Muhammad Ali revived? (2)
Posted by Sen on April 17, 2010
In a comment on my earlier posting on the latest attempt to revive the ‘Unitarian’ variant of the Bahai Faith, as expounded by Abdu’l-Baha’s younger brother Muhammad Ali, one reader wrote:
> I dont feel I have anything to fear from Muhammed Ali or most members
> of the UBA. They simply have a different narrative based upon certain
> historical facts, progressive ideas ..
Do not be deceived: the latest attempt to rehabilitate Muhammad Ali is not due to some universal love and progressive ideas, or any great knowledge about Muhammad Ali: it springs from a desire to avoid the straight line that leads from authenticated texts by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, through inescapable reasoning, to the conclusion that the Universal House of Justice is the head of the Bahai community today. To avoid that conclusion, some people will bring forward anything, however implausible, that seems to offer an alternative.
I think my previous posting is clear enough: I do not accept any equivalence between the teller of lies and the one he tells lies about. The victim of false accusation in this case is Abdu’l-Baha. These are not just two ‘different narratives.’ The one Muhammad Ali created about Abdu’l-Baha’s wicked deeds is built of lies. The lies start with the name “unitarians” itself, a name Muhammad Ali chose to point to his allegation that Abdu’l-Baha claimed divinity for himself, while he and his followers, in contrast, were true believers in the oneness of God. One of the partisans of Muhammad Ali made these claims in his ‘Historical Epitome’ which Browne published in his Materials (from page 75 / *page 57); you can read them there for yourself. I have read Abdu’l-Baha’s own writings and studied his speeches for myself: I’ve seen what he writes and says about God, about the station of the Manifestation, and about himself. I’ve quoted an example of his words about himself on my previous posting on this topic. So I know that this allegation is untrue, and I’m pretty confident that Muhammad Ali knew very well that it was untrue.
In the case he pursued against Abdu’l-Baha in the court in Akka, Muhammad Ali claims:
1) That Baha’u’llah was only a holy man who did not claim to be a prophet, whereas Abdu’l-Baha for political ends exalted the state of his father to that of a Supreme Manifestation of God and of the Essence of Divinity.
2) That Abdu’l-Baha did not deal with Muhammad Ali and his followers according to the provisions of Baha’u’llah’s Will and Testimony.
3) That they had been deprived of their right to inherit a vast estate left behind by Baha’u’llah,
4) That none of the gifts or funds sent in the name of Baha’u’llah was given to them,
5) That Abdu’l-Baha caused thousands of their friends in Persia and India to turn against them. (Taherzadeh, Child of the Covenant, 185-6).
Anyone with a cursory acquaintance with the writings of Baha’u’llah can see that the first is untrue, and Muhammad Ali must have known that it was untrue when he said it. Baha’u’llah claimed and was much more than a Sufi Shaykh or spiritual guide. On the second, I’ve quoted from Baha’u’llah’s Will and Testament (the Kitab-e ‘Ahd) on my blog (“It is incumbent upon the Aghsan, the Afnan and My Kindred to turn, one and all, their faces towards the Most Mighty Branch …). The question is not whether Abdu’l-Baha dealt with his brothers according to the Will, but vice versa: why did Muhammad Ali and Badi’ullah not accept what their father had written. On the inheritance question, and the sharing of funds and gifts, Baha’u’llah is equally clear, in his Will and Testament:
“the Realm of Glory hath none of the vanities of the world, yet within the treasury of trust and resignation We have bequeathed to Our heirs an excellent and priceless heritage. Earthly treasures We have not bequeathed, nor have We added such cares as they entail.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 219)
“It is enjoined upon everyone to manifest love towards the Aghsan, but God hath not granted them any right to the property of others.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 222)
So the unitarians had no ‘rights’ to property: what Abdu’l-Baha gave them was out of his generosity. What is true, out of all that he claims against Abdu’l-baha, is that Bahais the world over turned against Muhammad Ali, even though he was a son of Baha’u’llah. And not just Bahais: the court in Akka rejected Muhammad Ali’s claims, and Mirza Badi’u’llah, who had initially thrown in his lot with Muhammad Ali, turned against him in 1903 and wrote an ‘Epistle to the Bahai World’ which was printed and published in Persian and English. Kavian Milani tells me he has seen the Persian edition of this, bearing Mirza Badi’u’llah’s seal. The English version is online as text at the Bahai Library and in a facsimile on scribd (the scribd text is ‘heavy,’ suitable for modern computers and fast connections only). I’ve put the Persian text of the first part in a separate note on this blog. In this document Badi’u’llah reveals some of Mirza Muhammad-‘Ali’s trickery, including the interpolation of one of the tablets of Baha’u’llah. (Epistle, 14-15)
One of the things mentioned in the Epistle of Badi’u’llah (page 17) is that Muhammad Ali sent Majdu’d-Din to Nazim Pasha, the governor of Syria (which included Palestine) bearing ‘gifts’ for the Pasha and telling tales “concerning the building on Mt. Carmel, the coming and going of the American friends and the gatherings and meetings in Acca.” The equivalent in today’s terms would be a senior executive spreading rumours about his own company’s financial situation, in the hope of being able to supplant the CEO in the resulting upheaval. Merely sending an emissary to the governor, without the approval of the head of the community, would have been an act of disloyalty, even had there been nothing underhand about what he told the Pasha.
Majdu’d-Din secured the governor’s promise of aid, but when the governor reported the matter to Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Hamid in Istanbul, the Sultan ordered that not only ‘Abdu’l-Baha, but also his brothers and followers should be held in close confinement. (see Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, 201) This confinement in Akka continued for some seven years.
Muhammad Ali then tried to deal directly with the Sultan, sending a list of similar accusations against Abdu’l-Baha to Istanbul. As a result, a Commission of Enquiry arrived in Akka and Abdu’l-Baha was summoned: he was heard several times and refuted the charges (The Child of the Covenant, 214). A few years later Muhammad Ali tried the same thing again. Once again a commission of enquiry arrived; this time Abdu’l-Baha refused to meet it, but wrote to the Sultan directly:
The members of the Commission have come to ‘Akka, but I have not met with them. I understand that they have made a report in which they have levelled several accusations against me and for this I am grateful. Their main complaints are as follows:
1. That I have rebelled against the government and established my own.
2. That I have built fortifications on Mount Carmel.
3. That with the help of Mirza Dhikru’llah I have hoisted a banner with the inscription of ‘Ya Baha’u’l-Abha’ among the inhabitants including the Bedouins.
4. That two-thirds of the land in ‘Akka is owned by me.
The reason that I am grateful to the members of the Commission for the above accusations is that by their first complaint, they have, in reality, praised me and attributed great powers to me. How can a prisoner and an exile establish a new government? Anyone who could do that deserves to be congratulated.
Similarly, by their second complaint they have also commended me by ascribing to me extraordinary capabilities. It would be a miracle for one who is a captive in the hands of the authorities to build fortifications strong enough to be capable of withstanding bombardment by powerful naval ships.
But one is surprised by their third complaint, for how is it that the many government agents posted all over the country have failed to see the banner which has allegedly been hoisted among the inhabitants of these lands? Perhaps during the last two years these officials have been asleep or some angels have blinded their eyes.
Concerning the fourth complaint, that I own most of the land in ‘Akka and neighbouring villages, I am willing to sell them all for the small sum of one thousand liras.’
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, 217; translated from Fadil-i-Mazandarani, Asraru’l-Athar, 361-3)
I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to get a firm grasp of this. There are people in the world who quite simply lie, and lie, and lie again to achieve their purposes. I’ve encountered one of these charming deceivers once in my own life: it makes you wary. It is true that no narrative is ever complete, nor is our understanding of it ever perfect. But that does not mean that every narrative has some truth in it, or that every teller is basically well-intentioned but limited. There are wicked people whose purpose is to deceive you, just as there are people out there trying to get your bank details and misuse them. Keep a tight control on your credence and your credit!
Muhammad Ali’s lies about Abdu’l-Baha to the Ottoman authorities, and the commissions sent to investigate, naturally left a documentary trail: you can read about it in Necati Alkan, Dissent and Heterodoxy from page 154. The World Centre archives has copies of the Commission’s documents (XAC1-12). The arrival of the ‘roving committee’ and the charges against Abdu’l-Baha are also mentioned in Echo de Paris, August 17 1905 page 3, from which it appears that allegations had also been made against the officials in Akka and Haifa who had not given credence to Muhammad Ali’s earlier attempt to present Abdu’l-Baha as a political threat to the Ottomans. There’s a similar report in Eugene Jung, Les Puissances devant la révolte arabe, la crise mondiale de demain, page 21.
In a letter written to the Bahais of Iran when the Commission had departed, but the outcome was not known, Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
Among the many slanderous charges was this, that this hapless one had raised up a standard of revolt, a flag bearing the words Ya Baha’u’l-Abha; that I had paraded this throughout the countryside, … and had summoned all the inhabitants to unite under this flag.
O my Lord, verily I seek refuge with Thee from the very thought of such an act, which is contrary to all the commandments of Baha’u’llah, … for Thou hast made it incumbent upon us to obey the rulers and kings.
Another of his slanders was that the Shrine on Mount Carmel was a fortress that I had built strong and impregnable—this when the building under construction comprises six rooms… that I had established an independent sovereignty, and … summoned all the believers to join me in this massive wrongdoing. How dire, O my Lord, is his slander!
In addition to this grand betrayal, Muhammad Ali also engaged in petty deceits to gain sympathy and in some cases money. One example that you can see for yourself is recorded in a letter by Rosamund Templeton, published in ‘Facts for Behaists’ by Ibrahim Kheirella in 1901. She writes from Haifa in January 1900, and quotes her own letter to Abdu’l-Baha in November 1899. Apparently she had recently met Muhammad Ali and Badi’ullah, who had given her the impression that they were in great poverty (of which more later), because she begins her letter to Abdu’l-Baha:
“I came to see you to discuss money matters, without consulting your brothers… When I said to them that I had asked for this money they were very much pained. I therefore have the honor to inform you that it is not necessary to trouble you further concerning my financial affairs.”
The implication of “my financial affairs” seems to be that she had promised Badi’ullah money, and had gone to Abdu’l-Baha in the expectation that he would pay it to his brother, but now accepts that she has no right to expect that. She then presses on to the main issue:
“The principal accusation which you made against your brothers is that they have refused to obey you as the chief of the religion of “Bab” at d’Acre.
You state that your authority is based on a Testament given by your venerable father, and you say that this Testament is in your possession and that it has been read by Colonel Bedrey-bey. On leaving your house I went directly to the house of your brothers in order to present to them your objection. Their answer is that they are absolutely ready to obey the Testament, which has been given by their father on condition that they can see this Testament written by the hand of Beha’U’llah. ..”
She then proposes a meeting in which the Testament would be read and photographed. In the reply written by Muhammad Ali and Badi’ullah, they speak again of the Will (or Wills, for to confuse the issue they speak as if there were several) being ‘hidden away.” (Page 23)
The idea that Abdu’l-Baha would have kept from his brothers the very Will that clearly establishes his own authority by explaining who is meant by the words “… turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root” in the Kitab-e Aqdas (para 121), a Will which also explicitly requires Abdu’l-Baha’s brothers, the Aghsan, to turn to him (in matters of religion, implicitly) is inherently preposterous.
We don’t have to look far to confirm that Mrs. Templeton was being deceived. Muhammad Javad-i-Qazvini – one of Muhammad Ali’s supporters – says in his “historical epitome” that the Will was shown to the companions and then read aloud at a larger gathering just 9 days after the death of Baha’u’llah (Browne, Materials *p 57/ page 75), that is, in June 1892.
Copies were made and circulated; one of them got as far as St Petersburg where, by 1899, AG Tumanski had translated it and had it typeset and printed. Obviously, Mrs Templeton was being played for a sucker.
The pretence of poverty that Muhammad Ali used to elicit sympathy and funds is referred to incidentally in Mrs. Templeton’s letter. There are other stories along similar lines, in which Muhammad Ali and his supporters pretend to be in poverty or even hungry. I’ve put one of them in a separate note. I don’t wish to argue that every detail is accurate, but to point out the unspoken assumption in both the Unitarians’ complaints of being hard done by, and the hostile accounts of how Muhammad Ali lost respect in Akka and Haifa because of his begging behaviour. Both sides seem to assume that Muhammad Ali and his friends are incapable of making a living for themselves, that they depend on Abdu’l-Baha’s generosity. Why should this be? Palestine was prospering, Haifa was growing into a city, why would literate and reasonably well-educated men – who had the benefit of free accommodation as well – be unable to provide for themselves?
I haven’t even begun on Muhammad Ali’s actions after Abdu’l-Baha’s death. Let’s turn rather to Abdu’l-Baha. The tributes delivered at his funeral by people and dignitaries of Akka show that those in Akka and Haifa who had the best chance to know him, over many years, generally admired him greatly. You can read some of these funeral tributes in ‘debunking the myths’, available as a free pdf online, from page 42. Of these the most eloquent and instantly understandable to all is the testimony of Kahlil Gibran, ‘written’ with his pencil in a portrait.
Finally, in answer to your last question: no, you have nothing whatever to fear from the Bahais or the Universal House of Justice. At the very worst, they might ‘brush the dust of their shoes’ in a metaphorical sense, and have nothing to do with you, unless you make the overture yourself. It may be hard to discern under all the anti-Bahai propaganda, but that’s actually the worst thing the Bahai teachings allow the Bahais to do – and in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with it at all. It is simply giving up on direct dialogue, and letting time tell. Fruitful trees will bear fruit, and rotten trees will fall. By standing back and letting it happen, we ensure it is clear that they fell of their own accord.
~~ Sen ~~
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