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Pages 156-160

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His departure from His House, and later from the Garden of Ridván, were repeated when, on the 20th of Dhi'l-Qádih (May 9, 1863), accompanied by members of His family and twenty-six of His disciples, He left Firayját, His first stopping-place in the course of that journey. A caravan, consisting of fifty mules, a mounted guard of ten soldiers with their officer, and seven pairs of howdahs, each pair surmounted by four parasols, was formed, and wended its way, by easy stages, and in the space of no less than a hundred and ten days, across the uplands, and through the defiles, the woods, valleys and pastures, comprising the picturesque scenery of eastern Anatolia, to the port of Sámsun, on the Black Sea. At times on horseback, at times resting in the howdah reserved for His use, and which was oftentimes surrounded by His companions, most of whom were on foot, He, by virtue of the written order of Námiq Páshá, was accorded, as He traveled northward, in the path of spring, an enthusiastic reception by the valís, the mutisárrifs, the qá'im-maqáms, the mudírs, the shaykhs, the muftís and qádís, the government officials and notables belonging to the districts through which He passed. In Kárkk, in Irbíl, in Mosul, where He tarried three days, in Nisíbín, in Mardín, in Díyár-Bakr, where a halt of a couple of days was made, in Khárpt, in Sívas, as well as in other villages and hamlets, He would be met by a delegation immediately before His arrival, and would be accompanied, for some distance, by a similar delegation upon His departure. The festivities which, at some stations, were held in His honor, the food the villagers prepared and brought for His acceptance, the eagerness which time and again they exhibited in providing the means for His comfort, recalled the reverence which the people of Baghdád had shown Him on so many occasions.

"As we passed that morning through the town of Mardín," that same fellow-traveler relates, "we were preceded by a mounted escort of government soldiers, carrying their banners, and beating their drums in welcome. The mutisárrif, together with officials and notables, accompanied us, while men, women and children, crowding the housetops and filling the streets, awaited our arrival. With dignity and pomp we traversed that town, and resumed our journey, the mutisárrif and those with him escorting us for a considerable distance." "According to the unanimous testimony of those we met in the course of that journey," Nabíl has recorded in his narrative, "never before had they witnessed along this route, over which governors and mushírs continually passed back and forth between Constantinople and Baghdád, any one travel in such state, dispense such hospitality

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to all, and accord to each so great a share of his bounty." Sighting from His howdah the Black Sea, as He approached the port of Sámsun, Bahá'u'lláh, at the request of Mírzá Áqá Ján, revealed a Tablet, designated Lawh-i-Hawdaj (Tablet of the Howdah), which by such allusions as the "Divine Touchstone," "the grievous and tormenting Mischief," reaffirmed and supplemented the dire predictions recorded in the recently revealed Tablet of the Holy Mariner.

In Sámsun the Chief Inspector of the entire province, extending from Baghdád to Constantinople, accompanied by several páshás, called on Him, showed Him the utmost respect, and was entertained by Him at luncheon. But seven days after His arrival, He, as foreshadowed in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, was put on board a Turkish steamer and three days later was disembarked, at noon, together with His fellow-exiles, at the port of Constantinople, on the first of Rabí'u'l-Avval 1280 A.H. (August 16, 1863). In two special carriages, which awaited Him at the landing-stage He and His family drove to the house of Shamsí Big, the official who had been appointed by the government to entertain its guests, and who lived in the vicinity of the Khirqiy-i-Sharíf mosque. Later they were transferred to the more commodious house of Vísí Páshá, in the neighborhood of the mosque of Sultán Muhammad.

With the arrival of Bahá'u'lláh at Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire and seat of the Caliphate (acclaimed by the Muhammadans as "the Dome of Islam," but stigmatized by Him as the spot whereon the "throne of tyranny" had been established) the grimmest and most calamitous and yet the most glorious chapter in the history of the first Bahá'í century may be said to have opened. A period in which untold privations and unprecedented trials were mingled with the noblest spiritual triumphs was now commencing. The day-star of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry was about to reach its zenith. The most momentous years of the Heroic Age of His Dispensation were at hand. The catastrophic process, foreshadowed as far back as the year sixty by His Forerunner in the Qayymu'l-Asmá, was beginning to be set in motion.

Exactly two decades earlier the Bábí Revelation had been born in darkest Persia, in the city of Shíráz. Despite the cruel captivity to which its Author had been subjected, the stupendous claims He had voiced had been proclaimed by Him before a distinguished assemblage in Tabríz, the capital of Ádhirbayján. In the hamlet of Badasht the Dispensation which His Faith had ushered in had been fearlessly inaugurated by the champions of His Cause. In the midst

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of the hopelessness and agony of the Síyáh-Chál of Tihrán, nine years later, that Revelation had, swiftly and mysteriously been brought to sudden fruition. The process of rapid deterioration in the fortunes of that Faith, which had gradually set in, and was alarmingly accelerated during the years of Bahá'u'lláh's withdrawal to Kurdistán, had, in a masterly fashion after His return from Sulaymáníyyih, been arrested and reversed. The ethical, the moral and doctrinal foundations of a nascent community had been subsequently, in the course of His sojourn in Baghdád, unassailably established. And finally, in the Garden of Ridván, on the eve of His banishment to Constantinople, the ten-year delay, ordained by an inscrutable Providence, had been terminated through the Declaration of His Mission and the visible emergence of what was to become the nucleus of a world-embracing Fellowship. What now remained to be achieved was the proclamation, in the city of Adrianople, of that same Mission to the world's secular and ecclesiastical leaders, to be followed, in successive decades, by a further unfoldment, in the prison-fortress of Akká, of the principles and precepts constituting the bedrock of that Faith, by the formulation of the laws and ordinances designed to safeguard its integrity, by the establishment, immediately after His ascension, of the Covenant designed to preserve its unity and perpetuate its influence, by the prodigious and world-wide extension of its activities, under the guidance of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Center of that Covenant, and lastly, by the rise, in the Formative Age of that Faith, of its Administrative Order, the harbinger of its Golden Age and future glory.

This historic Proclamation was made at a time when the Faith was in the throes of a crisis of extreme violence, and it was in the main addressed to the kings of the earth, and to the Christian and Muslim ecclesiastical leaders who, by virtue of their immense prestige, ascendancy and authority, assumed an appalling and inescapable responsibility for the immediate destinies of their subjects and followers.

The initial phase of that Proclamation may be said to have opened in Constantinople with the communication (the text of which we, alas, do not possess) addressed by Bahá'u'lláh to Sultán `Abdu'l-`Azíz himself, the self-styled vicar of the Prophet of Islám and the absolute ruler of a mighty empire. So potent, so august a personage was the first among the sovereigns of the world to receive the Divine Summons, and the first among Oriental monarchs to sustain the impact of God's retributive justice. The occasion for this communication was provided by the infamous edict the Sultán had promulgated, less than

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four months after the arrival of the exiles in his capital, banishing them, suddenly and without any justification whatsoever, in the depth of winter, and in the most humiliating circumstances, to Adrianople, situated on the extremities of his empire.

That fateful and ignominious decision, arrived at by the Sultán and his chief ministers, `Alí Páshá and Fu'ád Páshá, was in no small degree attributable to the persistent intrigues of the Mushíru'd-Dawlih, Mírzá Husayn Khán, the Persian Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, denounced by Bahá'u'lláh as His "calumniator," who awaited the first opportunity to strike at Him and the Cause of which He was now the avowed and recognized leader. This Ambassador was pressed continually by his government to persist in the policy of arousing against Bahá'u'lláh the hostility of the Turkish authorities. He was encouraged by the refusal of Bahá'u'lláh to follow the invariable practice of government guests, however highly placed, of calling in person, upon their arrival at the capital, on the Shaykhu'l-Islám, on the Sadr-i-A'zam, and on the Foreign Minister--Bahá'u'lláh did not even return the calls paid Him by several ministers, by Kamál Páshá and by a former Turkish envoy to the court of Persia. He was not deterred by Bahá'u'lláh's upright and independent attitude which contrasted so sharply with the mercenariness of the Persian princes who were wont, on their arrival, to "solicit at every door such allowances and gifts as they might obtain." He resented Bahá'u'lláh's unwillingness to present Himself at the Persian Embassy, and to repay the visit of its representative; and, being seconded, in his efforts, by his accomplice, Hájí Mírzá Hasan-i-Safá, whom he instructed to circulate unfounded reports about Him, he succeeded through his official influence, as well as through his private intercourse with ecclesiastics, notables and government officials, in representing Bahá'u'lláh as a proud and arrogant person, Who regarded Himself as subject to no law, Who entertained designs inimical to all established authority, and Whose forwardness had precipitated the grave differences that had arisen between Himself and the Persian Government. Nor was he the only one who indulged in these nefarious schemes. Others, according to `Abdu'l-Bahá, "condemned and vilified" the exiles, as "a mischief to all the world," as "destructive of treaties and covenants," as "baleful to all lands" and as "deserving of every chastisement and punishment."

No less a personage than the highly-respected brother-in-law of the Sadr-i-A'zam was commissioned to apprize the Captive of the edict pronounced against Him--an edict which evinced a virtual

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coalition of the Turkish and Persian imperial governments against a common adversary, and which in the end brought such tragic consequences upon the Sultanate, the Caliphate and the Qájár dynasty. Refused an audience by Bahá'u'lláh that envoy had to content himself with a presentation of his puerile observations and trivial arguments to `Abdu'l-Bahá and Aqáy-i-Kalím, who were delegated to see him, and whom he informed that, after three days, he would return to receive the answer to the order he had been bidden to transmit.

That same day a Tablet, severely condemnatory in tone, was revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, was entrusted by Him, in a sealed envelope, on the following morning, to Shamsí Big, who was instructed to deliver it into the hands of `Alí Páshá, and to say that it was sent down from God. "I know not what that letter contained," Shamsí Big subsequently informed Aqáy-i-Kalím, "for no sooner had the Grand Vizir perused it than he turned the color of a corpse, and remarked: `It is as if the King of Kings were issuing his behest to his humblest vassal king and regulating his conduct.' So grievous was his condition that I backed out of his presence." "Whatever action," Bahá'u'lláh, commenting on the effect that Tablet had produced, is reported to have stated, "the ministers of the Sultán took against Us, after having become acquainted with its contents, cannot be regarded as unjustifiable. The acts they committed before its perusal, however, can have no justification."

That Tablet, according to Nabíl, was of considerable length, opened with words directed to the sovereign himself, severely censured his ministers, exposed their immaturity and incompetence, and included passages in which the ministers themselves were addressed, in which they were boldly challenged, and sternly admonished not to pride themselves on their worldly possessions, nor foolishly seek the riches of which time would inexorably rob them.

Bahá'u'lláh was on the eve of His departure, which followed almost immediately upon the promulgation of the edict of His banishment, when, in a last and memorable interview with the aforementioned Hájí Mírzá Hasan-i-Safá, He sent the following message to the Persian Ambassador: "What did it profit thee, and such as are like thee, to slay, year after year, so many of the oppressed, and to inflict upon them manifold afflictions, when they have increased a hundredfold, and ye find yourselves in complete bewilderment, knowing not how to relieve your minds of this oppressive thought. ...His Cause transcends any and every plan ye devise. Know this much: Were all the governments on earth to unite and take My life

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