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eca_de_queiros_c_1882Josá 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.”

chirolBritish diplomat Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol was an author, historian and journalist. He travelled through the Middle East as a correspondent for the Morning Standard, visiting Persia in 1884 and Haifa the following year. He served as the Head of The Times’ Foreign Departmant from 1899 until his retirement in 1912. On his passing, Major-General Sir Neill Malcolm called Chirol, the “friend of viceroys, the intimate of ambassadors, one might almost say the counsellor of ministers, he was [also] one of the noblest characters that ever adorned British journalism.”

“That the movement which bears the apostolic name of the religious martyr who was put to death at Tabriz more than half a century ago is still a living force in Persia is almost universally recognised. But to what extent and in what shape that force is likely to make itself decisively felt opinions differ very largely…

…Socially one of the most interesting features…is the raising of women to a much higher plane than she is usually admitted to in the East. The Bab himself had no more devoted a disciple than the beautiful and gifted lady, known as Kurrat-el-Ain, the ‘Consolation of the Eyes,’ who, having shared all the dangers of the first apostolic missions in the north, challenged and suffered death with virile fortitude…No memory is more deeply venerated or kindles greater enthusiasm than hers, and the influence which she wielded in her lifetime still enures to her sex. That women, whom orthodox Islam barely credits with the possession of a soul, are freely admitted to the meetings of Babis, gives their enemies, the Mullahs, ample occasion to blaspheme. But they have never produced a tittle of evidence in support of the vague charges of immorality they are wont to bring against the followers of the new creed. Communism and socialism are also often imputed to them, and some of them appear to have borrowed from the West the terminology of advanced democracy.”

bachMarcus Bach was an American writer and lecturer on religion, and founder and director of “The Fellowship for Spiritual Understanding.” At one point in his life, Dr. Bach set out to meet the five people of his time whom he felt best exemplified the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives. He travelled 40,000 miles in pursuit of this aim, interviewing Helen Keller, Pope Pius XII, Albert Schweitzer,Therese Neumann, and Shoghi Effendi. 

“I went to Israel recently, to the harbor city of Akka, for it was there that Baha’u’llah, banished from Baghdad, spent his years of exile. To this windswept land, where Francis of Assisi once walked, Baha’u’llah came in chains in 1865. I went to the old prison where he was held captive for 25 years and where his son, Abdul-Baha, was a prisoner for 40 years. As I poked around behind the old walls and peered into the dungeons, the Baha’i story came to life. Baha’u’llah, like Jesus, had a forerunner who called himself the Bab, which means “the Gate.” In the midst of the religious and political wrangling of Moslem, Christian and Jew, the Bab said in effect: “A plague on all your houses. You have all lost sight of your common origin.” He preached that God is the Father of all men and the Founder of all faiths, and that the time had come when heaven would personify this truth. Like John the Baptist, the Bab announced the coming of a messiah: Baha’u’llah, who proclaimed himself in 1863.

I went to Bahji, some six kilometers inland. Here is the sheik’s mansion where Baha’u’llah lived like a prince after his release from prison and where he died in 1892. Here is the holy spot where Christians, Jews, Moslems, Zoroastrians and Buddhists came to “lament the loss and magnify the greatness of the herald of God.” Baha’is even today do not speak of the death of Baha’u’llah but, rather, of his ascension. In reverence, I knelt beside the bier.

As I walked through the majestic rooms I was reminded that it was here, years ago, that the noted Cambridge University Orientalist, Edward G. Browne, visited Baha’u’llah. His impressions, widely quoted, are precious to every ardent Baha’i: “The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul…. 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!”

This was Baha’u’llah whose power and grace Baha’is saw reflected in his successor, Abdul-Baha, and which they see mirrored today in the present leader, Shoghi Effendi, the eldest son of the eldest daughter of Abdul-Baha, and a distant relative of the Bab. This was Baha’u’llah who, as my minister friend insisted, “can never be sold to Americans; even his name is against him.”

But quietly in the heart of every Baha’i there lives a feeling that he and his fellows are children of destiny as well as children of light. Baha’u’llah assured them in his writings: “Be not dismayed! Arise to further my cause and to exalt my word among men….. We are truly almighty. Whoso hath recognized me will arise and truly serve me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose.”

I have met Baha’is in many parts of the world. They are all cut to the same pattern: heartfelt dedication to the cause and person of Baha’u’llah, zeal in the advancement of their ideals. They ask no salaries, want no honor, and are literally more interested in giving than in receiving. Typical were two Baha’i women I met in Chichicastenango. They had been in this Guatemalan village for two years and had won two converts among the Maya-Quichés. “Isn’t this slow progress?” I asked. “That all depends on how you figure it,” I was told. “Who knows the power or the value of one soul?” 

The Baha’i faith may have been slow in getting started in America because of its ambitious and altruistic world-uniting program. It may have put the cart before the horse. It may have oversold Baha’u’llah on the basis of the oneness of all faiths. But a second look shows that by way of its devotion and the opening door, it may loose itself from captivity. It may also be that the minister was quite right when he said, “If these Baha’is ever get going, they may take the country by storm!””

Published in The Christian Century, Volume 74, Number 15 (April 10, 1957)

 

Major Wellesley Tudor Pole was a writer, philosopher and English mystic. He authored many pamphlets and books and was a life long pursuer of religious experiences and mystical visions, being particularly involved with spiritualism and the Glastonbury movement.

“The fundamental truths of life and conduct as proclaimed through Jesus have been reaffirmed in picturesque language by the Bahá’í leaders, this reaffirmation being worded to meet the needs of our complex modern “civilisation”. The Founders of both these Faiths possessed outstanding powers of healing and seership.”

“What is the special appeal voiced by Bahá’u’lláh and his son, which has resulted in so many of their followers the world over asserting that they are no longer Jews, Christians, Moslems or Buddhists, as such but have become Bahá’ís? The answer may well be that as each religious revelation becomes crystallised, dogmatic and formal, the need arises for Truth to be restated in terms that conform to the needs of the new hour.”

On ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

“The most abiding impression I received from intimate contact with him was his immense breadth of outlook, permeated with the spirit of deep and loving kindness. Whatever the topic under discussion – ranging from religion to the weather, from sunsets to the flowers, from ethics to personal behaviour, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always struck the universal note, the note of Oneness as between the Creator and all His creation, great or small.”

“He was a man of great spiritual stature and prophetic vision and I shall always cherish the affection he bestowed upon me and the inspiration that his life and example have given to me ever since he first came into my life in I908…

Although of a little less than medium height, Abdu’l Bahá made an impression on all who met him by his dignity, friendliness, and his aura of spiritual authority. His blue-grey eyes radiated a luminosity of their own and his hands were beautiful in their grace and healing magnetism. Even his movements were infused with a kind of radiance.

His compassion for the aged, for children and the down-trodden knew no bounds. I remember once after he had visited a Salvation Army refuge near the Embankment, in London, tears came to his eyes. He could not understand how a wealthy nation like Britain could allow such poverty and loneliness in its midst. He spoke about this to Archdeacon Wilberforce of Westminster Abbey and to Dr. R. J. Campbell of the City Temple and he provided a sum of money through London’s Lord Mayor for the succour of the poor and derelict, then so prominent a feature of the London scene.

In speaking to me, he often referred to the need for providing food and sustinence for those in want, as a primary requisite to supplying moral and spiritual food for the heart and for the mind.” 

“I well remember him, majestic yet gentle, pacing up and down the garden whilst he spoke to me about eternal realities, at a time when the whole material world was rocking on its foundations. The power of the spirit shone through his presence, giving one the feeling that a great prophet from Old Testament days had risen up in a war-stricken world, to guide and inspire all who would listen to hlm.”

“Though by no means a fanatic, I am bound to say that my visit to these places, sacred to Bahá’u’lláh and his son, have deepened my conviction that the Bahá’í movement has an important part to play in the religious regeneration of the world, and especially the Eastem world.”

From The Silent Road, 1960

An English politician and diplomat, Herbert Louis, Viscount Samuel of Carmel, was one of the first Jewish members of the British cabinet. He was perhaps most important as the first British high commissioner for Palestine from 1920-1925. 

“It is possible indeed to pick out points of fundamental agreement among all creeds. That is the essential purpose of the Bahá’í Religion, the foundation and growth of which is one of the most striking movements that have proceeded from the East in recent generations…The Bahá’í Faith exists almost for the sole purpose of contributing to the fellowship and the unity of mankind. Other communities may consider how far a particular element of their respective faith may be regarded as similar to those of other communities, but the Bahá’í Faith exists for the purpose of combining in one synthesis all those elements in the various faiths which are held in common. 
Its origin was in Persia where a mystic prophet, who took the name of the Báb, the “Gate,” began a mission among the Persians in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. He collected a considerable number of adherents. His activities were regarded with apprehension by the Government of Persia of that day. Finally, he and his leading disciples were seized by the forces of the Persian Government and were shot in the year 1850. In spite of the persecution, the movement spread in Persia and in many countries of Islam. He was followed as the head of the Community by the one who has been its principal prophet and exponent, Bahá’u’lláh. He was most active and despite persecution and imprisonment made it his life’s mission to spread the creed which he claimed to have received by direct divine revelation. He died in 1892 and was succeeded as the head of the Community by his son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was born in 1844. He was living in Haifa, in a simple house, when I went there as High Commissioner in 1920, and I had the privilege of one or two most interesting conversations with him on the principles and methods of the Bahá’í Faith. He died in 1921 and his obsequies were attended by a great concourse of people. I had the honour of representing His Majesty the King on that occasion.
Since that time, the Bahá’í Faith has secured the support of a very large number of communities throughout the world. At the present time it is estimated that there are about eight hundred Bahá’í communities in various countries. In the United States, near Chicago, a great Temple, now approaching completion, has been erected by American adherents of the Faith, with assistance from elsewhere. Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, is now the head of the community. He came to England and was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, but now lives in Haifa, and is the center of a community which has spread throughout the world.”
Introductory address delivered at the Bahá’í session of the World Congress of Faiths, held in London, July, 1936

In 1920 I was appointed as the first High Commissioner for Palestine under the British Mandate, and took an early opportunity of paying a visit to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Effendi at his home in Haifa.I had for some time been interested in the Bahá’í Movement, and felt privileged by the opportunity of making the acquaintance of its head. I had also an official reason as well as a personal one. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been persecuted by the Turks.A British regime had now been substituted in Palestine for the Turkish. Toleration and respect for all religions had long been a principle of British rule wherever it extended; and the visit of the High Commissioner was intended to be a sign to the population that the adherents of every creed would be able to feel henceforth that they enjoyed the respect and could count upon the good will of the new Government of the land.I was impressed, as was every visitor, by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s dignity, grace and charm. Of moderate stature, his strong features and lofty expression lent to his personality an appearance of majesty. In our conversation he readily explained and discussed the principal tenets of Bahá’í, answered my inquiries and listened to my comments. I remember vividly that friendly interview of sixteen years ago, in the simple room of the villa, surrounded by gardens, on the sunny hillside of Mount Carmel.I was glad I had paid my visit so soon, for in 1921 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá died. I was only able to express my respect for his creed and my regard for his person by coming from the capital to attend his funeral. A great throng had gathered together, sorrowing for his death, but rejoicing also for his life.”

Dane Rudhyar was an author, composer and astrologer. He was the pioneer of modern transpersonal astrology. His modernist music inspired many early 20th century composers.

“It would be unwise…to attempt to picture even in broad outlines what might be the kind of social system that would be most likely to emerge after a profound reorganization of mankind on a global scale. For a relatively long time the process of re-structuring a society of such a scope and obvious complexity would almost inevitably know ups and downs, and perhaps crucial conflicts; unless a very large section of the coming generations spontaneously would experience such a change of consciousness that, perhaps under some quasi-divine guidance, they can readily accept as valid and necessary some basic principles of social organization, such as, for instance, is envisioned by adherents to the Bahá’í Faith.” 
From Directives for New Life

“…Thus the “massacre of the Innocents”, among whom Herod hoped to have the newborn Jesus destroyed, is really to be interpreted as the cyclic destruction of those Initiates who pave the way for the Great One, and whose sacrificial deaths leaven the soil in whom His mission is to become rooted. These Initiates represent the John-the-Baptist phase of the avataric descent. They are heralds as well as martyrs. They close a cycle, and make the opening of another possible.
We find the same series of happenings in the Bahá’í traditions. The Báb and the thousands of his followers who underwent martyrdom leavened the soil trod by Bahá’u’lláh, the “Glory of God”.”
From New Mansions for New Men

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Younghusband was a British Army officer, explorer and spiritual writer. He is remembered chiefly for his travels in the Far East and Central Asia, and for his writings on Asia and foreign policy. Younghusband held positions including British commissioner to Tibet and President of the Royal Geographic Society. In 1936, he gathered in London the first meeting of the World Congress of Faiths.

“The story of the Báb…was the story of spiritual heroism unsurpassed… If a young man could, in only six years of ministry, by the sincerity of his purpose and the attraction of his personality, so inspire rich and poor, cultured and illiterate, alike with belief in himself and his doctrines that they would remain staunch though hunted down and without trial sentenced to death, sawn asunder, strangled, shot, blown from guns; and if men of high position and culture in Persia, Turkey and Egypt in numbers to this day adhere to his doctrines; his life must be one of those events in the last hundred years which is really worthy of study…”
From The Gleam (1923)

“…the Bahá’í faith exists for almost the sole purpose of contributing to the fellowship and unity of mankind. Other communities might consider how far a particular element of their respective faiths could be regarded as similar to those of other communities. But the Bahá’í faith aimed at combining into one synthesis all those elements in the various faiths which are held in common.”
From A Venture of Faith (1937)

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)

Bernard Leach was a world-renowned studio potter. He is regarded as the “Father of British Studio Pottery”.

“At the front and head of all saints, poets, artists and philosophers, stand great figures – Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Guatama, Christ. Mohammed, and, I believe, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh – shedding light and love upon mankind – the milestones of human evolution. No power of kings and conquerors, nor even of genius, can compare with the sway which their authority has exercised throughout recorded history, until day has turned to night and men have twisted Their Teachings to suit their own purposes…

Bahá’u’lláh’s light shone in Persia and Palestine a century ago. He recognized and united the Teachings of all the Founders of religions providing thereby a true basis for World Peace and Unity… He has left a great body of writing and a complete Plan of World Order based upon man’s relationship with God, man’s relationship with himself, and man’s relationship with man.”
From My Religious Faith, 1953 

“A man was born at the close of one era and the beginning of another, whose concept of inclusive unity gave so powerful a voice as to eventually force me out of my persistent doubt. His name was Bahá’u’lláh (The Glory of God). Born in Persia in 1817, he died in Palestine in 1892 after forty years of exile and prison, from whence His fuller revelation emanated. For the first time a divine Genius could speak to mankind during the greatest crisis in history. This is the ‘time of the end’ (of an epoch), when men may comprehend that which Jesus said they could not comprehend in his day. Instead of a diminution of the concept of God to nullity is its expansion to man’s united wholeness. How else can we understand each other or hope for peace?…

To those readers who feel surprised that I give such loyalty to three Persian Teachers whose spiritual and practical lives were selfless as was Christ’s, my reply is that the absence of the separating self implies the Presence of God. Those pure mirrors reflecting the Essence of Being described in the Bible as ‘I am that I am’ I have called spiritual or divine Geniuses of the human race.”
From Drawings, Verse and Belief, 1973 

Leo Tolstoy was one of the greatest of all novelists. His essays on religion and educational reform made him an influential and controversial figure in Russian history.  

“I have known about the Bábís for a long time, and have always been interested in their teachings. It seems to me that these teachings, as well as all the rationalistic social religious teachings that have arisen lately out of the original teachings of Brahmanism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam distorted by the priests, have a great future for this very reason that these teachings, discarding all these distorting incrustations that cause division, aspire to unite into one common religion of all mankind.

Therefore, the teachings of the Bábís, inasmuch as they have rejected the old Muhammadan superstitions and have not established new superstitions which would divide them from other new superstitions (unfortunately something of the kind is noticed in the exposition of the Teachings of the Báb), and inasmuch as they keep to the principal fundamental ideas of brotherhood, equality and love, have a great future before them.

In the Muhammadan religion there has been lately going on an intensive spiritual movement. I know that one such movement is centered in the French colonies in Africa, and has its name (I do not remember it), and its prophet. Another movement exists in India, Lahore, and also has its prophet and publishes its paper “Review of Religions.”

Both these religious teachings contain nothing new, neither do they have for their principal object a changing of the outlook of the people and thus do not change the relationship between the people, as is the case with Babiism, though not so much in its theory (Teachings of the Báb) as in the practice of life as far as I know it. I therefore sympathize with Babiism with all my heart inasmuch as it teaches people brotherhood and equality and sacrifice of material life for service to God.”

“In answer to your letter which questions how one should understand the term God. I send you a collection of writings from my literary and reading club, in which some thoughts upon the nature of God are included. In my opinion if we were to free ourselves from all false conception of God we should, whether as Christians or Muhammadans, free ourselves entirely from picturing God as a personality. The conception which then seems to me to be the best for meeting the requirements of reason and heart is found in 4th chap. St. John, 7-12-15 that means God is love. It therefore follows that God lives in us according to the measure or capacity of each soul to express His nature. This thought is implicit more or less clearly in all religions, and therefore in Muhammadanism.

Concerning your second question upon what awaits us after death I can only reply that on dying we return to God from whose Life we came. God, however, being Love we can on going over expect God only.

Concerning your third question, I answer that so far as I understand Islam, like all other religions Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc., it contains great basic truths but that these have become corrupted by superstitions, and coarse interpretations and filled with unnecessary legendic descriptions. I have had much help in my researches to get clear upon Muhammadanism by a splendid little book “The sayings of Muhammad.”

The teachings of the Bábís which come to us out of Islam have through Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings been gradually developed and now present us with the highest and purest form of religious teaching.”