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notes by Juan Cole

Bahá'ulláh's Tablet of Fuad (1869)


Juan R. I. Cole

      The Tablet of Fuad was written to commemorate the death of Kecicizade Fuad Páshá in Nice of heart trouble, in February, 1869. Therefore it was presumably penned in late winter or early spring of that year, during Bahá'u'lláh's close confinement in the fortress of Acre (Akká). Fuad Páshá was the son of a famed poet, and he himself studied medicine. Although Fuad Páshá is presented in this tablet as a despot, he is remembered in Turkish historiography rather as a reformer. Born in Istanbul in 1815, he was among the foremost planners and implementers of the Tanzimat or reorganization of the Ottoman administration in the nineteenth century so as to bring it closer to modern Western standards. Because of his fluent French, he was able to enter and rise high in the foreign ministry. In 1840 he was first secretary of the Ottoman Embassy in England.

      He had other diplomatic postings, then rose to become minister of foreign affairs in 1852-53 and at the end of the Crimean war in 1855-1856. Fuad Páshá had been instrumental in creating the secular conception of "Ottomanism" as the basis for a political loyalty for all subjects of the Sultán.[1] He had a role in the issuing of the Reform Decree of 1856 that:
laid more stress on the full equality of the Sultán's non-Muslim subjects and abolished the civil power of the heads of the various Christian communities. Churches were henceforth to be governed by synods of the clergy in co-operation with national councils of the laity. Full liberty of conscience was guaranteed and all civil offices were declared open to all Ottoman subjects without distinction. Non-Muslims were made technically eligible for military service but were given the option of buying their exemption. Torture was prohibited and prison reform promised.[2]

These reforms moved the Ottoman state away from an Islamic foundation and toward a secular one. He was active in educational and language reform, again arguing for a more Western approach, and helped write the first modern Ottoman Turkish grammar in that language. He headed the Ottoman investigation of the anti-Christian riots in Damascus of 1860, which had threatened to bring European intervention, and was widely recognized to have carried it out in a just way.

He had some prominent Muslims executed for their role in the affair, which was unheard-of in an Ottoman context, and reflected the values of the 1856 Reform Decree that granted Christians and Jews equal status with Muslims in the Empire.

      On 25 June, 1861, AbdulAzíz succeeded to the Ottoman throne in the wake of the death of his brother Abdulmecid. The new Sultán was a great admirer of Western progress, but he did not have a Western education and he remained somewhat religiously conservative and open to the blandishments of soothsayers. AbdžlAzíz belonged to the Mevlevi order of Sufi mystics, which especially honors Jalalu'd-Din Rumi. Upon AbdulAzíz's accession to the throne in 1861, he made Fuad Páshá his grand vizier for one year; Fuad served again in that post 1863-1867. Of Fuad, Davison writes that he was a convinced westernizer. He worked on many of the reforms of the later Tanzimat period. He may have favoured representative government, though he was in no hurry to achieve it. His main objective was preservation of the Ottoman Empire through diplomacy and reform. He loved high office, but was not so jealous and grudging as 'Ali, and rather bolder in innovation. His honesty has been impugned, especially as regards gifts from Ismá'íl [Páshá of Egypt] . . .[3]

      Fuad Páshá was intimately involved in decisions affecting Bahá'u'lláh. He was grand vizier in 1863 when Bahá'u'lláh was brought from Baghdad to Istanbul, presumably to remove him from close proximity to his followers in Iran and also to investigate whether Babism under his leadership might be politically useful to the Ottomans in the relations with Iran. (In this regard the summoning of Bahá'u'lláh to Istanbul prefigures Abdulhamid II's attempt to use Iranians such as Sayyid Jamálu'd-Din al-Afghani and Mírzá Áqá Khán Kirmani for political purposes vis-a-vis Iran during his campaign for pan-Islam during the 1880s and 1890s). Fuad Páshá must certainly have taken the decision to rusticate Bahá'u'lláh to Edirne (Adrianople) in November of 1863. He was also involved, as grand vizier and then foreign minister, in making the decision to send Bahá'u'lláh to Acre nearly five years later. As a defender of the more secular values of the Tanzimat reforms, Fuad Páshá was probably suspicious (as we know his colleague Mehmet Emin Alí Páshá was) of Babism as an old-style theocratic Mahdist movement that attacked modernity. In 1866 Alí Páshá told the Austrian ambassador in Istanbul that Bahá'u'lláh, then in exile in Edirne, was "a man of great distinction, exemplary conduct, great moderation, and a most dignified figure" and spoke of Babism as "a doctrine which is worthy of high esteem."[4] He went on to say, however, that he still found the religion politically unacceptable because it refused to recognize a separation of religious and temporal authority. From the reformers' point of view a messianic movement such as Babism, whatever its virtues, threatened the achievements of the Tanzimat by seeking to put all authority, religious and secular, back in the hands of a charismatic spiritual leader. I would argue that, ironically, Bahá'u'lláh was moving away from a theocratic model toward one that acknowledged the autonomy of the civil state, and that there was a convergence between his thought and the Tanzimat that, tragically, the Ottoman state was unable to grasp because of Babism's previous reputation as a vehicle for radical theocracy.

      Around the fall of 1867, Bahá'u'lláh in Edirne wrote a letter (The Tablet of the Kings or Súrat al-Mulúk) apostrophizing the world's rulers, in which he addressed Ottoman cabinet officials and to Sultán AbdulAzíz. Bahá'u'lláh therein disavows any theocratic or mahdist pretensions, denying that he wishes to lay hold on the worldly possessions of these high officials, and insisting that he is not in rebellion against the Ottoman Sultán. He does say that Sultán AbdulAzíz should be grateful to God for having made him "Sultán of the Muslims," and calls him the "shadow of God on earth."[5] He thus underlines that the civil state derives its ultimate authority from God, but that Bahá'u'lláh's coming does not challenge in any way its authority, since he wishes only to give ethical and spiritual counsel.

      We do not know if the Tablet to the Kings actually was sent to the Sublime Porte, though that seems likely. Its attempt at conciliation, in any case, failed. By spring of 1868 Sultán AbdulAzíz and his cabinet, in reaction to AzAlí complaints and the importuning of the Iranian ambassador, had decided to exile Bahá'u'lláh and his companions from Edirne to Acre. Grand Vizier or First Minister Alí Páshá and Foreign Minister Fuad Páshá were intimately involved in this decision, which had implications for the Ottoman Empire's relations with Iran and also had the potential to raise protests from the European ambassadors concerned about freedom of conscience. But the motives for taking this step among the high Ottoman elite probably differed. Fuad and Alí could have cared less about Islamic orthodoxy, but they wanted to please Iran for reasons of Realpolitik. Ironically, they may also have worried about the Bábís as Muslim critics of their autocracy. The Islamic backlash against the secularizing Tanzimat reforms had taken two forms. One was the reactionary critique by the conservative Ottoman Muslim clergy (ulema), which had been implicated in the 1858 Kuleli revolt against the Westernizing government. Many of Bahá'u'lláh's statements in his letters to the Ottoman state, calling it back to God, and critiquing its secularizing principles, could have been read as belonging in this reactionary tradition. The other Islamic response was that of the Young Ottomans, a society founded in 1865, who combined an interest in Islamic mysticism and culture with an Ottoman nationalism and a commitment to parliamentary governance and civil rights. Many of these individuals were government translators and had a good knowledge of European languages and of the Enlightenment tradition of thinking about government and rights. One of these was named Sadik [Sadiq] Effendi, and he almost certainly met Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá in the fortress of Acre (Akká). Serif Mardin notes,
"Sariyerli Hoca Sadik Effendi . . . incurred the disfavor of the Porte [Ottoman Sultán] because he mentioned the evils of oppression in his sermons. Because of these sermons Sadik Effendi was accused of favoring the Young Ottomans and was exiled to [Akká,] Syria.

"A contemporary French periodical made the following comment on this banishment: 'It is not only among the Christian populations that reigns at this moment a lively and deep-seated agitation. This is much more prevalent among the Moslem populations . . . The discontent of the Moslems is mostly evidenced by the daring shown in religious publications against the governments of Alí and Fuad Páshá . . . Ulamas who were delivering sermons on the Ramazan . . . in the presence of the Sultán have dared state to his face that he would lose his empire and his people.' After having described the saintliness of Sadik Effendi, the author of the article added: `Such is the man that the government of Alí Páshá has just arrested and interned at the fortress of St. John of Acre. For he preached in Istanbul [the merits of] democracy, liberty, equality, brotherhood between all men, be they Christian or Moslem, Greek or Ottoman." (Mardin, p. 224).

      This fascinating glimpse into the cultural and political situation of the Ottoman empire in 1868 provides obvious further context to Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of Fuad. It suggests, for one thing, that predictions of the Sultán's downfall, such as Bahá'u'lláh made in that Tablet, were not unusual but rather were commonplaces of the religious discourse of the time. Second, it shows how a mosque preacher at the time might get enough Western education to be considered a member of the effendi (Westernized secretary) class, and how such men were mixing an Islamic critique of what they saw as Fuad and Ali's extreme Westernization with an Enlightenment critique of their top-down, highly authoritarian approach to government. I suppose there is a parallel between the `republicanism' of these Muslim Young Ottomans and the similar pro-republican stance that the American Baptists took during the 1776 revolution. Third, and most suggestive of all, the French periodical describing Sadik Effendi's exile to the Fortress of Akká is dated Feb. 28, 1869!! It seems to me almost certain that he interacted with the Bahá'ís also imprisoned in the fortress, and while Bahá'u'lláh had his own reasons to condemn Fuad Páshá, his likely dialogue with Young Ottoman thought of the time is probably part of the picture. Note that at that moment, Young Ottomans like Namik Kemal were in exile in London, calling for British-style parliamentary governance in the Ottoman empire, and that Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet to Queen Victoria, written in Akká sometime 1868-1869 also did. It is not impossible, in fact, that Sadik Effendi was able surreptitiously to correspond with other Young Ottomans who reported developments to him.

      Bahá'u'lláh's support for "consultative" (mushawarah) government and complaints about the lack of due process accorded him and his followers also bore some resemblance to these progressive Muslim reformers, some of whom were already in exile in 1867. It is clear that Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá later conducted an extensive correspondence with the Young Ottomans, and this acquaintance began at the very least with Sadik Effendi early in 1869, and it is not impossible that they already had contacts with Young Ottoman sympathizers in Edirne. In any case, Alí and Fuad saw the Bábís as a political nuisance, far too Islamic and far too dissatisfied with the authoritarian Tanzimat status quo to be trusted.

      On the other hand, Sultán AbdulAzíz, a superstitious, authoritarian and conservative leader, may have genuinely worried about Babism as a heresy. In his firman to the governor of Acre, the Sultán wrote in summer, 1868:
Mírzá Husayn 'Alí and a group of his companions have been sentenced to life imprisonment in the fortress of Akká. When they have arrived at that fortress and been delivered into your custody, incarcerate them within the fortress for the rest of their lives. Institute complete surveillance over them, to ensure that they mix socially with no one. Your officials must inspect them with great care, such that they not be allowed to move from place to place. They must remain always under close supervision.[6]

The Ottoman state had clearly decided to silence Bahá'u'lláh for all time, in the most rigorous fashion possible short of actual execution.

      Bahá'u'lláh later often told the story of how on 12 August, 1868, Ottoman soldiers suddenly surrounded him, his family and his companions, and marched them off into a final exile. In a letter (Súrat ar-Ra'ís) written at way-stations on the road to Gallipoli, Bahá'u'lláh addressed the first minister, Alí Páshá, condemning him forcefully and predicting a horrible fate for the Ottoman empire:
The day is approaching when the Land of Mystery [Edirne and Rumelia], and what is beside it shall be changed, and shall pass out of the hands of the king, and commotion shall appear, and the voice of lamentation shall be raised, and the evidences of mischief shall be revealed on all sides, and confusion shall spread by reason of that which hath befallen these captives at the hands of the hosts of oppression. The course of things shall be altered, and conditions shall wax so grievous, that the very sands on the desolate hills will moan, and the trees on the mountain will weep, and blood will flow out of all things. Then wilt thou behold the people in sore distress.[7]

      The imprisonment of Bahá'u'lláh and some 70 other individuals in the fortress at Acre was harsh. They often lacked sufficient food and the water given them was brackish. Three died of malaria or dysentery. Their jailers had strict instructions to keep them from contact with the outside world. Over time, the Bahá'ís developed means local friends and began even winning over the Ottoman troops that guarded them, so that Bahá'u'lláh was able to slip letters out, if only in the hat band of a visiting physician. He expressed understandable outrage and anger at the high Ottoman officials who had banished him without any due process, and the very arduous conditions of his imprisonment do much to help explain the bitterness toward Fuad Páshá visible in the Tablet of Fuad. Clearly, when he heard that Fuad had died in France of heart disease, he felt that this was divine retribution.

      In the wake of the 1876 First Constitutional Revolution against AbdulAzíz, several years later, Bahá'u'lláh explained further concerning the Tablet of Fuad:
This tablet was revealed when Fuad Páshá was the foreign minister of the Ottoman Empire. He had [earlier] returned to his home base, and became the cause of the recent [1876] crisis and of our own exile from Rumelia to Acre. Two individuals were, after the Sultán, supreme chief (Ra'ís-i kull): One was Fuad Páshá and the other was Alí Páshá. Sometimes the one was first minister, and the other foreign minister, and sometimes the other way around. In that tablet (God), may his majesty be gloried, says: "We shall depose the one who was like him and seize their prince, who rules the lands; and I am the glorious, the mighty."[8]

Bahá'u'lláh clearly blamed the autocratic legacy of Fuad and Alí for the revolution of 1876, which deposed the Sultán (who committed suicide) and ushered in the first Ottoman parliament, of which Bahá'u'lláh approved.

      The Tablet of Fuad is addressed to Kazim Samandar of Qazvin, and begins with the letters K.Z., for Kazim, who served as a courier for Bahá'u'lláh, received an early Acre tablet regarding the end of absolute monarchy, and was someone with whom Bahá'u'lláh discussed the reform movement in Iranian politics when he came to Acre. The tablet is in very chaste Arabic, and the version we now have may well have been redacted later on to reflect classical rather than Bábí standards of Arabic grammar and usage; it is certainly much more idiomatic in its Arabic usage than the Tablet to the Kings of only a year and a half before.[9] The tablet begins with the assertion that it is divinely revealed, that its voice derives from a transcendent realm. He advises Samandar not to be like Fuad Páshá, upon whom the good things of life were bestowed, but who proved ungrateful to God for them. He promises that the vengeance of the lord shall be visited upon such persons, and instances Fuad Páshá himself. He depicts the foreign minister as fleeing to France for medical treatment, but finding it incapable of commuting God's death sentence upon him. He is shown finally turning to the divine for assistance, but an angel strikes him on his mouth and cries, "It is too late!" This and other imagined scenes in the tablet play upon Fuad Páshá's support for secularization and Westernization. He is depicted as an unbeliever who attempts to repent only when death comes upon him, and whose death-bed conversion is refused by the celestial powers. He attempts to offer up as a sacrifice his vast wealth and his palaces in Istanbul, but these are not accepted by the angel because of the great wrong Fuad did in exiling the Bahá'ís to the fortress of Acre without any due process — a wrong that has provoked great weeping and lamentation among all the inhabitants of paradise.

      Fuad Páshá, used to commanding men and armies by virtue of his sealed edicts, is depicted as now attempting to issue such an Ottoman-style decree to the angels besetting him, but they simply silence him. Humbled, he asks for time to call his family, but this request, too, is rebuffed. Hellfire itself is cast as one of the dramatis personae, and it now addresses Fuad Páshá, summoning him to itself and identifying him with koranic oppressors such as Nimrod and Pharaoh, who persecuted Abraham and Moses, respectively. Indeed, he is castigated as more despotic than Pharaoh. Bahá'u'lláh shows Fuad Páshá at the moment of his death, at which an angel taunts him that he cannot escape the torments of the inferno. The very hell that the secularist Fuad Páshá had denied now swallows him up.

      Now Bahá'u'lláh turns to a prophecy similar to but more specific than his jeremiads in the Tablet of the Premier (Súrat ar-Ra'ís) addressed to Alí Páshá. Speaking with the voice of God (using the royal "we"), Bahá'u'lláh predicts that Alí Páshá, then grand vizier, will be deposed (the verb is 'azala, which is used of deposing kings). He says, too, that God will "lay hold" (the verb is akhadha, to take, seize) of Sultán AbdulAzíz (he is called amiruhum, literally, "their prince" or "their commander"). Although Bahá'u'lláh was correct that neither of these powerful men had long at the top in 1869, his prophecy, if taken literally, actually reverses their true fates. Alí Páshá was never deposed, but rather died in office in 1871. It was Sultán AbdulAzíz who was deposed, in the Constitutional Revolution of spring, 1876, shortly after which he committed suicide. Obviously, if Bahá'u'lláh had merely meant to predict that eventually these two men would die, then the prophecy was not very remarkable. Rather, he seems to have believed that Alí Páshá would fall from the Sultán's favor, and that some dramatic event would overtake the Sultán. Even contemporaries such as Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, who became a Bahá'í in 1876 on hearing of the Sultán's fall, had demanded that the latter meet some extraordinary fate before he would accept that the prophecy in the Tablet of Fuad had been fulfilled. Taken together with Bahá'u'lláh's prediction in the Tablet of the Premier that turmoil would overtake the Ottoman empire and his advocacy from his early Acre years of parliamentary democracy, he does seem to have been prescient about the imminence of the First Constitutional Revolution. Indeed, the matter of Alí Páshá never being deposed seems minor in comparison.

      It is important to note how political Bahá'u'lláh's statements in this tablet are, and how candidly seditious. Any published or openly circulated criticism of the Sultán and his ministers, who still presided over an absolute monarchy despite their moves toward cabinet government, was strictly forbidden and punishable by death. Had the Tablet to Fuad fallen into Ottoman hands, it could well have led to Bahá'u'lláh's summary execution. As noted above, the only other group that engaged in a similar critique of Fuad Páshá and Alí Páshá, charging them with being overly authoritarian and arguing that the Tanzimat abandonment of spirituality had gone too far, while working for British-style parliamentary governance, was the Young Ottomans (as noted above).(10) This group of intellectuals, many of whom had a Western education and who were well aware of the U.S. Bill of Rights and the French Rights of Man, had a more mainstream political style than did Bahá'u'lláh. But despite his Miltonian imagery, his prophetic rhetorical style, and his Bábí passion, by 1869 Bahá'u'lláh was advocating a political program in the Ottoman Empire and Iran that differed very little from that of Young Ottomans such as Namik Kemal. (In his Tablet to Queen Victoria of 1868 or 1869, he advocated parliamentary rule, another value that was strictly prohibited in Ottoman political discourse). The stark Bahá'í turn to political quietism from the 1930s has resulted in a view of Bahá'u'lláh that reads back into his period the later skittishness about politics, a view made possible only by ignorance of Ottoman imperial policy of the time with regard to politics and censorship. The Tablet of Fuad is as radical a document in its own time as Tom Paine's revolutionary pamphlets were.

      The last part of the Tablet to Fuad appears to contain a condemnation of Mírzá Yahyá Subh-i Azal (d. 1912), Bahá'u'lláh's half-brother and a widely recognized leader of the Bábís, with whom Bahá'u'lláh was in competition for the leadership of the Bábí community. Despite the disadvantages of his confinement in the fortress of Acre, Bahá'u'lláh appears to have been already well on the way to winning over most of the Bábís by his assertion that he was the promised one of the Báb. Finally, there is a passage about God having seized or taken "al-Mahdi." The Mahdi is, of course, the Islamic promised one who is expected to fill the world with justice after it had been filled with injustice. I am not sure whether this is an ironic way of referring one last time to Fuad Páshá, or whether it is the name of an enemy of Bahá'u'lláh's who had recently died. "Mihdí" is a common Iranian personal name. Khazeh Fananapazir has wrote to me that this Mahdi was in fact an Azali, and was the recipient of the Kitáb-i Badí` (The Book of Wonder), Bahá'u'lláh's major apologia to the Bábís. This Mihdí was in the circle of Sayyid Muhammad Isfahani, and had written a fierce denunciation of Bahá'u'lláh.

      The Tablet of Fuad was called by Baron Rosen a "victory hymn" in celebration of an enemy's death. This is an apt description, but this short piece is much more than that. It condemns the autocratic leadership style of the Tanzimat men, with their vision of modernization dictated from above. It playfully pokes fun at their increasing secularization by depicting one of them at the gates of hell surrounded by vengeful angels, who strike him down for his impudence, taunt him for his unbelief and his despotic deeds, and unceremoniously dump him into the inferno. Fuad Páshá is lambasted as more of a tyrant than Pharaoh, and the entire Ottoman state is thus painted with the same brush. The issues of rights and due process are also key to this tablet. Fuad's crime is to condemn the Bahá'ís to imprisonment without proof of any wrongdoing on their part. Because of their iniquity and despotism, the top three officers of the Ottoman state are here consigned to unpleasant ends. Fuad Páshá suddenly dies at a relatively young 53 or 54, far from home and from his loved ones. The deposition of Alí Páshá is predicted. And it is said that God would lay hold upon the Sultán. The correspondence between their mistreatment of Bahá'u'lláh and his companions and their actual or predicted fates posited in this tablet recalls the conviction among Sufi leaders that the fates of kings and dynasties depend upon how well they treat the mystic masters, and, of course, it echoes the sermons and newspaper articles of progressive Muslim Ottoman dissidents who also predicted an early end to the reign of Sultán AbdulAzíz. But in going on to specify actual mechanisms for the redress of such injustices, such as adoption of a rule of law, the safeguarding of individual rights, and parliamentary governance, Bahá'u'lláh makes his jeremiads against the Ottoman pharaohs much more than mere theological gloating, imbuing them instead with importance for the history of thinking about human rights and democracy in the modern Middle East.

  1. Roderic Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1856-1876 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), esp. chapters 2, 3, 4, and 7; and Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1964), chapters 5 and 6.
  2. Robert Devereux, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period: A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1963), p. 23.
  3. Roderic Davison, "Fu'ád Páshá," EI2.
  4. C.S. de Gobineau, ed., Correspondence entre le Comte de Gobineau et le Comte de Prokesch-Osten (1854-76) (Paris, 1933), pp. 288-89; also tr. in Momen, Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, p. 187.
  5. Bahá'u'lláh, "Súrat al-Mulúk," Alvah-i Nazilih khitab bi Mulúk va Ru'asa-yi Ard (Tehran: MMMA, 1968), pp. 17-21, 34-35, 38, 41.
  6. Persian translation from the Ottoman given in Muhammad `Alí Faydi, La'Alí-yi Dirakhshan (Shíráz: n.p, 1967), p. 501.
  7. Bahá'u'lláh, "Lawh ar-Ra'ís," Majmu`ih-yi Matbu`ih, pp. 88-89; trans. Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, The Promised Day is Come, preface Firuz Kazemzadeh (Wilmette, Ill., 1967), p. 62.
  8. Bahá'u'lláh/Mullá `Alí Bajistani, 12 Jumada II 1293/ 6 June 1876, in `Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari, ed., Ma'idih-i Asmani, 9 vols. (Tehran: MMMA, 129/1973), 7:254-255.
  9. Bahá'u'lláh, al-Kitáb al-Mubin [Athar-i Qalam-i A`la vol. 1] (Bombay, n.p., 1890), pp. 210-213.
  10. Serif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962).

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