August 10, 2020

Baha’u’llah’s Epistle to the Son of the Wolf – Notes by Marzieh Gail

This is the last major outstanding Tablet of Baha’u’llah. The last He wrote before He left us; before that happened of which the Báb has written, "all sorrow is the shadow of that sorrow."  This is the last of the hundred books He revealed for us.

It was written to a priest in Isfahan, a priest called the "Son of the Wolf". His father had spoken the words that sent the "twin shining lights," the King of Martyrs and the Beloved of Martyrs to their death. They were laid in two sandy graves near Isfahan. (Years afterward, an American woman named Keith Ransom Kehler knelt there and wept and brought them flowers; then in a few days she was stricken and died, and the friends carried her back to these same graves and buried her beside them).

This priest, Aqa Najafi, had committed the unforgivable sin: he had violated the Covenant and blasphemed against the Holy Spirit; that is, he had hated, not the lamp, not the Prophet of God as an individual -- from ignorance, or because he did not recognize Him -- but the light itself, the perfections of God which the Prophet reflects; he had hated the light in the lamp -- and "this detestation of the light has no remedy...”

This priest was, then, the most hopeless of sinners. His evil found expression in many ways, and among them was this, that with his pupils, he kicked at and trampled the martyred body of Mirza Ashraf, in Isfahan (not the Ashraf of whom we read in Gleanings; Siyyid Ashraf, whose head was cut off in Zanjan).

And yet, Baha'u'llah begins this Tablet with a prayer of repentance for Aqa Najafi to recite. He offers this breaker of the Covenant forgiveness; just as, in His Most Holy Book, He offers forgiveness to Mirza Yahya, the treacherous half-brother who tried to destroy him. This offering is a demonstration of "Badá" -- of the principle of the free operation of the Will of God, Who doeth whatsoever He willeth and shall not he asked of His doings.

It proves how mistaken is that large group of human beings who believe that everything is on a mechanical basis that this much sin brings this much punishment, and so much good buys so much reward. To them, God is a blind force, operating mechanically -- something like the third rail in the subway. They themselves, however, would greatly resent being called a blind force. (The Báb develops this principle of "Badá" in the Persian Bayan.)

"Thou beholdest, O my God, him who is as one dead fallen at the door of Thy favor, ashamed to seek from the hand of Thy loving kindness the living waters of Thy pardon.»

"Thou hast ordained that every pulpit be set apart for Thy mention . . . but I have ascended it to proclaim the violation of Thy Covenant... "

"O Lord, my Lord! and again, O Lord, my Lord! and yet again, O Lord, my Lord!" 

Throughout the Tablet, he is several times directed to pray; is addressed as would be one of Baha'u'llah's own sons; is told to arise and serve the Faith; to believe, serve and trust; to enter the presence of Baha'u'llah (Whom he had never seen); to save men from the "mire of self,” to "seek the Most Great Ocean” and that "thereupon, will the doors of the Kingdom be flung wide before thy face…” He is told: "O Shaykh! We have enabled thee to hear the melodies of the Nightingale of Paradise… that thine eye might be cheered…

As Dr. 'Ali-Kuli Khan has pointed out (unpublished manuscript notes) the varying titles by which Baha'u'llah addresses Aqa Najafi indicate that the Letter is intended for a much larger audience than he. It is "a presentation of the Faith to humanity"; many aspects of man are singled out and addressed. These titles include: "O Shaykh”; "O distinguished divine," "O thou who hast gone astray!" "O thou who hast turned away from God! Occasionally, too, others are specifically named "O people of Baha," “O Hádi”.

Many aspects of man are singled out and addressed. You find here, not only the evil priests who in every dispensation hold men back from their Lord -- the "blind mouths" of Lycidas -- but the good divines, who are "as eyes to the nations”, reminiscent of the "Ulama in Baha" of the Most Holy Book. You find here the king and the scholar, the everyday believer, the saint, the sinner.

This Tablet, then, is much more than a letter to an individual. It is an important general presentation of the Faith. In this Work, as the Guardian tells us, Baha'u'llah "quotes some of the most characteristic and celebrated passages of His own writings, and adduces proofs establishing the validity of His cause.”

Most books bring you closer to the author. But when you study the work of Baha'u'llah, He eludes you. As the Guardian has told us in ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah’, He is "unapproachably glorious".

Goethe says, "Above all peaks there is rest." I have read this Book three times and studied it over a long period; it seems to me more likely that above all peaks there is another peak.

You want, though it is almost impossible, to read this at one sitting. It comes rapidly, and the English translation by the Guardian is flawless. You want more and more of it and are too impatient to stop and think over this and this, as you are urged along, and you mark things to come back to.

It contains sentences like these:

"I belong to him that loveth Me..."

"… others had, at times, to nourish themselves with that Divine sustenance which is hunger"

"In the treasuries of the knowledge of God there lieth concealed a knowledge which, when applied, will largely, though not wholly, eliminate fear."

“Man's actions are acceptable after his having recognized (the Manifestation)."

"He is truly learned who hath acknowledged My Revelation, and drunk from the Ocean of My knowledge, and soared in the atmosphere of My love..."

"A just king enjoyeth nearer access unto God than any anyone.”

"These, verily, are men who if they come to cities of pure gold will consider them not; and if they meet the fairest and most comely of women will turn aside”

It offers historical material which in future will stimulate the keenest research. We learn, for example, of the Master's first betrothal; of Baha'u'llah's arrest in Niyavaran and of the kind of chains He was bound with; of the machinations against Him by Persian officials in Constantinople and of the suicide there of Haji Shaykh Muhammad-'Ali; the fact that Mirza Yahya was not exiled out of Persia; that he abandoned the writings of the Báb in Baghdad; that Hadi Dawlat-Abadi tried to destroy every copy of the Bayan; that the Azalis tried to claim Siyyid Javad-i-Karbala'i as one of themselves, pasting his picture under that of Mirza Yahya; that Baha’u’llah had never read the Bayan; that in 1863 (this date is given in ‘God Passes By’) Baha'u'llah suggested to a Turkish official, Kamal Pasha, that his government convene a gathering to plan for a world language and script. (In this connection, Volapuk was invented by Johann Martin Schleyer of Konstanz, Baden, about 1879; Esperanto, by Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, was first discussed in print by him in 1887; cf. Webster's New International Dictionary, 1929).

It gives us a moral code, including such precepts as:

"If anyone revile you, or trouble touch you, in the path of God, be patient, and put your trust in Him Who heareth, Who seeth. He, in truth, witnesseth, and perceiveth, and doeth what He pleaseth, through the power of His sovereignty”

"The sword of wisdom is hotter than summer heat, and sharper than blades of steel…”

"...withhold not from the poor the things given unto you by God through His grace. He, verily, will bestow upon you the double of what ye possess."

"If ye become aware of a sin committed by another, conceal it, that God may conceal your own sin."

"Be… thankful in adversity…”

"Be fair in thy judgment and guarded in thy speech…”

“Be… a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression ... a home for the estranger..."

The fear of God is continually stressed:

"We enjoin the servants of God and His handmaidens to be pure and to fear God..."

"The fear of God hath ever been a . . . safe stronghold”

"Their [the Baha'is'] hearts are illumined with the light of the fear of God..."

Students of the Qur'an will remember how strikingly the fear of God is likewise extolled in that Book: "God loveth those who fear Him," and "Whoso feareth God, his evil deeds will He cancel..."

Among many such precepts, Baha'u'llah states here:
"Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained…” and interprets "Render unto Caesar" far differently from the current meaning given this verse in Christendom, where it is made to imply that Caesar is a sort of reversal of God, a concept at variance with the Baha'i teaching on kingship.

Baha'u'llah also answers, in this Work, a question often asked: Why a new religion? He says, by implication to the Muslims, that if they prefer what is ancient, why did they adopt the Qur'an in place of the Old and New Testaments? And He states that if bringing a new Faith be His crime, then Muhammad committed it before Him, and before Him Jesus, and still earlier, Moses. He adds, "And if My sin be this, that I have exalted the Word of God and revealed His Cause, then indeed am I the greatest of sinners! Such a sin I will not barter for the kingdoms of earth and heaven."

The Baha'is of the West are gradually learning more about the Bá; through ‘The Dawn-Breakers’, ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah’, and this present Text, they are drawing closer to Him, and to the story of His life, which is the story of His love for Baha'u'llah. Among His utterances here quoted is the striking plea to His followers that even should an imposter arise after Him, they should not protest against the man, nor sadden him. (In time, twenty-five persons, most of whom later begged forgiveness of Baha’u’llah, claimed to be He Whom God Shall Manifest. This was because of His longing to protect the True One. He is His own proof, the Báb told His followers. "... who then can know Him through anyone except Himself? The breath of the Báb's despair is here, and His beautiful words, "I... am, verily, but a ring upon the hand of Him Whom God shall make manifest…" Baha’u’llah links the Heraldship of the Báb with that of John the Baptist, and shows how John's companions as well "were prevented from acknowledging Him Who is the Spirit (Jesus)."

Not only are we brought near to Him Who was the return of the Twelfth Imam, but to all the Imams, and -- since the Guardian is as the Imam -- to the institution of Guardianship in our own Faith. The reference to the "snow-white" hand of the Qa'im goes back to Moses' sign in the Qur'an. By the "Impost” is meant the tithe, payment of which is a religious duty, as are the Fast, the Pilgrimage, etc. : "We are the Way... and We are the Impost, and We are the Fast, and We are the Pilgrimage, and We are the Sacred Month, and We are the Sacred City....," says the Imam Jafar-i-Sadiq. In connection with the Imamate, E. G. Browne's brief summary is valuable:

"According to the Imamite view ... the vice-regency is a matter altogether spiritual; an office conferred by God alone, first by His Prophet, and afterwards by those who so succeeded him . . . the Imam of the Shiites is the divinely-ordained successor   of the Prophet, one endowed with all perfections and spiritual gifts, one whom all the faithful must obey, whose decision is absolute and final, whose wisdom is superhuman and whose words are authoritative. "

Swiftly, in this Book, the scenes pass. There is the dungeon, and the dream there, and the promise: "Verily We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy Pen... Erelong will God raise up the treasures of the earth men who will aid Thee..." There is the dramatic suicide in the mosque, of Haji Shaykh Muhammad-'Ali. There is the "city, on the shores of the sea, white, whose whiteness is pleasing unto God…” The mood varies, the tempo shifts. You can hear these swift questions and answers in music, as a kind of spiritual: "Hath the Hour come? Nay, more; it hath passed... Seest thou men laid low? Yea, by my Lord... Blinded art thou... Paradise is decked with mystic roses… hell hath been made to blaze…"

There are the thought-inducing lines on the moan of the pulpits: "I was walking in the Land of Tá (Tihran) -- the dayspring of the signs of Thy Lord -- when lo, I heard the lamentation of the pulpits and the voice of their supplication unto God, blessed and glorified be He. They cried out and said... Alas, alas! … Would that we had never been created and revealed by Thee!" This reminds us of the Qur'anic verse, referred to earlier by Baha’u’llah: "God Who giveth a voice to all things, hath given us a voice...” And then the earth-quaking apostrophe to the She-Serpent: "Judge thou equitably, O She-Serpent! For what crime didst thou sting the children of the Apostle of God...?” This refers to the martyrdom of the "twin shining lights," descendants of Muhammad; you would need Michelangelo or Milton to comment here.

People who must choose often ask whether they should add this or that book to their private library. My reasons for owning this one are: Its beauty of text, translation, and format; its brevity; its richness from the academic point of view -- the materials it offers for study; its comprehensiveness -- for, although it is an independent creative work, having its own unity of form, its own personal spirit -- it is almost an anthology, and one selected by Baha'u'llah Himself. And then, there is the totality of its impact on the reader, and the eternal gift it holds out to him, of the mercy of God.

Yes, it helps us to enter His presence; it brings us to "Him Whom the world hath cast away and the nations abandoned…”

Where has Aqa Najafi gone now? Where has he gone in his enormous globular turban and his curled-up shoes? He was, as Baha'u'llah called his fellow, "the last trace of sunlight upon the mountain-top.” Where has he taken all his hatred? In any event, it became the occasion of this Book, this last earthly gift to us from Baha'u'llah; His enemies brought Him poison, but He changed it into honey for His loved ones. 
(World Order magazine, May 1946)