To: The Universal House of Justice
From: Research Department
Date: 1 May 2001
The Research Department has studied the questions about the Lawh-i-Maqsúd raised by Mr. ... in his email message of 7 February 2001 to the Universal House of Justice. Specifically, he enquires about the date of the revelation of the Tablet of Maqsúd and he seeks information about the "Two great powers"2
referred to in this Tablet. We provide the following response.
Date of Revelation of the Tablet
The Lawh-i-Maqsúd was revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in the prison-city of 'Akká on the
29th of Safar 1299 A.H. (January 20 1882).
"Two great powers"
Mr. ... requests information about the "Two great powers", mentioned in the following passage from the Tablet of Maqsúd, that appears on page 170 of Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.
Two great powers who regard themselves as the founders and leaders of civilization and the framers of constitutions have risen up against the followers of the Faith associated with Him who conversed with God.3
The Research Department has not, to date, been able to locate any references in the Bahá'í Writings that explain the identity of the two countries that arose against the followers of Moses. However, from a perusal of European history in the second part of the 19th century, it is suggested that the two powers referred to by Bahá'u'lláh in the Lawh-i-Maqsúd as being persecutors of the Jews would appear to be France and Russia. The world powers of the 1880s were Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. The Encyclopedia Judaica
indicates that the Jews were officially emancipated in Germany during the latter half of the 19th century, and although there was some anti-semitic activity in Austria, it was officially opposed by the government. In France, however, between 1881 and 1894, there was a rise of anti-Jewish publicity and agitation, the founding of the National Anti-Semitic League in 1889, and the demand in 1891 by 32 French deputies (members of parliament) that Jews be expelled from France, culminated in the infamous Dreyfus Affair of 1894. In Russia, the assassination of Alexander II led to pogroms, leading to the so-called "May laws" of 1882 which prohibited Jews from living in villages and in 1886 to the limitation of the number of Jews allowed into University. Discrimination was continued officially until 1918. There was no official anti-semitism in Britain.
1 Published in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1997), pages 159-178.
2 Ibid., page 170.
Universal House of Justice
Notes by Juan Cole:
Excerpts from Modernity and Millennium,
Bahá'u'lláh goes beyond his earlier call for a pact of collective security in his "Tablet of Maqsud," penned on December 31 1881 [sic — the UHJ gives the date as 1/20/82. -J.W.]. In it he wrote that the time had come for "the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men." He continued, "The rulers and kings of the earth must needs
attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such
ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world's Great Peace
amongst men." He urged his listeners to dedicate themselves "to the service of the entire human race." He advocated that great affairs be accomplished through consultation and compassion. Here he was calling for the sort of international peace congress that had been supported in vain by Napoleon III in the 1860s, such as would not be staged in actuality until the 1898 Hague peace conference called by Tsar Nicholas II (though this conference signally failed in its aim of inducing nations to agree to submit to international arbitration of disputes among them).
The "Tablet of Maqsud" exhibits an underlying interest in the pedagogy of peace in the use of education to form world citizens. Bahá'u'lláh wrote,
Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education (tarbiyat) hath, however,
deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess. Through a word
proceeding out of the
mouth of God he was called into being; by one word more he was guided to
recognize the Source of his education; by yet another word his station
and destiny were safeguarded. The Great Being saith: Regard man as a
mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it
to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. If any
man were to meditate on that which the Scriptures, sent down from the
heaven of God's holy Will, have revealed, he would readily recognize
that their purpose is that all men shall be regarded as one soul...
... The international context for the urgent tone in the "Tablet of Maqsud" was the contest between Egyptian constitutionalists and the European powers during the 'Urabi Revolution in 1881-82, an episode that Bahá'u'lláh comments on forcefully, as we shall see below. That is, an important element in Bahá'u'lláh's peace thought is anti-imperialism. In the four decades after the fall of France to Germany in 1871, European powers put most of their military energies into colonial wars of conquest against African and Asian peoples rather than into wars on European soil. This process had begun much before, of course. The initial European military expansion into Africa and Asia, led by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, had mainly depended upon controlling the high seas and maintaining a few strategic garrison-colonies such as Hurmuz in the Persian Gulf, Goa on the western coast of India, and in the straits of Molucca off the coast of what is now Malaysia. From 1757 the British East India Company innovated in conquering Bengal, a large province of the Mughal Empire, and administering it directly, ushering in the age of land-based colonization. The British defeated the French in India and then went on gradually to conquer most of the subcontinent, taking Deli in 1803 and the northern provinces of Sindh and the Punjab in the late 1840s.
The Europeans proceeded much more cautiously in the Middle East ... The Russians fought the Ottomans in 1877-78, leading to an Ottoman loss of territory in the Balkans. The French took Tunisia in 1881.
In 1881-82 important segments of the population in the Ottoman vassal state of khedivial Egypt agitated for and achieved a constitution and parliament, though they were opposed in this by their Ottoman-sanctioned ruler, Khedive Tawfiq, as well as by Sultan Abdulhamid in Isntabul and by the French and British governments. Egypt was deeply in debt to Western European banks, investors, and governments, and some British and French politicians feared that a more democratic government might default on these loans, many of which were given out under terms that can only be characterized as usurious, with outrageous service fees. The struggle between the khedive and his European backers on the one hand and the constitutionalists on the other led the latter to make a revolution in the summer of 1882, in which they declared the khedive deposed. The revolution was joined by large numbers of military men (led by General Ahmad 'Urabi), the educated classes, urban artisans, and villagers. On June 11, 1882, a riot broke out in the port city of Alexandria in which perhaps fifty Europeans died and probably hundreds of Egyptians, which was interpreted by the European press as a "massacre" of Christians by Muslims (it could more accurately be characterized the other way around). On July 11, 1882, the British navy bombarded Alexandria, beginning or provoking fires that destroyed the city and forced a mass exodus of its population to the interior. In August-September the British invaded the country, restored Khedive Tawfiq to his throne, arrested 'Urabi, the Muslim modernist Muhammad 'Abduh, and other constitutionalists, and imposed a "veiled protectorate" on the country that differed only in name from direct colonial rule. The official British sources attempted to suggest that they had saved Egypt from a military junta allied to Islamic fanaticism, but more impartial observers have characterized the British invasion as the quashing of a grassroots democratic movement by an imperial power in the service of the European bond market.
Bahá'u'lláh in Akka was not far from the Egyptian events, which he followed intently. After the July 1, 1882 bombardment of Alexandria, he wrote a letter to Iran speaking of the complete breakdown of security there and instancing this event as proof of the ephemerality of wealth and opulence (as a port city for the export of cotton, Alexandria had been among the most flourishing urban centers along the Mediterranean). He mentions that the Bahá'í families resident there had fled to the Holy Land and were safe, though empty-handed. About eight months later, after the consolidation of British rule over Egypt, Bahá'u'lláh issued a strong denunciation of European imperialism....
... Bahá'u'lláh's proposal in the "Tablet of Maqsud" of an international peace conference to be attended by the world's major heads of state has a context in the Egyptian crises and the unleashing of European imperialism. Peace involves not only the abolition of holy war among Middle Easterners, an institution that had threatened Europe in the medieval and early modern periods, but also a renunciation of conquest by the European colonial powers. Bahá'u'lláh radically questions the justifications given for the European advance (we can imagine them -- the civilizing mission, the restoration of order, the safeguarding of European rights), dismissing them as mere pretexts for rapacious invasions. Collective security would function not only to prevent major wars in Europe but to end the white man's burden in Africa and Asia. But this peace regime could only benefit the Muslims facing the threat of colonization if they adopted it as an ideal and pressed for it, that is, only if the accepted this teaching of Bahá'u'lláh. In addition, both the Young Ottomans and the 'Urabists were convinced that only democratic societies could hope to escape imperial domination; parliamentary governance may also have been among the principles Bahá'u'lláh saw as necessary to stop the European war machine. In a country with an absolute monarch, after all, the Europeans only had to subdue one man in order to gain vast influence over the entire society. Bahá'u'lláh saw his laws and social principles as promoters of peace but also its safeguard.