An 1867 Petition from Bahá'ís in Shushtar, Iran, to the U.S. Congresstranslated by Manuchehr Derakhshani and Nesreen Akhtarkhavari
published in World Order, 37:3, pages 31-38
date of original: 1867
1. Text (see images, below)
Persecution and Protection: Documents about Bahá'ís, 1867, 1897, and 1902
Ever since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century, the Bahá'í Faith has been subjected to attacks conducted largely, though not exclusively, by Muslim clergy. Such attacks invariably include calumnies and falsifications of the history of the Faith. World Order is pleased to present to its readers translations of four documents, one circulated in an early translation on the Internet and three never before published. All of these documents shed light on the attitudes and actions of Bahá'ís more than a century ago.
AN 1867 PETITION FROM BAHA'IS IN SHUSHTAR, IRAN, TO THE U.S. CONGRESSOn March 16, 1867, fifty-three Bahá'ís in Shushtar — a small city in southwestern Iran some 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Ahviz and around 180 miles (300 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad — stamped their personal seals on a petition to the United States Congress in a bold and remarkable effort to ameliorate the imprisonment and exile of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-92), the Founder of their faith. After being forgotten for nearly a century, the petition, written in Arabic, was found in the United States government archives over two decades ago by Roger Dahl, archivist for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States.1 Now World Order is publishing both the original inadequate translation (see pages 35-36) and a new translation prepared by Manuchehr Derakhshani and Nesreen Akhtarkhavari (see pages 37-38).
According to Henry Harris Jessup (1832-1910), a prominent Presbyterian missionary residing in Beirut, a German traveler in Baghdad sent the petition to Beirut with a letter that spoke "admiringly of the reformer [Bahá'u'lláh]" and asking "for his release on the ground of religious liberty which is now granted by the Sultan to all his subjects."2 How the petition traveled from Shushtar to Baghdad is not known; presumably the Bahá'ís thought its delivery to the United States would be more likely if it were routed through Baghdad than through Tehran. Jessup added that a number of other documents accompanied the petition. How Jessup saw the
petition is not known. The German traveler may have sent the package to him or to any of the Americans in Beirut (a small group, mostly missionaries and merchants, who knew each other). The petition may have been Jessup's first encounter with the Bahá'í Faith. Later he wrote a talk, delivered in 1893 at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago by the Reverend George Ford, which was the first major public mention of the Bahá'í Faith in the United States.1
The petition arrived in Beirut on April 3, 1867, and found its way into the hands of J. (Jeremiah) Augustus Johnson, American Consul General in Beirut from 1858 to 1870.4 He had it translated into English. On May 15 Johnson left for the United States for a vacation he had requested several years earlier. After visits to Boston and New York, he forwarded the petition and translation, on July 22, 1867, to William H. Seward, Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson. Accompanying the petition were documents about the legal and financial problems in a colony of American millennialists in Jaffa (near modern-day Tel Aviv), which Johnson had meticulously investigated and described. In his cover letter Johnson asked for time with Seward to discuss the Jaffa colony but said nothing substantive about the petition, which presumably was read and filed in the archives. No action is known to have resulted.
The petition states that the Bahá'ís in Shushtar "wished to write this information to the kings of the governments," raising the possibility that similar petitions (possibly using the same generic language) may eventually be found in other archives.5 The petition's fifty-three signatory seals, presumably representing most or all of the city's active Bahá'í men, suggest a community of one hundred to two hundred. It is unclear from existing records whether the Bahá'ís were taking an independent action or were responding to a directive from Bahá'u'lláh. The petition was produced during a time when Bahá'u'lláh, from his place of exile in Adrianople (modern Edirne, Turkey), was addressing letters to various kings and rulers to proclaim His mission and teachings.6
To build a bridge to, and to find common ground with, its audience in Washington, D.C., the petition begins with a opening paragraph about God's creating, among other things, innate moral principles such as "mercy, friendly admonition, love, and giving solace to people." Then it describes "a perfect man
and a learned sage" who appeared in Persia in 1843.7 It does not state that He was called Bahá'u'lláh, nor does it mention or distinguish Him from the Báb (1819-50), Bahá'u'lláh's forerunner. The summary of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings is perhaps the earliest one from a Bahá'í that we have:
That learned and wise man wrote many books containing the rules of unity of human beings in harmony and love and the way of eliminating differences, hypocrisy, and affectation between them, so that people may unite and agree on one way and walk on the straight and congruent path, and that there should be no aversion or repugnance toward anyone, nor should anyone avoid others, whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, or others.8The use of the word "unity" is particularly striking, as it is generally regarded to be the central teaching of the Bahá'í Faith, and it clearly was understood as such by the Shushtar Bahá'ís in 1867. One is struck by the parallels with Edward Granville Browne's more eloquent summary of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, penned twenty-four years later after an interview with Him in 1891:
We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment . . . That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened: that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled — what harm is there in this? . . . Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the "Most Great Peace" shall come. . . Do not you in Europe need this also? Is not this that which Christ foretold?9The petition then turns to the opposition to Bahá'u'lláh's teachings and to Him, leading to His imprisonment; the massacre of "some thirty thousand" of His followers (presumably a reference to the thousands of Bábís executed in the 1840s and 1850s); and His exiles to Baghdad, Istanbul, and Adrianople. It also notes that there are "some forty thousand individuals in Persia and some other kingdoms who are devotees and followers of the wise man," one of the earliest known estimates of the numbers of Bahá'ís.10 The petition concludes with a simple plea:
If any of you would like to investigate the case of that wise man, let him send a judicious representative to Adirnah [Adrianople, now Edirne] to inquire about that incarcerated wise man so that the truth of His case may became known . . .
Thus it was imperative for us to write and describe for you the facts, praying that God will aid you and grant you victory of the opponents.
The Translation of the Petition Made in 1867
[The following content is also online in original translation and documents.]
I have the honor to enclose herewith a petition, with translation, from a reformed community in Persia, who represent that more than thirty thousand of their body have been massacred by the Persian government, and that about forty thousand remain on the borders of that country. They further represent that their leader is now held a prisoner at Adrianople by the Turkish Authorities at the request of the government of Persia.
They pray for the intercession of the Government of the U. States in behalf of their leader, and for greater toleration in behalf of themselves.
I forward this petition at the urgent request of the leading members of this Persian reformation.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
J. Augustus Johnson
U.S. Consul General
It is well known by all enlightened people, that, the wise learned, those that believe in the Bible, New Testament, Koran, &c. nay, all human beings unanimously believe, that the origin of the world, the stars, the four elements, mines [minerals], Animals and man is one, of which all the creation is benifeted [sic] according to its disposition, aptitude, nature, essence, reason and quality, as declared in the books of all the [religious] communities; also all the inhabitants of the globe unanimously agree upon natural principles, that, intelligence, learning, wisdom, arts and perfection are better then [sic] ignorance, folly, immorality and error, that mercy, admonition, love and tranquillity are better then [sic] hatred, obstinacy, envy, ambition and corruption and that truth, honesty, justice and impartiality are honored more than lying, theft, tyranny and violence as writen [sic] in the moral books of all religions. And no one disagrees on these two points i.e. in acknowledging a creator to the world & the general knowledge of natural principles. The inhabitants of the globe differ on the manner of worshiping & on the individual regulations and customs.
During the year 1843 of the ascension of Christ, a perfect, wise and virtuous man [Bahá'u'lláh] appeared in Persia, he had knowledge of all religions, laws and knew the history of wisemen[,] kings and the rules [sic] of nations; he saw that the people oppose, hate and kill, abstain and avoid to mix with each other.12 Nay, they consider each other unclean, though they are all human beings, having different and numerous religions; and that the people are like unto sheep without a shepherd. That learned and wise man wrote many works containing the rules of union, harmony and love between human beings, and the way of abandoning the differences, untruthfulness, and vexations between them, that people may unite and agree on one way and to walk straight-forwardly in the straight and expedient way, and that no one should avert or religiously abstain from intercourse with another, of Jews, Christians, Mohamedans [sic] and others.
That wise man revealed himself till he appeared like the high sun in mid day. When the Shah of Persia heard of these rules, he feared that his religion will be
disturbed, so he gathered together the learned men of his religion, who saw that their interests will be disturbed and their rules changed, as the public are anxious, desire and are inclined to follow that wise man; [sic] The Shah therefore agreed with his learned men to order the execution of that wise man and his disciples, so they imprisoned the wise man and masscared [sic] about thirty thousand men of his followers, nay more than thirty thousand not saving women nor infants, after that, with the interference of the Consuls of the Powers, not to kill the wise man, they banished him from Persia and plundered his goods, he came to Bagdad, [sic] and the news of his docterine [sic] spread in Irak [sic] and almost all the Arabs and the subjects of the Shah of Persia emigrated from Persia and came & followed the wise man;13 the Shah of Persia was again afraid and beged [sic] the Turkish Government to banish him so it sent him away with his family [and a] few of his friends to Constantinople, and the Turkish Government imprisoned him with his family in a town named Adrinah [sic, Adrianople] without examining the matter nor questioning him about his rules.14
If any of you would like to know the true state of the wise man, let him send a wise commissioner to Adrinah [sic] to enquire [sic] after the state of that imprisoned wise man that his state may be made known. We wished therefore to write this information to the kings of the various Governments in the belief that all Powers need each other and that relations and obligations exist between them, but every Government that has relations with Persia or territorial connection does not take interest in this important matter, and they are all bound with the chains of need.
Consequently we unanimously agreed to report and inform the Congress of the Republic,15 of the state of that wise man, that God may prepare for him relief and acquittal, and that you may help and find out a way to deliver that oppressed person from under tyranny and oppression. Notwithstanding what we have said of the slaughter, imprisonment and plundering the true fact is that there are about forty thousand individuals in Persia & other kingdoms desiring to follow the wise man, but being affraid [sic] of the Governors and Sultans, they dare nor manifest their religion.
It has been of our duty to write & inform you of the facts; praying that God will preserve you and grant you victory over the enemies.
(March 16, 1867)
A New Translation of the 1867 Petition
May the most high God be praised!
It is well known by all wise and enlightened people that the inhabitants of the earth — the wise, the learned, the sage, and those of all nations that believe in the Bible, the New Testament, the Qur'an, etc. — nay, all human beings, unanimously believe that the world and its component parts, the stars, the four elements, the three kingdoms of nature — minerals, animals, and man — are of but one universal origin, and all the creation and its parts benefit according to their disposition, aptitude, nature, essence, reason, and quality from that universal, bountiful source as expounded in the books of all the religious communities. Also, all the inhabitants of the globe unanimously agree upon the innate, moral principles: that intelligence, learning, wisdom, arts, and perfections are better than ignorance, folly, immorality, and error; that mercy, friendly admonition, love, and giving solace to people are better than hatred, obstinacy, jealousy, greed, and corruption; and that truth, honesty, justice, and equity are more noble than lying, theft, injustice, and coercion as written in the books of morals of all religions. And no one disagrees on these two points: acknowledging a creator for the world and a general knowledge of innate moral principles. The inhabitants of the globe differ in their manner of worship and in minor ordinances and religious practices.
During the year 1843 of the ascension of Christ, a perfect man and a learned sage [Bahá'u'lláh] appeared in Persia, Who had knowledge of all religions and revelations and knew the history of wise men and kings and the conditions of nations. He saw that people oppose, hate, and kill one another and avoid, and are wary of, consorting with each other. Nay, some even consider others unclean, although they are all human beings, having many different religions, and they are like unto sheep without a shepherd.
That learned and wise man wrote many books containing the rules of unity of human beings in harmony and love and the way of eliminating differences, hypocrisy, and affectation between them, so that people may unite and agree on one way and walk on the straight and congruent path, and that there should be no aversion or repugnance toward anyone, nor should anyone avoid others, whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, or others.
MANUCHEHR DERAKHSHANI, who was educated in Iran, Great Britain, and the United States, holds a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Utah. Born in Iran, he has lived in Morocco and for many years in the United States.
That wise man revealed His cause till it appeared like the high sun at midday. The Shah of Persia heard of these teachings and feared that his own religion would be disturbed. So he gathered together the learned men of his religion, who saw that their affairs would be disrupted, and their rules changed, as the people were eagerly desirous and inclined to accept the cause of that wise man and to follow Him. The Shah then, with the agreement of his learned men, ordered the execution of that wise man and His disciples. So they imprisoned the wise man and massacred some thirty thousand men of His followers, nay more than thirty thousand, even women and little children. After that, with the opposition of the Consuls of governments to killing the wise man, they banished Him from Persia and plundered His belongings. So He came to Baghdad, and His cause spread in Iraq, and many Arabs and subjects of the Shah of Persia are emigrating and joining the wise man and following Him. Once again the Shah of Persia became afraid and pleaded with the Turkish Ottoman government [to banish him], so He was sent away with His family and a few of His friends and companions to Constantinople, and the Turkish government imprisoned Him with His family in a town named Adirnah [Adrianople, now Edirne] without examining His case and inquiring about His circumstances.
If any of you would like to investigate the case of that wise man, let him send a judicious representative to Adirnah to inquire about that incarcerated wise man so that the truth of His case may become known. We wished to write this information to the kings of the governments, but observed that all governments need each other and that dealings and obligations exist between them; that every government that has relationships, dealings, or common borders with Persia does not take an interest in investigating this important matter; and that they are all bound by the chains of need.
Consequently, we agreed to present and describe the situation of that wise man to the Congress of the Republic that perchance God may grant Him relief and deliverance and that you may render help and find a way to bring that oppressed person relief from tyranny and oppression. Notwithstanding the slaughter, imprisonment, and plundering, at this time there are some forty thousand individuals in Persia and some other kingdoms who are devotees and followers of the wise man, but, being afraid of the Governors and Sultans, they cannot manifest their faith.
Thus it was imperative for us to write and describe for you the facts, praying that God will aid you and grant you victory over the opponents.