God Passes By


- Chapter XXIII -

Attacks on Bahá’í Institutions

The institutions signalizing the rise and establishment of the Administrative Order of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh did not (as the history of their unfoldment abundantly demonstrates) remain immune against the assaults and persecutions to which the Faith itself, the progenitor of that Order, had, for over seventy years, been subjected, and from which it is still suffering. The emergence of a firmly knit community, advancing the claims of a world religion, with ramifications spread over five continents representing a great variety of races, languages, classes and religious traditions; provided with a literature scattered over the surface of the earth, and expounding in several languages its doctrine; clear-visioned, unafraid, alert and determined to achieve at whatever sacrifice its goal; organically united through the machinery of a divinely appointed Administrative Order; non-sectarian, non-political, faithful to its civil obligations yet supranational in character; tenacious in its adherence to the laws and ordinances regulating its community life—the emergence of such a community, in a world steeped in prejudice, worshipping false gods, torn by intestine divisions, and blindly clinging to obsolescent doctrines and defective standards, could not but precipitate, sooner or later, crises no less grave, though less spectacular, than the persecutions which, in an earlier age, had raged around the Founders of that community and their early disciples. Assailed by enemies within, who have either rebelled against its God-given authority or wholly renounced their faith, or by adversaries from without, whether political or ecclesiastical, the infant Order identified with this community has, since its inception, and throughout every stage in its evolution, felt severely the impact of the forces which have sought in vain to strangle its budding life or to obscure its purpose.

To these attacks, destined to grow in scope and severity, and to arouse a tumult that will reverberate throughout the world, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá Himself had already, at the time the outlines of that Divine order were being delineated by Him in His Will, significantly alluded: “Erelong shall the clamor of the multitude throughout Africa, throughout America, the cry of the European and of the Turk, the groaning of India and China, be heard from far and near. One and all, they shall arise with all their power to resist His Cause. Then shall the knights of the Lord … reinforced by the legions of the Covenant, arise and manifest the truth of the verse: ‘Behold the confusion that hath befallen the tribes of the defeated!’

Already in more than one country the trustees and elected representatives of this indestructible world-embracing Order have been summoned by civil authorities or ecclesiastical courts, ignorant of its claims, or hostile to its principles or fearful of its rising strength, to defend its cause, or to renounce their allegiance to it, or to curtail the range of its operation. Already an aggressive hand, unmindful of God’s avenging wrath, has been stretched out against its sanctuaries and edifices. Already its defenders and champions have, in some countries, been declared heretics, or stigmatized as subverters of law and order, or branded as visionaries, unpatriotic and careless of their civic duties and responsibilities, or peremptorily ordered to suspend their activities and dissolve their institutions.

In the Holy Land, the world seat of this System, where its heart pulsates, where the dust of its Founders reposes, where the processes disclosing its purposes, energizing its life and shaping its destiny all originate, there fell, at the very hour of its inception, the first blow which served to proclaim to high and low alike the solidity of the foundations on which it has been established. The Covenant-breakers, now dwindled to a mere handful, instigated by Mírzá Muḥammad-‘Alí, the Arch-rebel, whose dormant hopes had been awakened by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s sudden ascension, and headed by the arrogant Mírzá Badí‘u’lláh, seized forcibly the keys of the Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh, expelled its keeper, the brave-souled Abu’l-Qásim-i-Khurásání, and demanded that their chief be recognized by the authorities as the legal custodian of that Shrine. Unadmonished by their abject failure, as witnessed by the firm action of the Palestine authorities, who, after prolonged investigations, instructed the British officer in ‘Akká to deliver the keys into the hands of that same keeper, they resorted to other methods in the hope of creating a cleavage in the ranks of the bereaved yet resolute disciples of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá and of ultimately undermining the foundations of the institutions His followers were laboring to erect. Through their mischievous misrepresentations of the ideals animating the builders of the Bahá’í Administrative Order; through the maintenance, though not on its original scale, of a subversive correspondence with individuals whose loyalty they hoped they could sap; through deliberate distortions of the truth in their contact with officials and notables whom they could approach; through attempts, made through bribery and intimidation, to purchase a part of the Mansion of Bahá’u’lláh; through efforts directed at preventing the acquisition by the Bahá’í community of certain properties situated in the vicinity of the Tomb of the Báb, and at frustrating the design to consolidate the foundation of some of these properties by transferring their title-deeds to incorporated Bahá’í assemblies, they continued to labor intermittently for several years until the extinction of the life of the Arch-breaker of the Covenant himself virtually sealed their doom.

The evacuation of the Mansion of Bahá’u’lláh by these Covenant-breakers, after their unchallenged occupancy of it since His ascension, a Mansion which, through their gross neglect, had fallen into a sad state of disrepair; its subsequent complete restoration, fulfilling a long cherished desire of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá; its illumination through an electric plant installed by an American believer for that purpose; the refurnishing of all its rooms after it had been completely denuded by its former occupants of all the precious relics it contained, with the exception of a single candlestick in the room where Bahá’u’lláh had ascended; the collection within its walls of Bahá’í historic documents, of relics and of over five thousand volumes of Bahá’í literature, in no less than forty languages; the extension to it of the exemption from government taxes, already granted to other Bahá’í institutions and properties in ‘Akká and on Mt. Carmel; and finally, its conversion from a private residence to a center of pilgrimage visited by Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís alike—these served to further dash the hopes of those who were still desperately striving to extinguish the light of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh. Furthermore, the success later achieved in purchasing and safeguarding the area forming the precincts of the resting-place of the Báb on Mt. Carmel, and the transfer of the title-deeds of some of these properties to the legally constituted Palestine Branch of the American Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly, no less than the circumstances attending the death of the one who had been the prime mover of mischief throughout ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s ministry, demonstrated to these enemies the futility of their efforts and the hopelessness of their cause.

Of a more serious nature, and productive of still greater repercussions, was the unlawful seizure by the Shí‘ahs of ‘Iráq, at about the same time that the keys of the Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh were wrested by the Covenant-breakers from its keeper, of yet another Bahá’í Shrine, the House occupied by Bahá’u’lláh for well nigh the whole period of His exile in ‘Iráq, which had been acquired by Him, and later had been ordained as a center of pilgrimage, and had continued in the unbroken and undisputed possession of His followers ever since His departure from Baghdád. This crisis, originating about a year prior to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s ascension, and precipitated by the measures which, after the change of régime in ‘Iráq, had, according to His instructions, been taken for the reconstruction of that House, acquired as it developed a steadily widening measure of publicity. It became the object of the consideration of successive tribunals, first of the local Shí‘ah Ja‘faríyyih court in Baghdád, second of the Peace court, then the court of First Instance, then of the court of Appeal in ‘Iráq, and finally of the League of Nations, the greatest international body yet come into existence, and empowered to exercise supervision and control over all Mandated Territories. Though as yet unresolved through a combination of causes, religious as well as political, it has already remarkably fulfilled Bahá’u’lláh’s own prediction, and will, in its own appointed time, as the means for its solution are providentially created, fulfill the high destiny ordained for it by Him in His Tablets. Long before its seizure by fanatical enemies, who had no conceivable claim to it whatever, He had prophesied that “it shall be so abased in the days to come as to cause tears to flow from every discerning eye.

The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Baghdád, deprived of the use of that sacred property through an adverse decision by a majority of the court of Appeal, which had reversed the verdict of the lower court and awarded the property to the Shí‘ahs, and aroused by subsequent action of the Shí‘ahs, soon after the execution of the judgment of that court, in converting the building into waqf property (pious foundation), designating it “Ḥusayníyyih,” with the purpose of consolidating their gain, realized the futility of the three years of negotiations they had been conducting with the civil authorities in Baghdád for the righting of the wrong inflicted upon them. In their capacity as the national representatives of the Bahá’ís of ‘Iráq, they, therefore, on September 11, 1928, through the High Commissioner for ‘Iráq and in conformity with the provisions of Art. 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, approached the League’s Permanent Mandates Commission, charged with the supervision of the administration of all Mandated Territories, and presented a petition that was accepted and approved by that body in November, 1928. A memorandum submitted, in connection with that petition, to that same Commission, by the Mandatory Power unequivocally stated that the Shí‘ahs had “no conceivable claim whatever” to the House, that the decision of the judge of the Ja‘faríyyih court was “obviously wrong,” “unjust” and “undoubtedly actuated by religious prejudice,” that the subsequent ejectment of the Bahá’ís was “illegal,” that the action of the authorities had been “highly irregular,” and that the verdict of the Court of Appeal was suspected of not being “uninfluenced by political consideration.”

“The Commission,” states the Report submitted by it to the Council of the League, and published in the Minutes of the 14th session of the Permanent Mandates Commission, held in Geneva in the fall of 1928, and subsequently translated into Arabic and published in ‘Iráq, “draws the Council’s attention to the considerations and conclusions suggested to it by an examination of the petition … It recommends that the Council should ask the British Government to make representations to the ‘Iráq Government with a view to the immediate redress of the denial of justice from which the petitioners have suffered.”

The British accredited representative present at the sessions of the Commission, furthermore, stated that “the Mandatory Power had recognized that the Bahá’ís had suffered an injustice,” whilst allusion was made, in the course of that session, to the fact that the action of the Shí‘ahs constituted a breach of the constitution and the Organic Law of ‘Iráq. The Finnish representative, moreover, in his report to the Council, declared that this “injustice must be attributed solely to religious passion,” and asked that “the petitioner’s wrongs should be redressed.”

The Council of the League, on its part, having considered this report as well as the joint observations and conclusions of the Commission, unanimously adopted, on March 4, 1929, a resolution, subsequently translated and published in the newspapers of Baghdád, directing the Mandatory Power “to make representations to the Government of ‘Iráq with a view to the immediate redress of the injustice suffered by the Petitioners.” It instructed, accordingly, the Secretary General to bring to the notice of the Mandatory Power, as well as to the petitioners concerned, the conclusions arrived at by the Commission, an instruction which was duly transmitted by the British Government through its High Commissioner to the ‘Iráq Government.

A letter dated January 12, 1931, written on behalf of the British Foreign Minister, Mr. Arthur Henderson, addressed to the League Secretariat, stated that the conclusions reached by the Council had “received the most careful consideration by the Government of ‘Iráq,” who had “finally decided to set up a special committee … to consider the views expressed by the Bahá’í community in respect of certain houses in Baghdád, and to formulate recommendations for an equitable settlement of this question.” That letter, moreover, pointed out that the committee had submitted its report in August, 1930, that it had been accepted by the government, that the Bahá’í community had “accepted in principle” its recommendations, and that the authorities in Baghdád had directed that “detailed plans and estimates shall be prepared with a view to carrying these recommendations into effect during the coming financial year.”

No need to dwell on the subsequent history of this momentous case, on the long-drawn out negotiations, the delays and complications that ensued; on the consultations, “over a hundred” in number, in which the king, his ministers and advisers took part; on the expressions of “regret,” of “surprise” and of “anxiety” placed on record at successive sessions of the Mandates Commission held in Geneva in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1933; on the condemnation by its members of the “spirit of intolerance” animating the Shí‘ah community, of the “partiality” of the ‘Iráqí courts, of the “weakness” of the civil authorities and of the “religious passion at the bottom of this injustice”; on their testimony to the “extremely conciliatory disposition” of the petitioners, on their “doubt” regarding the adequacy of the proposals, and on their recognition of the “serious” character of the situation that had been created, of the “flagrant denial of justice” which the Bahá’ís had suffered, and of the “moral debt” which the ‘Iráq Government had contracted, a debt which, whatever the changes in her status as a nation, it was her bounden duty to discharge.

Nor does it seem necessary to expatiate on the unfortunate consequences of the untimely death of both the British High Commissioner and the ‘Iráqí Prime Minister; on the admission of ‘Iráq as a member of the League, and the consequent termination of the mandate held by Great Britain; on the tragic and unexpected death of the King himself; on the difficulties raised owing to the existence of a town planning scheme; on the written assurance conveyed to the High Commissioner by the acting Premier in his letter of January, 1932; on the pledge given by the King, prior to his death, in the presence of the foreign minister, in February, 1933, that the House would be expropriated, and the necessary sum would be appropriated in the spring of the ensuing year; on the categorical statement made by that same foreign minister that the Prime Minister had given the necessary assurances that the promise already made by the acting Premier would be redeemed; or on the positive statements made by that same Foreign Minister and his colleague, the Minister of Finance, when representing their country during the sessions of the League Assembly held in Geneva, that the promise given by their late King would be fully honored.

Suffice it to say that, despite these interminable delays, protests and evasions, and the manifest failure of the Authorities concerned to implement the recommendations made by both the Council of the League and the Permanent Mandates Commission, the publicity achieved for the Faith by this memorable litigation, and the defense of its cause—the cause of truth and justice—by the world’s highest tribunal, have been such as to excite the wonder of its friends and to fill with consternation its enemies. Few episodes, if any, since the birth of the Formative Age of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, have given rise to repercussions in high places comparable to the effect produced on governments and chancelleries by this violent and unprovoked assault directed by its inveterate enemies against one of its holiest sanctuaries.

Grieve not, O House of God,” Bahá’u’lláh Himself has significantly written, “if the veil of thy sanctity be rent asunder by the infidels. God hath, in the world of creation, adorned thee with the jewel of His remembrance. Such an ornament no man can, at any time, profane. Towards thee the eyes of thy Lord shall, under all conditions, remain directed.” “In the fullness of time,” He, in another passage, referring to that same House, has prophesied, “the Lord shall, by the power of truth, exalt it in the eyes of all men. He shall cause it to become the Standard of His Kingdom, the Shrine round which will circle the concourse of the faithful.

To the bold onslaught made by the breakers of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh in their concerted efforts to secure the custodianship of His holy Tomb, to the arbitrary seizure of His holy House in Baghdád by the Shí‘ah community of ‘Iráq, was to be added, a few years later, yet another grievous assault launched by a still more powerful adversary, directed against the very fabric of the Administrative Order as established by two long-flourishing Bahá’í communities of the East, culminating in the virtual disruption of these communities and the seizure of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the Bahá’í world and of the few accessory institutions already reared about it.

The courage, the fervor and the spiritual vitality evinced by these communities; the highly organized state of their administrative institutions; the facilities provided for the religious education and training of their youth; the conversion of a number of broad-minded Russian citizens, imbued with ideas closely related to the tenets of the Faith; the growing realization of the implications of its principles, with their emphasis on religion, on the sanctity of family life, on the institution of private property, and their repudiation of all discrimination between classes and of the doctrine of the absolute equality of men—these combined to excite the suspicion, and later to arouse the fierce antagonism, of the ruling authorities, and to precipitate one of the gravest crises in the history of the first Bahá’í century.

As the crisis developed and spread to even the outlying centers of both Turkistán and the Caucasus it resulted gradually in the imposition of restrictions limiting the freedom of these communities, in the interrogation and arrest of their elected representatives, in the dissolution of their local Assemblies and their respective committees in Moscow, in ‘Ishqábád, in Bákú and in other localities in the above-mentioned provinces and in the suspension of all Bahá’í youth activities. It even led to the closing of Bahá’í schools, kindergartens, libraries and public reading-rooms, to the interception of all communication with foreign Bahá’í centers, to the confiscation of Bahá’í printing presses, books and documents, to the prohibition of all teaching activities, to the abrogation of the Bahá’í constitution, to the abolition of all national and local funds and to the ban placed on the attendance of non-believers at Bahá’í meetings.

In the middle of 1928 the law expropriating religious edifices was applied to the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of ‘Ishqábád. The use of this edifice as a house of worship, however, was continued, under a five-year lease, which was renewed by the local authorities in 1933, for a similar period. In 1938 the situation in both Turkistán and the Caucasus rapidly deteriorated, leading to the imprisonment of over five hundred believers—many of whom died—as well as a number of women, and the confiscation of their property, followed by the exile of several prominent members of these communities to Siberia, the polar forests and other places in the vicinity of the Arctic Ocean, the subsequent deportation of most of the remnants of these communities to Persia, on account of their Persian nationality, and lastly, the complete expropriation of the Temple itself and its conversion into an art gallery.

In Germany, likewise, the rise and establishment of the Administrative Order of the Faith, to whose expansion and consolidation the German believers were distinctively and increasingly contributing, was soon followed by repressive measures, which, though less grievous than the afflictions suffered by the Bahá’ís of Turkistán and the Caucasus, amounted to the virtual cessation, in the years immediately preceding the present conflict, of all organized Bahá’í activity throughout the length and breadth of that land. The public teaching of the Faith, with its unconcealed emphasis on peace and universality, and its repudiation of racialism, was officially forbidden; Bahá’í Assemblies and their committees were dissolved; the holding of Bahá’í conventions was interdicted; the Archives of the National Spiritual Assembly were seized; the summer school was abolished and the publication of all Bahá’í literature was suspended.

In Persia, moreover, apart from sporadic outbreaks of persecution in such places as Shíráz, Ábádih, Ardibíl, Iṣfahán, and in certain districts of Ádhirbáyján and Khurásán—outbreaks greatly reduced in number and violence, owing to the marked decline in the fortunes of the erstwhile powerful Shí‘ah ecclesiastics—the institutions of a newly-established and as yet unconsolidated Administrative Order were subjected by the civil authorities, in both the capital and the provinces, to restrictions designed to circumscribe their scope, to fetter their freedom and undermine their foundations.

The gradual and wholly unexpected emergence from obscurity of a firmly-welded national community, schooled in adversity and unbroken in spirit, with centers established in every province of that country, in spite of the successive waves of inhuman persecution which had, for three quarters of a century, swept over and had all but engulfed it; the determination of its members to diffuse the spirit and principles of their Faith, broadcast its literature, enforce its laws and ordinances, penalize those who would transgress them, maintain a steady intercourse with their fellow-believers in foreign lands, and erect the edifices and institutions of its Administrative Order, could not but arouse the apprehensions and the hostility of those placed in authority, who either misunderstood the aims of that community, or were bent upon stifling its life. The insistence of its members, while obedient in all matters of a purely administrative character to the civil statutes of their country, on adhering to the fundamental spiritual principles, precepts and laws revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, requiring them, among other things, to hold fast to truthfulness, not to dissimulate their faith, observe the ordinances prescribed for marriage and divorce, and suspend all manner of work on the Holy Days ordained by Him, brought them, sooner or later, into conflict with a régime which, owing to its formal recognition of Islám as the state religion of Persia, refused to extend any recognition to those whom the official exponents of that religion had already condemned as heretics.

The closing of all schools belonging to the Bahá’í community in that country, as a direct consequence of the refusal of the representatives of that community to permit official Bahá’í institutions, owned and entirely controlled by them, to transgress the clearly revealed law requiring the suspension of work on Bahá’í Holy Days; the rejection of all Bahá’í marriage certificates and the refusal to register them at government License Bureaus; the ban placed on the printing and circulation of all Bahá’í literature, as well as on its entry into the country; the seizure in various centers of Bahá’í documents, books and relics; the closing, in some of the provinces of the Ḥazíratu’l-Quds, and the confiscation in some localities of their furniture; the prohibition of all Bahá’í demonstrations, conferences and conventions; the strict censorship imposed on, and often the non-delivery of, communications between Bahá’í centers in Persia and between these centers and Bahá’í communities in foreign lands; the withholding of good-record certificates from loyal and law-abiding citizens on the ground of their avowed adherence to the Bahá’í Faith; the dismissal of Government employees, the demotion or discharge of army officers, the arrest, the interrogation, the imprisonment of, and the imposition of fines and other punishments upon, a number of believers who refused either to cast aside the moral obligation of adhering to the spiritual principles of their Faith, or to act in any manner that would conflict with its universal and non-political character—all these may be regarded as the initial attempts made in the country whose soil had already been imbued with the blood of countless Bahá’í martyrs, to resist the rise, and frustrate the struggle for the emancipation, of a nascent Administrative Order, whose very roots have sucked their strength from such heroic sacrifice.

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