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Secret Foreign Office documents show …

Posted by Sen on April 21, 2011

The Foreign and India Office, 1866

The punch line is, they show nothing. At least this time. A site called Bahaism and the British Government is presenting “Documentation pertaining to historical connections of the leadership of Bahaism with the British government.” It has just two documents so far. The site has been greeted with relief by the anti-bahai ideologues, who have been claiming for generations that the British established the Bahai Faith to weaken Islam, without finding any evidence. (For a brief treatment of the “British did it” scam, see the Wikipedia article. For a thorough treatment see Adib Masumian’s short book on anti-Bahaism in Iran (PDF))

The funny thing is, the documents are evidence that the British were not involved with the Bahais. You can click on the images to get a larger view, but I’ve typed them over so that search engines can find them – and the owners of “Bahaism and the British Government” cannot remove the evidence.
 

May 13 1918, FO Appreciation of Eastern Report LXX


 
The first is a British Foreign Office cover letter, dated dated May 30 1918, accompanying the Eastern Report, which is another Foreign Office publication. The writer (M.S.) evaluates the material in the Eastern Report as follows:

Russia:

The Asiatic intelligence should be read with care. The prospects in Turkestan are now distinctly bad. The destruction and disintegration of the Armenians proceeds apace and paves the way for Turko-German dominion, extending through the Turanian belt right up to Afghanistan itself. From that point of vantage the Turko-Germans will work every possible form of anti-British policy; Pan-Islamism, Pan-Turanianism, and anarchistic revolution will be the three forces that they will use.

The elements which will be friendly to us, and which will combat these three forces, are :-

(a) The natural tendency which exists among pious Moslems to regard religion as a spiritual rather than a political force, and which lies at the back of the teachings of Mohammed Abdu, Abdul Bahai, and the Persian Mystics.
(b) The natural dislike of non-Turanian peoples for Turanian ascendency.
(c) The social elements which stand to gain by justice and order.

With regard to the development of these elements into political assets, we can give positive assistance in regard to (b) and (c); in regard to (a), we can do nothing positive but on the negative side may do something by avoiding giving the impression that we are afraid of political Pan Islam or are ready to compromise with it. …

This shows that there has been no British involvement, and also that the writer sees no possibility for the British to do anything positive in the future to assist the progressive forces in the Islamic world (Mohammad Abduh, Abdul-Baha, and some of the Sufis).

Foreign Countries Report no 56, 16 Nov. 1921

The second document is much longer, on page 8 it reports:

On 13th November [1921], Mr Bridgeman telegraphed [no 631] as follows: – The representative of Abdul Baha has asked me to facilitate remittances from the Bahais in Persia to Abdul Baha in Haifa, for the maintenance of the latter and his suite. His adherents wish to remit at once 4,000 (pounds) and to send yearly remittances amounting to about 50,000 tomans. The Imperial bank of Persia refuses to place drafts to anyone, and the Bahais cannot remit the money unless we afford facilities.

As your Lordship knows, the Bahais are very numerous and are ever increasing in Persia. To refuse them facilities requested for the accomplishment of what to them is a sacred duty would offend an influential and well disposed section of the people. In view of the religious aspect of the question I cannot mention the matter to Persian Government. Please instruct whether and how the operation should be facilitated.

This shows that the Bahais in Iran were not being assisted by the British, for if they were, Mr Bridgeman would not have had to inquire what to do, and whether to help.

~~ Sen

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16 Responses to “Secret Foreign Office documents show …”

  1. Mike said

    Related to anti Baha’i propaganda, I recently read this post on a blog. The commentator was attempting to show a disparaging contradiction to the known body of Abdu’l-Baha’s writings. I’d like to have it examined for it’s origin, and accuracy of the translation if you can do that. What are the “Khatabat”, and the “Makatib”? Are these available in any published English versions?

    Thank you in advance, if you are able to examine these and share your conclusions.

    Here are the supposed translations with their purported original Persian script:

    “If a child is born and we do not nurture him and we abandon him in his natural state what will happen? Without a doubt, he will remain ignorant and without cognition and he will be an animal. Look at (the inhabitants of) central Africa who are like animals and even inferior.” (`Abdu’l-Baha, Khatabat, vol. 2, p. 236-237)

    Original Farsi:
    “اگر طفلی متولّد شود او را تربيت نکنيم بر حال طبيعی بگذاريم چه می شود شبهه ئی نيست بی ادراک و جاهل می ماند و حيوان خواهد بود در اواسط افريقا ملاحظه کنيد که مثل حيوانات بلکه پست تر از حيوانند”
    (عبدالبهاء. خطابات. تهران: مؤسسه ملی مطبوعات امری، 127 بدیع. ج 2، ص 236-237)
    Another instance of him describing the uneducated Africans:
    “The wild tribes have no superiority over animals. For example, what is the difference between African blacks and American blacks? The [black Africans] are cows that God has created with human faces. The [black Americans] are civilized, intelligent, and have culture.,” (`Abdu’l-Baha, Khatabat, vol. 3, p. 48)

    Original Farsi version:
    “مثلاً چه فرق است میان سیاهان افریک و سیاهان امریک؟! اینها خلق الله البقر علی صورة البشرند. ‏آنان متمدن و با هوش و فرهنگ و حتی در این سفر در مجامع و مدارس و کنائس سیاهان در ‏واشنگتن صحبت‌های مفصل شد، مانند هوشمندان اروپ به تمام نکته‌ها پی می‌برند”: عبدالبهاء. خطابات. تهران: مؤسسه ملی مطبوعات امری، 127 بدیع. ج 3، ص 48.

    He even claims all the wise people agree that:
    “The inhabitants of a land like Africa are ALL like wild savages and land-dwelling animals that lack common-sense and knowledge and are ALL wild. There is NOT A SINGLE wise and civilized person among them.” (`Abdu’l-Baha, Makatib (Egypt), vol. 1, p. 331.)

    Original Farsi:
    “اهالی مملکتی نظیر افریقا جمیع مانند وحوش ضاریه و حیوانات برّیه بی‌عقل و دانشند و کلّ متوحّش. یک نفس دانا و متمدّن در ما بین آنان موجود نه”
    (عبدالبهاء. مکاتیب، ج 1، ص 331.)

    Just in case someone wants to double check the original Farsi quotes, the aforementioned books can all be downloaded from this link:

    http://reference.bahai.org/fa/t/ab/

  2. Sen said

    The books quoted are both authentic Bahai scripture. Khatabat means “talks” , “makatib” means “writings.” I have discussed Abdu’l-Baha’s arguments for the imperfection of humans in the ‘state of nature’ in a posting on this blog, “Abdu’l-Baha and the African tribe.” Such thought experiments about how humans would be if they were in a state of nature are not derogatory references to an actual people, because obviously once we know about an actual people, they also know about us, and we can no longer imagine them as a people untouched by our ways. So the ‘natural man’ is always imagined living in unexplored territory, or as a child abandoned and growing up among animals.

    In the third of the passages you have quoted, Abdu’l-Baha contrasts the views of the wise (the section quoted), with the views of the prophets. Naturally, he agrees with the prophets, not with the wise men. It’s a good example of how any person’s words can be twisted beyond recognition by selective quotation.

  3. Mike said

    Thank you very much Sen.

    Are the two sources referenced, “Talks” and “Writings” among the body of Abdu’l-Baha”s writings that have been translated into English? Would those be the books and compilations of his talks in Paris, London, America, Canada etc. and others and his writings translated into English and extant?

    Many thanks again for your previous response,

    Michael

  4. Mike said

    Sen, your post “Abdu’l-Baha and the African tribe” is excellent. Thanks for referencing it in your reply to my post.

    Two links I was directed to that are similar to those you referred to in your article are this one:

    http://www.avazedohol.com/eng/index.php/let-us-read-and-ponder and this one:

    http://www.avazedohol.com/eng/index.php/download

    They were promoted by the individual who made the out of context quotes, the origins of which I was wondering about.

    Very good work you’re doing here on your blog. I hope you continue to be blessed with time to devote to its continuation and increase.

    Respectfully,

    Michael (Mike)

  5. Sen said

    As for Makatib (tablets), there are two series:
    Makatib-e Abdu’l-Baha (8 volumes) and
    Muntakhabati az (selections from) Makatib-e Abdu’l-Baha (6 volumes). Volume 1 of the Persian “selections” is the same as “Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha” and the sections are numbered, so if you see a reference to Muntakhabati az Makatib-e Abdu’l-Baha section X, you can find the corresponding section X in SWAB.

    Khetabat-e Hazrat-e Abdu’l-Baha is a 3-volume collection of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks in Egypt, Europe and North America. Unlike “Paris Talks” and “The Promulgation of Universal Peace” these are (largely) authentic Bahai scripture, just like Some Answered Questions and Memorials of the Faithful. Verbatim records were made in Persian and it was Abdu’l-Baha’s practice to insist on checking these for accuracy before allowing their publication in various Persian-language Bahai media such as the Persian sections of Star of the West. Mahmud-e Zarqani (the author of Mahmud’s Diary), collected them, and the first volume of his collection bears Abdu’l-Baha’s imprimatur. Another sign of Abdu’l-Baha’s approval of the first volume is that these talks were translated into Arabic, and published with his approval (or so I have heard).

    I have begun to translate the authenticated talks of Abdu’l-Baha in these volumes (I have skipped some newspaper accounts which Zarqani also included), and I am posting the provisional translations on another blog at http://abdulbahatalks.wordpress.com/

  6. Mike said

    Have you ever seen any of these documents:

    Ḥabīb Mu’ayyad, Khāṭirāti Ḥabīb, vol. 1, p.266

    `Izziye Khānum (Khānum Buzurg), Tanbīh al-nā’imīn, pp. 11–12

    Ahang Rabbani, Eight Years Near Abdu’l-Bahā: The Diary of Dr. Habib Mu’ayyad, p. 276

    Asad-Allāh Fāḍil Māzandarānī, Asrār al-āthār khuṣūṣī, vol. 5, p. 333

    They’ve appeared in a thread on http://www.iranian.com and after searching the web the only references I can find for them are either from the iranian.com thread I first saw them in or the website of the individual promoting them.

    Your expertise would be greatly appreciated once again if you’re able to give this your attention.

    Mike

  7. Sen said

    Ḥabīb Mu’ayyad, Khāṭirāti Ḥabīb, vol. 1, p.266

    The Persian text is online at H-Bahai, an English translation is online at the Bahai-library site as a pdf.

    The incident on page 266 of the Persian is on page 276 (original page numbering) in the English, and reads,

    “One day when Bahá’u’lláh had returned from
    Sulaymáníyyih, He was walking in the street with the late
    Áqá Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí. A kabob-maker had
    whispered, “Once more the Bábís have come into the
    open.” The Blessed Beauty told Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí,
    “Rebuke him appropriately!” Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí
    grabbed his beard and punished him. The Kabobí took a
    complaint to the constable, but was thrown in jail and
    told, “Obviously you must have grievously insulted them
    for the Bábís to have punished you in such manner!””

    The words translated as “rebuke him” are literally “strike him in the mouth.” Dr. Rabbani’s translation, which treats this as an idiom, is a reasonable one. “Mouth” in Persian is also used in the sense of speech, just as we use “tongue” and “lips” in English when we actually mean the words or language that comes from them. “Strike” is used in Persian as an auxiliary verb to turn nouns into verbs. For example, “he yawns” is said “he strikes a yawn.” Where we talk of someone “downing a cup”, in Persian they say he struck a cup (ayāg̠ẖ zadan).

    It should be remembered that this is Dr. Muayyad’s memory of the story as told by Abdu’l-Baha. For Bahais it falls in the category of pilgrim’s notes.

    `Izziye Khānum (Khānum Buzurg), Tanbīh al-nā’imīn, pp. 11–12

    This is an Azali work attributed to Baha’u’llah’s half-sister, but probably not written by her. Browne received it in two quite different manuscripts, the first in 1912. My guess is that it was composed by Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ruhi, a son-in-law of Mirza Yahya Subh-e Azal, who in at least one other case had given Browne a manuscript he had written himself, claiming it came from Javad-i-Karbila’i. If it were from the sister, it would not be a strong source of information about Baha’u’llah’s early life or his relations with Azal. In Epistle to the Son of the Wolf he refers to “one of the sisters of this Wronged One, who, for no reason whatever, had turned aside from Me. … This sister had never lived with Us. (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 169). This is ‘Izziye, known as Khanom Bazorg. It would appear that there was disunity within Baha’u’llah’s father’s family, and some of his wives were not only living in separate households, but had little contact with one another.

    Whether from the sister or from an Azali apologist, its purpose is to refute Baha’u’llah’s claims. The person to talk to about this work would be Grover Gonzales. It really falls in the field of EG Browne studies, for it was apparently written specifically to deceive him. It’s not a field I am interested in, and I do not know of an accessible manuscript.

    Your last item is available online at H-Bahai.

  8. denis said

    “strike him in the mouth” means “strike him in the mouth” or is a slang in Persian that means “shut him up” verbally or physically. It does not mean “rebuke him appropriately” as Dr Rabbani has translated it. Furthermore, the person who obeyed Baha’u’llah’s orders clearly understood a physical not verbal meaning, thus grabbed the poor man by the beard and started hitting him in the head (this section has also been distorted in Dr Rabbani’s translation). The context and the man being beaten in the head, shows that Dr Rabbani’s translation is unreasonable.
    The Person who narrated this story was highly trusted buy Abdu’l-Baha and his story cannot be simply labelled as a “pilgrims note” and dismissed.

    I have no idea who is helping you with the Persian, but there is nothing in Persian that translates to: “he strikes a yawn.” We do have “oo khamyaze keshid” which translates to “he pulled a yawn”.

    Regarding Baha’u’llah’s sister, that Baha’u’llah claims “This sister had never lived with Us”, it is evident from Abdu’l-Baha’s own words in his Makatib, vol. 2, pp. 162–186, that she had in fact lived with them and had probably even nurtured Baha’u’llah herself. In fact Tanbih al-naemin was a response to one of Abdu’l-Baha’s letters. This has been discussed here:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=LWLBAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA251&lpg=PA251&dq=%22This+person+is+no+one+but+his+sister,+Khanum+Buzurg%22&source=bl&ots=8k01egvDUx&sig=ANfNc-2EG64ivjWoe95qBmLgp2s&hl=en&sa=X&ei=0U9dVLWAEKbAmAW884HwCA&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22This%20person%20is%20no%20one%20but%20his%20sister%2C%20Khanum%20Buzurg%22&f=false

  9. Sen said

    Yes, according to this report, Áqá Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí took Baha’u’llah literally and grabbed him by the beard. But this does not show that Baha’u’llah intended that result. What we have is a written account of Ḥabīb Mu’ayyad’s recollection of a story Abdu’l-Baha told him. How did Abdu’l-Baha tell that: was he amused that Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí had taken Baha’u’llah’s expression literally, or horrified, or did he tell the account with no expression, or with approval? Ḥabīb Mu’ayyad does not tell us. All we know is that Abdu’l-Baha tells us that Baha’u’llah’s ambiguous expression was taken in the most literal way by one of the believers.

    It is not credible to impose an interpretation on the minutae of a text that is inconsistent with the characters of those involved and the plausible motives of the writer or teller. Nobody is likely to be convinced by an interpretation that supposes that Baha’u’llah was violently inclined, or that Abdu’l-Baha told the story to encourage such behaviour, or that Ḥabīb Mu’ayyad retold the story because he thought Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí’s behaviour exemplary. It is much more plausible, in view of these men’s beliefs and character, to suppose that Baha’u’llah did not intend to be taken literally, that Abdu’l-Baha told the story because the misunderstanding was amusing, and Ḥabīb Mu’ayyad included it because he too found it amusing and it did not occur to him that any reader would miss the point, as you have. If Ḥabīb Mu’ayyad had thought for a moment that someone would take this story as evidence that Baha’u’llah told his followers to rough people up, he would simply have omitted it. He was after all a pro-Bahai writer, so to find an anti-Bahai meaning in his words is to stretch his text beyond credibility.

    آسا زدن / āsā zadan is still in use as an idiom today, as you can verify simply by googling it. It is just one of thousands of Persian compounds in which zadan (strike) is used in the sense of “do.” Even if you are not familiar with this expression, the principle that zadan is used as an auxiliary verb, and is not to be taken literally in such compounds, can hardly be in question.

  10. denis said

    As I said you need to consult someone else for the Persian translations. There is no idiom that reads “asa zadan آسا زدن” in Persian. Rather, it is “asa keshidan آسا کشیدن” which again means “to pull a yawn” (and by the way this is an archaic idiom not used nowadays). Google only turns up the second idiom not the one you mentioned. My point was to tell you to consult someone more proficient in Persian. I was not denying the existence of idioms that might use the word ‘strike’ in a non-literal sense.

    This is the full account of the story narrated from Abdu’l-Baha with the correct translation inserted in brackets:
    One day when Bahá’u’lláh had returned from Sulaymáníyyih, He was walking in the street with the late Áqá Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí. A kabob-maker had whispered, “Once more the Bábís have come into the open.” The Blessed Beauty told Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí, “Rebuke him appropriately [strike him in the mouth OR shut him up]!” Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí grabbed his beard and punished him [started hitting him in the head]. The Kabobí took a complaint to the constable, but was thrown in jail and told, “Obviously you must have grievously insulted them for the Bábís to have punished [hit] you in such manner!”

    Just because internal Baha’i documents show a non-violent Baha’u’llah, it does not necessarily mean that he was in fact non-violent. There are enough hints in the current story that can be taken to show the contrary:
    1- A non-violent person will not tell his followers to “shut someone up” or “hit them in the mouth”, because they stated “Once more the Bábís have come into the open.”
    2- Baha’u’llah’s close companion, Áqá Mírzá Muhammad-Qulí, who according to footnote no. 88 in the same book was “A younger brother of Bahá’u’lláh, he was raised by the Latter, shared all His exiles and hardships, and most devotedly served Him throughout his life,” would have definitely been familiar with Baha’u’llah’s attitude and manners. After all the time he had spent with Baha’u’llah, he would have known better what Baha’u’llah meant by saying “shut him up OR hit him in the mouth”. Being familiar with Baha’u’llah’s mentality, he immediately grabbed the Kabobi’s beard and started violently hitting him in the head.
    3- When this event occurs everyone seems to be satisfied and there is no mention of anybody protesting these violent actions or apologizing from the Kabobi.
    4- Apparently, what has amused Abdu’l-Baha is that the Kabobi complained to the constable, and instead of his complaint being attended to, he is himself kicked into jail.
    5-Again there is no mention in the story about Baha’u’llah or his companions interceding on behalf of the Kabobi to take him out of jail, apologizing, or anything that might show feelings of regret.

    Baha’is try to justify this story just like anti-Baha’is who use it for their purpose. Both groups are entitled to their own opinions, but I honestly don’t see a non-violent Baha’u’llah in this story.

  11. Hasan said

    Sen, what about the slaps of `Abdu’l-Bahá? Ahang Rabbani translated many accounts in “Witnesses to Babi and Bahá’í History” http://bahai-library.com/rabbani_witnesses_history see specially “A Lifetime with `Abdu’l-Bahá: Reminiscences of Khalíl Shahídí”

  12. Sen said

    I don’t know Hasan. It’s a Persian thing that men slap men, but I don’t get how either the slapper or the slappee think its funny. Omid Djalili (standup comedian) did a routine I saw where he makes fun of it, especially the slapping on the head (on the back of the head), but he didn’t seem to get what it was about either.

  13. denis said

    Sen, what about the slaps of `Abdu’l-Bahá? Ahang Rabbani translated many accounts in “Witnesses to Babi and Bahá’í History” http://bahai-library.com/rabbani_witnesses_history see specially “A Lifetime with `Abdu’l-Bahá: Reminiscences of Khalíl Shahídí”

    Sen or Hasan,

    Can you point me to some references where this actually happens (and the original Persian text too).

    Thanks

  14. denis said

    I don’t know Hasan. It’s a Persian thing that men slap men, but I don’t get how either the slapper or the slappee think its funny. Omid Djalili (standup comedian) did a routine I saw where he makes fun of it, especially the slapping on the head (on the back of the head), but he didn’t seem to get what it was about either.

    The Persian slapping is called “pas gardani zadan” (literally: hitting behind the neck) it might be thought as the equivalent of giving a wedgie to someone in the west (some kind of painful humor). It is mostly practiced by foolish teens not grown up people. This subject should not be confused with the slaps of Abdu’l-Baha which were dead serious (I finally found some Persian and English references). The Farsi word used is “seelee” which is a slap in the face. Now, what amazes me is that not only Abdu’l-Baha slapped people in the face but he apparently took hold of them and hurled them down from heights:

    “At the end, I said to him, “I have sent the money.” He inquired, “With whom did you send it?” I replied, “Stand up!” Then slapped him in the ear, lifted him and threw him down from the height of the building.http://bahai-library.com/isfahani_rabbani_with_abdul-baha

    Hmm… very interesting and non-pacifist indeed.

  15. Sen said

    Yes, that’s Abdu’l-Baha dealing with a petty official who demanded a bribe. Reading the whole story, I see Abdu’l-Baha gave the man plenty of time to leave, before throwing him out. Apparently only the man’s dignity was hurt, as he went away and wrote a complaint. These anecdotes are interesting, although naturally one must bear in mind that this is one person’s recollection of Abdu’l-Baha’s words, not his own recall of the events. The Persian text is here for those want to read the story:

    http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/areprint/ab/G-L/G/guftar/isa020.jpg

    You might not be aware that Bahais are not, strictly speaking, pacifists. But that’s another subject

  16. Mike said

    Sen,

    Thank you for giving my questions an examination. Thank you also for your explanations and noting of sources and contextual understanding as well. All very clarifying.

    Mike

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