, n.d.) 51, ch. 12.]
In each line of this noble saying a sea of knowledge lies concealed, but to discover it requires time and leisure. The source for all these authentic sayings
about the vastness of the range of knowledge and science is the blessed verse "And the earth shall shine with the light of its Lord," which was revealed in the Surah of the Companies. This point is known to the people of insight, that God did not intend by "the earth shall shine" to refer to the radiance and splendor of the literal sun. For from the beginning of creation, every twenty-four hours the earth is illumined by the rays of the outward sun, nor is this a special feature pertaining only to the Promised Day.
[1. Qur'an 39:69.]
Rather, the verse refers to the light radiating from the Sun of Reality, that is, from the Manifestation of the Cause of the Lord of Grandeur. That is the light of knowledge, the radiance of science, the shining rays of justice and security, the gleaming of the arts of civilization and true humanity, unblemished by the darkness of ignorance and vileness. It will issue from no place but the heavens of divinity, and blaze forth from no one but the Manifestation of the Cause of God. Naught but these blessed rays can deliver the world from the gloom of abasement, the afflictions of warfare and bloodshed, and the vices of evil and bestiality.
Note that approximately seventy years have passed from the advent of the Primal Point, through the day when the sun of the most holy beauty of Baha dawned forth, to the time when the daystar of the sublime Covenant is shining. During this time, the divine Pen has been in motion and the showers of lordly teachings have been heavily raining down. It is clear that the holy writings are the heavenly rainfall that causes the human world to bloom and become fresh and makes the flowers of human virtues and goodly qualities flourish. The hidden depths of the verses in the holy
books thereby become manifest, and the truth of the Qur'an verses, which the ignorance of the Muslim clergy, in taking them literally, had rendered doubtful among laymen, is clear and obvious.
Through these writings fine manners are introduced and just laws are established. False, delusory, and fabricated beliefs are eclipsed and in their place are firmly fixed genuine doctrines in accord with reason and sound judgment. In sum, the world is newly adorned from east to west, and knowledge and science encircle the entire globe. May the soul of Bidil be happy, who said,
O Lord, may the four corners of creation brim with gladness
Let those with sight meditate on the writings of the ancient Pen during these seventy years. They are like blossoming petals and spring flowers scattered in every land by the breezes of dawn. Their volume is such that it would be difficult to compare them to the entirety of the writings of all the other prophets — upon them be peace.
Indeed, let them merely consider the talks, Tablets, answers, and discussions of the Master of the worlds which flowed from the most holy pen during this journey to the vast regions of Europe and America in gatherings, meetings, churches, and schools at the request of great sages and philosophers, priests, and leaders. Let them compare these with the writings of former times, that they may discover the difference between two letters and twenty-five, or between one and seventy. They would see the distinction between a
very light drizzle and a thundering downpour, between the trickling of a small spring and the huge waves of a billowing, surging ocean.
Although this blessed journey has lasted only two years, not more, numerous volumes of his talks, in the Persian, Arabic, English, and French languages, have been printed and published and distributed widely in all countries. These holy talks were not delivered after meditation and deliberation, or at leisure — not at all. Rather, in every situation they were revealed intuitively, spontaneously, extemporaneously, powerfully, and independently. For visitors and the public left that holy being no time or opportunity to ponder their questions. At all times a multitude of respected souls from distant lands, whether Iran, India, the various countries of Europe, or America arrived and pleaded that they be allowed to attain his presence. Naturally, the kindliness of the exponent of the Cause of God forbade that he should deprive them or offer them excuses or pleasantries.
Not at morning, noon, or at night did the ill and feeble frame of that exemplar of loving-kindness and compassion have an opportunity to rest, that he might have time to meditate or ponder. Moreover, each of the illustrious persons who met with him or attended gatherings where they asked him to speak, questioned him on obscure theological puzzles, religious enigmas, or the details of how to combat the ills afflicting human society. Most of them returned intoxicated and rejoicing; even that small minority that is habitually disobedient were seen to be silenced, subdued, and unable to reply or object.
The majority, who returned devoted and joyous, wrote and published accounts of what they had seen in learned journals or major newspapers along with descriptions
of the characteristics, virtues, and biographical details of that sacred life. They made clear the meaning of the blessed verse: "And the day We shall raise up from every nation a witness against them from amongst them" in the Surah of the bee. That is the grace of God; He gives it to whomever He wills, and He is the All-Encompassing, the Knowing.
[1. Qur'an 16:89.]
These are the manifest and unconcealed signs of the most great and glorious Manifestation, which have been described and may be easily confirmed by anyone. As for the hidden tokens of this mightiest and most splendid of Theophanies, which have appeared in the worlds of matter, these are also differentiated from the secret signs that accompanied the past Manifestations. The difference is as clear as the sun in the midday sky. For the signs that arise at the dawning of the Sun of guidance, like the rays shining from the sun in the sky, are of two sorts. One sort is that which the generality of the people perceive, and the other is such that only mature souls can discern it.
For instance, every eye can see the rays of light emanating from the sun in the sky, but their hidden effects on the motion of atoms in the inner depths of three kingdoms of nature are witnessed by none but learned and wise souls. In the same way, everyone can behold the verbal signs uttered by the Manifestations of the Cause of God, but they are unable to perceive the effect of their manifestation in the universe, and the changes in the worlds of matter and the spread of knowledge that they produce. It is universally recognized by philosophers that the manifestations of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets, caused universal transformations in nations, or
rather, throughout the globe. Their appearance bestowed a new form to the world, thereby, the extent and range of the sciences increased.
It was necessary that I explain this difficult premise briefly. Now I can continue: From the foundation of humanity until the arrival of the Day of God and the Most Great Manifestation, material knowledge and sciences concerned with building up the physical world, such as the sciences of philosophy, mathematics, and literature — and their branches, such as technologies, arts and crafts — were limited to a particular people or country. Everyone else remained deprived and passed their lives in ignorance and servitude.
For instance, there was a time when India, the birthplace of Hinduism, was the dawning-place of the lights of knowledge and virtues and the center of arts and technologies. The European languages were derived from Sanskrit, a branch of the Aryan language. Civilization spread from that people to the Romans. The other continents of the earth, such as Europe, the rest of Asia, and Africa, were unknown and abject, and their people passed their lives in ignorance and abasement.
[1. Although Sanskrit and most living European languages are related, and Sanskrit is much older, both the Indo-Iranian and the European languages are descended from a common ancestor, Aryan.]
There was also a time when the Nile valley was a splendid center of knowledge and science, when gratefulness for Egyptian arts and technologies stole the heart of the rest of the world and the war cry of the pharaohs set the limbs of the nations quaking. In another age the nation of Iran, during the reign of the Kayanian monarchs, was a light-giver to the world in
its arts, sciences, and knowledge. Zoroaster arose from this Semitic country. All the countries of the world were enthralled under the shadow of this empire and took pride in emulating the Iranians.
[1. The text reads "Ibrahim Zardusht," as Mirza Abdu'l-Fadl seems to have confused Abraham with Zoroaster. Zoroaster and his people probably did not speak a Semitic language, though powerful kingdoms existed in western Iran where Semitic languages were spoken.]
Likewise, the Assyrian and Chaldean peoples had their day in the sun. The inhabitants of Babylon and Nineveh shed the effulgence of their knowledge and arts on the world. Then came the turn of Greece, and the sciences and arts of the philosophers of that nation — and the military conquests of Alexander the Great — reached great countries. From the magnificence of Greece, it was not long until the breaths of revelation wafted from the Hijaz, and the Arab kingdom and the Islamic religion were founded. The rays of knowledge and science shone through the efforts of the caliphs of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Spain to illuminate half the globe. The Arab conquests subdued mighty nations.
From the time of the Muslim empire, only a few centuries elapsed before the lights of sciences and arts shown forth from Europe. The sun of knowledge and civilization rose in the West and completely disappeared from the rest of the world. The banner of the power and authority of the Western states was raised, and the ensign of material civilization became manifest and triumphant. Ignorance and enslavement spread in the rest of the countries. Thus did things proceed in past ages.
Very briefly, we have sketched out how sciences
were monopolized in past ages and bygone times. But in this most radiant, most noble century and appointed time, the age wherein the Sun of guidance has risen, the Day of the advent of the most holy, most glorious Manifestation [Bahá'u'lláh], note how the spread of knowledge has become general. The flags of the universal spread of the arts to all the countries are streaming. Thus, ancient peoples have stirred and disseminated knowledge to their own people including the Indians, the Chinese, the Turks, the Tatars, and in the West the Greeks, the Serbs, and the Bulgarians. But more, even abject countries and primitive peoples like the Sudanese, the Berbers, and the unlettered tribes of African and America have come to consciousness. They have risen and stepped forward to open schools, found councils, spread virtues, and promulgate learning.
It is no exaggeration to state that all the denizens of the globe, in all their diversity, have reached agreement on the need to spread the sciences. This is one of the greatest proofs for the dawn of the Sun of reality, one of the most perfect indications that the Day of God has arrived and the Hour has struck. This point was also made in the predictions and prophecies of the ancient holy boobs. For instance, consider Daniel 12, which specifies the date of the Last Day, the advent of the Blessed, Most Glorious Beauty, the redemption of the people of Israel and the progeny of Abraham from their abasement and sore trials.
According to the Arabic translation published at Oxford University in 1890, after prophesying the rise of the Manifestation of the Cause of God, he says in 12:4: "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and
fro and knowledge shall increase." In 12:10 it is written: "Many shall purify themselves, and make themselves white, and be refined: and none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand."
Such statements abound in the books of the prophets, but in view of the duty laid on me to write another and more important piece, in obedience to the command of the Master, I beg to be excused from discoursing on this subject any further. In sum, I have boldly made clear some of the implications of the noble saying in its parable of the twenty-seven letters, showing how it applies to events in this dispensation.
My dear and honored friend, one thing yet bewilders me. The will of God decreed that three dawning, shimmering, gleaming luminaries should rise over the radiant horizons of Iran, signs of the arrival of the Day of God which prophesied and affirmed in the celestial scriptures. The springs of heavenly knowledge and learning have flowed from that land of paradise, bringing true life and divine power and might. But in spite of all this, most of the people of that country are standing immobile in the gloom of remoteness, have taken refuge in idle fancies and heedlessness, and are confounded, athirst, and bewildered.
This is so even though the Seal of the Prophets [Muhammad] reminded the people of Islam in numerous places that, in the time of the end, Iran would be the dawning-place of knowledge, religion, and faith, and that the sun of a new Cause and eternal life would rise over this luminous horizon. This point was clearly made and recorded in authentic oral reports and in Qur'an commentaries respected by both Shi'is and Sunnis. I shall mention the original sayings [in the
Arabic] without translating them [into Persian], in bringing this essay to a close. I beg to be excused from providing details or discussing them at length.
As for the sayings of the Imams from the House of the Prophet, it is related in the fine commentary of Tabarsi, Compendium of Explanations [Majma al-bayan]: "When the verse in the Surah of Women was revealed. `If He will, He can put you away, O men, and bring others,' the Prophet slapped Salman [the Persian] on the back with his hand and said, `They are this people.'"
[1. Qur'an 4:133.]
Yaqut, in his definition of the word "Iran" in his Dictionary of the Countries [Mu'jam al-buldan], also related this saying. That is to say, Both Sunni and Shi'i have agreed in transmitting this oral report. Then there is the renowned saying recorded in the collection of authentic traditions [Salih] compiled by Bukhari, of which few scholars are unaware: "The Prophet — peace be upon Him — said, if knowledge were in the Pleiades, the hands of men from Iran would grasp it."
In the chapter on virtues in Lamps of Tradition [Masabih as-sunnah], a collection of genuine oral reports from the six authentic compendiums, the following saying is recorded with a sound chain of transmission from the Prophet:
The Messenger of God — may the peace and blessings of God be upon him and his House — recited this verse from the Surah of Muhammad, "If you turn away, He will substitute another people instead of you, then they will not be your like."
They asked the Messenger of God, "Who are those that, should we turn away, will replace us and not be our like?"
The compiler of the Lamps of Tradition also recorded another saying in this chapter, quoting the original transmitter of the oral report:
We were sitting with the Prophet — may the peace and blessings of God be upon him — when the Surah of the Congregation came down and this verse was revealed: "And others of them who have not yet joined them."
At this point we will bring our discourse to a close, imploring at the threshold of the Glorious Lord that the Iranians might awaken from their horrifying nightmare.
19 Ramadan 1331 [22 August 1913] The outskirts of Alexandria. Abu'l-Fadl