Deviations of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali (3)
6-WT What deviation can be more glaring than spreading
broadcast false and foolish reports touching the Temple of God's
Although Mirza Muhammad-'Ali often remained secluded in the Mansion of Bahji, he used to employ the services of his aides quite effectively in creating mischief for 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Whenever he met the Bahá'ís, he would behave like a most loyal believer in Bahá'u'lláh, feigning meekness and pretending that he had been wronged after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh. At the same time, he was engaged in a campaign of undermining the foundation of the Cause. We recall the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the opening paragraph of His Will and Testament referring to 'the onslaught of the company of Covenant-breakers, that have threatened to subvert His Divine Edifice'.
In the 'Infernal Letters' that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali published among the friends, he appeared to be defending the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh. But when addressing the public who were unaware of the real situation, he did not shrink from attacking the Centre of the Covenant and misrepresenting every truth enshrined in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. He even went so far as to say that his father was merely a retiring holy man who believed in Sunni Islam! The following is but one out of many examples of his public attacks on the Faith:
After the defection of Mirza Aqa Jan, Bahá'u'lláh's amanuensis,[*] Mirza Muhammad-'Ali drew up an official indictment against 'Abdu'l-Bahá replete with preposterous accusations. He did this with the help of Tabur Aqasi, the chief of police, whom he had bribed heavily. The case was taken to a court in 'Akka; 'there were five main complaints lodged by the sons of Bahá'u'lláh against 'Abdu'l-Bahá. They claimed that:
[* For more information, see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, chapter 15]
Bahá'u'lláh was only a holy man who did not claim to be a
prophet. He had spent His time in seclusion, prayer and meditation,
whereas 'Abdu'l-Bahá for political ends exalted the
station of His father to that of a Supreme Manifestation of God
and of the Essence of Divinity.
'Abdu'l-Bahá did not deal with them in accordance with the
provisions of Bahá'u'lláh's Will and Testament.
They had been deprived of their right to inherit a vast estate
left behind by their father, Bahá'u'lláh.
None of the gifts or funds sent in the name of Bahá'u'lláh were
given to them.
'Abdu'l-Bahá had caused thousands of their friends in Persia
and India to turn against them and shun their company.
Such reckless action by members of Bahá'u'lláh's family against the Cause which they privately claimed to uphold, whose Author they knew was not just a 'holy man' but One who had proclaimed His mission to the kings and rulers of the world as the Promised One of all ages, exposes the hypocrisy of the Covenant-breakers, their treachery and their utter faithlessness. These characteristics are true of the Covenant-breakers of the past, present and future. Cut off from the tree of the Cause, they are devoid of faith and spiritual life. They never shirk from employing any means, however degrading and nefarious, to undermine the foundations of the Cause and rob the believers of their faith.
In taking his case to court, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali never imagined that in the defence of the Cause 'Abdu'l-Bahá would go so far as to read aloud the contents of the Kitab-i-'Ahd, Bahá'u'lláh's Will and Testament, in the courtroom. By reading parts of this momentous document, 'Abdu'l-Bahá made it clear that the station of Bahá'u'lláh was not merely that of a 'holy man' who spent His time in prayer and meditation. Rather, He was the Lord of all men calling the peoples of the world to carry out His teachings and exhorting them to unity and fellowship.
It is reported that in the presence of the officials, 'Abdu'l-Bahá openly declared His own position as the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, the Promoter of His Cause and the Interpreter of His teachings, the One to whom the Aghsan, the Afnan, the kindred of Bahá'u'lláh and all the believers must turn. He explained that since the Covenant-breakers had arisen against Him they had violated the provisions of Bahá'u'lláh's Will, and consequently the believers had cut off their relationship with them. He is reported to have told the officials that for four years He had not disclosed their rebellion to the believers but that the Covenant-breakers themselves had announced to the Bahá'í world their opposition to Him and had thereby cut themselves off from the Bahá'í community.
'Abdu'l-Bahá refuted the other claims of His brothers just as forcefully. Quoting the Kitab-i-'Ahd, He demonstrated that they were not entitled to receive any of the funds of the Faith which were donated by the believers, for Bahá'u'lláh in that document states 'God hath not granted them any right to the property of others'. On the question of inheritance, 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that Bahá'u'lláh had lived a life of austerity and had left no estate for anyone to inherit. He is reported to have quoted the celebrated passage from the Kitab-i-'Ahd, 'Earthly treasures We have not bequeathed, nor have We added such cares as they entail. By God! in earthly riches fear is hidden and peril is concealed.'
[185 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, p. 222.]
[186 ibid. p. 219. (Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets.)]
However, 'Abdu'l-Bahá confirmed that there were two priceless items in Bahá'u'lláh's possession — one a rare copy of the Qur'an and the other a set of prayer beads — and that both these items of inestimable value had been seen by a few dignitaries of 'Akka. These unique possessions of Bahá'u'lláh had been taken by Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and were kept by him. These and other personal effects of Bahá'u'lláh, such as His garments, had been distributed by him to various officials to serve as chattels of bribery and to provide a means of humiliating 'Abdu'l-Bahá. For Mirza Muhammad-'Ali knew that the Master considered Bahá'u'lláh's personal belongings to be sacred and that they should be preserved with reverence. Therefore, in order to hurt 'Abdu'l-Bahá he gave Bahá'u'lláh's prayer beads to one of the enemies of the Faith and persuaded him to try to show them to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. It is reported that one day this man showed the beads to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and asked Him if He could put a price on them, to which 'Abdu'l-Bahá responded that their value depended on who was using them.
The episode of the court case was widely publicized. Once again the Covenant-breakers were frustrated in their actions as they failed to humiliate the Master. On another occasion Mirza Muhammad-'Ali gave Bahá'u'lláh's cloak and a pair of His spectacles to the deputy governor of Haifa as a bribe and urged him to wear them when he visited the Master. This he did, appearing before 'Abdu'l-Bahá brazenly spectacled and wearing Bahá'u'lláh's cloak. Soon afterwards, however, this man was dismissed from his post and met with misfortune. He then went to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, begged forgiveness for his shameful behaviour and confessed that he had been urged by Mirza Muhammad-'Ali to act as he had. 'Abdu'l-Bahá showered him with kindness and generosity and helped him to resolve his difficulties. This was always 'Abdu'l-Bahá's way — to extend a helping hand with all His love to those enemies who had wronged Him and inflicted sufferings upon Him. In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá further states:
6-WT What deviation can be more odious than his iniquity and
rebellion! What deviation can be more shameful than dispersing
the gathering of the people of salvation!
This is a reference to a temporary breach in the ranks of the believers caused by Mirza Muhammad-'Ali. We have discussed in chapter 13 the manner in which Mirza Muhammad-'Ali tried to establish a following for himself among the believers in the East. Through his main agents, such as Jamal-i-Burujirdi, Siyyid Mihdi Dahaji and Jalil-i-Khu'i, he made every endeavour to split the community of the Most Great Name. Although for a short while he created some controversy among certain believers, as already stated, he failed miserably in his efforts. Cleansed from the pollution of Covenant-breaking, the community emerged much stronger than before.
Mirza Muhammad-'Ali also spread his wings over North America, in the following manner: Around the turn of the century the Covenant-breakers became frustrated, for they found themselves impotent to arrest the progress of the Cause of God. The news of the expansion of the Faith, especially the conversion of a number of souls in the West, caused the fire of jealousy to burn more fiercely within their breasts. In December 1898 the first party of Western pilgrims arrived in the Holy Land and attained the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. For the first time these newly enrolled believers came into contact with the magnetic personality of the Master. They felt the warmth of His genuine love and compassion and saw the light of divine spirit shining from His countenance.
During their short visit these pilgrims became galvanized by the soul-stirring words of the Master. They were utterly devoted to Him and longed to serve Him and the Cause He represented with unflinching faithfulness. These souls showed such radiance and heavenly joy as a result of meeting 'Abdu'l-Bahá that the Covenant-beakers became inflamed with rage and envy; their gloom and disappointment knew no bounds. It became imperative for them to counteract these developments and to devise a plan to impede the progress of the Cause in the West. At last Mirza Muhammad-'Ali discovered a means whereby he could attempt to disrupt the unity of the believers in America.
Among the party from the West that came to visit the Master was Ibrahim Khayru'llah, a Lebanese Christian who had embraced the Cause in Egypt during Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime and had moved to the United States in 1892. Two years later he had succeeded in converting Thornton Chase, the first Western Christian to embrace the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. The Master referred to Khayru'llah as 'Baha's Peter'. Over the next few years Khayru'llah taught the Faith in various parts of the United States and was the only teacher to whom the believers could turn for enlightenment in that vast country.
During the time that Khayru'llah was loyal to 'Abdu'l-Bahá he succeeded in converting a number of people to the Faith. In one of his letters to the Master he expressed profound loyalty to Him and gave the news of these conversions. The following is a translation of this letter, which he wrote in 1897:
To the sacred court of my Master and the Master of the entire
world ... may my soul be a sacrifice unto the dust of His pathway:
After offering obedience and servitude unto the sacred threshold
of my Master I beg to state that the believers in these regions and
I greet the morn immersed in the sea of your bounties, and meet
the night with the grace of your mercy which encompasses the East
and the West of the earth, because you have turned unto them and
unto me the glances of your favour. You have revealed of divine
verses three Tablets: one for the believers in America, one for
Antun Effendi Haddad, and the last one for your servant, who
forever and ever, lowly and poor, awaits the generous dispensations
of his bountiful Lord... Enclosed with this petition are
seventy-four petitions from those who have recently come into the
Faith of God, and shall soon send other petitions. Seekers who wish
to hear the Word of God and come into the knowledge of truth
arrive in large numbers...
[187 Quoted in Balyuzi, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, pp. 271-2.]
But here is an example of how pride and ambition can extinguish the fire of faith which burns in the heart of a believer. There is nothing more vital for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh who becomes successful in teaching the Cause than genuine humility, utter self-effacement and complete servitude towards the loved ones of God. But alas, Khayru'llah was vain and egotistical. As the years went by and he saw the fruit of his teaching work multiply, he became proud and entertained the thought of dividing the Bahá'í world into two parts, he becoming the leader of the Bahá'ís of the West and 'Abdu'l-Bahá of the East!
While nurturing these selfish ambitions in his heart, he arrived in 'Akka and met the Master for the first time. He felt His majesty and authority as well as His love and compassion. For a short while Khayru'llah showed his subordination to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who one day took him to Mount Carmel and there laid the foundation stone of the mausoleum of the Bab on the site purchased by Him and chosen by Bahá'u'lláh Himself.
In the meantime, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali had discovered in Khayru'llah signs of ambition and egotism which he exploited to the full. Soon a clandestine relationship was established between the two and Khayru'llah became a tool in Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's hands. He joined the infamous band of Covenant-breakers, rose up in opposition to 'Abdu'l-Bahá disseminated his misgivings among the friends and published far and wide some of his own ideas. His defection brought great tests for the believers in the West but the vast majority of the American Bahá'ís remained faithful to the Cause. In order to further his aim of creating division within the community, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali sent Shu'a'u'llah, his son, to the United States to strengthen the hand of Khayru'llah.
The news of Khayru'llah's defection brought sorrow to the heart of 'Abdu'l-Bahá who tried to save him as he was heading towards his spiritual downfall. In 1901 the Master asked 'Abdu'l-Karim-i-Tihrani, a merchant from Cairo who had taught the Faith to Khayru'llah, to go to the United States especially to make this faltering soul realize the error of his ways. When his mission failed, that same year 'Abdu'l-Bahá sent Haji Mirza Hasan-i-Khurasani for the same purpose. He also could not help. When Haji Mirza Hasan returned, Mirza Asadu'llah-i-Isfahani was dispatched to the United States. He had previously been commissioned by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to transport the remains of the Bab to the Holy Land, a task which he had carried out with great success. He had a link with the Holy Family since he had married a sister of Munirih Khanum, the wife of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Although he tried to help Khayru'llah remain faithful to the Covenant, sadly, a few years later, he himself and his son Dr Farid (Fareed) likewise became Covenant-breakers.
In spite of all Khayru'llah's attempts to mislead those he had earlier helped to embrace the Faith, he did not succeed in doing so. Only a small number of people gathered around him. He thus created a temporary division but the situation quickly changed. As in Persia, the believers remained loyal to the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh and thereafter refused to associate with their teacher. This can be credited to a great extent to the arrival in the United States of the celebrated Bahá'í scholar Mirza Abu'l-Fadl in 1901. The visit of this eminent teacher, undertaken at the behest of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, lasted for about two years. During this period, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl dedicated himself fully to the task of deepening the believers in the verities of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. He spent many hours, day and night, discussing various aspects of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, its history, its teachings, its laws and its Covenant, which he pointed out was the guarantor of the unity of the community. In the course of these discussions he was able to clarify those subjects which had hitherto been obscure to the
American Bahá'ís. In this he was assisted by Ali Kuli Khan, who acted as his interpreter. Thus, as a result of Mirza Abu'l-Fadl's teaching work, the believers in America became filled with the spirit of faith and vitality and many among them were transformed into spiritual giants of this Dispensation.
Khayru'llah, who craved power and continued to struggle to become the leader of the Bahá'í community in the West, was continually urged by the Arch-breaker of the Covenant to foment discord and contention among the believers, and the efforts of prominent Bahá'í teachers to purify his heart and mind from the poison of Covenant-breaking failed. 'Abdu'l-Bahá expelled him from the community and commented that as a result of his violation of the Covenant he would be reckoned as dead and that soon the repugnant odour of his deeds would repel people everywhere. In 1917 Khayru'llah wrote a letter to Professor Edward Browne of Cambridge University which is indicative of his despair:
The Bahá'í movement in America became slow and dull since the
sad dissension reached the West nineteen years ago. I thought then
that to call the people to this Great Truth was equivalent to inviting
them into a quarrel. But the visit of 'Abbas Effendi 'Abdu'l-Bahá
to this country, his false teachings, his misrepresentation of
Bahá'ísm, his dissimulation, and the knowledge that his end is
nigh, amused me to rise up for helping the work of God, declaring
the Truth, and refuting the false attacks of theologians and missionaries.
Now I am struggling hard to vivify the Cause of God,
after its having received by the visit of 'Abbas Effendi a death-blow.
[188 Quoted in Browne, Materials, p. 171.]
Reference has been made in previous chapters to Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's iniquity and rebellion — a rebellion unprecedented in the annals of religion because the greatness of the Cause has brought similarly great opposition. Dr Yunis Khan states in his memoirs that on one occasion, towards the end of 1904, when a few pilgrims were seated in His presence, 'Abdu'l-Bahá described His suffering at the hands of the Covenant-breakers. The stories He recounted were so heart-rending that all who heard Him were deeply distressed. At this point Dr Khan asked the Master to tell him how long these Covenant-breakers would continue to oppose Him. 'Abdu'l-Bahá is reported to have said that in four years' time they would become impotent to act against Him. This prophecy was fulfilled in 1909 when, as a result of the 'Young Turk' Revolution, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was freed from 40 years of imprisonment, the Cause of God made remarkable progress in the East and the West and the Covenant-breakers crept back into their abodes of ignominy and defeat. In that same gathering in 1904
'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that whereas in the future some vestige would remain of Mirza Yahya's followers in the world, no trace would be left of these Covenant-breakers in the Holy Land, and this is the case today.
In one of His talks the Master is reported to have said that God always assisted the Covenant-breakers during His ministry and enabled them to make every possible breach in the stronghold of the Cause so that the Master might stop them all and ensure that others in the future would not succeed.
As the years went by, the Message of Bahá'u'lláh spread throughout the United States and Canada. It reached the continent of Europe, where a nucleus of Bahá'í communities was established in several countries including Britain, France and Germany. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá was freed from His 40-year confinement He travelled to the West and openly proclaimed the Message of Bahá'u'lláh to the people of Europe and America. So powerful was the influence He exerted on the hearts of the people that great numbers flocked to churches and public halls to see Him and to hear Him speak. The believers in the West who came into contact with 'Abdu'l-Bahá were transformed spiritually and magnetized by His all-encompassing love. He laid such a solid foundation, especially in North America, that a few years later He conferred upon that community a measure of primacy in the execution of His Tablets of the Divine Plan, a series of 14 Tablets addressed to the North American believers, which constitute a charter for the teaching work throughout the world.