Deviations of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali (2)
6-WT What deviation can be greater than calumniating the
Centre of the Covenant himself!
In studying this subject it is helpful to look into the living conditions of the family of Bahá'u'lláh and their attitude towards the Master. As stated in previous chapters, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and His family lived in 'Akka but the rest of Bahá'u'lláh's family resided in the Mansion of Bahji. Only a few rooms on the ground floor were reserved for 'Abdu'l-Bahá's use when He visited and even these were taken over by the Covenant-breakers once their opposition to Him intensified and became public. At that time 'Abdu'l-Bahá took over the rooms, known as the pilgrim house, in the vicinity of the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, for His own use. Here He rested after the fatigue of the journey from 'Akka and received the believers.
The members of Bahá'u'lláh's family who became Covenant-breakers led a very comfortable life in the Mansion of Bahji. During Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime His three sons and His amanuensis Mirza Aqa Jan had hoarded a great many valuable gifts which the believers had presented to Bahá'u'lláh and which He had declined to accept for Himself. He was detached from all earthly possessions, as were 'Abdu'l-Bahá, His mother and His sister, the Greatest Holy Leaf. In contrast, Mirza Aqa Jan and Mirza Muhammad-'Ali coveted these gifts. Consequently they had amassed considerable wealth. Indeed, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and his brothers at one time plotted to kill Mirza Aqa Jan in order to seize his possessions.[*]
[* For details, see Taherzadeh, Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh. chapter 15.]
After the passing of Bahá'u'lláh, the family lived prosperously. 'Abdu'l-Bahá continued for many years to send funds and large supplies of food to the inhabitants of the Mansion — everything needed to make them comfortable. The three brothers, their families and close relatives all enjoyed a life of luxury and leisure. The following is a summary translation of Haji Mirza Haydar-'Ali's remarks on this subject:
All the gifts that the Master received, as well as the funds relating
to the Huququ'llah, He used to send to the Mansion for the
upkeep of the family. Also He had bought for them a number of
horses of the best breed which were kept in the stables at the
Mansion. The Covenant-breakers often spent their time riding
and hunting. When they went to 'Akka, they rode horses[*] flanked
on each side by ten or twelve armed horsemen as guards. In this
way they impressed everyone. They entered the city with a pomp
and grandeur usually reserved for the governor an the chiefs. In
contrast to this, the Master often used to walk and occasionally
rode a donkey as He went alone to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh.
Thus they considered themselves victorious when they reflected
on their outward pomp and glory, while they regarded 'Abdu'l-Bahá'a
lowliness and simplicity as a sign of weakness and defeat...
[* In those days important people rode horses as a sign of their eminence in the community. Ordinary people either walked or rode donkeys.]
The Master had instructed Aqa Faraju'llah, who was His caterer,
to send to the Mansion any amount of food and other supplies
which the Covenant-breakers requested. But they used to demand
five or six times more than their needs. They were determined to
take excessive funds from the Master so as to make Him helpless
and force upon Him the humiliation of borrowing money from the people.
In spite of all this, 'Abdu'l-Bahá ensured that they received
large supplies of food, clothing and other necessities of life.
Moreover, every gift which was sent to Him 'Abdu'l-Bahá would
dispatch to the Mansion and many of the funds which He received
as Huququ'llah were given to them. These manifestations of
generosity and compassion which 'Abdu'l-Bahá showered upon
them in spite of their malevolence were interpreted by them as fear
and helplessness. Consequently the more they received His
gracious gifts and favours, the more haughty they became and
progressively intensified their opposition to His blessed Person.
[181 Haydar-'Ali, Bihjatu's-Sudur, pp. 334-5.]
During the early years of their rebellion, the Covenant-breakers, noticing on the one hand their own prosperity and apparent success in converting a considerable number to their side and on the other 'Abdu'l-Bahá's humility and loving generosity, were convinced that theirs would be a victorious outcome. Dr Yunis Khan recounts:
I heard several times from the Master saying: 'Once I was counseling
Majdu'd-Din and trying to guide him in a spirit of love and
compassion. I admonished him to abandon the path of error
and warned him of the remorseful consequences of his deeds. But
I spoke to him with such fervour that tears came to My eyes. Then
I noticed that upon seeing my emotions, Majdu'd-Din was scornfully
smiling at Me, thinking in his heart how well I had been
defeated! Thereupon I raised my voice at him saying: "O wretched
one! My tears were shed when, out of pity, I reflected upon your
miserable state and not for myself. Did you think I had become
helpless and impotent because of my pleading to you?"'
[182 Yunis Khan, Khatirat-i-Nuh-i-Salih, p. 216.]
'Abdu'l-Bahá's patience and loving-kindness, as demonstrated in this story, were thus interpreted by the Covenant-breakers as weakness. This misconception, coupled with the notion that theirs was a life of prosperity and honour, while 'Abdu'l-Bahá and His family were living an austere life burdened by having to supply the exorbitant expenses they demanded, emboldened the Covenant-breakers to step up their campaign of misrepresentation against 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In this they received encouragement from the enemies of the Faith, as well as from the aides and deputies of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali in Persia.
As Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's campaign to discredit 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the eyes of the Bahá'ís gathered momentum, he began to direct his attention to the non-Bahá'í public, fertile ground for spreading false accusations against Him. It was much easier to poison the minds of those who, although they knew the Master, were not spiritually close to Him. The Covenant-breakers invented several stories of different kinds and began to propagate calumnies against 'Abdu'l-Bahá among influential people who held important positions in 'Akka and neighbouring towns. Thus they completely disregarded the interests of the Faith they claimed to believe in and acted in a manner that clearly demonstrated their disbelief in Bahá'u'lláh and their denunciation of His Cause.
One of the most shameful pieces of propaganda was their accusation that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had cut off their livelihood by withholding funds and provisions to which they were entitled. As Dr Yunis Khan noted, nothing could have been further from the truth. 'Abdu'l-Bahá used to send to Mirza Muhammad-'Ali a great part of the funds which He received from the believers in Persia. He had also made ample arrangements for all members of Bahá'u'lláh's family to receive food and other provisions, amounting to many times more than their needs. Whereas the Master and His family lived a life of austerity, His unfaithful brothers and the rest of Bahá'u'lláh's family lived luxuriously in the Mansion of Bahji. Despite 'Abdu'l-Bahá's solicitude for them, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and his younger brothers used to complain to people that they were destitute and their families on the verge of starvation.
It must be remembered that in all the years that 'Abdu'l-Bahá lived in 'Akka no one except a few enemies had ever doubted His exalted character, His magnanimity, His loving-kindness and generosity towards the inhabitants of the Holy Land in general and 'Akka in particular. He was a compassionate father to all, a refuge to the poor, a true guide to the rich and a wise counsellor to the rulers of the land. But now owing to the falsehoods invented by the Covenant-breakers, people who had hitherto been great admirers of 'Abdu'l-Bahá became confused and, in the course of time when similar accusations were repeated, disillusioned and lost their faith and confidence in Him altogether.
In order to deceive people into believing that he had become destitute, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali used to send his sons, dressed in rags, to the homes of important people where they begged for money. They pretended that they did not have even a loaf of bread in their home and that the whole family was on the verge of starvation. In spite of the fact that they were living a life of luxury owing to the care and protection of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, they accused Him of withholding their source of livelihood. Dr Yunis Khan tells an interesting story, summarized below:
One of the deceitful schemes contrived by Covenant-breakers after
the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh was that, on the one hand, they placed
a great financial burden on 'Abdu'l-Bahá receiving exorbitant
sums of money from Him, and on the other, claimed poverty,
destitution and hunger. At the same time they spread false rumours
among the believers (in Persia) that some of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's
companions had stolen His seals, with which the were issuing
receipts for Huququ'llah [*] and pocketing the proceeds. The Master
often told us that the Covenant-breakers had done this so that the
believers might stop sending funds and cause financial hardship
[* For information about Huququ'llah, see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 4.]
Their claims of poverty however, became so serious ... that
eventually they began to beg. They continued to carry out this
shameful practice of begging from people both high and low, and
consequently they brought about great degradation for the Cause
of God... Whenever they received a gift of money from the Master
they would intensify their begging operation. When the news of
such activities reached 'Abdu'l-Bahá He would usually be overcome
with grief and sorrow. To cite an example:
One afternoon, when a number of visitors and resident believers
had assembled in the Bikini [outer apartment] of the house of
'Abdu'l-Bahá, a certain respectable Shaykh (his name I do not
recall) arrived. He was well known to the Master and trusted by
Him. He was held in high esteem by the people of Syria and
Palestine and was a successful merchant in these regions. Since he
was a pious man, he had been appointed by the Ottoman government
as the Mufti of 'Akka and was a centre of attention to all the
people. He sat next to the Master and after a brief exchange of
greetings he began to convey some information to 'Abdu'l-Bahá
by whispering into His ear.
At this time everyone was silently gazing upon the face of the
Master. His countenance displayed various modes of expression
— anger, astonishment and a mild smile. When the whispering
came to an end, 'Abdu'l-Bahá ... asked the Shaykh to recount his
story to the assembled friends ... which he did in these words: 'A
certain honoured person [one of the dignitaries known to the
Master] came to see me in my office this morning... I noticed he
was very sad and depressed... After much persuasion on my part
he said: "A person ['Abdu'l-Bahá] whom up to now I considered
to be equal to a Prophet of God is, today, in my sight ..." He did
not finish the sentence.
'After much insistence on my part, promising that I should keep
his story confidential, he continued: "Today I met Mirza Muhammad-'Ali.
He complained bitterly about his brother, 'Abbas
Effendi.[*] He told me many stories which deeply surprised and
saddened me... This poor man is now destitute... He is in need
of daily bread. Mirza Muhammad-'Ali told me that his children
were today crying for a piece of bread and he could not provide
for them... I was so shaken and upset hearing Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's
story that I was about to give him some money, but decided
instead to send him some wheat..."
'When his story was finished, not wishing to disclose to my
friend that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali had a credit account with me,
and that I keep his money for him in my bank, I said to him,
"There is no need for you to send wheat or other provisions. Please
go and tell Mirza Muhammad-'Ali that he can come to me for
funds up to a thousand liras." My friend, who did not understand
me, said, "Mirza Muhammad-'Ali is a respectable person, he will
never beg for money."
'Realizing that my friend could not see that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali
had been lying to him, I decided to disclose to him the true
situation. I said to him, "Please go to Mirza Muhammad-'Alf and
tell him that the Shaykh says that he should take a fraction of the
60 liras he received the other day from his office and purchase
some bread for his children." My friend still could not understand.
He said, "If Mirza Muhammad-'Ali had even a piece of bread to
eat, he would not have come to me in such a state of degradation
and humility." At this point I opened my safe and showed him a
cheque which bore Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's signature and which
I had cashed for him only the day before. I said, "Now that you
have seen the cheque with his signature, go and tell Mirza Muhammad-'Ali
that he should be ashamed of himself feigning poverty
and resorting to beggary. Tell him that no one will be deceived by
'Upon seeing the cheque, my friend was stunned. He was
overcome by an inner agitation which showed itself outwardly in
his face. He was so highly disturbed that for a few minutes he
remained speechless. Then, with tears flowing down his face,
he said, "What a fool I have been. I was deceived by this Satan and
uttered some disparaging remarks about my Lord. Now how can
I atone for this transgression?" He then asked me to come here
and beg forgiveness for him, saying "I will go myself later to the
presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and will kiss the hem of His garment."'[*]
[* This action signifies the expression of the utmost humility towards a person.]
Before leaving us, the Shaykh said to 'Abdu'l-Bahá: 'My Lord,
in this world you have no enemy except Your own brother.'
When the Shaykh departed, the Master spoke about the Covenant-breakers
and said that they had girded up their loins for the
extinction of the Cause of God. He spoke in this vein for a short
time and when He saw that the friends were all becoming sad, He
changed the subject and with His soul-stirring utterances, He gave
us the glad-tidings of the ascendancy of the Cause of God in the
future. He categorically stated that ere long these dark clouds would
be dispersed and that the domain of the Covenant-breakers would be
rolled up and assured us that the Cause of God would not become
the plaything of children. He told us to ponder upon the activities
of the Covenant-breakers. Because of their enmity towards Him,
they go through so much degradation and abasement, appear in
the guise of beggars and solicit alms for themselves. Yet they have
achieved nothing except to bring upon themselves further humiliation
[183 ibid. pp. 250-6. (Yunis Khan, Khatirat-i-Nuh-i-Salih.)]
There are many accounts left by 'Abdu'l-Bahá's friends describing similar activities by the Covenant-breakers. Haji 'Ali Yazdi,[**] who was one of the resident Bahá'ís in 'Akka during the days of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá and who lived to serve the Cause of God during Shoghi Effendi's ministry, recounts a similar story. He writes:
[** The paternal uncle of the author. For his life story see Bahá'í World, vol. 9, p. 625.]
One day the Master received from 'Adasiyyih a large quantity of
wheat, the annual income from a certain property [owned by the
Faith]. He sent it all to the Mansion of Bahji but Mirza Muhammad-'Ali
returned it to Him. At the same time, he sent a petition
to the local government complaining that 'Abdu'l-Bahá owed him
his share of the annual income of that same property which he had
earlier refused to accept and pleaded with the authorities to
intervene so that he could remedy a serious shortage of food in his
This ignoble action was so manifestly provocative that even
some of his supporters warned him that government intervention
would harm the Cause. He is reported to have said, 'Which harm
is greater, this one or 'Abdu'l-Bahá's claim that He is a Manifestation
of God, that Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab are His forerunners and
that He is determined to eliminate the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh
and establish instead His own Cause and new teachings?'
This petition was sent purely to humiliate the Master. The
officer in charge sent for 'Abdu'l-Bahá and acquainted Him with
His brother's claim. Whereupon 'Abdu'l-Bahá summoned Aqa Riza
Qannad, who was in charge of His domestic affairs and who in the
presence of the officer produced the books and determined the
full annual income, which amounted to 520 liras. It was further
determined that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's share was only 80 liras.
But 'Abdu'l-Bahá informed the officer that upon getting a receipt
from Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, He would be glad to pay him the full
amount of 520 liras to be transferred to him through the government
officer. A messenger was sent by the officer to inform Mirza Muhammad-'Ali
of the offer and to ask him to sign the document.
A day later, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was again invited to the government
office and handed a receipt, which, although it was issued by Mirza
Muhammad-'Ali, bore a signature which had no resemblance to
his. 'Abdu'l-Bahá refused to accept it and the officer in charge
rebuked the messenger and ordered him to return to Mirza
Muhammad-'Ali and get a genuine signature this time. When the
document arrived a second time 'Abdu'l-Bahá was again invited
to the office. Again it was the same story. The signature was not
genuine. This time the officer became very angry because of Mirza
Muhammad-'Ali's deceitful action. He apologized to 'Abdu'l-Bahá
and offered to sign the receipt himself and send the money to its
recipient — an offer which was accepted by Him.
[184 Memoirs of Haji 'Ali Yazdi.]
All these things were done to inflict humiliation upon the Master and to hurt Him as much as possible. For many years the Covenant-breakers carried out this type of campaign to discredit 'Abdu'l-Bahá, not knowing that falsehood can never survive and that the power of truth will prevail in the end. Of course, the Cause of God was ultimately victorious through the potency of the Covenant, and through their actions the Covenant-breakers extinguished their own spiritual life. But in the meantime, until they finally became impotent, they created a great disturbance within the community.
The accusations against 'Abdu'l-Bahá were numerous and are beyond the scope of this book. Mirza Muhammad-'Ali devised several plots calumniating the Master on various issues. These calumnies turned out to be much more serious with the passage of time; these will be recounted in chapter 22.