We Have Chosen 'the Greater' after 'the Most Great'
In the Kitab-i-'Ahd, His Will and Testament, Bahá'u'lláh reveals these words.
Verily God hath ordained the station of the Greater Branch [Muhammad-'Ali]
to be beneath that of the Most Great Branch ['Abdu'l-Bahá].
He is in truth the Ordainer, the All-Wise. We have chosen 'the
Greater' after 'the Most Great,' as decreed by Him Who is the All-Knowing,
[223 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, p. 222.]
As we have already stated in chapter 3, a similar statement was made by Bahá'u'lláh in answer to a question by Mirza 'Ali-Muhammad, entitled Varqa. He wanted to know the identity of the person to whom all must turn as revealed in a verse of the Kitab-i-Aqdas. Bahá'u'lláh intimated to him that the intended person was the Most Great Branch, and after Him, the Greater Branch.[*] The passage in which the Greater Branch is chosen 'after' the Most Great Branch, meaning that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali is to succeed 'Abdu'l-Bahá, brought about tests and misunderstandings for the believers, many of whom were astonished at this statement. These believers either knew Mirza Muhammad-'Ali personally or had read several condemnatory passages that Bahá'u'lláh had written about him. Both groups saw him as a perfidious person, deceitful, materialistic and avid for power — one who was related to Bahá'u'lláh physically but had no spiritual relationship with Him. These believers were deeply puzzled when they observed that Bahá'u'lláh had chosen such a person to succeed 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
[* Ghusn-i-A'zam (the Most Great Branch) and Ghusn-i-Akbar (the Greater Branch) are titles which Bahá'u'lláh conferred upon His sons, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Mirza Muhammad-'Ali respectively.]
Of course Bahá'u'lláh was very well aware of the reprehensible conduct in which Mirza Muhammad-'Ali had engaged from the early years of his life. We have discussed in chapter 15 how, when he was in his early teens, he claimed to share with Bahá'u'lláh the power of supreme infallibility and claimed to be, among other things, 'the sovereign ruler of all who are in heaven and on earth'. From Adrianople he dispatched to Persia some Arabic passages that he claimed were the words of God, thus creating tests and problems for some of the believers there. For this action he faced the wrath of Bahá'u'lláh, who chastised him with His own hands. He it was who, throughout his entire life, harboured implacable hatred in his heart towards 'Abdu'l-Bahá — a fact well known by the Holy Family, including Bahá'u'lláh.
About eight years before the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, encouraged by a number of his associates who later became Covenant-breakers, asked permission to leave the Holy Land to go sightseeing in India. Bahá'u'lláh told him that such a journey needed the approval of the Master. Mirza Muhammad-'Ali insisted so much on this issue that eventually 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave permission. Accompanied by a servant who lived in Port Said and volunteered to travel with him, Mirza Muhammad-'Alf departed for India in the year 1302 AH (1885). After spending a considerable time sightseeing there, he wished to return but Bahá'u'lláh was displeased with him and denied him permission to do so. Mirza Muhammad-'Ali then wrote to his mother who put pressure on 'Abdu'l-Bahá to intervene, with the result that he obtained Bahá'u'lláh's permission to return.
The second journey that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali made to India was for the purpose of transcribing some of the well-known Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh and printing them in one volume. As we have stated in chapter 16, he succeeded in printing a book known as Kitab-i-Mubin but he deleted a passage which appeared to him to refer to the exalted nature of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's mission and instead substituted his own words. This occurred a year before Bahá'u'lláh's ascension and caused Him great sorrow.
It is a well-known fact that on numerous occasions Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, supported by his mother, committed acts that brought great displeasure to Bahá'u'lláh. In some of His Tablets He condemns him in strong terms, such as these:
By God, the True One! Were We, for a single instant, to withhold
from him the outpourings of Our Cause, he would wither, and
would fall upon the dust.
[224 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 251.]
To such a person, Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitab-i-'Ahd grants the right to succeed 'Abdu'l-Bahá. And indeed, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali publicly claimed this successorship both during the ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and after His ascension. Referring to him, Shoghi Effendi states:
He it was who had the impudence and temerity to tell 'Abdu'l-Bahá
to His face that just as 'Umar had succeeded in usurping the
successorship of the Prophet Muhammad, he too, felt himself able
to do the same. He it was who, obsessed by the fear that he might
not survive 'Abdu'l-Bahá, had, the moment he had been assured
by Him that all the honour he coveted would, in the course of time,
be his, swiftly rejoined that he had no guarantee that he would
[225 ibid. p. 249. (Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
In the light of these facts, we may ask ourselves two questions:
Why did Bahá'u'lláh grant such an exalted station to so perfidious
a person as Mirza Muhammad-'Ali?
Why did the provision in Bahá'u'lláh's 'Book of the Covenant'
for his successorship not materialize?
To resolve these puzzling questions, it is necessary to meditate on the nature of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh and try to discover its distinctive and challenging features.
The first question, concerning the appointment of such a disloyal person to so exalted a position, may be resolved through a careful examination of an essential feature of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, namely, the non-interference of each party in the functions of the other. The two parties to this Covenant are not of equal station. After all, the station of Bahá'u'lláh is awe-inspiring and the believers are but humble servants. However, God in His justice gives His creatures the opportunity to carry out their duties without His interference; they have free will to behave as they please. Of course, He has full knowledge of how each individual will behave in discharging the obligations which the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh has placed on him but He leaves the person free to play his part and He does not judge him before he commits an error. This is similar to the relationship between a teacher and pupil. In the course of teaching his students the teacher usually comes to know the ability and capacity of each one. Suppose that he finds one of his pupils to be inattentive to his work and negligent in his school duties. He may be certain that his pupil is going to fail his examinations but foreknowledge of that failure does not entitle the teacher to prevent the student from taking part. It is the student's prerogative to sit his examinations and no one has the right to deprive him of that privilege.
This analogy helps to clarify the statement about Mirza Muhammad-'Ali in the Kitab-i-'Ahd. Bahá'u'lláh was fully aware of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's shortcomings, yet, He decided that he should occupy a station next to that of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. God did not pronounce judgement on him before his rebellion against the Cause. Mirza Muhammad-'Ali was given the chance to mend his ways and take his rightful position within the Faith. However, he failed, as in a test, and perished spiritually.
Had Mirza Muhammad-'Ali remained a true and steadfast believer, had he lived a life of humility and self-effacement, had he devoted all his efforts to the promotion of the Cause and detached himself from earthly things and had he followed in the footsteps of the Master and emulated the one who was the supreme Exemplar of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, then who could have been more suited than he, a son of Bahá'u'lláh, to take over the reins of the Cause of God after 'Abdu'l-Bahá? But he did not fulfil any of these conditions and deprived himself of the bounties that might have been vouchsafed to him by Bahá'u'lláh.
Through his intense jealousy of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and his lack of spiritual qualities, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali sought throughout his life to undermine the position of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and usurp His God-given station as the Centre of the Covenant. During the lifetime of Bahá'u'lláh he was impotent to achieve the evil promptings of his heart because the overshadowing power of Bahá'u'lláh and His overwhelming authority frustrated his ambitions. But, as previously discussed, he rebelled against the Covenant immediately after the passing of Bahá'u'lláh and arose in opposition to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, its Centre.
In dealing with the question as to why the provision made by Bahá'u'lláh for Mirza Muhammad-'Ali to succeed 'Abdu'l-Bahá did not materialize, it is helpful to begin by looking at the many references Bahá'u'lláh makes in His Tablets to the creativity of His words. To cite an example:
Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is endowed
with such potency as can instil new life into every human frame,
if ye be of them that comprehend this truth. All the wondrous
works ye behold in this world have been manifested through the
operation of His supreme and most exalted Will, His wondrous
and inflexible Purpose. Through the mere revelation of the word
'Fashioner', issuing forth from His lips and proclaiming His
attribute to mankind, such power is released as can generate,
through successive ages, all the manifold arts which the hands of
man can produce. This, verily, is a certain truth. No sooner is this
resplendent word uttered, than its animating energies, stirring
within all created things, give birth to the means and instruments
whereby such arts can be produced and perfected. All the wondrous
achievements ye now witness are the direct consequences of
the Revelation of this Name. In the days to come, ye will, verily,
behold things of which ye have never heard before. Thus hath it
been decreed in the Tablets of God, and none can comprehend
it except them whose sight is sharp. In like manner, the moment
the word expressing My attribute 'the Omniscient' issueth forth
from My mouth, every created thing will, according to its capacity
and limitations, be invested with the power to unfold the knowledge
of the most marvellous sciences, and will be empowered to
manifest them in the course of time at the bidding of Him Who is
the Almighty, the All-Knowing. Know thou of a certainty that the
Revelation of every other Name is accompanied by a similar
manifestation of Divine power. Every single letter proceeding out
of the mouth of God is indeed a mother letter, and every word
uttered by Him Who is the Well Spring of Divine Revelation is a
mother word, and His Tablet a Mother Tablet. Well is it with them
that apprehend this truth.
[226 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, pp. 141-2.]
From this and other passages, we can be assured that owing to the creative power of the Word of God every event Bahá'u'lláh has foreshadowed in His Tablets has either taken place already or will come about in the future. Indeed, a careful study of His writings reveals that many of His promises have been fulfilled. However, there are exceptions to this, which are related to the subject of the Covenant. The appointment of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali in the Kitab-i-'Ahd is one of these exceptions whereby Bahá'u'lláh's purpose, His implied wish, appeared not to materialize.
The main reason for the non-fulfilment of certain provisions of this momentous document is that this Covenant, like any other is a reciprocal agreement between two parties. In this case, one party is Bahá'u'lláh and the other His followers. In general, the outcome of any agreement between two parties depends upon the manner in which each party fulfils his commitments. If one side fails to fulfil his obligations as set out in the contract, the other side will no longer be bound to honour his. For example, let us say that a landlord and a tenant draw up a lease. As long as the tenant pays his rent and meets his other responsibilities, the landlord has no reason to cancel the contract but if the former fails to discharge his liabilities, the latter will have no choice but to cancel the lease and possibly initiate eviction proceedings.
The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, as formulated in the Kitab-i-'Ahd, also has two distinct sides. One side is the Almighty, who provides the spiritual energies for the achievement of His purpose and who rules over His creatures. The other side is His servants, the recipients of His grace, who abide by His bidding. This Covenant necessitates an interaction between the two parties. As in the analogy of the landlord and the tenant, if the followers of Bahá'u'lláh, the recipients of His grace, had faithfully carried out what was expected of them in this Covenant, then every provision of the Kitab-i-'Ahd would have been fulfilled and the plan of God, as ordained by Bahá'u'lláh, would have materialized. But they did not. The Covenant was broken by no less a person than Mirza Muhammad-'Ali himself, who rose up against the Centre of the Cause. Consequently, the plan of God as envisaged by Bahá'u'lláh was changed.
In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes the many cases of 'deviation' from the Cause of God by Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and in unequivocal language proves that by his own actions he cut himself off from the tree of the Cause, changed into a dried branch and became the fulfilment of the following words of Bahá'u'lláh regarding him:
He verily is one of My servants... Should he for a moment pass
out from under the shadow of the Cause, he surely shall be brought
[227 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 251.]
The violation of the Covenant by Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and his many acts of infamy have been discussed in previous chapters.[*] Having disclosed his numerous transgressions to the believers, 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the following passages of the Will and Testament exhorts the believers to shun him:
[* See chapters 12 to 24]
39-WT In short, according to the explicit Divine Text the least
transgression shall make of this man a fallen creature, and what
transgression is more grievous than attempting to destroy the
Divine Edifice, breaking the Covenant, erring from the Testament,
falsifying the Holy Text, sowing the seeds of doubt, calumniating
'Abdu'l-Bahá advancing claims for which God hath sent down
no warrant, kindling mischief and striving to shed the very blood
of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and many other things whereof ye are all aware!
It is thus evident that should this man succeed in bringing
disruption into the Cause of God, he will utterly destroy an
exterminate it. Beware lest ye approach this man, for to approach
him is worse than approaching fire!
11-WT In short, O ye beloved of the Lord! The Centre of
Sedition, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, in accordance with the decisive
words of God and by reason of his boundless transgression, hath
grievously fallen and been cut off from the Holy Tree. Verily,
we wronged them not, but they have wronged themselves!
Thus, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali was cast out of the community of the Most Great Name. As in the analogy of the landlord and the tenant, the plan of God changed and 'Abdu'l-Bahá appointed Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice as His successors. We must bear in mind, however, that Bahá'u'lláh had ordained the Universal House of Justice in His writings. He states:
The men of God's House of Justice have been charged with the
affairs of the people. They, in truth, are the Trustees of God
among His servants and the daysprings of authority in His countries.
[228 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets p. 128.]
From another point of view, we may regard the appointment of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali as one of those cases by which God tests His servants. As we have already stated, many believers were tested either by this appointment or by the fact that the words of Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitab-i'Ahd were not fulfilled. Bahá'u'lláh explains in the Kitab-i-Iqan that in every Dispensation certain acts or statements by the Manifestation of God have brought great tests to people, causing them to lose their faith altogether. Bahá'u'lláh gives several examples of this in His writings. Referring to these tests He states:
...from time immemorial even unto eternity the Almighty hath
tried, and will continue to try, His servants, so that light maybe
distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from
wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses
from thorns. Even as He hath revealed: 'Do men think when they
say "We believe" they shall be let alone and not be put to proof?'
[229 Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 8-9.]
Returning to the story of Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, we note that during the last years of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's ministry the steadfast believers both in the East and the West were triumphant in their campaign to counteract the machinations of the Covenant-breakers. After years of fierce opposition against the Master, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali at last recognized his impotence to arrest the onward march of the Faith and retired to his den of ignominy and defeat. But as soon as 'Abdu'l-Bahá passed away he emerged into the open and audaciously attempted to seize the reins of the Cause of God and to establish himself as the successor of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In order to do this, he gave the appearance of having changed his position of bitter enmity towards 'Abdu'l-Bahá into that of reconciliation.
The first thing he did was to appear at the gate of the Master's house, wanting to take part in a memorial meeting that was being held in His honour. A servant of the household told him to wait for permission. The Greatest Holy Leaf is reported to have sent a brief message to him:
Our Beloved does not allow and does not like you to come in, and
if you come in you will add to our sorrows.
[230 Quoted in Star of the West, vol. 12, no. 19, p. 303.]
During the short period separating the ascension of the Master and the announcement of Shoghi Effendi's appointment, the perturbing thought uppermost in the minds of some of the believers was the position of the Arch-breaker of the Covenant, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali. Was he going to succeed 'Abdu'l-Bahá as laid down in the Kitab-i-'Ahd, the Will and Testament of Bahá'u'lláh? Some were confused, wondering how the provisions of this momentous document could be allowed to come about when the very person who had assiduously tried to undermine the foundation of the Cause of God for almost 30 years was none other than Mirza Muhammad-'Ali himself. But the great majority of the believers knew that because of his deviation from the Faith, his appointment was null and void.
In the meantime, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali published far and wide his claim that according to the text of the Kitab-i-'Ahd he was now 'Abdu'l-Bahá's successor. Not only did he publish this claim among the Persian Bahá'í community but he also declared in an Egyptian newspaper that he was the successor of Bahá'u'lláh. The Bahá'ís of Egypt responded to his statement by publishing a refutation of his claims in the same newspaper. The following account by Muhammad Said Adham, an Egyptian believer, describes the events which took place during those anxiety-filled days:
A few days after this we had at telegram from the family of
'Abdu'l-Bahá in reply to all cables sent from Egypt to Haifa, which read
'The beauty of the Beloved disappeared and the hearts are
melted by this great calamity. Our only hope is to raise the banner
of the Covenant, and with all righteousness, unity and servitude
we serve His sublime threshold.'
A few days later the great violator addressed the Bahá'ís
through the columns of the Arabic newspapers, calling upon them
to follow him, according, as he stated, to the will of Bahá'u'lláh,
pretending, in his call, that although he had been separated from
his brother by God's destiny, yet the filial relationship and hearty
sensations were strong in his heart, and he tried outwardly to show
sorrow for the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. One of his only two followers
in Alexandria confirmed his call on a page of the same paper,
but the House of Spirituality in Cairo replied and contested both
statements, stating in effect that this violator is not recognized at
all by the Bahá'ís, and since he has violated the Covenant of
Bahá'u'lláh for thirty years, he is not considered among the
Bahá'ís, and has not the authority to speak in their behalf, for all
the affairs of the Bahá'ís are now directed by the Houses of Spirituality,
all over the world, whose members are elected and who will
come under the control of the House of Justice, and they are the
only representatives of the Bahá'ís. And this violator is not a Bahá'í
in the true sense of the word and according to the dictates of
Bahá'u'lláh. This reply was given especially for the benefit of the
public, to give them correct information and to prove to them that
the violators are not Bahá'ís and were cut off thirty years ago by
their disobedience to the command of Bahá'u'lláh to turn, after
His departure, to the Centre of the Covenant, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and
by their harmful actions to the Cause.
The reply produced the desired effect and we, individually,
spread it among the inquirers and thus enlarged the circle of its
[231 ibid. pp. 294-5. (Quoted in Star of the West, vol. 12, no. 19.)]
In the United States of America a public statement was issued by Shu'a'u'llah, that son of the Arch-breaker of the Covenant who had been involved in the conspiracy to put 'Abdu'l-Bahá to death. In it he invited the American Bahá'ís to turn to his father, who, he claimed, was the legitimate successor of Bahá'u'lláh after 'Abdu'l-Bahá. His call was utterly ignored by the believers in the West.
In Persia, with the exception of a few Covenant-breakers, the Bahá'í community paid no attention to Muhammad-'Ali's circular letters claiming successorship of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The publication of the Will and Testament among the believers brought much comfort and consolation to their hearts; they realized that the Master had not abandoned them but rather had left the custodianship of the Cause of God in the hands of Shoghi Effendi, His eldest grandson, whom He appointed the Guardian of the Faith and the Interpreter of the holy writings.