Covenant-Breakers Petition Government against 'Abdu'l-Bahá
7-WT A few months ago, in concert with others, he that hath
broken the Covenant, hath prepared a document teeming with
calumny and slander wherein, the Lord forbid, among many
similar slanderous charges, 'Abdu'l-Bahá is deemed a deadly
enemy, the ill-wisher of the Crown. They so perturbed the minds
of the members of the Imperial Government that at last a
Committee of Investigation was sent from the seat of His Majesty's
Government which, violating every rule of justice and equity that
befit His Imperial Majesty, nay, with the most glaring injustice,
proceeded with its investigations. The ill-wishers of the One True
God surrounded them on every side and explained and excessively
enlarged upon the text of the document whilst the (the
members of the Committee) in their turn blindly acquiesced. One
of their many calumnies was that this servant had raised aloft a
banner in this city, had summoned the people together under
it, had established a new sovereignty for himself, had erected
upon Mount Carmel a mighty stronghold, had rallied around him
all the peoples of the land and made them obedient to him, had
caused disruption in the Faith of Islam, had covenanted with the
following of Christ and, God forbid, had purposed to cause the
gravest breach in the mighty power of the Crown. May the Lord
protect us from such atrocious falsehoods!
In part two of the Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, referring to the Covenant-breakers, says:
32-WT And still they rested not, but further strove with
stubbornness, falsehood and slander, with scorn and calumny
to stir up sedition in the midst of the government of this land and
elsewhere, causing them to deem me a sower of sedition and filling
the minds with the things that the ear abhorreth to hear. The
government was thus alarmed, fear fell upon the sovereign, and
the suspicion of the nobility was aroused. Minds were troubled,
affairs were upset, souls were perturbed, the fire of anguish and
sorrow was kindled within the breasts, the Holy Leaves (of the
Household) were convulsed and shaken, their eyes rained with
tears, their signs and lamentations were raised and their hearts
burned within them as they bewailed this wronged servant of Thine,
fallen a victim into the hands of these, his kindred, nay, his very
These two passages tell the story of the most menacing and the most dangerous episode in the life of the Master, during which the Covenant-breakers came very close to fulfilling their aim of eliminating Him. They failed, through an act of Providence which brought in its wake freedom for the Master and an ignominious decline for Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and his henchmen.
As we have already stated, by 1902 pilgrims from the East and the West were attaining the presence of the Master in the Holy Land. As a result of their contact with Him, they were filled with a new divine spirit and returned home illumined, teaching the Cause, inspiring the friends and consolidating the foundations of the Faith. In Persia, a number of the erudite teachers of the Faith defended the Covenant by writing epistles refuting, in compelling terms, the misrepresentations of the Covenant-breakers. Copies of these letters were usually read aloud in the gatherings of the friends in the Holy Land. These activities as well as the onward progress of the Cause aroused the jealousy of the Covenant-breakers who began to take drastic actions against 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The following passage in the Will and Testament describes the extent of their malice and infamous deeds:
5O-WT Thereupon the loved ones of the Lord arose, inspired
with the greatest confidence and constancy and aided by the
power of the Kingdom, by Divine Strength, by heavenly Grace,
by the unfailing help and Celestial Bounty, they withstood the
enemies of the Covenant in well-nigh three score and ten treatises
and supported by conclusive proofs, unmistakable evidences and
clear texts from the Holy Writ, they refuted their scrolls of doubt
and mischief-kindling leaflets. The Centre of Sedition was thus
confounded in his craftiness, afflicted by the wrath of God, sunk
into a degradation and infamy that shall be lasting until the Day
of Doom. Base and wretched is the plight of the people of evil
deeds, they that are in grievous loss!
51-WT And as they lost their cause, grew hopeless in their
efforts against the loved ones of God, saw the Standard of His
Testament waving throughout all regions and witnessed the
power of the Covenant of the Merciful One, the flame of envy so
blazed within them as to be beyond recounting. With the utmost
vigour, exertion, rancour and enmity, they followed another
path, walked in another way, devised another plan: that of
kindling the flame of sedition in the heart of the very government
itself, and thus cause this wronged one, this prisoner to appear
as a mover of strife, inimical to the government and a hater and
opponent of the Crown. Perchance 'Abdu'l-Bahá may be put to
death and his name be made to perish whereby an arena may be
opened unto the enemies of the Covenant wherein they may
advance and spur on their charger, inflict a grievous loss upon
everyone and subvert the very foundations of the edifice of the
Cause of God. For so grievous is the conduct and behaviour of
this false people that they are become even as an axe striking at
the very root of the Blessed Tree. Should they be suffered to
continue they would, in but a few days' time, exterminate the
Cause of God, His Word, and themselves.
These passages refer to the treachery of the Covenant-breakers and their approach to government authorities, misrepresenting the activities of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
The Covenant-breakers continued to spread their malicious propaganda against the Master until the year 1904 when fresh adversities appeared on the horizon. The Covenant-breakers had assiduously plotted until the friendly governor of 'Akka was replaced by one who was hostile to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Mirza Muhammad-'Ali took full advantage of this and stirred up mischief among certain elements of the population who had shown their opposition to the Master. As a result, newspapers in Syria and Egypt wrote disturbing reports about Him and the partisans of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali fanned into flame all the unfounded allegations these articles contained.
The culmination of these activities was reached when the Arch-breaker of the Covenant finally drew up an official indictment against the Master. In it he brought false and outrageous accusations against Him and through bribery gathered a number of signatures from certain inhabitants of 'Akka to support his case. This document was sent to the authorities in Istanbul, the seat of Sultan 'Abdu'l-Hamid, in the hope that the Sultan, who was a despot, might take measures to destroy 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
Soon a Commission of Inquiry arrived in 'Akka. The news spread immediately and agitation seized the inhabitants of the city. Spies were planted in the neighbourhood and the approaches to the house of the Master were watched day and night. For the protection of the Faith and the community, 'Abdu'l-Bahá advised most of the believers to leave 'Akka and seek residence elsewhere. Pilgrimages of the believers were also temporarily halted.
'Abdu'l-Bahá was summoned by the Commission to face charges brought against Him by the violators of the Covenant. He visited the members of the Commission several times and ably refuted the false accusations, disproving each in such a masterly way as to leave no
doubt about their spurious nature. His explanations, delivered with majesty and eloquence, were so convincing that the members of the Commission had no choice but to dismiss the case and return home. Once again Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and his fellow conspirators were frustrated. Their shameful public encounter with the Master brought no benefit to them; instead it cost them large sums of money in bribes.
As 1904 drew to a close, the Master's situation gradually returned to normal and the believers returned to their homes in 'Akka. The years 1905 and 1906 passed without major incident, although 'Abdu'l-Bahá was continually harassed by these enemies of the Faith and had to take appropriate measures to protect the Cause from their various manoeuvres. In the meantime the political situation in the heart of the Ottoman Empire was becoming increasingly unstable and the Sultan correspondingly alarmed. He was known to be nervous of any popular movement in the country and showed himself ruthless in dealing with dissidents.
The Covenant-breakers, who had lost hope of carrying out their evil plots, were heartened by the political situation in Istanbul. They now decided to take advantage of the Sultan's weakness and play on his fears and suspicions. All they had to do was to re-open their case against 'Abdu'l-Bahá and send their complaints to the court of the Sultan. This, their last major onslaught against the Master, proved to be a complete failure.
In their petition, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and his associates reaffirmed their false claim that whereas Bahá'u'lláh was merely a holy man and an admirer of Sunni Islam, 'Abdu'l-Bahá had condemned the Sunni Faith and claimed the station of prophethood for Himself. They also charged that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had not only acquired vast tracts of land in 'Akka and neighbouring villages and had gathered a large following in the Holy Land but that He had also built a mighty fortress on Mount Carmel,[*] had made a banner of 'Ya Baha'u'l-Abha' and raised it among the inhabitants, had received American and other Western military advisers[**] at His home and was about to overthrow the government.
[* This refers to the building of the Shrine of the Bab.]
[** This refers to Western pilgrims.]
Such inflammatory claims, made at a time when the government was apprehensive of revolt by some of the Turkish factions, disturbed the mind of the Sultan, who immediately ordered a new Commission of Inquiry to be despatched to 'Akka. This Commission, consisting of four officials, arrived in the winter of 1907. They had in their possession all the papers relating to the previous Commission of
Inquiry, which had, ironically enough, found all the allegations against 'Abdu'l-Bahá to be baseless.
The Commission assumed full authority in the administration of the city, dismissed the governor of 'Akka who was friendly towards 'Abdu'l-Bahá and even disregarded the orders from the governor of the province of Syria who wielded supreme authority over the region. The members of the Commission then established direct contact with Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and his associates and planned their course of action in concert with them. They took as their residence the house of 'Abdu'l-Ghani Baydun, a wealthy and influential man who was living in close proximity to the Mansion of Bahji and was friendly towards the violators of the Covenant.
Their first act was again to plant a number of spies around the house of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. They then began to obtain testimonies from those enemies who had signed Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's original petition to the authorities. With the assistance of the Covenant-breakers, the members of the Commission even sought to bring pressure upon people to testify against the Master. Through intimidation people were forced to give false testimony, while a local grocer who refused to comply was put in gaol. The inhabitants of the city became afraid to approach the house of the Master, in case they were incriminated by the authorities. Even the poor of 'Akka, whom 'Abdu'l-Bahá had always succoured, did not dare to come in contact with Him.
At one point the members of the Commission paid a visit to Mount Carmel, examined the six-room building of the Shrine, noted its massive walls and commented on its extraordinary strength. Later in their report, they confirmed the Covenant-breakers' allegation that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had indeed built a fortress on a strategic location on the mountain! They also endorsed the other charges brought against Him. Soon rumours began to circulate far and wide that the Commission was about to exile the Master to Fizan in Tripolitania, situated in the middle of the desert in North Africa.
During this period the Master remained unperturbed and confident. He continued to write His Tablets to the Bahá'ís of the East and the West, spent time planting a few trees in His small garden and, to the astonishment of some notables of 'Akka who considered His banishment to be imminent, was seen to be attending to repairs of His rented house. Their surprise was further intensified when they learned that He had bought and stored fuel for the winter.
The members of the Commission, who were actively engaged in preparing their report in collaboration with the Covenant-breakers, sent one of their agents to 'Abdu'l-Bahá inviting Him to meet with them but He declined the invitation, saying that the Commission was
biased against Him and there was no point in meeting with its members. At the same time He made it clear, as on previous occasions, that He was ready to submit Himself to whatever decision they made and reminded them that His greatest ambition was to follow in the footsteps of His Lord the Bab and die a martyr's death.
'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself mentioned this episode in a talk to the friends, recounted as follows:
Upon their arrival, the Commission of Inquiry invited me to meet
with them but I declined. They sent a certain official by the name
of Hikmat Big to persuade me to call on them. This agent begged
me, and even hypocritically brought tears to his eyes, pleading with
me to meet with members of the Commission even for a short time.
I told him that since they had come to investigate accusations
against me, it would be better that I did not meet them. I told him
that they had already sent a report to the capital and I had sent
a letter to Sultan Abdu'l-Hamid through Shaykh Badru'd-Din, the
gist of which was as follows:
'The members of the Commission have come to 'Akka, but I
have not met with them. I understand that they have made a report
in which they have levelled several accusations against me and for
this I am grateful. Their main complaints are as follows:
1. That I have rebelled against the government and established
2. That I have built fortifications on Mount Cannel.
3. That with the help of Mirza Dhikru'llah[*] I have hoisted a banner
with the inscription of 'Ya Baha'u'l-Abha' [O Glory of the Most
Glorious] among the inhabitants including the Bedouins.
[* The son of Mirza Muhammad-Quli, the faithful half-brother of Bahá'u'lláh who remained steadfast in the Covenant after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh.]
4. That two-thirds of the land in 'Akka is owned by me.
The reason that I am grateful to the members of the Commission
for the above accusations is that by their first complaint, they have,
in reality, praised me and attributed great powers to me. How can
a prisoner and an exile establish a new government? Anyone who
could do that deserves to be congratulated.
Similarly, by their second complaint they have also commended
me by ascribing to me extraordinary capabilities. It would be a
miracle for one who is a captive in the hands of the authorities to
build fortifications strong enough to be capable of withstanding
bombardment by powerful naval ships.
But one is surprised by their third complaint, for how is it that
the many government agents posted all over the country have
failed to see the banner which has allegedly been hoisted among
the inhabitants of these lands? Perhaps during the last two years
these officials have been asleep or some angels have blinded their
Concerning the fourth complaint, that I own most of the land
in 'Akka and neighbouring villages, I am willing to sell them all
for the small sum of one thousand liras.'
[196 Translation of Fadil-i-Mazandarani, Asraru'l-Athar, pp. 361-3.]
The ironic language of this letter is indicative of the depravity of those 'Abdu'l-Bahá was addressing. In the meantime, events were moving to a climax in which it was almost certain that 'Abdu'l-Bahá would be exiled or put to death. The atmosphere was becoming more tense with every passing day.
There is an interesting account of an Italian who was Acting Consul for Spain at this time. He was an admirer of the Master and his wife was friendly with the family of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. This man and his relatives were the chief agents of an Italian shipping company. When he was informed that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's life was in danger, he came to the Master in the dead of night and offered to transport Him out of the Holy Land to a safe spot. He even delayed a particular ship's departure for a few days in the hope of rescuing Him. 'Abdu'l-Bahá took the unusual step of inviting some of the elders of the Bahá'í community in 'Akka, including the celebrated Haji Mirza Haydar-'Ali, to consult together and give their opinion on this offer. It is amusing to see how 'Abdu'l-Bahá wanted to test these people and teach them a lesson. The group unanimously decided to advise the Master to accept the offer of the Italian friend and leave the Holy Land for a place of safety. 'Abdu'l-Bahá looked at them disapprovingly and reminded them that running away had never been the practice of the Chosen Ones of God. His Lord the Bab had offered up His life, so how could 'Abdu'l-Bahá do otherwise? As a result of this episode, each one of the group recognized his own shortsightedness and lack of understanding of the spirit of the Faith.
The following passage from the Will and Testament casts further light on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's resignation to the Will of God and His longing to lay down His life in the path of Bahá'u'lláh:
8-WT According to the direct and sacred command ,of God we
are forbidden to utter slander, are commanded to show forth
peace and amity, are exhorted to rectitude of conduct, straightforwardness
and harmony with all the kindreds and peoples of the
world. We must obey and be the well-wishers of the governments
of the land, regard disloyalty unto a just king as disloyalty to God
Himself and wishing evil to the government a transgression of
the Cause of God. With these final and decisive words, how can it
be that these imprisoned ones should indulge in such vain fancies;
incarcerated, how could they show forth such disloyalty! But alas!
The Committee of Investigation hath approved and confirmed
these calumnies of my brother and ill-wishers and submitted them
to the presence of His Majesty the Sovereign. Now at this moment
a fierce storm is raging around this prisoner who awaiteth, be
it favourable or unfavourable, the gracious will of His Majesty,
may the Lord aid him by His grace to be just. In whatsoever condition
he may be, with absolute calm and quietness, 'Abdu'l-Bahá
is ready for self-sacrifice and is wholly resigned and submitted
to His Will.
One wonders what thoughts must have crowded the mind of 'Abdu'l-Bahá during the days that He waited for the Sultan's decree, as He reflected on the adversities which had surmounted Him. How much He must have grieved when He meditated on the unfaithfulness of His brothers and other members of the family who had arisen with all their power to destroy Him and the Cause He represented. The following passage from the Wd and Testament describes the tenderness of His heart during those fate-laden days:
?-WT Lord! Thou seest all things weeping over me and my kindred
rejoicing in my woes. By Thy Glory, O my God! Even amongst
mine enemies, some have lamented my troubles and my distress,
and of the envious ones a number have shed tears because of my
cares, my exile and my afflictions. They did this because they
found naught in me but affection and care and witnessed naught
but kindliness and mercy. As they saw me swept into the flood
of tribulation and adversity and exposed even as a target to the
arrows of fate, their hearts were moved with compassion, tears
came to their eyes and they testified declaring: — 'The Lord is
our witness; naught have we seen from him but faithfulness,
generosity and extreme compassion.' The Covenant-breakers,
foreboders of evil, however, waxed fiercer in their rancour,
rejoiced as I fell a victim to the most grievous ordeal, bestirred
themselves against me and made merry over the heartrending
happenings around me.
When 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote parts two and three of the Will and Testament, great dangers surrounded Him. It appears that as He was writing He was waiting patiently for God's will to be realized. He communed with God and in the prayers He wrote in this period, He revealed the agony of His heart and portrayed the evil machinations of the Covenant-breakers. In these prayers, He expressed His longing to lay down His life as a martyr in the path of Bahá'u'lláh. Those who attained the presence of the Master have left behind many stories of His craving for martyrdom. Whenever He spoke about the
subject, His whole being would be exhilarated, His face radiant and His heart in great excitement.
Dr Yunis Khan describes how 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in the midst of intense suffering at the hands of the Covenant-breakers, earnestly prayed that yet more suffering and hardship might descend upon Him. As tribulations increased, His desire to bear them increased correspondingly. He often used to speak about illustrious martyrs such as Varqa and then, in a joyous and excited tone, He would express His heartfelt desire to lay down His life in the path of Bahá'u'lláh. So moving were His words that all His loved ones who heard Him were overcome with emotion, their souls uplifted and their hearts filled with a new spirit of sacrifice in their readiness to follow in the footsteps of their Beloved.
At the time of greatest danger to His life He revealed a number of moving prayers, such as the following:
30-WT O my Lord, my heart's Desire, Thou Whom I ever
invoke, Thou Who art my Aider and my Shelter, my Helper and
my Refuge! Thou seest me submerged in an ocean of calamities
that overwhelm the soul, of afflictions that oppress the heart, of
woes that disperse Thy gathering, of ills and pains that scatter
Thy flock. Sore trials have compassed me round and perils have
from all sides beset me. Thou seest me immersed in a sea of
unsurpassed tribulation, sunk into a fathomless abyss, afflicted
by mine enemies and consumed with the flame of their hate,
enkindled by my kinsmen with whom Thou didst make Thy
strong Covenant and Thy firm Testament, wherein Thou biddest
them turn their hearts to this wronged one, to keep away from
me the foolish, the unjust, and refer unto this lonely one all that
about which they differ in Thy Holy Book, so that the Truth may
be revealed unto them, their doubts may be dispelled and Thy
manifest Signs be spread abroad.
In the following prayer 'Abdu'l-Bahá dwells on the afflictions He has endured and begs God to relieve Him from His ordeals, beseeching Him to fulfil His heart's desire of laying down His life as a martyr:
44-7-WT O my God! my Beloved, my heart's Desire! Thou
knowest, Thou seest that which hath befallen this servant of
Thine, that hath humbled himself at Thy Door, and Thou
knowest the sins committed against him by the people of malice,
they that have broken Thy Covenant and turned their backs on
Thy Testament. In the day-time they afflicted me with the arrows
of hate and in the night-season they privily conspired to hurt me.
At dawn they committed that which the Celestial Concourse did
lament and at eventide they unsheathed against me the sword
of tyranny and hurled in the presence of the ungodly their darts
of calumny upon me. Notwithstanding their misdeeds, this lowly
servant of Thine was patient and did endure every affliction and
trial at their hands, though by Thy power and might he could
have destroyed their words, quenched their fire and stayed the
flame of their rebelliousness.
Thou seest, O my God! how my long-suffering, my forbearance
and silence have increased their cruelty, their arrogance
and their pride. By Thy Glory, O Beloved One! They have
misbelieved in Thee and rebelled against Thee in such wise that
they left me not a moment of rest and quiet, that I might arise
as it is meet and seemly, to exalt Thy Word amidst mankind, and
might serve at Thy Threshold of Holiness with a heart that
overfloweth with the joy of the dwellers of the Abha Kingdom.
Lord! My cup of woe runneth over, and from all sides blows
are fiercely raging upon me. The darts of affliction have compassed
me round and the arrows of distress have rained upon
me. Thus tribulation overwhelmed me and my strength, because
of the onslaught of the foemen, became weakness within me,
while I stood alone and forsaken in the midst of my woes. Lord!
Have mercy upon me, lift me up unto Thyself and make me to
drink from the Chalice of Martyrdom, for the wide world with
all its vastness can no longer contain me.
Thou art, verily, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Gracious,
10-WT O God, my God! Thou seest this wronged servant of
Thine, held fast in the talons of ferocious lions, of ravening
wolves, of blood-thirsty beasts. Graciously assist me, through my
love for Thee, that I may drink deep of the chalice that brimmeth
over with faithfulness to Thee and is filled with Thy bountiful
Grace; so that, fallen upon the dust, I may sink prostrate and
senseless whilst my vesture is dyed crimson with my blood. This
is my wish, my heart's desire, my hope, my pride, my glory.
Grant, O Lord my God, and my Refuge, that in my last hour, my
end may even as musk shed its fragrance of glory! Is there a
bounty greater than this? Nay, by Thy Glory! I call Thee to
witness that no day passeth but that I quaff my fill from this cup,
so grievous are the misdeeds wrought by them that have broken
the Covenant, kindled discord, showed their malice, stirred
sedition in the land and dishonored Thee amidst Thy servants.
Returning to the subject of the Commission of Inquiry, events were moving to their climax, and one day, late in the afternoon, the members of the Commission boarded their ship in Haifa and headed towards 'Akka. The sun was setting as the ship sailed closer to the prison city. Everyone in Haifa and 'Akka was certain that the ship was on its way to take 'Abdu'l-Bahá on board as a prisoner. In the meantime, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was calmly pacing the yard at His house, and the believers, extremely perturbed, were nervously watching the approaching ship. Suddenly, to their great relief, the ship changed course, headed out to sea and sailed towards Istanbul.
In one of His Tablets 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that at that moment the guns of God went into action, removed the chains from the neck of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and placed them on the neck of 'Abdu'l-Hamid, the Sultan of Turkey. This was a reference to the ultimate fate of the Sultan, who narrowly escaped death when returning from the mosque on a fateful Friday that same year. A bomb which was meant for him exploded, killing and injuring others, and it was this event which prompted the authorities to recall the members of the Commission. Some months later, the 'Young Turk' revolutionaries demanded from the Sultan the release of all political prisoners. This was done, and in the summer of 1908 'Abdu'l-Bahá was freed. Within months the tyrannical Sultan 'Abdu'l-Hamid was deposed. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's freedom after 40 years of imprisonment enabled Him to fulil one of the most important undertakings of His ministry, the interment of the remains of the Bab, the Martyr-Prophet of the Faith, in the Shrine built by the Master on Mount Carmel.[*]
[* For more detailed information on this see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 3, appendix 1; also ibid. vol. 1, p. 268]
'Abdu'l-Bahá's dramatic release from confinement was the greatest blow that the Covenant-breakers had ever sustained in their entire period of opposition to Him. It signalized the approaching end of their satanic endeavours to uproot the very foundations of the Cause of God. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's prophecy, uttered in 1904 (see chapter 18), that in four years' time they would become impotent, was fulfilled. 'Abdu'l-Bahá foresaw the downfall of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali when He wrote these words in His Will and Testament:
5-WT And now ye are witnessing how the wrath of God bath
from all sides afflicted him and how day by day he is speeding
towards destruction. Ere long will ye behold him and his associates,
outwardly and inwardly, condemned to utter ruin.