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God Passes By

  • Author:
  • Shoghi Effendi

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979 second printing
  • Pages:
  • 412
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Pages 402-412

Retrospect and Prospect

Thus drew to a close the first century of the Bahá’í era—an epoch which, in its sublimity and fecundity, is without parallel in the entire field of religious history, and indeed in the annals of mankind. A process, God-impelled, endowed with measureless potentialities, mysterious in its workings, awful in the retribution meted out to every one seeking to resist its operation, infinitely rich in its promise for the regeneration and redemption of human kind, had been set in motion in Shíráz, had gained momentum successively in Ṭihrán, Baghdád, Adrianople and ‘Akká, had projected itself across the seas, poured its generative influences into the West, and manifested the initial evidences of its marvelous, world-energizing force in the midst of the North American continent.
It had sprung from the heart of Asia, and pressing westward had gathered speed in its resistless course, until it had encircled the earth with a girdle of glory. It had been generated by the son of a mercer in the province of Fárs, had been reshaped by a nobleman of Núr, had been reinforced through the exertions of One Who had spent the fairest years of His youth and manhood in exile and imprisonment, and had achieved its most conspicuous triumphs in a country and amidst a people living half the circumference of the globe distant from the land of its origin. It had repulsed every onslaught directed against it, torn down every barrier opposing its advance, abased every proud antagonist who had sought to sap its strength, and had exalted to heights of incredible courage the weakest and humblest among those who had arisen and become willing instruments of its revolutionizing power. Heroic struggles and matchless victories, interwoven with appalling tragedies and condign punishments, have formed the pattern of its hundred year old history.
A handful of students, belonging to the Shaykhí school, sprung from the Ithná-‘Ash’áríyyih sect of Shí’ah Islám, had, in consequence of the operation of this process, been expanded and transformed into a world community, closely knit, clear of vision, alive, consecrated by the sacrifice of no less than twenty thousand martyrs; supranational; non-sectarian; non-political; claiming the status, and assuming the functions, of a world religion; spread over five continents and the islands of the seas; with ramifications extending over sixty sovereign 403 states and seventeen dependencies; equipped with a literature translated and broadcast in forty languages; exercising control over endowments representing several million dollars; recognized by a number of governments in both the East and the West; integral in aim and outlook; possessing no professional clergy; professing a single belief; following a single law; animated by a single purpose; organically united through an Administrative Order, divinely ordained and unique in its features; including within its orbit representatives of all the leading religions of the world, of various classes and races; faithful to its civil obligations; conscious of its civic responsibilities, as well as of the perils confronting the society of which it forms a part; sharing the sufferings of that society and confident of its own high destiny.
The nucleus of this community had been formed by the Báb, soon after the night of the Declaration of His Mission to Mullá Ḥusayn in Shíráz. A clamor in which the Sháh, his government, his people and the entire ecclesiastical hierarchy of his country unanimously joined had greeted its birth. Captivity, swift and cruel, in the mountains of Ádhirbayján, had been the lot of its youthful Founder, almost immediately after His return from His pilgrimage to Mecca. Amidst the solitude of Máh-Kú and Chihríq, He had instituted His Covenant, formulated His laws, and transmitted to posterity the overwhelming majority of His writings. A conference of His disciples, headed by Bahá’u’lláh, had, in the hamlet of Badasht, abrogated in dramatic circumstances the laws of the Islamic, and ushered in the new, Dispensation. In Tabríz He had, in the presence of the Heir to the Throne and the leading ecclesiastical dignitaries of Ádhirbayján, publicly and unreservedly voiced His claim to be none other than the promised, the long-awaited Qá’im. Tempests of devastating violence in Mázindarán, Nayríz, Zanján and Ṭihrán had decimated the ranks of His followers and robbed Him of the noblest and most valuable of His supporters. He Himself had to witness the virtual annihilation of His Faith and the loss of most of the Letters of the Living, and, after experiencing, in His own person, a series of bitter humiliations, He had been executed by a firing squad in the barrack-square of Tabríz. A blood bath of unusual ferocity had engulfed the greatest heroine of His Faith, had further denuded it of its adherents, had extinguished the life of His trusted amanuensis and repository of His last wishes, and swept Bahá’u’lláh into the depths of the foulest dungeon of Ṭihrán.
In the pestilential atmosphere of the Síyáh-Chál, nine years after that historic Declaration, the Message proclaimed by the Báb had 404 yielded its fruit, His promise had been redeemed, and the most glorious, the most momentous period of the Heroic Age of the Bahá’í era had dawned. A momentary eclipse of the newly risen Sun of Truth, the world’s greatest Luminary, had ensued, as a result of Bahá’u’lláh’s precipitate banishment to ‘Iráq by order of Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, of His sudden withdrawal to the mountains of Kurdistán, and of the degradation and confusion that afflicted the remnant of the persecuted community of His fellow-disciples in Baghdád. A reversal in the fortunes of a fast declining community, following His return from His two-year retirement, had set in, bringing in its wake the recreation of that community, the reformation of its morals, the enhancement of its prestige, the enrichment of its doctrine, and culminating in the Declaration of His Mission in the garden of Najíbíyyih to His immediate companions on the eve of His banishment to Constantinople. Another crisis—the severest a struggling Faith was destined to experience in the course of its history—precipitated by the rebellion of the Báb’s nominee and the iniquities perpetrated by him and by the evil genius that had seduced him, had, in Adrianople, well nigh disrupted the newly consolidated forces of the Faith and all but destroyed in a baptism of fire the community of the Most Great Name which Bahá’u’lláh had called into being. Cleansed of the pollution of this “Most Great Idol,” undeterred by the convulsion that had seized it, an indestructible Faith had, in the strength of the Covenant instituted by the Báb, now surmounted the most formidable obstacles it was ever to meet; and in this very hour it reached its meridian glory through the proclamation of the Mission of Bahá’u’lláh to the kings, the rulers and ecclesiastical leaders of the world in both the East and the West. Close on the heels of this unprecedented victory had followed the climax of His sufferings, a banishment to the penal colony of ‘Akká, decreed by Sulṭán Abdu’l-’Aziz. This had been hailed by vigilant enemies as the signal for the final extermination of a much feared and hated adversary, and it had heaped upon that Faith in this fortress-town, designated by Bahá’u’lláh as His “Most Great Prison,” calamities from both within and without, such as it had never before experienced. The formulation of the laws and ordinances of a new-born Dispensation and the enunciation and reaffirmation of its fundamental principles—the warp and woof of a future Administrative Order—had, however, enabled a slowly maturing Revelation, in spite of this tide of tribulations, to advance a stage further and yield its fairest fruit.
The ascension of Bahá’u’lláh had plunged into grief and bewilderment 405 His loyal supporters, quickened the hopes of the betrayers of His Cause, who had rebelled against His God-given authority, and rejoiced and encouraged His political as well as ecclesiastical adversaries. The Instrument He had forged, the Covenant He had Himself instituted, had canalized, after His passing, the forces released by Him in the course of a forty-year ministry, had preserved the unity of His Faith and provided the impulse required to propel it forward to achieve its destiny. The proclamation of this new Covenant had been followed by yet another crisis, precipitated by one of His own sons on whom, according to the provisions of that Instrument, had been conferred a rank second to none except the Center of that Covenant Himself. Impelled by the forces engendered by the revelation of that immortal and unique Document, an unbreachable Faith (having registered its initial victory over the Covenant-breakers), had, under the leadership of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, irradiated the West, illuminated the Western fringes of Europe, hoisted its banner in the heart of the North American continent, and set in motion the processes that were to culminate in the transfer of the mortal remains of its Herald to the Holy Land and their entombment in a mausoleum on Mt. Carmel, as well as in the erection of its first House of Worship in Russian Turkistán. A major crisis, following swiftly upon the signal victories achieved in East and West, attributable to the monstrous intrigues of the Arch-breaker of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant and to the orders issued by the tyrannical ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd, had exposed, during more than seven years, the Heart and Center of the Faith to imminent peril, filled with anxiety and anguish its followers and postponed the execution of the enterprises conceived for its spread and consolidation. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s historic journeys in Europe and America, soon after the fall of that tyrant and the collapse of his régime, had dealt a staggering blow to the Covenant-breakers, had consolidated the colossal enterprise He had undertaken in the opening years of His ministry, had raised the prestige of His Father’s Faith to heights it had never before attained, had been instrumental in proclaiming its verities far and wide, and had paved the way for the diffusion of its light over the Far East and as far as the Antipodes. Another major crisis—the last the Faith was to undergo at its world center—provoked by the cruel Jamál Páshá, and accentuated by the anxieties of a devastating world war, by the privations it entailed and the rupture of communications it brought about, had threatened with still graver peril the Head of the Faith Himself, as well as the holiest sanctuaries enshrining the remains of its twin Founders. The revelation of the Tablets of the 406 Divine Plan, during the somber days of that tragic conflict, had, in the concluding years of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s ministry, invested the members of the leading Bahá’í community in the West—the champions of a future Administrative Order—with a world mission which, in the concluding years of the first Bahá’í century, was to shed deathless glory upon the Faith and its administrative institutions. The conclusion of that long and distressing conflict had frustrated the hopes of that military despot and inflicted an ignominious defeat on him, had removed, once and for all, the danger that had overshadowed for sixty-five years the Founder of the Faith and the Center of His Covenant, fulfilled the prophecies recorded by Him in His writings, enhanced still further the prestige of His Faith and its Leader, and been signalized by the spread of His Message to the continent of Australia.
The sudden passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, marking the close of the Primitive Age of the Faith, had, as had been the case with the ascension of His Father, submerged in sorrow and consternation His faithful disciples, imparted fresh hopes to the dwindling followers of both Mírzá Yaḥyá and Mírzá Muḥammad-‘Alí, and stirred to feverish activity political as well as ecclesiastical adversaries, all of whom anticipated the impending dismemberment of the communities which the Center of the Covenant had so greatly inspired and ably led. The promulgation of His Will and Testament, inaugurating the Formative Age of the Bahá’í era, the Charter delineating the features of an Order which the Báb had announced, which Bahá’u’lláh had envisioned, and whose laws and principles He had enunciated, had galvanized these communities in Europe, Asia, Africa and America into concerted action, enabling them to erect and consolidate the framework of this Order, by establishing its local and national Assemblies, by framing the constitutions of these Assemblies, by securing the recognition on the part of the civil authorities in various countries of these institutions, by founding administrative headquarters, by raising the superstructure of the first House of Worship in the West, by establishing and extending the scope of the endowments of the Faith and by obtaining the full recognition by the civil authorities of the religious character of these endowments at its world center as well as in the North American continent.
A severe, a historic censure pronounced by a Muslim ecclesiastical court in Egypt had, whilst this mighty process—the laying of the structural basis of the Bahá’í world Administrative Order—was being initiated, officially expelled all adherents of the Faith of Muslim extraction from Islám, had condemned them as heretics and brought 407 the members of a proscribed community face to face with tests and perils of a character they had never known before. The unjust decision of a civil court in Baghdád, instigated by Shí’ah enemies, in ‘Iráq, and the decree issued by a still more redoubtable adversary in Russia had, moreover, robbed the Faith, on the one hand, of one of its holiest centers of pilgrimage, and denied it, on the other, the use of its first House of Worship, initiated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and erected in the course of His ministry. And finally, inspired by this unexpected declaration made by an age-long enemy—marking the first step in the march of their Faith towards total emancipation—and undaunted by this double blow struck at its institutions, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh, already united and fully equipped through the agencies of a firmly established Administrative Order, had arisen to crown the immortal records of the first Bahá’í century by vindicating the independent character of their Faith, by enforcing the fundamental laws ordained in their Most Holy Book, by demanding and in some cases obtaining, the recognition by the ruling authorities of their right to be classified as followers of an independent religion, by securing from the world’s highest Tribunal its condemnation of the injustice they had suffered at the hands of their persecutors, by establishing their residence in no less than thirty-four additional countries, as well as in thirteen dependencies, by disseminating their literature in twenty-nine additional languages, by enrolling a Queen in the ranks of the supporters of their Cause, and lastly by launching an enterprise which, as that century approached its end, enabled them to complete the exterior ornamentation of their second House of Worship, and to bring to a successful conclusion the first stage of the Plan which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had conceived for the world-wide and systematic propagation of their Faith.
Kings, emperors, princes, whether of the East or of the West, had, as we look back upon the tumultuous record of an entire century, either ignored the summons of its Founders, or derided their Message, or decreed their exile and banishment, or barbarously persecuted their followers, or sedulously striven to discredit their teachings. They were visited by the wrath of the Almighty, many losing their thrones, some witnessing the extinction of their dynasties, a few being assassinated or covered with shame, others finding themselves powerless to avert the cataclysmic dissolution of their kingdoms, still others being degraded to positions of subservience in their own realms. The Caliphate, its arch-enemy, had unsheathed the sword against its Author and thrice pronounced His banishment. It was humbled to 408 dust, and, in its ignominious collapse, suffered the same fate as the Jewish hierarchy, the chief persecutor of Jesus Christ, had suffered at the hands of its Roman masters, in the first century of the Christian Era, almost two thousand years before. Members of various sacerdotal orders, Shí’ah, Sunní, Zoroastrian and Christian, had fiercely assailed the Faith, branded as heretic its supporters, and labored unremittingly to disrupt its fabric and subvert its foundations. The most redoubtable and hostile amongst these orders were either overthrown or virtually dismembered, others rapidly declined in prestige and influence, all were made to sustain the impact of a secular power, aggressive and determined to curtail their privileges and assert its own authority. Apostates, rebels, betrayers, heretics, had exerted their utmost endeavors, privily or openly, to sap the loyalty of the followers of that Faith, to split their ranks or assault their institutions. These enemies were, one by one, some gradually, others with dramatic swiftness, confounded, dispersed, swept away and forgotten. Not a few among its leading figures, its earliest disciples, its foremost champions, the companions and fellow-exiles of its Founders, trusted amanuenses and secretaries of its Author and of the Center of His Covenant, even some of those who were numbered among the kindred of the Manifestation Himself, not excluding the nominee of the Báb and the son of Bahá’u’lláh, named by Him in the Book of His Covenant, had allowed themselves to pass out from under its shadow, to bring shame upon it, through acts of indelible infamy, and to provoke crises of such dimensions as have never been experienced by any previous religion. All were precipitated, without exception, from the enviable positions they occupied, many of them lived to behold the frustration of their designs, others were plunged into degradation and misery, utterly impotent to impair the unity, or stay the march, of the Faith they had so shamelessly forsaken. Ministers, ambassadors and other state dignitaries had plotted assiduously to pervert its purpose, had instigated the successive banishments of its Founders, and maliciously striven to undermine its foundations. They had, through such plottings, unwittingly brought about their own downfall, forfeited the confidence of their sovereigns, drunk the cup of disgrace to its dregs, and irrevocably sealed their own doom. Humanity itself, perverse and utterly heedless, had refused to lend a hearing ear to the insistent appeals and warnings sounded by the twin Founders of the Faith, and later voiced by the Center of the Covenant in His public discourses in the West. It had plunged into two desolating wars of unprecedented magnitude, which have deranged its equilibrium, mown 409 down its youth, and shaken it to its roots. The weak, the obscure, the down-trodden had, on the other hand, through their allegiance to so mighty a Cause and their response to its summons, been enabled to accomplish such feats of valor and heroism as to equal, and in some cases to dwarf, the exploits of those men and women of undying fame whose names and deeds adorn the spiritual annals of mankind.
Despite the blows leveled at its nascent strength, whether by the wielders of temporal and spiritual authority from without, or by black-hearted foes from within, the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh had, far from breaking or bending, gone from strength to strength, from victory to victory. Indeed its history, if read aright, may be said to resolve itself into a series of pulsations, of alternating crises and triumphs, leading it ever nearer to its divinely appointed destiny. The outburst of savage fanaticism that greeted the birth of the Revelation proclaimed by the Báb, His subsequent arrest and captivity, had been followed by the formulation of the laws of His Dispensation, by the institution of His Covenant, by the inauguration of that Dispensation in Badasht, and by the public assertion of His station in Tabríz. Widespread and still more violent uprisings in the provinces, His own execution, the blood bath which followed it and Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál had been succeeded by the breaking of the dawn of the Bahá’í Revelation in that dungeon. Bahá’u’lláh’s banishment to ‘Iráq, His withdrawal to Kurdistán and the confusion and distress that afflicted His fellow-disciples in Baghdád had, in turn, been followed by the resurgence of the Bábí community, culminating in the Declaration of His Mission in the Najíbíyyih Garden. Sulṭán Abdu’l-’Aziz’s decree summoning Him to Constantinople and the crisis precipitated by Mírzá Yaḥyá had been succeeded by the proclamation of that Mission to the crowned heads of the world and its ecclesiastical leaders. Bahá’u’lláh’s banishment to the penal colony of ‘Akká, with all its attendant troubles and miseries, had, in its turn, led to the promulgation of the laws and ordinances of His Revelation and to the institution of His Covenant, the last act of His life. The fiery tests engendered by the rebellion of Mírzá Muḥammad-‘Alí and his associates had been succeeded by the introduction of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh in the West and the transfer of the Báb’s remains to the Holy Land. The renewal of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s incarceration and the perils and anxieties consequent upon it had resulted in the downfall of ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd, in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s release from His confinement, in the entombment of the Báb’s remains on Mt. Carmel, and in the triumphal journeys undertaken by the Center of the Covenant Himself 410 in Europe and America. The outbreak of a devastating world war and the deepening of the dangers to which Jamál Páshá and the Covenant-breakers had exposed Him had led to the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, to the flight of that overbearing Commander, to the liberation of the Holy Land, to the enhancement of the prestige of the Faith at its world center, and to a marked expansion of its activities in East and West. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing and the agitation which His removal had provoked had been followed by the promulgation of His Will and Testament, by the inauguration of the Formative Age of the Bahá’í era and by the laying of the foundations of a world-embracing Administrative Order. And finally, the seizure of the keys of the Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh by the Covenant-breakers, the forcible occupation of His House in Baghdád by the Shí’ah community, the outbreak of persecution in Russia and the expulsion of the Bahá’í community from Islám in Egypt had been succeeded by the public assertion of the independent religious status of the Faith by its followers in East and West, by the recognition of that status at its world center, by the pronouncement of the Council of the League of Nations testifying to the justice of its claims, by a remarkable expansion of its international teaching activities and its literature, by the testimonials of royalty to its Divine origin, and by the completion of the exterior ornamentation of its first House of Worship in the western world.
The tribulations attending the progressive unfoldment of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh have indeed been such as to exceed in gravity those from which the religions of the past have suffered. Unlike those religions, however, these tribulations have failed utterly to impair its unity, or to create, even temporarily, a breach in the ranks of its adherents. It has not only survived these ordeals, but has emerged, purified and inviolate, endowed with greater capacity to face and surmount any crisis which its resistless march may engender in the future.
Mighty indeed have been the tasks accomplished and the victories achieved by this sorely-tried yet undefeatable Faith within the space of a century! Its unfinished tasks, its future victories, as it stands on the threshold of the second Bahá’í century, are greater still. In the brief space of the first hundred years of its existence it has succeeded in diffusing its light over five continents, in erecting its outposts in the furthermost corners of the earth, in establishing, on an impregnable basis its Covenant with all mankind, in rearing the fabric of its world-encompassing Administrative Order, in casting off many of the 411 shackles hindering its total emancipation and world-wide recognition, in registering its initial victories over royal, political and ecclesiastical adversaries, and in launching the first of its systematic crusades for the spiritual conquest of the whole planet.
The institution, however, which is to constitute the last stage in the erection of the framework of its world Administrative Order, functioning in close proximity to its world spiritual center, is as yet unestablished. The full emancipation of the Faith itself from the fetters of religious orthodoxy, the essential prerequisite of its universal recognition and of the emergence of its World Order, is still unachieved. The successive campaigns, designed to extend the beneficent influence of its System, according to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Plan, to every country and island where the structural basis of its Administrative Order has not been erected, still remain to be launched. The banner of Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá which, as foretold by Him, must float from the pinnacles of the foremost seat of learning in the Islamic world is still unhoisted. The Most Great House, ordained as a center of pilgrimage by Bahá’u’lláh in His Kitáb-i-Aqdas, is as yet unliberated. The third Mashriqu’l-Adhkár to be raised to His glory, the site of which has recently been acquired, as well as the Dependencies of the two Houses of Worship already erected in East and West, are as yet unbuilt. The dome, the final unit which, as anticipated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, is to crown the Sepulcher of the Báb is as yet unreared. The codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Mother-Book of the Bahá’í Revelation, and the systematic promulgation of its laws and ordinances, are as yet unbegun. The preliminary measures for the institution of Bahá’í courts, invested with the legal right to apply and execute those laws and ordinances, still remain to be undertaken. The restitution of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the Bahá’í world and the recreation of the community that so devotedly reared it, have yet to be accomplished. The sovereign who, as foreshadowed in Bahá’u’lláh’s Most Holy Book, must adorn the throne of His native land, and cast the shadow of royal protection over His long-persecuted followers, is as yet undiscovered. The contest that must ensue as a result of the concerted onslaughts which, as prophesied by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, are to be delivered by the leaders of religions as yet indifferent to the advance of the Faith, is as yet unfought. The Golden Age of the Faith itself that must witness the unification of all the peoples and nations of the world, the establishment of the Most Great Peace, the inauguration of the Kingdom of the Father upon earth, the coming of age of the entire human race and the birth of a world civilization, 412 inspired and directed by the creative energies released by Bahá’u’lláh’s World Order, shining in its meridian splendor, is still unborn and its glories unsuspected.
Whatever may befall this infant Faith of God in future decades or in succeeding centuries, whatever the sorrows, dangers and tribulations which the next stage in its world-wide development may engender, from whatever quarter the assaults to be launched by its present or future adversaries may be unleashed against it, however great the reverses and setbacks it may suffer, we, who have been privileged to apprehend, to the degree our finite minds can fathom, the significance of these marvelous phenomena associated with its rise and establishment, can harbor no doubt that what it has already achieved in the first hundred years of its life provides sufficient guarantee that it will continue to forge ahead, capturing loftier heights, tearing down every obstacle, opening up new horizons and winning still mightier victories until its glorious mission, stretching into the dim ranges of time that lie ahead, is totally fulfilled.