Friday, November 30, 2012

The Petition of some Persian Baha'is in 1867

In Heritage of Light, The Spiritual Destiny of America, Janet A. Khan places the little-known piece of history below in context.

[Not to be overlooked in her book is Chapter 2, 'The Role of the Martyr,' which includes the following subheadings: 'Characteristics of the Martyr,' 'Distinction between Martyrdom and Suicide Terrorism,' 'Baha'i Conceptions of Martyrdom,' and 'Dawn-Breakers of the Heroic Age.' Her exposition there in Chapter 2, in but some eighteen pages, could  prove useful as the Baha'i Faith comes under increasing scrutiny and attacks.]


'From the earliest days of the Baha'i Faith, the Persian Baha'is sought the protection and and intervention of the American government. Prior to the revelation of the Kitab-i-Aqdas and almost a quarter of a century before the introduction of the Baha'i Faith to North America, on 16 March 1867, a group of fifty-three Baha'is in the small city of Shushtar affixed their personal seals on a petition addressed to the United States Congress, and requested its assistance in alleviating the imprisonment and exile of Baha'u'llah. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the historic document was located in the United States government archives. The petition, which was written in Arabic, was apparently entrusted to a German traveler in Baghdad. The traveler sent the document to Beirut where it found its way into the hands of the American Consul, who forwarded it along with an English translation to the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. in July 1867. The petition informs the representatives of the government about the advent of "a perfect man and a learned sage," summarizes His teachings, describes the opposition to which His Faith has been subjected, mentions His exiles, and invites Congress to send "a judicious representative" to inquire into the case with a view to finding a way "to bring that oppressed person relief from tyranny and oppression."* While there does not appear to be any clear evidence that the United States government took steps to respond to the petition, the fact that the appeal was made illustrates the remarkable confidence placed in the American nation by the less fortunate and needy peoples of the world. It also foreshadows the actions undertaken in later years by the American Baha'is in their attempts to alleviate the persecutions that continue, intermittently, to be inflicted on them.'

(Janet A. Khan, Heritage of Light, The Spiritual Destiny of America, p. 280 and

*Reference note, p. 363): 'For a description of the document and the available historical information pertaining to it refer to an article entitled "Persecution and Protection: Documents about Baha'is, 1867, 1897, and 1902" in World Order, 2006, volume 37, no.3, pp. 31-38. Quotations appear on pp. 32-33."

 [In the year following the petition, Baha'u'llah, accompanied by some of His family and followers, was banished yet again. After successive exiles from Tehran to Baghdad, to Constantinople, to Adrianople, this time He was sent to prison in Akka, Palestine. On 31 August 1868, they were brought ashore near ‘Akká's sea gate — one of only two entrances to the fortress city.]

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More on the Tablet of Ahmad

In the paragraph immediately preceding the penultimate paragraph of the Tablet of Ahmad, we read: 'Learn well this Tablet, O Ahmad. Chant it during thy days... God hath ordained for the one who chants it...' and in the penultimate paragraph, we read: 'Should one who is in affliction or grief read this Tablet...'. In the paragraph before the penultimate one, Bahá'u'lláh twice exhorts Ahmad to 'chant' the Tablet, whereas in the penultimate paragraph, the exhortation is to 'read' the Tablet. For the average Persian or Arabic reader, the two 'chants' and the final 'read' are all derivatives of the root 'to read'. However, Shoghi Effendi as Interpreter chose to translate the first occurrences of this derivative as an act of chanting. It is interesting that the two 'chants' occur in the paragraph where reference is made to the 'reward of a hundred martyrs and a service in both worlds', whereas the word 'read' is in connection with someone who is in affliction or grief. Could it be that chanting calls for a form of ecstatic transport and an inner sense of rapture, which would be closer to the state of surrendering our will to the Will of God?

    ('Ali Nakhjavani, Shoghi Effendi - The Range and Power of His Pen, p. 72)

Q. Could you please elaborate on the significance of the word 'chant' used in the Tablet of Ahmad? Does this mean that we should always try to chant the Tablet, even if we are reading it in a language other than Arabic or Persian?

A. The word 'chant' that Shoghi Effendi has used here is, in my opinion, an expression of ecstasy, of rapture, of spiritual upliftment and exhilaration. This is my understanding. It does not necessarily mean that if you are reading it in a language other than Arabic you should burst into singing it. Far from it! I think there is an inner meaning. When we read this Tablet, it should be with a sense of spiritual excitement, ecstasy, rapture, happiness and joy. All the martyrs, when they went to their field of martyrdom, did so with great joy. They did it for the sake of Bahá'u'lláh, as an act of love. This is the point, not that you should suddenly burst into singing that particular paragraph or that you should chant the entire Tablet. Basically, when we read it we should be in that condition of spiritual attunement to the music of the Kingdom. This is when you surrender your will to the Will of God. When you read the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh about the meaning of martyrdom, He says that there are two types of martyrdom, physical martyrdom and spiritual martyrdom. Physical martyrdom is very clear. Spiritual martyrdom, He says, is when you submit, surrender, and you subordinate your will to the Will of God. This attitude of detachment -- from your own wishes, from your own will, from your own preferences, in favour of the Will of God, whatever may be His good-pleasure, is what represents true spiritual martyrdom. If you are able to surrender your will to the Will of God, you have attained the condition of supreme martyrdom. You are then detached and you are happy about your detachment. You are freeing your soul from the attachments of this world and you are happy.

    ('Ali Nakhjavani, Shoghi Effendi - The Range and Power of His Pen, p. 82)

The Meaning of Angels

There may always remain mysteries for us mortals in attempting to understand the numerous references to angels found in the various scriptures of the world's religions. This includes of course the many, many such references to angels found in the Baha'i sacred Writings.

However, the passages here from a few primary Baha'i sources provide us with food for thought on this subject as we advance through this worldly life.

Emphasis added below for this compilation.

My God, the Object of my adoration, the Goal of my desire, the All-Bountiful, the Most Compassionate! All life is of Thee and all power lieth within the grasp of Thine omnipotence. Whosoever Thou exaltest is raised above the angels, and attaineth the station: "Verily, We uplifted him to a place on high!"; and whosoever Thou dost abase is made lower than dust, nay, less than nothing.

(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, p. 252)


And now, concerning His words [in the Qur'an]: "And He shall send His angels...." By "angels" is meant those who, reinforced by the power of the spirit, have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations, and have clothed themselves with the attributes of the most exalted Beings and of the Cherubim... And now, inasmuch as these holy beings have sanctified themselves from every human limitation, have become endowed with the attributes of the spiritual, and have been adorned with the noble traits of the blessed, they therefore have been designated as "angels."

    (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 78)

Look ye not upon the fewness of thy numbers, rather, seek ye out hearts that are pure. One consecrated soul is preferable to a thousand other souls. If a small number of people gather lovingly together, with absolute purity and sanctity, with their hearts free of the world, experiencing the emotions of the Kingdom and the powerful magnetic forces of the Divine, and being at one in their happy fellowship, that gathering will exert its influence over all the earth. The nature of that band of people, the words they speak, the deeds they do, will unleash the bestowals of Heaven, and provide a foretaste of eternal bliss. The hosts of the Company on high will defend them, and the angels of the Abha Paradise, in continuous succession, will come down to their aid.

The meaning of 'angels' is the confirmations of God and His celestial powers. Likewise angels are blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world, have been released from the chains of self and the desires of the flesh, and anchored their hearts to the heavenly realms of the Lord. These are of the Kingdom, heavenly; these are of God, spiritual; these are revealers of God's abounding grace; these are dawning-points of His spiritual bestowals.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 80)

O Divine Providence! This assemblage is composed of Thy friends who are attracted to Thy beauty and are set ablaze by the fire of Thy love. Turn these souls into heavenly angels, resuscitate them through the breath of Thy Holy Spirit, grant them eloquent tongues and resolute hearts, bestow upon them heavenly power and merciful susceptibilities, cause them to become the promulgators of the oneness of mankind and the cause of love and concord in the world of humanity, so that the perilous darkness of ignorant prejudice may vanish through the light of the Sun of Truth, this dreary world may become illumined, this material realm may absorb the rays of the world of spirit, these different colours may merge into one colour and the melody of praise may rise to the kingdom of Thy sanctity.

Verily, Thou art the Omnipotent and the Almighty!

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 105)

O my Lord! Lift Thou the veil from before his sight. Rain down Thy plenteous bounties upon him, intoxicate him with the wine of love for Thee, make him one of Thy angels whose feet walk upon this earth even as their souls are soaring through the high heavens. Cause him to become a brilliant lamp, shining out with the light of Thy wisdom in the midst of Thy people.

Verily Thou art the Precious, the Ever-Bestowing, the Open of Hand.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 121)

If, in this momentous task ["the education and training of children"], a mighty effort be exerted, the world of humanity will shine out with other adornings, and shed the fairest light. Then will this darksome place grow luminous, and this abode of earth turn into Heaven. The very demons will change to angels then, and wolves to shepherds of the flock, and the wild-dog pack to gazelles that pasture on the plains of oneness, and ravening beasts to peaceful herds, and birds of prey, with talons sharp as knives, to songsters warbling their sweet native notes.

For the inner reality of man is a demarcation line between the shadow and the light, a place where the two seas meet; it is the lowest point on the arc of descent, and therefore is it capable of gaining all the grades above. With education it can achieve all excellence; devoid of education it will stay on, at the lowest point of imperfection.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 129)

The meaning of the passage [verses of the twenty-first chapter of Saint John the Divine's Revelation] is that this heavenly Jerusalem hath twelve gates, through which the blessed enter into the City of God. These gates are souls who are as guiding stars, as portals of knowledge and grace; and within these gates there stand twelve angels. By 'angel' is meant the power of the confirmations of God -- that the candle of God's confirming power shineth out from the lamp-niche of those souls -- meaning that every one of those beings will be granted the most vehement confirming support.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 165)

In brief, my hope is that from the bounties of Bahá'u'lláh, thou mayest daily advance in the Kingdom, that thou mayest become a heavenly angel, confirmed by the breaths of the Holy Spirit, and mayest erect a structure that shall eternally remain firm and unshakeable....

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 198)

Never is it the wish of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to see any being hurt, nor will He make anyone to grieve; for man can receive no greater gift than this, that he rejoice another's heart. I beg of God that ye will be bringers of joy, even as are the angels in Heaven.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 203)

...consider how the cause of the welfare, happiness, joy and comfort of humankind are amity and union, whereas dissension and discord are most conducive to hardship, humiliation, agitation and failure.

But a thousand times alas, that man is negligent and unaware of these facts, and daily doth he strut abroad with the characteristics of a wild beast. Lo! At one moment he turneth into a ferocious tiger; at the next he becometh a creeping, venomous viper! But the sublime achievements of man reside in those qualities and attributes that exclusively pertain to the angels of the Supreme Concourse. Therefore, when praiseworthy qualities and high morals emanate from man, he becometh a heavenly being, an angel of the Kingdom, a divine reality and a celestial effulgence. On the other hand, when he engageth in warfare, quarrelling and bloodshed, he becometh viler than the most fierce of savage creatures, for if a bloodthirsty wolf devoureth a lamb in a single night, man slaughtereth a hundred thousand in the field of battle, strewing the ground with their corpses and kneading the earth with their blood.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 286)

Can any power withstand the penetrative influence of the Word of God? Nay, by God! The proof is clear and the evidence is complete! If anyone looketh with the eyes of justice he shall be struck with wonder and amazement and will testify that all the peoples, sects and races of the world should be glad, content and grateful for the teachings and admonitions of Bahá'u'lláh. For these divine injunctions tame every ferocious beast, transform the creeping insect into a soaring bird, cause human souls to become angels of the Kingdom, and make the human world a focus for the qualities of mercy.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 292)

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Hollow Reed

There are beautiful songs and poems from Baha’is that use the ancient symbol of a hollow reed. (One example is the ravishing “Hollow Reed” written, played and sung by the Baha’i science fiction author Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff. It is not the words of a prayer that was mistakenly attributed to Abdu'l-Baha.) This important image of a hollow reed is used in numerous authorized Baha’i Writings and texts. Please see below.

[ Emphasis added below.]

"Be thou of the people of hell-fire,
but be not a hypocrite.

Be thou an unbeliever,
but be not a plotter.

Make thy home in taverns,
but tread not the path
of the mischief-maker.

Fear thou God,
but not the priest.

Give to the executioner thy head,
but not thy heart.

Let thine abode be under the stone,
but seek not the shelter of the cleric.

"Thus doth the Holy Reed intone its melodies, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its song, so that He may infuse life eternal into the mortal frames of men, impart to the temples of dust the essence of the Holy Spirit and the heavenly Light, and draw the transient world, through the potency of a single word, unto the Everlasting Kingdom."

(Baha’u’llah, “Trustworthiness: A Cardinal Baha’i Virtue,” January 1987 Compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 337)


[Baha’u’llah used the symbol of the hollow reed in other places in His Writings, including in Rashh-i-'Amá and extensively in Mathnaviyí-i Mubárak. However, these works have not yet been published in authorized English translations.]

'In Revelation [of St. John] 11:1-2 it is said:

"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months."

'By this reed is meant a Perfect Man, and the reason for His being likened to a reed is that when the latter is entirely freed and emptied of its pith, it becomes capable of producing wondrous melodies. Moreover, these songs and airs proceed not from the reed itself but from the player who blows into it. In the same way, the sanctified heart of that blessed Being is free and empty of all save God, is averse to and exempt from attachment to every selfish inclination, and is intimately acquainted with the breath of the Divine Spirit. That which He utters proceeds not from Himself but from the ideal Player and from divine revelation. Hence He is likened to a reed, and that reed is like a rod; that is, it is the succour of the weak and the support of every mortal soul. It is the rod of the True Shepherd by which He guards His flock and leads it about in the pastures of the Kingdom.'

(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 11.1-2, pp. 52-3)


'When Bahá'u'lláh departed from Baghdad, and traveled to Rumelia, the friends remained behind. The inhabitants of Baghdad then rose up against those helpless believers, sending them away as captives to Mosul. Ustad [Ustad Isma'il] was old and feeble, but he left on foot, with no provisions for his journey, crossed over mountains and deserts, valleys and hills, and in the end arrived at the Most Great Prison. At one time, Bahá'u'lláh had written down an ode of Rumi's for him, and had told him to turn his face toward the Báb and sing the words, set to a melody. And so as he wandered through the long dark nights, Ustad would sing these lines:

"I am lost, O Love, possessed and dazed,

Love's fool am I, in all the earth.

They call me first among the crazed,

Though I once came first for wit and worth.

O Love, who sellest me this wine,

O Love, for whom I burn and bleed,

Love, for whom I cry and pine  --

Thou the Piper, I the reed.

If Thou wishest me to live,

Through me blow Thy holy breath.

The touch of Jesus Thou wilt give

To me, who've lain an age in death.

Thou, both End and Origin,

Thou without and Thou within  --

From every eye Thou hidest well,

And yet in every eye dost dwell."

'He was like a bird with broken wings but he had the song and it kept him going onward to his one true Love.'

(Abdu'l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, pp. 30-32)


Sunday, June 30, 1912 [New York]

'In the morning, after His obligatory prayer and supplications, the Master invited us into His presence and served us tea with His own hand. He spoke of the blessings and confirmations of the Ancient Beauty, the Greatest Name:

“This help and assistance are from Him and these confirmations are through His bounty and favor; otherwise, we are nothing but weak servants. We are as reeds and all these melodies are from Him. We are ants and this dignity of Solomon is from Him. We are servants and this heavenly dominion is from Him. We must, therefore, offer our constant gratitude to Him for His favors and must join heart and soul to praise Him for His blessings."'

(Attributed to Abdu’l-Baha, Mahmud's Diary, The Diary of Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani Chronicling 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Journey to America, pp.153-54)


"What is needed to achieve success in the teaching field is a complete dedication on the part of the individual, consecration to the glorious task of spreading the Faith, and the living of the Bahá'í life, because that creates the magnet for the Holy Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit which quickens the new soul. Thus the individual should be as a reed, through which the Holy Spirit may flow, to give new life to the seeking soul.

"One should search out those who are receptive to the Faith, and then concentrate on these persons in their teaching."

(From a letter dated 18 December 1953 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
(From a letter dated 19 December 1953 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to two individual believers)

[The passage above is found in two different compilations assembled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice: “Guidelines for Teaching” and “The Individual and Teaching - Raising the Divine Call.” It appears that it was conveyed from the Guardian on two successive days.]

"Consecration, dedication and enthusiastic service is the Keynote to successful teaching. One must become like a reed through which the Holy Spirit descends to reach the student of the Faith.

"We give the Message, and explain the Teachings, but it is the Holy Spirit that quickens and confirms."

(From a letter dated 16 February 1955 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)


'Never must they let a day pass without teaching some soul, trusting to Bahá'u'lláh that the seed will grow. The friends should seek pure souls, gain their confidence, and then teach that person carefully until he becomes a Bahá'í, and then nurture him until he becomes a firm and active supporter of the Faith.

'Everyone must remember that it is the "Holy Spirit that quickens" and therefore the teacher must become like a reed through which the Holy Spirit may reach the seeking soul.

'The beloved Guardian has stressed over and over again, that to effectively teach the Faith, the individual must study deeply, the Divine Word, imbibe Its life-giving waters, and feast upon Its glorious teachings. He should then meditate on the import of the Word, and finding its spiritual depths, pray for guidance and assistance. But most important, after prayer is action. After one has prayed and meditated, he must arise, relying fully on the guidance and confirmation of Bahá'u'lláh, to teach His Faith. Perseverance in action is essential, just as wisdom and audacity are necessary for effective teaching. The individual must sacrifice all things to this great goal, and then the victories will be won.'

(From a letter dated 30 May 1956 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the Hands of the Cause in the United States)


"He hopes you will be guided and confirmed in your work, so many souls may find eternal life, through your selfless services. It is important that you make contact with pure hearted individuals, gain their confidence, they gain confidence in you, and then gradually teach them. It is better to concentrate on a few, rather than attempt to teach too many at a time. Consecration, devotion, dedication, humility are essential, that the Holy Spirit may use you as a reed for the diffusion of Its creative rays."

(From a letter dated 15 July 1956 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)


"One should remember it is not the individual who confirms another, but the Holy Spirit which confirms. Thus the individual must become as a reed, through which the spirit may descend, and quicken souls. Thus the best way to develop capacity in teaching the Faith, is to teach. As one teaches, he gains more knowledge himself, he relies more on the guidance of the spirit, and expands his own character. This is why Bahá'u'lláh made it incumbent on all to teach the Faith."

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, November 24, 1956)