Letters and Essays, 1886-1913Juan Cole.
Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1985
ForewordIt is not easy for me to write a foreword to this book. I remember writing to Juan R. Cole some time ago that I did not think it was yet time to study the Bahá'í Faith historically and scientifically. It seemed as inconceivable to me as suggesting that Christians in the first century A.D. should have written on the Christian religion scientifically. I felt that we, as Bahá'ís, were too close, too interested, too emphatically involved in Bahá'í history to write about it objectively.
The books of Bahá'í scholarship that have been published since that time have convinced me of the contrary. Young Bahá'í scholars, including Dr. Cole himself, have written on Bahá'í subjects as objectively as is possible for them. And I myself in a lecture on the occasion of the celebration of the Birth of Bahá'u'lláh (on November 12, 1983) made use of a concept first put forth by Cole: that of a science of "theophany" needed for an understanding of the Bahá'í Faith, almost as the Christians study their concept of incarnation.
An old friend of mine, Sr. Panella, a Bahá'í of Rome, now unfortunately passed away, used to say that the Bahá'í Faith means primarily: Evoluzione nel tempo, e unita nell'ora [Evolution in time, and unity at the present hour]. Truly, the whole Bahá'í Faith is centered on this theophanical idea. Bearing in mind the Bahá'í principles of the inaccessibility of God and the evolution of the exterior forms of religion, all of the doctrines of the Faith can be encompassed by the
phrase "evolution in time." "Unity at the present hour" means that now the urgent aim of the Faith is the unity of mankind, in all its implications.
This book is a translation of certain works written by Mirza Abu'l-Fadl on the history and the transcendent importance of the Bahá'í religion. Abu'l-Fadl is well known to Bahá'ís. He was the greatest Oriental expounder of their religion. Naturally, he approaches the Faith from an Eastern perspective, explaining some of its more esoteric aspects. Nonetheless, this book is of extreme importance for the Bahá'ís. It is a book each Bahá'í should possess and read to obtain a better knowledge of what the Bahá'í Faith really is. Alessandro Bausani Rome
On the Meaning of Civilization
In the Name of God.
My brother, exalted in essence:
I read the letter bearing your seal. The beauty of its hand and grace of its language gave me hope that, by God's pure will, you will not only perfect your style and become a peerless correspondent, but that you will also pay attention to the substance of what is written. Do not pass beyond a certain limit, for eloquence is a highly subtle branch of knowledge to the brilliance of which most writers' eyes remain blind. Today the sun of eloquence has risen from the West, and the thunderbolt of knowledge and arts has flashed from the West. Turn your face toward it, and give your heart to that holy one. Perhaps the splendor of that radiant star will illuminate your pure heart, and unite the stream of your consciousness to the ocean of the Source of awareness.
My dearest friend: the good qualities in figures of speech are like lovers' adornments: "God-given beauty has not need of cosmetics." Metaphor, rhyming prose, simile, and alliteration are like salt in food: too much destroys it, diminishing the original charm of the words. In this regard, do not transgress the bounds of moderation or borrow overmuch from the speech of others. For in your borrowed cloak, the adornment appears shameful. Render your words concise and
harddriven, making use of their basic eloquence, that your letters may gain fame throughout the world and your name be linked with stylistic and rhetorical excellence.
You asked the meaning of "civilization" and "the educator of the human world." The former signifies, "being of the city," and the philosophers employed this broad term to denote a code of behavior capable of organizing the world and giving repose to its peoples. The fixed rules of civilization are the holy and divinely ordained Laws, and the source of peace for the masses is following the traditions laid down by God. If you look at the history of religions and of previous generations, you will see that no community became great without obeying divine envoys and putting into practice noble, heavenly ordinances. And no people were abased except that they forsook the commands of the revealed Book and committed what the Lord of Lords had forbidden.
Today, the differences between communities and religions and the multiplication of confessions and schools of thought have reached the point that this brief essay allows no space to explain them. The True Educator and the Mediator of the divine effulgence can be recognized by the effectiveness of his word and by his ability to perfect imperfect mortal souls. These two qualities are the signs whereby the Manifestations of His Cause, the Recipients of revelation, the Masters of religion are distinguished from all others, and these are the gifts for which the Lord of all worlds has singled them out.
In this day, the power of attraction, effective speech, and universal knowledge all belong to the friends of God. With the sturdy rope of certitude they capture learned and pious persons in the noose of submission,
mission, and with the sword of utterance they sever the cord of vain imaginings to which all religions have clung. With the gentle medicine of holy words they cure the spiritual illnesses of humankind. Even though the powerful show them hostility and despots and tyrants harshly forbid the promulgation of the Cause and the exaltation of their religion, they do not desist. "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 goes only astray."
[1. Qur'an 13:14.]
My brother, more dear to me than life itself: The Manifestation of the All-Merciful and the living symbol of the Most Great Godhead, who is the educator of the contingent world and the real sun of the universe, ever shines forth with a human countenance and appearance. An understanding of the highest levels of erudition and of the complete unity of divers types of knowledge depends on him. The root principle of redemption and salvation is obedience to his commands. He is the treasury of wisdom, he is near to the eye of perception. He is the Most Great Portal and his command is the straightest path. Knowledge of him is the highest aspiration of the peoples. For the greatest scholars, the most accomplished philosophers, the sublime mystics, his commands and recognizing and meeting him constitute the highest teaching, the ultimate proof, and the most splendid hope. All have their origins in him, and all shall return to him. The cause and the sovereignty are his. All affairs depend on him.
My star and source of joy: Today my opportunity for writing and peace of mind for thoughts of religion
are as fleeting as the imagined lips of a lover or the nonexistent phoenix of the West. If the All-Bounteous, the All-Powerful should grant me the vigor, and the aid of His all-embracing compassion, then: "this expression will be translated broadly in another place." May the fortune of the tree of your youth be laden, even as I write, with the fruits of arts and sciences.
Completed by the pen of Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani on the evening of 13 Dhu'l-Qa'dah 1302 [24 August 1885] corresponding to the day of Shahrivar of the Parsi month of Farvardin, 1255.
On The Resurrection DayHe is God, Possessor of Greatness and Power.
May my spirit be your sacrifice.
The noble letter you had sent in remembrance of this forsaken one arrived, spreading joy and delight. I began to hope, by virtue of the signs of love and faithfulness displayed by that epitome of purity and sincerity that, God willing, you will not forget me in this remote place, and that you will ever gladden the heart of this exile by sending your letters and accounts of events.
Inasmuch as you would want to know of my own situation: I arrived in Kashan on the fourteenth of the present month, ill and feeble. I stayed at the caravanserai of `Abbas Bey, which lies in a quarter behind the shrine. But I sent my trunk of books and writings to the house of Aqa Muhammad Hashim, the brother of the late champion Rida. His brother insisted that I stay with them, but considering that my original aim was more to interest people and to spread the Faith, had I acquiesced, what would have happened? Nevertheless, I am honored to meet daily with the friends of God and to attract the interest of people, using wisdom. God willing, I will report to you all that takes place henceforward.
Now let us discuss the question of the Resurrection and the Return, which is the most perfect cause of the guidance and mission of the prophets, an obscure matter about which you inquired and sought to know my belief.
My brother, joy of my soul: Today, the desire and concern of God — may His mention be glorified and His name exalted — is that the hearts of the friends be united and their affairs harmonized. In view of this, I have rolled up the carpet of doctrinal dispute and closed the book of solving and clarifying philosophical issues. Just as you noted, after being released from prison on the last occasion I refrained from broaching such matters in meetings and gatherings, and sealed my lips against the mention of such problems. I went along with whatever anyone said, silent and assenting, counting agreeing with the friends as more important than anything else.
My dear friend: Today the scale of rejection and acceptance, the touchstone that divides the fraudulent from the true, is the blessed Cause. Whoever adheres to and obeys it is accounted among those nigh unto God, at His right hand; while all souls who deny and rebel against His blessed Cause are castigated as unbelievers, the people of the left. Now, understanding matters relating to the origin of the world and the Judgment Day, the Resurrection, and the Return, is wholly unrelated to acceptance or rejection of the faith.
Praise be to God! Insofar as the obscure sayings of the prophets and messengers, and the abstruse phrases uttered by the envoys of the Lord of the worlds, have been elucidated and clarified with the greatest eloquence and loftiest style in the Book of Certitude, the Kitab-i-Iqan, how can anyone henceforward remain confused or require further solutions and explanations? This august volume is the key to understanding
the holy scriptures, the interpreter of all the divine epistles. Thereby has the seal on the words of the messengers been broken, and thus have the enigmatic allusions of past prophets been resolved.
Bahá'u'lláh Kitab-i-Iqan (Cairo: al-Mawsu'at Press, 1900); English trans. by Shoghi Effendi [Shawqi Rabbani], The Kitab-i-Iqan: The Book of Certitude (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 3rd ed., 1974).]
Even so, only because of your desire that I give my views on this subject, I shall set them forth, revealing the essentials of my own beliefs. Perhaps God will grant His friends success in exalting the teaching of unity and concord, and in guiding His servants to the right and moral path. He, verily, is their Guardian in the beginning and the end.
The inner essences of spiritual faculties inevitably require the outward forms of elemental bodies, and the sparks of shining souls cannot avoid a relationship with mortal clay. Even so, it is clear to possessors of intellect that the original intent of the prophets and messengers when they mentioned Return and Resurrection was to deliver to God's servants the glad tidings of a future Advent — when all that had transpired would be played out once more, retracing each footstep. In this way, the people would be deterred from believing that the Sun of Reality would never again rise, or that the spring of divine, mystical knowledge would never return. The prepared souls would be awaiting the appearance of Manifestations of God and watching for the reappearance of a primal reality. Then when the spiritual breeze wafted and the lordly, radiant luminary arose, exalted souls would be raised from the tombs of their bodies, a wondrous life would be bestowed on the world through a new spirit, and the earth would be adorned with the flowers of knowledge and science. Thus might the fruits hidden in the trees of existence be brought into the realm of appearance, just as they were at the time of the last Advent, and all that is concealed in the recesses of souls be made apparent and manifest. This is the meaning of Return.
Otherwise, in regard to relative characteristics, spirits never return to this world once they have been separated from it. The birds of the soul, once they have ascended to the Most High, never again descend to the nethermost depths.
If the aim of creating the world and its inhabitants were merely the experience of fleeting bodily pleasures, and creation were limited to the corporeal world, then — I take refuge in God! — the act of the All-Wise would become a whimsy and the promise of the prophets and messengers would remain unfulfilled. It is this that the Eternal Truth — may his mention be glorified and his name magnified — elucidated from the prophetic traditions in the Tablet to Sayyid Yusuf Isfahani concerning the existence of spiritual universes, explaining that the worlds of God are in no wise limited to the physical one. Thus he lifted the veil from the face of this obscure question with the utmost grace.
In short, you should have complete confidence that human beings under no circumstance return to this world after death. The bird of the spirit, after taking flight to the realms of eternal life and perfection, shall never again swoop low, to be ensnared in the net of deficiency and impermanence. I swear by the brilliant sun of the Godhead and by the blessed divine Symbol! If the worlds were confined to this corporeal universe, then the Manifestations of the Cause, the recipients of divine revelation, who are the dawning points of grandeur and self-sufficiency and the mines of knowledge, vision, and guidance, would never have borne the tribulations that befell them. They would never, for the sake of bodily pleasures, have opposed the peoples of the world. It is well known that their goal is a world surpassing mortal imagination, and the
perception of a plane inconceivable to the denizens of this earth. "We have taught you the first creation — will you not take admonishment?"
My dear brother: Today I have no further leisure. If the will of God be with me, after arriving in Isfahan I will write a lengthy explanation of this issue. I will mention proofs for the fallacy of limiting the worlds to the physical universe, drawing on arguments of the great philosophers against reincarnation, so that the question might not remain confused and no one be entranced by foolish doctrines.
Hastily, if you want to know something of the recent events in this down [Kashan]: At this time, by means of the return of Haji Muhammad Husayn and Haji Luft `Ali from Mecca, and the arrival of some of the friends from the Holy Land, some of the obdurate opposers have created a tumult. Among them is Mulla Habibu'llah Darvah-Isfahani, who is in reality the brother of the Wolf of Isfahan. Before Haji Muhammad Husayn arrived, Mulla Habibu'llah openly forbade the people to associate with him.
[1. Shaykh Muhammad Baqir, the Shi'i cleric who in 1880 ordered the death of the Beloved of Martyrs and the King of Martyrs in Isfahan.]
But then a telegram arrived from I'tidadu'd-Dawlih to the governor instructing the local government to give every mark of respect to Haji Muhammad Husayn, and calling on officials to greet him. Further, I'tidadu'd-Dawlih had bestowed a robe of honor upon the Haji. Briefly, when this news was heard, the tumult and clamor of the enemies increased, and the town is full of talk. But, by the grace of God, they were unable to do anything. The Haji arrived, honorably and with wisdom, near sunset the day before yesterday,
which was Thursday the seventeenth. The clergy and the notables went out to visit him. As for what will happen, all is in the hands of God. He does whatever He wills and ordains whatever He desires.
Please give my greetings to each and every one of the pure ones, especially Haji Khan, Hasan Khan, Aqa Mirza Mustafa, Aqa Mirsa Sadiq, Yahya Khan, my dear friend Aqa Mirza Hasan Rawdih-Khwan, and to the brethren of purity, Ustad Ghulam `Ali, Ustad Ghulam Husayn, and Aqa Abu'l-Qasim. May the grace and loving-kindness of God encompass them. Though I am imposing on you, I ask you to deliver my warm regards to each of them personally. God willing, in the next two days, if I can write a supplication [to the Holy Land] I will mention each of their names in it. I have hardly any time. Otherwise, up to now I have fulfilled every promise in this regard.
I will also impose on you to send twenty photographs, as follows: four of the Master, four of the two honored Branches Aqa Mirza Diya'u'llah and Aqa Mirza Badi'u'llah, four of the Prince of Martyrs and the rest pictures of the other friends. The friends in this are have repeatedly requested these; please send me some if you can get any. I shall send you the cost, whatever it may be. But please note that they should be copies, not of a sort where the originals have to be returned. Give my love to my dear friend Ibrahim and his noble brother Isma'il. I do not know if the rest of the money they had kindly given was delivered to the wife of the late Mirza Abu Talib or not. Please let me know.
[1. Diya'y'llah and Badi'u'llah were sons of Bahá'u'lláh, and half brothers of `Abdu'l-Bahá.]
My friend, when I was in Tehran I was troubled by
acquaintances who had newly come to hold me in affection, who always caused me to become renowned and who exceeded the bounds of wisdom. In reality, the reason there were dealings with that person, and the public disturbances occurred, was limited to those very individuals. After these observations, it was not necessary that Aqa Mirza Asadu'llah Ashtiyani, through the actions of this group, should have been summoned. I repeatedly said, and say again now, that I take refuge with God from such statements. I never felt that anyone failed to welcome me. God is my witness and He suffices as a witness. Each of the accepting souls showed respect to this undeserving one with helpfulness, even service. But after three or four rounds of imprisonment and incarceration in the delicate situations, it is necessary for me to take care that notables and officials are not angered or made anxious. The less well-known the promulgator or teacher of the Faith is, the better it is for its progress.
In short, these observations necessitate the writing of some petitions. Otherwise, I myself have traversed beyond these stations and, by reason of my feebleness and weakness, any hope of living much longer has suddenly been cut off.
In Qum, I had the honor of meeting the above-mentioned person. I wished to remain incognito, but since they had informed him of the details of my clothing and person, that proved impossible. Wise travelers through Qum must practice extreme caution, that much is clear — and this was especially so in my case, as I wished to meet with some persons. In any case, I convinced him that he should proceed alone to Kashan. After our arrival in Kashan, however, the events described above provoked by the arrival of the hajis had
thrown the town into turmoil, and the friends were most anxious. Therefore, it once more proved impossible to travel with him. Whatever the case, he set out for Isfahan with apologies, and had no difficulties. God knows, I myself had no cause to be concerned. Rather, the cause was that he did not have enough loyalty to accompany me to Isfahan. A partial reason was given, and he set out. What will now happen?
Please write every day of your own affairs, and those of the friends there, including an account of every important event related to the great and powerful, including generalities and specifics. May the rest of your days be lengthened. 21 Rajab 1301 [25 April 1886] Abu'l-Fadl
Why Moses Could Not See GodIn the Name of God, the Possessor of Grandeur and Power.
After praising God, Who illuminated the world with the lights of His countenance, strengthening the canopy of His Cause with the Dawning-Places of His greatness, the Treasuries of His knowledge, and the Manifestations of His splendor:
I wish to say that after a long separation, in the town of Hamadan I received a beautiful letter from you. However, since I was in the midst of traveling, I found no opportunity to reply — until now, in Kermanshah, where I have been able to begin a response. God knows that I can never think of Isfahan, that heavenly spot, without remembering my peerless friend's high moral qualities rising like the sun above the horizon of my ruminations, or without my heart trembling at the power of your friendship. For it is obvious that the hearts of the friends of the Beloved are still in His presence, encompassed by the ranks of the righteous, advancing toward the words of the pious. They are bound by so firm a bond that the swords of those in power could not sever it, and the oppression of tyrants have failed to break it. How amazing that lost ones from the various religions have gathered together in the sweet creed of love for Him, that divers separated hearts have agreed in worshipping Him, and that the ancient feuds and hatreds of former nations have been replaced with true brotherly love.
On the eve of my departure from Hamadan for Kermanshah, a gathering for the purpose of fellowship and meeting the beloved of God was held in the home of one of the friends. At first friends of Muslim background, their faces shining with the light of Muhammad, arrived. After our good fortune in meeting, they bade me farewell and returned home.
Then, gathered the progeny of Abraham, the children of Israel, in whose countenances the splendor of blessedness and the perfection of Moses could be discerned. They passed an hour or two discussing theological matters. I perceived them to have the capacity, by the permission of God, to understand things that the most accomplished philosophers failed to comprehend, witnessed them plunge into oceans, the shores of which the greatest of scholars never reached, and discovered them to have attained stations denied to the greatest mystics. The hand of power had kneeded their clay with the waters of wisdom, the fingers of loving-kindness had etched on their faces the signs of grandeur, and the sun of grace had shone on their breasts with rays of love. It was as if the All-Wise had fashioned their natures so as to exalt His Cause, adorning them with lofty and praiseworthy characters so as to fulfill His promise.
Praise be to God! In each one I could discern a manifest kindness, gentleness, and purity. Day and night, they busied themselves with delivering the Message to the masses of humanity, devoting themselves passionately to attaining a mystical knowledge of God, the Self-Sufficient, the Exalted. This is the power of the Almighty God. He replaced hereditary enmities with this sort of brotherhood, making the wolf and the lamb to lie down at the same watering place. Exalted be God, the All-Powerful!
As for the question of Resurrection and Return: Know that it is as the axis about which the grinding-stone of prophethood and divine revelation turns, the trunk from which the religions branch out endlessly. In spite of its clarity, the understanding of religious scholars has lost its path here, and the keen insight of the righteous has proved unable to resolve its difficulties. Its heavenly maidens have remained chaste in their palaces of holy verses, even after the most penetrating scholars sought their hands. Its reality is yet hidden beneath veils of words, even after the most brilliant philosophers uncovered it. Away with you, then, from it! For it is a stumbling block, a provoker of enmity in the world.
How many nations were dispersed because they failed to understand the meaning of Resurrection, and how many siblings separated for this reason! I know not what to say, or to whom to say it, or how to say it. Is it possible for anyone to reveal the true face of such matters better than the Lord of Grandeur Himself, or to explain these hidden secrets more eloquently than the Sovereign of all creation? I have for some time kept the steed of composition away from this field, reining in any desire to compose commentaries on it or to solve the problems related to it. This was so that the same fate might not befall us as befell the ancients, and we might not witness among ourselves what occurred among our forebears.
For it is the will of God that the ends of the earth are yet radiant with the lights of his Countenance, and the gardens of the world still emblazoned with the flowers of his Cause. He has devoted himself to creating unanimity among his friends, and his irrevocable decree was implemented through the union of the hearts of his lovers. It is therefore incumbent upon you
to cup your hand and drink from the spring of certitude [the Kitab-i-Iqan] that has flowed from the pen of the All-Merciful throughout these times. It is, for all its conciseness, the key to the psalms and tablets and the interpreter of the books of God, Who dispels the darkness at each dawn. Thereby have the seals of the prophets been broken and the abstrusities of the allusions of past scriptures been resolved. Exert yourself to the utmost and reflect on this holy book, that you might be inspired to the correct understanding of every chapter. Preserve the hearts of the friends from doubts, suspicions, and misgivings. Verily, our Lord is waiting, and He is our Guardian in the beginning and the end.
You asked about the interpretation of the holy verse, "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!' Said He, `Thou shalt not see Me, but behold the mountain — if it stays fast in its place, then thou shalt see me.' And when his Lord revealed Him to the mountain He made it crumble to dust; and Moses fell down swooning."
[1. Qur'an 7:143.]
My own humble understanding of the verse is as follows. It is clear and manifest to persons of insight that the invisible divine Essence and the holy, lordly Spirit can in no wise be perceived, and that between Him and the creation no link or connection can be imagined. Therefore, the Source from which commands and prohibitions issue, and the Dawning-Place from which psychological and spiritual perfections shine forth, and all that has been mentioned, near and far, is the Primal Word, and the universal divine Will. This eternal Word was the first person in the contingent world, and perfections grew from it. Its teachings brought into being the highest levels of humanity
and civilization, and every Envoy attained the rank of prophethood and messengerhood by virtue of its word. I can promulgate a new revelation in the world, abrogating past systems of religious law. It is the referent of all the most beautiful names of God, having come to be characterized by all the exalted attributes. Rather, it is the Lord of Names. It names anyone it wishes with any attribute it desires, and withdraws the name whenever it wills.
The speech of the Word is the speech of God, and its teachings are the divine verses. Had it not existed, no one would have attained to the knowledge of God or been liberated from the nadir of bestiality that is termed the lowest of the low. Know that from the earliest centuries until our own day, no king or emperor, no philosopher or teacher in any of the five continents of the world has succeeded in ordaining a religion. Only those who laid claim to the station of Messengers, all of whom spoke with one voice on behalf of the One that sent them, spread a system of revealed law through the world. Had the prophets not delivered the tidings of the Peerless One God, no one would have ever heard of Him, much less of His Essence.
Had these holy souls not ordained revealed laws and religions by His command, no one would have traversed the higher stages of humanity and civilized society, much less attained spiritual perfections and the rewards of the hereafter. Most of the world's population would have resembled the most primitive tribes of America and Africa, mired in savagery and mischievousness, covetous and lacking in education, dwelling in caves, sheltered valleys and holes in the earth, practicing cannibalism.
Exalted by God, Lord of all in the past and present! In view of what has been said, three conclusions may be drawn which are prerequisites for understanding the
holy verse. The first is that the Primal Word, known as the greatest of the divine Names, continues to manifest itself in human form and to shine forth upon the remotest horizons. The verses of the holy scriptures attesting to this matter are highly subtle, but no doubt you have perused them. For instance, in the Hebrew Bible it is written that God created Adam in His own image, and in the oral reports surviving from the Imams — the mines of knowledge and wisdom — it is also said that "God created Adam in His own image." The statements of the great founders and leaders of every religious community referring to the attainment of God's presence, the beatific vision, are innumerable.
This year during the summer, when I happened to be passing through Tehran, someone mentioned at a gathering that a debate had occurred between some of the friends and others who denied the truth of the prophets. These in ancient times were referred to as
atheists, but nowadays are called materialists. Those present asked the writer of this letter how it would be possible to prove the reality of the Necessarily Existent with rational evidence. I replied that it is impossible to vindicate the necessarily existent Essence with rational proofs, because the Essence cannot be perceived by the intellect. A universal that encompasses all things cannot be itself encompassed by a limited particular. The statements of the wisest among the ancients and moderns on this subject should suffice.
Rather, establishing the reality of the essence of the Necessarily Existent depends on vindicating the divine Manifestations, who are referred to as Primal Wills. Peruse the blessed text of the Complete Pilgrimage. He said [addressing the prophets], "Whoso set out for God began with you." And added, "By you they knew God." For they are the manifestations of the Essence and the locus for the effulgence of the names and attributes of God. These clear crystals reflected the radiance of the Unseen and the brilliance of the Unknowable Essence to the world.
[1. Az-Ziyarah al-jami'ah al-kabirah, attributed to the tenth Imam, `Ali al-Hadi.]
O, my dear brothers: You must reply to them that we have nothing to say about the Essence and such of its effects as the generation and decomposition of things. For these effects will not be changed by anyone's knowledge or ignorance, affirmation or denial. Nor is human progress dependent on knowledge of, belief in, or rejection of such phenomena.
Rather, our argument is as follows: In past centuries and in our own day, in every age, we have discovered a human being who forcefully called out, saying: "O people! I have been sent forth for the sake
of your salvation by the one true God, whose Essence remains forever impossible to perceive and about Whom certainty can be attained only through worship. He has graciously bestowed upon me a Book wherein two great things appear that cannot be found in the book of any mortal, whether of the East or of the West.
"First, my Book enshrines a knowledge and a law, upon acceptance and comprehension of which depend the organization of the world's affairs, the peace of the entire human race, the attainment of high stations, and the acquisition of the most noble human qualities. Second, there is a power in my Book that shall conquer the world in the face of the stubborn opposition of all its rulers and emperors, all the clergy and secular leaders, and all the subjects and laborers."
In reality, since we write with justice and fair-mindedness, this claim is the pure truth. For throughout the five continents of the earth societies have been profoundly influenced by the Books of these pure essences, and the people have adopted noble manners from them. Had the human race not been morally trained by their Books, it would have continued to be a collection of primitive savages and untutored beasts. We also notice that in every age wherein these wonderful souls step forward to make manifest the Cause, all the people, including the rulers, clergy, and ordinary individuals, even relatives and intimates, arise with the utmost earnestness to prevent them. Yet, in the face of all who dwell on the earth, their Cause nevertheless is vindicated, and their word becomes law. All who follow them are redeemed from their former abasement, and make progress, while all that haughtily turn away remain vile and degraded.
How can we deny this clear knowledge or arrogantly close our eyes to this manifest power? This
knowledge transcends that of all the world's scholars, and this might exceeds all the power of the human race. Therefore, we can be certain that this is the knowledge and the power of the peerless invisible Essence, unlike that apparent in ordinary mortals. And we can believe that the saying "Whoso seeks God begins with you" is the unadulterated truth.
We have shown that the Necessarily Existent can only be demonstrated through the prophets and messengers, and that certainty can only be achieved through the saying of the Lord of the worlds: "Worship thy Lord, until certitude comes to thee." Whoever strays from this straight path can hope to manifest nothing but impotence and ignorance, and to utter nothing but fanciful analogies that today foreign nations find laughable.
[1. Qur'an 15:99.]
The second conclusion is that all the prophets and messengers were dispatched and given their cause and mission by the word of the Primal Will, which, as we have demonstrated, always appears in the universal form of a human being. It gathers together in itself all the divine names, and it alone manifests the Most Great Name of God. At its command the Holy Spirit descends upon the hearts of the prophets so that they may guide the nations. "Exalter of ranks is He, Possessor of the Throne, casting the Spirit of His bidding upon whomever He will of His servants, that He may warn them of the Day of Encounter."
[2. Qur'an 40:15.]
The proof for this assertion is that each of the prophets and messengers has himself stated that he was sent forth and dispatched by Someone Else. Each bore witness to this in his Book and in his prayers,
stressing that he was a servant, messenger, a son, Christ said in this regard, behind the veil of a subtle parable:
A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and when into another country. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed, and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, "They will respect my son." But those tenants said to one another, "This is the heir; come let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours." And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others.
That is, the Sovereign of the universe and Creator of the peoples brought the world into existence, adorning it with the most perfect form, and set the human race over it as a tenant. In every age He appointed on of His servants as a messenger to inquire into the welfare of the creation. But the people, ignorant wrongdoers, refused to recognize or accept him, greeting him with derision and haughtiness. Finally, He sent the
perfect, divine Word in the name of Sonship, and they slew him as well. Naturally, the Lord of all horizons on the Day of Encounter will manifest Himself, and deliver the world, the divine vineyard, over to the just and trustworthy. "So God strikes similitudes for men; haply they will remember." And the Primal Point [the Bab] said in the eighth chapter of the second Unity of the Bayan concerning this difficult point, "He whom God shall make manifest is the sender of all the messengers. The throne of his manifestation and hiddenness is ever in the midst of the people."
[1. Qur'an 14:30.]
Although to lengthen this discourse risks boring you, I would like to tell a story concerning this point, that my goal might be reached by the aid of the Sovereign, the Object of adoration. This year around the beginning of spring, I stopped in the town of Tabriz in Azerbaijan. Mr. Preuss, an erudite Christian gentleman who had for many years lived in India and Iran and was lately an important clergyman in Isfahan, came through Tabriz en route to his native London. Since we had previously met and become friends, I set out with Varqa and Aqa Khalil Tabrizi to meet him. After we entered and were seated, being made welcome, a young guest who was an American clergyman also came in. Then Mustasharu'd-Dawlih Mirza Yusuf Khan, a government official of the Iranian state and a man of purity, knowledge, and many accomplishments, also arrived. A gathering of fellowship among those just mentioned got underway. Mr. Preuss said, "Last year in Isfahan we had the opportunity of meeting. I was most anxious to see you again and discuss three issues with you. For only on three points do I differ with you."
I replied, "Aqa Muhammad Tajir Majafabadi, one of our brethren and a friend of your, had relayed to me your wish in Isfahan. But as I was just about to leave for Azerbaijan, I found no opportunity to meet with you again. Now we are in a gathering where there are men of erudition and knowledge, so please feel free to ask your three questions, and I shall respond with my point of view on each."
He complied, saying, "The first matter: you hold that the heavenly Father manifests Himself in human form, while we believe that He is an invisible Essence, beyond the perception of mind and sight, purified above human bodies and attributes.
"Second, you state that the holy books of the Pentateuch, the New Testament, and even the Qur'an, are the Book of God. We hold that the Pentateuch and the Gospel are the Book of God and divine revelation protected against textual corruption and change. But since in the Qur'an obvious differences exist with these, we inevitably must account the Qur'an to be an artificial fabrication.
"Third, we consider Christ to be one person, identical to Jesus. But you believe the Christ to be numerous persons appearing in various forms."
I said: "In each of these three cases, I accept the witness of the Old and New Testaments and acquiesce to their judgment. By the will of the one true God I openly proclaim my belief in this gathering and in the presence of these erudite persons."
He responded: "You have spoken well, for in religious questions we accept nothing but the witness of the holy books, nor do we resort to rational proofs in establishing our knowledge and doctrines."
When at my request they brought a Bible, I answered: "As for the first issue, it is clear that the phrase
`heavenly Father' is used only by the children of Israel and the Christians. The rest of the religious communities, including Zoroastrians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists absolutely never employ this term. Indeed, most have never heard it. The phrase originates in the Hebrew Bible and from there entered into the New Testament, which is the offspring of the Pentateuch. This being the case, only the attributes, physical or spiritual, of the heavenly Father to which the Hebrew Bible bears witness are worthy of consideration, rather than the imaginings of theologians."
"Yes," he agreed.
I proceeded, "Read Isaiah 9:6."
When the blessed verse was found, it read, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called `Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.' Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
[1. Isaiah 9:6-7.
After the holy verse had been recited I said, "This passage bears witness that for the redemption of the children of Israel from the vexation of abasement and abjectness, a child would be born who would be known by these names: First, `Counselor,' or giver of advice to the people; second, `Mighty God,' meaning the greatest of the divine Manifestations and the Primal Letters; third, `Everlasting Father,' whose power and sovereignty created and trained up the people from beginning to end; and fourth, `Prince of Peace,' at
whose appearance the rites of unity and concord would arise in the world, and the misery of war and hypocrisy, destroyers of the world and abasers of humankind, would be effaced from the earth.
"From the clear text of these verses it is apparent that the heavenly Father will appear in the universal form of a human being, born of a mother and christened with the Most Great Name. My belief is that no mention of the heavenly Father characterized by this sort of clear statement has been made in any other place."
Mr. Preuss was lost in thought for a while. At length he said, "I have never before heard this explanation from anyone." Then he talked in English with the American guest who was at the gathering.
Aqa Khalil, who knew English, asked Varqa, "Do you know what Mr. Preuss is saying?"
He replied, "No."
He translated, "He says that we give the Bible to the Muslims and none of them understands it. But this community well comprehends the meaning of the holy scripture. The truth is, in the interpretation of this verse and this issue, they are in the right."
I addressed Mr. Preuss: "Praise be to God! The first issue is resolved, and the dispute has been settled.
"Concerning the second question, regarding the alleged differences between the holy scriptures and the Qur'an: Yes, by reason of the variants the past religions imagined they saw in these three books, they inevitably tried to refute one or the other of them.
"The Jews, absolutely certain of the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible, and the Christians, convinced of the genuineness of both the Old and New Testaments, attempted to refute the Qur'an. The Muslims, having no doubts about the soundness of the holy Qur'an,
said that the Bible was forged and textually corrupt. But the Bahá'ís — praise be to God! — consider all three radiant books to be divine scripture and heavenly revelation, finding them to be in complete agreement. For it has been written, `No man can change the words of God,' and `It is We who have sent down the Remembrance, and We watch over it.' We believe that divine protection prevented any alteration of the eternal Proof, that the Word of God was preserved from the darts of the wicked and the assaults of defacers. We hold that to accept that the words of God can become textually corrupt is an interpretation contrary to the divine will.
[1. Qur'an 6:34.]
[2. Qur'an 15:9.]
`Hark, that I may prove it well And the hidden truth unveil.'"
Mr. Preuss said, with an earnestness composed of mirth and mixed with anxiety, breaking into his unaffected smile, "I once told someone truthfully and sincerely that we already know what we should about Muhammad and the Qur'an. Truly, I say that we cannot accept what he says and will not proceed. Discussion of this matter with us will have no good result."
In response I said, "We have come to visit you because of our former acquaintance. We had no intention to engage in arguments. Bahá'ís consider disputes and contention to be forbidden, counting love and friendship the highest stages of humanity. The subject to which our discussion led us came up at your request and was first broached by you."
Varqa added, "You said concerning the first question that his answer pleased you. What harm would
there be if you also discussed this issue? Perhaps in this regard also he might arrive at the desired response."
Mr. Preuss replied, "I stand by what I have said."
At this point the discussion ended and the conversation turned to another subject. He demonstrated great eagerness that I should accompany him to London in order to serve the Most Great Cause, but I declined.
O my spiritual brother! Such digressions concerning debates — in which the friends are today engaged in accordance with the blessed verse, "Every nation will be summoned unto its Book" — yield many benefits. But my original aim was for you to recognize that the Primal Word — which from the beginning has been given the Most Great Name — is, was, and always shall be present among the people in human form, according to the explicit testimony of all the holy scriptures. Referring to this abstruse truth, the Revealer of the Bayan — may the peace of God, the Sovereign, the All-Merciful, be upon him — ordained such laws as the following: "Seat not yourselves at the head of gatherings, subject not children in institutions of learning to excessive corporal punishment, and be not a cause of sorrow to anyone." Owing to their lack of comprehension of his meaning, the Babis fell prey to the evils that Holy One had feared they would, remaining veiled from the subtleties of the above-mentioned ordinances. They opened their mouths to utter objections. The counsel of the All-Wise profited them nothing, and He passed the same judgment upon them as He had passed upon their like formerly, as a command from God, the Omnipotent, the All-Conquering, the Subduer, the Exalted, the Mighty, the All-Great.
[1. Qur'an 45:28.]
The third conclusion is that all the messengers have stated that the peerless Essence and Compendium of divine names that sends forth the envoys shall at the end of time itself appear, illuminating the horizons of the world with its radiance. The day of its manifestation has been referred to by various terms in the holy scriptures, such as the Day of God, the Day of Affliction, the Hour, the Resurrection Day, the Day of Gathering, and the Day of Recompense.
Signs shall accompany that magnificent Day when the gracious Manifestation will appear such as have characterized the advent of no past prophet. The peoples of the world will become united in one universal faith, one religious belief. Branches of knowledge and science, even industries and technologies, will make great advances, and every region of the globe will put on a new garment. Warfare and strife shall, by the command of the All-Glorious, become extinct, and moreover the instruments of war shall be transformed into the means of production. All wrongdoers and evils shall be overcome; the oppressed and the just shall become honored and triumphant. The worship of idols shall be purified from the face of the earth.
These are some of the universal signs of that great and fearful Day which have been mentioned aforetime in psalms and tablets inscribed by the pen of the Giver of dawn. These glad-tidings have reached all the nations of the earth, along with other tokens. These include the arising of the Gog and Magog mentioned in the holy Qur'an, the spread of the Christian message throughout the world, and others so numerous that this writer cannot now enumerate them. No doubt, you are already aware of them. Peruse the holy books, that you may know. Verily, God has made a covenant
concerning His Day and Advent with all the nations through the words of His messengers, perfecting His grace for and completing His proof to all who are in the heavens and on the earth.
[1. Qur'an 18:93, 21:96.]
O friend who has been illumined by the flaming torch of the Manifestation and who has quaffed the pure wine: Now that we have arrived at the three conclusions that were prerequisites for the attainment of my goal, I can continue. All the prophets and messengers, through the descent of the Holy Spirit, were sent by the command of the Lord of the worlds. They all were summoned by the wafting of this spiritual breeze over their hearts from the loftiest heaven — which is the most splendid, sacred Beauty of the All-Glorious — and by this very spirit, called in the holy books Gabriel, the Trustworthy Spirit, the Holy Spirit; and in the Heavenly Book of the Zoroastrians, Bahman. These all refer to one Essence which has conquered all the inhabitants of the earth.
But everyone has not been honored to attain the presence of that unique Essence. Yes, all who perceived in their souls the fragrance of that celestial Source were made intoxicated, and all who smelled the perfume of that Epitome of paradise exerted their souls to the utmost to catch a glimpse of his springlike beauty. Read through the prayers of past holy ones that are still recorded. How they supplicated and humbled themselves to attain his presence, pleading and begging! For this abstruse truth is the original goal, and this is the gift that causes the whole creation to progress. I supplicate God by His grace not to deprive me during this wondrous Dawn, this great Day, of the tokens of His gracious presence, that these mouldering bones may be revivified. He, verily, is the Righteous, the Kind, the Compassionate, the All-Merciful.
From the words of each of the messengers that have been preserved from the vicissitudes of time it is possible to discern which of them attained to this gift and which remained deprived. The Lord of Lords has made a promise which, in accordance with the holy verse, "the day when God shall gather the Messengers: and "the Prophets witnesses shall be brought," is certain and inevitable. He pledged that all the prophets, holy ones, and witnesses would be gathered and resurrected under the shade of the branch of His compassion and beneath the wings of His loving-kindness, and would be exalted by attaining to His presence, which souls preferred for His sake. This is the judgment, both of the past and present. And who is more truthful than God in His statements?
[1. Qur'an 5:112, 39:69.]
The Seal of the Prophets and the Prince of the Messengers [Muhammad], who was the greatest sign for the approaching Day of Resurrection, like the red glow of dawn heralding the imminent appearance of the Sun of Reality, attained the presence of God on the night of his Ascent into heaven. How beautifully the most eloquent of modern poets put it:
Everyone has been promised a glimpse on the Judgment Day.
The interpretation of the holy verse is therefore as follows: Moses — may the Glory of God, the Sovereign, the Wise, be upon Him — through the mediation of the Holy Spirit sent by the Spirit of Spirits attained the rank of a Messenger. He then alerted the children of
Israel to the existence of God and His concern to deliver then from the tyranny of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, rendering them glad and joyous by demonstrating to them the divine bounties. Because of his own heartfelt yearning, and the demand of the people who said "Show us God openly," he stood at the threshold of Grandeur and supplicated that he might enter in God's presence. He pleaded, "Oh my Lord, show me, that I may behold Thee!"
[1. Qur'an 4:153, 7:143.]
But mortal hearts, the fruit of the trees of existence, had not yet achieved the stage of maturity and had not ascended from the nadir of idle imaginings. Contingent beings, like firm mountains, would have crumbled to dust at the unveiling of the most holy Beauty. Therefore, the Lord uttered the blessed words in reply, "Thou shalt not see Me," refusing to shine on them the rays of the sun of His presence unto God comes with His cause. (The antonym of "eternal," according to lexicologists, is that which is related to this first life. The attainment of the Divine Presence depends on the Day of Judgment and the second birth. In this are signs for the perceptive.)
In sum: The interpretation of the holy verse is that Moses said, "My Lord, reveal Yourself that I might see you." He replied, "You will never see Me. But gaze at the individual existences of men, like mountains. Whenever they attain the station of constancy through the effulgence of the All-Glorious, then you will see Me and be illuminated by the radiance of My presence."
For since in the first stage the mountains of individuals would have crumbled to dust before the appearance of the Possessor of all names and attributes, the
gate leading to the divine Presence remained barred. In the second stage, when, in the realms of mystical knowledge, the hearts of the faithful like towering mountain peaks had attained the heights of maturity and constancy, then the lights of the sun of the Presence of God bathed the earth. We ask God the Exalted, out of the vastness of His mercy, to make you one of the immovable mountains aiding Him and one of the suns dawning in the heaven of His Cause. He is worthy of complying and powerful to do as He wills.
My friend, today the hearts of the righteous have been invested with power and authority by aid of the dawning of the Light of Lights and the angel of the Advent of the King of Kings. Let us recognize the value of this time. With all our might and with great joy let us arise to aid the Cause of the Sovereign of the Advent. This servant is stricken with weakness and feebleness, and is encompassed from every direction by obstacles to serving it. You, who are now in the flower of youth, enjoying the days of your full power and vigor, must devote your precious life to helping the Most Great Cause. Liberate the world from the idolatry of abasement and the gloom of error. The joy of a wise person lies in acquiring knowledge and perfection, and the delight of human beings lies in aiding the Cause of the Self-Sufficient, the Exalted.
Today, when the Sun of knowledge and wisdom has dawned, devote yourself to uprooting ignorance from the world. Today is the springtime of the Advent of the All-Powerful, the Ordainer, a time to busy yourself in planting the trees of insight in the hearts of the righteous.
A flower's beauty lasts for no more than a day. Then seize this season to be joyful and gay.
Give my warm greetings and regards to your honored father and brother — may God grant them long lives and me the opportunity to meet them again. Joyfully utter a prayer for this outcast in the gatherings of fellowship among the brethren. My relatives have journeyed to that city for the purpose of religious studies, whereby they can at most attain a mere considered opinion about the Law. Approach them to the extent that wisdom allows, saying "O dear brothers! I swear by the Sovereign of the universe and the Fashioner of the nations that the light of grandeur has set on the realms where you abide, and the star of abasement is risen. The signs of imminent extinction are evident. While there is yet time, hasten to rescue yourselves from the ravaging deluge. How long will you immerse yourselves in the ways of deriving legal opinions? Until what time will you squander the wealth of a new and wondrous life on the stale repetitions of the ancients?"
What else can I say? May you and all the friends be continually showered with loving-kindness by the One True God. 22 Rabi' I 1305 [8 December 1887] Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani
Against Blind ObedienceMay my spirit be your sacrifice:
I received in Hamadan your letter dated the Holy Day in the month of fasting, which you sent in remembrance of this forgotten one. It honored and favored me. I was deeply saddened to learn that you are beset by illnesses. I ask from the magnificent generosity of the Sovereign of the universe and the Reviver of nations that your illness be transformed into health, and your weakness into joy and freshness. Verily, He is gentle and compassionate with His servants.
Indeed, this world is the realm of pain, the storehouse of disease. The Prince of the world [Muhammad] said, "The world is encompassed by adversities." This is especially true for the people of knowledge, on whom the clouds of fate rain nothing but afflictions, and from the seed of whose world naught but the thorns of suffering and calamities will grow. The only pleasant place for the people of knowledge and wisdom is the spiritual worlds, for their goals transcend the pleasures of the body.
Although this servant has only heard the name of knowledge, and has yet to make his way into the holy gatherings of fellowship held by the erudite, he nevertheless is a lover of scholars, by the aid of God, the All-Praised. It matters not to what religion they belong, for my desire is the faith of the people of wisdom, whatever it be called. Nay, by God, the unattainable station and the exalted rank of the people of knowledge is lofty beyond the love or hate of this humble servant.
God knows that I gloried in befriending people of knowledge and counted signs of hatred and bigotry to be outside the law governing the upright. I saw that all the people of the world were as letters on a single page and all human beings as branches of but one tree. By the Master of the world and the Adored One of the nations, the station of the erudite is too exalted to be reduced to vain display and hypocrisy, and the glorious robe of knowledge is too sacred to soil with rancor and loathing. Precious life is too exalted to spend in strife and contention. All hearts are in God's hands, and He rejects or accepts whomever He will. "Did not the believers know that, if God had willed, He would have guided men altogether?"
[1. Qur'an 13:31.]
In sum, I have always served the possessors of insight and have ever been so bold as to fulfill the requirements of love and friendship. Those who have escaped the depths of blind obedience and opened the eyes of independent investigation and internal struggle must never brand themselves with the name of a sect or narrow group. Nor must they, by joining with anyone in separation and dispute, disturb the basis of the religion of God — which consists in the knowledge of the Point of the divine Will and obedience to him, a principle on which the unity of God pivots. Those trapped in mere letters, those following mirrors, those known by the names of various rites and schools that derived from the fundamental basis of religion and branched out from the most great ocean are, in the view of the people of insight, far below the rank of independent investigation, having in fact fallen into a state bordering on idolatry. The same observation has been made by those who transcend all others in attaining a high spiritual state, those in the vanguard with sharp vision, who wrote:
In the wars of seventy-two nations, all have a basis for excuse.
In this example, according to the worshipers of the One True God, all are on the verge of going astray. The error and loss of none is greater than that of the Shi'is. No one can, in the Cause of God, be a partner to the Dawning-Places of the Cause, and no soul has, save by excelling in knowledge and obedience to the Primal Word, attained to the most exalted of stations. [As the Prophet Muhammad said,] "Verily, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most pious."
Praise be to God that the friends in this splendid century and this glorious day have seen that the counterfeit doctrines of the Shi'is have caused the most pure blood of the Promised One [the Bab] to be spilled. Classifying the legatees of the Prophet and discussing the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam became a basis for martyring the Point of Divinity. Nevertheless, they were not alerted and did not avoid this deadly, poisonous leaf. Rather, they went on to complete the idle imaginings of their forebears and have made the path of error and destruction straight and unimpeded for their descendants.
The possessors of such weak minds must be pities. One must supplicate the threshold of the All-Glorious that they may be saved. Perhaps the lights of the most great loving-kindness will shine on them and these wanderers in the arid desert of perdition will be guided to the road of redemption. He is, verily, gentle to His servants and Master of His Cause.
In sum, I have been extremely rash and have no doubt disturbed you. But God, the All-Great, is my witness that these words have been written only out of
devotion to the friends and these statements are wholly devoid of hidden purposes. Otherwise, it is clear and decisively established for the people of knowledge that the Cause of God needs no help from anyone. God is the Master of His own Cause and has subdued all His servants. Soon He will roll up the tapestries of the various religions and cause all the peoples of the world to agree upon a single Word. No one can resist His decree or intervene against His command.
Your praiseworthy deeds give me hope that, should you think it appropriate, you will read my letter to the friends and draw their attention to any good counsel therein. Perhaps they will enjoy the blessings of the verse, "This is the day the truthful shall be profited by their truthfulness" and will avoid the road that leads to destruction. The only duty of the messenger is to deliver his message.
[1. Qur'an 5:122.]
Please convey my greetings and friendship to Mirza `Abdu'l-Husayn khan. I still remember his praiseworthy acts and the blessings of his friendship. I will also impose on you to give my courteous greetings to his honored children — may God prolong their lives. Not forgetting to pray for the good we await, what more is there to say? May droplets from the ocean of loving-kindness and the clouds of honor rain down on you. 10 Shawwal 1305 [20 June 1888] Abu'l-Fadl
The Russian Empire, 1892
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A Treatise for Alexander Tumansky
My bosom friend:
Praise be to God, and to the one who illumined the world with the light of His Most Great Name, and exaltation be upon the Manifestations of His Cause and the Dawning-Places of His mention among the tribes and nations.
Your noble letter dated 25 Muharram, which you posted from Bombay, arrived in Samarkand, filling my breast with joy and my heart with delight. I ask God — blessed and exalted be He — to confirm you in aiding the Cause of your Lord and to bless me again with the attainment of your presence. He is, verily, the Near One, the Beloved.
You mentioned that you sent my "Treatise on Job" [Risaliy-i Ayyubiyyih] to Mr. [Edward Granville] Browne — may God cause his name to be mentioned in all ages and centuries — that he might translate and publish it. In my last letter, which I dispatched to you from Bukhara, I wrote a detailed elucidation of it, which has no doubt by now arrived and been read. Just briefly, the "Treatise on Job" and the "Treatise on the Dated Verses" [Risaliy-i ayat-i mu'arrakhih] that I wrote out in by own hand were in Ashkhabad with Mirza Haydar `Ali Usku'i. Recently, it was sent to the
Holy Land on request. If you can find a copy of it, it is correct. Any other text, wherever you find it, contains errors and is undeserving of being printed and published.
[1. Haji Mirza Haydar `Ali, an outstanding early Bahá'í who suffered exile from Egypt to Sudan, authored Bahjat-i sudur [Bombay: Parsi Press, 1913]; Eng. trans. by Abu'l-Qasim Faizi, Stories from the Delight of Hearts (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1980).]
In regard to the questions you raised, my response to the first is as follows. I wrote that the length of time Jerusalem flourished after it was rebuilt by order of Cyrus of Iran through the mediation of Ezra until its destruction at the hands of the Roman Emperor Titus was four hundred and thirty years. This contradicts what Abu'l-Fida and others stated in their own books. Any investigation of this matter must be preceded by two introductory comments.
The first introductory comment: It is hidden from no mature historian that the chronicles of ancient nations in their entirety are hardly free of imperfections. To the contrary, all the histories of bygone peoples are so liberally mixed with fables and superstitions that no correct account unadulterated by legends and written before Christ can be found. For in the past ages the technical means of preserving scholarly works, including paper and ink, were largely nonexistent and it was extremely difficult to spread about knowledge and science.
Because of the feebleness of civilization and the prevalence of barbarity, most tribes and nations avoided all but their own kind and were forbidden to befriend and show love to strangers. Most groups in the past, such as the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Hindus, and Hebrews, considered strangers to be ritually impure, counting the very act of eating with them to
be against the law, much less giving them books — especially religious books. For they considered it an imperative of their faith to preserve their holy books from foreigners. They branded anyone who shared his scriptures with persons of other religions an unbeliever deserving of death. Indeed, the mobeds or priests of the Zoroastrians, the Brahmins of the Hindus, and the judges of the Hebrews refused to share their holy books with the laymen of their own religions! They considered protection of the scriptures one of the functions of their spiritual leaders.
Therefore, it was not possible for every person to acquire books, and the preservation of dates and events was extremely difficult. In 2 Kings, the twenty-second chapter, it is mentioned that during the reign of Josiah, the King of the Jews, he gave a command that the House of the Lord be repaired. Hilkiah the high priest found the Torah and sent it to Josiah with Shaphan the secretary. When Josiah read the holy book and saw the threats God had made against the children of Israel therein he rent his clothes. He said to his notables, "Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us." By contemplating this incident one can understand to what extent the people had never heard of the Torah. The laity of the children of Israel had never seen the Torah. Neither had their king set eyes on it. Indeed, the high priest himself only stumbled across it in the midst of the filth while the House of God was being cleaned.
[1. 2 Kings 22:13.]
In bygone ages, because of the lack of scientific means, the greatest erudition to which historians could aspire was preserving the chronicles of their own communities while remaining wholly unaware of the histories of foreign nations. Anyone who looks at the Islamic histories will be struck that what is written about other peoples is pure fable. This is so even though the advances made by the Muslims in various sciences and branches of knowledge in the first centuries of Islam were such that the horizons were illuminated by their brilliance. Through the Muslims of North Africa and Spanish Andalusia this knowledge and these sciences passed to Europe. Nevertheless, several great Muslim thinkers remained so ignorant of the history of foreign nations that they wrote accounts of the prophets and rulers of the non-Muslims that consisted of pure error and fabulous legends.
Indeed, in spite of all the advances and technological progress made by Muslim scientists in the ages of the Umayyad caliphs of Spain, the Fatimid rulers of Egypt, and the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad, they failed even to record correctly the history of Islam itself. For no Islamic chronicle can be found that is not flattering to the state and full of religious and sectarian prejudices, and which is free of disputes over the year and month in which events occurred.
In past ages all nations remained woefully uninformed of conditions outside their own communities, and this situation continued unaltered until the opening years of this noble century, which in reality is the prince of centuries and the best of ages. During the reign of the Qajar ruler Fath-`Ali Shah [1797-1834 A.D.], Fadil Khan Gurrusi Hamadani, a renowned scholar and a great man of piety, translated the Pentateuch from Hebrew into Persian. European scholars have, by founding
institutions of higher education and perfecting the technology of printing, enabled knowledge to be more widely spread about and brought down the price of books. In this way, Muslim scholars now have learned about the history of the children of Israel and other communities and groups.
In sum, the point of this lengthy discussion is that, for the reasons mentioned above, to reconcile the ancient histories with one another is a task of supreme difficulty. Indeed, it is impossible. For instance, the author is sitting in his own house in Samarkand, writing these pages. I referred to two books of history. The first was the Polished Mirrors [Mir'at al-wadiyyah] by the American Protestant Cornelius van Dyck, and instructor in the large evangelical college in Beirut [the American Protestant College], a renowned teacher. I note that he fixed 580 B.C. as the birthdate of Cyrus (that is, Kaykhusraw, the king of Iran), who commanded along with his viceroys that Jerusalem be rebuilt. In the same work, in his biography of Confucius the famous Chinese legislator, he placed the birth of that great man on the very day Cyrus was born. He said that this wise man was a contemporary of Ezra the Hebrew priest and Cyrus the king of Iran. He died in the year 429 B.C. at the age of seventy. But this would give 499 B.C. as the year of birth for both Cyrus and Confucius.
The second book was A Tour of the Sciences [Siyahat al-ma'arif] by the pen of Nawfal Effendi, the son of Mi'matu'llah from Tripoli, Ottoman Syria. he is also a well-known Protestant scholar, and he wrote that Confucius died in 479 B.C. That would put his birthdate at 549 B.C. In short, in these times, when things are easy, scientific means exist, and books are plentiful and inexpensive, two contemporary historians record dates at such variance with one another.
Indeed, even within one volume such contradictions exist. What then was the situation of the ancients, who could neither obtain books easily nor discover the circumstances of other peoples?
The second introductory comment is as follows: The chronicles of the nations of old contain weaknesses and defects, and the scribes and writers of those communities mixed these historical matters pertaining to their own peoples with heavenly revelation, writing it all down in one volume. For this reason, their descendants accept hoary fables, which pervade the chronicles of all premodern peoples, as an element of worship. They expend the utmost effort in correcting and interpreting these stories.
For example, Jewish scholars are unaware of the identity of the historians or authors who penned the books of Samuel, Kings, Esther, and Mordechai. Yet they consider all these books to be divine revelation, putting them in the same category as books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, which truly are revelation and heavenly speech. Even more amazing, they ascribe the practice of idol worship to Solomon, yet continue to consider his writings to be divine revelation.
The reason Jewish scholars believe Solomon guilty of idol worship is that the anonymous author of Kings wrote that Solomon, because of his love for women, built temples for their idols and had sacrifices made to their gods, straying from the path of David. Yet how eloquent is God's saying in His noble Book, "And they follow what the Satans recited over Solomon's kingdom. Solomon disbelieved not, but the Satans disbelieved."
[1. 1 Kings 11:1-9; Qur'an 1:102.]
In sum, this admixture has taken on the proportions of a major calamity. The research scholars of the community and its best minds have proven impotent in solving the problem. Every group has a cause for rejecting the holy book of every other group. For nearly thirteen hundred years outstanding intellects have discussed and disputed the historical discrepancies between the Hebrew Bible and the Qur'an. Jewish and Christian scholars, owing to their belief in the genuineness of the ancient Hebrew chronicles, inevitably rejected the Qur'an. For their part the Muslim thinkers, because of their certitude about the Qur'an and their conviction that the ancient histories were adulterated with superstitions, elaborated the doctrine of the textual corruption of the Hebrew Bible. If only the wise among these communities to this day had distinguished historical texts from revelation, it would not have been difficult to resolve this question. At this point there is no further space to elaborate on this theme. I have written a sufficient explanation of this subject in the "Treatise on the Dated Verses" which was to loosen this knot.
Now that you have read these two introductory comments I can continue. The writer of this letter preferred the date 430 B.C., in spite of the chronological discrepancies that exist, for two reasons. First, this date accords with the beliefs of the Jewish scholars themselves, and that essay was penned, as you know, at the request of the elders of that community. It should be obvious that the proverb has a bearing here:
"The people of the house know best what is in the house." In the same way, the children of Israel are more conscientious in preserving the days and years of the glory and abasement of their own people.
[1. As the date of the edict for rebuilding Jerusalem referred to in Daniel 9:24-25. Cf. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, trans. by Laura Clifford Barney (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981) ch. 10.]
Second, otherwise the dated verses in chapters 8 and 12 of the Book of Daniel would not bear on the advent of Baha'u'llh. For by other dating systems, between one hundred and five hundred years has already passed since the date suggested by the prophecy. The magnificent promises pledged in these two pieces of revelation would then not have come to pass — inevitably reducing the divine revelation to mere whimsy. It is recognized that one will not reject or consider whimsical a book safeguarded by the oppressed children of Israel for nearly twenty-three hundred years, which they preserved by their own blood, called their holy book, and accounted a revelation from the heavens, merely because of the chronicles written by Abu'l-Fida and others.
Therefore, with all the disputes over dates that can be witnessed, the people of knowledge can only discuss the matter with representatives of each community and give precedence to the chronology they put forward for their own history. It was this very method I myself pursued in the "Treatise on Job" and elsewhere. If on the other hand, the dates are prophecies and glad-tidings, external events must be taken into consideration. An example is the case of the famous saying, "In the year '60, He will manifest His Cause and exalt His mention." Since the advent of the Primal Point [the Bab] — may his exalted name be glorified — occurred in the year 1260 of the Muslim calendar, scholars applied the saying to that year.
The allusions to dates in the saying to Abu-Labid Fakhrumi are of the same sort. Similar also are the
dates recorded in chapters 8 and 9 of the Book of Daniel and in Chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Revelation by Saint John. The Protestant teachers of theology see Daniel 9:25-26 as referring to the Advent of Christ. There he says,
Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and a moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed on shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed.
Protestant professors have said that seven weeks means forty-nine days, for they reckon according to the rule affirmed by the learned of the children of Israel that every day mentioned in scripture must be counted as a year. In Hebrew they state this rule by saying "Yom lashana." The intent is thus forty-nine years, the time that elapsed between the issuing of the command and the construction undertaken through Ezra the priest. The intent of the phrase sixty-two weeks according to the above-mentioned law is 434 years, during which the sanctuary was built and flourished for the second time — a period that ended when the Roman emperor Titus had the Temple destroyed.
In sum, the interpretation of this piece of revelation is as follows: God informed Daniel that after forty-nine years the House of God would be built up. And after 434 years, when the anointed one shall have been
cut off and had nothing, a notorious prince would come and destroy Jerusalem with a flood of conquering fury. Protestant researchers refer to these verses in proving the truth of the revelation of Christ and have considered establishing the truth of the revealed scripture more important than the sayings of historians.
Dear brother of my soul, for long they have said, "Whoever authors a work exposes himself to danger." That is, anyone who pens a treatise makes himself a target for marksmen. The author of this letter has no leisure to carry out extensive research on every word of every book he writes. Although Samarkand has become, under the just and glorious government of Russia, a center of order and repose, not a day passes that the Shi'i community leaves this servant in peace or that they do not send him death threats.
The two treatises were written with great attention to detail. No one is permitted to add a word to or subtract a word from them. Anytime someone else, after having been illumined by the Most Great Luminary, spends as this writer has, thirty years of his life studying history, collating and reconciling the statements of various nations, he will understand the true situation, and who is in the right. God, may He be exalted, knows the reality of all things.
The second question concerned the fixing the time of the blessed Manifestation, which this writer put in the year 1285 A. H. [1868 A.D.]. In A Traveller's Narrative [written by `Abdu'l-Bahá], the date was given as 1269 A.H. [1852 A.D.]. On this matter I would like to say first of all, in summary, that my intention in that treatise was to specify the date when Bahá'u'lláh arrived
in the Promised Land, and to show how his arrival on those shores accorded with the prophecies of the holy scriptures. It is recognized and established that he arrived there in 1285 A.H. [1868 A.D.]. In addition, in the second place, in these pages the author wishes to write a short history, from the dawn of that radiant essence to the time of his sunset on this darkened globe. Thus might any cause for doubt or suspicion be removed and the object be attained. Confirmation is from God, the Exalted, the Great.
[1. [`Abdu'l-Bahá], A Traveller's Narrative [Maqalih'i sayyah], trans. E.G. Browne (Cambridge University Press, 1891).]
Now briefly to explain the events of Bahá'u'lláh's life — may his mention be glorified. You are certainly aware that Bahá'u'lláh was born in the holy city of Tehran on 2 Muharram 1233 [19 November 1817]. After being weaned, he received training and education in the courtyards of his father, the renowned Mirza Buzurg Nuri, one of the ministers of the Qajar state known for the beauty of his calligraphy and famed for the purity of his character. Although Bahá'u'lláh never entered any of Iran's schools and never studied at any seminary, at the very outset and in the flower of his youth the signs of greatness and glory and the lights of understanding and intelligence shone forth from his countenance. Owing to his aspect of meekness and the awe he inspired — the first signs of the manifestations of divinity — great scholars were too timid to address him in salons and gatherings.
A prominent Muslim related one incident, saying, "One day we had gathered together with a number of the great men of the country and officials of the state in presence of Mirza Nazar `Ali Hakim Qazvini, the beloved adviser of Muhammad Shah Qajar [r. 1834-48 A.D.]. He served as an exemplar for the mystics of those times. Mirza Nazar `Ali gave a talk according to the sciences of the Sufis, speaking of how human beings can reach maturity and attain the
various ranks of spiritual perfections. But his egotism and carnal passion awoke, and his feet slipped from the stirrup of his speech. He began making mention of his own spiritual advances.
"He said, `For example, let us say that at this very moment my servant comes and says that Jesus is standing at the door of the palace and wants permission to meet me. Because I have no further need, I do not see any desire in me for such an encounter.'
"Those attending the gathering fell completely silent for a moment. Most, according to the custom of the flatterers of the time, began calling out, `Yes, yes indeed!' in confirmation of what he had said.
"At that point Bahá'u'lláh was agitated by the imbecility of this remark about Jesus — may the life of all on earth be his sacrifice. His annoyance publicly blazed forth, and he was unable to bear the affront that had been dealt the Manifestation of God.
"He said to Mirza Nazar `Ali, `Sir, I have a question, if you will permit me to ask it.'
"The mystic replied, `Please go ahead.'
"Bahá'u'lláh proceeded: `In spite of all the affection in which the shah holds you, let us say that at this moment the chief executioner should come with ten of his henchmen and announce that the shah is asking for you. Examine your inner soul carefully. Would you be anxious or would you answer him with a completely calm heart, free of all fear?'
"After a little contemplation, Mirza Nazar `Ali responded, `The only fair thing to say is that I would be anxious in the extreme, and the courage to remain upright and calm would flee from me. Indeed, the very power of speech would disappear.'
"Bahá'u'lláh said, `Given that this is the case, you cannot with the same lips make your former assertion.'
"Those present at that salon were startled at the severity of this statement and astonished at the originality of this reply. It left them no opportunity to rebut it or to engage in dispute."
One of the ancients spoke well indeed when he said, "Anyone who makes claims that are beyond him will be proven false by the witness of tests."
In short, that holy one was famed among the people, from his earliest years until his acceptance of the Cause of the Bab, for his greatness, majesty, sharpness of intellect, and correct understanding, and was known for his piety and trustworthiness. In the end, after his acceptance of that holy Cause, all those expressions of praise and popular acclaim were transformed into obstinacy and denial, and esteem and admiration ended in accusations and libel.
Those with experience of the world will not find this amazing. Refer to Matthew 5:11-12; "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you." These verses inform us that slandering and telling all sorts of lies about the chosen ones of the All-Glorious is the wont of unbelievers and of the ignorant. By this sign the Eternal Truth perpetually distinguishes those in the right from those in the wrong.
When Bahá'u'lláh reached the age of twenty-seven in 1260 A.H. [1844 A.D.], the cry of the Advent of the most great Bab was raised, and the radiant flame of the Primal Point glowed from the province of Fars. Bahá'u'lláh embraced his sacred Cause, and the society of the faithful in Tehran was illumined by that shining lamp. By his aid the divine Word became influential in that region. When the fire of calamity engulfed Iran
and enemies encompassed the friends in the labyrinth of affliction, Quddus and his companions set out with the intent to emigrate. At that point Bahá'u'lláh met at Badasht with that holy soul and with other friends. He was then thirty-two years of age.
Aqa Muhammad Hasan Isfahani, the merchant, said, "In the beginning of my young manhood I went on visitation with my uncle to the shrine of Imam Rida at Mashhad. At Badasht we encountered that caravan of divine unity. When it came time for daily prayers, we noticed a youth not garbed as a clergyman, but rather clothed as a secular scribe or secretary, who was leading the congregational prayers. We asked his identity and were informed that he was Bahá'u'lláh. At the request of Quddus, he was leading the people."
At the age of thirty-three, while he was on his way to Shaykh Tabarsi, royal troops took him prisoner and jailed him in Amul, confiscating his property. When he reached the age of thirty-five, he set out for Iraq, meeting with the friends in Karbila.
Haji Sayyid Javad Karbala'i, a grandson of Sayyid Mihdi Bahru'l-`Ulum, when young, attained the honor of meeting the great Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i [1753-1826 A.D.]. He also studied for a while in the class of Sayyid Kazim Rashti [d. 1844 A.D.]. Sayyid Javad traveled for years in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Arabia, and India, meeting in each country with the philosophers, jurisprudents, and scholars of every religion. In Shiraz, while the Bab was still a child, he entered the presence of that Blessed One at the house of Haji Mirza Sayyid Muhammad, the Bab's uncle. After the Bab announced for the second time that he was the Promised One [Qa'im], he was honored to meet with and believe in that holy soul. During the years that the Most Great Luminary [Bahá'u'lláh] was dawning from Iraq [1853-63 A.D.],
he often had the joy of meeting him. On this basis, he encountered the great on a scale few attain, and he was, in the level of his learning, character, and piety, a copy of the morals of the prophets and a wonder of the world of creation.
In Tehran in 1295 A.H. [1878 A.D.] Sayyid Javad related an anecdote to this author. He said, "When Bahá'u'lláh arrived in Iraq, some friends and myself set out to meet with him. Before meeting him, we considered him merely to be one of the friends, bereft of the adornments of learning and mystical insight. For we knew that he had not studied in a seminary and that he was not born into a family of scholars.
"When in the first salon we entered his blessed presence, formal greetings were exchanged after the manner of people of knowledge. The discussion turned to theological issues and spiritual questions, and Bahá'u'lláh, in that very first gathering, presented explanations and tore the veil from obscure problems. We, each of whom had considered himself the very apogee of the heaven of knowledge, suddenly saw ourselves to be mired in the lowest depths of ignorance. Compared to that Most Great Ocean, we perceived ourselves to be more lowly than a drop of water. After that gathering, I never opened my lips to speak in his most illumined presence and always remained humble, quiet, and self-effacing when with him.
"Notwithstanding, Haji Sayyid Muhammad Isfahani grew envious of my extreme submissiveness and was always picking on me. In the end, one day his anger and jealousy blazed up.
"He said, `After all, Bahá'u'lláh is one of us, so what is the reason for all this humility and lowliness we show him? What accounts for the deference everyone demonstrates while in his presence"'
"I replied, `My eyes and those of others have seen my lord. I know not who he is, or what. I only know he passes my understanding and yours, and that he transcends the imagination of scholars and philosophers.'"
On his return from Karbala to Iran, Bahá'u'lláh stopped over at the delightful area of Shimran. At that point a major event occurred in Tehran. A few ordinary Babis, owing to the pressure put on the Cause by its enemies, and the Babis' overwhelming grief at the martyrdom of the Bab, set out without the knowledge of their leaders or wise men to assassinate Nasiru'd-Din Shah. On 28 Shawwal 1268, corresponding to 15 August 1852, they attempted to shoot him. In the aftermath, the monarch's fury fell on both the guilty and the innocent, failing to distinguish between the plotters and those uninvolved. Bahá'u'lláh was also taken and incarcerated, spending about three months manacled in the prison at Tehran, which was unequaled for its severity, filth, foulness, and gloom.
When his sacred honor was restored and the accusation of conspiring with the assassins was proved false, he was rescued by the efforts of the consul of the glorious government of Russia — may God increase its light and glory. At the command of the shah, he set out for Iraq with a few attendants.
At the age of thirty-seven, he arrived with his wife in Baghdad, the Abode of Peace. At this point he began to attain fame and renown in the world and to manifest himself for the first time among the tribes and nations. For although in those times most prominent Babis were putting forth claims to leadership of the Babi order and each was calling the people to himself under a particular name, in the presence of the true sun the planets possess no brilliance.
The exaltation of the divine call far transcends the
importance and vileness of the call of selfishness. Consider Matthew 24:26-28, "So if they say to you, `Lo he is in the wilderness,' do not go out; if they say, `Lo he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together." These verses inform you that the divine Cause is implemented in the world through power and shines radiantly with the speed of lightning throughout all the regions of the earth.
Therefore, in the shortest period of time the fame of Bahá'u'lláh's blessed name spread over the horizons, and the spiritual breezes wafted from Baghdad to the rest of the world. Seekers after religious truth made the pilgrimage to his door, and around his soul the guiding lights of the people gathered. After the ascension of the Primal Point — may his name be exalted — the Babi community was caught like sheep without a shepherd in the grasp of Iran's wolves. Because of the claims put forth by the leaders of the people of the Bayan, the believers had universally become sorrowful, dejected, and anxious. But not they were attracted like moths to that refulgent Lamp, and the society of the spiritual ones took on a new brilliance because of his blessed existence.
In this situation, the fire of envy was kindled in the hearts of some of the internal leaders, and their breasts were filled with enmity and rancor because of his renown and far-famed splendor. Therefore, Bahá'u'lláh, after about one year's residence in Baghdad, set out for regions with the hope of extinguishing the flames of obstinacy. Without informing even a single person, whether relatives or outsiders, he left Baghdad. No one knew in which direction he had traveled.
As soon as Bahá'u'lláh departed from Baghdad, all
at once the warmth and fire of the Babi community and the renown and influence of the divine Word were extinguished and became as naught. The people were stricken with utter grief, coldness, and weakness. This exiled, fugitive community was left without refuge or asylum. They could find no interpreter or elucidator for spiritual sciences and knowledge. Bahá'u'lláh's emigration and absence lasted for nearly two years, and the firm cord of the Cause of God was near to being severed. The names of the Bab came close to disappearing from the lips of the people. Moreover, those claiming leadership were in hiding out of fear. Individuals from among the people undeservedly gained renown for having the power of the divine Word.
In the end, some of the wise in the community, the likes of Shaykh Sultan and Jinab-i Khadim , arose to search for Bahá'u'lláh. They asked everyone for any news of that sought-after Essence. Finally, they found a trace of him in the ravines of the mountains around Sulaymaniyyah and hastened to him with the greatest submission and supplication. They accompanied him back to Baghdad.
When Bahá'u'lláh settled in Baghdad for the second time, once more the faithful gathered together with warmth and the Cause of God became influential. Spiritual words, the only means of transforming the character of barbarous nations, again flowed from his blessed pen. He took the reins of the community, and through beautiful advice and penetrating counsel he guided it back to the path of rectitude after it had strayed into false roads and ugly deeds because of the mismanagement of ignorant leader.
In those times, as well, the Bab's illustrious uncle, Mirza Sayyid Muhammad Shirazi, set out on a visitation to the holy shrines of the Imams in Karbala
and Najaf. In Baghdad, through the mediation of Haji Sayyid Jadad, he attained the blessed presence of Bahá'u'lláh. At the request of the Bab's uncle, the Book of Certitude and some Arabic Tablets vindicating the Cause of the Primal Point were revealed by the Most High Pen, unveiling the mysteries of the books of the prophets.
Because these sacred Tablets were penned, the seal on the words of God was broken and the door of wondrous knowledge was opened. The faithful were given a strong right arm with which to crush the doubts raised by the wrongdoers and to attract ready souls to the realm of certainty. The light of the Cause shone forth with even greater brightness, and the divine Word became more influential. The authority of the Word of God and the exaltation of the blessed name of Bahá'u'lláh provoked a raging assault from the enemies of God. In the end, the vehemence of the foes forced him to emigrate to the Ottoman capital. WHY BAHA'U'LLAH SET OUT FOR ISTANBUL FROM BAGHDAD
While Bahá'u'lláh was residing in Baghdad, Nasiru'd-Din Shah sent Shaykh `Abdu'l-Husayn Tihrani, a Shi'i jurisprudent and one of the most prominent Muslim clergymen in the Iranian capital, to Iraq to oversee the construction and gilding of the dome over the Imam's shrine at Kazimayn. As is ever the case with Shi'i divines, when he witnessed the influence of the Cause of God and the gatherings of the friends, the flames of hatred and envy blazed in his inner soul.
The first step he took to scatter the friends of God and to extinguish the lamp of His Cause was to convince the Muslim clergy at Najaf and Karbala to gather in Kazimayn and, with general turmoil and by stirring
up the common people, to put an end to the holy life of Bahá'u'lláh and to chop down the Lote-Tree of the Cause. But this grave step could not be taken without the concurrence of Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari, a far-famed jurisprudent and a scholarly giant. Because of his piety and uprightness, he refused to join the other clergy in this lawless act.
Helpless, they consulted with one another and made other plans. Finally, they reached a consensus that they should invite Bahá'u'lláh as a guest to their gathering. Perhaps on this pretext they might be able to accomplish their aim. In sum, one day they set a time and all the Shi'i scholars, jurisprudents, seminary students, and town leaders of Karbala and Najaf gathered in Kazimayn at the house of `Abdu'l-Husayn Tihrani. In the name of hospitality, they also sought the presence of Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari at that calamitous meeting. The leaders of three cities had assembled. When the proceedings got under way, `Abdu'l Husayn unveiled the real reason the meeting had been called. With eloquence and a honeyed tongue he explained to the huge audience the necessity for containing and suppressing the Babi community, attempting to prove his case.
[1. Murtada la-Ansri (1800-1864) was widely recognized after 1850 as the spiritual leader of the Shi'i world and its chief source for emulation. See J. Cole, "Imami Jurisprudence and the Role of the Ulama: Mutaza Ansari on Emulating the Supreme Exemplar," in Nikki R. Keddie, ed., Religion and Politics in Iran (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983)]
When Shaykh Murtada heard this speech, he immediately arose and gave as his reason for refusing to agree with the other jurisprudents his lack of knowledge
concerning the doctrines of the people of the Bayan. However much the clergy sitting with him tried to convince him, all their labors proved fruitless. Without any further thought he set out for Najaf. From that city he sent a letter of apology to Bahá'u'lláh.
Although the departure of Shaykh Murtada from the gathering of the clergy had severely weakened them, they did not slacken for a moment in their determination to carry out their plan. They consulted once again and reached the opinion that first they should send an eloquent spokesman to Bahá'u'lláh who would call on him to renounce the holy Law and return to the Shi'i branch of Islam. They nominated Mulla Hasan, a man of erudition well known for his powers of the intellect and his mellifluous tongue, to undertake this mission.
It so happened that, the same day, Bahá'u'lláh went as a guest to the home of the illustrious Mirza Hasan Khan, a prominent Iranian Shi'i. Mulla Hasan received permission to be present at the same gathering. But when he saw the dignity, awe-inspiring deportment, calmness, and grandeur of that holy Being, he found no power within himself to so boldly set his mission afoot.
On the contrary, he said, "The clergy have sent me to inquire as to the beliefs and aims of this community, and to ask for proofs of its truth."
Bahá'u'lláh replied: "During the entire period of my residence in Iraq, I have always hoped that sometime the clergy of the Shi'is would gather together and arise to investigate this matter, making inquiries and receiving answers. Thus might the truth be distinguished from error, and the people be preserved in the end from perdition."
Then he provided proofs in the course of giving an
exposition both eloquent and radiant, referring both to scriptural texts and rational evidence for the truth of the holy Law of the Bayan. Moreover, he vindicated the status of the Bab as the Promised One whose advent had been prophesied.
When he completed his discourse, Mulla Hasan said, "In truth, it is impossible to imagine any addition to this argument, and no objection could be made to this proof. But the nature of the clergy is well known. If they are not content with scholarly proofs but insist on a sign from heaven, may I answer them positively or not?"
Bahá'u'lláh replied, "Yes. Let the clergy reach accord and ask for one miraculous sign, that the Eternal Truth may make it manifest and the divine proof become universal and apparent for all the people of the world."
After they finished their conversation, Mulla Hasan returned from Baghdad to Kazimayn and related to the clergy the answer he had heard. `Abdu'l-Husayn Tihrani became agitated and replied, "I say that these people must give up this new path and return to the Shi'ih religion. You say that we should arrange a public debate and hold scholarly discourses!" He wanted to give permission to the common people dwelling in Karbala, Najaf, and Kazimayn — most of whom were evildoers from Iran or bloodthirsty desert Arabs — to run riot, so that they might murder all the oppressed Babis. But the power of the Ottoman rulers in Baghdad stood in the way of creating such a public disorder. The massacre at Karbala during the governorship of Najib Pasha had instilled a fear of disturbances in the cities'
leaders. In the end, a single threat from the governor in Baghdad dispersed that obstinate gathering and extinguished the flames of inquiry.
[1. Carried out by government troops in January, 1843, in response to the Shi'i city's rebellion against Ottoman Sunni rule. See J. Cole and Moojan Momen, "Mafia, Mob and Shi'ism in Iraq: The Rebellion of Ottoman Karbala," Past and Present, forthcoming.]
When `Abdu'l-Husayn failed in this plan, he hatched another plot. He began associating with and befriending an official of the Iranian government, Mirza Buzurg Khan Qazvini, who at that time lived in Baghdad. He beguiled him with promises of worldly treasures and the fulfillment of all his desires in the next life, bringing his views into accord with his own. With Tihrani's concurrence, Qazvini began a correspondence with the shah and other great men in Tehran.
Admittedly, to frighten the officials of the state about the Babi community required very little contriving. But it was the case that several reprehensible clergymen and habitually drunk government officials alarmed the king and the men of state by spreading lies and slanders which suggested that the Babis were meeting and preparing for an insurrection. The monarch's desire to curb and root out this oppressed community was reawakened, and the high aspirations of the great men of Iran were wasted in dispersing the gatherings of the faithful. To this end powerful conspiracies were set in motion.
It is no exaggeration to say that in those days Bahá'u'lláh demonstrated a steadfastness and detachment that exceeded all the stories of old. Indeed, what he did was beyond the capacity of mere human beings. For the well-informed know that Iraq, because it is the site of the revered Shi'i shrines, served as a gathering
place for Shi'i Bedouin Arabs and an asylum for Iranian fugitives and evildoers.
On the one hand, Tihrani gave his permission and issued a legal opinion that if criminals could ambush Bahá'u'lláh with a pistol or other weapon at a crossing, they would be rewarded by the favors of the shah and would merit divine pardon for their past sins. On the other hand, he continually engaged in a deceitful correspondence with government officials and Shi'i clergy, assigning them the task of encouraging the shah to kill and wipe out the innocent Babi community. Moreover, the fire of rancor and jealousy had ignited in the hearts of those Babi leaders who were partisans of Mirza Yahya Nuri, Subh-i Azal. Tihrani even agreed to cooperate with them in uprooting the blessed Lote-Tree.
One day the flames of intrigue blazed forth, and a number of persons, foreigners and natives, Shi'is and Babis, joined together as a united group to assassinate Bahá'u'lláh. They armed themselves and watched for him day and night at crossroads. Bahá'u'lláh put his trust in God and detached himself from all besides Him, associating with the public in broad daylight and in the evening, with the utmost steadfastness. He avoided meeting no one. He gave no thought to the number of his foes, refused to plead with anyone, and not even for one day did he take cover. On several occasions enemies within his own household poisoned his beverages, and that holy being suffered from that tampering. Although the poison affected his holy body, the most glorious Protector preserved him, rescuing him from that sly fox.
Mirza Sa'id Khan, an Iranian government official renowned for his knowledge, erudition, and beautiful letter-writing style, was then serving as the minister of
foreign affairs. When he saw that from every direction the waves of trials were beating down on that Ark of guidance, he began to worry that the life of that blessed being would be snuffed out. In the midst of fear and hope he penned a letter in Tehran to Bahá'u'lláh, counseling him that in his view "the enemy is powerful and extremely tenacious, and there is no one to help you. Certainly, you must remove yourself from their midst and preserve your life."
Bahá'u'lláh wrote him a reply demonstrating his steadfastness and perseverance in the Cause of God, his detachment from all save Him, and his desire to be martyred in the path of God...
[1. Mirza Abu'l-Fadl here quotes the original of the Persian Tablet Shikar shikan shavand for which there is as yet no authorized translation.]
When this blessed Tablet reached the eyes of the foreign minister, the patience and steadfastness shown by Bahá'u'lláh astonished him. His post required that he correctly report the situation to the shah and pay close attention to the welfare of the state and the community. But out of fear that he might be accused of sympathizing, he sealed his lips and closed his eyes to the best interests of the government and the people, crawling silently into a corner.
Finally, the frantic efforts of `Abdu'l-Husayn Tihrani and the Iranian official in Iraq, the cooperation of the clergy and great men in Iran, and the carefully planned steps taken by Mirza Husayn Khan, ambassador to Istanbul, all bore fruit. Nasiru'd-Din Shah requested the Ottoman sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz either to have Bahá'u'lláh killed or to exile him from Baghdad, which neighbored Iran and served as a crossroads for Shi'i pilgrims on their way to the shrines of the Imams.
On this bilateral issue a great many negotiations were carried on. In the end, the Ottoman sultan commanded Bahá'u'lláh to set out for Istanbul from Baghdad. When the decree was received in Baghdad, the Ottoman governor there had it delivered to Bahá'u'lláh, who decided to travel to Istanbul. At that time he was forty-seven years of age.
On the first of the month of Uardibihisht [21 April 1863], when the breezes of spring were smiling, the birds were trilling on their branches, the flower buds had opened, and green plants had newly sprung up, Bahá'u'lláh moved to the garden of Najib Pasha. He stayed there twelve days during which the leaders of Iraq and the great men of Baghdad who had been touched in their hearts, while he lived there, by his excellent character, his manifest radiance, and his obvious glory, gathered in astonishingly large crowds to see him off properly, unhappy at his departure. One by one they attained the honor of bidding him farewell and returned home filled with grief and sorrow.
[1. Now known to the Bahá'ís as the Garden of Ridvan.]
His sincere friends and believers were in a state of bereavement and dejection such as no pen can depict. All hoped to be permitted to travel with him so that they would not be deprived of his spirit-bestowing presence. One day, while encamped at the garden of Najib Pasha, in a gathering with friends, Bahá'u'lláh opened his lips and revealed his blessed Cause. By his most holy, most glorious manifestation, he filled the sorrow-laden breasts of those loyal to him with the greatest joy, strictly enjoining all to patience and steadfastness. This was the time of clear effulgence and the beginning of Bahá'u'lláh's declaration.
Bahá'u'lláh then traveled with his close family
and a few servants to Istanbul — a four-month journey. When he arrived in the capital, because of his dignity and firmness, he did not live in the place designated by the officials of the exalted Ottoman state. Nor did he seek meetings with the ministers of state. He complained to no one of the wrongs he had been done.
Some of the notables of the country came to see him and showed him moderate respect. They saw in him all the grandeur and brilliance they had heard about and were touched in their hearts by him. They counseled him that according to custom, he must meet with the foreign minister and all the other ministers of the exalted state. He should reveal to them all past occurrences, so that they might become aware of the truth of the matter and explain it to the sultan, and might undertake to protect him. Thus might the road be barred to the insinuations of those bearing a grudge against him and the fire of the hatred of the Iranians not be transferred here.
Bahá'u'lláh silenced each of them with an answer. His response may be summarized thus: "Our intention in setting out for Istanbul was to demonstrate to the Ottoman government that we seek the favor of no one but God Himself, supplicating no one else. If the officials of the exalted state, as is the duty of just governments, arise to discover the reality and vindicate the truth, the answers will, of course, be revealed to them. If not, our taking trouble will untie no knots and our efforts will bear no fruit. It is obvious that the all-conquering will of God will become manifest in this regard. Should God encompass you with harm, none can rescue from it but Him."
The ambassador to Istanbul, Mirza Husayn Khan, a consummate politician, reckoned that he should
seize this opportunity. He painted Bahá'u'lláh's detachment and contentment as arrogance and haughtiness. He announced to the Ottoman officials, "I warned you that this group cares for no one and counts no one worthy of their respect. Their dreams are too grandiose to imagine, and their goals too exalted to be borne by any state." In short, several of them conspired to turn the hearts of the Ottoman grandees away from their love for and desire to protect that holy one.
After Bahá'u'lláh had resided in Istanbul for four months, the sultan issued an edict that he and his companions should set out for Edirne [Adrianople] in Rumelia and should settle in that city, far from Iran. In accordance with this command, Bahá'u'lláh journeyed from Istanbul to Edirne and dwelled there with his followers. The country's notables and the great clergymen of that city came to visit him, and after they witnessed his sanctity they accepted him with honor and respect. Because of this, the generality of the Babis were allowed peace.
Unlike the rest of the Iranians, whom the inhabitants of that land despised and whom the Sunni Muslims rejected as Shi'i heretics, the Babis were honored and given a high place. They easily found lodging and engaged in some skilled trade, and because the divine Educator arranged things well, they became renowned for their gentle disposition and good character.
Suddenly, in the Azali group, the flames of envy and hostility were kindled, which had until then remained hidden in their breasts. From obscurity these feelings emerged into the daylight, and the turmoil prophesied in the holy books with such clarity came to pass. For this group found that every day the influence of the blessed Cause increased and the lights of its existence shone more brilliantly above the horizon.
Therefore, they endeavored ever more mightily to promulgate and popularize the Azali message, all the while opposing the Bahá'í group.
Bahá'u'lláh treated them with the utmost calm and forbearance, returning their obstinacy with sincerity and conciliation. In the end, Sayyid Muhammad Isfahani set out from Edirne to Istanbul and joined all the enemies in rending the chaste veil of the people of Baha and fabricating all manner of accusations and slanders. The great men of Iran living in the Ottoman capital found in him a powerful means and a wondrous instrument for the accomplishment of their own purposes. They were greatly emboldened to spread lies about the beliefs of the Bahá'ís, accusing this oppressed group before the Ottomans of holding false doctrines.
Since the Turks considered Isfahani a Babi, and were unaware of his enmity, they thought him a man without any ulterior motives and imagined his calumnies to be unquestionably true. He always bore Bahá'u'lláh hatred and showed him opposition. From the beginning, even before that holy one made any public claims, his dignity and authority aroused rejection and envy in some hearts. For years Sayyid Muhammad Isfahani made careful plans to assassinate him.
I have heard that one time he appended to some of Bahá'u'lláh's letters forged statements maligning the prophets and messengers, as well as stupid assertions about the rightly guided caliphs revered by the Sunnis. Then he showed these to the Christian and Muslim communities, in order to stir all those groups to a united enmity for that holy one, and in the hope that the resulting tumult might lead to his murder and to the extermination of the Bahá'ís.
In truth, the groups opposed to the Bahá'í Faith have no other choice if they wish to uproot it than to lie steadfastly and to utter ugly statements about this religion, accusing the Bahá'ís of unworthy acts. Yet such a strategy can provoke only laughter, and these infirm minds can arouse only tears, for they seek the aid of falsehood and count slander as a proof for their own religion. They are heedless that a liar has never become a trusted counselor, no untruth has ever been persuasive, no slanderer has ever proved a victorious soldier, and calumny has never attained the station of general acceptance. For scholars throughout the world associate with the Bahá'ís, referring to the spiritual books of this people. They are instantly aware of the unwisdom and irreligiousness of the slanderers.
When Bahá'u'lláh had lived in Edirne for nearly five years, the sultan decreed that he alone should be exiled from Edirne to `Akka as a result of the machinations of the Iranian ambassador to Istanbul, the slanders of Sayyid Muhammad Isfahani, and the complicity of the Ottoman first minister. In the course of this incident, astonishing events occurred that are worthy of the notice of historians and have startled those who have heard of them. However, at this moment I have no leisure to provide the details. Should God — may His splendor be exalted — grant me life and vigor, I shall treat this period extensively in another work.
When Bahá'u'lláh set out from Edirne, in accordance with the decree of the empire, the inhabitants of that city generally were perturbed. The terms of the imperial edict were unusually harsh and severe, and most believed that they would smother that radiant lamp at sea. The citizens of the town gathered at the house of that holy One, and Christians and Muslims wept together loudly.
The friends were in such a state from the extremity of their grief that all would have been content to be put to death, and all were determined to end their own existences. For the people of Baha had paid for their friendship with that holy One in the coin of their own lives, all of them having repeatedly tasted the fear of being murdered or burned alive in the path of his love. Anyone familiar with the history of this people knows how many souls gave up their lives with love and refused to accept insults to the blessed Name as a price for satisfying and silencing the foes.
In the course of these events, after Bahá'u'lláh's firm decision had been taken to leave, all made a suicide pact together, preferring annihilation to continuing existence. Haji Muhammad Ja'far Tabrizi, the merchant, cut his own throat, and Aqa `Abdu'l-Ghaffar Isfahani threw himself into the sea. When `Umar Pasha, who was overseeing Bahá'u'lláh's exile and banishment, witnessed this sort of anxiety in the people, whether Muslim, Christian, or Babi, he silenced the former with reproaches and comforted the Babis with promises. He informed the sultan of the situation by telegraph, and a second decree was issued allowing the friends to travel with Bahá'u'lláh rather than being dispersed.
That holy One set out from Edirne on 20 Rabi' II, 1285 [August 1868] with his family and a group of Babis. On 12 Jumadi I of the same year, he arrived in `Akka, a port on the Mediterranean Sea situated in the Holy Land. With this emigration, the divine promises and the prophecies of the holy scriptures were fulfilled. At this point Bahá'u'lláh was fifty-three years of age.
God knows what injustices he bore at the hands of friend and foe during his residence in that land and to what extent various afflictions encompassed that holy
Being. Even though the waves of trials washed over him, he raised the sweet call with the shrill pen of the Mist High in Asia, Europe, and Africa, purifying through the influence of his word souls in the grip of delusions from the filth of their vain imaginings, and educating them in spiritual truths. His inimitable Tablets, which revived the abandoned ways of humanity and civilization and breathed new life into the dusty bones of eloquence and learning, embellished the world with a new and wondrous adornment. He taught the beautiful ways of brotherhood and friendly association with all nations and religions to those with capacity.
Should any person of insight contemplate with subtlety the life story of that ocean of compassion and mountain of steadfastness, he would confess that no one among the ancients underwent such afflictions and that none of them has ever demonstrated such perseverance. For from the beginning of his arrival in Baghdad until his ascension to the highest realm, not one day turned to night save that he was troubled by three matters and assaulted by three weighty affairs. The first was the education and counseling of the friends with their differing views. Second, he answered questions and objections from the leaders of sects and religions. Third, he faced the savage enmity of oppressors and tyrants.
In short, he rested not one day from training up God's servants and giving the Message to those in every land. Finally in Dhu'l-Qa'dah 1309 [29 May 1892], he ascended to the most exalted horizon, shutting the door of his presence on his loyal followers. Nothing remains to us but grief and sorrow. How appropriate is what one of the ancients wrote:
I was created by his noble resting place and dust, Its earth transformed the breeze of his fragrance into perfume;
In conclusion, let me say that my aim in writing this brief life, which represents no more than a tiny drop in the ocean of the astounding events associated with this Most Great Manifestation, was to inform you that the arrival of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad in Muharram of 1269 [November 1852] was the beginning of the dawn of that luminous sun and the commencement of his renown among young and old. The possessors of certainty pointed to the blessed verse, "And you shall surely know its tiding after a while [hin]" as a prophecy of this event.
[1. Qur'an 38:88. The Arabic word hin has the numerical value of 69, standing for 1269 A.H.]
The time of his emigration from the Abode of Peace, Baghdad, and the days he tarried in the garden of Najib Pasha, constituted the beginning of him manifestation and declaration. During the period he resided in Edirne his blessed call was raised up, and his summons reached most of the kings and leaders of the world. The arrival of the holy one in `Akka in 1285 A.H. [1868 A.D.] fulfilled the divine prophecies in the holy scriptures. None knows this save the possessors of insight, and knowledge of the Book is from Him.
The third question concerned the identity of the author of The New History (Tarikh-i Jadid). The
author of The New History was the late Mirza Husayn Hamadani. He was a youth and an associate of Rida Khan, the son of Muhammad Khan Turkman, who was mentioned in The New History as a martyr at Fort Shaykh Tabarsi. In the beginning, the above-mentioned historian found employment with an Iranian government official as a secretary by virtue of his skill in calligraphy and in the arts of writing letters and composition. On Nasiru'd-Din Shah's first journey to Europe, he traveled in those lands with the royal entourage. On the return, he stopped over for a while in Istanbul.
[1. Mirza Huseyn Hamadani, The Tarikh-i-Jadid, translated by Edward G. Browne (Cambridge University Press, 1893).]
After he returned to Iran, during the public disturbances of 1291 A.H. [1874 A.D.] when Aqa Jamal Burujirdi was incarcerated in the shah's prison after his debate with the clergy of Tehran, he too was among those imprisoned. When he was delivered from Tehran's jail, he began working as a writer in the office of Manakji, the famous Zoroastrian. Manakji considered him honorable, for had he not been known as a Babi, he would never have been hired.
[1. For Manakji, See Susan Stiles, "Early Zoroastrian Conversions to the Bahá'í Faith in Yazd, Iran," in Juan R. Cole and Moojan Momen, eds., Studies in Babi and Bahá'í History, Vol. 2: From Iran East and West (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1984) pp. 67-93.]
It happened that one evening he and Muhammad Isma'il Khan-i Zand, an expert in writing Old Persian, were guests of Manakji. He asked them each to author a volume, as he was zealous in collecting books. Whenever he met anyone capable of composing and writing well, he assigned him the task of penning works and composing volumes. Therefore, on the above-mentioned evening, he requested Muhammad Isma'il Khan
to write a chronicle of the kings of Iran and expressed his wish to Mirza Husayn that he compose a work on the history of the Babis.
Muhammad Isma'il Khan completed a volume entitled The Heavenly World (Farazistan) in the pure Persian language on the ancient Iranian kingdom, from the early prophet Mah-Abad to the fall of the Sassanians. In reality he made that book a hodgepodge of imaginings and fables from the Shahnamih, the Chahar Chaman, and the Disatir.
[1. The Shahnamih of the Firdawsi is a medieval Muslim verse reworking of Zoroastrian stories about pre-Islamic Iranian heroes. The Disatir is a literary forgery with Sufi leanings published in Bombay in 1818 from an Iranian manuscript (See Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Beliefs and Practices [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979] pp. 197-98).]
Mirza Husayn came to me and requested my assistance. He said, "Since no lengthy and correct history of the events associated with this religion has yet been composed, it is most difficult to record them and to write about it properly. For, owing to flattery [of the Persian government] and error, what they have written about the events associated with this Manifestation is nothing but unfounded accusation and complete untruth. The things one can still hear of oral history show great differences and discrepancies, the reconciliation of which would be difficult."
I replied, "The history set down by Haji Mirza Jani Kashi, who was one of the martyrs in Tehran and one of the righteous men of that time, is in the hands of the friends. But he was a merchant with no skill at writing history, and he left out the dates. Still, since he was a religious man, he transmitted correctly the
events he saw and heard. Obtain a copy of this work and take the events from it. Fix their dates and chronology from "Nasikh at-tawarikh and the appendices to Rawdat as-safa.
[1. Two works of history written during the reign of Nasiru'd-Din Shah. Muhammad Taqi Lisanu'l-Mulk Sipihr, Nasikh't-tawarikh, 8 vols. (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1957); Rida Quli Khan Hidayat, Tarikh rawdate's-safay-i nasiri, vols. 8-10 (Qum: Hidayat, 1339 A.H.).]
"After the work has been written out, go over every section with Haji Sayyid Javad Karbala'i (who has been repeatedly mentioned in these pages). He accompanied the friends everywhere, from the appearance of the Primal Point to the arrival of Bahá'u'lláh in `Akka, and is an expert and conscientious witness to those pure events. Working with meticulous care, produce a correct history that this book may be brought to a successful fruition by the will of the One True God. Thus may it be worthy of seeing publication by the scholars of the world."
He wanted me to write the beginning of the proposed volume and set him off on the right foot. At this request I composed two pages as a preface to that work, ornamenting it with praise of the Beloved, moral counsel, and exhortations to independent thinking. He had in mind to produce the book in two volumes. The first would deal with the events associated with the advent of the Bab, and the second would center on the occurrences attending the rise of Bahá'u'lláh. But after he completed the first volume, his destiny gave him no time, and he died in Rasht in 1299 A.H. [1882 A.D.].
Manakji, however, did not allow the history to take form as I had suggested. Rather, he made the
above-mentioned historian write whatever he himself dictated. For Manakji's custom was to dictate a subject to a secretary and then tell the secretary to read him back the first draft. First the secretary would read him the draft he had composed with taste and talent. After Manakji had added passages or deleted them, weighing and judging them, the rough draft would be copied in final form. But since Manakji wholly lacked knowledge and ability when it came to written and spoken Persian, in this way most of the books and treatises ascribed to him are full of disconnected sentences, with beautiful phrases mixed with ugly ones.
In addition to this fault, ignorant transcribers and poor calligraphers copying The New History have often written according to their own imaginations. Today, every copy of the book is like an effaced painting, to the extent that a correct version cannot be found, unless the autograph manuscript of the author be located. Others are not dependable.
As for Haji Mirza Jani Kashani, he was a famed merchant of Kashan. At the beginning of the dispensation of the Bab he embraced his faith. He was the brother of Dhabih, who later received the name "Anis" in the Tablet to the First Minister (Lawh-i Ba'is). When they were bringing the Bab from Isfahan to Tehran at the command of Muhammad Shah, Mirza Jani showed him the hospitality of his own house for three days in Kashan.
After a short time, the mirza went from Kashan to Tehran, residing at Hadrat `Abdu'l-Azim. He penned his history in that village. In the tumult of 1268 A.H. [1852 A.D.], he was among those arrested and imprisoned with Bahá'u'lláh, sharing a single corner and bound with the same chains. After a few days he perished, innocent, in that disturbance, attaining the
station of martyrdom. Today I cannot acquire a copy of his history, for it is a great distance from Samarkand to Tehran, and the times are frowning on the Bahá'ís. 21 Rabi II 1313 [31 October 1892] Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani Postscript
Those who have read this letter are aware that in 1305 A.H. [1888 A.D.] the hand of fate directed the travels of this poor one, Abu'l-Fadl Muhammad the son of Muhammad Rida Gulpaygani, to the town of Hamadan. In that city, at the request of a number of elders from the children of Israel, I composed the "Treatise on Job" in vindication of the most holy Cause. In the shortest period of time, copies of it spread around the world. At the end of last year, one of the friends sent a copy of it to Mr. Browne, a reader in one of the colleges of Cambridge University. The above-mentioned instructor translated it into English so that it might be published.
Mr. Browne asked you, in view of your correspondence with me, to put to me three questions. The first dealt with discrepancies in the ancient dates given by the author for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The second concerned difference in the date for the advent of Bahá'u'lláh given the treatise with that supplied by A Travellers Narrative. The third centered on the identity of the author of The New History, known as the history of Manakji the Zoroastrian.
Therefore, in answer to that gentlemen, this treatise
was composed. Because of the limitations imposed by my being outside Iran and my lack of leisure, I have observed the dictates of brevity. Although the author is a believer in the holy path of the Bahá'í Faith, God is my witness — and He suffices as a witness — that I have not been unduly influenced in the writing of this history by my love or faith. My devotion to Bahá'u'lláh has not deflected me from the path of fairness. For the station of a historian is beyond that of love and devotion and too sacred to be defiled by bias and prejudice. A historian must put to one side his love or hate for various groups when writing about historical events and must with the utmost justice and equity record what he knows. For truthfulness is a precious gem and the fairness of human beings is their purest ornament.
In 1293 A.H. [1876 A.D.] the present writer was living in Tehran and steadfastly held to the doctrine of the Shi'is. It happened that I encountered some Bahá'ís. At first I determined to refute and silence them. For nearly eight months I conducted debates at numerous gatherings with the scholars of this community. In the end, when my own delusions were shattered and the back of my opposition was broken, I pursued the path of independent reasoning and investigation. I exerted my utmost efforts to examine closely the proofs put forth for this religion, and associated in a brotherly fashion with the leaders of various religions and rites, including Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, Sunnis, Shi'is, Azali Babis, and Bahá'ís.
I inquired into the life of the founder of the Bahá'í Faith from both friend and foe and referred with great care to the holy scriptures, deeply going into the words of the sanctified ones. Late at night and at early dawn I
supplicated God with the utmost humility and helplessness to bestow on me guidance and insight. Finally, by the will of God, I attained a universal vision of the divine laws, and my disturbed heart was filled with calm, repose, certainty, and insight.
When hen the gloom of blind obedience lifted and the light of certitude dawned, I was arrested and sent to the shah's prisons several times. While in captivity I underwent numerous sessions with the Shi'i clergy and state officials, discussing religion and theological issues with them. On one of these occasions, I had a debate in the evening with Mu'tamadu'd-Dawlih Farhad Mirza, the uncle of Nasiru'd-Din Shah, at a gathering that included the great minister Na'ibu's-Saltanih Kamran Mirza (the shah's son) and other high government officials. He thought himself especially deserting of knowledge and the throne by virtue of his father's high rank, and considered himself among his peers to be a man of the pen and an heir to the sword.
[1. For Mu'tamadu'd-Dawlih Farhad Mirza, see Hasan-e Fasa'i, History of Persia under Qajar Rule, trans. H. Busse (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972) pp. 403-16; for Kamran Mirza and the Bahá'ís, see Moojan Momen, ed., The Babi and Bahá'í Religions 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts (Oxford: George Ronald, 1981) p. 507 and index.]
But omniscient God is my witness that in these numerous sessions and debates I found that the clergy and the notables had no proof for their case save an unsheathed sword, and that the Bahá'ís relied on nothing but rational evidence. If anyone hesitates to accept the truth of this statement, even now the two parties are present. Let him arrange a gathering and hold a debate between them, listening attentively to the arguments
and assertions of each, that light may be distinguished from darkness and truth from error.
In sum, I endeavored with all my power and might, indeed, more than anyone else, to seek information about this group, using independent reasoning. What is recorded in these pages I have heard from the great ones of Islam and from the fair-minded of all religions. But I have taken the ages of Bahá'u'lláh at various points of his biography from the poetry of Mirza Muhammad Zarandi, Nabil. I supplicate the glorious favors of the Generous, the Bestower, that this treatise will be pleasing to those who have attained a high station, and will stir and awaken the heedless. 11 Jumadi II 1313 [19 December 1892] Abu'l-Fadl Muhammad, son of Muhammad Rida Gulpaygani
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[Photograph of `Abdu'l-Bahá]
On Meeting `Abdu'l-Bahá
In the name of our Lord, the Most Holy, the Most Glorious
May my life be your sacrifice:
It was a blessed night and an auspicious moment, better than the Night of Power, indeed, more luminous than the dawn of peace, until the rising of dawn. The sea breeze wafted from the west, the light of the moon glistened and shimmered, and the lord of all men rose from the heavens of the will of our Lord, the Most Glorious. He is the most noble Mystery of God, the Most Great Branch from God, and the Proof standing forth to all the nations. May God render all breasts and hearts treasuries of fidelity to him and cause all souls and spirits to be attracted by his call.
[1. The Night of Power was held to be the night Muhammad received revelation from God. See Qur'an 97: "Behold, We sent it down on the Night of Power; and what shall teach thee what is the Night of Power? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months; in it the angels and the Spirit descend, by the leave of their Lord, upon every command. Peace it is, till the rising of dawn."]
He called this servant into his radiant, shining presence in the blessed house, and addressed me with spirit-bestowing utterances. I know not with what sweetness he spoke and cannot describe the effect of his words. Grace of expression is according to the holiness of the heart and the eloquence of the tongue. A
wise observer knows what effect spring rains have on the trees and what the gales of dawn whisper to the flowers.
Among the things he said was that I should write to Adib that according to the text of the Most Holy Book [the Kitab-i Aqdas], all the Iranian friends must count obedience to the commands of the ruler as one of their religious duties and must reckon love of their government as one of their most important goals. They must ever and with the utmost sincerity entreat the threshold of the one true God to bestow greater honor, power, and health on the holy person of the ruler.
For it is clear to anyone of wisdom and insight that the power of the state, the authority of the government, and the wealth and peace of their subjects all depend on precisely this factor: that all the individuals living in a country consider it incumbent to obey their ruler. Thus can the state to whom such allegiance is owed rise to the apogee of grandeur, the affluence of its subjects increase, the land be built up, and the country find tranquillity.
Consider that in the former times when the people of Iran believed it necessary to obey their sovereigns, the Iranian empire was reckoned the greatest state in the world. To what high levels did the might of the government and the prosperity of the subjects rise! The splendor of the old Iranian empire is renowned throughout the world down to our own day, and the glorious exploits of that age are recorded in all works of history. In these latter times the opposite holds true, for the Shi'i community did not believe it obligatory to obey secular rulers, regarding secular states as unjust and branding all government officials tyrants. The foundations of government were shaken, the power of the
state correspondingly declined into weakness, the wealth of the subjects diminished, and poverty and anxiety gripped the inhabitants. The debasement and abjectness of Iran's people is recognized by everyone in the world.
Therefore, all the friends must realize the universal and magnificent benefits inhering in the ordinance of the Book concerning obedience to the government, and accept that the unchallengeable command of the Most Holy Book that no one should oppose those who rule over the servants constitutes the basis of their own prosperity and good fortune. They must know that the tranquillity of the country, the benefit of the people, the authority of the state, the wealth of the subjects, and the approval of the One True God are all encompassed in this single factor. Perhaps, by the aid and confirmations of God, the damage done by ignoramuses in other groups will be recognized by virtue of the sincerity of this community, and this holy intent may bring about the triumph of the people of Iran.
It is the same way with local governments. When they oppose the friends their actions are, naturally, founded on some wisdom and yield some benefit. Indeed, sometimes the opposition of the government can help protect and safeguard the righteous from the attacks and oppression of the evildoers. This was witnessed in the events at Sabzavar and Ardabil. If the government had not taken those hapless ones into custody from the clergy, to what degree of persecution and torment would they have been subject in the end!
Perhaps at times, owing to the lies and slanders told to the local government by troublemakers, officials undertake on their own authority to conduct searches and investigations, oppressing the friends. The friends should refrain from growing perturbed at
such times and avoid despairing of the justice of the rulers, in accordance with the saying, "Belittle not the station of those among the rulers who show you justice." They should consider respect for those officials identical to respect for the state. No doubt the protection, vigilance, kindness, and compassion of the ruler will prevent any act of tyranny from occurring such as would cause financial or bodily injury to innocent souls — as you saw in the incident involving Aqa Mirza Mahmud Furughi. You witnessed the solicitude of the esteemed monarch [Nasiru'd-Din Shah] in defending the oppressed.
Therefore, the friends must appreciate well this bounty and kindness, and with sincere hearts and pure intentions subject themselves to the commands of the state. They should raise their hands in supplication to the threshold of the All-Bounteous, the Sovereign of all who are on earth and in the heavens, imploring with all earnestness:
O Pure One, O Lord, the Merciful, the Almighty, the Preexistent. Hearts have turned to the realm of Thy loving-kindness, eyes are gazing toward thine illumined countenance, and hands are raised in supplication to the heaven of Thy generosity. May the breeze of Thy care bestow joy and happiness on the sorrowful. May the raindrops of Thy infinite compassion refresh and revive the grief stricken. By Thy conquering might and invisible favors preserve the holy being of our ruler and increase him in justice — which is the strongest foundation for the happiness of the country, the longevity of the state, and the power and authority of the government. Unite and give tranquillity to the scattered sheep of Iran under the shadow of the
just shepherd, the ruler, and fix firmly the throne of that great sovereign Nasiru'd-Din Shah upon the solid foundation of justice. Verily, Thou art the Bestower, and givest the land into the hands of whomever Thou willest. Thou holdest the reins of all things in this world and the next.
What more can I say? God willing, you will — as it has been ordained — remind the friends of these moral principles, which are characteristic of the spiritual and the mark of the pure and the detached, and will lead them toward that which is the cause of progress, success, and prosperity for all the citizens of the nation. May the gales of loving-kindness ever waft upon you from the source of honor and glory. Dhu'l-Qa'dah 1311 [May 1894] Abu'l-Fadl
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[Photograph on this page]
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