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COLLECTIONProvisional translations
TITLEAttitude of Bahá'ís towards Persian Politics
AUTHOR 1 Abdu'l-Bahá
CONTRIB 1E.G. Browne, ed.
TITLE_PARENTPersian Revolution of 1905-1909
PUB_THISCambridge University Press
NOTES The original publication in Persian Revolution includes the Persian text of the letters that are translated.
TAGS* `Abdu'l-Bahá, Writings and talks of; Iran (documents); Politics

The attitude adopted by the Bábi, or rather the Bahá'í, leaders towards the Constitutional Movement in Persia is a matter on which I have not been able to satisfy myself. I have heard three views advanced, the first by a brilliant English diplomatist who has generally shewn an unusual understanding of and sympathy with the Persians; the second by a singularly sympathetic and discerning journalist who spent a considerable time in Persia; the third by a captain of the National Volunteers who was a fugitive in England after the coup d'état of June, 1908. These divergent views are briefly as follows:

(1) That `Abbás Efendi (or `Abdu'l-Bahá, as he is now generally called) strictly enjoined on his followers that they should refrain from

[p 425]

taking any part whatsoever in the struggle, firstly because their aims should be wholly spiritual, not political, and secondly because their support of the Constitution, if it became known, would tend to prejudice it in the eyes of the orthodox Shía, and especially the mullás.

(2) That not only the Constitutional Movement in Persia, but the general awakening of Asia, was the direct outcome of this new spiritual force known as Bábíism or Baháism.

(3) That the Bahá'is were opposed to the Constitution, and continued until the end to encourage and support the Sháh, partly because they thought he would eventually triumph and were anxious to win his favour; partly because they hated the mujtahids and mullás, who, as we have seen, generally supported the popular party; and partly because of their gratitude to Russia, who had shewn them various favours, and had allowed them to make `Ishq-ábád (Askabad) one of their principal centres, and to build there one of their few existing places of worship.

I am not sure which of these three theories is the true one, but I have often asked this question of my Persian friends: "If a convinced and enthusiastic Bahá'í had the choice of seeing Persia a strong and independent country with Islám as the established religion, or a Russian province with Bahá'ism as the established religion, which would he choose?" In almost all cases the answer has been that he would choose the second alternative. The very universalism of Baháism does not tend to encourage a passionate patriotism, and the following is a well-known utterance of Bahá'u'lláh:

"Pride is not for him who loves his country, but for him who loves the [whole] world " --- an admirable sentiment, but not, perhaps, one which is likely to be of service to the Persians in this crisis of their history.

Fortunately some positive evidence as to the attitude enjoined by `Abdu'l-Bahá on his followers is afforded by a series of letters (ten in number) written by him to various Bahá'ís and communicated to me by M. Hippolyte Dreyfus, whose works on Bábi and Bahá'í theology are so well and so favourably known. From these it appears:

(1) That the "Yahyá'ís (i.e. the followers of Mirzá Yahyá Subh-i-Azal) had put it about that the Bahá'ís were supporters of the Sháh and opponents of the Constitution.

(2) That as a matter of fact the attitude enjoined on and adopted by the Bahá'is was one of complete abstention from politics.

(3) That the persecutions which they had endured at the hands of certain reactionary mullás shewed that they were not regarded as friends of the Reaction.

The letters are too long to translate in full, and, moreover, repeat themselves to a certain extent, but the following extracts will suffice to give an idea of their purport.

[p 426]

1.Addressed to Muhammad `All Khán of Tihrán.

"As regards what you wrote touching the intervention in the affairs of Persia of the neighbouring States, time upon time it bath been declared by the Pen of the Covenant that the Government (Dawlat) and the People (Millat) should mix together like honey and milk, else the field will be open for the manoeuvres of others, and both parties will regret it. But alas! the two parties would not give ear, but have brought matters to this perilous pitch !"

2. Addressed to "Ibn Abhar" at Tihrán.

"As to the matter of our ill-wishers amongst the Yahyá'ís [i.e. the Azálís], who accuse the Friends [i.e. the Bahá'ís] of sympathy with the Court [or Government, Dawlat], it is certain that the truth of the case

[p 427]

will become plain and evident, and you should peruse the letters sent by this post to Mírzá `Abdu'lláh Sahih-furhúsh. We have no connection with any party: we are neither partisans of the Victorious Government nor do we share the opinions of the Glorious People. We stand aside from all strifes, wish well to all, and offer our prayers and supplications at the Throne of God that He will reconcile these two honourable elements with one another, so that they may become one element, and may work together for the glory and advancement of both Government and People. Praise be to God, by God's Grace we strive to be at peace and on friendly terms with all parties in the world; we shew friendship and affection to all, seek after righteousness, and spend ourselves in this Path."

[p 428]

3. Addressed to Hájji Mirzá `Abdu'lláh Sahih-furhúsh.

"You wrote that it had been stated in the Hablu'l-Matín published at Rasht that the Bahá'ís were partisans of the Autocracy, and at Zanján had collected aid for the Royalist Cause. One of the `Friends' must write to some other newspaper, or it must be spread abroad amongst the people, that this is a calumny concerning the Bahá'ís [emanating] from the Yahyá'í [i.e. Azali] Bábís, for these men are the enemies of the Bahá'ís. The aim of the Bahá'ís is the reformation of the world, so that amongst all these nations and governments a reconciliation may be effected and strife and war may be abolished. Therefore they hasten onward with heart and soul and spend themselves that perchance the Court and the Nation, nay, [all] parties and peoples, may be united to one another, and that peace and reconciliation may enter in. Hence they have no part in such quarrels. And a clear proof and conclusive argument as to the falsity of the accuser, which leaves no opening for doubt, is the decree of the mujtahid Mullá Hasan of Tabriz for the slaughter of the Bahá'ís, and also the slanderous proclamations of the muftahid Mírzá Fazlu'lláh of Núr and Sayyid `Ali Akbar, which were posted on the walls in all the streets and bázárs of Tihrán. But the Yahyá'í [i.e. Azali] Bábís, who are the enemies of the Bahá'ís, and who keep themselves in concealment, tell the Nationalists that the Bahá'ís are the partisans of the Court, while telling the Royalists that they are ready to lay down their lives for the Nation, in order to stir up both sides against the Bahá'ís and make them their enemies, that perchance they may seduce certain souls on either side. This is the truth of the matter; therefore it behoves that some just men should investigate the question of the [alleged] help [given to the Royalists] at Zanján. If such a thing hath been done by the Bahá'ís we will believe and admit [the charge]. Glory be to God! This is an awful calumny! From the very beginning of the Revolution it was constantly enjoined that the Friends of God should stand aside from this strife and struggle and war and contest, and should seek to reconcile the Court and the Nation, and should spend themselves so that Court and Nation should

[p 429]

mix with one another like milk and honey: for safety and success are unattainable and impossible without [such] reconciliation. Now when they who wish us ill utter calumnies, the `Friends' are silent, wherefore these our foes each day boldly enunciate some [new] slander.

"Upon thee be the Most Splendid Splendour (al-Baha'u'l-Abizd). `A. `A." (i.e. `Abbás `Abdu'l-Bahá).

Space will not allow the citation of further extracts. One of the remaining letters is addressed to "the Friends of God" in Bákú, and here also emphasis is laid on the enmity of Shaykh Fazlu'lláh and Sayyid `Ali of Yazd, and their assertions that the Bahá'ís supported and had even originated the Constitutional Movement, in reply to which `Abbás Efendi says that the Bahá'ís were absolutely forbidden to discuss political matters in their assemblies, and were told to regard "the differences and strife now existing in Persia as like children's toys, having no importance," and an appeal is made to the judgement of European and American investigators of the Bahá'i doctrines and ethics. In a fifth letter, again addressed to "Ibn Abhar," he is bidden to recommend the Bahá'ís "every night and day to concern themselves with that which will conduce to the Eternal Glory of Persia." i.e., apparently, the diffusion of the Bahá'í faith. The remaining letters contain nothing worthy of special note.

This much at least seems clear, that from the Bahá'ís little active support or sympathy can be expected by the Persian Nationalists, while certainly in the past (as in the case of Shaykh Ahmad "Rúhí" of Kirmán) and probably in the present the Azalís have identified themselves to a much larger extent with the popular cause.

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