Worldly powers cannot extinguish the Cause; Baha’u’llah’s challenge to the divines of Baghdad to chose a miracle

On his own WordPress web site, Adib Masumian has published his translation of a talk that Abdu’l-Baha gave at Hotel Sultani in Port Sa’id, Egypt, on June 19, 1913. A transcript of the original Persian text of this talk has been published in Khiṭábát-i-Ḥaḍrat-i-‘Abdu’l-Bahá, vol. 3, pp. 76–78. In this talk, Abdu’l-Baha reports Baha’u’llah’s interpretation of a “true” (oracular or prophetic) dream that came to Shaykh ‘Abdu’l-Ḥusayn, a Muslim divine in Baghdad who opposed Baha’u’llah. For more on the Persian concept of a “true dream,” see my book “The True Dream.” In Baha’u’llah’s interpretation, this dream of an enemy proved to be ironically true, for it speaks of the Shah sitting under the dome of the “Ancient Faith of God” which has been transformed by changing the Arabic script of the decorations into Roman script. The dream-Shah claims he will eliminate the Bahais, but the Quranic message in the new script says that God does what God wills. Thus the oracular dream has deceived the one who received it, in good Greek fashion. When Baha’u’llah’s interpretation of this dream became known, it led to the well-known incident in which the divines asked Baha’u’llah to perform a miracle as proof, and he responded by challenging them to consult and chose one miracle, which he will perform.

Abdu’l-Baha says that events have shown that worldly powers and the Muslim divines are powerless to halt the spread of the Bahai gospel. He concludes by noting some Bahai teachings not found (explicitly) in the scriptures of the past.

The incident of the request for a miracle has been recounted by Fadil Mazandarani in a short biography of Baha’u’llah, published in Star of the West Vol. 14, p. 325, as follows:

The enemies of Baha’u’llah, wishing to exile him from Baghdad, met in consultation. They asked a prominent divine, a very good and sincere man, with many followers, to meet with them.

This divine was not a follower of Baha’u’llah’ but when he heard the plan of the enemies he refused to have anything to do with it, saying that they had never investigated the matter, and therefore could not know the truth; then he left the meeting. The others finally decided to send one of their number to talk with Baha’u’llah. This man, also, was good and sincere and when he met Baha’u’llah he beheld in wonder the radiance of his spirit. He asked what he should say to those who had sent him. Baha’u’llah replied, “You must tell them all that you have seen and felt.” The emissary said, “They do not doubt your greatness and knowledge. What they really want is a miracle.” Baha’u’llah answered, “You have read in all the sacred books that miracles do not appear through the wish of the people, but by the will of God. If God followed the will of the people the order of the world would be destroyed, for the people are many and each one holds in his mind a wish different from the others. However, you may tell your friends that they may consult together and choose one miracle; if I perform this miracle, then they must all believe.”

The emissary, rejoicing, returned to his colleagues. While they were considering Baha’u’llah’s message one said, “If Baha’u’llah, through his unseen power should perform this miracle, then would we accept him, and become believers?” To this question they answered, No. So the matter of the miracle was dropped.

Shoghi Effendi gives more insight and details:

Balked in his repeated attempts to achieve his malevolent purpose, Shaykh Abdu’l-Husayn now diverted his energies into a new channel. He promised his accomplice he would raise him to the rank of a minister of the crown, if he succeeded in inducing the government to recall Bahá’u’lláh to Tihran, and cast Him again into prison. He despatched lengthy and almost daily reports to the immediate entourage of the Shah. He painted extravagant pictures of the ascendancy enjoyed by Bahá’u’lláh by representing Him as having won the allegiance of the nomadic tribes of Iraq. He claimed that He was in a position to muster, in a day, fully one hundred thousand men ready to take up arms at His bidding. He accused Him of meditating, in conjunction with various leaders in Persia, an insurrection against the sovereign. By such means as these he succeeded in bringing sufficient pressure on the authorities in Tihran to induce the Shah to grant him a mandate, bestowing on him full powers, and enjoining the Persian ulamas and functionaries to render him every assistance. This mandate the Shaykh instantly forwarded to the ecclesiastics of Najaf and Karbila, asking them to convene a gathering in Kazimayn, the place of his residence. A concourse of shaykhs, mullas and mujtahids, eager to curry favor with the sovereign, promptly responded. Upon being informed of the purpose for which they had been summoned, they determined to declare a holy war against the colony of exiles, and by launching a sudden and general assault on it to destroy the Faith at its heart. To their amazement and disappointment, however, they found that the leading mujtahid amongst them, the celebrated Shaykh Murtaday-i-Ansari, a man renowned for his tolerance, his wisdom, his undeviating justice, his piety and nobility of character, refused, when apprized of their designs, to pronounce the necessary sentence against the Bábís. He it was whom Bahá’u’lláh later extolled in the “Lawh-i-Sultán,” and numbered among “those doctors who have indeed drunk of the cup of renunciation,” and “never interfered with Him,” and to whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá referred as “the illustrious and erudite doctor, the noble and celebrated scholar, the seal of seekers after truth.” Pleading insufficient knowledge of the tenets of this community, and claiming to have witnessed no act on the part of its members at variance with the Qur’án, he, disregarding the remonstrances of his colleagues, abruptly left the gathering, and returned to Najaf, after having expressed, through a messenger, his regret to Bahá’u’lláh for what had happened, and his devout wish for His protection.

Frustrated in their designs, but unrelenting in their hostility, the  144  assembled divines delegated the learned and devout Haji Mulla Hasan-i-‘Ammu, recognized for his integrity and wisdom, to submit various questions to Bahá’u’lláh for elucidation. When these were submitted, and answers completely satisfactory to the messenger were given, Haji Mulla Hasan, affirming the recognition by the ulamas of the vastness of the knowledge of Bahá’u’lláh, asked, as an evidence of the truth of His mission, for a miracle that would satisfy completely all concerned. “Although you have no right to ask this,” Bahá’u’lláh replied, “for God should test His creatures, and they should not test God, still I allow and accept this request…. The ulamas must assemble, and, with one accord, choose one miracle, and write that, after the performance of this miracle they will no longer entertain doubts about Me, and that all will acknowledge and confess the truth of My Cause. Let them seal this paper, and bring it to Me. This must be the accepted criterion: if the miracle is performed, no doubt will remain for them; and if not, We shall be convicted of imposture.” This clear, challenging and courageous reply, unexampled in the annals of any religion, and addressed to the most illustrious Shí’ah divines, assembled in their time-honored stronghold, was so satisfactory to their envoy that he instantly arose, kissed the knee of Bahá’u’lláh, and departed to deliver His message. Three days later he sent word that that august assemblage had failed to arrive at a decision, and had chosen to drop the matter, a decision to which he himself later gave wide publicity, in the course of his visit to Persia, and even communicated it in person to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mirza Sa’id Khan. “We have,” Bahá’u’lláh is reported to have commented, when informed of their reaction to this challenge, “through this all-satisfying, all-embracing message which We sent, revealed and vindicated the miracles of all the Prophets, inasmuch as We left the choice to the ulamas themselves, undertaking to reveal whatever they would decide upon.” (God Passes By, p. 143)

And the link to Adib’s translation once more: https://adibmasumian.com/translations/abu0231/

One thought on “Worldly powers cannot extinguish the Cause; Baha’u’llah’s challenge to the divines of Baghdad to chose a miracle

  1. Adib:

    Thank you for this excellent provisional translation. The last paragraph resonates with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s same rhetorical approach in two noteworthy talks in the United States, prompted by questions as to what is new and distinctive about the Bahá’í teachings. On Friday, 15 November 1912, in New York, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was asked the following question: “What has Bahá’u’lláh brought that we have not heard before?” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 435, http://www.bahai.org/r/591469335.) On Monday, 2 December 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a talk in New York on the “the special teachings of Bahá’u’lláh” in direct response to what was essentially very same question: “You have asked me what new principles have been revealed by Him.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 457, http://www.bahai.org/r/322194491.) So the new and distinctive Bahá’í principles set forth in these two talks are the focus of Chapter 3 in my introductory book, Bahá’í Faith: The Basics (London/New York: Routledge, 2021), https://www.routledge.com/Bahai-Faith-The-Basics/Buck/p/book/9781138346161. So you can well imagine my surprise and delight in reading your new translation this morning. This is indeed a significant contribution.

    Christopher Buck *PhD Esq *

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