The return of Bahá’u’lláh from Sulaymáníyyih to Baghdád marks a turning point of the utmost significance in the history of the first Bahá’í century. The tide of the fortunes of the Faith, having reached its lowest ebb, was now beginning to surge back, and was destined to roll on, steadily and mightily, to a new high water-mark, associated this time with the Declaration of His Mission, on the eve of His banishment to Constantinople. With His return to Baghdád a firm anchorage was now being established, an anchorage such as the Faith had never known in its history. Never before, except during the first three years of its life, could that Faith claim to have possessed a fixed and accessible center to which its adherents could turn for guidance, and from which they could derive continuous and unobstructed inspiration. No less than half of the Báb’s short-lived ministry was spent on the remotest border of His native country, where He was concealed and virtually cut off from the vast majority of His disciples. The period immediately after His martyrdom was marked by a confusion that was even more deplorable than the isolation caused by His enforced captivity. Nor when the Revelation which He had foretold made its appearance was it succeeded by an immediate declaration that could enable the members of a distracted community to rally round the person of their expected Deliverer. The prolonged self-concealment of Mírzá Yaḥyá, the center provisionally appointed pending the manifestation of the Promised One; the nine months’ absence of Bahá’u’lláh from His native land, while on a visit to Karbilá, followed swiftly by His imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál, by His banishment to ‘Iráq, and afterwards by His retirement to Kurdistán—all combined to prolong the phase of instability and suspense through which the Bábí community had to pass.
Now at last, in spite of Bahá’u’lláh’s reluctance to unravel the mystery surrounding His own position, the Bábís found themselves able to center both their hopes and their movements round One Whom they believed (whatever their views as to His station) capable of insuring the stability and integrity of their Faith. The orientation which the Faith had thus acquired and the fixity of the center towards which it now gravitated continued, in one form or another, to be its outstanding features, of which it was never again to be deprived.
The Faith of the Báb, as already observed, had, in consequence of the successive and formidable blows it had received, reached the verge of extinction. Nor was the momentous Revelation vouchsafed to Bahá’u’lláh in the Síyáh-Chál productive at once of any tangible results of a nature that would exercise a stabilizing influence on a well-nigh disrupted community. Bahá’u’lláh’s unexpected banishment had been a further blow to its members, who had learned to place their reliance upon Him. Mírzá Yaḥyá’s seclusion and inactivity further accelerated the process of disintegration that had set in. Bahá’u’lláh’s prolonged retirement to Kurdistán seemed to have set the seal on its complete dissolution.
Now, however, the tide that had ebbed in so alarming a measure was turning, bearing with it, as it rose to flood point, those inestimable benefits that were to herald the announcement of the Revelation already secretly disclosed to Bahá’u’lláh.
During the seven years that elapsed between the resumption of His labors and the declaration of His prophetic mission—years to which we now direct our attention—it would be no exaggeration to say that the Bahá’í community, under the name and in the shape of a re-arisen Bábí community was born and was slowly taking shape, though its Creator still appeared in the guise of, and continued to labor as, one of the foremost disciples of the Báb. It was a period during which the prestige of the community’s nominal head steadily faded from the scene, paling before the rising splendor of Him Who was its actual Leader and Deliverer. It was a period in the course of which the first fruits of an exile, endowed with incalculable potentialities, ripened and were garnered. It was a period that will go down in history as one during which the prestige of a recreated community was immensely enhanced, its morals entirely reformed, its recognition of Him who rehabilitated its fortunes enthusiastically affirmed, its literature enormously enriched, and its victories over its new adversaries universally acknowledged.
The prestige of the community, and particularly that of Bahá’u’lláh, now began from its first inception in Kurdistán to mount in a steadily rising crescendo. Bahá’u’lláh had scarcely gathered up again the reins of the authority he had relinquished when the devout admirers He had left behind in Sulaymáníyyih started to flock to Baghdád, with the name of “Darvísh Muḥammad” on their lips, and the “house of Mírzá Músá the Bábí” as their goal. Astonished at the sight of so many ‘ulamás and Ṣúfís of Kurdish origin, of both the Qádiríyyih and Khálidíyyih Orders, thronging the house of Bahá’u’lláh, and impelled by racial and sectarian rivalry, the religious leaders of the city, such as the renowned Ibn-i-Álúsí, the Muftí of Baghdád, together with Shaykh ‘Abdu’s-Salám, Shaykh ‘Abdu’l-Qádir and Siyyid Dáwúdí, began to seek His presence, and, having obtained completely satisfying answers to their several queries, enrolled themselves among the band of His earliest admirers. The unqualified recognition by these outstanding leaders of those traits that distinguished the character and conduct of Bahá’u’lláh stimulated the curiosity, and later evoked the unstinted praise, of a great many observers of less conspicuous position, among whom figured poets, mystics and notables, who either resided in, or visited, the city. Government officials, foremost among whom were ‘Abdu’lláh Páshá and his lieutenant Maḥmúd Áqá, and Mullá ‘Alí Mardán, a Kurd well-known in those circles, were gradually brought into contact with Him, and lent their share in noising abroad His fast-spreading fame. Nor could those distinguished Persians, who either lived in Baghdád and its environs or visited as pilgrims the holy places, remain impervious to the spell of His charm. Princes of the royal blood, amongst whom were such personages as the Ná’ibu’l-Íyálih, the Shujá‘u’d-Dawlih, the Sayfu’d-Dawlih, and Zaynu’l-‘Ábidín Khán, the Fakhru’d-Dawlih, were, likewise, irresistibly drawn into the ever-widening circle of His associates and acquaintances.
Those who, during Bahá’u’lláh’s two years’ absence from Baghdád, had so persistently reviled and loudly derided His companions and kindred were, by now, for the most part, silenced. Not an inconsiderable number among them feigned respect and esteem for Him, a few claimed to be His defenders and supporters, while others professed to share His beliefs, and actually joined the ranks of the community to which He belonged. Such was the extent of the reaction that had set in that one of them was even heard to boast that, as far back as the year 1250 A.H.—a decade before the Báb’s Declaration—he had already perceived and embraced the truth of His Faith!
Within a few years after Bahá’u’lláh’s return from Sulaymáníyyih the situation had been completely reversed. The house of Sulaymán-i-Ghannám, on which the official designation of the Bayt-i-A‘ẓam (the Most Great House) was later conferred, known, at that time, as the house of Mírzá Músá, the Bábí, an extremely modest residence, situated in the Karkh quarter, in the neighborhood of the western bank of the river, to which Bahá’u’lláh’s family had moved prior to His return from Kurdistán, had now become the focal center of a great number of seekers, visitors and pilgrims, including Kurds, Persians, Arabs and Turks, and derived from the Muslim, the Jewish and Christian Faiths. It had, moreover, become a veritable sanctuary to which the victims of the injustice of the official representative of the Persian government were wont to flee, in the hope of securing redress for the wrongs they had suffered.
At the same time an influx of Persian Bábís, whose sole object was to attain the presence of Bahá’u’lláh, swelled the stream of visitors that poured through His hospitable doors. Carrying back, on their return to their native country, innumerable testimonies, both oral and written, to His steadily rising power and glory, they could not fail to contribute, in a vast measure, to the expansion and progress of a newly-reborn Faith. Four of the Báb’s cousins and His maternal uncle, Ḥájí Mírzá Siyyid Muḥammad; a grand-daughter of Fatḥ-‘Alí Sháh and fervent admirer of Ṭáhirih, surnamed Varaqatu’r-Riḍván; the erudite Mullá Muhammad-i-Qá’iní, surnamed Nabíl-i-Akbar; the already famous Mullá Ṣadiq-i-Khurásání, surnamed Ismu’lláhu’l-Aṣdaq, who with Quddús had been ignominiously persecuted in Shíráz; Mullá Báqir, one of the Letters of the Living; Siyyid Asadu’lláh, surnamed Dayyán; the revered Siyyid Javád-i-Karbilá’í; Mírzá Muḥammad-Ḥasan and Mírzá Muḥammad-Ḥusayn, later immortalized by the titles of Sulṭánu’sh-Shuhadá and Maḥbúbu’sh-Shuhadá (King of Martyrs and Beloved of Martyrs) respectively; Mírzá Muḥammad-‘Alíy-i-Nahrí, whose daughter, at a later date, was joined in wedlock to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá; the immortal Siyyid Ismá‘il-i-Zavári’í; Ḥájí Shaykh Muḥammad, surnamed Nabíl by the Báb; the accomplished Mírzá Áqáy-i-Munír, surnamed Ismu’lláhu’l-Muníb; the long-suffering Ḥájí Muhammad-Taqí, surnamed Ayyúb; Mullá Zaynu’l-‘Ábidín, surnamed Zaynu’l-Muqarrabín, who had ranked as a highly esteemed mujtahid—all these were numbered among the visitors and fellow-disciples who crossed His threshold, caught a glimpse of the splendor of His majesty, and communicated far and wide the creative influences instilled into them through their contact with His spirit. Mullá Muḥammad-i-Zarandí, surnamed Nabíl-i-A‘ẓam, who may well rank as His Poet-Laureate, His chronicler and His indefatigable disciple, had already joined the exiles, and had launched out on his long and arduous series of journeys to Persia in furtherance of the Cause of his Beloved.
Even those who, in their folly and temerity had, in Baghdád, in Karbilá, in Qum, in Káshán, in Tabríz and in Ṭihrán, arrogated to themselves the rights, and assumed the title of “Him Whom God shall make manifest” were for the most part instinctively led to seek His presence, confess their error and supplicate His forgiveness. As time went on, fugitives, driven by the ever-present fear of persecution, sought, with their wives and children, the relative security afforded them by close proximity to One who had already become the rallying point for the members of a sorely-vexed community. Persians of high eminence, living in exile, rejecting, in the face of the mounting prestige of Bahá’u’lláh, the dictates of moderation and prudence, sat, forgetful of their pride, at His feet, and imbibed, each according to his capacity, a measure of His spirit and wisdom. Some of the more ambitious among them, such as ‘Abbás Mírzá, a son of Muḥammad Sháh, the Vazír-Niẓám, and Mírzá Malkam Khán, as well as certain functionaries of foreign governments, attempted, in their short-sightedness, to secure His support and assistance for the furtherance of the designs they cherished, designs which He unhesitatingly and severely condemned. Nor was the then representative of the British government, Colonel Sir Arnold Burrows Kemball, consul-general in Baghdád, insensible of the position which Bahá’u’lláh now occupied. Entering into friendly correspondence with Him, he, as testified by Bahá’u’lláh Himself, offered Him the protection of British citizenship, called on Him in person, and undertook to transmit to Queen Victoria any communication He might wish to forward to her. He even expressed his readiness to arrange for the transfer of His residence to India, or to any place agreeable to Him. This suggestion Bahá’u’lláh declined, choosing to abide in the dominions of the Sulṭán of Turkey. And finally, during the last year of His sojourn in Baghdád the governor Námiq-Páshá, impressed by the many signs of esteem and veneration in which He was held, called upon Him to pay his personal tribute to One Who had already achieved so conspicuous a victory over the hearts and souls of those who had met Him. So profound was the respect the governor entertained for Him, Whom he regarded as one of the Lights of the Age, that it was not until the end of three months, during which he had received five successive commands from ‘Alí Páshá, that he could bring himself to inform Bahá’u’lláh that it was the wish of the Turkish government that He should proceed to the capital. On one occasion, when ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá and Áqáy-i-Kalím had been delegated by Bahá’u’lláh to visit him, he entertained them with such elaborate ceremonial that the Deputy-Governor stated that so far as he knew no notable of the city had ever been accorded by any governor so warm and courteous a reception. So struck, indeed, had the Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-Majíd been by the favorable reports received about Bahá’u’lláh from successive governors of Baghdád (this is the personal testimony given by the Governor’s deputy to Bahá’u’lláh himself) that he consistently refused to countenance the requests of the Persian government either to deliver Him to their representative or to order His expulsion from Turkish territory.
On no previous occasion, since the inception of the Faith, not even during the days when the Báb in Isfahán, in Tabríz and in Chihríq was acclaimed by the ovations of an enthusiastic populace, had any of its exponents risen to such high eminence in the public mind, or exercised over so diversified a circle of admirers an influence so far reaching and so potent. Yet unprecedented as was the sway which Bahá’u’lláh held while, in that primitive age of the Faith, He was dwelling in Baghdád, its range at that time was modest when compared with the magnitude of the fame which, at the close of that same age, and through the immediate inspiration of the Center of His Covenant, the Faith acquired in both the European and American continents.
The ascendancy achieved by Bahá’u’lláh was nowhere better demonstrated than in His ability to broaden the outlook and transform the character of the community to which He belonged. Though Himself nominally a Bábí, though the provisions of the Bayán were still regarded as binding and inviolable, He was able to inculcate a standard which, while not incompatible with its tenets, was ethically superior to the loftiest principles which the Bábí Dispensation had established. The salutary and fundamental truths advocated by the Báb, that had either been obscured, neglected or misrepresented, were moreover elucidated by Bahá’u’lláh, reaffirmed and instilled afresh into the corporate life of the community, and into the souls of the individuals who comprised it. The dissociation of the Bábí Faith from every form of political activity and from all secret associations and factions; the emphasis placed on the principle of non-violence; the necessity of strict obedience to established authority; the ban imposed on all forms of sedition, on back-biting, retaliation, and dispute; the stress laid on godliness, kindliness, humility and piety, on honesty and truthfulness, chastity and fidelity, on justice, toleration, sociability, amity and concord, on the acquisition of arts and sciences, on self-sacrifice and detachment, on patience, steadfastness and resignation to the will of God—all these constitute the salient features of a code of ethical conduct to which the books, treatises and epistles, revealed during those years, by the indefatigable pen of Bahá’u’lláh, unmistakably bear witness.
“By the aid of God and His divine grace and mercy,” He Himself has written with reference to the character and consequences of His own labors during that period, “We revealed, as a copious rain, Our verses, and sent them to various parts of the world. We exhorted all men, and particularly this people, through Our wise counsels and loving admonitions, and forbade them to engage in sedition, quarrels, disputes or conflict. As a result of this, and by the grace of God, waywardness and folly were changed into piety and understanding, and weapons of war converted into instruments of peace.” “Bahá’u’lláh,” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá affirmed, “after His return (from Sulaymáníyyih) made such strenuous efforts in educating and training this community, in reforming its manners, in regulating its affairs and in rehabilitating its fortunes, that in a short while all these troubles and mischiefs were quenched, and the utmost peace and tranquillity reigned in men’s hearts.” And again: “When these fundamentals were established in the hearts of this people, they everywhere acted in such wise that, in the estimation of those in authority, they became famous for the integrity of their character, the steadfastness of their hearts, the purity of their motives, the praiseworthiness of their deeds, and the excellence of their conduct.”
The exalted character of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh propounded during that period is perhaps best illustrated by the following statement made by Him in those days to an official who had reported to Him that, because of the devotion to His person which an evildoer had professed, he had hesitated to inflict upon that criminal the punishment he deserved: “Tell him, no one in this world can claim any relationship to Me except those who, in all their deeds and in their conduct, follow My example, in such wise that all the peoples of the earth would be powerless to prevent them from doing and saying that which is meet and seemly.” “This brother of Mine,” He further declared to that official, “this Mírzá Músá, who is from the same mother and father as Myself, and who from his earliest childhood has kept Me company, should he perpetrate an act contrary to the interests of either the state or religion, and his guilt be established in your sight, I would be pleased and appreciate your action were you to bind his hands and cast him into the river to drown, and refuse to consider the intercession of any one on his behalf.” In another connection He, wishing to stress His strong condemnation of all acts of violence, had written: “It would be more acceptable in My sight for a person to harm one of My own sons or relatives rather than inflict injury upon any soul.”
“Most of those who surrounded Bahá’u’lláh,” wrote Nabíl, describing the spirit that animated the reformed Bábí community in Baghdád, “exercised such care in sanctifying and purifying their souls, that they would suffer no word to cross their lips that might not conform to the will of God, nor would they take a single step that might be contrary to His good-pleasure.” “Each one,” he relates, “had entered into a pact with one of his fellow-disciples, in which they agreed to admonish one another, and, if necessary, chastise one another with a number of blows on the soles of the feet, proportioning the number of strokes to the gravity of the offense against the lofty standards they had sworn to observe.” Describing the fervor of their zeal, he states that “not until the offender had suffered the punishment he had solicited, would he consent to either eat or drink.”
The complete transformation which the written and spoken word of Bahá’u’lláh had effected in the outlook and character of His companions was equalled by the burning devotion which His love had kindled in their souls. A passionate zeal and fervor, that rivalled the enthusiasm that had glowed so fiercely in the breasts of the Báb’s disciples in their moments of greatest exaltation, had now seized the hearts of the exiles of Baghdád and galvanized their entire beings. “So inebriated,” Nabíl, describing the fecundity of this tremendously dynamic spiritual revival, has written, “so carried away was every one by the sweet savors of the Morn of Divine Revelation that, methinks, out of every thorn sprang forth heaps of blossoms, and every seed yielded innumerable harvests.” “The room of the Most Great House,” that same chronicler has recorded, “set apart for the reception of Bahá’u’lláh’s visitors, though dilapidated, and having long since outgrown its usefulness, vied, through having been trodden by the blessed footsteps of the Well Beloved, with the Most Exalted Paradise. Low-roofed, it yet seemed to reach to the stars, and though it boasted but a single couch, fashioned from the branches of palms, whereon He Who is the King of Names was wont to sit, it drew to itself, even as a loadstone, the hearts of the princes.”
It was this same reception room which, in spite of its rude simplicity, had so charmed the Shujá‘u’d-Dawlih that he had expressed to his fellow-princes his intention of building a duplicate of it in his home in Káẓimayn. “He may well succeed,” Bahá’u’lláh is reported to have smilingly remarked when apprized of this intention, “in reproducing outwardly the exact counterpart of this low-roofed room made of mud and straw with its diminutive garden. What of his ability to open onto it the spiritual doors leading to the hidden worlds of God?” “I know not how to explain it,” another prince, Zaynu’l-‘Ábidín Khán, the Fakhru’d-Dawlih, describing the atmosphere which pervaded that reception-room, had affirmed, “were all the sorrows of the world to be crowded into my heart they would, I feel, all vanish, when in the presence of Bahá’u’lláh. It is as if I had entered Paradise itself.”
The joyous feasts which these companions, despite their extremely modest earnings, continually offered in honor of their Beloved; the gatherings, lasting far into the night, in which they loudly celebrated, with prayers, poetry and song, the praises of the Báb, of Quddús and of Bahá’u’lláh; the fasts they observed; the vigils they kept; the dreams and visions which fired their souls, and which they recounted to each other with feelings of unbounded enthusiasm; the eagerness with which those who served Bahá’u’lláh performed His errands, waited upon His needs, and carried heavy skins of water for His ablutions and other domestic purposes; the acts of imprudence which, in moments of rapture, they occasionally committed; the expressions of wonder and admiration which their words and acts evoked in a populace that had seldom witnessed such demonstrations of religious transport and personal devotion—these, and many others, will forever remain associated with the history of that immortal period, intervening between the birth hour of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation and its announcement on the eve of His departure from ‘Iráq.
Numerous and striking are the anecdotes which have been recounted by those whom duty, accident, or inclination had, in the course of these poignant years, brought into direct contact with Bahá’u’lláh. Many and moving are the testimonies of bystanders who were privileged to gaze on His countenance, observe His gait, or overhear His remarks, as He moved through the lanes and streets of the city, or paced the banks of the river; of the worshippers who watched Him pray in their mosques; of the mendicant, the sick, the aged, and the unfortunate whom He succored, healed, supported and comforted; of the visitors, from the haughtiest prince to the meanest beggar, who crossed His threshold and sat at His feet; of the merchant, the artisan, and the shopkeeper who waited upon Him and supplied His daily needs; of His devotees who had perceived the signs of His hidden glory; of His adversaries who were confounded or disarmed by the power of His utterance and the warmth of His love; of the priests and laymen, the noble and learned, who besought Him with the intention of either challenging His authority, or testing His knowledge, or investigating His claims, or confessing their shortcomings, or declaring their conversion to the Cause He had espoused.
From such a treasury of precious memories it will suffice my purpose to cite but a single instance, that of one of His ardent lovers, a native of Zavárih, Siyyid Ismá‘íl by name, surnamed Dhabíḥ (the Sacrifice), formerly a noted divine, taciturn, meditative and wholly severed from every earthly tie, whose self-appointed task, on which he prided himself, was to sweep the approaches of the house in which Bahá’u’lláh was dwelling. Unwinding his green turban, the ensign of his holy lineage, from his head, he would, at the hour of dawn, gather up, with infinite patience, the rubble which the footsteps of his Beloved had trodden, would blow the dust from the crannies of the wall adjacent to the door of that house, would collect the sweepings in the folds of his own cloak, and, scorning to cast his burden for the feet of others to tread upon, would carry it as far as the banks of the river and throw it into its waters. Unable, at length, to contain the ocean of love that surged within his soul, he, after having denied himself for forty days both sleep and sustenance, and rendering for the last time the service so dear to his heart, betook himself, one day, to the banks of the river, on the road to Káẓimayn, performed his ablutions, lay down on his back, with his face turned towards Baghdád, severed his throat with a razor, laid the razor upon his breast, and expired. (1275 A.H.)
Nor was he the only one who had meditated such an act and was determined to carry it out. Others were ready to follow suit, had not Bahá’u’lláh promptly intervened, and ordered the refugees living in Baghdád to return immediately to their native land. Nor could the authorities, when it was definitely established that Dhabíḥ had died by his own hand, remain indifferent to a Cause whose Leader could inspire so rare a devotion in, and hold such absolute sway over, the hearts of His lovers. Apprized of the apprehensions that episode had evoked in certain quarters in Baghdád, Bahá’u’lláh is reported to have remarked: “Siyyid Ismá‘íl was possessed of such power and might that were he to be confronted by all the peoples of the earth, he would, without doubt, be able to establish his ascendancy over them.” “No blood,” He is reported to have said with reference to this same Dhabíḥ, whom He extolled as “King and Beloved of Martyrs,” “has, till now, been poured upon the earth as pure as the blood he shed.”
“So intoxicated were those who had quaffed from the cup of Bahá’u’lláh’s presence,” is yet another testimony from the pen of Nabíl, who was himself an eye-witness of most of these stirring episodes, “that in their eyes the palaces of kings appeared more ephemeral than a spider’s web.… The celebrations and festivities that were theirs were such as the kings of the earth had never dreamt of.” “I, myself with two others,” he relates, “lived in a room which was devoid of furniture. Bahá’u’lláh entered it one day, and, looking about Him, remarked: ‘Its emptiness pleases Me. In My estimation it is preferable to many a spacious palace, inasmuch as the beloved of God are occupied in it with the remembrance of the Incomparable Friend, with hearts that are wholly emptied of the dross of this world.’” His own life was characterized by that same austerity, and evinced that same simplicity which marked the lives of His beloved companions. “There was a time in ‘Iráq,” He Himself affirms, in one of His Tablets, “when the Ancient Beauty … had no change of linen. The one shirt He possessed would be washed, dried and worn again.”
“Many a night,” continues Nabíl, depicting the lives of those self-oblivious companions, “no less than ten persons subsisted on no more than a pennyworth of dates. No one knew to whom actually belonged the shoes, the cloaks, or the robes that were to be found in their houses. Whoever went to the bazaar could claim that the shoes upon his feet were his own, and each one who entered the presence of Bahá’u’lláh could affirm that the cloak and robe he then wore belonged to him. Their own names they had forgotten, their hearts were emptied of aught else except adoration for their Beloved.… O, for the joy of those days, and the gladness and wonder of those hours!”
The enormous expansion in the scope and volume of Bahá’u’lláh’s writings, after His return from Sulaymáníyyih, is yet another distinguishing feature of the period under review. The verses that streamed during those years from His pen, described as “a copious rain” by Himself, whether in the form of epistles, exhortations, commentaries, apologies, dissertations, prophecies, prayers, odes or specific Tablets, contributed, to a marked degree, to the reformation and progressive unfoldment of the Bábí community, to the broadening of its outlook, to the expansion of its activities and to the enlightenment of the minds of its members. So prolific was this period, that during the first two years after His return from His retirement, according to the testimony of Nabíl, who was at that time living in Baghdád, the unrecorded verses that streamed from His lips averaged, in a single day and night, the equivalent of the Qur’án! As to those verses which He either dictated or wrote Himself, their number was no less remarkable than either the wealth of material they contained, or the diversity of subjects to which they referred. A vast, and indeed the greater, proportion of these writings were, alas, lost irretrievably to posterity. No less an authority than Mírzá Áqá Ján, Bahá’u’lláh’s amanuensis, affirms, as reported by Nabíl, that by the express order of Bahá’u’lláh, hundreds of thousands of verses, mostly written by His own hand, were obliterated and cast into the river. “Finding me reluctant to execute His orders,” Mírzá Áqá Ján has related to Nabíl, “Bahá’u’lláh would reassure me saying: ‘None is to be found at this time worthy to hear these melodies.’ … Not once, or twice, but innumerable times, was I commanded to repeat this act.” A certain Muḥammad Karím, a native of Shíráz, who had been a witness to the rapidity and the manner in which the Báb had penned the verses with which He was inspired, has left the following testimony to posterity, after attaining, during those days, the presence of Bahá’u’lláh, and beholding with his own eyes what he himself had considered to be the only proof of the mission of the Promised One: “I bear witness that the verses revealed by Bahá’u’lláh were superior, in the rapidity with which they were penned, in the ease with which they flowed, in their lucidity, their profundity and sweetness to those which I, myself saw pour from the pen of the Báb when in His presence. Had Bahá’u’lláh no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient, in the eyes of the world and its people, that He produced such verses as have streamed this day from His pen.”
Foremost among the priceless treasures cast forth from the billowing ocean of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation ranks the Kitáb-i-Íqán (Book of Certitude), revealed within the space of two days and two nights, in the closing years of that period (1278 A.H.–1862 A.D.). It was written in fulfillment of the prophecy of the Báb, Who had specifically stated that the Promised One would complete the text of the unfinished Persian Bayán, and in reply to the questions addressed to Bahá’u’lláh by the as yet unconverted maternal uncle of the Báb, Ḥájí Mírzá Siyyid Muḥammad, while on a visit, with his brother, Ḥájí Mírzá Ḥasan-‘Alí, to Karbilá. A model of Persian prose, of a style at once original, chaste and vigorous, and remarkably lucid, both cogent in argument and matchless in its irresistible eloquence, this Book, setting forth in outline the Grand Redemptive Scheme of God, occupies a position unequalled by any work in the entire range of Bahá’í literature, except the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh’s Most Holy Book. Revealed on the eve of the declaration of His Mission, it proffered to mankind the “Choice Sealed Wine,” whose seal is of “musk,” and broke the “seals” of the “Book” referred to by Daniel, and disclosed the meaning of the “words” destined to remain “closed up” till the “time of the end.”
Within a compass of two hundred pages it proclaims unequivocally the existence and oneness of a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty; asserts the relativity of religious truth and the continuity of Divine Revelation; affirms the unity of the Prophets, the universality of their Message, the identity of their fundamental teachings, the sanctity of their scriptures, and the twofold character of their stations; denounces the blindness and perversity of the divines and doctors of every age; cites and elucidates the allegorical passages of the New Testament, the abstruse verses of the Qur’án, and the cryptic Muḥammadan traditions which have bred those age-long misunderstandings, doubts and animosities that have sundered and kept apart the followers of the world’s leading religious systems; enumerates the essential prerequisites for the attainment by every true seeker of the object of his quest; demonstrates the validity, the sublimity and significance of the Báb’s Revelation; acclaims the heroism and detachment of His disciples; foreshadows, and prophesies the world-wide triumph of the Revelation promised to the people of the Bayán; upholds the purity and innocence of the Virgin Mary; glorifies the Imáms of the Faith of Muḥammad; celebrates the martyrdom, and lauds the spiritual sovereignty, of the Imám Ḥusayn; unfolds the meaning of such symbolic terms as “Return,” “Resurrection,” “Seal of the Prophets” and “Day of Judgment”; adumbrates and distinguishes between the three stages of Divine Revelation; and expatiates, in glowing terms, upon the glories and wonders of the “City of God,” renewed, at fixed intervals, by the dispensation of Providence, for the guidance, the benefit and salvation of all mankind. Well may it be claimed that of all the books revealed by the Author of the Bahá’í Revelation, this Book alone, by sweeping away the age-long barriers that have so insurmountably separated the great religions of the world, has laid down a broad and unassailable foundation for the complete and permanent reconciliation of their followers.
Next to this unique repository of inestimable treasures must rank that marvelous collection of gem-like utterances, the “Hidden Words” with which Bahá’u’lláh was inspired, as He paced, wrapped in His meditations, the banks of the Tigris. Revealed in the year 1274 A.H., partly in Persian, partly in Arabic, it was originally designated the “Hidden Book of Fáṭimih,” and was identified by its Author with the Book of that same name, believed by Shí‘ah Islám to be in the possession of the promised Qá’im, and to consist of words of consolation addressed by the angel Gabriel, at God’s command, to Fáṭimih, and dictated to the Imám ‘Alí, for the sole purpose of comforting her in her hour of bitter anguish after the death of her illustrious Father. The significance of this dynamic spiritual leaven cast into the life of the world for the reorientation of the minds of men, the edification of their souls and the rectification of their conduct can best be judged by the description of its character given in the opening passage by its Author: “This is that which hath descended from the Realm of Glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity, as a token of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of God, may fulfill in their lives His trust, and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of Divine virtue.”
To these two outstanding contributions to the world’s religious literature, occupying respectively, positions of unsurpassed preeminence among the doctrinal and ethical writings of the Author of the Bahá’í Dispensation, was added, during that same period, a treatise that may well be regarded as His greatest mystical composition, designated as the “Seven Valleys,” which He wrote in answer to the questions of Shaykh Muḥyi’d-Dín, the Qáḍí of Khániqayn, in which He describes the seven stages which the soul of the seeker must needs traverse ere it can attain the object of its existence.
The “Four Valleys,” an epistle addressed to the learned Shaykh ‘Abdu’r-Raḥmán-i-Karkúkí; the “Tablet of the Holy Mariner,” in which Bahá’u’lláh prophesies the severe afflictions that are to befall Him; the “Lawḥ-i-Ḥúríyyih” (Tablet of the Maiden), in which events of a far remoter future are foreshadowed; the “Súriy-i-Ṣabr” (Súrih of Patience), revealed on the first day of Riḍván which extols Vaḥíd and his fellow-sufferers in Nayríz; the commentary on the Letters prefixed to the Súrihs of the Qur’án; His interpretation of the letter Váv, mentioned in the writings of Shaykh Aḥmad-i-Aḥsá’í, and of other abstruse passages in the works of Siyyid Káẓim-i-Rashtí; the “Lawḥ-i-Madínatu’t-Tawḥíd” (Tablet of the City of Unity); the “Ṣaḥífiy-i-Shaṭṭíyyih”; the “Muṣíbát-i-Ḥurúfát-i-‘Álíyát”; the “Tafsír-i-Hú”; the “Javáhiru’l-Asrár” and a host of other writings, in the form of epistles, odes, homilies, specific Tablets, commentaries and prayers, contributed, each in its own way, to swell the “rivers of everlasting life” which poured forth from the “Abode of Peace” and lent a mighty impetus to the expansion of the Báb’s Faith in both Persia and ‘Iráq, quickening the souls and transforming the character of its adherents.
The undeniable evidences of the range and magnificence of Bahá’u’lláh’s rising power; His rapidly waxing prestige; the miraculous transformation which, by precept and example, He had effected in the outlook and character of His companions from Baghdád to the remotest towns and hamlets in Persia; the consuming love for Him that glowed in their bosoms; the prodigious volume of writings that streamed day and night from His pen, could not fail to fan into flame the animosity which smouldered in the breasts of His Shí‘ah and Sunní enemies. Now that His residence was transferred to the vicinity of the strongholds of Shí‘ah Islám, and He Himself brought into direct and almost daily contact with the fanatical pilgrims who thronged the holy places of Najaf, Karbilá and Káẓimayn, a trial of strength between the growing brilliance of His glory and the dark and embattled forces of religious fanaticism could no longer be delayed. A spark was all that was required to ignite this combustible material of all the accumulated hatreds, fears and jealousies which the revived activities of the Bábís had inspired. This was provided by a certain Shaykh ‘Abdu’l-Ḥusayn, a crafty and obstinate priest, whose consuming jealousy of Bahá’u’lláh was surpassed only by his capacity to stir up mischief both among those of high degree and also amongst the lowest of the low, Arab or Persian, who thronged the streets and markets of Káẓimayn, Karbilá and Baghdád. He it was whom Bahá’u’lláh had stigmatized in His Tablets by such epithets as the “scoundrel,” the “schemer,” the “wicked one,” who “drew the sword of his self against the face of God,” “in whose soul Satan hath whispered,” and “from whose impiety Satan flies,” the “depraved one,” “from whom originated and to whom will return all infidelity, cruelty and crime.” Largely through the efforts of the Grand Vizir, who wished to get rid of him, this troublesome mujtahid had been commissioned by the Sháh to proceed to Karbilá to repair the holy sites in that city. Watching for his opportunity, he allied himself with Mírzá Buzurg Khán, a newly-appointed Persian consul-general, who being of the same iniquitous turn of mind as himself, a man of mean intelligence, insincere, without foresight or honor, and a confirmed drunkard, soon fell a prey to the influence of that vicious plotter, and became the willing instrument of his designs.
Their first concerted endeavor was to obtain from the governor of Baghdád, Muṣṭafá Páshá, through a gross distortion of the truth, an order for the extradition of Bahá’u’lláh and His companions, an effort which miserably failed. Recognizing the futility of any attempt to achieve his purpose through the intervention of the local authorities, Shaykh ‘Abdu’l-Ḥusayn began, through the sedulous circulation of dreams which he first invented and then interpreted, to excite the passions of a superstitious and highly inflammable population. The resentment engendered by the lack of response he met with was aggravated by his ignominious failure to meet the challenge of an interview pre-arranged between himself and Bahá’u’lláh. Mírzá Buzurg Khán, on his part, used his influence in order to arouse the animosity of the lower elements of the population against the common Adversary, by inciting them to affront Him in public, in the hope of provoking some rash retaliatory act that could be used as a ground for false charges through which the desired order for Bahá’u’lláh’s extradition might be procured. This attempt too proved abortive, as the presence of Bahá’u’lláh, Who, despite the warnings and pleadings of His friends, continued to walk unescorted, both by day and by night, through the streets of the city, was enough to plunge His would-be molesters into consternation and shame. Well aware of their motives, He would approach them, rally them on their intentions, joke with them, and leave them covered with confusion and firmly resolved to abandon whatever schemes they had in mind. The consul-general had even gone so far as to hire a ruffian, a Turk, named Riḍá, for the sum of one hundred túmáns, provide him with a horse and with two pistols, and order him to seek out and kill Bahá’u’lláh, promising him that his own protection would be fully assured. Riḍá, learning one day that his would-be-victim was attending the public bath, eluded the vigilance of the Bábís in attendance, entered the bath with a pistol concealed in his cloak, and confronted Bahá’u’lláh in the inner chamber, only to discover that he lacked the courage to accomplish his task. He himself, years later, related that on another occasion he was lying in wait for Bahá’u’lláh, pistol in hand, when, on Bahá’u’lláh’s approach, he was so overcome with fear that the pistol dropped from his hand; whereupon Bahá’u’lláh bade Áqáy-i-Kalím, who accompanied Him, to hand it back to him, and show him the way to his home.
Balked in his repeated attempts to achieve his malevolent purpose, Shaykh ‘Abdu’l-Ḥusayn now diverted his energies into a new channel. He promised his accomplice he would raise him to the rank of a minister of the crown, if he succeeded in inducing the government to recall Bahá’u’lláh to Ṭihrán, and cast Him again into prison. He despatched lengthy and almost daily reports to the immediate entourage of the Sháh. He painted extravagant pictures of the ascendancy enjoyed by Bahá’u’lláh by representing Him as having won the allegiance of the nomadic tribes of ‘Iráq. He claimed that He was in a position to muster, in a day, fully one hundred thousand men ready to take up arms at His bidding. He accused Him of meditating, in conjunction with various leaders in Persia, an insurrection against the sovereign. By such means as these he succeeded in bringing sufficient pressure on the authorities in Ṭihrán to induce the Sháh to grant him a mandate, bestowing on him full powers, and enjoining the Persian ‘ulamás and functionaries to render him every assistance. This mandate the Shaykh instantly forwarded to the ecclesiastics of Najaf and Karbilá, asking them to convene a gathering in Káẓimayn, the place of his residence. A concourse of shaykhs, mullás and mujtahids, eager to curry favor with the sovereign, promptly responded. Upon being informed of the purpose for which they had been summoned, they determined to declare a holy war against the colony of exiles, and by launching a sudden and general assault on it to destroy the Faith at its heart. To their amazement and disappointment, however, they found that the leading mujtahid amongst them, the celebrated Shaykh Murtaḍáy-i-Anṣárí, a man renowned for his tolerance, his wisdom, his undeviating justice, his piety and nobility of character, refused, when apprized of their designs, to pronounce the necessary sentence against the Bábís. He it was whom Bahá’u’lláh later extolled in the “Lawḥ-i-Sulṭán,” and numbered among “those doctors who have indeed drunk of the cup of renunciation,” and “never interfered with Him,” and to whom ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá referred as “the illustrious and erudite doctor, the noble and celebrated scholar, the seal of seekers after truth.” Pleading insufficient knowledge of the tenets of this community, and claiming to have witnessed no act on the part of its members at variance with the Qur’án, he, disregarding the remonstrances of his colleagues, abruptly left the gathering, and returned to Najaf, after having expressed, through a messenger, his regret to Bahá’u’lláh for what had happened, and his devout wish for His protection.
Frustrated in their designs, but unrelenting in their hostility, the assembled divines delegated the learned and devout Ḥájí Mullá Ḥasan-i-‘Ammú, recognized for his integrity and wisdom, to submit various questions to Bahá’u’lláh for elucidation. When these were submitted, and answers completely satisfactory to the messenger were given, Ḥájí Mullá Ḥasan, affirming the recognition by the ‘ulamás of the vastness of the knowledge of Bahá’u’lláh, asked, as an evidence of the truth of His mission, for a miracle that would satisfy completely all concerned. “Although you have no right to ask this,” Bahá’u’lláh replied, “for God should test His creatures, and they should not test God, still I allow and accept this request.… The ‘ulamás must assemble, and, with one accord, choose one miracle, and write that, after the performance of this miracle they will no longer entertain doubts about Me, and that all will acknowledge and confess the truth of My Cause. Let them seal this paper, and bring it to Me. This must be the accepted criterion: if the miracle is performed, no doubt will remain for them; and if not, We shall be convicted of imposture.” This clear, challenging and courageous reply, unexampled in the annals of any religion, and addressed to the most illustrious Shí‘ah divines, assembled in their time-honored stronghold, was so satisfactory to their envoy that he instantly arose, kissed the knee of Bahá’u’lláh, and departed to deliver His message. Three days later he sent word that that august assemblage had failed to arrive at a decision, and had chosen to drop the matter, a decision to which he himself later gave wide publicity, in the course of his visit to Persia, and even communicated it in person to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mírzá Sa‘íd Khán. “We have,” Bahá’u’lláh is reported to have commented, when informed of their reaction to this challenge, “through this all-satisfying, all-embracing message which We sent, revealed and vindicated the miracles of all the Prophets, inasmuch as We left the choice to the ‘ulamás themselves, undertaking to reveal whatever they would decide upon.” “If we carefully examine the text of the Bible,” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá has written concerning a similar challenge made later by Bahá’u’lláh in the “Lawḥ-i-Sulṭán,” “we see that the Divine Manifestation never said to those who denied Him, ‘whatever miracle you desire, I am ready to perform, and I will submit to whatever test you propose.’ But in the Epistle to the Sháh Bahá’u’lláh said clearly, ‘Gather the ‘ulamás and summon Me, that the evidences and proofs may be established.’”
Seven years of uninterrupted, of patient and eminently successful consolidation were now drawing to a close. A shepherdless community, subjected to a prolonged and tremendous strain, from both within and without, and threatened with obliteration, had been resuscitated, and risen to an ascendancy without example in the course of its twenty years’ history. Its foundations reinforced, its spirit exalted, its outlook transformed, its leadership safeguarded, its fundamentals restated, its prestige enhanced, its enemies discomfited, the Hand of Destiny was gradually preparing to launch it on a new phase in its checkered career, in which weal and woe alike were to carry it through yet another stage in its evolution. The Deliverer, the sole hope, and the virtually recognized leader of this community, Who had consistently overawed the authors of so many plots to assassinate Him, Who had scornfully rejected all the timid advice that He should flee from the scene of danger, Who had firmly declined repeated and generous offers made by friends and supporters to insure His personal safety, Who had won so conspicuous a victory over His antagonists—He was, at this auspicious hour, being impelled by the resistless processes of His unfolding Mission, to transfer His residence to the center of still greater preeminence, the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, the seat of the Caliphate, the administrative center of Sunní Islám, the abode of the most powerful potentate in the Islamic world.
He had already flung a daring challenge to the sacerdotal order represented by the eminent ecclesiastics residing in Najaf, Karbilá and Káẓimayn. He was now, while in the vicinity of the court of His royal adversary, to offer a similar challenge to the recognized head of Sunní Islám, as well as to the sovereign of Persia, the trustee of the hidden Imám. The entire company of the kings of the earth, and in particular the Sulṭán and his ministers, were, moreover, to be addressed by Him, appealed to and warned, while the kings of Christendom and the Sunní hierarchy were to be severely admonished. Little wonder that the exiled Bearer of a newly-announced Revelation should have, in anticipation of the future splendor of the Lamp of His Faith, after its removal from ‘Iráq, uttered these prophetic words: “It will shine resplendently within another globe, as predestined by Him who is the Omnipotent, the Ancient of Days.… That the Spirit should depart out of the body of ‘Iráq is indeed a wondrous sign unto all who are in heaven and all who are on earth. Erelong will ye behold this Divine Youth riding upon the steed of victory. Then will the hearts of the envious be seized with trembling.”
The predestined hour of Bahá’u’lláh’s departure from ‘Iráq having now struck, the process whereby it could be accomplished was set in motion. The nine months of unremitting endeavor exerted by His enemies, and particularly by Shaykh ‘Abdu’l-Ḥusayn and his confederate Mírzá Buzurg Khán, were about to yield their fruit. Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh and his ministers, on the one hand, and the Persian Ambassador in Constantinople, on the other, were incessantly urged to take immediate action to insure Bahá’u’lláh’s removal from Baghdád. Through gross misrepresentation of the true situation and the dissemination of alarming reports a malignant and energetic enemy finally succeeded in persuading the Sháh to instruct his foreign minister, Mírzá Sa‘íd Khán, to direct the Persian Ambassador at the Sublime Porte, Mírzá Ḥusayn Khán, a close friend of ‘Alí Páshá, the Grand Vizir of the Sulṭán, and of Fu’ád Páshá, the Minister of foreign affairs, to induce Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz to order the immediate transfer of Bahá’u’lláh to a place remote from Baghdád, on the ground that His continued residence in that city, adjacent to Persian territory and close to so important a center of Shí‘ah pilgrimage, constituted a direct menace to the security of Persia and its government.
Mírzá Sa‘íd Khán, in his communication to the Ambassador, stigmatized the Faith as a “misguided and detestable sect,” deplored Bahá’u’lláh’s release from the Síyáh-Chál, and denounced Him as one who did not cease from “secretly corrupting and misleading foolish persons and ignorant weaklings.” “In accordance with the royal command,” he wrote, “I, your faithful friend, have been ordered … to instruct you to seek, without delay, an appointment with their Excellencies, the Ṣadr-i-A‘ẓam and the Minister of Foreign Affairs … to request … the removal of this source of mischief from a center like Baghdád, which is the meeting-place of many different peoples, and is situated near the frontiers of the provinces of Persia.” In that same letter, quoting a celebrated verse, he writes: “‘I see beneath the ashes the glow of fire, and it wants but little to burst into a blaze,’” thus betraying his fears and seeking to instill them into his correspondent.
Encouraged by the presence on the throne of a monarch who had delegated much of his powers to his ministers, and aided by certain foreign ambassadors and ministers in Constantinople, Mírzá Ḥusayn Khán, by dint of much persuasion and the friendly pressure he brought to bear on these ministers, succeeded in securing the sanction of the Sulṭán for the transfer of Bahá’u’lláh and His companions (who had in the meantime been forced by circumstances to change their citizenship) to Constantinople. It is even reported that the first request the Persian authorities made of a friendly Power, after the accession of the new Sulṭán to the throne, was for its active and prompt intervention in this matter.
It was on the fifth of Naw-Rúz (1863), while Bahá’u’lláh was celebrating that festival in the Mazra‘iy-i-Vashshásh, in the outskirts of Baghdád, and had just revealed the “Tablet of the Holy Mariner,” whose gloomy prognostications had aroused the grave apprehensions of His Companions, that an emissary of Námiq Páshá arrived and delivered into His hands a communication requesting an interview between Him and the governor.
Already, as Nabíl has pointed out in his narrative, Bahá’u’lláh had, in the course of His discourses, during the last years of His sojourn in Baghdád, alluded to the period of trial and turmoil that was inexorably approaching, exhibiting a sadness and heaviness of heart which greatly perturbed those around Him. A dream which He had at that time, the ominous character of which could not be mistaken, served to confirm the fears and misgivings that had assailed His companions. “I saw,” He wrote in a Tablet, “the Prophets and the Messengers gather and seat themselves around Me, moaning, weeping and loudly lamenting. Amazed, I inquired of them the reason, whereupon their lamentation and weeping waxed greater, and they said unto me: ‘We weep for Thee, O Most Great Mystery, O Tabernacle of Immortality!’ They wept with such a weeping that I too wept with them. Thereupon the Concourse on high addressed Me saying: ‘…Erelong shalt Thou behold with Thine own eyes what no Prophet hath beheld.… Be patient, be patient.’ … They continued addressing Me the whole night until the approach of dawn.” “Oceans of sorrow,” Nabíl affirms, “surged in the hearts of the listeners when the Tablet of the Holy Mariner was read aloud to them.… It was evident to every one that the chapter of Baghdád was about to be closed, and a new one opened, in its stead. No sooner had that Tablet been chanted than Bahá’u’lláh ordered that the tents which had been pitched should be folded up, and that all His companions should return to the city. While the tents were being removed He observed: ‘These tents may be likened to the trappings of this world, which no sooner are they spread out than the time cometh for them to be rolled up.’ From these words of His they who heard them perceived that these tents would never again be pitched on that spot. They had not yet been taken away when the messenger arrived from Baghdád to deliver the afore-mentioned communication from the governor.”
By the following day the Deputy-Governor had delivered to Bahá’u’lláh in a mosque, in the neighborhood of the governor’s house, ‘Alí Páshá’s letter, addressed to Námiq Páshá, couched in courteous language, inviting Bahá’u’lláh to proceed, as a guest of the Ottoman government, to Constantinople, placing a sum of money at His disposal, and ordering a mounted escort to accompany Him for His protection. To this request Bahá’u’lláh gave His ready assent, but declined to accept the sum offered Him. On the urgent representations of the Deputy that such a refusal would offend the authorities, He reluctantly consented to receive the generous allowance set aside for His use, and distributed it, that same day, among the poor.
The effect upon the colony of exiles of this sudden intelligence was instantaneous and overwhelming. “That day,” wrote an eyewitness, describing the reaction of the community to the news of Bahá’u’lláh’s approaching departure, “witnessed a commotion associated with the turmoil of the Day of Resurrection. Methinks, the very gates and walls of the city wept aloud at their imminent separation from the Abhá Beloved. The first night mention was made of His intended departure His loved ones, one and all, renounced both sleep and food.… Not a soul amongst them could be tranquillized. Many had resolved that in the event of their being deprived of the bounty of accompanying Him, they would, without hesitation, kill themselves.… Gradually, however, through the words which He addressed them, and through His exhortations and His loving-kindness, they were calmed and resigned themselves to His good-pleasure.” For every one of them, whether Arab or Persian, man or woman, child or adult, who lived in Baghdád, He revealed during those days, in His own hand, a separate Tablet. In most of these Tablets He predicted the appearance of the “Calf” and of the “Birds of the Night,” allusions to those who, as anticipated in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, and foreshadowed in the dream quoted above, were to raise the standard of rebellion and precipitate the gravest crisis in the history of the Faith.
Twenty-seven days after that mournful Tablet had been so unexpectedly revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, and the fateful communication, presaging His departure to Constantinople had been delivered into His hands, on a Wednesday afternoon (April 22, 1863), thirty-one days after Naw-Rúz, on the third of Dhi’l-Qa‘dih, 1279 A.H., He set forth on the first stage of His four months’ journey to the capital of the Ottoman Empire. That historic day, forever after designated as the first day of the Riḍván Festival, the culmination of innumerable farewell visits which friends and acquaintances of every class and denomination, had been paying him, was one the like of which the inhabitants of Baghdád had rarely beheld. A concourse of people of both sexes and of every age, comprising friends and strangers Arabs, Kurds and Persians, notables and clerics, officials and merchants, as well as many of the lower classes, the poor, the orphaned, the outcast, some surprised, others heartbroken, many tearful and apprehensive, a few impelled by curiosity or secret satisfaction, thronged the approaches of His house, eager to catch a final glimpse of One Who, for a decade, had, through precept and example, exercised so potent an influence on so large a number of the heterogeneous inhabitants of their city.
Leaving for the last time, amidst weeping and lamentation, His “Most Holy Habitation,” out of which had “gone forth the breath of the All-Glorious,” and from which had poured forth, in “ceaseless strains,” the “melody of the All-Merciful,” and dispensing on His way with a lavish hand a last alms to the poor He had so faithfully befriended, and uttering words of comfort to the disconsolate who besought Him on every side, He, at length, reached the banks of the river, and was ferried across, accompanied by His sons and amanuensis, to the Najíbíyyih Garden, situated on the opposite shore. “O My companions,” He thus addressed the faithful band that surrounded Him before He embarked, “I entrust to your keeping this city of Baghdád, in the state ye now behold it, when from the eyes of friends and strangers alike, crowding its housetops, its streets and markets, tears like the rain of spring are flowing down, and I depart. With you it now rests to watch lest your deeds and conduct dim the flame of love that gloweth within the breasts of its inhabitants.”
The muezzin had just raised the afternoon call to prayer when Bahá’u’lláh entered the Najíbíyyih Garden, where He tarried twelve days before His final departure from the city. There His friends and companions, arriving in successive waves, attained His presence and bade Him, with feelings of profound sorrow, their last farewell. Outstanding among them was the renowned Álúsí, the Muftí of Baghdád, who, with eyes dimmed with tears, execrated the name of Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, whom he deemed to be primarily responsible for so unmerited a banishment. “I have ceased to regard him,” he openly asserted, “as Náṣiri’d-Dín (the helper of the Faith), but consider him rather to be its wrecker.” Another distinguished visitor was the governor himself, Námiq Páshá, who, after expressing in the most respectful terms his regret at the developments which had precipitated Bahá’u’lláh’s departure, and assuring Him of his readiness to aid Him in any way he could, handed to the officer appointed to accompany Him a written order, commanding the governors of the provinces through which the exiles would be passing to extend to them the utmost consideration. “Whatever you require,” he, after profuse apologies, informed Bahá’u’lláh, “you have but to command. We are ready to carry it out.” “Extend thy consideration to Our loved ones,” was the reply to his insistent and reiterated offers, “and deal with them with kindness”—a request to which he gave his warm and unhesitating assent.
Small wonder that, in the face of so many evidences of deep-seated devotion, sympathy and esteem, so strikingly manifested by high and low alike, from the time Bahá’u’lláh announced His contemplated journey to the day of His departure from the Najíbíyyih Garden—small wonder that those who had so tirelessly sought to secure the order for His banishment, and had rejoiced at the success of their efforts, should now have bitterly regretted their act. “Such hath been the interposition of God,” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, in a letter written by Him from that garden, with reference to these enemies, affirms, “that the joy evinced by them hath been turned to chagrin and sorrow, so much so that the Persian consul-general in Baghdád regrets exceedingly the plans and plots the schemers had devised. Námiq Páshá himself, on the day he called on Him (Bahá’u’lláh) stated: ‘Formerly they insisted upon your departure. Now, however, they are even more insistent that you should remain.’”