Bahá'u'lláh's Retirement to the Mountains of Kurdistan
In 'Iraq, the Day-Star of the world was so exposed to the
wiles of the people of malice as to be eclipsed in splendour.
This passage refers to Bahá'u'lláh's retirement to the mountains of Kurdistan. On 8 April 1853, Bahá'u'lláh and His family arrived in Baghdad, from which centre the light of the new Revelation was progressively diffused throughout the Babi community. Soon after Bahá'u'lláh's arrival, through the outpouring of His guidance, new courage and new confidence were instilled in the minds and hearts of the Bib's followers in Iraq. The power of divine authority emanating from Bahá'u'lláh was so compelling that the fortunes of a Faith that had seemed ready to sink into oblivion were revived.
In the first year of Bahá'u'lláh's residence in Baghdad, the Babis, both the locals and those who trickled into Baghdad from Persia, evinced an ever deepening veneration of Him. Their hearts were filled with a new spirit of devotion and adoration for His person. Many inhabitants of the city were also drawn to Bahá'u'lláh during this period, their numbers increasing day by day. Among them were outstanding personalities and government officials, including the city's governor. Thus the circle of His admirers steadily extended and His fame spread throughout the land.
While these highly encouraging developments were taking place, a grim crisis, purely internal and with far-reaching consequences, erupted in the community. Instigated by the notorious Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahni[*] an embodiment of evil and the .Antichrist of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, a clandestine opposition to Bahá'u'lláh was set in motion by His half-brother Mirza Yahya. Yahya was a cowardly yet ambitious person who, at the suggestion of Bahá'u'lláh, had been appointed as the nominal head of the Babi community. In Baghdad, while hiding himself from the members of the community and wearing the disguise of an Arab, he, prompted by Siyyid Muhammad, spread his preposterous claim to be the successor of the Bab and began secretly to misrepresent Bahá'u'lláh's activities, kindling dissension and conflict within the community. Shoghi Effendi describes the shameful behaviour of Mirza Yahya and Siyyid Muhammad in these words:
[* For information about him see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 2.]
A clandestine opposition, whose aim was to nullify every effort
exerted, and frustrate every design conceived, by Bahá'u'lláh for
the rehabilitation of a distracted community, could now be clearly
discerned. Insinuations, whose purpose was to sow the seeds of
doubt and suspicion and to represent Him as a usurper, as the
subverter of the laws instituted by the Bib, and the wrecker of His
Cause, were being incessantly circulated. His Epistles, interpretations,
invocations and commentaries were being covertly and
indirectly criticized, challenged and misrepresented. An attempt
to injure His person was even set afoot but failed to materialize.
[75 ibid. p. 117. (Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
The cup of Bahá'u'lláh's sorrows was now running over. All His exhortations, all His efforts to remedy a rapidly deteriorating situation, had remained fruitless. The velocity with which His manifold woes grew was hourly and visibly increasing. Upon the sadness that filled His soul and the gravity of the situation confronting Him, His writings, revealed during that sombre period, throw abundant light. In some of His prayers He poignantly confesses that 'tribulation upon tribulation' had gathered about Him, that 'adversaries with one consent' had fallen upon Him, that 'wretchedness' had grievously touched Him and that 'woes at their blackest' had befallen Him.
'In these days,' He, describing in the Kitab-i-Iqan the virulence of
the jealousy which, at that time, was beginning to bare its venomous
fangs, has written, 'such odours of jealousy are diffused, that
... from the beginning of the foundation of the world ... until the
present day, such malice, envy and hate have in no wise appeared,
nor will they ever be witnessed in the future.'...
Mirza Aqa Jan[*] himself has testified: 'That Blessed Beauty
evinced such sadness that the limbs of my body trembled.' He has,
likewise, related, as reported by Nabil in his narrative, that, shortly
before Bahá'u'lláh's retirement, he had on one occasion seen Him,
between dawn and sunrise, suddenly come out from His house, His
night-cap still on His head, showing such signs of perturbation that
he was powerless to gaze into His face, and while walking, angrily
remark: 'These creatures are the same creatures who for three
thousand years have worshipped idols, and bowed down before the
Golden Calf. Now, too, they are fit for nothing better. What relation
can there be between this people and Him Who is the Countenance
of Glory? What ties can bind them to the One Who is the
supreme embodiment of all that is lovable?' 'I stood,' declared
Mirza Aqa Jan, 'rooted to the spot, lifeless, dried up as a dead tree,
ready to fall under the impact of the stunning power of His words.
Finally, He said: "Bid them recite: 'Is there any Remover of difficulties
save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His
servants, and all abide by His bidding!' Tell them to repeat it five
hundred times, nay, a thousand times, by day and by night, sleeping
and waking, that haply the Countenance of Glory may be
unveiled to their eyes, and tiers of light descend upon them." He
Himself, I was subsequently informed, recited this same verse, His
face betraying the utmost sadness... Several times during those
days, He was heard to remark: "We have, for a while, tarried
amongst this people, and failed to discern the slightest response
on their part." Oftentimes He alluded to His disappearance from
our midst, yet none of us understood His meaning.'
[*Bahá'u'lláh's amanuensis. For his life story see Taherzadeh, Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, chapter 15.]
Finally, discerning, as He Himself testifies in the Kitab-i-Iqan,
'the signs of impending events', He decided that before they
happened He would retire. 'The one object of Our retirement', He,
in that same Book affirms, 'was to avoid becoming a subject of
discord among the faithful, a source of disturbance unto Our
companions, the means of injury to any soul, or the cause of sorrow
to any heart.' 'Our withdrawal', He, moreover, in that same passage
emphatically asserts, 'contemplated no return, and Our separation
hoped for no reunion.'
Suddenly, and without informing any one even among the
members of His own family, on the 12th of Rajab 1270 A.H. (April
10, 1854), He departed, accompanied by an attendant, a Muhammadan
named Abu'l-Qasim-i-Hamadani, to whom He gave a sum
of money, instructing him to act as a merchant and use it for his
own purposes. Shortly after, that servant was attacked by thieves
and killed, and Bahá'u'lláh was left entirely alone in His wanderings
through the wastes of Kurdistan, a region whose sturdy and
warlike people were known for their age-long hostility to the
Persians, whom they regarded as seceders from the Faith of Islam,
and from whom they differed in their outlook, race and language.
Attired in the garb of a traveller, coarsely clad, taking with Him
nothing but his kashkul (alms-bowl) and a change of clothes, and
assuming the name of Darvish Muhammad, Bahá'u'lláh retired
to the wilderness, and lived for a time on a mountain named Sar-Galu,
so far removed from human habitations that only twice a
year, at seed sowing and harvest time, it was visited by the peasants
of that region. Alone and undisturbed, He passed a considerable
part of His retirement on the top of that mountain in a rude
structure, made of stone, which served those peasants as a shelter
against the extremities of the weather.
[76 ibid. p. 118-20. (Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
With Bahá'u'lláh's retirement to the mountains of Kurdistan, a new chapter opened in the history of His Revelation. Here He lived in utter seclusion far away from the world; He left behind His loved ones and admirers, as well as those who had betrayed Him and brought about, through their evil designs, the near extinction of the Cause of the Bab.
After Bahá'u'lláh had spent some time in that area, a certain Shaykh Isma'il, the leader of the Khalidiyyih Order, a sect of Sunni Islam, came in contact with Him and was intensely attracted to His person. In the end he succeeded in persuading Bahá'u'lláh to leave His abode for the town of Sulaymaniyyih. There, within a short period of time, His greatness became manifest not only to the leaders of religion and men of learning but also to all the inhabitants of the area.
Their recognition of Him as a man of outstanding qualities and knowledge occurred when His exquisite penmanship was first noticed, as well as His masterly composition and the stylistic beauty of the letters He wrote acknowledging receipt of messages from a few religious leaders. Some of these letters written by Bahá'u'lláh to eminent personalities such as Shaykh 'Abdu'r-Rahman, the leader of the Qadiriyyih Order, Mulla Hamid, a celebrated divine of Sulaymaniyyih, and a few others, have been left to posterity and testify to His sorrow and anguish in those days. In a letter He wrote to Shaykh 'Abdu'r-Rahman He laments the loss of His trusted Muslim servant, Abu'l-Qasim-i-Hamandini, who accompanied Him from Baghdad and was attacked and killed by brigands.
Bahá'u'lláh's fame spread to Sulaymaniyyih and to neighbouring towns. He soon became the focal point for many who thirsted after true knowledge and enlightenment. Without disclosing His identity, He appeared among them day after day, and with simplicity and eloquence answered their questions on various abstruse and perplexing features of their religious teachings. Soon the people of Kurdistan, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá has testified, were magnetized by His love. Some of His admirers even believed that His station was that of a Prophet. Bahá'u'lláh has left in His own handwriting a few Tablets and odes revealed during this period. Notable among them is the Qasidiy-i-Varqa'iyyih, the revelation of which had an electric effect on the leaders of the Kurdish community.[*] The reputation of 'Darvish Muhammad', the name Bahá'u'lláh assumed during His two-year absence from Baghdad, now spread beyond Kurdistan. When the reports of His innate greatness and knowledge reached Baghdad, His family and friends realized that this figure could be none other than Bahá'u'lláh Himself. This was confirmed when officials discovered the will of Abu'l-Qasim-i-Hamadam, Bahá'u'lláh's murdered servant, bequeathing all his possessions to a Darvish Muhammad in the mountains of Kurdistan. His family immediately dispatched the venerable Shaykh Sultan, the father-in-law of Bahá'u'lláh's faithful brother Mirza Musa, to Kurdistan to seek out Bahá'u'lláh. He and a servant travelled for two months before being led to Him in the neighbourhood of Sulaymaniyyih. After a time, Bahá'u'lláh responded favourably to Shaykh Sultan's insistent pleading that He end His two-year retirement. He returned to Baghdad, leaving behind a host of admirers and supporters who bitterly lamented His departure.
[* For more information see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 1.]
The physical hardships that Bahá'u'lláh endured as a result of inadequate food and clothing, and living alone in the wilderness of a desolate and uninhabitable mountain in extreme weather conditions, are unimaginable. These hardships, however, were dwarfed by the intensity of the suffering He felt as He contemplated the harm inflicted by the unfaithful on the Cause of which He was the only divinely chosen Author. Yet, in spite of the great difficulties and privations of a solitary life in such inhospitable surroundings, He communed with the Divine Spirit and chanted aloud many prayers and odes extolling the attributes and glorifying the character of His Revelation. While these outpourings could have revived the souls of men and illuminated the world of humanity, they were instead confined to this remote land and were, alas, forever lost.
Bahá'u'lláh also meditated on such things as the Cause of God which He would manifest, the fierce opposition His enemies would launch, the adversities that had already befallen Him and those that were still to come, and the perversity and unfaithfulness of the leaders of the Babi community who had stained the good name of the Cause of the Bab and brought shame upon it.
Shoghi Effendi, quoting the words of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, highlights the agony of His soul:
At times His dwelling-place was a cave to which He refers in His
Tablets addressed to the famous Shaykh 'Abdu'r-Rahman and to
Maryam, a kinswoman of His. 'I roamed the wilderness of resignation'
He thus depicts, in the Lawh-i-Maryam, the rigours of His
austere solitude, 'travelling in such wise that in My exile every eye
wept sore over Me, and all created things shed tears of blood
because of My anguish. The birds of the air were My companions
and the beasts of the field My associates.' 'From My eyes,' He,
referring in the Kitab-i-Iqan to those days, testifies, 'there rained
tears of anguish, and in My bleeding heart surged an ocean of
agonizing pain. Many a night I had no food for sustenance, and
many a day My body found no rest... Alone I communed with My
spirit, oblivious of the world and all that is therein.'
[77 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 120.]
As a result of Bahá'u'lláh's retirement, the Babi community in general and the lovers of His Beauty in particular were entirely cut off from the effulgence of His light. How fitting are the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá describing this period as a time when:
...the Day-Star of the world was ... eclipsed in splendour.