The Quarrel over the Succession in Baha’i Religion


By Samuel Graham Wilson   

          Bahaullah died at Akka in May, 1892, in his seventy-fifth year. The death of the father was the signal for a bitter quarrel among his sons.
The occasion was the succession to the leadership. The cause, no doubt, lay partly in that jealousy which results from a polygamous household. This polygamy was the occasion of misfortune even at the time, for the Persian consul at Bagdad, named Mirza Buzurk Khan Kasvini, had desired to wed one of the women and vented his disappointment on the Baha’i community by making accusation against them before the Persian and Turkish Governments. Bahaullah had twelve children.
The four sons who grew to manhood received “great swelling” titles. Abbas was entitled “The Greatest (Azam) Branch of God” and regarded as the “return” of Jesus; Mohammed Ali, “The Mightiest (Akbar) Branch of God” and the “return” of Mohammed; Ziah Ullah, “The Purest Branch and as Abraham” (died 1898); Badi- ullah, “The Most Luminous Branch and as Moses.” Abbas Effendi was the son of Aseyeh.
The other three were sons of Ayesha or Mahdulya. Abbas Effendi claimed the succession, basing his right and title on the Will of Baha, called the Kitab-il-Ahd and on previous declarations. His right was disputed by the other brothers.
I have a manuscript by a lifelong Baha’i which gives the following account: “Nine days after the ‘ascension’ of Baha, Abbas Effendi desired nine of the chief men to come to the house of Mohammed Ali Effendi. He opened the will. It was in Baha’s own handwriting and two pages long. The nine men saw it. On the second page, over a part of the writing, Abbas had put a blue paper that it might not be read, and he refused to have it read. On the same day, the whole congregation (men) gathered to the palace of Baha. Mirza Majd-i-Din (Abbas’ sister’s son) rose and read the will up to the blue paper. Later the women were called to the Kasr Bahja and the will was again read, but the concealed portion was not made known.
It was evident that it was for his own selfish purposes that Abbas concealed it, because the future authority did not pertain to him. From Persia and India many wrote, saying: ”Show the last portion; it is the writing of His Holiness.’ He refused. To this day it is concealed.
Abbas assumed authority as the Supreme Ruler of the new dispensation, the Centre of the Covenant, and the Infallible Interpreter of its teachings.
His claim is clearly set forth in a Tablet wherein, speaking in the third person, he declares: “All Baha’is must obey the Centre of the Covenant and must not deviate one hair’s breadth from obedience to Him.” “He should be looked upon as authority by all.” “Obedience and submission must be shown Him and the face turned to Him completely.” He was given such titles as “His Holiness the Master,” “Our Lord,” “The Centre of the Cause of God,” “Dawning Place of the Divine Light,” “Dayspring of the Light of the Covenant.” Indeed his first Apostles to Persia bore the message, “I am the Manifestation of God. My paps are full of the milk of Godhead. Whosoever will, let him come and suck freely.” His claims to headship were strenuously opposed by his brothers and some of the nearest disciples.
A bitter quarrel began as a consequence and has raged to the present time. Letters were sent by each party to the Persian Baha’is, involving them in the quarrel.
Mohammed Ali composed a book, called the “Ityan-i-Dallil,” presenting proofs of the invalidity of Abbas’ claims, from the writings of Baha. They charge Abbas with concealing and annulling Baha’s will, perverting his teachings, changing the writings of Baha, publishing expurgated and interpolated editions of them, and attempting to suppress the authorized Bombay editions. Specifically they accuse him of publishing a Lawh-i-Beirut, a Tablet in which Abbas is greatly exalted, and attributing it to Baha, though it is spurious; that he has inserted verses into letters written in the hand of Baha’s amanuensis and published them as genuine; has omitted verses from the “Tablet of Command”; made up the “Treasure Tablet” from parts of several others; appropriated to himself Tablets pertaining to Mirza Mohammed Ali; and commanded to destroy all Tablets of Baha which have not his (Abbas’) seal upon them. Per contra the party of Abbas accused his brothers of intemperance and profligacy and of heresy, covenant-breaking and fraud. Mr. Hadad reported M Mohammed Ali and Badiullah as “being profligate and wanton, frequenting wine shops and being spendthrifts.”
Mr. Getsinger said he had seen Badiullah in the street intoxicated and being helped home by two servants, that he and his brother had taken and pawned the effects of Baha, rugs, hand-bags, etc., and a pearl rosary belonging to Baha which was valued at $1 0 ,000 (!) and had squandered the money.”
Abbas said to Mrs. Grundy, “Mohammed Ali has appropriated many papers and tablets written by the Blessed Perfection (Baha). It is possible for these writings to be altered, as the meanings in Persian are greatly changed by a single dot here and there. Before His Ascension, the Blessed Perfection said to me, ‘I have given you all the papers.’ He put them in two satchels and sent them to me. After His Ascension, Mohammed Ali said, ‘You had better give me the two satchels to take care of.’ He took them away and never returned them.”
He said that Mohammed Ali deceives, “for the Will was also written by Mohammed Ali’s own hand from dictation of the Blessed Perfection. By violating the Covenant (Will) he has become a fallen branch. All the beautiful blossoms upon the Tree of Life were destroyed by Mohammed Ali.
Abbas proceeded to the use of boycott and anathema. He ordered that no one of the Akka community should send any letters anywhere without first showing them to him, and commanded the Baha’is in Persia not to receive any letters that were not sealed by him, but to send them back to him, and that in writing to Akka they should send their letters open.
These restrictions on freedom gave great offense. Abbas also prohibited his followers from associating with his brothers and their followers, strictly ordering them “not to sit, meet, speak or correspond with them, not even to trade or associate with them in any profession.
Khadim reports that “once in his own house, Abbas rose up and furiously attacked” his stepmother, who, in return, reviled him and fled from the house, wailing. “At the sacred tomb he used cruelly to treat the brothers and sisters.
On one occasion he repeatedly struck his youngest (half) sister in the presence of her little ones and many believers,” scolding her “with a loud voice, uttering many harsh words.” On another occasion he “insulted and beat Khadim (Mirza Aga Jan, Baha’s amanuensis) at the sacred place” and afterwards “ordered his followers to imprison and cruelly beat him, which they did.

           He sent adrift Abdul Gaffar Ispahani, called Abdullah, one of the first believers on Baha, in such destitute condition that he died of hunger and was buried in a potter’s field at Damascus. “Alas! Alas!” exclaims Mirza Aga Jan, “Abbas Effendi has caused his followers to display such vehemence of hatred and rancor, the like of which has never been shown by barbarous nations, and even by the most ignorant tribes.” Of Abbas, Mrs. Templeton writes: “His pride, alas, is great…. He seems to be blinded…. With regard to business matters Abbas Effendi has not been just to his brothers, who have suffered a good deal in consequence.” Abbas Effendi cut off the living of his stepmothers, brothers and their dependents.

            Bahaullah and his household had a stipend from the Turkish Government, as Azal and the Babis in Cyprus had, and it was not an ungenerous allowance. “The family had an income from the Government, as well as a revenue from three villages.
These funds Abbas Effendi appropriated and with these made his charitable gifts (?) Leaving the forty dependents of the younger brothers to live as best they could.” This excluding the protesters from their share of the income and offerings embittered the strife, at the same time weakening their ability to propagate their contention. Bitterness and enmity increased; recriminations and accusations inflamed the passions of both sides. Mirza Abul Fazl, the philosopher of the movement, gives, as a partisan of Abbas Effendi, an account of these times in his “Baha’i Proofs.”
He describes the “ruinous discords and divisions,” “the world-consuming flame of jealousy and hatred of the people of error,” “the hard hearts of the men of hostility,” “the animosity and groundless pride,” “the senseless hatred, degradation and shame of the violators of the covenant.” He gives the opprobrious title of Nakhazeen to Mohammed Ali’s party.
He continues, “The evil intrigues, calumnies, false pamphlets and accusations, evil tongues and cursings of the Nakhazeen divided the community and filled it with foul odors.” Several outside parties tried to act as mediators and bring about a reconciliation. Among these were the British Consul at Haifa and Mrs.Templeton. The younger brothers agreed to the terms. Abbas Effendi was formally requested to show the Will before impartial witnesses and all were to abide by its word. “This he resolutely refused to do and he must stand condemned for this before all impartial men.”
After the failure of these efforts at reconciliation, the anger and bitterness waxed hotter. To quote Abulfazl again: “The Nakhazeen cursed and insulted the visitors to the tomb of the Blessed Perfection,” so that there was danger of its desecration. “Consequently Abbas Effendi asked the local (Turkish) Government to supply a guard to accompany and protect” his party. Abbas also went to Tiberias and made complaint to the Government there.
As a result of all these conditions, “The people of hostility and violation,” says Abulfazl, “availed themselves of political machinations,” in other words, Mohammed Ali’s party, “those dwellers in hellfire,” appealed to the “fanatical men of those lands,” i.e., those same Turkish Authorities. Mohammed Ali formally complained to the Governor of Damascus, Nazim Pasha, sending Mirza Majd-ud-Din as his special messenger.
They accused Abbas of retaining their stipends, of confiscating their patrimony, including the father’s gold watch which had been donated to Mohammed Ali. Above all, according to the interesting narrative of Abbas’ sister, Bahiah Khanum, they made accusation that the shrine which was being erected on Mount Carmel “was intended as a fort, in which Abbas and his followers would intrench themselves, defy the Government, and endeavor to gain possession of this part of Syria.”
To use the words of Abbas, they said that “he had hoisted the banner of independence; upon that he had inscribed ‘Ya Baha-ul Abha’: that he had summoned all to assemble that he might found a new monarchy.” Therefore “an inquisitorial body (a Commission) was appointed by the Government.
“To them the copartners of my brothers confirmed them (the reports) and added to them.” After the report of the Commission and in consequence of these charges and counter-charges of the “Greatest Branch of God” and the “Mightiest Branch of God,” a telegram was received from the Sultan to the Governor “issuing a firman, decreeing the original order, by which Baha’s family were confined within the walls of Akka.”

            After nine years of quarrelling (nine being the sacred number of Baha’is) this order was put in force, 1901 A.D. They were still confined to Akka in 1906 when I visited Haifa. I saw the shrine and the fine residence of Baha at Haifa, just beside the English Mission. It deserves to be emphasized that the cause of the Baha’i leaders being restricted to Akka was not religious persecution by Moslems but their own quarrellings.

  *For more detail refer: Baha’ism and its Claim by Samuel Wilson.

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