Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Abdu'l-Baha and the Covenant-breaker in California

Let us try to imagine the scene. The Master, following upon His brilliant victories on the East Coast and in the heart of America, had come to its Western shores to proclaim His Father's Faith. Pastors were eager for Him to address their congregations from their pulpits. He had delivered His first address in the Bay Area to a congregation at the Unitarian Church in San Francisco, followed by His address to the Congregational Church in Oakland; then He humorously and kindly challenged the views of a gathering of agnostics, atheists and social extremists at the Open Forum in San Francisco; followed by His triumphant address to the entire faculty and student body at Stanford University.  He then addressed yet another Unitarian congregation in Palo Alto; the Japanese Independent Church in Oakland; and the people of Berkeley in its high school auditorium at the invitation of its mayor, Stitt Wilson. He had then demonstrated the truth of the successive ministries of Jesus Christ and of the Prophet Muhammad to the large and distinguished Jewish congregation in the Temple Emanu-El, an address described by His biographer H.M. Balyuzi, as "the towering climax to His matchless and strenuous work on the American continent." ("Abdu'l-Baha - The Centre of the Covenant," pp. 298-299) The press was aglow with His praise in scores of articles. Abdu'l-Baha was demonstrating His lofty station and His unparalleled magnetic power.


And then, at this pinnacle, the unthinkable happened: Mirza Shua'u'llah, one of the Covenant-breakers, the son of the Arch-Breaker of the Covenant Mirza Muhammad-Ali, who had transferred his residence from the Holy Land to Southern California in pursuit of financial gain and to promote the baseless claims of his father -- publicly and viciously arose against the Master.


On the very day of Abdu'l-Baha's magnificent address to the Jewish congregation, Shu'a'u'llah, who had come from the other side of the earth, had convinced the editor of a now long-defunct newspaper, the San Francisco Call, that Abdu'l-Baha was not what He appeared to be. Shu'a sought to defame the Master, dredging up the entire litany of his father's claims against Abdu'l-Baha, summarized in God Passes By by Shoghi Effendi:


To friend and stranger, believer and unbeliever alike, to officials both high and low, openly and by insinuation, verbally as well as in writing, they represented 'Abdu'l-Bahá as an ambitious, a self-willed, an unprincipled and pitiless usurper, Who had deliberately disregarded the testamentary instructions of His Father; Who had, in language intentionally veiled and ambiguous, assumed a rank co-equal with the Manifestation Himself; Who in His communications with the West was beginning to claim to be the return of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had come "in the glory of the Father"; Who, in His letters to the Indian believers, was proclaiming Himself as the promised Shah Bahram, and arrogating to Himself the right to interpret the writing of His Father, to inaugurate a new Dispensation, and to share with Him the Most Great Infallibility, the exclusive prerogative of the holders of the prophetic office. They, furthermore, affirmed that He had, for His private ends, fomented discord, fostered enmity and brandished the weapon of excommunication; that He had perverted the purpose of a Testament which they alleged to be primarily concerned with the private interests of Baha'u'llah's family by acclaiming it as a Covenant of world importance, pre-existent, peerless and unique in the history of all religions; that He had deprived His brothers and sisters of their lawful allowance, and expended it on officials for His personal advancement; that He had declined all the repeated invitations made to Him to discuss the issues that had arisen and to compose the differences which prevailed; that He had actually corrupted the Holy Text, interpolated passages written by Himself, and perverted the purpose and meaning of some of the weightiest Tablets revealed by the pen of His Father; and finally, that the standard of rebellion had, as a result of such conduct, been raised by the Oriental believers, that the community of the faithful had been rent asunder, was rapidly declining and was doomed to extinction.

Taken on the whole, the assertions amounted to Mirza Muhammad-Ali's claim that the Master should share leadership of the Faith with him--and Mirza Shu'a'u'llah convinced the editor of the Call to come with him to the Master's residence and challenge Him.  


The Master was not at his residence on California Street in San Francisco when Shu'a and the Call editor arrived. The whole jumbled list of charges appeared on the front page of the next day's issue of the Call.


Of all times! Of all places! What was the Master's response? It is highly illuminating. The Master did not weep; He did not complain that the Covenant-breakers had robbed the Cause of God of its moment of glory. He did not respond, point-by-point to these attacks: He ignored them, and this is highly instructive for us Baha'is today.


The editor returned to the Master's residence the next day without Mirza Shu'a'u'llah, and repeated the claims, asking Abdu'l-Baha to respond to them. According to the follow-up article on the front page of the Call, the Master refused to even consider the claims, saying that they were entirely unworthy of attention. He compared Shu'a's questions to those of the town drunk, saying to the editor, “If a man came to you from a saloon on the corner and asked a question of you, would you deign to answer?”

Mirza Muhammad-Ali, the Archbreaker of the Covenant of Baha'u'llah, had sent his son to live in America to join in league with Ibrahim Khayru'llah, and to try to win supporters from the ranks of the Baha'is. He lived in various parts of the United States for some years, until the Master's passing, when he was summoned back to the Holy Land. What was the fruit of this lengthy mission?  He had been unable to attract a single follower.  Shoghi Effendi writes:
Shu'a'u'llah who . . . had been despatched to the United States by his father to join forces with Ibrahim Khayru’llah, returned crestfallen and empty-handed from his inglorious mission.
Mirza Shu'a'u'llah again tried to stir up problems in the press a few days later when the Master traveled to Los Angeles; again, the wisdom of the Master caused this tempest to remain in the teapot.  


Abdu'l-Baha later praised the conduct of the California Baha'is in entirely avoiding Shu'a'u'llah:

The friends in Los Angeles and San Francisco are very firm in the Covenant. If they sense the least violation on the part of anyone, they shun him entirely; for they know that such a person is engaged in extinguishing the lamps of faith ignited by the light of the Covenant, thereby producing weakness and indifference in the divine Cause. . . The friends in San Francisco are exceedingly firm. They do not receive violators in their homes. Recently a violator went to that city. The Baha'i friends turned him away, saying, "You are not with us; why do you try to come among us?" Today the most important principle of faith is firmness in the Covenant, because firmness in the Covenant wards off differences. Therefore, you must be firm as mountains.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 381)
The Master promised the American Baha'is that unfounded attacks would be printed in the newspapers in the future. A few weeks later, in Washington D.C. He stated:

"...my purpose is to warn and strengthen you against accusations, criticisms, revilings and derision in newspaper articles or other publications. Be not disturbed by them. They are the very confirmation of the Cause, the very source of upbuilding to the Movement. May God confirm the day when a score of ministers of the churches may arise and with bared heads cry at the top of their voices that the Baha'is are misguided. I would like to see that day, for that is the time when the Cause of God will spread. Baha'u'llah has pronounced such as these the couriers of the Cause. They will proclaim from pulpits that the Baha'is are fools, that they are a wicked and unrighteous people, but be ye steadfast and unwavering in the Cause of God. They will spread the message of Baha'u'llah."
We must trust the divine institutions to handle things when such events occur, and not take matters into our own hands. Often, they will determine that silence is the best response, in keeping with this guidance from Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice:

In regard to the activities of Ahmad Sohrab, Shoghi Effendi has already stated that such attacks, however perfidious, do not justify the friends replying or taking any direct action against them. The attitude of the N.S.A. should be to ignore them entirely. For any undue emphasis on attacks made upon the Cause by Ahmad and his supporters would make them feel that they constitute a real challenge to the Cause and a menace to its institutions. Should these attacks continue and acquire a serious importance the Guardian will surely advise the N.S.A. to take definite and decisive action. (From a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, U.S. Baha'i News, May 1933, No. 83, pp. 1-2)

In reply to your letter of September 20, 1975 the Universal House of Justice instructs us to say that the friends should be advised to ignore these books and any similar ones which might be written by enemies of the Faith. There should certainly be no attempt made to destroy or remove such books from libraries. On the other hand there is no need at all for the friends to acquire them and, indeed, the best plan is to ignore them entirely." (Referring to Books by Hermann Zimmer and William Miller. Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Panama, October 2, 1975; Lights of Guidance, p. 190, #627)
There are occasions when the challenges of Covenant-breakers are addressed by the Head of the Faith; for example, Shoghi Effendi's first two World Order letters; the document "Mason Remey and those who followed him" prepared at the direction of the Universal House of Justice; and the letter from the Hands of the Cause of God dated October 15, 1960 (Ministry of the Custodians, pp. 231 ff.).  Whether responded to or ignored, it is a matter for the divine institutions to handle.

2 comments:

  1. Oh how I wish I'd read it ten years ago.
    Thanks Brent.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice article. Thank you!!!

    ReplyDelete