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Amír Amín Arslan was a noted Lebanese Druze journalist. In Paris, he founded and edited several Arabic newspapers. He was the Ottoman Consul-General to Brussels and to Buenos Aires, where he died.
“I have had the honour of catching a glimpse of him who is the incarnation of ‘the Word of God’ in the eyes of the Persians. It was in 1891, during a journey that I made to St Jean d’Acre (‘Akká). As soon as I arrived I was eager to pay a visit to ‘Abbás Effendi, the eldest son of ‘the Word’ who was in charge of the external relations of the community. I had known him at Beirut, in Syria, and there had quickly been established between us the bonds of a true friendship.
‘Abbás Effendi received me in the sumptuous palace where he lives with his father, ‘the Word’…Naturally, I solicited from him the honour of an audience with his holy father. He explained to me, in a very kindly manner, that it was not the custom of him who represented the Divinity to admit to his presence unbelieving mortals. Since I insisted, he promised to make every possible effort to bring about the realization of my wish.
Eventually, after three days, I received word that this signal favour had been accorded to me…I thought then that I was going to be able to converse with him who was the reflection on earth of the rays of Divinity, but my illusions were quickly dispersed. I had to content myself with catching a glimpse of the illustrious Bahá’u’lláh at the moment when he came out to take his daily walk in the immense park surrounding his residence. In fact, ‘the Word’ never left the inside of his house except to take a walk in the park in the evening, a time when he could better elude the praying attention of outsiders.
But ‘Abbás Effendi had carefully positioned me behind a part of the wall, along his path, in such a manner that I could easily contemplate him for a short while. I even believe that ‘the Word of God’ had realised the presence of a stranger and had understood that it was a question of granting a favour to a friend. His appearance struck my imagination in such a way that I cannot better represent it than by evoking the image of God the Father, commanding, in his majesty, the elements of nature in the middle of clouds.”
Josá Maria Eça de Queiróz is acknowledged to be one of the greatest Portugese novelists, attempting to bring about social reform through his novels. In 1869 and 1870, he travelled to Egypt and watched the opening of the Suez Canal, which inspired several of his works, most notably “O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra”. “A Correspondencia de Fradique Mendes” features a character – Mendes – who travels to many different places and writes of them to his friends and relatives. It is said that Eça de Queiróz modelled the character of Mendes on himself. Introducing the character of Mendes, he writes of their meeting in Cairo:
“…I asked Fradique what had detained him thus in Persia for a year and a day, just as in the fairy tales. And Fradique confessed with all sincerity, that he had tarried so long on the banks of the Euphrates because he had by chance come into contact with a religious movement called Bábism, which since 1849 had been developing and nearly triumped in Persia. Although attracted to this new sect by a critical curiosity, and also wishing to observe how a new religion is born and established, he gradually began to take a very keen interest in Bábism – not so much because he admired its doctrine, but because of the dedication of its apostles…
I do not remember, after so many years, whether these are the exact facts. I only know that these revelations by Fradique, thrust upon me during the festival in Cairo, impressed me unutterably. While he spoke of the Báb…and of the rise of another faith within the Muslim world, with its own procession of martyrs and ecstasies…this personage (the Báb) took on grand proportions in my mind. I had never known anyone involved in such exalted matters, and I felt myself both proud and awed to be trusted with this sublime secret. I would not have been more moved if I had, on the eve of St Paul’s departure for Greece to take the Word to the Gentiles, walked with him through the narrow streets of Seleucia, listening to his hopes and dreams.”
Michele Lessona was an Italian zoologist, physician, Senator and writer. A dedicated Darwinian, Lessona translated many of Charles Darwin’s works into Italian. In 1862, Professor Lessona was appointed physician to the diplomatic delegation sent to Persia to establish relations between the newly created Kingdom of Italy and the Persian government. Fascinated by the life and teachings of the Bab, Lessona wrote a small monograph called “I Babi”, published in 1881.
“Forty years ago, in the city of Shiraz, there left childhood and entered puberty a youth that for his singular potency of intellect, for his extraordinary application to study, his profound religious tendencies, his loving nature, for his energy of character, grace of body and beauty of countenance, awakened admiration and affection in everyone who had occasion to deal with him, and captivated all the love of his teachers and relatives. The name of this youth was Mirza Ali-Muhammad…
His style was imaginative and sublime, not like anything human; thus to his quality of a most eloquent orator he added that of an inimitable writer. And while he preached, discussed and taught in the mosques, in the colleges, in the streets, in his house, everywhere they were reading aloud his verses, often interrupting with cries of the most ardent admiration. In all of Shiraz they did not speak of anything else but the Bab, everyone was filled with enthusiasm for him…
The house of the Bab was crowded, night and day, with new converts to his faith; to him came men rich in possessions, men of intellect and energy, and among the very first many mullas enrolled under his banner…”
“This, then, is our mission: that we who are made in the image of God should remember that all men are made in God’s image. To this divine knowledge we owe all we are, all we hope for. We are rising gradually toward that image, and we owe it to our fellow men to aid them in returning to it in the Glory of God… It is a celestial privilege and with it comes a high responsibility, from which there is no escape.
In the Palace of Bahjí , or Delight, just outside the Fortress of ‘Akká, on the Syrian coast, there died a few months since, a famous Persian sage, the Bábí Saint, named Bahá’u’lláh-the “Glory of God”-the head of that vast reform party of Persian Muslims, who accept the New Testament as the Word of God and Christ as the Deliverer of men, who regard all nations as one, and all men as brothers. Three years ago he was visited by a Cambridge scholar and gave utterance to sentiments so noble, so Christlike, that we repeat them as our closing words:
“That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religions should cease and differences of race be annulled. What harm is there in this? Yet so it shall be. These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come. Do not you in Europe need this also? Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.”
Spoken at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago.
George Nathaniel Curzon – the first Marquess Curzon of Kedleston – was a British Conservative statesman who served as Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary. His extensive travels – including a year-long sojourn in Persia from 1889-1890, resulted in several books describing central and eastern Asia and related policy issues.
“The lowest estimate places the present number of Bábís in Persia at half a million. I am disposed to think, from conversations with persons well qualified to judge, that the total is nearer one million. They are to be found in every walk of life, from the ministers and nobles of the Court to the scavenger or the groom, not the least arena of their activity being the Mussulman priesthood itself. It will have been noticed that the movement was initiated by Siyyids, Hajis and Mullas, i.e., persons who, either by descent, from pious inclination, or by profession, were intimately concerned with the Muhammadan creed; and it is among even the professed votaries of the faith that they continue to make their converts…
If one conclusion more than another has been forced upon our notice by the retrospect in which I have indulged, it is that a sublime and unmurmuring devotion has been inculcated by this new faith, whatever it be. There is, I believe, but one instance of a Bábí having recanted under pressure of menace of suffering, and he reverted to the faith and was executed within two years. Tales of magnificent heroism illumine the bloodstained pages of Bábí history. Ignorant and unlettered as many of its votaries are, and have been, they are yet prepared to die for their religion, and fires of Smithfield did not kindle a nobler courage than has met and defied the more refined torture-mongers of Tihran. Of no small account, then, must be the tenets of a creed that can awaken in its followers so rare and beautiful a spirit of self-sacrifice. From the facts that Babiism in its earliest years found itself in conflict with the civil powers and that an attempt was made by Bábís upon the life of the Shah, it has been wrongly inferred that the movement was political in origin and Nihilist in character. It does not appear from a study of the writings either of the Báb or his successors, that there is any foundation for such a suspicion…
The charge of immorality seems to have arisen partly from the malignant inventions of opponents, partly from the much greater freedom claimed for women by the Báb, which in the oriental mind is scarcely dissociable from profligacy of conduct…
The pure and suffering life of the Báb, his ignominious death, the heroism and martyrdom of his followers, will appeal to many others who can find no similar phenomena in the contemporaneous records of Islam….”
From Persia, Vol. 1 (1892)
Edward Granville Browne was a British orientalist who published numerous articles and books of academic value, in the areas of Persian history and literature. Professor Browne took an interest in subjects which few other Western scholars were willing to explore to any sufficient degree. Professor Browne’s interest in the Bábí and later Bahá’í movements was piqued by a book by the French diplomat Comte de Gobineau and resulted in his enjoying a number of private interviews with Bahá’u’lláh Himself in His home at Bahji in 1890. Browne was the only Westerner to meet Bahá’u’lláh and leave a description of the experience.
Professor Browne’s encounter with Bahá’u’lláh
“… my conductor paused for a moment while I removed my shoes. Then, with a quick movement of the hand, he withdrew, and, as I passed, replaced the curtain; and I found myself in a large apartment, along the upper end of which ran a low divan, while on the side opposite to the door were placed two or three chairs. Though I dimly suspected whither I was going and whom I was to behold (for no distinct intimation had been given to me), a second or two elapsed ere, with a throb of wonder and awe, I became definitely conscious that the room was not untenanted. In the corner where the divan met the wall sat a wondrous and venerable figure, crowned with a felt head-dress of the kind called 1taj1 by dervishes (but of unusual height and make), round the base of which was wound a small white turban. The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow; while the deep lines on the forehead and face implied an age which the jet-black hair and beard flowing down in indistinguishable luxuriance almost to the waist seemed to belie. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!
A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued: — “Praise be to God that thou has attained! … Thou has come to see a prisoner and an exile. … We desire but the good of the world and happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment. … That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled — what harm is there in this? … Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the `Most Great Peace’ shall come. … Do not you in Europe need this also? Is not this that which Christ foretold? … Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind. … These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family. … Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind. …”
Such, so far as I can recall them, were the words which, besides many others, I heard from Beha. Let those who read them consider well with themselves whether such doctrines merit death and bonds, and whether the world is more likely gain or lose by their diffusion.”
Professor Browne’s tribute to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
“Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more. A tall strongly-built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk’s, and strongly-marked but pleasing features–such was my first impression of ‘Abbas Effendi, “the master” as he par excellence is called…. One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, the Muhammadans, could, I should think, scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent, ready, and subtle race to which he belongs. These qualities, combined with a bearing at once majestic and genial, made me cease to wonder at the influence and esteem which he enjoyed even beyond the circle of his father’s followers. About the greatness of this man and his power no one who had seen him could entertain a doubt.”