Crisis: The Emergence (‘Abdu’l-Baha assumes His station) -by Dana Paxson

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On May 29th, 1892, Bahá’u’lláh the Manifestation of God passed from earthly limitation and existence. In the face of powerful and bitter opposition, first from within His family and then from the Ottoman Empire, His Son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, assumed His station.

The crisis of this transition was profound and far-reaching:

“The immediate effect of the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh had been… to spread grief and bewilderment among His followers and companions, and to inspire its vigilant and redoubtable adversaries with fresh hope and renewed determination. At a time when a grievously traduced Faith had triumphantly emerged from the two severest crises it had ever known, one the work of enemies without, the other the work of enemies within, when its prestige had risen to a height unequalled in any period during its fifty-year existence, the unerring Hand which had shaped its destiny ever since its inception was suddenly removed, leaving a gap which friend and foe alike believed could never again be filled.

“Yet, as the appointed Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant and the authorized Interpreter of His teaching had Himself later explained, the dissolution of the tabernacle wherein the soul of the Manifestation of God had chosen temporarily to abide signalized its release from the restrictions which an earthly life had, of necessity, imposed upon it. Its influence no longer circumscribed by any physical limitations, its radiance no longer beclouded by its human temple, that soul could henceforth energize the whole world to a degree unapproached at any stage in the course of its existence on this planet.”[1]

Shoghi Effendi makes clear the forces at work in the family:

“The true ground of this crisis was the burning, the uncontrollable, the soul-festering jealousy which the admitted preeminence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in rank, power, ability, knowledge and virtue, above all the other members of His Father’s family, had aroused not only in Mírzá Muḥammad-‘Alí, the archbreaker of the Covenant, but in some of his closest relatives as well.”[2]

 It seemed to these wayward souls that the opportunity for seizing control of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh was ripe. A child who loses a beloved, revered, and respected father in the everyday world suffers a deep wound of loss, confusion, and despair. For a steadily-growing world community of believers and sympathizers who saw Bahá’u’lláh as a Father far greater than any worldly parent, the wound of His permanent departure from their midst was overwhelming.

“Methinks, the spiritual commotion set up in the world of dust had caused all the worlds of God to tremble.… My inner and outer tongue are powerless to portray the condition we were in.… In the midst of the prevailing confusion a multitude of the inhabitants of ‘Akká and of the neighboring villages, that had thronged the fields surrounding the Mansion, could be seen weeping, beating upon their heads, and crying aloud their grief.”[3]

Nabíl himself, the esteemed author of “The Dawn-Breakers” and utterly devoted to Bahá’u’lláh, found himself beyond the reach of any comfort or consolation. Soon after writing these words he drowned himself in the sea near ‘Akká. Of him ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote:

“Throughout all his life, from earliest youth till he was feeble and old, he spent his time serving and worshiping the Lord. He bore hardships, he lived through misfortunes, he suffered afflictions. From the lips of the Manifestation he heard marvelous things. He was shown the lights of Paradise; he won his dearest wish.  And at the end, when the Daystar of the world had set, he could endure no more, and flung himself into the sea. The waters of sacrifice closed over him; he was drowned, and he came, at last, to the Most High.”[4]

Into the sorrow, confusion, and lethargy of all those in shock paraded the opportunists led by Mírzá Muhammad-‘Alí. They wasted no time and overlooked no chance or weapon in their machinations. The list of their maneuverings and manipulations is too long for this brief segment, but mentioning three of these wrongs will give a general idea. Shoghi Effendi states, “these repudiators of a divinely-established Covenant arose, as one man, to launch a campaign of abuse and vilification which compared in virulence with the infamous accusations which Mírzá Yaḥyá and Siyyid Muḥammad had jointly levelled at Bahá’u’lláh.”[5] Later in the same passage, regarding Mírzá Muhammad-‘Alí, is this: “He it was who… had, while Bahá’u’lláh’s body was still awaiting interment, carried off, by a ruse, the two satchels containing his Father’s most precious documents, entrusted by Him, prior to His ascension, to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá.”[6] And this: “He it was who, by an exceedingly adroit and simple forgery of a word recurring in some of the denunciatory passages addressed by the Supreme Pen to Mírzá Yaḥyá, and by other devices such as mutilation and interpolation, had succeeded in making them directly applicable to a Brother Whom he hated with such consuming passion.”[7]

The schemes gathered force and appeared to have major effects, generating considerable confusion, alarm, and schism among Bahá’ís and others alike. But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, facing the pitiless onslaught against the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, against the community of steadfast Bahá’ís, and against Himself, withstood all the attacks and subversions, writing His first message to Bahá’ís all over the Ottoman Empire and beyond. In it we find this:

“The world’s great Light, once resplendent upon all mankind has set, to shine everlastingly from the Abhá Horizon, His Kingdom of fadeless glory, shedding splendor upon His loved ones from on high, and breathing into their hearts and souls the breath of eternal life.

“O ye beloved of the Lord! Beware, beware, lest ye hesitate and waver. Let not fear fall upon you, neither be troubled nor dismayed. Take ye good heed lest this calamitous day slacken the flames of your ardour, and quench your tender hopes. To-day is the day for steadfastness and constancy. Blessed are they that stand firm and immovable as the rock, and brave the storm and stress of this tempestuous hour.”[8]

In our taking-in of these lessons of history, we remember the costs to the Master, who spread His wings over us all. In His Will and Testament, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá draws back the curtain concealing the pain and anguish that afflicted Him throughout His life:

“Sore trials have compassed me round and perils have from all sides beset me. Thou seest me immersed in a sea of unsurpassed tribulation, sunk into a fathomless abyss, afflicted by mine enemies and consumed with the flame of their hate, enkindled by my kinsmen with whom Thou didst make Thy strong Covenant and Thy firm Testament, wherein Thou biddest them turn their hearts to this wronged one, to keep away from me the foolish, the unjust, and refer unto this lonely one all that about which they differ in Thy Holy Book, so that the Truth may be revealed unto them, their doubts may be dispelled and Thy manifest Signs be spread abroad.”[9]

We see today the results and effects of this crisis: the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, its energies incomparably multiplied by the Ascension of its Founder, stands in lasting splendor, and the workings of its enemies lie in shards and ruins. Once ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took His place as the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, the world began to receive an unprecedented flood of divine knowledge testifying both to the uniqueness of His station and to the vast potency of His Father’s Revelation.

 

 

NOTES

[1] Shoghi Effendi, “God Passes By”, Chapter XV, p. 244. This entire chapter offers us a definitive account of the drama in the family of Bahá’u’lláh that was occasioned by His passing.

[2] ibid., p. 246.

[3] Nabíl-i-Azám, quoted in “God Passes By”, Chapter XIII, p. 222. Also found in H. M. Balyuzi, “’Abdu’l-Bahá: The Center of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh”, p. 48.

[4] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Memorials of the Faithful”, pp. 35-36.

[5] “God Passes By”, p. 248.

[6] ibid., p. 249.

[7] ibid., p. 249.

[8] From ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in “’Abdu’l-Bahá: The Center of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh”, p. 48, taken in turn from Lady Bloomfield, “The Chosen Highway”, pp. 110-111.

[9] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “The Will And Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá”, from the first paragraph.

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