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Memories of Nine Years in Akka

by Youness Khan Afroukhteh

translated by Riaz Masrour.
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Chapter 1

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Journey to Baghdad

When the Blessed Beauty ascended to the Abha Kingdom in 1892, Nabil described the event thus: "Verily, the Sun of Baha has set", signifying the date of His passing in the abjad{1} system. The late Shokuhi,{2} too, mourned His ascension with the words, 'Alas, verily, He who was our Lord has hid from our eyes".

Although still very young, I was inconsolably grieved and utterly shaken by the gravity of that event. But sustained reading and study of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh filled me with hope and expectation that the Sun of Divine Beauty would continue to shine unabated from a different horizon and manifest its splendour in a new human temple. Reading the Kitab-i'Ahdi{3} especially, filled me with confidence and hope.

It was then that Writings emanating from the pen of 'Abdu'l-Bahá began to descend upon the believers like copious rain, following the Supreme Pen with utterances that filled the hearts with such gifts of spirit, such sweetness of expression and delicacy of meaning, and creating such an aura of spiritual sensitivity that I was prompted to conclude that while the words of Bahá'u'lláh were like multi-coloured flowers of the garden of spirit, the words of Abdu'l-Bahá were the quintessence of their beauty and fragrance. As I continued to read the Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá I

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gradually became so enraptured and enamoured with His Writings that in the third year after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh [1895] I petitioned for permission to visit the Holy Land as a pilgrim. However, before the arrival of the response, I eagerly set out towards Baghdad, hoping to receive it in that city and so expedite my journey to 'Akka through Damascus and Aleppo.

This unplanned and hastily-arranged journey, however, undertaken in the dead of winter and utilizing various means of transportation such as mule, donkey and carriage, took some forty days to complete. But since permission for pilgrimage had not yet arrived, and, in any case, it would have taken an additional fifty to sixty days to reach 'Akka through Damascus and Aleppo, I decided, utterly exhausted, to return to Tehran and await the receipt of the permission there, and then set out again, this time through Russia and Istanbul, toward the goal of my desire.

In Baghdad I met and became closely associated with Mirza Musa surnamed Harf-i-Baqa [Letter of eternity]. It was there that I began to hear rumours that a certain person, through the devious suggestions of a dervish-like individual, had become a proponent of the Greater Branch{4} and had lost faith in the divine Covenant. This led to consultation amongst the friends, which brought out the question: "Of what benefit is the meddling of the other Aghsan{5} in the affairs of the Cause?" The answer to such a question was clearly simple, for men of understanding can readily discern that the Sun of Truth cannot shine from two horizons, and that absolute truth can in no wise accept multiplicity. In the face of these rumours, I could also observe and feel the enthusiasm and devotion of the friends, the support and encouragement given them by Mirza Musa and his efforts in safeguarding the community.

While in Iraq I travelled to Karbila and Najaf{6} and visited the Islamic holy shrines, and on my return to Baghdad I took advantage of the many opportunities to meet with the friends and enjoy their companionship. But since permission to travel to 'Akka had not arrived, I decided to return to Tehran.

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During the course of my arduous journey, the possibility of the rebellion of the Aghsan consumed my thoughts. Was not the verse, "We have chosen 'the Greater' after 'the Most Great""{7} sufficient for Muhammad Ali? Could the Aghsan be contemplating opposition to 'Abdu'l-Bahá? Did they intend to follow in the footsteps of Yahya?{8} These were the concerns which tormented my soul during the journey to Tehran.

On my arrival in Tehran I received 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet that indeed included the glad tidings of permission to visit 'Akka. My excitement knew no bounds, but before I set out towards Russia I realized that I had neither a passport nor sufficient funds to undertake such a journey. So I reconciled myself to returning to my work.

I should sit back and follow the path of patience, I should take up life where I had left it off.

I therefore reapplied for a position in the same international bank where I had formerly worked as a clerk. I was accepted and began to bide my time until another opportunity to travel should present itself.

Of the rumours of Covenant-breaking in Baghdad I confided in no one and instead began my personal teaching efforts in earnest. Suddenly rumours filled the town that the Hands of the Cause were disunited and had differing views about the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Ismu'llah'u'l-Jamal had put forward the argument that the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh possessed a higher station than the person of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, emphasizing the point that since Bahá'u'lláh was the Truth, so were His garments and so was His body and therefore so was His Shrine. The Hand of the Cause Akhund 'Ali-Akbar argued, "If His garment is the truth and His hat is the truth, how could His Most Great Branch not be the same truth?" These arguments began to attract attention and little by little reached the ears of the friends in remote villages.

At the same time news reached Tehran that the friends in Baghdad had begun to call the Greater Branch by his given name of

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Mirza Muhammad-Ali, had torn his pictures to shreds and consigned the pieces to the oblivion of the flame.

Meanwhile, there streamed from the pen of 'Abdu'l-Bahá heart-rending Tablets which ignited the souls of the friends, creating much agitation and turmoil, the effect of which the great Na'im [a poet and teacher of the Faith] described as a rift which placed the believers into two columns of "ayes" and "nays", referring to those who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for ;'Abdu'l-Bahá and those who had chosen to become the violators of the Divine Covenant.{9}

The veil had now been removed and the secrets of the hearts exposed. Soon the infernal writings of the enemies of the Cause of God began to reach the friends in Tehran and the rift became public knowledge. These writings contained the news that the Aghsan and the Afnan{10} were firmly united and were directing the community of the friends to remain faithful to the Aghsan. The believers rejected these claims and returned them in batches, and took their grievances to 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

As was heard in those days and subsequently confirmed, the rebellion in Baghdad had been initiated by an agent of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali who had begun to sow seeds of doubt about the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Having gained one adherent, he then journeyed to Mosul or Damascus. There, he informed the Arch-breaker of the Covenant about the results of his work and the generally favourable atmosphere for further intrigue. With this news in hand, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali began to dispatch seditious writings to Baghdad in the hope that the friends would weaken in their resolve, become attracted to the promises of the Aghsan, and fall in with their designs. But on the contrary, these heretical writings proved the infidelity of the Covenant-breakers and strengthened the friends in their courage to arise and do whatever was necessary to protect the Cause.

In Tehran, however, the actions of the Covenant-breakers were different in nature and much more intense in their effect. The opposition was begun by one of the most renowned and revered Bahá'í scholars of the time, Aqa Jamal

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[Burujirdi], later known as the "Old Hyena". This man had been busy devising ways to deceive the simple-minded believers. And since he had been a member of the Islamic clergy, an akhund, he believed that having one half-witted follower was more valuable than owning tide to the entirety of a sizeable piece of property. Eventually, he found two followers whose names I cannot now recall, and thus became the proud owner of two large properties.

At the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, this man secretly established contact with the Covenant-breakers and informed them that with his power and influence he was readily able to enlist a large segment of the Bahá'í community of Iran under his own authority. At the same time he was corresponding with 'Abdu'l-Bahá and seeking to establish, with the Master's consent and support, a place of honour and a position of leadership for himself within the Faith. When I finally succeeded in attaining His presence, 'Abdu'l-Bahá made repeated reference to these letters and explained how because of His rejection of these requests, the Old Hyena had become more and more resentful and dangerous.

Aqa Jamal undertook a journey to the Holy Land, and since at that time the believers and the Covenant-breakers had not been formally separated he began secretly to attend the meetings of the violators of the Covenant. He participated in devising plans for opposition and gained their assurance of receiving a prominent role in the future administration of the Faith. On his return to Tehran, he began his seditious whisperings, and in response to the title "He Whom God hath purposed" bestowed upon 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the Kitab-i-Aqdas,{11} he made up the title "Those whom God hath chosen", and considered that all consultation on matters relating to the Cause should include himself as well as the other Aghsan.

'Abdu'l-Bahá was entirely aware of the details of all of his activities. However, He closed His eyes to these machinations and with loving advice and wise counsel directed the friends. Alas,

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Of what benefit is advice to the black hearted? How can a nail penetrate the rock?

Aqa Jamal did not cease his nefarious activities. He remained in continuous contact with the Covenant-breakers and published and circulated their writings in Tehran. In the meantime, news reached the city that since the Covenant-breakers had made their activities public, 'Abdu'l-Bahá had journeyed to Tiberias heartbroken and dejected. This news was immediately followed by reports that the Aghsan had changed their ways and pleaded with 'Abdu'l-Bahá for forgiveness, and that the Master had returned from Tiberias.

Emotions were running high in the Bahá'í community of Iran. Joy and sadness filled the hearts at the same time. To the tragedies of the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh on the one hand, and the maltreatment of the friends by the government on the other, were added the rebellion of the violators of the Covenant and the rejoicing of the enemies of the Faith. But what kept the friends hopeful and confident, and motivated their every deed, was the success of the teaching efforts. Streams of seekers attended secret firesides and readily enrolled in the Cause of God.

This, in brief, was the beginning of the rebellion of the Covenant-breakers. Now let us return to the story.

Through Russia to 'Akka

This emotional and spiritual turmoil finally brought me to a point where the cup of patience overflowed, and so it was in the mid-winter of the fifth year of the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh that I again resigned my post at the bank and together with Aqa Mirza Fadlu'llah, son of Ashraf, set out on a journey toward Qazvin.{12} Due to the extraordinary harshness of the winter that year we took five days to reach Qazvin, where we went to the home of the honoured Samandar, who also expressed interest in accompanying us on the pilgrimage. After five days of rest, we resumed our journey by mule and

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mule-drawn carriage towards Rasht.{13} Again, because of repeated snowstorms and forced stops in several poor villages along the road to Rasht, this leg of the journey took eleven days. On our arrival in Rasht we heard some depressing news. The road to Istanbul from Russia, which we had selected for the continuation of our journey, had been closed to Iranian travellers, as everyone was concerned about the cholera epidemic in Mecca and the Haji pilgrims.

In the home of the honoured Arbab, where we had stopped, we had many opportunities of meeting the friends and were shown great hospitality by all. The reports of cholera did not stop us from continuing our journey, although the honoured Samandar decided to stay behind. Nevertheless, the two of us pressed forward with unquenchable longing towards Anzali,{14} with Badkubih{15} as our main destination for that leg of the journey. But the Russian boats were prevented by stormy seas from entering the harbour at Badkubih, leaving us stranded in Anzali.

Finally, after twelve days of waiting as we gazed out with tearful eyes at the Russian ships passing in the distance, we were able to board the Neynay, a Russian steamer, and reached Badkubih in three days.

Arrival in Badkubih and leaving Russia

The friends in Badkubih enjoyed free and delightful spiritual gatherings. However, despite their concerns, we did not accept their wise counsel to terminate our journey and return to Tehran; we encouraged each other to strive to remove any and all obstacles on our way. As has been said:

Some sacrifice all to attain the Beloved, and some leave it to the whim of destiny.

And so, disregarding the advice of the friends, we found someone who was even more impetuous than we were, obeyed his seemingly imprudent advice and proceeded

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toward Tbilisi{16} in the hope of coming a few steps closer to our goal.

In Tbilisi we received wonderful hospitality from the Ahmadov brothers. Here, no one had yet detected the foul odour of the rebellion of the Covenant-breakers. We spent several days in prayer and meditation while the preparations necessary for the continuation of our journey were made. With much difficulty we were at last able to obtain Customs clearance, for the officials had strict instructions to stop the passage of Iranian travellers from Batumi{17} to Istanbul. But having succeeded here, we were destined for even greater hardships.

In Istanbul we were promptly handed over to the police, for the Turks were at war with the Greeks and the massacre of the Armenians was at its peak. To complicate matters still further, the corrupt officials in Batumi had not stamped our passports properly. This created a great many problems and severely jeopardized the journey. At all times, however, we were content and thankful to be closer to our ultimate destination.

Having at last cleared this hurdle we were set free to continue our journey and thus with hearts filled with gratitude and love for divine providence, we sailed for Beirut and afterwards for Haifa. On the ship we met several of the friends from Baghdad and finally arrived at our destination. In a state of great excitement, spiritual attraction and with a prayerful attitude we alighted at Haifa in the early hours of the evening.

In Haifa, we were told that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was in seclusion at the Shrine of Elijah{18} and only two or three of the believers were permitted to attain His presence. This general ban applied to everyone except friends from Iran who had received specific permission from 'Abdu'l-Bahá to make the pilgrimage. This horrific news left us shaken and grieved, as we realized that the rebellion of the Covenant-breakers was much more widespread and serious than what had been reported to us in Tehran. At the same time, our desire and longing to attain the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá robbed us of all patience.

Since we had arrived in the evening, we were informed

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that our meeting with the Master had been scheduled for the afternoon of the following day. We were then taken to the home of Haji Siyyid Taqi Manshadi where we were welcomed and greeted by a few of the friends who visited us briefly, after which we were assigned a small room for the night. My fellow traveller was a man of humour and devotion and so we passed the night chanting prayers and poetry.

The following morning, Manshadi took us out for a stroll in the streets of Haifa. While sightseeing, we stopped and purchased some necessary food items and then returned to the house. As it had been several days since we had enjoyed a good meal, we hastily prepared a very large omelette, of which we all ate generous portions complemented with lots of yogurt, cheese and a mountain of bread. Our stomachs satisfied, our spirits revived too; our knees stopped shaking and our devotion to the Cause of God found new vigour. Once recovered physically, we began to lose all patience with Manshadi, who seemed less than serious in making the necessary arrangements for us to attain the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

At last, after hearing all the "maybe"s and "God willing"s, we set out towards the slopes of Mount Carmel, arriving at the Shrine of Elijah at dusk. The cool mountain air, combined with all the joy and longing of attaining the Master's presence, had elevated our spirits to such a level that we could hear earth and heaven and indeed every piece of rock exclaiming "Ya Baha'u'l-Abha!"

We had not climbed more than a few steps up the slope when suddenly we beheld the luminous countenance of the Centre of the Covenant of God walking down the slope on a narrow track, headed towards the wide open fields.

Once in His presence, each of us communicated in his own way to the Beloved of hearts, expressions of utter humility and devotion. With smiles that melted the hearts, and repeated words of welcome, the Master told us to go to the upper level and wait for Him. There were two small, modestly furnished rooms, one for 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the other for the pilgrims. What there was in the way of kitchenware and

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bedding consisted of a copper pan, a small grill, two plates, one tray, one quilt, a small samovar and two teacups. There was also a very courteous yet agile ten-year-old Indian child who stood ready to assist in any way we might need. This is all that there was to fill the needs of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His seclusion. Along with two of the friends resident in Haifa, we entered the pilgrim room, sat down, and began to converse while tea was being served.

We were told a great deal about the seditious activities of the Covenant-breakers. But they spoke with apprehension. It was clear that they were not permitted to speak openly, and besides, they could not take us into their full confidence as yet. But at the same time they gave us the joyful news of the great successes in various teaching projects in the West. In any event, the situation was similar to the one in Iran.

About two hours after sunset, the pilgrims from Iran and Baghdad were taken individually into the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. I was the second to be summoned. With a burst of excitement and speed I entered the room, and found myself before the blessed person of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. As I fell to my knees and placed my brow at His feet, my pent-up tears of joy and longing were finally released, and as I wept, His gentle hand helped me to my feet and into His arms. I was transported into another world, the highest paradise. And as my spirit soared in that spiritual atmosphere, He helped me to sit on bent knees just opposite Him as He began to speak to me. I did not comprehend a word.

Think not that words can penetrate my being, I turn a deaf ear when good advice is offered.

One moment I was overwhelmed by the heavenly beauty of that wondrous Countenance, the next I felt shame and fear for any past deeds and conduct unworthy of such surroundings. Who am I? Where is this? How did I ever become worthy to be present in this heavenly place? How did I ever become worthy of receiving, first hand, the blessings of

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'Abdu'l-Bahá? Suddenly another thought invaded these musings: What if this is but a dream? What will I do if I awake to discover that this, in fact, has been a dream? As these thoughts filled my mind I could not hold back my tears, and began to weep loudly. But again, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's love enveloped and consoled me. Gradually I recovered my senses and began to listen and commit to heart the words of the Master.

As He paced the floor, He spoke to me: "They say that Jonah was swallowed by a fish and spent three days in its belly. This means that the onward march of the Cause of God was delayed for three days. This is also the same three days that Jesus spent in heaven after His ascension and before His return."{19}

Of course, these are not His exact words, but they contain their meaning and essence. 'Abdu'l-Bahá continued His utterances, imparting to me words of counsel:

"I wish the friends of God to give forth light like this lamp. The Sun of the Abha Beauty has set, so the beloved of God must shine brightly as the lamp."

I said to myself. may my life be sacrificed for this present and manifest Sun, whose warmth and brightness cause my tears to flow uncontrollably.

I wipe away the tears with my fingertips, Otherwise the oncoming Caravan will surely sink in the tear-laden mud.

With a glance expressing unquenchable thirst, I beheld the wondrous figure of the incomparable Beloved and my heart spoke the words of Sa'di:

The eyes that beheld you likened you to the tall cypress- Consider the shortsighted who is blind to such beauty.

At last, with the words "Go in the care of God", He dismissed me from His presence. Each of the pilgrims, one by one, were taken to His presence and as they emerged I could see in their

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faces the same emotions that dominated my being: lost in utter wonderment, weeping one moment and breaking into joyous laughter the next, as they took their places in a corner of the room.

The late Husayn Effendi, who was in charge of serving tea and attending to the pilgrims' needs, had upon instructions from the Master prepared our dinner in town and brought the food, along with some bedding, to the room. We ate in silence. I was lucky enough to receive some leftover portions of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's food, which I consumed with great relish. One of the friends reminded us that the Master had not been sleeping well and that He was in the habit of leaving His quarters before the break of day and taking long walks in the fields, spending the time in prayer and supplication.

After dinner our bedding was spread on the floor of the room next to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's and we retired. But who could sleep?

Sleep does not come when you are so near, The game of love is not for the head that seeks a pillow.

All is peaceful and the hour is past midnight, But the eyes that have lost sleep are Venus' and mine.

At dawn I awoke, walked outside, entered the front enclosure of the sanctuary and enquired about 'Abdu'l-Bahá. A young man who was both guard and doorkeeper told me in Arabic that the Effendi had gone out. As we had been told, the Master had gone out before the break of day into the fields, walking and praying; this solitude had been chosen by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to relieve the fatigue and stress of the sadness and pain inflicted upon Him by the rebellion of the Covenant-breakers.

In the pure air of dawn, and in this spiritual atmosphere which the prophets knew, I chanted a prayer and visited the renowned cave called the retreat of Elijah. After that, I performed my morning obligatory prayer and then returned

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inside for tea with the friends. The Master soon returned and summoned the friends into His presence. Now I had regained my senses and was in complete control of my faculties, and so I was all ears and ready to hear and understand every word of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. With those loving and heart-warming smiles, He gave us permission to be seated, and then enquired about the friends in Tehran and Baghdad. He spoke many kind words about the friends in those two cities. He then spoke briefly about the greatness of the Cause of God and divine tests and difficulties, and bestowed on us words of loving counsel. While He was speaking and as everyone was listening intently, the young man who guarded the area walked in and whispered in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's ear. The Master gently asked us:

"Leave now, so that those who are waiting may attend. I will summon you again." We all rose, and with heavy hearts, bowed and left the room.

As we walked out, we met two men who were waiting to be admitted into the Master's presence, one an Ottoman officer and the other a Persian with a long black wavy beard, dressed in a long 'aba.{20} The Persian greeted us with the conventional Muslim greeting of "Salam" [Peace], in the Ottoman style. I returned his greeting and walked away. Mirza Fadlu'llah immediately objected to my returning the Persian's greeting:

"Why did you return his 'Salam'? Did you not recognize that the man was none other than Mirza Badi'u'llah, the rebellious half-brother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá?"

"How do you know?" I asked.

"That young man there communicated the information to me through facial gestures," he replied.

"The curse of God be upon him! Where did that beast come from? It seems we cannot find a moment's peace without having a shameless intruder sticking his unwelcomed nose into our affairs!"

Thus I expressed my feelings. While everyone laughed heartily at my comments, I felt shame and regret for my

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transgression and so in repentance I repeated the Greatest Name several times. And this was no childish act on my part. Later on, in many of His talks with us, 'Abdu'l-Bahá confirmed that the Covenant-breakers used the ploy of greeting the friends with the word "Salam" with the intention of confusing them and shaking their confidence. I shall say more about this in future chapters.

A few minutes after the conclusion of His meeting with those men, we were summoned again into 'Abdu'l-Bahá's presence. At first, one could readily detect the signs of sorrow in His blessed face. But since the company of the devoted and the sincere always brought Him joy, it was only a few minutes before the Master's countenance began to glow with divine radiance, as He spoke to us about the prophecies of the Blessed Beauty concerning the future victories of the Faith.

After further words of loving counsel, 'Abdu'l-Bahá instructed us to proceed directly to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and chant the Tablet of Visitation three times, once on our own behalf, once on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's behalf and once for the Covenant. The horse-drawn carriage had been made ready to take us to Bahji.{21} On the way, I began to review the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá with two of the resident Bahá'ís. Each, based on his own recollection and understanding, discovered new significances in those heavenly words. And with these thoughts, which had filled our hearts with love for 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the world and all that was therein seemed to us the very incarnation of the promised paradise itself We were in the highest heaven, associating with the dwellers of the Concourse on High.

At first, the green fields and the gentle breeze gave us a taste of true paradise, and as we approached the sea the billowing waves were but a reflection of the spiritual excitement of the friends. It seemed as though we were beholding throngs of angels worshipping, glorifying and praising the Blessed Beauty. The spiritual intoxication was such that we were utterly unaware of ourselves. Heavenly melodies could be heard from all sides, enrapturing us and transporting us to

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the world of reality. As we passed, our fellow travellers from Haifa described the major sights of interest: "This is such and such a river that passes through the Garden of Ridvan;{22} this spot offers a beautiful skyline of 'Akka; this is the gate to the city; this is 'Akka's suburban city park, the establishment of which was encouraged by 'Abdu'l-Bahá; to the right is the cemetery, the grave of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's mother is here;{23} to the left the building with the white dome is the shrine of the prophet Salih{24} where Husayn Effendi{25} is also buried; ahead is the famous Mansion of Bahá'u'lláh; adjacent to the Mansion, the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh can be readily seen."

With tearful eyes we all bowed our heads. In front of the Shrine there was a cypress grove with large pine trees providing ample shade. The Blessed Beauty used to raise His tent here and spend some time in peaceful leisure.

As we listened in astonishment and wonder to the descriptions of these delightful places, there suddenly appeared in the distance a group of people, adults and children, clad in a combination of Arab, Persian, Turkish and Western dress, some in long Eastern cloaks and some in short jackets and leather belts with fezzes on their heads, all looking perturbed and staring at us with unwelcoming and ghastly faces. We were told that these people were the Covenant-breakers.

"May they be accursed of God!" was my reaction. "What are they doing here?"

"They live in the Blessed Beauty's Mansion," I was told. How strange! Why could we not have a moment's peace without these parasites sticking their ugly noses into our affairs?

We alighted from the carriage and were taken to an unfurnished room in the basement. This was the land of the Covenant-breakers. They just stood there watching us, grinning and whispering to each other. We were told to take no notice and not to pay them any attention: "These people are just looking for an excuse to create a disturbance"-and so we remained calm and unperturbed. Realizing at last that we had no intention of engaging them, they withdrew one by

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one and thus we began our ablutions. We washed and cleansed ourselves and in utter humility focused our attention on the sanctified Shrine.

The fresh appearance of the fragrant flowers and the resulting perfumed air of the surroundings had so attracted the hearts that our thoughts were totally centered on the Incomparable Beloved; we were reminded that this pilgrimage was on behalf of the loving Master, and as we knelt before the threshold of the Blessed Beauty we were overtaken by such transports of joy and attraction that the unpleasantness of confronting the Covenant-breakers melted away completely. This was the place of pure and utter spirituality. In the words of the poet:

In our hearts there is no place except for the Friend. Give both worlds to the foe; sufficient unto us is the Friend.

We then entered the Shrine itself, applied rosewater to our faces and fell to our knees again, and as bidden by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, chanted the Tablet of Visitation three times. And then we bared our hearts, our souls, the very depths of our beings and our very essences before our Lord. After a time, softly, with unburdened hearts and in utter humility we stepped back and out through the door and without looking around; avoiding any possible confrontation with the Covenant-breakers which would have spoiled our happy and spiritual state, we began our journey back to 'Akka.

The panorama of the Blessed Beauty's Most Great Prison City left a strange impression on our souls, and the interior of the town with its narrow winding streets brought out our deepest emotions. To behold those very streets, alleys, houses, bazaars, all of which had at one time held the gaze of Bahá'u'lláh or had been blessed by His footsteps, cleansed the heart from any trace of sorrow. Every passageway was His pathway; every spot was the Point of Adoration; every step was the place of prostration; every site was a place of history.

We stopped at last at a caravanserai{26} and entered a

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crowded, noisy reception area, climbed a few worn-out broken steps and entered the main room. This room looked out onto the Mediterranean and was very pleasant. We met with other friends already there and with joyful spirits greeted and embraced all of them. White tea,{27} fragrant and delicious, was made ready and within minutes other friends began to gather until the renowned Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin and Mishkin Qalam arrived.

Each introduced himself and Mishkin Qalam, as part of his introduction, gave me a few strands of his own hair, both white ones and yellowed ones. He said: "It's my thin beard and crooked body that are my passport to fame!" To which I responded in jest: "I too have helped, for I have always said that Mishkin Qalam does not need to tell jokes to get laughs-his face and body serve the purpose all by themselves!" Everyone broke out in hearty laughter and this opened the door to more light-hearted comments and merry-making. The friends each contributed with wit and humour and created a warm and joyful meeting. The late Mirza 'Azizu'llah Khan Varqa was one of our fellow travellers whom I came to know well and with whom I spent a great deal of time.

Our days and nights were filled with happiness. The chanting of divine verses, prayers and poetry was quite popular, especially Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets revealed in honour and praise of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Also popular were the rebuttals written by the Persian friends in response to the publications of the Covenant-breakers; these always provided a hot topic of discussion. We were well aware of the wolves dressed in sheep's clothing who were milling about, but we did not dare express our thoughts.

In any event, it was now two or three days that we had been in 'Akka, anxiously awaiting the arrival of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In the first few days of our pilgrimage we had become so intoxicated with the wine of reunion that we were utterly forgetful of ourselves and only conscious of Him. But now that heavenly effect was wearing off, and we were in need of another cup of His love. Although the sweetness of His nearness would

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have been unforgettable even after a thousand years, yet the venom of separation was too bitter to endure.

It takes a more bitter poison than separation from you To make me forget the sweetness of your nearness.

This is because the memories of 'Akka can never fade and the sweetness of attaining the Master's presence will forever endure in the deepest recesses of our hearts.

What was unusual at that time was that the Covenant-breakers seemed to be more active in their opposition to the Faith than the friends were in its defence. Their strategy included soliciting the help of non-Bahá'ís, with whom they were in constant secret communication. These they encouraged to participate in their gatherings, in the hope of discovering the plans and activities of the friends and also to make themselves appear to the non-Bahá'í community as a forthright and friendly people. In fact, the appearance of Mirza Badi'u'llah and the Ottoman officer in Haifa was one such manoeuvre.

After a few days, the Sun of the Beauty of the Covenant appeared over the horizon of 'Akka and our joy knew no bounds. First, prominent members of the non-Bahá'í community arrived to pay their respects, after which He summoned the friends and the pilgrims. From this day on, life in 'Akka became organized and friends from Iran, Baghdad, Egypt and even India began to arrive in groups.

The life of the pilgrims in 'Akka

The pilgrim house, as already mentioned, was a pleasant and happy place. It consisted of a storage room, a kitchen and a warehouse. Regardless of their number, the pilgrims stayed there in contentment and joy. Aqa Muhammad Hasan, the custodian of the pilgrim house, sometimes by himself and at other times with the assistance of a helper, attended to the needs of the pilgrims, kept the house in pristine condition and

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generally coordinated and organized the affairs of the pilgrims with such efficiency and dedication that nothing short of divine confirmation could inspire such perfection.

As to the residence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá{28}: its simplicity and spiritual atmosphere was beyond description. The building itself was old and immense, and had formerly belonged to a prominent family of 'Akka. One upper and one lower apartment had been leased by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Another apartment belonged to the Protestant missionaries who had turned the lower apartment into an infirmary for the Arabs and every morning taught the patients the principles of Christianity. The front yard, which covered an area of about 200 square metres, had been landscaped in accordance with the Master's instructions. This natural verdant garden, with beautiful flowers in bloom, two palm trees in their midst and a grape vine in one corner, filled the air with heavenly fragrance, especially at the hour when the Master, pacing back and forth on the paths, summoned the pilgrims to the Abha Paradise.

The lower level, consisting of a few rooms, was the biruni{29} and was called the darb-khanih{30} The upper floor was the andaruni, which consisted of two rooms. One was His office and the other, simply furnished with two or three couches, was the reception room where He entertained guests. Three windows of this room looked out to the sea and to the stone walls that had been built as a defence of the citadel of 'Akka. Although the splash of the billowing waves against the stone walls of the fortress was daunting, yet the sunsets were overwhelmingly beautiful. These are some details relating to the life of the pilgrims at that time.

The pilgrims were usually awakened in the morning by the beautiful prayer chanted by one of the friends, such as Mirza Fadlu'llah. After the observance of the morning obligatory prayer and having had tea and a small breakfast, everyone walked over to the darb-khanih, which consisted of one large room and a coffee room. Here they met the friends, conversed on various Bahá'í topics and read aloud from letters containing references to the Faith received from their

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hometowns. This would continue until 'Abdu'l-Bahá, on His way out of the house, would greet the pilgrims before departing; at times He would stop briefly, say a few words, and extend His love to the pilgrims before leaving the house. At noon the friends would return to the pilgrim house and be served a prepared lunch, after which no one missed the qaylulih, as it was commonly known in 'Akka, an afternoon rest of half an hour to an hour.

Following the nap, tea was served and then we strolled toward the darb-khanih. As night fell, the friends arriving from their homes or their places of work began to assemble in the biruni area of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's residence and shared news about the Faith, whether from abroad or locally, which they had received that day. This continued until 'Abdu'l-Bahá's arrival, when He would occupy a chair and address the group. Or He would walk up the stairs to the andaruni area, summon the friends individually or collectively, and acquaint them with the divine teachings as He saw fit. At times non-Bahá'ís or town dignitaries would be granted permission to visit 'Abdu'l-Bahá on Fridays and Sundays, which were days of rest referred to as the Days of Visitation. On these days the friends, whether pilgrims or residents of 'Akka, were expected to visit the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, of which I shall write more later.

On Bahá'í holy days, the friends passed time in the beautiful Firdaws or Ridvan Gardens, or attended festivities at the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Of course the afternoon visit to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh was mandatory.

The duration of the pilgrims' stay in 'Akka or the length of pilgrimage was not predetermined. Depending on personal situation, weather conditions, Covenant-breakers' intrigues, mischief of the enemies, or other causes the significance of which may not have been evident to us, a pilgrim could remain in 'Akka anywhere between two days and four months.

During these days, as the pilgrims observed the divisive actions of the Covenant-breakers and the hostile activities of

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the enemies of the Cause directed against the Centre of the Covenant, and heard His heart-rending utterances, they became so inflamed with the fire of the love of God that they illumined any land they travelled to with the light of divine love. In fact, I did not meet a single pilgrim who did not desire to lay down his life for the Faith. This was especially likely at that time, since for those who did not observe prudence and caution a variety of perils typically leading to long prison terms and even martyrdom were realities which could be anticipated as a matter of course. Completion of pilgrimage and departure from 'Akka was announced to each pilgrim at a day's notice. Aqa Muhammad Hasan, who coordinated the activities of the pilgrims, had received from them the title of Michael, the Angel of Life, as he was the one who usually brought the glad tidings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's summons for the friends to attain His presence. On the last day of pilgrimage, however, he was renamed 'Izra'il, the Messenger of Death, for bringing the bad news-that is, the end of someone's pilgrimage. How happy were the times when he arrived proud and joyful and announced: "The pilgrims are summoned," and alas the day when he arrived disconcerted, his head hanging low, to announce: "In accordance with 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instructions, such and such a pilgrim is to take his leave tomorrow on such and such a ship."

The daily routine of the pilgrims consisted of correspondence with their home lands, the transcription and copying of sacred verses and various other Writings, and at times the conveying of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instructions to others, if they were so bidden. Another activity that engaged almost all the pilgrims in both work and recreation and had become a customary occupation since the inception of the pilgrim house, was wheat sifting. This was a service easily accomplished, entailing no major responsibility. What performed the work were the eyes and the tips of the five fingers, leaving the ears, the tongue and the intellectual faculties free; this encouraged many pleasant activities such as the telling of anecdotes and humorous stories. Chanting and singing songs were also permitted. Normally

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Mirza Fadlu'llah, who had a melodious voice, took over with beautiful songs.

A more detailed description of the wheat sifting process is as follows: in the mornings after breakfast the servant attached to the pilgrim house would spread a large tablecloth on the floor and place a round low table at its centre. He would then carry inside bags of wheat, already machine sifted and washed. The friends would empty the bags onto the table, sit around the table and sift the wheat manually so that it could be sent to the mill. Every day a portion of the flour received from the mill was made into dough and the resulting baked bread was consumed with the famous Persian stew, abgusht.{31}

Visiting the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh

From the first year following the ascension of the Blessed Beauty, visiting His Shrine was, in accordance with 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instructions, a required duty as well as a sign of devotion and faith. And so the pilgrims and the residents were required on Fridays and Sundays to leave 'Akka and in a state of utter humility and lowliness approach that blessed Spot while chanting prayers. In the proximity of the Shrine there was a place where everyone stopped to rest and refresh themselves before approaching the Shrine and performing the rites of visitation. Before the second incarceration of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and while He was still permitted to leave the city, He would frequently accompany the friends on these visits to the Shrine and in fact would Himself chant the Tablet of Visitation. From the second or third year after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, certain ceremonial details were added to the visits, which made the overall experience a profound spiritual event full of meaning and significance to friend and stranger alike. This practice had gained such renown that both friends and foes, and especially government officials-including military officers, civil servants, judges, and even the muftis who were the religious authorities of the Ottoman government-having

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observed the grandness of the spectacle and overcome by the spiritual intensity and humble devotion of the pilgrims, displayed a great desire to participate in that solemn act of pilgrimage.

The visits to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh were performed on two occasions: first, on weekends, i.e. Fridays and Sundays, and second, on Bahá'í Holy Days.

Pilgrimage on Fridays and Sundays

Just outside the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá was the courtyard where the stable and the carriage were located. 'Abdu'l-Bahá owned two carriages: a large one which could seat nine and was referred to as the American carriage, and a conventional one capable of seating only four. On Fridays and Sundays a few hours before sunset, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's renowned carriage driver, Isfandiyar, prepared one of the carriages and drove it out into the courtyard where any of the pilgrims and residents who arrived in time could board. As to the seating arrangement, the pilgrims enjoyed first priority. Isfandiyar would drive the friends in groups to Bahji. 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself, however, covered the distance on foot, either alone or in the company of one or two of the believers. In the first years after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh a small room on the ground floor of the Mansion had been used by the pilgrims for a short rest before entering the Shrine itself But shortly afterwards the Covenant-breakers took possession of that room and 'Abdu'l-Bahá found another place for the friends to assemble.{32}

Sometimes 'Abdu'l-Bahá travelled by carriage, but most often on foot. Arriving at Bahji, He would rest briefly in the room adjoining the Shrine and then summon the friends inside, where in complete silence He would disperse rosewater on each and every visitor. After kneeling to kiss the threshold, He would rise to chant the Tablet of Visitation. As I write these words I can see with the eye of spirit 'Abdu'l-Bahá standing before the threshold in supplication and I can

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hear His sublime powerful voice chanting the beautiful verses. Here memory plays no part, for it is the heart and the soul that in a state of utter attraction commit to the treasury of spirit every word that leaves the blessed lips of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. My feeble heart trembles at the vibrations of His blessed voice as if there were a direct connection between that celestial chant and the nerve centre of my heart.

As He chants the verses in utmost humility, repeating the passages twice: "Waft, then, unto me, O my God and my Beloved, from the right hand of Thy mercy and Thy loving kindness, the holy breaths of Thy favors, that they may draw me away from myself and from the world unto the courts of Thy nearness and Thy presence"-the holy breaths of divine favours are indeed wafted and the divine fragrance is in truth inhaled by the spirit, cleansing the heart from attachment to the world and summoning the spirit to the divine rose garden. The physical body is released from all that is earthly and the spirit is transported to the courts of nearness. O God, what world is this? How I long never to return to the world of darkness or hear the satanic whisperings of the evil ones. Ah, how I wish that I could live in a world where none but 'Abdu'l-Bahá would have a claim on my heart. O God, keep our hearts faithful in the love of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, for He is the light that will guide us to the Abha paradise.

As the chanting of the Tablet of Visitation ends, we step back slowly out of the Shrine and once more put on our shoes. 'Abdu'l-Bahá is nowhere to be seen. The friends stand around, waiting. Suddenly that celestial Being appears and silently walks out of the Shrine. Their hearts filled with the love of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the believers follow Him like a company of angels. There is absolute silence. Ah, what an atmosphere. Now 'Abdu'l-Bahá begins to chant some verses from Bahá'u'lláh. Surely, ears were given to us to hear such melodies. O, God, please, deprive not these servants of such bounty. O, behold the distinguished figure of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

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The graceful peacock and the strutting partridge, Will cease their flaunting once thy behold your gait.

Soon we arrive at the town gate and enter the Most Great Prison. It is dusk. People watch us with curious eyes. We enjoy the experience all the more. Now we are at the door of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's residence. The Beloved of the hearts climbs the stairs. We enter the reception room downstairs and take our seats. The chanter{33} of the Qur'an arrives and begins to chant the verses: "I take refuge in Allah from Satan the accursed. In the name of Allah, the most benevolent, ever merciful. Verily I saw eleven stars "! Now we come to our senses again.

O my dear readers, if perusing these lines thrills and inspires you and makes you thirst for a similar pilgrimage, do not despair; do not lose hope. In the presence of the Guardian of the Cause of God, as he chants the Tablet of Visitation at the Shrine of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, you will experience the same emotions. So hasten, hasten; attain, attain.

Pilgrimage on Holy Days

A number of flowerpots containing flowers of various hues were usually brought and placed in the biruini of the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, ready to be transported to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh. On Holy Days all the pilgrims and residents assembled at the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá about two hours before sunset or when the heat of the day was not excessive. They would all be dressed in their best clothes. Each would place a flowerpot on his shoulder and take his place in one of two columns, ready to depart on foot towards the Shrine. During my time in 'Akka the starting point was not the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, because of the machinations of the Covenant-breakers and the evil whisperings of the enemies of the Faith. In those times the flowerpots would be brought to the gate of 'Akka and placed there for the pilgrims. The exodus, then, began from that point as 'Abdu'l-Bahá, not unlike a General in the field, walked sometimes in front and

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sometimes at the side of the columns, a flowerpot on His shoulder. Issuing instructions and commands as the march continued, this General of the hearts led the army of light toward its destination. The two or three pilgrims who had melodious voices chanted beautiful verses, such as Bahá'u'lláh's Mathnavi,{34} His Sadqi Namih,{35} or sometimes the poetry composed at the time of the Blessed Beauty for that particular occasion. In this vein the procession would progress, slowly and with great dignity and order, until the Shrine could be seen at a distance. At the command of 'Abdu'l-Bahá everyone would stop and place the flowerpots on the ground, and then someone would chant a prayer in a resonant voice:

"O, my God, my Desire and my Beloved! Thou art my origin and unto Thee do I repair. Illumine my heart with the light of thy knowledge."{36}

I am utterly incapable of describing the atmosphere generated or the heightened spiritual state which dominated our inner beings. It was truly a different world. The Arabs standing nearby watching us were silent and utterly fascinated by what they observed. Once the flowerpots were delivered at the Shrine, another prayer was chanted and then everyone would enter a room where tea and pastries were served and the friends had an opportunity to rest and perform their ablutions before entering the Shrine.

At this point 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who had already entered the Shrine, would invite the friends to enter. After the chanting of the Tablet of Visitation as previously described, He would ask the friends to be seated. Then verses revealed for that occasion were chanted by one or two of the believers; at times some chanted some of the mystical verses of Bahá'u'lláh such as "Hilih-Halih-Ya-Bisharat."{37}

On the first Holy Day that I visited the Shrine, after the chanting of the Tablet revealed specifically for that occasion, 'Abdu'l-Bahá selected to be chanted the Tablet revealed in my honour during my youth: "He is the speaker before the faces of all men. Verily the gate of the highest paradise was flung open, whereby emerged the incomparable Beauty, and

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passing above all heads He called out with a great calling, 'O denizens of the earth and the heavens '"{38} In this Tablet I am addressed by name and encouraged and commanded to teach the Faith. The selection of this Tablet and especially the reference to my name left me in state of euphoria.

As previously described, the friends would depart and proceed toward 'Akka, all circling like moths around that divine Candle which illuminated their hearts.


Two types of feasts were held in 'Akka. One was the public feast, which was held in either the Garden of Ridvan or the Mansion of Bahji. The other was a special feast observed for the pilgrims at the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. At the public feasts it was typical for one type of food to be served, such as Chinese kebab or pot kebab,{39} the selection and preparation of which was under the direction of the Master. In such cases He would appear for just a few minutes to supervise the service. The absolute simplicity and cleanliness of the dinner table created an atmosphere of love and spirituality. This type of feast was normally held on Holy Days. The special or private feasts for the pilgrims were distinctive and beautiful events. The table was wonderfully decorated with flowers of assorted colours which not only revived the spirit but also stimulated the appetite. This feast was, in all its details, conducted and supervised by the Master. He would summon the friends to the table, seat each one individually, moving fluidly around the table and serving each guest with His own hand. Then He would leave the room briefly, allowing the friends to concentrate on the food. He would then return, and while speaking of happy things, replenish any plate in need of another helping. Here, there were multiple types of food, all Persian dishes but placed on the table in European style,{40} which looked very appetizing. Since the number of guests usually exceeded the table placements and chairs, the food was served in two sittings. The atmosphere of the second sitting

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was just as wonderful as the first. Once the first group was finished, all the dishes would be collected and the tablecloth replaced with a fresh one, and thus the cleanliness and beauty of the table would remain intact. As to the Master himself, He ate at the third sitting. He would summon all the servants around the table and they ate together.

The first time I was present at such a feast, I noticed that the pilgrims were so totally enthralled by 'Abdu'l-Bahá's presence and so captivated by His walk and His bearing that no-one touched his food. Once He noticed us gazing at Him with worshipping eyes, He emphatically commanded us to begin eating. It was then that I recovered my senses and decided not to lose the opportunity Therefore, as a service to myself and on behalf of all the believers and devoted servants of God, I performed my duty conscientiously and ate as much as I could. As the great Sa'di has said:

In the feast that is hosted by the Beloved The glutton thinks of nothing but food.

Since this meal was composed of both physical and spiritual nourishment, its pleasing flavour will forever remain intact in my memory.

Morale of the believers in the days of hardship

In those difficult and perilous times, the believers' thoughts and morale were quite peculiar and not readily understandable by today's standards, unless one had observed or experienced the events of that time first hand. Those faithful old resident believers{41} who had accompanied the Holy Family since the beginning of the exile to Baghdad, Adrianople and Istanbul up to their arrival at the Most Great Prison and during their subsequent release and move to the Mansion of Bahji had been witnesses to the ever-growing rank and the exalted position of the Master. This was clear, as He was held in the highest regard by the Blessed Beauty while

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commanding the obedience and devotion of both the Afnan and the Aghsan. Now these believers had to endure the pain of beholding that radiant Being, that heavenly Beloved, in such harsh and humbling circumstances. They were sorrow stricken and heartbroken.

Hardly a day passed without a new plot being devised or a new intrigue planned. Covenant-breakers' accusations and charges against 'Abdu'l-Bahá were so widespread that the whole of Syrian citizenry had utterly misunderstood 'Abdu'l-Bahá and even those whose very daily livelihood was provided through the charity of the Master had also rebelled against Him.

Those dignitaries of 'Akka Haifa, Beirut and Damascus who had themselves attested to the Master's spiritual power and ascendancy and had even claimed to have witnessed miracles, now expressed disgust behind His back, and contributed to the cause of the Covenant-breakers in vilifying 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Yet in His presence they became the very embodiments of loyalty.

The number of His loyal non-Bahá'í devotees was on the decline, while the number of troublemakers increased daily. The friends' sorrow, pain and anguish at this state of affairs knew no end. However, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's presence, His kind and loving words and cheerful demeanour, brought the light of hope to their hearts and infused new vigour into their drooping souls.

In those days, the sun of the Cause of God had but recently risen on the Western horizon. Each week, large numbers of enrolment cards and letters containing religious and philosophical questions were received from Western scholars, some of which were read in translation to the friends in the biruni of the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Those friends who had suffered for the Faith and had tasted the pain of incarceration and humiliation in the path of God considered the Cause to be an Eastern religion and could not imagine that such an intensely spiritual philosophy could spread so quickly in the West or that Western materialistic scholars would show any

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interest in drawing spiritual sustenance from such a divine Source.

At the same time, however, the flood of polemic writings by the Covenant-breakers was pouring into Iran, all of which -along with the decisive and categorical rebuttals written by the friends containing incontestable proofs of the legitimacy of the position of the Centre of the Covenant-were sent to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Master kept some of them and permitted others to be read aloud in either the pilgrim house or the biruni of His residence.

These joyful tidings from the Westerners, indicating the depth of their faith and commitment to the Cause, revived the hearts and brought joy to the souls. And the potent and unequivocal proofs that the friends in Iran extracted from the divine Tablets and the various Biblical scriptures generated a sense of excitement and exuberance in the believers. They became so exhilarated and inspired that they gave speeches and wrote essays proving the heresy and infidelity of the violators of the Covenant of God.

Since at that time the Covenant-breakers could not be readily distinguished from the believers, there were always some of them in the group, wolves in sheep's clothing. These unfaithful renegades recounted whatever they had heard in the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to the Covenant-breakers in the Mansion, encouraging them to widen the scope of their seditious activities and to reach a larger area with their published materials. And so the struggle continued, leaving neither the resident believers nor the pilgrims any peace. One moment they were happy and the next they wept.

When we were in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's presence, His words of assurance and the glad tidings of the ultimate victory of the Faith created such an atmosphere of attraction and enthusiasm that one would utterly lose oneself and become wholly absorbed in the Master. Examples of such words may be found in the various prayers and Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.{42} Today it is time to review those prophecies and experience joy and delight at their fulfilment.

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Such was the morale of the friends at that time. Now read about the ploys of the Covenant-breakers.

The schemes of the Covenant-breakers

A short account of the schemes of the Covenant-breakers has been presented previously. Those friends who are acquainted with the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá are of course aware that the Arch-breaker of the Covenant had shown signs of faithlessness while in Baghdad. Furthermore, during his mission to Bombay to publish Bahá'u'lláh's Writings, he had altered a number of the words of the divine verses in order to undermine the concept of the Covenant. His secret agreements with the Old Hyena are described at the outset of this account. After the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, as the friends are aware, he stole certain of the divine verses and began a systematic alteration of the revealed Text. These events have been amply described by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His talks and Tablets.{43}

From the day that the Kitab-i-'Ahd was read in 'Akka, the Arch-breaker of the Covenant gathered around him the Aghsan, the Afnan and a group of his own cronies who had been secretly supporting him, and formed a council [hai'at] to oppose the divine Covenant. This group exerted its utmost to create disunity among the friends of God. They utilized deceptions and schemes which one would only read about in stories and legends, the description of which is not worthy of mention.

Through the powers of discovery and invention, the mind of man has conquered the world of nature, has brought to light the secrets of the power of magnetism and electricity, and has in so doing extended the civilization of humankind. But at times, it also has enhanced man's capacity to destroy itself. In the same way, the minds of the Covenant-breakers, who were utterly devoid of the understanding of the truth of the Faith and the Divine Will, had perceived ways, devised methods, and created plots which they thought would guarantee them

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ultimate success. Since they were ignorant of the spirit of the Faith, they considered the progress of the Cause to be a political matter and imagined that expediency and political strategy would in the end bring to them the power to control the Faith of God.

They took great pride in their internal unity and had placed their investigators and spies in especially sensitive areas of the city, with the ultimate intention of establishing a Caliphate-like form of theocracy after the Sunni pattern and accordingly: Relegate Ali to his own house rather than the House of the Caliph.{44} For example, as the sons of the "Great Effendi", which is how Bahá'u'lláh was known to the Turks and Arabs, they had established direct liaison with the political centres of the Ottoman Empire, their agents continually travelling back and forth between 'Akka and Istanbul. In order to establish these contacts, they had made gifts to the enemies of the Faith of a number of precious articles which they had purloined from the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá The continuation of this form of bribery, however, eventually served to expose these various secret relationships. It came to light that many of the Ottoman civil and military authorities in 'Akka, Haifa, Beirut, Damascus and even in Istanbul had been brought into the camp of the Covenant-breakers by frequent acts of bribery.

For instance, when Kaiser Wilhelm, the German Emperor, paid an official visit to the Ottoman capital as a guest of the government, he decided to make a tour of the holy sites of Palestine. Before his arrival in Haifa, Mirza Badi'u'llah had persuaded the Emperor's chamberlain to permit him to present a gift of welcome to the Emperor. As the Emperor disembarked at Haifa port, his very first steps landed on the cherished and priceless Persian carpets offered by Badi'u'llah as unworthy gifts to the threshold of the Emperor. He was subsequently introduced to the Emperor as a son of Bahá'u'lláh. It is obvious how precious and exquisite must have been the gifts which merited presentation at such an occasion and through what intrigues they must have fallen

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into the hands of the Covenant-breakers, and how painful such a shameful and obscene act must have been to the believers.

The Covenant-breakers, however, were ecstatic, overjoyed at the Emperor's acceptance of their gift; for them it was an occasion for celebration and merrymaking. They supposed that after completing their mastery of the Ottoman Empire and control over the prominent members of the ruling class, Germany, its government and its people would be next on their list of conquests! They considered the Emperor of Germany as prey to be successfully trapped by the bait of two Persian rugs. One might have said: "You unfortunate creatures, the prey came, snatched the bait and laughed at your foolishness!"

So these were their plans in the political arena. As to their thoughts regarding religious and spiritual matters, they had devised many plots, engaged themselves in many conspiracies and laid assorted traps for newly enrolled Bahá'ís, as well as for those of uncertain or shaky belief-plots that no one could dream up or imagine. Their spies attended all Bahá'í meetings, mixed with the friends, especially the pilgrims, and seemed to be loyal, staunch and faithful believers in the Covenant-so much so that everyone praised their level of dedication and faithfulness. Then, while exhibiting great love and devotion for 'Abdu'l-Bahá, they would begin to point out the faithlessness and disloyalty of one of the most prominent and dedicated believers, gradually increasing the number and severity of their accusations until they succeeded in making him appear to be a Covenant-breaker.

The poor uninformed pilgrim, basing the validity of such intelligence on the spiritual dedication of the source, which had already been amply demonstrated to him, would share this information with others. Before long this created a tumult and the allegations would spread far and wide. A newly enrolled Bahá'í, still lacking the knowledge and wisdom to assess the situation, would on hearing these fabrications about the Covenant-breaking activities of one of the most trusted

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teachers of the Faith, begin to be attracted to the cause of the Covenant-breakers themselves. In this way, the devotion and resolve of the friends were undermined, and if such a believer while investigating the situation unwittingly confided the matter to another Covenant-breaker, he would be further deceived in the same preplanned process.

The Covenant-breaker would begin by exaggerating the rank of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, stating that His station was even loftier than that of Bahá'u'lláh Himself While praising the Covenant, he would level a series of accusations against the entire group of the true believers. He would refer to 'Abdu'l-Bahá by His tides of "Him Whom God hath purposed", or "Him round Whom all names revolve" instead of the tide of "Master" which had been used by Bahá'u'lláh and subsequently exclusively used by the friends.{45} He would then claim that, while in the act of prayer, he focused his thoughts and mental faculties on the person of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, since 'Abdu'l-Bahá was no less sacred than the House of the Ka'bih in Mecca. Right after this, he would level a series of complaints about the faithful believers and accuse them of disloyalty to the Faith. The poor pilgrim was then guided to yet another more crafty and devious one, who supplied him with an armful of Covenant-breaker writings for his information and edification.

At that time 'Abdu'l-Bahá always referred to the Covenant-breakers in His many talks as evil ones, and prohibited the friends from any association with them, similar to Bahá'u'lláh's interdiction regarding association with Mirza Yahya's followers. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's emphasis on His prohibition was definitive and unequivocal. In the words of Ha'fiz:

Our wise old man, may his soul rest in peace, Warned us to refrain from speaking with those that break the Covenant.

In truth, whoever fell into the trap of the Covenant-breakers was deprived of salvation, lost beyond any possibility of redemption.

One of the ploys used by the Covenant-breakers was to

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select, without any apparent logic, one of the more naive and innocent pilgrims and then fabricate a story about the poor man's Covenant-breaking activities and relate them to as many cars as were willing to listen. Their agent would spread the rumour that he had seen the man in conversation with a Covenant-breaker and even noticed that he was carrying Covenant-breaker writings in his pocket. "I saw him bow to Mirza Muhammad-'Ali in the street," or "I noticed that he did not rise from his scat when 'Abdu'l-Bahá entered the room."

For a while they would continue to spread false accusations until a commotion would ensue and the unfortunate pilgrim would become embroiled in the suspicion and contempt of the friends. Then they would corner him and tell him that the friends suspected him unjustly, saying, "How can someone as faithful and loyal to the Faith of God as yourself become suspected of cooperating with the Covenant-breakers? Obviously something must be wrong. This shows that not all the Covenant-breakers are truly disloyal. There must be one or two main culprits who truly are the enemies of the Faith, but surely the rest are only going through a terrible test. And consider the unfairness of the friends, who have completely abandoned them as outcasts. What is important is to be acceptable at the threshold of the Blessed Beauty, let people say whatever they want." These words were enough for the gullible pilgrim to be plunged from the heights of faith and fidelity to the abyss of doubt and apathy.

Another of the Covenant-breakers' ploys was to denounce, in their sinister publications, those friends who were closest to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and make them appear as the real trouble-makers and firebrands. "They it was", they would proclaim, "who broke 'Abdu'l-Bahá's heart with these unfounded allegations against us loyal servants." In these publications they would sometimes unexpectedly, and without any apparent reason, praise the qualities and character of one of the true believers and exalt his position to exaggerated heights. This precipitated the suspicion of the friends towards

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that individual, and the subsequent circulation of rumours would undermine his good reputation and standing in the community.

In one such published document they expressed great praise and admiration for Mirza Abu'l-Fadl in order to throw suspicion on him and subject him to the believers' scorn and rebuke. But that blessed soul issued a clear and eloquent response in refutation of the contents of that document and sent it to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. This response was read aloud in the biruni of the Master's house. In his refutation, Mirza 'Abu'l-Fadl denied the grandiose eminent station to which he was elevated in the Covenant-breaker publication, adding: "I am not the person for whom you have expressed such praise. I happen to be the person who is the subject of your hatred and rejection. And if you have detected any virtues in me, it is 'Abdu'l-Bahá's friends who should acknowledge and admire them and not the likes of you."

Another trick of the Covenant-breakers was that whenever their founder and chief-who had been officially cast out of the Bahá'í community and had no association with any of the friends—encountered a pilgrim in the street or in the marketplace, he greeted him with a great show of humility and apparent sincerity. To the eyes of a passerby, the lack of any response by the believer to such an expression of friendship and kindliness could be misinterpreted as an outright insult by the pilgrim, which reflected poorly on 'Abdu'l-Bahá and was of great benefit to the Covenant-breakers.

In short, they used a multitude of ruses and deceptions in 'Akka and other cities just to compromise a soul and bring sadness to the heart of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In those times the great majority of the Master's words pertained to tests and difficulties and He went to great lengths to explain and elaborate the issues in order to awaken the friends to such ploys.

As detailed in many of His Tablets revealed in those days, He had concealed the disunity and faithlessness of the Covenant-breakers for years, tolerating their enmity and hatred without mentioning a word to anyone until they

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themselves, by sending their publications to Iran, at last disclosed their own disloyalty and subsequent break from the Faith of God.

The Master used to say, "One day Mirza Diya'u'llah came to pay a visit. I noticed he kept staring at his fingers, which were stained black, waiting for me to enquire about them. I said nothing until he explained: 'Last night we were busy until dawn writing and printing our publications for shipment to Iran, and that is why my fingers are stained.' He added, 'Last night my brother [Mirza Muhammad-'Ali] produced some writings which we printed and shipped this morning.' I admonished him, 'Verily, I testify that there is no God but God, soon a day will come that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali will say, "How I wish my fingers had been broken so that I could not take up the pen and announce my violation of the Covenant." I concealed the matter for four years and did not reveal it to the friends. But now it is out of My hands and I can no longer conceal the matter, for you have exposed yourselves."'

While the writings of the Covenant-breakers, containing all sorts of lies, half-truths and accusations, were being hurled like double-headed darts at the hearts of the faithful friends, they never denied the verse revealed by Bahá'u'lláh: "Turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed,"{46} but they continued to complain, make accusations and advance claims without openly questioning 'Abdu'l-Bahá's authority. And while I had not read any such writings myself, I knew their nature from the rebuttals which had been formally issued by the friends. One such claim was that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was not infallible but had claimed divinity and had rejected the Aghsan's counsel on matters relating to the Faith. In short, since we considered them the violators of the Covenant of God because of their opposition to the Centre of the Covenant, they in turn referred to us as infidels, since we had excluded them from participating in the administration of the Faith.

The Covenant-breakers attended secret meetings in which they planned their goals and devised ways to accomplish

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them. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was, of course, always well aware of these plans and intrigues, and at receptions where He entertained the pilgrims and the residents-among whom a goodly contingent of the Covenant-breakers was usually present-He would disclose and describe their strategies. This alerted the believers to become mindful of the dangers associated with such conspiracies. At the same time, the Covenant-breakers were made aware of His complete knowledge of the situation and the secret informers discovered that their secret was out. But the Master never named names, thereby manifesting and demonstrating His heavenly qualities of mercy and concealment of sins.

As pointed out earlier, the strategy of the Covenant-breakers was implemented through political and religious channels, or by accusing 'Abdu'l-Bahá of injustice towards them. In fact, this third approach was their most effective weapon. Such accusations, of course, were devoid of truth and the friends were aware of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's intentions and actions. But on local non-Bahá'í residents these complaints left the desired impression. For instance, all the believers were aware that after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh the Covenant-breakers had pilfered whatever they could from His personal belongings including some priceless items, as well as Bahá'u'lláh's personal storage chest which contained many of His Tablets and His personal seal. However, once in the presence of their non-Bahá'í friends, they always complained of their miserable impoverished lifestyle. They sent written accounts of their pitiful condition to all the acquaintances of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Palestine, Damascus and old Turkey, tearfully expressing their grief and anguish for what had befallen them. Having perused 'Abdu'l-Bahá's sublime and eloquent literary style, the vast majority of the divines of the region had developed a special regard and deep reverence for Him. Nevertheless, the Arch-breaker of the Covenant sent each one of these men, in his own hand, letters filled with accusations against 'Abdu'l-Bahá, imploring them for justice and assistance. Those divines who were not acquainted with 'Abdu'l-Bahá, or

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those who harboured hatred in their hearts for the Master due to religious prejudice, considered these letters to be ample justification for rising in opposition against Him. Others, who bore no resentment towards the Master, sent Him the letters and asked for an explanation. One of these divines was the Mufti of 'Akka, who having received such a letter forwarded it to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Master responded thus: "O Mufti, thou hast pronounced judgement upon us while we are a prisoner and have fallen into the clutches of the company that returned from the banks of the Euphrates after precipitating that which caused the lamentation of earth and heaven."{47}

The dwarfish old man

On this pilgrimage, whenever 'Abdu'l-Bahá summoned us to His presence in His reception room I often saw an old man, short in stature with white beard and dark complexion, who would arrive after everyone else, prostrate himself, kiss the threshold, and then enter the room and bow almost to the waist before 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He would then take his seat near the entrance door when motioned to do so by the Master. I had often intended to enquire about the identity of the stranger but somehow I failed to remember to do so. The obvious reason was that while in the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, we were so intoxicated by the wine of His bounty and love that the last thing I could think of was to ask about someone's identity.

One day when I was in His presence and seated near the doorway, I saw the old man arrive. First he prostrated himself and kissed the threshold of the antechamber where visitors removed their shoes, then he walked in and again prostrated himself and kissed the threshold of the room before entering. He then bowed in a grand style and stood motionless until he received the Master's permission to sit near the door. As he took his seat with downcast eyes I continued to remain baffled as to his identity and why it was that I had not seen him among the believers of the community. At the end of His remarks, which took about thirty minutes, 'Abdu'l-Bahá

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motioned to the stranger to chant a prayer. The old man instantly took out a prayer book from his pocket and began to chant one of Bahá'u'lláh's moving prayers in a voice becoming his age and stature.

Once we were dismissed from His presence and took the stairs to the lower floor, the stranger went in the direction of the andaruni I immediately asked someone who he was, and was told he was none other than Mirza Aqa Jan.

"Which Mirza Aqa Jan?" I inquired.

"He is the 'Khadim'u'llah'{48} or 'Abd-i-Hadir', of whom you have surely heard," I was told.

"May he be accursed of God!" was my ready reaction. 'Just can't find a moment's peace with these trouble-makers around," I concluded.

Khadim'u'llah had been out of favour since the days of Bahá'u'lláh and now at this time the Covenant-breakers were actively looking for him, intent on taking his life.

"What is he doing here?" I asked.

"He has taken refuge in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's house," I was told.

As I reflected about this old man, rejected and disliked by all, I had no idea that within two weeks he would play a significant role in the affairs of the Faith, the memory of which would never fade, and that I would be one of the observers of that performance.

The Covenant-breakers' means of livelihood

In those days, while 'Abdu'l-Bahá and His family were experiencing great hardship, the Covenant-breakers were living most comfortably. Their home was the Mansion of Bahji, with its beautiful spacious living quarters and full furnishings. They received their expenses directly from 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Who provided for them no matter how dire were the circumstances. This was the lifestyle of the Covenant-breakers, while 'Abdu'l-Bahá lived in the conditions that have been described in earlier pages of this book.

Three individuals were in charge of the household's

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annual, monthly and daily purchases of groceries and other needed provisions. Aqa Rida Qannad, one of the exiles and prisoners of Baghdad, who enjoyed 'Abdu'l-Bahá's complete trust, made purchases of wheat, charcoal, firewood, barley, hay, cooking oil, sugar and tea and other items of need which were in season. Typically, one of the friends would bring a list of the necessary daily food items to town and Aqa Rida or Aqa Asadu'llah made the daily purchases and delivered them to the house.

On a few occasions I heard from resident Bahá'ís that the Mansion's daily expenditure for food was quite extravagant and that their lifestyle resembled that of a king who was holding official banquets. One day, quite by chance, I was shown a list of their required provisions and was astonished at the items requested which not even the wealthiest and most extravagant of households would indulge in. For example, in addition to requests for chickens, roosters and young chicks (although they already had chickens in the barnyard at Bahji), they had specified several types of fish. The purpose of this strategy was to sap 'Abdu'l-Bahá's strength and energy and break Him physically.

In the meantime, they had concocted and spread a rumour that the payments of Huququ'llah{49} regularly sent by the believers to 'Abdu'l-Bahá were not in fact reaching Him. They claimed that members of His family had stolen His seal and were stamping the draft transfers and stealing the money for themselves. Because of this very rumour, the believers actually stopped sending their Huququ'llah, not knowing if their contributions reached 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Covenant-breakers, who were aware of this, intended to apply as much pressure as they could to cause the Master to weaken and ultimately collapse. They thus came up with a list of essential necessities, the description of which is beyond the scope of this narrative.

Once, when I arrived at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's house and entered the reception room in the biruni, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was in the process of giving instructions to Aqa Rida. As I entered the

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room the Master was saying: "Very well, go ahead and borrow some more money and make the purchases and deliver them to the Mansion." After 'Abdu'l-Bahá left I asked Aqa Rida about the discussion they had been having.

"I don't know what they are doing with all that food," he replied. "They must be either selling it or burning it. It has been only a few days since I sent them a complete supply of the provisions they requested. And now they are asking for more, while 'Abdu'l-Bahá's debts are mounting. I do not know what to do."

In short, this was another of their many ploys to exert as much pressure as possible on 'Abdu'l-Bahá in order to weaken Him and render Him powerless.

Types of Covenant-breakers

When the event associated with the verse "When the ocean of my Presence hath ebbed" came to pass,{50} and the Sun of the Beauty of the All-Glorious was hid from mortal eyes behind the clouds of mystery, and the divine Lote-Tree gave way to its fairest fruit of servitude and utter evanescence, and the verse "Servitude is the very essence of divinity" found its true significance in the person of 'Abdu'l-Bahá—at such a time, the leafless and fruitless Aghsan, who had lost their way and become lifeless, were finally severed from the tree of life and cast out of the community of the believers.

After that, each of the Aghsan employed a different attitude and strategy. The Arch-breaker of the Covenant Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, like his predecessor Yahya Azal, secluded himself in a corner of the Mansion but directed Mirza Badi'u'llah his brother, in their struggle against 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Mirza Diya'u'llah the other brother, who was an unstable and fickle individual, became an intermediary between 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Muhammad-'Ali.

The activities of these three were quite obvious to all. All day long, Mirza Badi'u'llah ran about in all directions hoping to create as much dissension, devise as many schemes, and

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initiate as many provocations as he could. Since this required association with different classes and types of people, and as he endeavoured to play his role to perfection, he had become a man of a thousand faces, dealing with each group in accordance with its own customs and expectations.

He therefore participated in all sorts of gatherings and assemblies and did whatever necessary in order to find acceptance with those groups and attract their sympathies towards the plans of the Covenant-breakers. It was said of him that he had involved himself in many immoral pursuits and even participated frequently in sessions of drunken debauchery in assorted garbs and guises.

As for the late Mirza Diya'u'llah, that poor unstable clown was never sure of anything. At times he was firm in the Covenant, and at other times he would become a violator. He was never sure of anything, including himself He was usually the one who brought the messages of the Covenant-breakers to 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

As to the rest of the Covenant-breakers, they were of three types: first, those who were cut off from the Faith, who acted discourteously and were openly offensive in the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá second, those who were entirely severed from the Faith and wandered about 'Akka with no further connection to the Cause. The third group comprised the trouble-makers and evil-doers who associated openly with the friends and were the informers and spies, carrying messages and reports to the Covenant-breakers on the basis of which they devised their next plans and hostile actions against the Faith.

My duties on this pilgrimage

While sifting wheat was an easy, trouble-free service entailing no responsibility and in fact bringing great pleasure, yet it seemed that God had destined me to perform a service even more pleasant and entertaining. In accordance with the Master's instructions I started a French class, teaching two or three young men for an hour each day. Furthermore, since

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the rays of the Sun of Truth had just begun to illumine the American horizon, pure-hearted men and women who had awakened from the stupor of heedlessness to the reality of the glad-tidings of Bahá'u'lláh were sending to 'Abdu'l-Bahá declarations of their acceptance of the Faith, and publishing proofs of the truth of the revelation of the Lord of the Age.

Reading, translating, and distributing of these papers sent by those holy souls, especially in the face of all the sinister and heinous publications of the Covenant-breakers, brought great joy and happiness. Whenever any of these translations contained interesting insights meriting public attention, the Master instructed me to read it to the believers in the pilgrim house, or send the document to Iran directly. The spiritual intensity and attraction of some of the American friends resembled that of the early believers in Iran and had the same effect on the American believers at large. This also applied to the resident Bahá'ís [in 'Akka] who, having suffered so much for the Faith, found great joy and encouragement in those letters.

Each day, nay every hour, we received another heartbreaking report about a fresh accusation or slander against 'Abdu'l-Bahá. At the same moment glad tidings would reach us from the West expressing endless love, devotion and joy and imparting news of the declaration of yet another group of God-intoxicated seekers; this quickly washed away the dross of sadness and melancholy. For example, we would receive news that in Iran the Covenant-breakers and the followers of Yahya had united and so the enemies of the Faith were celebrating this event.

The town constable and preacher made a friendly pact, One evildoer became the helpmate of the other.

But then news would reach us that such and such an American scholar, who had been a bitter opponent of the Faith for a long time, had declared and announced his conversion in the very church to which he had previously belonged.

Among the good news from America was an article

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written by Ibrahim Khayru'llah [Kheiralla] at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's request, which offered proofs of the validity of the Faith. In accordance with 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instructions I translated the article during the course of my stay{51} and on my departure was commanded by Him to take the document to Tehran and deliver it to Mirza 'Ali-Akbar Khan Rawhani for circulation.

In short, the receipt of such news and the distribution of this type of publication brought great joy to the hearts of the friends but also added to the intense hatred and enmity of the Covenant-breakers. In Iran, they invented fresh designs each day and conceived of new plots in order to plant the seeds of corruption and disunity. In the Ottoman realms they spread the germs of hatred and discord. They did what they could to find their way into America, and caused the fall of Khayru'llah, leading him astray like themselves. At the time, Khayru'llah had gained the great respect of the American Bahá'í community, which he had founded, and I used to translate his writings which the friends valued greatly and carried off with them as testimonials.

During this time I enjoyed the unique distinction of being the only one familiar with foreign languages. As this unique position highlighted my virtue and yet at the same time concealed my assorted shortcomings, I was assigned to translate and distribute, day and night, any news received from Khayru'llah Ali. Since this activity pleased 'Abdu'l-Bahá and was a source of happiness for the friends, I gradually-and mainly due to the Master's infinite kindness and blessing-developed a great staunchness in the Faith and an uncommon insight in identifying those of the Covenant-breakers who misrepresented themselves in gatherings as true believers.

Additionally, I had acquired boldness in speaking openly in meetings on such issues without discretion, and fearlessly said what needed to be said. While the friends resident in 'Akka and Haifa had to conduct themselves with more caution and prudence because of their old friendships or possible kinship with these Covenant-breakers, I, fortunately not being bound by any such considerations, openly spoke out in the

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pilgrim house, disclosed what was hidden and exposed what was untrue.

Because of this, both the pilgrims and the resident believers had developed great affection for me and so each night in the pilgrim house the meetings were fraught with emotion and excitement. The elders of the community came to visit the friends and participate in the all-night sessions of fellowship. Frequently, the poems of Varqa were chanted melodiously and at times I myself composed a few lines of verse which, once approved by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, were read aloud at these meetings.

In short, despite all the problems and pains, when we came together we were in great joy and excitement. Of course, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's kindness and blessings towards me were constant and immeasurable, and considering my many shortcomings, I felt pangs of shame in receiving so much bounty in the face of such unworthiness. But His generosity exceeded my expectations and His infinite favour and grace concealed my countless faults and failings.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's words

At such a time, when the Faith of God was the target of the darts of disbelief and dissension, when the winds of test and trial were blowing with great intensity, when the ark of the Cause of God was surrounded by devastating storms, the rudder of the ship rested in the mighty grasp of the Centre of the Covenant, Who with the power of His utterance and Writings guided the ship towards the shores of deliverance and directed humankind towards the highway of salvation.

Even should the traces of His pen on paper not last forever, the effect of the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá shall be so deeply engraved on the hearts and minds of His hearers as to eternally endure, passing from one heart to another.

In those days, the utterances of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, like His Writings, covered a variety of subjects and were revealed in response to the prevailing circumstances. First were His

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countless blissful prophecies concerning the future of the Faith. He likened the present time, so fraught with unhappiness and hardship, to the days of Muhammad and Christ, painting a vision of the future when the triumph of the Faith of God would be realized and His Kingdom on earth established. He regarded the final victory of the Cause as an absolute reality and enabled us to visualize the ultimate ascendancy of the religion of God and the hoisting of the banner of this divinely ordained Dispensation upon the world's highest peaks. He often gave examples of the battles of the Prophet Muhammad, especially the battle of Khandaq,{52} in which the believers, while engaged in fighting the infidels, had fastened pieces of rock around their waists to mitigate the pangs of hunger. While they were building the moat to defend their position, which gave its name to the subsequent battle, the Prophet loudly declared with each stroke of the pickaxe: "With this stroke the lands of the kings are conquered and the legions of the Caesars defeated."

Some of the believers who were not yet deepened in their devotion and understanding mocked and laughed secretly, wondering how they could conquer the countries of Asia, Europe and Africa when they were in such depths of misery and affliction. But when the conquering Arab legions won new territories and countries endowed with food in plenty, and when they tasted the sweetest fruits-which they swallowed whole without even minding the pits-then they cried out for joy, "This truly is what the Prophet of God promised us, this truly is what the Prophet of God promised us."

The Master spoke too of the time of the rising of the sun of Jesus and all the afflictions and anguish that He and His disciples had to endure. He spoke of their detachment, their courage and their forbearance in the face of unbearable difficulties, and how they established their sovereignty at last and achieved everlasting salvation.

Then the Master described in glowing terms the magnificent future of the Bahá'í Faith and the heights of glory and eternal happiness that awaited its faithful followers.

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'Abdu'l-Bahá expressed these visions with such heavenly power and spiritual force that they penetrated the hearts and souls, creating such an aura of confidence and certitude that the friends could visualize their fulfilment, not in the distant future but at that very instant, and moreover saw themselves as the fortunate participants in that glorious age. The promised eternal glory and everlasting joy seemed so real and within reach that dimensions of time and space had no place in that world of reality. Past, present and future were not different times, but one unchanging dimension. These prophecies of 'Abdu'l-Bahá were so clear, so sublime and pleasing, and the promise of their realization so conclusive, that even God's most exalted angels could not have hoped to raise our souls to a loftier spiritual state.

Best of all, many of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's prophecies have already been fulfilled much sooner than anyone could have estimated. For example, when no one could possibly imagine that a small impoverished village like Haifa could develop into a beautiful and established international port, become the cross-roads of Asia, Europe and Africa, and at the same time gain the everlasting honour of holding the remains of the Supreme Manifestation of God and thus become the Point of Adoration{53} for the world, 'Abdu'l-Bahá described a vision of a city that was beyond the comprehension of the mind of man. Now we can all see the great structures of the port of Haifa surpassing the great ports of the world, gaining such prominence that nearby countries have become concerned that before long Haifa may develop into the centre of world commerce and industry.{54}

Another of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's prophecies which has been wholly realized pertains to the construction of Bahá'í edifices. At a time when the first signs of recognition and acceptance of the new Faith in the West were little by little reaching the Holy Land, while at the same time in the East the Faith of God was still wrapped in veils of caution and discretion, 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave us the joyful tidings of the construction of the Russian and American Houses of Worship.

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And this was at a time when the daily requirements of food for the pilgrim house could hardly be met. To us at the time it seemed these tasks would have to be assigned to the angels in heaven.

Praised be God, the American House of Worship has been completed.{55} Alas, the construction of ours is just starting. Praised be God that the national Haziratu'l-Quds{56} of various countries and the Bahá'í centres of various cities are announcing the call of the divine kingdom to the people of the world. And it was 'Abdu'l-Bahá Who told us of such days to come.

Another subject of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talks was the expression of His yearning for martyrdom. As His calamities and afflictions multiplied, so increased His zeal and longing to bear the pain. The names of the great martyrs of the Faith flowed from His lips in glorious terms: "The illustrious Varqa, may my soul be sacrificed for his sake; the illustrious Ruhu'llah, may my soul be sacrificed for him; the honoured Sulayman Khan, may my soul be sacrificed for his sake." And as He repeated these, the souls of His listeners were plunged into the depths of the great ocean of renunciation in the path of God.

At such poignant moments when 'Abdu'l-Bahá expressed His longing for suffering, sacrifice and martyrdom in the path of the Blessed Beauty, I was reminded of the great Persian poet Sa'di, who so movingly tells the story of the candle and the sacrifice of the moth. Oh, but the sacrifice of the moth is unworthy of mention when compared to the sacrifice and renunciation of the lighted Candle of this heavenly assemblage, for the sacrifice of the moth lasts but a moment, while the sacrifice of this Candle has lasted a lifetime, imparting the light of guidance while being consumed by the flame of love and renunciation.

I remember, one sleepless night I heard the moth say to the candle, "I am in love, so I deserve to burn. Why weep and shed these tears?" Said the candle, "O my poor one, I have lost my sweet beloved."

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Tears dropped Perfidiously down his face as he said this. O false one, loving is not for you, who possess neither patience nor forbearance. While you flee a feeble flame, I have stood straight in the fire. While the fire of love singes your wings, I burn from head to foot.

My purpose in telling this story is to show that it is the Manifestations of the divine will and the radiant and heavenly souls of each Dispensation who are the first to enter the arena of sacrifice and impart the celestial rays of guidance. They are then followed by the inspired moths that circle around these heavenly Candles. Thus according to the blessed verse, "I was a hidden treasure and wished to be made known,"{57} the love emanating from God and His Manifestations is superior to the love expressed by His creatures. In fact, the love expressed by God's creatures is simply a reflection, a manifestation of that great and all-embracing love of those dawning-places of divine light. Therefore, if His servants sacrifice a thousand lives in His path, this is but an effulgence of their love for their Beloved, a love from sanctified hearts which have been illumined by the light of faith and selflessness. Sacrifices made as expressions of such love cannot be compared to the martyrdom suffered in the path of God by the great martyrs of the Cause, the mirrors of whose hearts are brighter and more radiant and thus reflect a much larger portion of those heavenly rays. Examples of these are the King of Martyrs, or the esteemed Varqa, or the much loved Ruhu'llah, may my life be sacrificed for them, who hastened to the glorious field of martyrdom while we, the helpless and unfortunate who have witnessed the ascensions of both the Blessed Beauty and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, are still slumbering in the beds of comfort and heedlessness.

Come, my beloved, and witness, my misery is plain to see, You are gone and I endure, see how heartless I can be.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's description of the many blessings associated with sacrifice and martyrdom in the path of God, and His

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ability to make us see with the eye of the spirit the joy and bounty awaiting the friends in the Abha Kingdom, created such feelings of excitement and attraction that the friends began to conceive of ways, and invent plans, to make martyrdom a reality. One expressed the intention that once he reached Tehran he would proceed directly to the Shah Mosque, ascend the pulpit and raise the Call of God. Another declared that he would attend a rawdih-khani{58} and in the presence of the most orthodox and fanatical Muslim divines, where all the elements of self-sacrifice would be at hand, do whatever it would take to achieve his end. And so, while everyone entertained similar plans, each had a particular preference as to how this goal should be achieved. One insisted that he would first convert a hundred seekers before succumbing to the pain of martyrdom. Another explained that true teaching was performed by each and every drop of blood shed in the arena of service. A third desired torture and pain, while a fourth yearned to be beheaded.

Once, while on our way from the pilgrim house to the darb-khanih, Mirza Fadlu'llah and I were having a conversation on this very topic. He declared that he favoured martyrdom through the agony and torture of having lighted candles inserted into stab wounds made in various parts of his body (as in the manner of martyrdom of the renowned Babi leader Sulayman Khan). I, being young and adventurous and enjoying a bit of showmanship in everything, was in favour of a little more excitement and clamour at my scene of martyrdom and therefore expressed the desire to die by being blasted by a cannonball while strapped to the mouth of the barrel. Mirza Fadlu'llah did not find my choice seemly. This fuelled a debate which reached its peak just as we arrived at the biruni reception room, where we could hear 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaking clearly and forcefully. Slowly we approached the entrance. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was pacing back and forth as He uttered these words: "One should die in the path of the Blessed Beauty by having lighted candles inserted in his stab wounds." My challenger in this heated argument, he who had

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disagreed with my choice, threw me a quick glance full of meaning, as if to say, "I told you so". Immediately 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words followed: "One should die in the path of the Blessed Beauty by the blast of a cannon." I gave him a not-too-gentle nudge in the side, expressing my satisfaction at having the last word.

Now, friends, consider, that in these past thirty-seven years neither did he die of any stab wounds packed with lighted candles, nor did I suffer any indignities from the blast of a cannon. However, in those days, and because of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's utterances, we all entertained such thoughts and desired such sacrifices. But that thought and that desire no longer exist today, since the promises of 'Abdu'l-Bahá have been fulfilled. The clergy have been vanquished; the Covenant-breakers have lost all support and are utterly disgraced; these colourful dome-like turbans of green, white and blue have collapsed. Today, service to the Cause of God and contribution to the ultimate triumph of the religion of God is achieved by spreading the message, establishing the institutions and administering the affairs of the community Happy are the ones who will taste the sweetness of success in this path.

Another theme of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's utterances at that time pertained to the awakening of souls in the face of the many machinations of the Covenant-breakers. As described previously, He familiarized the believers with their manner of conduct and their many types of deception. He also explained that the method of prevention of that infectious and deadly disease was to suspend all association with such people and leave them to their own devices. Using reason and logical proofs, and speaking like a teacher of physical education, He described the many symptoms of that dreaded disease, which He could readily diagnose by understanding the contents of each heart. For example, He would say that whereas physical health is only moderately communicable, physical disease is highly contagious. By the same token, the effect of spiritual health is also very gradual and slight, while spiritual disease is communicated quickly and potently. This

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is because a patient struck down with a spiritual disease does not seek a cure; in effect he hides his malady and thus communicates that condition covertly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá likened the disease of the violation of the Covenant to many physical ailments, as is highlighted in the Tablet to the late Dr. Hadi Khan to whom I had taught the Faith: "O physician! Make an effort, find a cure and heal the odious disease of that Old Hyena," etc. Once the doctor received the Tablet he instantly realized that he was being deceived by Aqa Jamal and that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was alerting him to that danger. Straight away, he severed all connection with him and published the Tablet; the nickname "Old Hyena" became Aqa Jamal's new identity.

The truth is that had we not been blessed with these divine teachings, the many evil machinations and deadly deceptions of the Covenant-breakers would have shaken, nay, destroyed the very edifice of the Faith of God. 'Abdu'l-Bahá further explained and elaborated on the perils awaiting the violators of the Covenant and their tragic ends. The prophecies of 'Abdu'l-Bahá all came true and His heavenly counsel produced the expected results.

Once a group of pilgrims, who were just returning from a meeting with 'Abdu'l-Bahá, expressed great joy and happiness at their visit, yet at the same time evinced a feeling of concern and sadness, for they had heard from the blessed mouth of 'Abdu'l-Bahá: "Soon you will see that Mirza Badi'u'llah will encounter such hardship and misery that he would be willing to haul manure between Haifa and 'Akka to earn a living, and yet will fail to find such work." Apparently He had been so emphatic and forceful in drawing the attention of the friends to this that the group was unanimous in their recollection of all the details of the story.

After this event I was puzzled as how to interpret such a prediction, for while it was quite possible to imagine Mirza Badi'u'llah as a hauler of manure, it was difficult to conceive that he might search for such employment and yet fail to find it. Only four years later did 'Abdu'l-Bahá's prediction come

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true in all 'its details and with such accuracy that I said to myself. "How right you were, 'Abdu'l-Bahá!" The details of this story will be described more fully in a later chapter.

Another topic of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's discourse at that time was the necessity of deepening and consolidating the newly enrolled believers, which warranted at least temporarily a higher priority than even the duty of teaching itself Once, when we had the bounty of being in the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the reception room of His residence, He said the following concerning the deepening of the new believers: "Is it not true that the Blessed Beauty, may my life be a sacrifice for His loved ones, has advised wisdom and discretion in performing service related to the Faith? The purpose is to conduct that work in a manner consistent with the requirements of the time. At a given time a particular approach may be effective and it is that approach which should be followed. For example, there was a time when teaching was all-important and everyone was emphatically encouraged to participate. Today, teaching is not beneficial. This is the time for deepening and confirming the friends in the principles of the Faith." And then He pointed towards the foundation of the building and added, 'Armed with pickaxes, the Covenant-breakers are tearing into the very foundation of this Faith. What good is there in adding another floor to the edifice? Wisdom requires us to prevent them from destroying the foundation of the structure first. Before long the day will come when this foundation will grow strong, and then I will command all to teach the Faith. But for now, confirmation of the souls is more important than any other task."

In brief, because of this, it soon seemed as though the entire company of the friends were going through the deepening process over and over again. Since I am unable to recall 'Abdu'l-Bahá's exact utterances regarding the deepening and confirmation of the souls, I therefore present to the attention of my honoured readers an example of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words as revealed by His own pen: {59}

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He is the All Glorious!

O thou who hast drunk from the fountain of life: Verily, the caravan of the Kingdom set out into the wilderness of the heavenly Realm and sent forth its search party to find water in a dark and gloomy well. As they lowered the pail they announced, 'Joyful tidings: behold, the youth of the Covenant who, falsely accused, was abandoned in this deep well by His brothers and was subsequently sold [into slavery] for a paltry price. Woe, then, unto them for that which they have done, and glory be upon those who acquired Him from His brothers."

Another series of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's utterances concerned moral education and training. In this the Master was very emphatic. In every gathering in which He spoke about the glorious station of martyrdom, He usually followed that by alerting the friends to the many ploys of the Covenant-breakers, then gave glad tidings of the ultimate triumph of the Faith, and finally spoke fervently on the improvement and refinement of morals and more particularly on the subject of detachment from all things save God. His words were so penetrating, so effective and so transforming that every member of His audience -the world became the very personification of a detached spirit, and all that was therein seemed less than a wisp of straw in their eyes. The most significant utterances of Bahá'u'lláh, His Tablets and other verses such as the Hidden Words, Tarazat, Ishraqat, Tajalliyat and others{60} were explained by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in simple and yet clear language for all to understand.

This is a brief account of the various topics that 'Abdu'l-Bahá spoke about most frequently. However, as to His way of speech, His mode of expression, and His manner while speaking, neither the pen nor the tongue are capable of adequate description. This servant has had the opportunity to be in the presence of several great Bahá'í speakers such as Nabil-i-Akbar, whose eloquence, lucidity of language, and sheer force of expression not only convinced every listener but left them irresistibly humble and submissive. His method

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of reasoning and demonstration of proofs subdued and vanquished the most sceptical of foes. I had always imagined that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words would be similarly detailed, scholarly, eloquent and sophisticated, and that to understand them would require a great deal of attention and reflection. But I was entirely wrong. I discovered that the great speakers chose to use eloquent language full of embellishments in order to properly unfold and develop the truths they were expounding, describe in detail the meaning of their arguments and at the same time capture the attention and admiration of the listener by the use of such elaborate language. But the utterances of 'Abdu'l-Bahá covered the basic and fundamental principles and truths and were proffered in language of such simplicity, sublimity and precision that it could be likened to a stream of crystal-clear water flowing gently and quenching the burning thirst of the true seeker's longing for truth, or like a flash of electricity penetrating and illuminating the hearts of the believers, and whose magnetic quality captivated their souls and elevated them to the highest paradise. Happy were the ones who attained and drank their fill.

And it was not only we Bahá'ís who were enthralled by the beauty of speech and sublimity of manner of that incomparable Beloved, and who thirsted after the crystal waters of His utterance. Non-Bahá'ís, too, were utterly fascinated and enamoured by 'Abdu'l-Bahá's powers of expression. High ranking Ottoman officials came to hear 'Abdu'l-Bahá speak in Turkish, while groups of Arab scholars came to listen to His splendid Arabic.

O, what clamour at thy door, as thy lovers assemble, As caravan's commotion approaches the oasis.

The suckling babe

Since I have committed myself to writing all I observed on this journey and also to include, as far as I remember, expressions

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of my heartfelt emotions, I will not forgo the story of the suckling babe, which follows:

The elders of those days, whether pilgrim or resident, who were acquainted with the history of the Faith and had from the dawning of the Sun of Truth seen many of the major events associated with the establishment of the Cause, found a great resemblance between the behaviour of the Arch-breaker of the Covenant and that of Bahá'u'lláh's half brother, Yahya Azal. While reminiscing about the past, they also engaged in speculation about the future. The severing of the unfaithful branch and the remaining violators of the Covenant from the blessed tree of the Faith of God was a matter of certainty. Therefore, the question that emerged was: "How will this affect the future of the Faith?"

But I did not find this type of discussion very pleasant, and refused to speculate about the future or participate in such discussions, for I could not bear the thought that one day 'Abdu'l-Bahá would leave us forever. Then I heard the whisper that from the sacred lineage [of Bahá'u'lláh], a new babe had been born and had been named Shoghi Effendi Although my whole being was thrilled by the news, I did not wish to associate the dawning of this sparkling star with the setting of the shining sun of the Divine Covenant. In so doing I prevented myself from deviating even as much as a hair's breath from the blessed verse: "Turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed."{61}

I convinced myself that worrying about the future was of no use; that today was the day for confirmation and education of the believers and that tomorrow was in the mighty hand of the sovereign Lord of the Faith of God who was able and unconstrained.

For some time the residents of the pilgrim house had shown great interest in seeing Shoghi Effendi; they pleaded continually with the illustrious Afnan{62} in the hope that such longing by so many might be realized. Quite by chance one day, this babe of only four months was brought to the biruni of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's house. The friends were beside themselves

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with joy and I, too, hastened to pay a visit to that beloved infant. But I made every effort to look at him in no other light than as a Bahá'í child. However, a strong urge compelled me to bow my head and observe the deepest respect. For about a minute I was utterly captivated by the beauty of that face. I gently kissed the soft hair of his blessed head, and as I did so I felt an indescribable quality in that infant. I could see his likeness to the pictures that I had seen of the infant Jesus in the arms of His mother Mary. For several days an image of his shining face was before my eyes, but gradually it faded.

I had similar emotional experiences twice more: once when he was in his ninth year and once when he was eleven. Since Mirza Haydar-'Ali and I were intimate friends and often shared each other's secret thoughts, I related to him the details of my visit and the nature of my impressions, and found that he shared my understanding of the situation, and so we decided to keep the matter quiet. Praised be God that the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá has been read and the secret revealed at last.

The rebellion of Mirza Aqa Jan

For several days a general atmosphere of melancholy, gloom, and concern had dominated the hearts and spirits. The emotions of excitement and attraction that had previously filled our souls had given way to a subdued and uneasy feeling and foreboding. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's tone of voice, too, lacked its former quality. It was said that all this was due to the approach of the seventieth day of Naw-Ruz. {63}

At last the day arrived, and we were told that the night of the following day was the eve of the anniversary of the Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh. We were informed that after an all night vigil of mourning, we were to set out at first light to visit the Shrine of the Blessed Beauty. The following day, the day of the Ascension itself, a feast organized by Mirza Aqa Jan was to be held.

That night all the pilgrims and resident believers of Haifa

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and 'Akka arrived at the pilgrim house, chanting the divine verses and prayers and weeping openly as they mourned the passing of Bahá'u'lláh. The Centre of the Covenant arrived too. Signs of sorrow and pain were to be seen everywhere. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá left the gathering, several of the younger friends insisted that I should compose some verses of poetry in observance of the event and recite them at the Shrine the following morning. Although I had no talent in the composition of elegies, the thought of the opportunity of reciting poetry in the presence of the Master and in a gathering assembled at the Shrine was so exciting and inspiring that I was able to compose the piece before dawn, right there in the overcrowded pilgrim house. But pending 'Abdu'l-Bahá's approval I did not share it with the friends.

At dawn we were all summoned by the Master and each was given a bottle of rose-water and a lighted candle. Before the first light of dawn, two parallel columns of believers moved through the city gate and in a state of sorrow and grief began their procession towards the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh. A few of us who had melodious voices were commanded by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to take turns in chanting prayers. Mirza Fad'u'llah, of course, had first priority. As we walked, the Master moved about, issuing instructions and directing all activities.

From the intensity of emotional expression one would have feared for our very lives. Prayer followed prayer and verse followed verse until we arrived and entered the Shrine. As commanded by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, we poured the rose-water into the flowerbeds at the entrance of the Shrine and placed the lighted candles in the surrounding soil. Then 'Abdu'l-Bahá as was His custom, chanted the Tablet of Visitation. The signs of intense sorrow on the face of 'Abdu'l-Bahá broke our hearts and our tears flowed unabated. Having completed the chant, 'Abdu'l-Bahá left us and entered the adjacent room, adding to our pain. It was impossible to stop the flow of tears, especially when we remembered the tearful eyes of the Master as He chanted the Tablet. The uncontrollable weeping and sobbing prevented any further attempts at

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chanting of prayers. At last the tears ended, but the moaning and lamentation continued. As the poet says:

When tears dry up, the heart pours out instead;

When water subsides, the spring produces only mud.

At last we regained our composure, calmed down and began to chant prayers. As the sun rose we left the Shrine and moved to the Bahji pilgrim house located behind the Mansion, where we enjoyed a well-deserved rest while sipping tea. Now I sent to 'Abdu'l-Bahá the unworthy verses that I had composed for the occasion. He returned them with a few corrections and commanded Mirza Fadl'u'llah to chant it. After the break we returned to the Shrine, and following a few prayers Mirza Fadl'u'llah gave a moving rendition of my elegy:

Once again is the time for mourning, grieving, O Baha,

From the eye of creation flowed tears of blood, World's order was shattered by confusion, O Baha!

In the midst of that grief He years for death to descend, Who has loved that glory, that beauty, O Baha!

The creation shed tears of blood at this disaster, so sudden, As though death's spear had struck deep in its heart, O Baha!

The heart of existence was set ablaze, the pillars of life were torn, Once that mighty Beauty hid in His realm of glory, O Baha!

The fire of Thy loss engulfed all beings in the world, Heart and body did it melt, burned our souls, O Baha!

Thy ascension caused my heart to fall into deepest grief, Thou didst ascend to heaven, pain filled my soul, O Baha!

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As the eye of man became deprived of meeting its Lord, That glowing sun became deprived of its light, O Baha!

Separation from Thee has spread darkness across the world, Who can find Thy light of nearness, O Baha?

Out of this loss and from earth to heaven there rose high The cries of O Baha, and O Baha and O Baha!

The spring-like eye of every Bahá'í doth weep tears of blood, Our broken hearts are bleeding through our eyes, ceaseless, O Baha!

The river Oxus was astounded at the flowing flood of our tears, A hundredfold more than the Oxus flowed those tears of grief, O Baha!

But for a time was the joy here for His lovers, Now a house of pain is standing in its place, O Baha!

However much joy filled our hearts when Thou wert near, A hundredfold is our share of grief and pain this day, O Baha!

What can I say of the fire that was ignited within? Thou knowest well what transpired in our hearts, O Baha.

Suffice it that in this time of heart-rending grief, Tears of sorrow covered the eyes of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, O Baha.

Praised be God that the rays of bounty shining from the light of Baha Found their dawning place in the temple of the Mystery of God, O Baha!

This Thy servant, like Youness [Jonah] swallowed by the fish, In the endless ocean of grief has been drowning, O Baha,

Praised be Thee, O Beauty, O Mystery, King of Baha, Our broken hearts were mended through Thy bounteouness, O Baha!

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Again we left the Shrine and prepared to have lunch, after which we had an hour's rest. But spirits were low, hearts were grief-stricken and thoughts agitated and distressed. We could tell that the Covenant-breakers were up to something. One could see non-Bahá'ís moving about in the area. Before long we were to discover what was going on.

Following afternoon tea we returned to the Shrine. In the meantime, chairs were being placed outside the Mansion under the upper hallway balcony.

"What is going on?" some inquired.

" Mirza Aqa Jan wishes to speak," we were told.

What? That same dwarfish old man who always sat at the doorway with his head hanging low? Now he was standing on a stool so that everyone could see him. He began to speak. But he was not coherent. The more I listened the less I understood. He jumped from point to point. I strained to grasp the purpose of the talk but failed to do so. I was looking at a monster whose limbs were trembling and whose soul was in agony.

He was saying while kneeling in prayer I fell asleep and Bahá'u'lláh came to me in a dream and said, 'This note written in green ink has just fallen into My hands. Why have you remained silent? Why, Aqa?' "{64}

Exhaustion due to lack of enough sleep, combined with the boredom of listening to this nonsense, robbed me of all patience. I rose to my feet. So did the honoured Aqa Mirza Mahmud Kashani, one of the resident Bahá'ís. He shouted out in protest, and soon there was a great uproar As I walked over to the wash-basin near the stairs to wash my hands and feet, 'Abdu'l-Bahá suddenly swept past me in a state of fury observing the situation, Mirza Aqa Jan beat a hasty retreat towards the entrance of the Shrine with the late Mirza 'Ali in hot pursuit. Suddenly we heard a loud cry. The Master entered the Shrine while we stood outside watching the events unfold. We were all shocked and upset.

Covenant-breakers and a group of Ottoman officials, standing on the steps as well as on the upper floor behind the windows, were staring down, ready to charge us. Before long,

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calm returned. The pilgrims were asking each other what the problem was. How could Mirza Aqa Jan, so humble and resigned, decide to advance a claim of succession as the Guardian of the Faith? Somebody said that since in his waking hours he was expelled from the Faith by Bahá'u'lláh, now in sleep Bahá'u'lláh has bestowed upon him the station of guardianship! I wondered in what trance-like state could such an unfortunate creature have reached such a fantastic conclusion? Suddenly Aqa Mirza 'Ali-Akbar emerged from the Shrine carrying what seemed to be a large bundle of papers. 'Abdu'l-Bahá now instructed everyone to enter the Shrine, dispensed rose-water to each one as before, and began to observe the rites of visitation.

There was no sign of Mirza Aqa Jan. Everyone was stunned at what had transpired; the atmosphere of mourning had given way to a state of incredulity. Which should we weep for, the ascension of the Blessed Beauty, the endless suffering of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, or the precious Faith of God which had become the target for the assault of the enemy, the plaything of the hateful? This was saddest of all. For this, tears of blood must be shed; this sorrow was above all other sorrows. Eyes were dry, faces pale and breath short. I felt so distressed that no amount of tears could sooth the state of my agitation.

When tears are gone at last, blood will flow in their place. What will flow from those eyes when the blood dries up?

In such a state we left the Shrine at last and began our journey back towards town. Silence filled the air. A general state of melancholy, reflection and bewilderment dominated our thoughts as we slowly continued on our way.

But there was one amongst us who did not share the sadness. He strolled along happy and smiling, talking to the friends in a whisper. When we reached 'Akka we realized that whether consciously or unconsciously, he had performed a great service and had in fact prevented a major upheaval from taking place. This person was none other than Mirza

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'Ali-Akbar, the son of Mishkin Qalam. It was he who had saved the day by informing 'Abdu'l-Bahá of Mirza Aqa Jan's intention to announce a claim as Guardian of the Faith. Had he been able to do so, there would have followed-as the Covenant-breakers hoped-a major confrontation between them and the believers, and this would have necessitated the intervention of Tabur Aqasi, 'Akka's Chief of Police, who had been monitoring events from the upper window of the Mansion and along with his cohorts was prepared to charge and make arrests-and in so doing inflict irreparable damage on the reputation of the Faith. This would have brought about the ultimate realization of the well-laid plans of the Covenant-breakers, of which more will be said in a future chapter.

Another reason for Mirza 'Ali-Akbar's happy mood was his discovery and appropriation of the Covenant-breaker materials found on the person of Mirza Aqa Jan. When he had pursued Mirza Aqa Jan into the Shrine and heard him shouting and cursing, he had grabbed him. But at that very moment, 'Abdu'l-Bahá arrived on the scene and prevented him from continuing the confrontation. However, while they wrestled, some papers fell out from under Mirza Aqa Jan's 'aba; these were quickly recovered by Mirza 'Ali-Akbar and shown to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Master in turn ordered a thorough search of all his pockets; during this a bundle of Covenant-breaker materials were discovered, and now lay on the table in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's biruni. The Master opened the papers. There were about one to two man{65} of crumpled, torn and twisted papers, all bearing writing either in pencil or ink and most of them signed and sealed. Each sheet was addressed to a renowned devoted believer in a style similar to that of the Tablets revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, except in an indignant and angry tone and containing among other things insulting references to the Master. A few of the papers were read; these gave an idea of the nature and intent of the rest of the batch. After that, the meeting ended, the gathering dispersed and we returned to the pilgrim house.

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As we had gained a clearer understanding of the situation, everyone felt better. Our minds were at rest. We had a good night's sleep and in the early morning presented ourselves at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's biruni. The papers were brought out for a second look. 'Abdu'l-Bahá arrived too and spoke at length about their contents. For a few days the papers were made available for all to see. The pilgrims reviewed the papers, took notes, and discovered the intentions and goals of the Covenant-breakers from their own handwritten materials. They also listened carefully to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and recorded every word uttered by Him.

The Covenant-breakers' planned rebellion through Mirza Aqa Jan and Tabur Aqasi

In the earlier section "The schemes of the Covenant-breakers" (see above, p. 33) I did not see sufficient justification to include. However, the matter will now be briefly described. At the time of the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, Mirza Aqa Jan had already been expelled from the Faith and was unwelcome in Bahá'í circles. He lived a life of general misery and disgrace. However, due to Bahá'u'lláh's generosity he had accumulated a sizeable fortune. The Covenant-breakers had secretly planned to seize his wealth either by killing him or by demonstrating that they considered it clear injustice for someone who had displeased Bahá'u'lláh to be walking around on God's earth in such a condition of affluence and contentment. But Mirza Aqa Jan had discovered the conspiracy and sought refuge at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's door; repenting his past conduct he found a haven in the sanctuary of the Master's home.

The Covenant-breakers were outraged at such a development and spread a rumour that Bahá'u'lláh's death had been caused by two poisonous pills introduced into His food by Mirza Aqa Jan. Their purpose was to create dissension and take advantage of its likely outcome in ways beneficial to themselves. On the other hand, any possible danger from

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such a mischief would be directed at Mirza Aqa Jan alone, because of his hand in the alleged crime.

And so they secretly established communication with him and encouraged him to rebel. As previously mentioned, having deceived him, the Covenant-breakers instructed and trained him, fed his ego and on the strength of his eminent position as the recorder of the verses of revelation received by Bahá'u'lláh, induced him to lay an independent claim to divine inspiration. Their purpose, of course, was provocation-to create chaos in the hope that it would lead to a full-scale rebellion against the Faith.

The foolish Mirza Aqa Jan then spent a great deal of time preparing letters containing a description of the dream he had concocted, in which he claimed to have been admitted into the presence of Bahá'u'lláh and through divine revelation and inspiration to have received and written down words expressing God's indignation and outrage. It was these messages that he had planned to send to various devoted believers. In one case he claimed that he had received directly from heaven a Tablet inscribed in green ink commanding him to rescue the Faith from the clutches of the infidels. The writings contained the same accusations and insults hurled at 'Abdu'l-Bahá by the Covenant-breakers, except in much harsher and more venomous language.

He had planned to hand over these papers to the Covenant-breakers on the day of the anticipated revolt. Their intention was to copy the contents in the hand of Mirza Majdu'd-Din , who had been Bahá'u'lláh's amanuensis during the latter part of His life, and then disseminate them among the friends. That is why, on this day, he was carrying the papers under his 'aba, fastened around his waist. He was hoping to incite a riot, draw the friends into confrontation and then give the appearance of being rescued and given asylum by the Covenant-breakers. This was the Covenant-breakers' covert design. Their plan consisted of the intervention of Tabur Aqasi, an Ottoman official and their close friend and well-paid agent, with whom they had a longstanding relationship. He had

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previously participated in many of their devious activities and operations, including receiving and forwarding to Beirut and Istanbul their many complaints and grievances filled with allegations and false charges; in return he earned a substantial profit. On the day when the believers were in mourning, Tabur along with a few others had been brought to the Mansion to be on the lookout for any signs of conflict, at which time he was supposed to charge out with his cohorts, stop the riot, make formal charges against the participants, inform Istanbul of the results and recommend the banishment of the Master. This action was supposed to deliver into the hands of the Covenant-breakers the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and in his view stop any further troubles in the future.

I should also add that the Covenant-breakers' main complaint to the authorities was that while Bahá'u'lláh had been a recluse and a dervish, it was the Master's plan to elevate His station to the level of divinity in order to fulfil His own political and military aim, which was nothing short of rebellion against the government. It was for this very reason that Tabur had been called, so that the violators of the Covenant could justify their argument in his presence, hoping ultimately to take possession of the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and become the recipients of the gifts and contributions of future pilgrims. Praised be God for His mercy, as at the first sign of commotion Mirza 'Ali-Akbar had immediately informed 'Abdu'l-Bahá of the situation and His very presence on the scene cooled the tempers and subdued the tense atmosphere. The Covenant-breakers, who had made ready for a fight, stood motionless as statues; Mirza Aqa Jan ran away; and the mischief was cut short.

Events after Mirza Aqa Jan's rebellion

Mirza Aqa Jan did find sanctuary with the Covenant-breakers, but left his papers behind. All the efforts of the Covenant-breakers had gone for naught. Their intentions were revealed and their secrets uncovered. Those papers, the

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contents of which the breakers of the Covenant were about to alter and amend to suit their purposes and then send out to various destinations, all penned by the hand of the pretended recipient of revelation who claimed the office of Guardianship, were now lying on a table in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's biruni and giving rise to mockery and laughter. The friends read them, laughed, and at times took notes. He had expressed a great deal of malice towards 'Abdu'l-Bahá, stating it a deadly sin to attain His presence. Furthermore, in papers addressed to various faithful believers he had brought false accusations against the most renowned defenders and champions of the Faith. He had accused Mirza Abu'l-Fadl and certain other scholars and teachers of the Faith of misdeeds which are unworthy of mention here. For example, he had called Aqa Mirza Fadl'u'llah "seditious", while from the very depths of his diabolical mind had revealed in my honour the following abominable verse: "O Youness! O thou tyrant! God, the Beloved, warns that verily he who disbelieves in God has committed the greatest injustice." Those of the friends who had been named in the papers each received their own documents. As soon as things returned to normal, and peace and calm were restored, the friends recaptured their old enthusiasm and the pilgrim house became filled once more with the humour and laughter of the believers. The sadness and melancholy of the anniversary of the Day of the Ascension had passed; once more the intoxicating pleasure of nearness to the Master and beholding His beauteous countenance brought joy and delight to the hearts. The friends, young and old, who had all tasted my sharp playful wit and untimely humour, had found a perfect way to retaliate. In these lighthearted moments, before I could utter a word I would suddenly find myself addressed by my honourable title of "O Youness! O thou tyrant!" for which I was unable to find a suitable response since I could not possibly address them in turn by their "given titles". If you only knew what joyful and spiritually fulfilling times we had! Everyone was happy, everyone was forgetful of self. Morning, noon and night

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we attained the presence of the Beloved and were utterly inebriated with the wine of His tender love and bounty.

But, alas, alas, this joy and happiness did not last long. We had moments of spiritual ecstasy, but they were all too short. Again the dark clouds of oppression and tyranny covered our sun of good fortune and happiness. The Beloved of our hearts became once more the object of unjust attacks by the government, and dealing with them consumed all His time. The doors of reunion were shut; we spent many an hour in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's biruni, sighing, yawning and just waiting to behold His heavenly face again. He was either not at home, or He was in meetings with non-Bahá'ís and enemies, or He was at the Government House defending the Faith and Himself He would leave early in the morning for destinations unknown to us, and would return home very late at night. From a distance, as He passed swiftly by, we would bow our heads, to which He would respond with a quick but loving gesture. The friends were all concerned, all frightened, all anxious. But the saddest of all were the pilgrims whose time of pilgrimage might suddenly come to an end, their lifetime dream of attaining the presence of the Beloved of the world and tasting the sweetness of His nearness remaining unfulfilled.

For a period of ten to twelve days, although He was near, we suffered the pangs of separation. At night in the pilgrim house we were engaged in chanting prayers and reciting the "Remover of Difficulties". During the day, as the saying goes, "These are they who cling to any handle"-we would reach for whoever and whatever could help us attain the presence of the peerless Friend. But nothing worked. We could neither ask a question nor receive an answer.

One evening 'Abdu'l-Bahá arrived just before sunset. The friends naturally assumed that there would be sufficient time for a visit. But alas, the visit was all too short. Looking weary and unwell, He said, "I am tired. With the permission of the friends I will retire," and went swiftly up the stairs.

Sorrow and grief filled the room. Everyone was heartbroken; anguish was to be seen on all faces. But I, having

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through no merit of my own been the frequent recipient of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's endless kindness and generosity, and therefore considered by the believers to be a favourite of His threshold, now became their last resort. So they left it in my hands to come to some solution and find a way to reach the Master. They told me that at times when 'Abdu'l-Bahá's pain and anguish became too intense, a mere visit by devoted and loving friends was a panacea which seemed to relieve and dissipate His anxiety and stress. Having known these friends for some time, and feeling quite confident of their devotion and unconditional love for the Master, I decided to communicate to Him, through a few verses of poetry, our misery and pain at separation from Him, and to leave the rest in God's hands. So I sat down in a state of excitement on the bottom step of the staircase and wrote these verses in pencil on a crumpled old piece of paper:

O 'Abdu'l-Bahá! We are the lovers of Thy countenance standing expectant at Thy door, Step outside so that we may gaze on that wondrous face! The Covenant-breaker considers such a gaze a sin; He is oblivious that we are in the midst of paradise. That precious foot with which Thou tread'st the ground Place on our heads, so we may soar to the heavenly throne.

Straight away, I found the twelve-year-old servant boy, Khusraw, and gave him the paper to deliver. Within the space of one minute he returned, having delivered the message to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Suddenly I grew anxious and uneasy; my heart began to pound rapidly and my spirit seemed intent on leaving my body. In this agitated state I looked up and beheld the Sun of the countenance of the Covenant appearing, as it were, from the Abha paradise. Holding a few flowers in His hand, He began to come down the stairs. Then He stopped, and looking down at us said: "The friends are many and our flowers but a few, and I do not know who to give them to?" I immediately remembered the poem that says,

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In your hand there's a flower and you wonder who to give it to, I am the most deserving, O king of the righteous, to me, to me

I began to laugh. He looked down at me, smiling, and said humorously, "Don't you laugh, you TYRANT!"

He descended the stairs gently, and as He landed on each step, He repeated: "You tyrant, you tyrant!" On the fourth repetition it occurred to me that once they heard of this the Covenant-breakers would have ample justification to spread all sorts of rumours and accusations against me. As He reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the yard, the friends circled around that divine Candle like moths. These words were then revealed; they are a close paraphrase of the actual words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá:

"In every Dispensation, the enemies fabricate certain charges and accusations. For example, since the Apostle of God Muhammad had no sons, they gave Him the title 'He who is barren of progeny. 'Ali, who had a rather large midriff, was called 'pot-belly' by his enemies. When we were in Baghdad, the followers of Yahya had named Bahá'u'lláh 'the Great Idol'. I am called the 'Stone', and so you should accept the title of 'tyrant!"

(By 'Stone', 'Abdu'l-Bahá was referring to the Black Stone, Hajaru'l-Aswad, in Mecca, the Point of Adoration for the Muslims).{66}

Radiating immense joy and gaiety as He made these remarks, He strolled towards the front yard of the biruni and placed those few flowers in a hollow area of the flowerbed. We, who numbered about fifty or sixty, followed Him out and stayed in the front yard for about two hours while 'Abdu'l-Bahá spoke to us, sometimes standing and sometimes pacing about in a happy and joyful mood. Afterwards we were dismissed from His presence and returned to the pilgrim house. Our happiness knew no bounds as we embraced and congratulated each other in an atmosphere of spiritual joy and fulfilment.

The friends flooded my face with kisses. Although the hour was late, the illustrious Afnan arrived just to express his

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many congratulations for this great success and give the happy news of 'Abdu'l-Bahá joy and satisfaction. He asked me if I had taken the flowers deposited by Him in the front yard flowerbed. I responded negatively. He said that while 'Abdu'l-Bahá had expressed great satisfaction with all the friends, He had mentioned, "I put the flowers there for Jinab-I-Khan." It was a wish come true! I excitedly jumped up and started to run outside to fetch the flowers. However, it was late and the friends advised that it could wait till the next day. That night I dreamt of nothing but flowers and blossoms. Before dawn, I awoke, ran outside and retrieved the flowers, and out of sheer joy ate one of them. For the life of me, I cannot remember what I did with the rest. Fortunately, from that day forward these hardships were replaced with peace and tranquillity. The gates of reunion were flung wide open as we attained 'Abdu'l-Bahá's presence daily and sometimes in the evening. Yet the flames of dissension and rebellion remained dormant beneath this seeming air of harmony and calm.

A story

After Mirza Aqa Jan's revolt, his papers remained scattered on the table outside 'Abdu'l-Bahá's biruni while the believers read them and discovered the secrets of the evil ones and the thoughts and plans of the wicked. Some copied passages to take home with them and shock their unsuspecting friends. I had no interest in writing down any part of that rubbish-I was in general satisfied with the document which carried my own name. At times, when He entertained the friends, 'Abdu'l-Bahá would say a few words about them. One day, as He picked through the papers with His own blessed hands, He found a document that caught His eye. He read it aloud and showed the signature and seal to the friends. I was standing at some distance, listening. 'Abdu'l-Bahá asked me to move closer and witness the seal on the document. I bowed at His command and took a few steps closer. But again He insisted, "Come and look." I took another step and bowed

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again. With that I meant to imply that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's remark was of course correct. The third time, He was emphatic as He invited me to "Come closer and look!" Helpless, I approached 'Abdu'l-Bahá and peered down at the signature and seal as He had instructed. Afterwards, I began to wonder why the Master had been so insistent that I should actually move closer and witness the signature and the seal for myself. What was the wisdom of His insistence, when for me His words were the very essence of God's will? And while my eyes and ears could be subject to human error, His words were the quintessence of truth. I concluded that there must be a defect or at least a weakness in my faith of which I was unaware.

In brief, dark thoughts agitated my mind and continued to torture me. Every time such thoughts occurred, I prayed to be protected from temptation and evil and that the wisdom of this matter might be revealed to me. This continued until my return to Iran. One day, in a conversation with a friend regarding Mirza Aqa Jan, I was asked about some details of that event which, because of my first-hand knowledge, I was able to clarify and remove all doubts. I then realized the wisdom of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's insisting that I should examine the document closely, for armed with that knowledge I had been able to apprise a group of uninformed friends of the truth of the matter. My joy and contentment knew no bounds and I praised God for such a blessing. The details of this incident will be discussed in a later chapter.

The nature of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's cares in those few days

On the day when Mirza Aqa Jan's rebellion took place, the carefully devised plan of the Covenant-breakers to create a riot and a confrontation was defused by the unexpected entrance of 'Abdu'l-Bahá on the scene. With that, their final dart of hatred and enmity went astray; moreover, their papers fell into the hands of the faithful. Then the violators of the Covenant, advised by Tabur Aqasi, prepared a formal complaint and

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submitted it to the Ottoman authorities.

Not long afterwards a number of hearings were convened in 'Akka. The nature of the complaint was twofold: one was official and was handled by Tabur himself, and the other contained a number of personal allegations, of which I remember five. They stated that:

1. The Great Effendi [Bahá'u'lláh] was a man of the highest religious station, a saint, and His days and nights were spent in meditation. However, the illustrious 'Abbas Effendi ['Abdu'l-Bahá], has exaggerated His station to the level of divinity in order to advance His own political aspirations and to provoke an uprising and a revolution.

2. Our friends, who are numbered in the thousands in Iran and India, have been deliberately misguided by His propaganda to shun further communication with us and to consider us their enemies.

3. The funds and numerous gifts regularly received in the name of Bahá'u'lláh are not shared with us.

4. He has taken possession of our paternal inheritance and deprived us of any part thereof.

5. His behaviour towards us is in flagrant conflict with the requirements of the Will and Testament of Bahá'u'lláh.

These were their major complaints. However, they emphasized the first point and gave it special significance. Unfortunately for them, they were ignorant of the wisdom behind Bahá'u'lláh's injunction forbidding the teaching of the Cause throughout the Ottoman Empire. They imagined that the reason for this instruction was fear of the ensuing persecution and hardship once Bahá'u'lláh's claim to divine rank was made public. Obviously, a heart bereft of the fear of God is not informed of the divine will. They never imagined

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that the Kitab-i'Ahd would be made public in the enquiry and Bahá'u'lláh's own claim to divine authority would come to light. It was learned later that in the hearing 'Abdu'l-Bahá openly presented Himself as the authoritative interpreter and promoter of the sacred Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, voluntarily submitting the Kitab-i-'Ahd in its entirety and basing His responses to the five categories of complaint against Him on that Book. In one case He made reference to the verse "God hath not granted them any right to the property of others",{67} and added that if the people of Persia were devoted Bahá'ís, they would not, in accordance with this verse, part with a penny towards them (the Covenant-breakers). Furthermore, 'Abdu'l-Bahá clarified that according to the Text, the Aghsan, the Afnan and all other believers must in all cases turn to Him. How, therefore, could those who opposed and vilified Him, who spread the vilest rumours and accusations against Him, and who proclaimed themselves to be His avowed enemies, expect to be revered by the people of Baha? He also added: "For four years I concealed their enmity toward myself until they themselves divulged their hatred and animosity in writings which they signed and dispatched to Iran." Regarding the subject of inheritance He explained: "In the opening passages of the Book, Bahá'u'lláh clearly states: 'Earthly treasures We have not bequeathed, nor have We added such cares as they entail.' However, He has left two priceless items, either one of which I will happily hand over to them any time they make their choice. One is a holy Qur'an and the other is Bahá'u'lláh's prayer beads." The fame of these two items had reached every corner of the Ottoman Empire; all the dignitaries of 'Akka had seen them and were well aware that the Arch-breaker of the Covenant had stolen them and that currently both items were in the possession of the enemies of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and were in fact being passed from one to another. Once one of the Covenant-breakers, at the instigation of the Arch-breaker of the Covenant, had shown the prayer beads to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and

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had asked: "How much, in your view, is this worth?" 'Abdu'l-Bahá had been heard to respond, "It depends in whose possession it is." This, then, is a brief account of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's cares and difficulties in the days following the passing of Bahá'u'lláh. His days and nights were spent in meetings with the officials defending Himself and the Faith against the claims and accusations of the Covenant-breakers. And as the troublemakers little by little simply exhausted all their ploys and complaints, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá began to find some free time to visit with the friends, He always spoke briefly and in guarded language about the ongoing events. Whenever the subject was brought up, He would say, "I know that before I reach the top step of these stairs, the Covenant-breakers will be aware of everything I have said tonight. I wish, at least, they would quote me using MY own words." And especially when any Covenant-breaker attained His presence, 'Abdu'l-Bahá would address him on the subject directly and openly, with clear evidence and unequivocal proof, until he felt shame and disgrace at his action or the action of his co-conspirators. For example, He would frequently address some of the Covenant-breakers in these words: "I adjure you in the memory of the Blessed Beauty to be truthful. Did you not come to me with the story that the Covenant-breakers intended to kill Mirza Aqa Jan in such-and-such a place and throw his body down a well because, they claimed, he had sent two pills to Bahá'u'lláh and the ingestion of the first caused His death? Now, I am not saying that Mirza Aqa Jan was responsible for the death of Bahá'u'lláh, but why was it that such a despicable person suddenly became their favourite and was encouraged to oppose Me?" This is an example of the frankness with which 'Abdu'l-Bahá addressed the Covenant-breakers. And usually they remained utterly silent, sometimes even confirming His words. In short, the episode of Mirza Aqa Jan proved to the Covenant-breakers-who at that time were still freely associating with the friends and claiming devotion to the Faith

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that they had been clearly identified and their actions had come to light.

The story of Aqa Mirza Hasan

During that three-month pilgrimage I discovered numerous facts and ascertained the truth of manifold issues, none of which, outside that particular time frame, would have been comprehensible to me or understandable to others regardless of my best attempts to explain them, unless the evidence and proofs of such issues emerged independently and their true meanings came to light. For example, a particular aspect of meeting the Master was that if a hundred pilgrims were in His presence and 'Abdu'l-Bahá spoke on certain issues of His own choosing (completely unrelated to the personal questions or problems of any of the pilgrims), each pilgrim would discover the answer to his own problems or questions in His words, and would consequently consider himself to have been the intended addressee of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's remarks and the sole recipient of His bounty and blessing.

So freely is His grace lavished on every soul That each servant can say the Lord is his alone.

And if that gathering of one hundred souls could have revealed to each other their inner thoughts and secrets, and in that light examine and explore the true meaning of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words, they would have discovered in those words the same life-giving spirit which when imparted by raindrops and sunlight causes each seedling to become strong, verdant, fragrant and fruitful, each in accordance with its own latent capabilities. For instance, a mystic or a poet or an historian or an artisan or a champion wrestler or a simple labourer all have different natures, tastes, thoughts and talents. Yet regardless of their talents and capacities, this rain of bounty and sun of

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generosity would cause each one to grow into full bloom. The seed of knowledge would produce the fruits of knowledge; the seed of courage and strength would produce the fruits of courage and strength.

The rain whose life-giving nature none can deny, A tulip it raises in the garden, in the salt-marsh a thorn.

I learned this truth at that time, and later in Tehran I was able to put it to the test, of which I shall write more later.

One day in the pilgrim house we welcomed a few newly arrived Persian friends from Egypt. As was the custom, each pilgrim introduced himself by giving his first and last names and his profession. One of these introduced himself as Hasan and added, "I am not one of you. I am here to investigate the Faith. If it is true, I will accept it. Otherwise, I will go my way and you can go yours." When he began to introduce himself, his fellow travellers sitting across the room made it clear, by the aid of facial gestures and wrathful smiles, that we should not believe a single word. And of course we did not. When Mirza Hasan left the room his fellow pilgrims expressed deep concern about him: he was a troublemaker, a wicked man well-known among the vile and the evildoers of Egypt, and in fact a collaborator and agent of the Islamic clergy of Egypt who had resolved to harass and torment the friends. Having recently received financial support from his backers, he had journeyed here with the intent of concocting a series of questions and answers and publishing them in Egypt to defame the name of the Faith. We were all dejected and upset by this news, as the presence of such a despicable person obviously undermined our freedom to communicate with each other in the pilgrim house.

Some two hours later, the group of the friends from Egypt was summoned to the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Mirza Hasan, too, followed the group inside. On their return, as he walked ahead of the group, I cornered him with obvious curiosity:

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"So, how did it go? What did the Master talk about?" I enquired.

"It was all kindness and generosity, all kindness and generosity," he replied.

In his absence I asked others if he had been addressed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The answer was unanimous. He had not received the smallest measure of notice or attention from the Master. The next time around, the entire contingent of the pilgrims was summoned and this time I paid careful attention to see if he might receive favourable notice from 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In fact, in that gathering he was almost nonexistent, receiving neither any particular attention nor the merest acknowledgement. As we walked out I asked him, "What was your impression?" "It was all bounty and generosity," he responded. In the pilgrim house, when Mirza Hasan was around we were guarded in our speech regarding the nature of the problems within the Faith. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, however, openly and without regard to Mirza Hasan's true identity and his mischievous intentions, spoke about the Covenant-breaker issues as He normally was wont to do. Having thus heard the Master, we too threw caution aside and began to express ourselves without care or hesitation. Gradually, we noticed that Mirza Hasan was presenting arguments and proofs, albeit in Islamic terminology, against the Covenant-breakers and in support of the Faith of God. In the pilgrim house most of our conversations revolved around issues related to the Covenant, and Mirza Hasan began to contribute to the discussions. Soon his zeal became so intense that he would not take a back seat to anyone in presenting arguments and providing proofs, although his speech was innocent of conventional Bahá'í terminology.

In short, in the fourteen-day stay of the Egyptian pilgrims, Mirza Hasan received hardly the slightest recognition from the Master, and yet with every passing day he seemed happier and more radiant. And when, having completed their pilgrimage, the Egyptian pilgrims finally received instructions

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to depart, Mirza Hasan surprised me by showing a fervent eagerness to teach the Faith. The afternoon before the day of their departure we were all in the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the biruni of His house. As the Master entered the room Aqa Siyyid 'Ali-Akbar approached Him and whispered a few words to Him; the Master replied in a rather harsh tone of voice and in the following words: "What question? What answer? We are not an ecclesiastical authority; We have not put forth any claims; We have neither advanced a claim to the office of prophet hood nor that of Imamate-why should any questions be brought to Us? I am but a servant among Bahá'u'lláh's multitude of servants and I serve the cause of humanity through His message of love and brotherhood. If Mirza Hasan has any questions, he can refer them to the many scholars, doctors of religious jurisprudence, men of learning and teachers of religion who are in the business of solving abstruse problems and complicated questions. We have no claim to the possession of any special knowledge or erudition, why should he bother with us!" While 'Abdu'l-Bahá was speaking with such intensity and emotion, I looked round and located Mirza Hasan standing on the far side of the flowerbed, his head low, looking meek and bowing incessantly. I was perplexed. I told myself, this unfortunate, miserable man is leaving the fountainhead of bounty and generosity without taking the smallest share and without achieving his goal. This blessed Being, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, whose breast has been the target of painful darts of the enemy, has withheld His blessing from this unfortunate man. I thought that the action of 'Abdu'l-Bahá must have been prompted by a wisdom the nature of which I was unable to grasp. In the morning, the Egyptian travellers were summoned to the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá for the exchange of farewells. On his return from the farewell session, Mirza Hasan could hardly contain his joy and kept telling us of his many plans for what he would do once he was back in Egypt. Again I asked him what, if anything, 'Abdu'l-Bahá had said to him. The whole group unanimously answered, "Nothing". As they

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prepared to leave, suddenly 'Abdu'l-Bahá's messenger, looking exhausted and out of breath, rushed in. Mirza Hasan had been summoned by 'Abdu'l-Bahá At this news Mirza Hasan dashed out in a state of euphoria. After about thirty minutes he returned beaming with joy: "'Abdu'l-Bahá has commanded me to teach the Faith in Egypt!", he said, his face radiant and filled with emotion. Praised be God, we have seen all sorts of strange things and have invoked the name of the "transformer of hearts" in prayer; now we await the result of this latest transformation. At last the travellers left. A week later we received the news that Mirza Hasan had confronted his patrons and sponsors and had staunchly defended the Faith of God, presenting conclusive proofs and convincing evidence in its support. Dear reader, this is not the end of this story, which will be continued later. However, you should know that the telling of this story in Tehran guided one of the most eminent and high-ranking Muslim clerics to accept the Faith and eventually distinguish himself in rendering great service to the Cause of God. That is when I finally understood the true meaning of this event. I shall tell that story later. Be patient.


This account has distracted me from pursuing the events associated with as previously described, although the fire of this rebellion was dormant, yet its menacing smoke stung the eye of friend and foe alike as 'Abdu'l-Bahá endeavoured mightily to extinguish its emerging blaze. While due to the relaxation of certain restrictions on the Master the door of reunion was not entirely closed to us as had been over the previous few days, yet all additional applications for pilgrimage from the friends in foreign lands were being denied. 'Abdu'l-Bahá repeatedly told us, "This land is in turmoil." Gradually, and according to His instructions, His foreign correspondence was reduced and my translation work declined notably. He had instructed that letters from the West

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should no longer be forwarded from Port Said but were to be retained there until further notice. The volume of correspondence from Iran, too, was reduced and the pilgrims one by one received their notices to depart. At all times His words pertained to the rebellion of the Covenant-breakers, the general social disorder in 'Akka and a host of other problems which He felt made it necessary for as few of the friends as possible to remain in His care. He even encouraged the resident friends to leave the city and relieve the overcrowding of the believers in 'Akka. In the meantime, news was being received that clearing Customs in Istanbul, Beirut and some of the frontier locations was becoming more and more troublesome for the friends, as they were being regularly searched for written materials. This was convincing proof that the actions of the Covenant-breakers and the officials of 'Akka had borne fruit and had reached a much wider circle. At this time the residents of the pilgrim house comprised Mirza Haji 'Abdu'llah Khan, the father-in-law of Varqa the martyr; Mirza Azizu'llah Varqa; Mirza Fadlu'llah, the son of Ashraf; and myself. The local situation, however, was not dire enough in my estimation to require my departure from 'Akka. But then, I had not received any intimation from the Master one way or another. One day as I, along with a group of the resident believers, was having a joyful time in the pilgrim house, the 'Angel of Death" suddenly arrived carrying 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instruction for the departure of the whole lot of us. We had a week's notice. I could hardly believe this frightful message about myself, but its accuracy was soon confirmed. Petrified, I hurried to the presence of the Beloved to present my case. I argued, "Since I have no responsibilities or attachments in this world, I had thought that I would always remain at this threshold, especially since this was my father's wish and desire. " With a world of love, compassion and gentleness, He said, "Very well then, you must stay here with us."

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My happiness knew no bounds as I ran back to the pilgrim house in a state of utter delirium. I rushed in and announced that I had dodged the Angel of Death and gained new life. That night, however, sleep abandoned me. I wondered why I had not simply obeyed the will of the Master. I remembered my father's repeated advice on the subject of obedience and what I had heard of similar situations in the time of Bahá'u'lláh. I came to the conclusion that I had erred and that I should strive to completely eliminate any trace of my own will. Next afternoon, I found my opportunity to be in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's presence as we walked in the empty streets of 'Akka. I bared my heart. "May my life be a sacrifice for You, last night horrible thoughts kept me awake all night. I was frightened by the thought that I had been disobedient and that your loving permission for me to stay was the result of my presumptuous behaviour, my impertinent and bold plea to remain here, and that I would soon taste the bitter penalty of regret and remorse." The ocean of love and compassion surged. "God forbid, God forbid, this was my will. Be assured. There is no remorse in anything except breaking the Covenant of God. Ask whatever you desire, for that shall be my will and my desire. Be at peace." The following two or three days were spent in joy and peace. But terrible news kept pouring in from various parts of Iran, Egypt and India. The writings of the Covenant-breakers had shaken the Cause of God in all parts of the world. Sedition and turmoil were evident everywhere. Hardly a day went by without the receipt of sorrowful and depressing news from various points around the globe. The followers of Yahya had found a fresh opportunity to join forces with the Covenant-breakers to conspire and plot. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was quite distressed and broken-hearted. His pen was never still. Although the upheaval in AWL had dissipated somewhat and the friends were able to attain the presence of the Master regularly, yet the effect on the person of 'Abdu'l-Bahá of the pain associated with the severity of the incoming

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news was beyond description. And because of it He repeatedly mentioned and even emphasized to the friends the advantages and benefits of departing from 'Akka and travelling to other destinations, even those in close proximity to the town. 'Abdu'l-Bahá explained that if the believers would disperse, even for a short time, He would be better able to defend the Faith against the onslaught of the government officials, especially those who would arrive later from Istanbul to investigate the recent events. Furthermore, since the friends were either immigrants or prisoners, if they left immediately they would not be held responsible for anything, and if they travelled to Iran, India, Egypt or Russia and described their observations and experiences of the events in 'Akka, the accusations and calumnies of the Covenant-breakers would cease to further weaken the faith and resolve of the believers in those areas. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had made the same remarks to us before the incident of Mirza Aqa Jan, and He now repeated them with emphasis and urgency. At times He gave examples. Since the Turks were then fighting the Greeks, 'Abdu'l-Bahá said, "Sultan 'Abdu'l-Hamid pays a great deal more attention to his generals in the field than to his ministers and courtiers who mill around at Court. He continually reinforces and arms those in the field, where a single soldier is more valuable and worthy than this minister or that director who is near him and away from the action. In the Faith of God the same logic applies. The hosts of the Kingdom always accompany those who are engaged in the field of service and sacrifice, and I too accompany them in spirit and pray continually for their success." In short, He frequently gave such examples and repeatedly emphasized this principle. These words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá created such excitement in my heart that I sent a message to Him announcing my readiness, if He deemed me worthy, to perform any required service at whatever destination that He wished. His response was that I should depart for other destinations even if only for three months, and then return. I was thrilled with such glad

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tidings, and so the next time I attained His presence I enquired, "I await your command; in which direction do you wish me to embark?" After showering me again with many tender expressions of His love and kindness, He said, "Whichever destination you choose will serve the purpose." "I have no will or desire of my own," I explained, to which He responded, "Go, meditate, and choose." Returning almost immediately, I submitted a note expressing my inability to decide, and that my mind commanded me to "place my affairs in God's hands, as He is well aware of His servant's condition". When He had read the note, a number of people including non-Bahá'ís being present, He adorned my head with the crown of honour and glory, picking up His pen and, while repeating words of praise and admiration revealing in the margin of my note a Tablet which also contained a powerful prayer: "O thou who art enkindled by the fire which blazes in the tree of the Covenant! Arise and like a flame of fire ignite the horizons of the world. Depart towards other destinations and immerse thyself in every sea. Drink from every soft-flowing and pristine fountain, raise the cup of the Covenant and quell the schemes of the heedless ones..."{68}

Straight away I returned to the pilgrim house and handed my passport to the servant to obtain the necessary signature. But where to, no one knew. I asked him to enquire the destination of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Master indicated that I should travel with the three pilgrims bound for Iran. That night my passport was ready and next morning, after observing the rites of pilgrimage at the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, we attained the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He imparted to us heavenly counsel and words of wisdom. As we said our farewells, each of us in his own way expressed sentiments of deep devotion and utter servitude to the threshold of the Master. We then returned to the pilgrim house and said our goodbyes to a group of friends present while two porters carried our luggage out. As we started down the steps, a messenger suddenly

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rushed in bringing heavenly tidings: "The Master instructs that Jinab-i-Khan is to stay."

What wonderful news! My spirit soared. Leaving my luggage at the pilgrim house I accompanied the travellers to the city gate; on my return I proceeded straight to the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. 'Abdu'l-Bahá arrived at the same time. When I attained His presence, He said: "Jinab-i-Khan, you have been left alone!"-to which I responded, "May my life be sacrificed for you:

Each member of the circle of the friends left for a destination, Except I and the thought of you for each have found a home in the other "

Around noontime I returned to the pilgrim house where I greeted and renewed my acquaintance with the illustrious Zayn and the honored Mishkin Qalam, almost as though I had left for Iran and had just returned. From that time I began a solitary life in the pilgrim house, where the simple broth cooked with that same wheat which we had sifted while singing and chanting gave me strength of body and soul. But I had nothing to do all day, for there were no pilgrims and all correspondence with the West had been suspended. Afternoons were spent in taking leisurely strolls in the Firdaws and Ridvan Gardens, and evenings in attaining the presence of the Master. In other words, I had developed into one of the lazy and unproductive members of the group resident in 'Akka. This went on for ten or twelve days. One afternoon I was in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's biruni when suddenly the Master arrived. Addressing me He said, "Jinab-i-Khan, tomorrow you will be on your way." I was so shocked that for a moment I was unable to find my wits. He looked at my confused face and smilingly said, "Well?" I struggled to speak. "You had not mentioned anything about leaving," I said. "I wrote the letters you asked for." "What else do you want?" 'Abdu'l-Bahá replied.

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"I want I began, but tears started to stream down my face. "You know the conditions here," said the Master. "I want you to leave in the same joy with which you came." Then He asked me, "Laugh". As I struggled to find humour in the midst of heartbreak, He suddenly said rather loudly, "Come on, man, laugh!" The sound of my laughter filled the room. He began His slow climb up the stairs as He repeated the words, "Marhaba, Marhaba!" [Well done, well done], approving my joyful reaction to that heart-rending news. This joy remained with me until three or four months later in Tehran when I awakened from that spiritual dream, but I shall describe the details of that later. That same day I packed my luggage again. Next morning I observed the rites of pilgrimage at the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, gazed at His blessed portrait, and in the afternoon received the Master's summons for a farewell meeting. As I approached the entrance, I could hear 'Abdu'l-Bahá's voice, intense, shrill and indignant. I stood there, quite shaken at the turn of events. I asked the illustrious Afnan what had happened. He said that upsetting messages from the Covenant-breakers had been brought in by some of the women. At last 'Abdu'l-Bahá stepped into the biruni reception room; seeing me standing there He said, "Jinab-i-Khan, you see what they are doing to Me. When you arrive in Iran, speak openly of all that you have seen here. I concealed their actions and intentions. But you are to openly reveal all." He then handed me a large envelope, which I was to deliver to someone in Istanbul, and gave me much instruction regarding that mission. I understood that the suspension Of my recent instruction to depart from the Holy Land had been brought about so that I might undertake this particular mission. In short, the many blessings that were bestowed upon me by the Master at that meeting were beyond words. I only know that in a state of joy and ecstasy I asked God to assist

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me, unworthy as I was, to serve the Faith of God in such a way that I might merit His love and generosity.

The story of the package and my mission

When 'Abdu'l-Bahá handed me the package, He repeatedly emphasized its significance and how it should be closely guarded. I was instructed not to part with it at any time and therefore not to pack it in my suitcase, but to keep it on my person at all times. As soon as I was dismissed from His presence and went down the stairs, the illustrious Afnan again brought a message from 'Abdu'l-Bahá instructing me to purchase a carrying bag for the package once I reached Beirut. I was to keep the bag concealed underneath my clothes and make sure that it was not stolen. Soon the importance of the package became very clear to me. That night I arrived at the house of the late Haji Siyyid Taqi Manshadi in Haifa. When I told him the story of the package, he became very concerned and informed me that in Beirut and Istanbul the Ottoman officials were examining and inspecting all written materials. He suggested, therefore, that it would be prudent for me to buy postage stamps, stick them on the package and have it postmarked at the Post Office the next day. At first I accepted this suggestion, but later I concluded that deviation from the instructions of the Master would be a mistake. Furthermore, to make an attempt at any other option was also out of the question, since 'Abdu'l-Bahá had said nothing regarding such an eventuality. Therefore I decided not to take any action, lest I unnecessarily endanger the mission by the possibility of having the package confiscated at the Post Office and in so doing disgrace myself in the eyes of the Master. The following morning, meeting not the slightest difficulty from the officials at Haifa who were friendly towards the Faith, I boarded the ship. But in the afternoon in Beirut we were stopped for inspection. One of the officials, having examined my passport, ordered his assistant to search me carefully, adding, "He is coming from Haifa and 'Akka,

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search his pockets and inside his clothing with great care." I stood there helpless as the second official began to conduct a thorough and rather harsh probe. But what kind of search did in fact take place? He discovered the package immediately, but without so much as a glance at it, and almost mindlessly, handed it back to me as if it had no relevance to the search in progress, and then began a careful and detailed examination of some ready-for-trash pieces of paper which he had found on me. Praised be God, His bounty has such astonishing effects! I pray that I may at all times remain under the shadow of His divine will. In a joyful mood I purchased a bag in Beirut and quickly returned to the ship. Taking the event as a good omen, I became certain that divine assistance would accompany me no matter where I went and that in fact the package was my protector rather than the other way round. On my arrival in Istanbul, they searched my luggage and examined the Tablets I was carrying for some of the friends without any protest, since Iran had been noted as the destination. Then they took me into another room where they carefully conducted a body search. Not only did they check each pocket and inspect each piece of clothing, they even separately examined the lining of each garment. But what do you think they did to the rather large bag that was hanging under my arm? Several times they pushed it aside so that they could reach my shirt pocket, without showing the least curiosity or paying any attention to a bag of that size. I could do nothing but laugh at the poor inspector's obvious deficiency in his powers of sight and touch, as he struggled to find the incriminating evidence that was under his very nose. The ease with which I passed through the Customs inspection filled me with such happiness that I began to jump around in the streets of Istanbul like a child, as I had done in the streets of 'Akka. Next day, with divine assistance and as I had desired, I completed my mission and prepared for the last leg of my journey back to Iran. But the road to Russia was

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closed. For about forty days, a few friends and I made every effort to leave, both in Istanbul and in Trebizond. At last the road was opened and we continued our journey. In Tbilisi we were once more received by the Ahmadov brothers, who showed us much love and hospitality. We quickly passed through Badkubih and visited the friends in Anzali, Rasht and Qazvin; finally, having said goodbye to my companions as they proceeded on their way to their own destinations, I reached Tehran alone.


Tehran in those times was, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá used to say, the centre of tests and difficulties and the hub of sedition and conspiracy. The Old Hyena, who had been rejected by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and was regarded by the faithful as a despicable figure, had lost his influence and power, and old age had dissipated his skill in both words and action. And yet he and his cronies still lost no opportunity to find, confuse and dishearten the new believers. As I have stated previously, since the excitement and devotion that had been generated in the hearts of the friends had accelerated the teaching work, the enemies of the Faith under the direction of the Covenant-breakers of 'Akka were, in response, busy planning and plotting in every corner. While open Bahá'í firesides and confidentially arranged introductory meetings were being held on a regular basis both at fixed locations as well as on a rotating basis at different homes, the evil ones nevertheless lost no opportunity to present themselves at these meetings in order to create, in whatever manner possible, doubt and suspicion in the hearts of the listeners. In other words, the same tricks and deceptions prevalent in 'Akka had now infected Tehran. Their purpose in creating doubt and suspicion, in trivializing the divine verses and resorting to abstract and vague arguments in support of their views, was to create disunity among the believers and, as had

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happened in past religions, to break the Faith into separate sects based on varied perceptions of religious leadership and authority. The Covenant-breakers felt that in so doing they would emerge as a separate and yet legitimate faction of the Faith with a leadership all their own. In other words, in order to satisfy their unscrupulous ambitions and corrupt inclinations, they intended to splinter a theophany for the sake of which many a lover of the Abha Beauty had accepted all manner of sacrifice and martyrdom. After arriving in Tehran I spent some two months visiting the friends and speaking at various gatherings. I then applied to be reinstated at the bank. However, since I had resigned from my position twice before, my application was rejected. But those same angels of bounty, who had saved my life when I was on my way to Istanbul and helped me to complete my mission of delivering 'Abdu'l-Bahá's package, again came to my aid and before I knew it I was sitting at my desk in my office at the bank, pen in hand. As I sat there reflecting on my recent experiences, I realized that I had been away from this bank for nine months and that three of those months had been spent in a dream-like state. Wonder, joy and inspiration at what I had seen lingered in my mind and soul. From that time on I established a fireside, open to all, in my home, the spiritual effects of which brought my heart and soul indescribable joy.

The story continued

In all the meetings and gatherings of the friends, the story of Mirza Aqa Jan's rebellion was a subject of conversation for a time. Sometimes I felt that the information I had shared with them was received differently by different friends. Some had already heard stories that were completely untrue. It became clear that unknown sources were spreading false information, and so I recounted to them everything that I had seen with my own eyes. These eyewitness accounts helped many of the

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friends to discover the falseness of what they had heard and to see the truth. And yet I wondered to myself if the wisdom would ever be demonstrated to me of the Master's insistence that I should actually witness with my own eyes Mirza Aqa Jan's signature and the seal on that document on that fateful day. One day an old friend whose purity of heart and devotion to the Faith was exemplary came for a visit. Two years earlier, it had been our intention to journey to 'Akka together, but the emergence of certain difficulties had prevented me from accompanying him and so he had completed his pilgrimage before I set out on mine. In describing my journey, I gave him an account of the many difficulties and dangers I had experienced on my way to Istanbul and my subsequent joyful times in 'Akka. I then related the story of Mirza Aqa Jan. He immediately protested, voicing the view that the hatred and enmity that some of the believers felt for Mirza Aqa Jan had prompted them to forge that infamous document in his name, and that in fact it was they who had spread those lies and accusations to defame and denigrate him. At this I became outraged, and recounted my personal observations with much emotion. But I soon realized that his mind was made up and that there was nothing I could do to change it. Again I repeated for him the events as I had witnessed them, and when I mentioned the fact that I had actually seen the document bearing the signature and the seal of Mirza Aqa Jan with my own eyes, he cut me short and asked whether I had actually witnessed the signature myself or had merely heard about it from others. When I assured him of the sincerity of my statement in having seen the document, he was astonished. He said: "If the heavenly angels had related that story I would not have believed them. But since you tell me this from your personal experience, I must accept it, and I am grateful to you for having set the matter straight and my mind at rest." In return I thanked him for his understanding and acceptance, and my peace of mind, and recounted the story to him again. I should mention here that this person was none other

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than Muhammad-Ja'far Mirza, one of the most respected members of the Bahá'í community of Tehran.

Allah'u'Abha / Allah'u'A'zam

In those years all sorts of rumours, gossip and generally loose talk abounded in the Bahá'í communities all over Iran. Since Local Spiritual Assemblies had not yet been established on a formal and continuing basis, the trouble-makers and Covenant-breakers sat in wait for such opportunities; as soon as some news reached them they concocted all sorts of stories, spread them far and wide, and created a furor. For example, Faezeh Khanum, a Bahá'í lady who had just returned from her pilgrimage, recounted the story that one day while she was in the presence of the Master, 'Abdu'l-Bahá had stated that today was not a day for idleness and passivity; today was the Most Great Day [A'zam] and therefore it was the time to raise the call of "Allah'u'A'zam" [God, the Most Great]. Once the mischief-makers in Tehran heard this news, they raised the cry, "Woe betide us, calamity has befallen us," and spread the rumour that the followers of the Most Great Branch had destroyed the name of Baha and would soon destroy the Faith of Baha.{69}

In response to this horrible accusation, a few of the believers who were known for their hot tempers and rash behaviour actually adopted the new greeting just to spite the enemies of the Faith. Others, with cooler heads, maintained the original greeting and thus this conflict created great upheaval and disunity among the friends.

Numerous letters of protest and complaint were sent to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Since the individuals on both sides of the argument were among the faithful and steadfast believers, both sides therefore received 'Abdu'l-Bahá's bestowals of kindness and generosity. The Master explained that in the ministry of the blessed Bab four greetings had been enjoined: "Allah'u'Abha", "Allah'u'A'zam", "Allah'u'Ajmal" and "Allah'u'Akbar".{70} In the days of the Blessed Beauty, however,

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because of the Greatest Name Bahá'u'lláh the greeting "Allah'u'Abha" became common.

While such Tablets from the Master increased the devotion, longing and spiritual attraction of the friends, they still did not resolve the problem at hand. The faithful believers, to spite the Covenant-breakers, insisted that since "now is the time of the dawn of the beauty of the sun of the Greatest Branch, therefore Allah'u'A'zam is the better and the more relevant greeting". In short, the dispute became more and more intense with every passing day and lasted some nine months. At last, both groups together pleaded with 'Abdu'l-Bahá to confirm one greeting explicitly so that unity and joy might again return to the hearts of the friends. Praised be the Lord, a clear response affirming the use of "Allah'u'Abha" as a greeting was revealed from the pen of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Peace, joy, and love returned and the gatherings and meetings of the believers were reconvened with contentment and unity The Covenant-breakers were defeated, rejected and mocked. The Old Hyena was utterly abased and before long became housebound. His son Hubb'u'llah made a short-lived attempt to provoke conflict and trouble among the friends, but soon he too met his end and the Faith of God was finally cleansed from the corruption of such creatures; and the period of the seditious activities of the Covenant-breakers in Tehran came to an end.

The effect of the story of Aqa Mirza Hasan

The very first day that I established my fireside and openly invited the public to attend, I received a Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Bahá with the following opening words:

If thou longest to become the recipient of ceaseless divine confirmations, then array the seekers, prepare the battalions of the lovers of truth and then assault the legions of ignorance and superstition. {71}

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This created a great tumult in Tehran; various groups came together with the intent of creating mischief and disrupting the meetings. For some time they camped around my house with lanterns and torches, ready to attack the house. However, the necessary steps for my safety and security had been taken. It was in these days that the late Mirza 'Abdu'llah, a music teacher, sent me a message through the late Dr. Arastu Khan Hakim informing me that he had been holding fireside meetings with a distinguished Muslim cleric and felt that my presence would be of benefit. I could hardly believe that a music teacher, and a former court musician of Nasiri'd-Din Shah, who obviously would have been a man of various indulgences and pleasures, could possibly have discovered the truth of the Faith and had even been teaching an erudite Muslim scholar.{72}

The divine secret yet undisclosed by the lover and the faithful - Whom, I wonder, did the wine seller hear it from?

In any case, I accepted the invitation with pleasure, but felt that I should get to know the musical Mirza better. I hastened to meet him. He was an old man with a radiant face who had accepted the Faith in his youth but had since concealed it. His acquaintance brought much excitement and delight to my heart, especially when he played a lovely tune on his instrument afterwards. We agreed to hold the fireside meeting two days later at the seeker's house. In those days, when superstition and vain imaginings prevailed in the ranks of Islamic clerics even more than now, a young man like myself, regardless of his cleverness or zeal, could not hope to confront a veteran Muslim scholar with any degree of effectiveness. So I told myself, "Rely upon God, go and proclaim the truth."

Hafiz, offering up a prayer is your duty, but no more, Not yours to wonder if He has heard it or not.

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On the appointed day Mirza 'Abdu'llah and I met the Aqa. He was a well-mannered, courteous and dignified man with fine features and a large turban, seated on a simple couch. We sat across from him and after some preliminary small talk and the usual drinking of tea, began to speak about the Faith.

His questions had mostly to do with the apparent conflict between the Bab's expressions of servitude on one hand, and His subsequent claim to the station of divinity and prophet hood on the other, as recorded in the Bayan and others of His Tablets. Of course, responding to such questions was rather simple since similar questions and arguments raised against Islam had been answered, especially in the writings of Imam 'Ali. After we had quickly passed through this subject, discussion was focused on certain Islamic Traditions. The clergyman stated: "You Bahá'ís usually resort to four Traditions to prove your case, whereas I know some four thousand Traditions by heart, all of which disprove your claim. How can I, who wear the crown of Islam and am seated on this throne, wearing the mantle of religious authority, sacrifice four thousand Traditions which I have committed to memory with great difficulty, to just four of yours?" He expressed this sentiment with great emotional intensity. At that moment we heard a knock at the door. The servant answered the door and we heard him disappoint the caller by informing him that the "Aqa" was not at home. At that very same moment a little child, crawling one moment and walking the next, entered the room laughing. The conversation continued, however. In response to the Aqa I put forth this argument: "Normally evidence is offered in proof of a claim; evidence disproving it can never be conclusive. For example, in your Faith, if someone claims to have left a trust with someone and a witness affirms such a claim and another witness supports that argument, the issue is considered proven.{73} However, what could witnesses who propose to negate the argument resort to in order to prove their point? just now, there was a knock at the door and your servant presented himself as a

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negative witness (that Aqa is not home). Now if this child here, who lacks the qualifications of a witness, were to call out that the Aqa is in fact at home and someone else corroborated that statement and subsequently became supported by a second witness, could the contrary view of the servant still prevail? As you know, thousands of people have sacrificed their lives to witness to the truth of those four Traditions. In Islam, Salman was the first Persian supporting witness and many Abu'l-Hikams were opposing witnesses. Who was eventually proven right?"{74}

I too set forth my arguments with great fervour and emotion. The Aqa reflected for a few moments.

"Well," he said, "let us pass over these arguments, for I have heard similar contentions before, but I don't doubt your honesty or the sincerity of your beliefs. I wish to know, since you have attained the presence of the Aqa [i.e. the Master], what have you brought back with you, what did you see with your own eyes and what did you hear with your own ears?"

I was adamant. "If you expect me to talk of miracles, I have nothing further to say and I ask God for forgiveness," I replied. But he indicated that he simply wanted to hear some of my observations and experiences. As I began to relate my recollections, I suddenly remembered the case of Aqa Mirza Hasan and described the circumstances of his pilgrimage in far more detail than is narrated in these pages. Gradually, I noticed a change in Aqa's demeanour; now he listened in a state of humility and with great attention. As I told the story I noted signs of emotion in his face and before the story was completed he suddenly prostrated himself, set his forehead to the ground, said a few Arabic words in thanksgiving to the Lord, and then began to weep loudly. He wept so intensely that we began to cry too, and then he raised his head and replaced his turban-which had fallen off-and as tears rolled down his flushed face said, "I know what was in the depth of Mirza Hasan's heart and the significance of the truth that he discovered." Then he gave an account of the unity and solidarity of

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the various far-flung Arab tribes and how at first they had asked the Prophet Muhammad for a miracle to prove the truth of His revelation, and afterwards in a combative stance had challenged him to a Muhahalih.{75} The heads of the tribes had met, consulted, agreed on certain conditions and devised a plan of approach. But on the very day of the Muhahalih the Prophet had appeared with such power and authority that all their agreements were abandoned as they fled the scene, frightened and defeated, while some accepted the Faith of God and became believers. This event, in fact, was far greater and much more meaningful than all the miracles that they had asked for at the beginning of the Faith. In short, he related this story in great detail and then offered his own belief and devotion to the Cause of the Blessed Beauty. Truly, this was one of the happy days of this servant's life. That day we made appointments for future meetings, embraced each other in joy and love, and left his house. I don't know what magic was latent in that story which transformed the Aqa and infused the spirit of faith and devotion into his being-a devotion so intense that the moment he raised his head from the ground he became a fully-fledged teacher of the Cause, and while citing all of those Traditions, fables and historical accounts of past ages, reconfirmed the verities of the Faith to me. From that day, all his hours and minutes were spent in study, reflection and contemplation of the divine verses, as well as teaching the Faith. Before long he surpassed all his colleagues in the teaching efforts. At first he began to teach the clerics, and then gradually he removed the veil, resigned his position and became the speaker at my public fireside. Soon his conversion became the talk of town and he became renowned for his devotion to the new Faith, as well as for the power and eloquence of his utterance.

The Old Hyena limped his way to him and made an attempt to mislead him. After much discussion, he was reduced to silence. To the Aqa's question as to why he had

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deviated from the verse "turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed"', {76} the Old Hyena answered that in matters of religion he had been given the freedom to act as he wished. The Aqa replied, "I have perused that particular verse in the Kitab-i-Aqdas where it is written: 'We find some men desiring liberty and priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance'." And then he added, "O Shaykh, 'know ye that the embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal'."{77}

In brief, the Aqa had heard the call of the new Faith in Hamadan when he occupied an exalted position in the Muslim clerical hierarchy, but had not accepted it. And although Mr. Arjmand and other Bahá'í teachers had presented him with irrefutable proofs, yet he had wandered in the vales of confusion and uncertainty while in Tehran. Until suddenly the veil of ignorance was lifted and the Holy Spirit penetrated the heart of Haji Aqa Sadru'l-'ulama, who was later honoured by the pen of 'Abdu'l-Bahá with the title of Sadru's-Sudur. And now, to adorn these pages, and also to complete the first part of this book, one of the Tablets revealed from the miraculous pen of the Covenant in his honour is reproduced below for the honourable reader. I pray that the divine utterances of 'Abdu'l-Bahá may attract the manifold blessings of God, enabling me to complete the remaining portions of this book in such a way as may be worthy of attention in the eyes of the friends of God.

He is God! O thou who art enkindled by the fire of the love Of God that burns in the Sinai of hearts! I convey to thee my praise and salutations from the holy vale, Mount Sinai, the blessed and snow-white spot and I say unto thee, praise be upon thee, praise be upon thee for having entered under the shadow of the divine Lote Tree which has appeared out of this Holy Land and has spread its shadows over all horizons. Tidings of joy be upon thee for having passed through this

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sanctified Spot and beheld the fire which has ignited thy being through its heat and guided thy steps through its light. Therefore, adorned with the white hand of divine knowledge, cast down the rod of celestial dominion and transform it into the serpent of power and might. Verily this hand is the hand of the power of the Compassionate One and the serpent is its clear evidence and proof Both shall be thy aid and assistance in all the worlds and the Holy Spirit shall also confirm thee through its power and sovereignty. Glory be upon those who art steadfast, staunch and firm and those who raise the call of God, for verily they are the true guides for the people of the world.{78}

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