A cataclysmic process, one of the most remarkable in modern history, was set in motion ever since Bahá’u’lláh, while a prisoner in Constantinople, delivered to a Turkish official His Tablet, addressed to Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz and his ministers, to be transmitted to ‘Alí Páshá, the Grand Vizir. It was this Tablet which, as attested by that officer and affirmed by Nabíl in his chronicle, affected the Vizir so profoundly that he paled while reading it. This process received fresh impetus after the Lawḥ-i-Ra’ís was revealed on the morrow of its Author’s final banishment from Adrianople to ‘Akká. Relentless, devastating, and with ever-increasing momentum, it ominously unfolded, damaging the prestige of the Empire, dismembering its territory, dethroning its sulṭáns, sweeping away their dynasty, degrading and deposing its Caliph, disestablishing its religion, and extinguishing its glory. The “sick man” of Europe, whose condition had been unerringly diagnosed by the Divine Physician, and whose doom was pronounced inevitable, fell a prey, during the reign of five successive sulṭáns, all degenerate, all deposed, to a series of convulsions which, in the end, proved fatal to his life. Imperial Turkey that had, under ‘Abdu’l-Majíd, been admitted into the European Concert, and had emerged victorious from the Crimean War, entered, under his successor, ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz, upon a period of swift decline, culminating, soon after ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s passing, in the doom which the judgment of God had pronounced against it.
Risings in Crete and the Balkans marked the reign of this, the 32nd sulṭán of his dynasty, a despot whose mind was vacuous, whose recklessness was extreme, whose extravagance knew no bounds. The Eastern Question entered upon an acute phase. His gross misrule gave rise to movements which were to exercise far-reaching effects upon his realm, while his continual and enormous borrowings, leading to a state of semibankruptcy, introduced the principle of foreign control over the finances of his empire. A conspiracy, leading to a palace revolution, finally deposed him. A fatvá of the muftí denounced his incapacity and extravagance. Four days later he was assassinated, and was succeeded by his nephew, Murád V, whose mind had been reduced to a nullity by intemperance and by a long seclusion in the Cage. Declared to be imbecile, he, after a reign of three months, was deposed and was succeeded by the subtle, the resourceful, the suspicious, the tyrannical ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd II who “proved to be the most mean, cunning, untrustworthy and cruel intriguer of the long dynasty of Uthmán.” “No one knew,” it was written of him, “from day to day who was the person on whose advice the sulṭán overruled his ostensible ministers, whether a favorite lady of his harem, or a eunuch, or some fanatical dervish, or an astrologer, or a spy.” The Bulgarian atrocities heralded the black reign of this “Great Assassin,” which thrilled Europe with horror, and were characterized by Gladstone as “the basest and blackest outrages upon record in that [XIX] century.” The War of 1877–78 accelerated the process of the empire’s dismemberment. No less than eleven million people were emancipated from Turkish yoke. The Russian troops occupied Adrianople. Serbia, Montenegro and Rumania proclaimed their independence. Bulgaria became a self-governing state, tributary to the sulṭán. Cyprus and Egypt were occupied. The French assumed a protectorate over Tunis. Eastern Rumelia was ceded to Bulgaria. The wholesale massacres of Armenians, involving directly and indirectly a hundred thousand souls, were but a foretaste of the still more extensive bloodbaths to come in a later reign. Bosnia and Herzegovina were lost to Austria. Bulgaria obtained her independence. Universal contempt and hatred of an infamous sovereign, shared alike by his Christian and Muslim subjects, finally culminated in a revolution, swift and sweeping. The Committee of Young Turks secured from the Shaykhu’l-Islám the condemnation of the sulṭán. Deserted and friendless, execrated by his subjects, and despised by his fellow-rulers, he was forced to abdicate, and was made a prisoner of state, thus ending a reign “more disastrous in its immediate losses of territory and in the certainty of others to follow, and more conspicuous for the deterioration of the condition of his subjects, than that of any other of his twenty-three degenerate predecessors since the death of Soliman the Magnificent.”
The end of so shameful a reign was but the beginning of a new era which, however auspiciously hailed at first, was destined to witness the collapse of the Ottoman ramshackle and worm-eaten state. Muḥammad V, a brother of ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd II, an absolute nonentity, failed to improve the status of his subjects. The follies of his government ultimately sealed the doom of the empire. The War of 1914–18 provided the occasion. Military reverses brought to a head the forces that were sapping its foundations. While the war was still being fought the defection of the Sherif of Mecca and the revolt of the Arabian provinces portended the convulsion which was to seize the Turkish throne. The precipitate flight and complete destruction of the army of Jamál Páshá, the commander-in-chief in Syria—he who had sworn to raze to the ground, after his triumphant return from Egypt, the Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh, and to publicly crucify the Center of His Covenant in a public square of Constantinople—was the signal for the nemesis that was to overtake an empire in distress. Nine-tenths of the large Turkish armies had melted away. A fourth of the whole population had perished from war, disease, famine and massacre.
A new ruler, Muḥammad VI, the last of the twenty-five successive degenerate sulṭáns, had meanwhile succeeded his wretched brother. The edifice of the empire was now quaking and tottering to its fall. Muṣṭafá Kamál dealt it the final blows. Turkey, that had already shrunk to a small Asiatic state, became a republic. The sulṭán was deposed, the Ottoman Sultanate was ended, a rulership that had remained unbroken for six and a half centuries was extinguished. An empire which had stretched from the center of Hungary to the Persian Gulf and the Sudan, and from the Caspian Sea to Oran in Africa, had now dwindled to a small Asiatic republic. Constantinople itself, which, after the fall of Byzantium, had been honored as the splendid metropolis of the Roman Empire, and had been made the capital of the Ottoman government, was abandoned by its conquerors, and stripped of its pomp and glory—a mute reminder of the base tyranny that had for so long stained its throne.
Such, in their bare outline, were the awful evidences of that retributive justice which so tragically afflicted ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz, his successors, his throne and his dynasty. What of Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, the other partner in that imperial conspiracy which sought to extirpate, root and branch, the budding Faith of God? His reaction to the Divine Message borne to him by the fearless Badí, the “Pride of Martyrs,” who had spontaneously dedicated himself to this purpose, was characteristic of that implacable hatred which, throughout his reign, glowed so fiercely in his breast.
The French Emperor had, it was reported, flung away Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet, and directed his minister, as Bahá’u’lláh Himself asserts, to address to its Author an irreverent reply. The Grand Vizir of ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz, it is reliably stated, blanched while reading the communication addressed to his Imperial master and his ministers, and made the following comment: “It is as if the king of kings were issuing his behest to his humblest vassal king, and regulating his conduct!” Queen Victoria, it is said, upon reading the Tablet revealed for her remarked: “If this is of God, it will endure; if not, it can do no harm.” It was reserved for Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, however, to wreak, at the instigation of the divines, his vengeance on One Whom he could no longer personally chastise by arresting His messenger, a lad of about seventeen, by freighting him with chains, by torturing him on the rack, and finally slaying him.
To this despotic sovereign Bahá’u’lláh, Who denounced him as the “Prince of Oppressors,” and as one who would soon be made “an object-lesson for the world,” had written: “Look upon this Youth, O king, with the eyes of justice; judge thou, then, with truth concerning what hath befallen Him. Of a verity, God hath made thee His shadow amongst men, and the sign of His power unto all that dwell on earth.” And again: “O king! Wert thou to incline thine ears unto the shrill of the Pen of Glory and the cooing of the Dove of Eternity … thou wouldst attain unto a station from which thou wouldst behold in the world of being naught save the effulgence of the Adored One, and wouldst regard thy sovereignty as the most contemptible of thy possessions, abandoning it to whosoever might desire it, and setting thy face toward the horizon aglow with the light of His countenance.” And again: “We fain would hope, however, that His Majesty the Sháh will himself examine these matters, and bring hope to the hearts. That which We have submitted to thee is indeed for thine highest good.”
This hope, however, was to remain unfulfilled. It was indeed shattered by a reign which had been inaugurated by the execution of the Báb, and the imprisonment of Bahá’u’lláh in the Síyáh-Chál of Ṭihrán, by a sovereign who had repeatedly instigated Bahá’u’lláh’s successive banishments, and by a dynasty that had been sullied by the slaughter of no less than twenty thousand of His followers. The Sháh’s dramatic assassination, the ignoble rule of the last sovereigns of the House of Qájár, and the extinction of that dynasty, were signal instances of the Divine retribution which these horrid atrocities had provoked.
The Qájárs, members of the alien Turkoman tribe, had, indeed, usurped the Persian throne. Áqá Muḥammad Khán, the eunuch Sháh and founder of the dynasty, was such an atrocious, avaricious, bloodthirsty tyrant that the memory of no Persian is so detested and universally execrated as his memory. The record of his reign and that of his immediate successors is one of vandalism, of internal warfare, of recalcitrant and rebellious chieftains, of brigandage, and medieval oppression, whilst the annals of the reigns of the later Qájárs are marked by the stagnation of the nation, the illiteracy of the people, the corruption and incompetence of the government, the scandalous intrigues of the court, the decadence of the princes, the irresponsibility and extravagance of the sovereign, and his abject subservience to a notoriously degraded clerical order.
The successor of Áqá Muḥammad Khán, the uxorious, philoprogenetive Fatḥ-‘Alí Sháh, the so-called “Darius of the Age,” was a vain, an arrogant, and unscrupulous miser, notorious for the enormous number of his wives and concubines, numbering above a thousand, his incalculable progeny, and the disasters which his rule brought upon his country. He it was who commanded that his vizir, to whom he owed his throne, be cast into a caldron of boiling oil. As to his successor, the bigoted Muḥammad Sháh, one of his earliest acts, definitely condemned by the pen of Bahá’u’lláh, was the order to strangle his first minister, the illustrious Qá’im-Maqám, immortalized by that same pen as the “Prince of the City of Statesmanship and Literary Accomplishment,” and to have him replaced by that lowbred, consummate scoundrel, Ḥájí Mírzá Aqásí, who brought the country to the verge of bankruptcy and revolution. It was this same Sháh who refused to interview the Báb and imprisoned Him in Ádhirbayján, and who, at the age of forty, was afflicted by a complication of maladies to which he succumbed, hastening the doom forecast in these words of the Qayyúm-i-Asmá’: “I swear by God, O Sháh! If thou showest enmity unto Him Who is His Remembrance, God will, on the Day of Resurrection, condemn thee, before the kings, unto hellfire, and thou shalt not, in very truth, find on that day any helper except God, the Exalted.”
Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, a selfish, capricious, imperious monarch, succeeded to the throne, and, for half a century, was destined to remain the sole arbiter of the fortunes of his hapless country. A disastrous obscurantism, a chaotic administration in the provinces, the disorganization of the finances of the realm, the intrigues, the vindictiveness, and profligacy of the pampered and greedy courtiers, who buzzed and swarmed round his throne, his own despotism which, but for the restraining fear of European public opinion and the desire to be thought well of in the capitals of the West, would have been more cruel and savage, were the distinguishing features of the bloody reign of one who styled himself “Footpath of Heaven,” and “Asylum of the Universe.” A triple darkness of chaos, bankruptcy and oppression enveloped the country. His own assassination was the first portent of the revolution which was to restrict the prerogatives of his son and successor, depose the last two monarchs of the House of Qájár, and extinguish their dynasty. On the eve of his jubilee, which was to inaugurate a new era, and the celebration of which had been elaborately prepared, he fell, in the shrine of Sháh ‘Abdu’l-‘Aẓím, a victim to an assassin’s pistol, his dead body driven back to his capitol, propped up in the royal carriage in front of his Grand Vizir, in order to defer the news of his murder.
“It was whispered,” writes an eyewitness of both the ceremony and the assassination, “that the day of the Sháh’s celebration was to be the greatest in the history of Persia.… Prisoners were to be released without condition, and a general amnesty was to be proclaimed; peasants were promised exemption from taxes for at least two years. …the poor were to be fed for months. Ministers and officials were already intriguing for honors and pension from the Sháh. Shrines and sacred places were to open their gates to all wayfarers and pilgrims, and the siyyids and mullás were taking cough medicine to clear their throats to sing and chant the praises of the Sháh in all the pulpits. The mosques were swept and prepared for general meetings and public prayers in behalf of the Sovereign.… Sacred fountains were enlarged to hold more holy water, and the rightful authorities had foreseen that many miracles might take place on the day of the jubilee, with the aid of these fountains.… The Sháh had declared … that he would renounce his prerogatives as despot, and proclaim himself ‘The Majestic Father of all the Persians.’ The city authority was to relax its vigilant watch. No record was to be kept of the strangers who flocked to the caravanserais, and the population was to be left free to wander the streets during the whole night.” Even the great mujtahids had, according to what had been reported to that same eyewitness, “decided, for the time being, to discontinue persecuting the Bábís and other infidels.”
Thus fell the one whose reign will remain forever associated with the most heinous crime in history—the martyrdom of that One Whom the Supreme Manifestation of God proclaimed to be the “Point round Whom the realities of the Prophets and Messengers revolve.” In a Tablet in which the pen of Bahá’u’lláh condemns him, we read: “Among them [kings of the earth] is the King of Persia, who suspended Him Who is the Temple of the Cause [the Báb] in the air, and put Him to death with such cruelty that all created things, and the inmates of Paradise, and the Concourse on high wept for Him. He slew, moreover, some of Our kindred, and plundered Our property, and made Our family captives in the hands of the oppressors. Once and again he imprisoned Me. By God, the True One! None can reckon the things which befell Me in prison, save God, the Reckoner, the Omniscient, the Almighty. Subsequently he banished Me and My family from My country, whereupon We arrived in ‘Iráq in evident sorrow. We tarried there until the time when the King of Rúm [Sulṭán of Turkey] arose against Us, and summoned Us unto the seat of his sovereignty. When We reached it there flowed over Us that whereat the King of Persia rejoiced. Later We entered this Prison, wherein the hands of Our loved ones were torn from the hem of Our robe. In such a manner hath he dealt with Us!”
The days of the Qájár dynasty were now numbered. The torpor of the national consciousness had vanished. The reign of Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh’s successor, Muzaffari’d-Dín Sháh, a weak and timid creature, extravagant and lavish to his courtiers, led the country down the broad road to ruin. The movement in favor of a constitution, limiting the sovereign’s prerogatives, gathered force, and culminated in the signature of the constitution by the dying Sháh, who expired a few days later. Muḥammad-‘Alí Sháh, a despot of the worst type, unprincipled and avaricious, succeeded to the throne. Hostile to the constitution, he, by his summary action, involving the bombardment of the Baháristán, where the Assembly met, precipitated a revolution which led to his deposition by the nationalists. Accepting, after much bargaining, a large pension, he ignominiously withdrew to Russia. The boy-king, Aḥmad Sháh, who succeeded him, was a mere cipher and careless of his duties. The crying needs of his country continued to be ignored. Increasing anarchy, the impotence of the central government, the state of the national finances, the progressive deterioration of the general condition of the country, practically abandoned by a sovereign who preferred the gaieties and frivolities of society life in the European capitals to the discharge of the stern and urgent responsibilities which the plight of his nation demanded, sounded the death knell of a dynasty which, it was generally felt, had forfeited the crown. Whilst abroad, on one of his periodic visits, Parliament deposed him, and proclaimed the extinction of his dynasty, which had occupied the throne of Persia for a hundred and thirty years, whose rulers proudly claimed no less a descent than from Japhet, son of Noah, and whose successive monarchs, with only one exception, were either assassinated, deposed, or struck down by mortal disease.
Their myriad progeny, a veritable “beehive of princelings,” a “race of royal drones,” were both a disgrace and a menace to their countrymen. Now, however, these luckless descendants of a fallen house, shorn of all power, and some of them reduced even to beggary, proclaim, in their distress, the consequences of the abominations which their progenitors have perpetrated. Swelling the ranks of the ill-fated scions of the House of Uthmán, and of the rulers of the Romanov, the Hohenzollern, the Hapsburg, and the Napoleonic dynasties, they roam the face of the earth, scarcely aware of the character of those forces which have operated such tragic revolutions in their lives, and so powerfully contributed to their present plight.
Already grandsons of both Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh and of Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz have, in their powerlessness and destitution, turned to the World Center of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, and sought respectively political aid and pecuniary assistance. In the case of the former, the request was promptly and firmly refused, whilst in the case of the latter it was unhesitatingly offered.
And as we survey in other fields the decline in the fortunes of royalty, whether in the years immediately preceding the Great War or after, and contemplate the fate that has overtaken the Chinese Empire, the Portuguese and Spanish Monarchies, and more recently the vicissitudes that have afflicted, and are still afflicting, the sovereigns of Norway, of Denmark and of Holland, and observe the impotence of their fellow-sovereigns, and note the fear and trembling that has seized their thrones, may we not associate their plight with the opening passages of the Súriy-i-Mulúk, which, in view of their momentous significance, I feel impelled to quote a second time: “Fear God, O concourse of kings, and suffer not yourselves to be deprived of this most sublime grace.… Set your hearts towards the face of God, and abandon that which your desires have bidden you to follow, and be not of those who perish.… Ye examined not His [the Báb’s] Cause, when so to do had been better for you than all that the sun shineth upon, could ye but perceive it.… Beware that ye be not careless henceforth, as ye have been careless aforetime.… My face hath come forth from the veils, and shed its radiance upon all that is in heaven and on earth, and yet ye turned not towards Him.… Arise then … and make ye amends for that which hath escaped you.… If ye pay no heed unto the counsels which, in peerless and unequivocal language, We have revealed in this Tablet, Divine chastisement shall assail you from every direction, and the sentence of His justice shall be pronounced against you.… Twenty years have passed, O kings, during which We have, each day, tasted the agony of a fresh tribulation.… Though aware of most of Our afflictions, ye, nevertheless, have failed to stay the hand of the aggressor. For is it not your clear duty to restrain the tyranny of the oppressor, and to deal equitably with your subjects, that your high sense of justice may be fully demonstrated to all mankind?”
No wonder that Bahá’u’lláh, in view of the treatment meted out to Him by the sovereigns of the earth, should, as already quoted, have written these words: “From two ranks amongst men power hath been seized: kings and ecclesiastics.” Indeed, He even goes further, and states in His Tablet addressed to Shaykh Salmán: “One of the signs of the maturity of the world is that no one will accept to bear the weight of kingship. Kingship will remain with none willing to bear alone its weight. That day will be the day whereon wisdom will be manifested among mankind. Only in order to proclaim the Cause of God and spread abroad His Faith will anyone be willing to bear this grievous weight. Well is it with him who, for love of God and His Cause, and for the sake of God and for the purpose of proclaiming His Faith, will expose himself unto this great danger, and will accept this toil and trouble.”
Let none, however, mistake or unwittingly misrepresent the purpose of Bahá’u’lláh. Severe as has been His condemnation pronounced against those sovereigns who persecuted Him, and however strict the censure expressed collectively against those who failed signally in their clear duty to investigate the truth of His Faith and to restrain the hand of the wrongdoer, His teachings embody no principle that can, in any way, be construed as a repudiation, or even a disparagement, however veiled, of the institution of kingship. The catastrophic fall, and the extinction of the dynasties and empires of those monarchs whose disastrous end He particularly prophesied, and the declining fortunes of the sovereigns of His Own generation, whom He generally reproved—both constituting a passing phase of the evolution of the Faith—should, in no wise, be confounded with the future position of that institution. Indeed if we delve into the writings of the Author of the Bahá’í Faith, we cannot fail to discover unnumbered passages in which, in terms that none can misrepresent, the principle of kingship is eulogized, the rank and conduct of just and fair-minded kings is extolled, the rise of monarchs, ruling with justice and even professing His Faith, is envisaged, and the solemn duty to arise and ensure the triumph of Bahá’í sovereigns is inculcated. To conclude from the above quoted words, addressed by Bahá’u’lláh to the monarchs of the earth, to infer from the recital of the woeful disasters that have overtaken so many of them, that His followers either advocate or anticipate the definite extinction of the institution of kingship, would indeed be tantamount to a distortion of His teaching.
I can do no better than quote some of Bahá’u’lláh’s Own testimonies, leaving the reader to shape his own judgment as to the falsity of such a deduction. In His “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” He indicates the true source of kingship: “Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen ones. He Who is the Spirit [Jesus]—may peace be upon Him—was asked: ‘O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?’ And He made reply: ‘Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ He forbade it not. These two sayings are, in the estimation of men of insight, one and the same, for if that which belonged to Caesar had not come from God He would have forbidden it. And likewise in the sacred verse: ‘Obey God and obey the Apostle, and those among you invested with authority.’ By ‘those invested with authority’ is meant primarily and more specially the Imáms—the blessings of God rest upon them. They verily are the manifestations of the power of God and the sources of His authority, and the repositories of His knowledge, and the daysprings of His commandments. Secondarily these words refer unto the kings and rulers—those through the brightness of whose justice the horizons of the world are resplendent and luminous.”
And again: “In the Epistle to the Romans Saint Paul hath written: ‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.’” And further: “‘For he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.’ He saith that the appearance of the kings, and their majesty and power, are of God.”
Likewise in the Bishárát (Glad-Tidings) Bahá’u’lláh asserts that “the majesty of kingship is one of the signs of God.” “We do not wish,” He adds, “that the countries of the world should be deprived thereof.”
In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas He sets forth His purpose, and eulogizes the king who will profess His Faith: “By the Righteousness of God! It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men. Upon them the eyes of Bahá are fastened. To this testifieth the Kingdom of Names, could ye but comprehend it. Whoso followeth his Lord, will renounce the world and all that is therein; how much greater, then, must be the detachment of Him Who holdeth so august a station!” “How great the blessedness that awaiteth the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My Kingdom, who will detach himself from all else but Me! Such a king is numbered with the Companions of the Crimson Ark—the Ark which God hath prepared for the people of Bahá. All must glorify his name, must reverence his station, and aid him to unlock the cities with the keys of My Name, the Omnipotent Protector of all that inhabit the visible and invisible kingdoms. Such a king is the very eye of mankind, the luminous ornament on the brow of creation, the fountainhead of blessings unto the whole world. Offer up, O people of Bahá, your substance, nay your very lives, for his assistance.”
In the Lawḥ-i-Sulṭán Bahá’u’lláh further reveals the significance of kingship: “A just king is the shadow of God on earth. All should seek shelter under the shadow of his justice, and rest in the shade of his favor. This is not a matter which is either specific or limited in its scope, that it might be restricted to one or another person, inasmuch as the shadow telleth of the One Who casteth it. God, glorified be His remembrance, hath called Himself the Lord of the worlds, for He hath nurtured and still nurtureth everyone. Glorified be, then, His grace that hath preceded all created things, and His mercy that hath surpassed the worlds.”
In one of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh has also written: “The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings. To none is given the right to act in any manner that would run counter to the considered views of them who are in authority. That which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts; and of these the loved ones of Him Who is the Sovereign Truth are, in this Day, as the keys.”
In the following passage He expresses this wish: “We cherish the hope that one of the kings of the earth will, for the sake of God, arise for the triumph of this wronged, this oppressed people. Such a king will be eternally extolled and glorified. God hath prescribed unto this people the duty of aiding whosoever will aid them, of serving his best interests, and of demonstrating to him their abiding loyalty.”
In the Lawḥ-i-Ra’ís He actually and categorically prophesies the rise of such a king: “Erelong will God raise up from among the kings one who will aid His loved ones. He, verily, encompasseth all things. He will instill in the hearts the love of His loved ones. This, indeed, is irrevocably decreed by One Who is the Almighty, the Beneficent.” In the Riḍvánu’l-‘Adl, wherein the virtue of justice is exalted, He makes a parallel prediction: “Erelong will God make manifest on earth kings who will recline on the couches of justice, and will rule amongst men even as they rule their own selves. They, indeed, are among the choicest of My creatures in the entire creation.”
In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas He visualizes in these words the elevation to the throne of His native city, “the Mother of the World” and “the Dayspring of Light,” of a king who will be adorned with the twin ornaments of justice and of devotion to His Faith: “Let nothing grieve thee, O Land of Tá, for God hath chosen thee to be the source of the joy of all mankind. He shall, if it be His will, bless thy throne with one who will rule with justice, who will gather together the flock of God which the wolves have scattered. Such a ruler will, with joy and gladness, turn his face towards and extend his favors unto, the people of Bahá. He indeed is accounted in the sight of God as a jewel among men. Upon him rest forever the glory of God, and the glory of all that dwell in the kingdom of His Revelation.”
Dear friends! The decline in the fortunes of the crowned wielders of temporal power has been paralleled by a no less startling deterioration in the influence exercised by the world’s spiritual leaders. The colossal events that have heralded the dissolution of so many kingdoms and empires have almost synchronized with the crumbling of the seemingly inviolable strongholds of religious orthodoxy. That same process which, swiftly and tragically, sealed the doom of kings and emperors, and extinguished their dynasties, has operated in the case of the ecclesiastical leaders of both Christianity and Islám, damaging their prestige, and, in some cases, overthrowing their highest institutions. “Power hath been seized” indeed from both “kings and ecclesiastics.” The glory of the former has been eclipsed, the power of the latter irretrievably lost.
Those leaders who exercised guidance and control over the ecclesiastical hierarchies of their respective religions have, likewise, been appealed to, warned, and reproved by Bahá’u’lláh, in terms no less uncertain than those in which the sovereigns who presided over the destinies of their subjects have been addressed. They, too, and more particularly the heads of Muslim ecclesiastical orders, have, in conjunction with despots and potentates, launched their assaults and thundered their anathemas against the Founders of the Faith of God, its followers, its principles, and its institutions. Were not the divines of Persia the first who hoisted the standard of revolt, who inflamed the ignorant and subservient masses against it, and who instigated the civil authorities, through their outcry, their threats, their lies, their calumnies, and denunciations, to decree the banishments, to enact the laws, to launch the punitive campaigns, and to carry out the executions and massacres that fill the pages of its history? So abominable and savage was the butchery committed in a single day, instigated by these divines, and so typical of the “callousness of the brute and the ingenuity of the fiend” that Renan, in his “Les Apôtres,” characterized that day as “perhaps unparalleled in the history of the world.”
It was these divines, who, by these very acts, sowed the seeds of the disintegration of their own institutions, institutions that were so potent, so famous, and appeared so invulnerable when the Faith was born. It was they who, by assuming so lightly and foolishly, such awful responsibilities were primarily answerable for the release of those violent and disruptive influences that have unchained disasters as catastrophic as those which overwhelmed kings, dynasties, and empires, and which constitute the most noteworthy landmarks in the history of the first century of the Bahá’í era.
This process of deterioration, however startling in its initial manifestations, is still operating with undiminished force, and will, as the opposition to the Faith of God, from various sources and in distant fields, gathers momentum, be further accelerated and reveal still more remarkable evidences of its devastating power. I cannot, in view of the proportions which this communication has already assumed, expatiate, as fully as I would wish, on the aspects of this weighty theme which, together with the reaction of the sovereigns of the earth to the Message of Bahá’u’lláh, is one of the most fascinating and edifying episodes in the dramatic story of His Faith. I will only consider the repercussions of the violent assaults made by the ecclesiastical leaders of Islám and, to a lesser degree, by certain exponents of Christian orthodoxy upon their respective institutions. I will preface these observations with some passages gleaned from the great mass of Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablets which, both directly and indirectly, bear reference to Muslim and Christian divines, and which throw such a powerful light on the dismal disasters that have overtaken, and are still overtaking, the ecclesiastical hierarchies of the two religions with which the Faith has been immediately concerned.
It must not be inferred, however, that Bahá’u’lláh directed His historic addresses exclusively to the leaders of Islám and Christianity, or that the impact of an all-pervading Faith on the strongholds of religious orthodoxy is to be confined to the institutions of these two religious systems. “The time foreordained unto the peoples and kindreds of the earth,” affirms Bahá’u’lláh, “is now come. The promises of God, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, have all been fulfilled.… This is the Day which the Pen of the Most High hath glorified in all the Holy Scriptures. There is no verse in them that doth not declare the glory of His holy Name, and no Book that doth not testify unto the loftiness of this most exalted theme.” “Were We,” He adds, “to make mention of all that hath been revealed in these heavenly Books and Holy Scriptures concerning this Revelation, this Tablet would assume impossible dimensions.” As the promise of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh is enshrined in all the Scriptures of past religions, so does its Author address Himself to their followers, and particularly to their responsible leaders who have intervened between Him and their respective congregations. “At one time,” writes Bahá’u’lláh, “We address the people of the Torah and summon them unto Him Who is the Revealer of verses, Who hath come from Him Who layeth low the necks of men.… At another, We address the people of the Evangel and say: ‘The All-Glorious is come in this Name whereby the Breeze of God hath wafted over all regions.’… At still another, We address the people of the Qur’án saying: ‘Fear the All-Merciful, and cavil not at Him through Whom all religions were founded.’… Know thou, moreover, that We have addressed to the Magians Our Tablets, and adorned them with Our Law.… We have revealed in them the essence of all the hints and allusions contained in their Books. The Lord, verily, is the Almighty, the All-Knowing.”
Addressing the Jewish people Bahá’u’lláh has written: “The Most Great Law is come, and the Ancient Beauty ruleth upon the throne of David. Thus hath My Pen spoken that which the histories of bygone ages have related. At this time, however, David crieth aloud and saith: ‘O my loving Lord! Do Thou number me with such as have stood steadfast in Thy Cause, O Thou through Whom the faces have been illumined, and the footsteps have slipped!’” And again: “The Breath hath been wafted, and the Breeze hath blown, and from Zion hath appeared that which was hidden, and from Jerusalem is heard the Voice of God, the One, the Incomparable, the Omniscient.” Furthermore, in His “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” Bahá’u’lláh has revealed: “Lend an ear unto the song of David. He saith: ‘Who will bring me into the Strong City?’ The Strong City is ‘Akká, which hath been named the Most Great Prison, and which possesseth a fortress and mighty ramparts. O Shaykh! Peruse that which Isaiah hath spoken in His Book. He saith: ‘Get thee up into the high mountain, O Zion, that bringest good tidings; lift up thy voice with strength, O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings. Lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: “Behold your God! Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him.”’ This Day all the signs have appeared. A Great City hath descended from heaven, and Zion trembleth and exulteth with joy at the Revelation of God, for it hath heard the Voice of God on every side.”
To the priestly caste, holding sacerdotal supremacy over the followers of the Faith of Zoroaster, that same Voice, identifying itself with the voice of the promised Sháh-Bahrám, has declared: “O high priests! Ears have been given you that they may hearken unto the mystery of Him Who is the Self-Dependent, and eyes that they may behold Him. Wherefore flee ye? The Incomparable Friend is manifest. He speaketh that wherein lieth salvation. Were ye, O high priests, to discover the perfume of the rose garden of understanding, ye would seek none other but Him, and would recognize, in His new vesture, the All-Wise and Peerless One, and would turn your eyes from the world and all who seek it, and would arise to help Him.” “Whatsoever hath been announced in the Books,” Bahá’u’lláh, replying to a Zoroastrian who had inquired regarding the promised Sháh-Bahrám, has written, “hath been revealed and made clear. From every direction the signs have been manifested. The Omnipotent One is calling, in this Day, and announcing the appearance of the Supreme Heaven.” “This is not the day,” He, in another Tablet declares, “whereon the high priests can command and exercise their authority. In your Book it is stated that the high priests will, on that Day, lead men far astray, and will prevent them from drawing nigh unto Him. He indeed is a high priest who hath seen the light and hastened unto the way leading to the Beloved.” “Say, O high priests!” He, again addresses them, “The Hand of Omnipotence is stretched forth from behind the clouds; behold ye it with new eyes. The tokens of His majesty and greatness are unveiled; gaze ye on them with pure eyes.… Say, O high priests! Ye are held in reverence because of My Name, and yet ye flee Me! Ye are the high priests of the Temple. Had ye been the high priests of the Omnipotent One, ye would have been united with Him, and would have recognized Him.… Say, O high priests! No man’s acts shall be acceptable, in this Day, unless he forsaketh mankind and all that men possess, and setteth his face towards the Omnipotent One.”
It is not, however, with either of these two Faiths that we are primarily concerned. It is to Islám and, to a lesser extent, to Christianity that my theme is directly related. Islám, from which the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh has sprung, even as did Christianity from Judaism, is the religion within whose pale that Faith first rose and developed, from whose ranks the great mass of Bahá’í adherents have been recruited, and by whose leaders they have been, and indeed are still being, persecuted. Christianity, on the other hand, is the religion to which the vast majority of Bahá’ís of non-Islamic extraction belong, within whose spiritual domain the Administrative Order of the Faith of God is rapidly advancing, and by whose ecclesiastical exponents that Order is being increasingly assailed. Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and even Zoroastrianism which, in the main, are still unaware of the potentialities of the Cause of God, and whose response to its Message is as yet negligible, the Muḥammadan and Christian Faiths may be regarded as the two religious systems which are sustaining, at this formative stage in its evolution, the full impact of so tremendous a Revelation.
Let us, then, consider what the Founders of the Bahá’í Faith have addressed to, or written about, the recognized leaders of Islám and Christianity. We have already considered the passages with reference to the kings of Islám, whether as Caliphs reigning in Constantinople, or as Sháhs of Persia who ruled the kingdom as temporary trustees for the expected Imám. We have also noted the Tablet which Bahá’u’lláh specifically revealed for the Roman Pontiff, and the more general message in the Súriy-i-Mulúk directed to the kings of Christendom. No less challenging and ominous is the Voice that has warned and called to account the Muḥammadan divines and the Christian clergy.
“Leaders of religion,” is Bahá’u’lláh’s clear and universal censure pronounced in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, “in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. What unspeakable cruelties they that have occupied the seats of authority and learning have inflicted upon the true Monarchs of the world, those Gems of Divine virtue! Content with a transitory dominion, they have deprived themselves of an everlasting sovereignty.” And again, in that same Book: “Among these ‘veils of glory’ are the divines and doctors living in the days of the Manifestation of God, who, because of their want of discernment and their love and eagerness for leadership, have failed to submit to the Cause of God, nay, have even refused to incline their ears unto the Divine Melody. ‘They have thrust their fingers into their ears.’ And the people also, utterly ignoring God and taking them for their masters, have placed themselves unreservedly under the authority of these pompous and hypocritical leaders, for they have no sight, no hearing, no heart, of their own to distinguish truth from falsehood. Notwithstanding the divinely inspired admonitions of all the Prophets, the Saints, and Chosen Ones of God, enjoining the people to see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears, they have disdainfully rejected their counsels and have blindly followed, and will continue to follow, the leaders of their Faith. Should a poor and obscure person, destitute of the attire of the men of learning, address them saying: ‘Follow ye, O people, the Messengers of God,’ they would, greatly surprised at such a statement, reply: ‘What! Meanest thou that all these divines, all these exponents of learning, with all their authority, their pomp, and pageantry, have erred, and failed to distinguish truth from falsehood? Dost thou, and people like thyself, pretend to have comprehended that which they have not understood?’ If numbers and excellence of apparel be regarded as the criterions of learning and truth, the peoples of a bygone age, whom those of today have never surpassed in numbers, magnificence and power, should certainly be accounted a superior and worthier people.” Furthermore, “Not one Prophet of God was made manifest Who did not fall a victim to the relentless hate, to the denunciation, denial and execration of the clerics of His day! Woe unto them for the iniquities their hands have formerly wrought! Woe unto them for that which they are now doing! What veils of glory more grievous than these embodiments of error! By the righteousness of God! To pierce such veils is the mightiest of all acts, and to rend them asunder the most meritorious of all deeds!” “On their tongue,” He moreover has written, “the mention of God hath become an empty name; in their midst His holy Word a dead letter. Such is the sway of their desires, that the lamp of conscience and reason hath been quenched in their hearts.… No two are found to agree on one and the same law, for they seek no God but their own desire, and tread no path but the path of error. In leadership they have recognized the ultimate object of their endeavor, and account pride and haughtiness as the highest attainments of their hearts’ desire. They have placed their sordid machinations above the Divine decree, have renounced resignation unto the will of God, busied themselves with selfish calculation, and walked in the way of the hypocrite. With all their power and strength they strive to secure themselves in their petty pursuits, fearful lest the least discredit undermine their authority or blemish the display of their magnificence.”
“The source and origin of tyranny,” Bahá’u’lláh in another Tablet has affirmed, “have been the divines. Through the sentences pronounced by these haughty and wayward souls the rulers of the earth have wrought that which ye have heard.… The reins of the heedless masses have been, and are, in the hands of the exponents of idle fancies and vain imaginings. These decree what they please. God, verily, is clear of them, and We, too, are clear of them, as are such as have testified unto that which the Pen of the Most High hath spoken in this glorious Station.”
“The leaders of men,” He has likewise asserted, “have, from time immemorial, prevented the people from turning unto the Most Great Ocean. The Friend of God [Abraham] was cast into fire through the sentence pronounced by the divines of the age, and lies and calumnies were imputed to Him Who discoursed with God [Moses]. Reflect upon the One Who was the Spirit of God [Jesus]. Though He showed forth the utmost compassion and tenderness, yet they rose up against that Essence of Being and Lord of the seen and unseen, in such a manner that He could find no refuge wherein to rest. Each day He wandered unto a new place, and sought a new shelter. Consider the Seal of the Prophets [Muḥammad]—may the souls of all else except Him be His sacrifice! How grievous the things which befell that Lord of all being at the hands of the priests of idolatry, and of the Jewish doctors, after He had uttered the blessed words proclaiming the unity of God! By My life! My pen groaneth, and all created things cry out by reason of the things that have touched Him, at the hands of such as have broken the Covenant of God and His Testament, and denied His Testimony, and gainsaid His signs.”
“The foolish divines,” another Tablet declares, “have laid aside the Book of God, and are occupied with that which they themselves have fashioned. The Ocean of Knowledge is revealed, and the shrill of the Pen of the Most High is raised, and yet they, even as earthworms, are afflicted with the clay of their fancies and imaginings. They are exalted by reason of their relationship to the one true God, and yet they have turned aside from Him! Because of Him have they become famous, and yet they are shut off as by a veil from Him!”
“The pagan priests,” in yet another Tablet is written, “and the Jewish and Christian divines, have committed the very things which the divines of the age, in this Dispensation, have committed, and are still committing. Nay, these have displayed a more grievous cruelty and a fiercer malice. Every atom beareth witness unto that which I say.”
To these leaders who “esteem themselves the best of all creatures and have been regarded as the vilest by Him Who is the Truth,” who “occupy the seats of knowledge and learning, and who have named ignorance knowledge, and called oppression justice,” and who, “worship no God but their own desire, who bear allegiance to naught but gold, who are wrapt in the densest veils of learning, and who, enmeshed by its obscurities, are lost in the wilds of error”—to these Bahá’u’lláh has chosen to address these words: “O concourse of divines! Ye shall not henceforward behold yourselves possessed of any power, inasmuch as We have seized it from you, and destined it for such as have believed in God, the One, the All-Powerful, the Almighty, the Unconstrained.”
In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas we read the following: “Say: O leaders of religion! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men. In this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it. The eye of My loving-kindness weepeth sore over you, inasmuch as ye have failed to recognize the One upon Whom ye have been calling in the daytime and in the night season, at even and at morn.… O ye leaders of religion! Who is the man amongst you that can rival Me in vision or insight? Where is he to be found that dareth to claim to be My equal in utterance or wisdom? No, by My Lord, the All-Merciful! All on the earth shall pass away; and this is the face of your Lord, the Almighty, the Well-Beloved.… Say: This, verily, is the heaven in which the Mother Book is treasured, could ye but comprehend it. He it is Who hath caused the Rock to shout, and the Burning Bush to lift up its voice, upon the Mount rising above the Holy Land, and proclaim: ‘The Kingdom is God’s, the sovereign Lord of all, the All-Powerful, the Loving!’ We have not entered any school, nor read any of your dissertations. Incline your ears to the words of this unlettered One, wherewith He summoneth you unto God, the Ever-Abiding. Better is this for you than all the treasures of the earth, could ye but comprehend it.”
“O concourse of divines!” He moreover has written, “When My verses were sent down, and My clear tokens were revealed, We found you behind the veils. This, verily, is a strange thing.… We have rent the veils asunder. Beware lest ye shut out the people by yet another veil. Pluck asunder the chains of vain imaginings, in the name of the Lord of all men, and be not of the deceitful. Should ye turn unto God, and embrace His Cause, spread not disorder within it, and measure not the Book of God with your selfish desires. This, verily, is the counsel of God aforetime and hereafter.… Had ye believed in God, when He revealed Himself, the people would not have turned aside from Him, nor would the things ye witness today have befallen Us. Fear God, and be not of the heedless. …This is the Cause that hath caused all your superstitions and idols to tremble.… O concourse of divines! Beware lest ye be the cause of strife in the land, even as ye were the cause of the repudiation of the Faith in its early days. Gather the people around this Word that hath made the pebbles to cry out: ‘The Kingdom is God’s, the Dawning-Place of all signs!’… Tear the veils asunder in such wise that the inmates of the Kingdom will hear them being rent. This is the command of God, in days gone by, and for those to come. Blessed the man that observeth that whereunto he was bidden, and woe betide the negligent.”
And again: “How long will ye, O concourse of divines, level the spears of hatred at the face of Bahá? Rein in your pens. Lo, the Most Sublime Pen speaketh betwixt earth and heaven. Fear God, and follow not your desires which have altered the face of creation. Purify your ears that they may hearken unto the Voice of God. By God! It is even as fire that consumeth the veils, and as water that washeth the souls of all who are in the universe.”
“Say: O concourse of divines!” He furthermore addresses them, “Can any one of you race with the Divine Youth in the arena of wisdom and utterance, or soar with Him into the heaven of inner meaning and explanation? Nay, by My Lord, the God of mercy! All have swooned away in this Day from the Word of thy Lord. They are even as dead and lifeless, except him whom thy Lord, the Almighty, the Unconstrained, hath willed to exempt. Such a one is indeed of those endued with knowledge in the sight of Him Who is the All-Knowing. The inmates of Paradise, and the dwellers of the sacred Folds, bless him at eventide and at dawn. Can the one possessed of wooden legs resist him whose feet God hath made of steel? Nay, by Him Who illumineth the whole of creation!”
“When We observed carefully,” He significantly remarks, “We discovered that Our enemies are, for the most part, the divines.” “Among the people are those who said: ‘He hath repudiated the divines.’ Say: ‘Yea, by My Lord! I, in very truth, was the One Who abolished the idols!’” “We, verily, have sounded the Trumpet, which is Our Most Sublime Pen, and lo, the divines and the learned, and the doctors and the rulers, swooned away except such as God preserved, as a token of His grace, and He, verily, is the All-Bounteous, the Ancient of Days.”
“O concourse of divines! Fling away idle fancies and imaginings, and turn, then, towards the Horizon of Certitude. I swear by God! All that ye possess will profit you not, neither all the treasures of the earth, nor the leadership ye have usurped. Fear God, and be not of the lost ones.” “Say: O concourse of divines! Lay aside all your veils and coverings. Give ear unto that whereunto calleth you the Most Sublime Pen, in this wondrous Day.… The world is laden with dust, by reason of your vain imaginings, and the hearts of such as enjoy near access to God are troubled because of your cruelty. Fear God, and be of them that judge equitably.”
“O ye the dawning-places of knowledge!” He thus exhorts them, “Beware that ye suffer not yourselves to become changed, for as ye change, most men will, likewise, change. This, verily, is an injustice unto yourselves and unto others.… Ye are even as a spring. If it be changed, so will the streams that branch out from it be changed. Fear God, and be numbered with the godly. In like manner, if the heart of man be corrupted, his limbs will also be corrupted. And similarly, if the root of a tree be corrupted, its branches, and its offshoots, and its leaves, and its fruits, will be corrupted.”
“Say: O concourse of divines!” He thus appeals to them, “Be fair, I adjure you by God, and nullify not the Truth with the things ye possess. Peruse that which We have sent down with truth. It will, verily, aid you, and will draw you nigh unto God, the Mighty, the Great. Consider and call to mind how when Muḥammad, the Apostle of God, appeared, the people denied Him. They ascribed unto Him what caused the Spirit [Jesus] to lament in His Most Sublime Station, and the Faithful Spirit to cry out. Consider, moreover, the things which befell the Apostles and Messengers of God before Him, by reason of what the hands of the unjust have wrought. We make mention of you for the sake of God, and remind you of His signs, and announce unto you the things ordained for such as are nigh unto Him in the most sublime Paradise and the all-highest Heaven, and I, verily, am the Announcer, the Omniscient. He hath come for your salvation, and hath borne tribulations that ye may ascend, by the ladder of utterance, unto the summit of understanding.… Peruse, with fairness and justice, that which hath been sent down. It will, verily, exalt you through the truth, and will cause you to behold the things from which ye have been withheld, and will enable you to quaff His sparkling Wine.”
Let us now consider more particularly the specific references, and the words directly addressed, to Muslim ecclesiastics by the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. The Báb, as attested by the Kitáb-i-Íqán, has “specifically revealed an Epistle unto the divines of every city, wherein He hath fully set forth the character of the denial and repudiation of each of them.” Whilst in Iṣfahán, that time-honored stronghold of Muslim ecclesiasticism, He, through the medium of its governor, Manúchihr Khán, invited in writing the divines of that city to engage in a contest with Him, in order, as He expressed it, to “establish the truth and dissipate falsehood.” Not one of the multitude of divines who thronged that great seat of learning had the courage to take up that challenge. Bahá’u’lláh, on His part, while in Adrianople, and as witnessed by His own Tablet to the Sháh of Persia, signified His wish to be “brought face to face with the divines of the age, and produce proofs and testimonies in the presence of His Majesty, the Sháh.” This offer was denounced as a “great presumption and amazing audacity” by the divines of Ṭihrán, who, in their fear, advised their sovereign to instantly punish the bearer of that Tablet. Previously, while Bahá’u’lláh was in Baghdád, He expressed His willingness that, provided the divines of Najaf and Karbilá—the twin holiest cities next to Mecca and Medina, in the eyes of the Shí‘ihs—assembled and agreed regarding any miracle they wished to be performed, and signed and sealed a statement affirming that on performance of this miracle they would acknowledge the truth of His Mission, He would unhesitatingly produce it. To this challenge they, as recorded by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá in His “Some Answered Questions,” could offer no better reply than this: “This man is an enchanter; perhaps he will perform an enchantment, and then we shall have nothing more to say.” “For twelve years,” Bahá’u’lláh Himself has testified, “We tarried in Baghdád. Much as We desired that a large gathering of divines and fair-minded men be convened, so that truth might be distinguished from falsehood, and be fully demonstrated, no action was taken.” And again: “And likewise, while in ‘Iráq, We wished to come together with the divines of Persia. No sooner did they hear of this, than they fled and said: ‘He indeed is a manifest sorcerer!’ This is the word that proceeded aforetime out of the mouths of such as were like them. These [divines] objected to what they said, and yet, they themselves repeat, in this day, what was said before them, and understand not. By My life! They are even as ashes in the sight of thy Lord. If He be willing, tempestuous gales will blow over them, and make them as dust. Thy Lord, verily, doth what He pleaseth.”
These false, these cruel and cowardly Shí‘ih clericals, who, as Bahá’u’lláh declared, had they not intervened, Persia would have been subdued by the power of God in hardly more than two years, have been thus addressed in the Qayyúm-i-Asmá’: “O concourse of divines! Fear God from this day onwards in the views ye advance, for He Who is Our Remembrance in your midst, and Who cometh from Us, is, in very truth, the Judge and Witness. Turn away from that which ye lay hold of, and which the Book of God, the True One, hath not sanctioned, for on the Day of Resurrection ye shall, upon the Bridge, be, in very truth, held answerable for the position ye occupied.”
In that same Book the Báb thus addresses the Shí‘ihs, as well as the entire body of the followers of the Prophet: “O concourse of Shí‘ihs! Fear ye God, and Our Cause, which concerneth Him Who is the Most Great Remembrance of God. For great is its fire, as decreed in the Mother-Book.” “O people of the Qur’án! Ye are as nothing unless ye submit unto the Remembrance of God and unto this Book. If ye follow the Cause of God, We will forgive you your sins, and if ye turn aside from Our command, We will, in truth, condemn your souls in Our Book, unto the Most Great Fire. We, verily, do not deal unjustly with men, even to the extent of a speck on a date stone.”
And finally, in that same Commentary, this startling prophecy is recorded: “Erelong We will, in very truth, torment such as waged war against Ḥusayn [Imám Ḥusayn], in the Land of the Euphrates, with the most afflictive torment, and the most dire and exemplary punishment.” “Erelong,” He also, referring to that same people, in that same Book, has written, “will God wreak His vengeance upon them, at the time of Our Return, and He hath, in very truth, prepared for them, in the world to come, a severe torment.”
As to Bahá’u’lláh, the passages I cite in these pages constitute but a fraction of the references to the Muslim divines with which His writings abound. “The Lote-Tree beyond Which there is no passing,” He exclaims, “crieth out, by reason of the cruelty of the divines. It shouteth aloud, and bewaileth itself.” “From the inception of this sect [Shí‘ih],” He, in His “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf,” has written, “until the present day, how great hath been the number of the divines that have appeared, none of whom became cognizant of the nature of this Revelation. What could have been the cause of this waywardness? Were We to mention it, their limbs would cleave asunder. It is necessary for them to meditate, nay to meditate for a thousand thousand years, that haply they may attain unto a sprinkling from the ocean of knowledge, and discover the things whereof they are oblivious in this day. I was walking in the Land of Tá [Ṭihrán]—the dayspring of the signs of thy Lord—when lo, I heard the lamentation of the pulpits and the voice of their supplication unto God, blessed and glorified be He! They cried out and said: ‘O God of the world and Lord of the nations! Thou beholdest our state and the things which have befallen us, by reason of the cruelty of Thy servants. Thou hast created us and revealed us for Thy glorification and praise. Thou dost now hear what the wayward proclaim upon us in Thy days. By Thy might! Our souls are melted, and our limbs are trembling. Alas, alas! Would that we had never been created and revealed by Thee!’ The hearts of them that enjoy near access to God are consumed by these words, and from them the cries of such as are devoted to Him are raised.”
“These thick clouds,” He, in that same Epistle, has stated, “are the exponents of idle fancies and vain imaginings, who are none other than the divines of Persia.” “By ‘divines’ in the passage cited above,” He, in that same connection, explains, “is meant those men who outwardly attire themselves with the raiment of knowledge, but who inwardly are deprived therefrom. In this connection We quote, from the Tablet addressed to His Majesty the Sháh, certain passages from the ‘Hidden Words’ which were revealed by the Abhá Pen under the name of the ‘Book of Fáṭimih,’ the blessings of God be upon her! ‘O ye that are foolish, yet have a name to be wise! Wherefore do ye wear the guise of the shepherd, when inwardly ye have become wolves, intent upon My flock? Ye are even as the star, which riseth ere the dawn, and which, though it seem radiant and luminous, leadeth the wayfarers of My city astray into the paths of perdition.’ And likewise He saith: ‘O ye seemingly fair yet inwardly foul! Ye are like clear but bitter water, which to outward seeming is but crystal pure but of which, when tested by the Divine Assayer, not a drop is accepted. Yea, the sunbeam falleth alike upon the dust and the mirror, yet differ they in reflection even as doth the star from the earth: nay, immeasurable is the difference!’”
“We have invited all men,” Bahá’u’lláh, in another Tablet, has stated, “to turn towards God, and have acquainted them with the Straight Path. They [divines] rose up against Us with such cruelty as hath sapped the strength of Islám, and yet most of the people are heedless!” “The children of Him Who is the Friend of God [Abraham],” He moreover has written, “and heirs of the One Who discoursed with God [Moses], who were accounted the most abject of men, have split the veils asunder, and rent the coverings, and seized the Sealed Wine from the hands of the bounty of Him Who is the Self-Subsisting, and drunk their fill, whilst the detestable Shí‘ih divines have remained, until the present time, hesitant and perverse.” And again: “The divines of Persia committed that which no people amongst the peoples of the world have committed.”
“If this Cause be of God,” He thus addresses the Minister of the Sháh in Constantinople, “no man can prevail against it; and if it be not of God, the divines amongst you, and they that follow their corrupt desires, and such as have rebelled against Him, will surely suffice to overpower it.”
“Of all the peoples of the world,” He, in another Tablet, observes, “they that have suffered the greatest loss have been, and are still, the people of Persia. I swear by the Daystar of Utterance which shineth upon the world in its meridian glory! The lamentations of the pulpits, in that country, are being raised continually. In the early days such lamentations were heard in the Land of Tá [Ṭihrán], for pulpits, erected for the purpose of remembering the True One—exalted be His glory—have now, in Persia, become places wherefrom blasphemies are uttered against Him Who is the Desire of the worlds.”
“In this day,” is His caustic denunciation, “the world is redolent with the fragrances of the robe of the Revelation of the Ancient King … and yet, they [divines] have gathered together, and established themselves upon their seats, and have spoken that which would put an animal to shame, how much more man himself! Were they to become aware of one of their acts, and perceive the mischief it hath wrought, they would, with their own hands, dispatch themselves to their final abode.”
“O concourse of divines!” Bahá’u’lláh thus commands them, “…Lay aside that which ye possess, and hold your peace, and give ear, then, unto that which the Tongue of Grandeur and Majesty speaketh. How many the veiled handmaidens who turned unto Me, and believed, and how numerous the wearers of the turban who were debarred from Me, and followed in the footsteps of bygone generations!”
“I swear by the Daystar that shineth above the Horizon of Utterance!” He asserts, “A paring from the nail of one of the believing handmaidens is, in this day, more esteemed, in the sight of God, than the divines of Persia, who, after thirteen hundred years’ waiting, have perpetrated what the Jews have not perpetrated during the Revelation of Him Who is the Spirit [Jesus].” “Though they rejoice,” is His warning, “at the adversities that have touched Us, the day will come whereon they shall wail and weep.”
“O heedless one!” He thus addresses, in the Lawḥ-i-Burhán, a notorious Persian mujtahid, whose hands were stained with the blood of Bahá’í martyrs, “rely not on thy glory and thy power. Thou art even as the last trace of sunlight upon the mountaintop. Soon will it fade away, as decreed by God, the All-Possessing, the Most High. Thy glory, and the glory of such as are like thee, have been taken away, and this, verily, is what hath been ordained by the One with Whom is the Mother Tablet. …Because of you the Apostle [Muḥammad] lamented, and the Chaste One [Fáṭimih] cried out, and the countries were laid waste, and darkness fell upon all regions. O concourse of divines! Because of you the people were abased, and the banner of Islám was hauled down, and its mighty throne subverted. Every time a man of discernment hath sought to hold fast unto that which would exalt Islám, you raised a clamor, and thereby was he deterred from achieving his purpose, while the land remained fallen in clear ruin.”
“Say: O concourse of Persian divines!” Bahá’u’lláh again prophesies, “In My name ye have seized the reins of men, and occupy the seats of honor, by reason of your relation to Me. When I revealed Myself, however, ye turned aside, and committed what hath caused the tears of such as have recognized Me to flow. Erelong will all that ye possess perish, and your glory be turned into the most wretched abasement, and ye shall behold the punishment for what ye have wrought, as decreed by God, the Ordainer, the All-Wise.”
In the Súriy-i-Mulúk, addressing the entire company of the ecclesiastical leaders of Sunní Islám in Constantinople, the capital of the Empire and seat of the Caliphate, He has written: “O ye divines of the City! We came to you with the truth, whilst ye were heedless of it. Methinks ye are as dead, wrapt in the coverings of your own selves. Ye sought not Our presence, when so to do would have been better for you than all your doings.… Know ye, that had your leaders, to whom ye owe allegiance, and on whom ye pride yourselves, and whom ye mention by day and by night, and from whose traces ye seek guidance—had they lived in these days, they would have circled around Me, and would not have separated themselves from Me, whether at eventide or at morn. Ye, however, did not turn your faces towards My face, for even less than a moment, and waxed proud, and were careless of this Wronged One, Who hath been so afflicted by men that they dealt with Him as they pleased. Ye failed to inquire about My condition, nor did ye inform yourselves of the things which befell Me. Thereby have ye withheld from yourselves the winds of holiness, and the breezes of bounty, that blow from this luminous and perspicuous Spot. Methinks ye have clung to outward things, and forgotten the inner things, and say that which ye do not. Ye are lovers of names, and appear to have given yourselves up to them. For this reason make ye mention of the names of your leaders. And should anyone like them, or superior unto them, come unto you, ye would flee him. Through their names ye have exalted yourselves, and have secured your positions, and live and prosper. And were your leaders to reappear, ye would not renounce your leadership, nor would ye turn in their direction, nor set your faces towards them. We found you, as We found most men, worshiping names which they mention during the days of their life, and with which they occupy themselves. No sooner do the Bearers of these names appear, however, than they repudiate them, and turn upon their heels.… Know ye that God will not, in this day, accept your thoughts, nor your remembrance of Him, nor your turning towards Him, nor your devotions, nor your vigilance, unless ye be made new in the estimation of this Servant, could ye but perceive it.”
The voice of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, the Center of the Covenant of God, has, likewise, been raised, announcing the dire misfortunes which were to overtake, soon after His passing, the ecclesiastical hierarchies of both Sunní and Shí‘ih Islám. “This glory,” He has written, “shall be turned into the most abject abasement, and this pomp and might converted into the most complete subjugation. Their palaces will be transformed into prisons, and the course of their ascendant star terminate in the depths of the pit. Laughter and merriment will vanish, nay more, the voice of their weeping will be raised.” “Even as the snow,” He moreover has written, “they will melt away in the July sun.”
The dissolution of the institution of the Caliphate, the complete secularization of the state which had enshrined the most august institution of Islám, and the virtual collapse of the Shí‘ih hierarchy in Persia, were the visible and immediate consequences of the treatment meted out to the Cause of God by the clergy of the two largest communions of the Muslim world.
Let us first consider the visitations that have marked the falling fortunes of Shí‘ih Islám. The iniquities summarized in the beginning of these pages, and for which the Shí‘ih ecclesiastical order in Persia is to be held primarily answerable; iniquities which, in the words of Bahá’u’lláh, had caused “the Apostle [Muḥammad] to lament, and the Chaste One [Fáṭimih] to cry out,” and “all created things to groan, and the limbs of the holy ones to quake”; iniquities which had riddled the breast of the Báb with bullets, and bowed down Bahá’u’lláh, and turned His hair white, and caused Him to groan aloud in anguish, and made Muḥammad to weep over Him, and Jesus to beat Himself upon the head, and the Báb to bewail His plight—such iniquities indeed could not, and were not to, remain unpunished. God, the Fiercest of Avengers, was lying in wait, pledged “not to forgive any man’s injustice.” The scourge of His chastisement, swift, sudden and terrible, was, at long last, let loose upon the perpetrators of these iniquities.
A revolution, formidable in its proportions, far-reaching in its repercussions, amazing in the absence of bloodshed and even of violence which marked its progress, challenged that ecclesiastical ascendency which, for centuries, had been of the essence of Islám in that country, and virtually overthrew a hierarchy with which the machinery of the state and the life of the people had been inextricably interwoven. Such a revolution did not signalize the disestablishment of a state-church. It indeed was tantamount to the disruption of what may be called a church-state—a state that had been hopefully awaiting, even up till the moment of its expiry, the gladsome advent of the Hidden Imám, who would not only seize the reins of authority from the sháh, the chief magistrate who was merely representing him, but would also assume dominion over the whole earth.
The spirit which that clerical order had so assiduously striven, during a whole century, to crush; the Faith which it had, with such ferocious brutality, attempted to extirpate; were now, in their turn, through the forces they had engendered in the world, deranging the equilibrium, and sapping the strength, of that same order whose ramifications had extended to every sphere, duty, and act of life in that country. The rock wall of Islám, seemingly impregnable, was now shaken to its foundations, and was tottering to its ruin, before the very eyes of the persecuted followers of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. A sacerdotal hierarchy that had held in thrall for so long the Faith of God, and seemed, at one time, to have mortally struck it down, now found itself the prey of a superior civil authority whose settled policy was to fasten, steadily and relentlessly, its coils around it.
The vast system of that hierarchy, with all its elements and appurtenances—its shaykhu’l-isláms (high priests), its mujtahids (doctors of the law), its mullás (priests), its fuqáhás (jurists), its imáms (prayer-leaders), its mu’adh dhíns (criers), its vu’azz (preachers), its qádís (judges), its mutávallís (custodians), its madrasihs (seminaries), its mudárrisíns (professors), its tullábs (pupils), its qurrá’s (intoners), its mu’ábbiríns (soothsayers), its muháddithíns (narrators), its musákh khiríns (spirit-subduers), its dhákiríns (rememberers), its ummal-i-dhakát (almsgivers), its muqaddasíns (saints), its munzavís (recluses), its súfís, its dervishes, and what not—was paralyzed and utterly discredited. Its mujtahids, those firebrands, who wielded powers of life and death, and who for generations had been accorded honors almost regal in character, were reduced to a deplorably insignificant number. The beturbaned prelates of the Islamic church who, in the words of Bahá’u’lláh, “decked their heads with green and white, and committed what made the Faithful Spirit to groan,” were ruthlessly swept away, except for a handful who, in order to safeguard themselves against the fury of an impious populace, are now compelled to submit to the humiliation of producing, whenever the occasion demands it, the license granted them by the civil authorities to wear this vanishing emblem of a vanished authority. The rest of this turbaned class, whether siyyids, mullás, or ḥájís, were forced not only to exchange their venerable headdress for the kuláh-i-farangí (European hat), which not long ago they themselves had anathematized, but also to discard their flowing robes and don the tight-fitting garments of European style, the introduction of which into their country they had, a generation ago, so violently disapproved.
“The dark blue and white domes”—an allusion by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá to the rotund and massive headgears of the priests of Persia—had indeed been “inverted.” Those whose heads had borne them, the arrogant, fanatical, perfidious, and retrograde clericals, “in the grasp of whose authority,” as testified by Bahá’u’lláh, “were held the reins of the people,” whose “words are the pride of the world,” and whose “deeds are the shame of the nations,” recognizing the wretchedness of their state, betook themselves, crestfallen and destitute of hope, to their homes, there to drag out a miserable existence. Impotent and sullen, they are watching the operations of a process which, having reversed their policy and ruined their handiwork, is irresistibly moving towards a climax.
The pomp and pageantry of these princes of the church of Islám has already died out. Their fanatical outcries, their clamorous invocations, their noisy demonstrations, are stilled. Their fatvás (sentences), pronounced with such shamelessness, and at times embracing the denunciation of kings, are a dead letter. The spectacular sight of congregational prayers, in which thousands of worshipers, lined row upon row, participated, has vanished. The pulpits from whence they discharged the thunder of their anathemas against the powerful and the innocent alike, are deserted and silent. Their waqfs, those priceless and far-flung endowments—the landed property of the expected Imám—which in Iṣfahán alone at one time embraced the whole of the city, have been wrested out of their hands, and brought under the control of a lay administration. Their madrasihs (seminaries), with their medieval learning, are deserted and dilapidated. The innumerable tomes of theological commentaries, super-commentaries, glosses, and notes, unreadable, unprofitable, the product of misdirected ingenuity and toil, and pronounced by one of the most enlightened Islamic thinkers in modern times as works obscuring sound knowledge, breeding maggots, and fit for fire, are now buried away, overspread with cobwebs, and forgotten. Their abstruse dissertations, their vehement controversies, their interminable discussions, are outmoded and abandoned. Their masjids (mosques) and imám-zádihs (tombs of saints), which were privileged to extend the bast (right of sanctuary) to many a criminal, and which had degenerated into a monstrous scandal, whose walls rang with the intonations of a hypocritical and profligate clergy, whose ornaments vied with the treasures of the palaces of kings, are either forsaken or fallen in ruin. Their takyihs, the haunts of the lazy, the passive, and contemplative pietists, are either being sold or closed down. Their ta’zíyihs (religious plays), acted with barbaric zeal, and accentuated by sudden spasms of unbridled religious excitement, are forbidden. Even their rawdih-khánís (lamentations), with their long-drawn-out, plaintive howls, which arose from so many houses, have been curtailed and discouraged. The sacred pilgrimages to Najaf and Karbilá, the holiest shrines of the Shí‘ih world, are reduced in number and made increasingly difficult, preventing thereby many a greedy mullá from indulging in his time-honored habit of charging double for making those pilgrimages as a substitute for the religious-minded. The disuse of the veil which the mullás fought tooth and nail to prevent; the equality of sexes which their law forbade; the erection of civil tribunals which superseded their ecclesiastical courts; the abolition of the síghih (concubinage) which, when contracted for short periods, is hardly distinguishable from quasi-prostitution, and which made of the turbulent and fanatical Mashhad, the national center of pilgrimage, one of the most immoral cities in Asia; and finally, the efforts which are being made to disparage the Arabic tongue, the sacred language of Islám and of the Qur’án, and to divorce it from Persian—all these have successively lent their share to the acceleration of that impelling process which has subordinated to the civil authority the position and interests of Muslim clericals to a degree undreamt of by any mullá.
Well might the once lofty-turbaned, long-bearded, grave-looking áqá (mullá), who had so insolently concerned himself with every department of human activity, as he sits, hatless, clean shaven, in the seclusion of his home, and perhaps listening to the strains of western music, blared upon the ethers of his native land, pause to reflect for a while on the vanished splendors of his defunct empire. Well might he muse upon the havoc which the rising tide of nationalism and skepticism has wrought in the adamantine traditions of his country. Well might he recollect the halcyon days when, seated on a donkey, and parading through the bázárs and maydáns of his native town, an eager but deluded multitude would rush to kiss with fervor not only his hands, but also the tail of the animal on which he rode. Well might he remember the blind zeal with which they acclaimed his acts, and the prodigies and miracles they ascribed to their performance.
He might indeed look back further, and call to mind the reign of those pious Safaví monarchs, who delighted to call themselves “dogs of the threshold of the Immaculate Imáms,” how one of those kings was induced to go on foot before the mujtahid as he rode through the maydán-i-Sháh, the main square of Iṣfahán, as a mark of royal subservience to the favorite minister of the Hidden Imám, a minister who, as distinct from the Sháh’s title, styled himself “the servant of the Lord of Saintship (Imám ‘Alí).”
Was it not, he might well ponder, this same Sháh Abbás the Great who had been arrogantly addressed by another mujtahid as “the founder of a borrowed empire,” implying that the kingdom of the “king of kings” really belonged to the expected Imám, and was held by the Sháh solely in the capacity of a temporary trustee? Was it not this same Sháh who walked the entire distance of eight hundred miles from Iṣfahán to Mashhad, the “special glory of the Shí‘ih world,” to offer his prayers, in the only way that befitted the sháhansháh, at the shrine of the Imám Riḍá, and who trimmed the thousand candles which adorned its courts? Had not Sháh Tahmásp, on receiving an epistle, penned by yet another mujtahid, sprung to his feet, placed it on his eyes, kissed it with rapture, and, because he had been addressed as “brother,” ordered it to be placed within his winding-sheet and buried with him?
Might not that same mullá ponder the torrents of blood which, during the long years when he enjoyed impunity of conduct, flowed at his behest, the flamboyant anathemas he pronounced, and the great army of orphans and widows, of the disinherited, the dishonored, the destitute, and the homeless which, on the Day of Reckoning, were, with one accord, to cry out for vengeance, and invoke the malediction of God upon him?
That infamous crew had indeed merited the degradation in which it had sunk. Persistently ignoring the sentence of doom which the finger of Bahá’u’lláh had traced upon the wall, it pursued, for well nigh a hundred years, its fatal course, until, at the appointed hour, its death knell was sounded by those spiritual, revolutionary forces which, synchronizing with the first dawnings of the World Order of His Faith, are upsetting the equilibrium, and throwing into such confusion, the ancient institutions of mankind.