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The Promised Day Is Come

  • Author:
  • Shoghi Effendi

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 revised edition
  • Pages:
  • 124
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Pages 90-95

The Falling Fortunes of Shí’ih Islám

Let us first consider the visitations that have marked the falling fortunes of Shí’ih Islám. The iniquities summarized in the beginning of these pages, and for which the Shí’ih ecclesiastical order in Persia is to be held primarily answerable; iniquities which, in the words of Bahá’u’lláh, had caused “the Apostle [Muḥammad] to lament, and the Chaste One [Fátimih] to cry out,” and “all created things to groan, and the limbs of the holy ones to quake”; iniquities which had riddled the breast of the Báb with bullets, and bowed down Bahá’u’lláh, and turned His hair white, and caused Him to groan aloud in anguish, and made Muḥammad to weep over Him, and Jesus to beat Himself upon the 91 head, and the Báb to bewail His plight—such iniquities indeed could not, and were not to, remain unpunished. God, the Fiercest of Avengers, was lying in wait, pledged “not to forgive any man’s injustice.” The scourge of His chastisement, swift, sudden and terrible, was, at long last, let loose upon the perpetrators of these iniquities.
A revolution, formidable in its proportions, far-reaching in its repercussions, amazing in the absence of bloodshed and even of violence which marked its progress, challenged that ecclesiastical ascendency which, for centuries, had been of the essence of Islám in that country, and virtually overthrew a hierarchy with which the machinery of the state and the life of the people had been inextricably interwoven. Such a revolution did not signalize the disestablishment of a state-church. It indeed was tantamount to the disruption of what may be called a church-state—a state that had been hopefully awaiting, even up till the moment of its expiry, the gladsome advent of the Hidden Imám, who would not only seize the reins of authority from the sháh, the chief magistrate who was merely representing him, but would also assume dominion over the whole earth.
The spirit which that clerical order had so assiduously striven, during a whole century, to crush; the Faith which it had, with such ferocious brutality, attempted to extirpate; were now, in their turn, through the forces they had engendered in the world, deranging the equilibrium, and sapping the strength, of that same order whose ramifications had extended to every sphere, duty, and act of life in that country. The rock wall of Islám, seemingly impregnable, was now shaken to its foundations, and was tottering to its ruin, before the very eyes of the persecuted followers of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. A sacerdotal hierarchy that had held in thrall for so long the Faith of God, and seemed, at one time, to have mortally struck it down, now found itself the prey of a superior civil authority whose settled policy was to fasten, steadily and relentlessly, its coils around it.
The vast system of that hierarchy, with all its elements and appurtenances—its shaykhu’l-isláms (high priests), its mujtahids (doctors of the law), its mullás (priests), its fuqáhás (jurists), its imáms (prayer-leaders), its mu’adhdhíns (criers), its vu’azz (preachers), its qádís (judges), its mutávallís (custodians), its madrasihs (seminaries), its mudárrisíns (professors), its tullábs (pupils), its qurrá’s (intoners), its mu’ábbiríns (soothsayers), its muháddithíns (narrators), its 92 musákhkhiríns (spirit-subduers), its dhákiríns (rememberers), its ummal-i-dhakát (almsgivers), its muqaddasíns (saints), its munzavís (recluses), its súfís, its dervishes, and what not—was paralyzed and utterly discredited. Its mujtahids, those firebrands, who wielded powers of life and death, and who for generations had been accorded honors almost regal in character, were reduced to a deplorably insignificant number. The beturbaned prelates of the Islamic church who, in the words of Bahá’u’lláh, “decked their heads with green and white, and committed what made the Faithful Spirit to groan,” were ruthlessly swept away, except for a handful who, in order to safeguard themselves against the fury of an impious populace, are now compelled to submit to the humiliation of producing, whenever the occasion demands it, the license granted them by the civil authorities to wear this vanishing emblem of a vanished authority. The rest of this turbaned class, whether siyyids, mullás, or ḥájís, were forced not only to exchange their venerable headdress for the kuláh-i-farangí (European hat), which not long ago they themselves had anathematized, but also to discard their flowing robes and don the tight-fitting garments of European style, the introduction of which into their country they had, a generation ago, so violently disapproved.
“The dark blue and white domes”—an allusion by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the rotund and massive headgears of the priests of Persia—had indeed been “inverted.” Those whose heads had borne them, the arrogant, fanatical, perfidious, and retrograde clericals, “in the grasp of whose authority,” as testified by Bahá’u’lláh, “were held the reins of the people,” whose “words are the pride of the world,” and whose “deeds are the shame of the nations,” recognizing the wretchedness of their state, betook themselves, crestfallen and destitute of hope, to their homes, there to drag out a miserable existence. Impotent and sullen, they are watching the operations of a process which, having reversed their policy and ruined their handiwork, is irresistibly moving towards a climax.
The pomp and pageantry of these princes of the church of Islám has already died out. Their fanatical outcries, their clamorous invocations, their noisy demonstrations, are stilled. Their fatvás (sentences), pronounced with such shamelessness, and at times embracing the denunciation of kings, are a dead letter. The spectacular sight of congregational prayers, in which thousands of worshipers, lined row upon row, participated, has vanished. The pulpits from whence they discharged 93 the thunder of their anathemas against the powerful and the innocent alike, are deserted and silent. Their waqfs, those priceless and far-flung endowments—the landed property of the expected Imám—which in Iṣfahán alone at one time embraced the whole of the city, have been wrested out of their hands, and brought under the control of a lay administration. Their madrasihs (seminaries), with their medieval learning, are deserted and dilapidated. The innumerable tomes of theological commentaries, super-commentaries, glosses, and notes, unreadable, unprofitable, the product of misdirected ingenuity and toil, and pronounced by one of the most enlightened Islamic thinkers in modern times as works obscuring sound knowledge, breeding maggots, and fit for fire, are now buried away, overspread with cobwebs, and forgotten. Their abstruse dissertations, their vehement controversies, their interminable discussions, are outmoded and abandoned. Their masjids (mosques) and imám-zádihs (tombs of saints), which were privileged to extend the bast (right of sanctuary) to many a criminal, and which had degenerated into a monstrous scandal, whose walls rang with the intonations of a hypocritical and profligate clergy, whose ornaments vied with the treasures of the palaces of kings, are either forsaken or fallen in ruin. Their takyihs, the haunts of the lazy, the passive, and contemplative pietists, are either being sold or closed down. Their ta’zíyihs (religious plays), acted with barbaric zeal, and accentuated by sudden spasms of unbridled religious excitement, are forbidden. Even their rawdih-khánís (lamentations), with their long-drawn-out, plaintive howls, which arose from so many houses, have been curtailed and discouraged. The sacred pilgrimages to Najaf and Karbilá, the holiest shrines of the Shí’ih world, are reduced in number and made increasingly difficult, preventing thereby many a greedy mullá from indulging in his time-honored habit of charging double for making those pilgrimages as a substitute for the religious-minded. The disuse of the veil which the mullás fought tooth and nail to prevent; the equality of sexes which their law forbade; the erection of civil tribunals which superseded their ecclesiastical courts; the abolition of the síghih (concubinage) which, when contracted for short periods, is hardly distinguishable from quasi-prostitution, and which made of the turbulent and fanatical Mashhad, the national center of pilgrimage, one of the most immoral cities in Asia; and finally, the efforts which are being made to disparage the Arabic tongue, the sacred language of Islám and of the Qur’án, and 94 to divorce it from Persian—all these have successively lent their share to the acceleration of that impelling process which has subordinated to the civil authority the position and interests of Muslim clericals to a degree undreamt of by any mullá.
Well might the once lofty-turbaned, long-bearded, grave-looking áqá (mullá), who had so insolently concerned himself with every department of human activity, as he sits, hatless, clean shaven, in the seclusion of his home, and perhaps listening to the strains of western music, blared upon the ethers of his native land, pause to reflect for a while on the vanished splendors of his defunct empire. Well might he muse upon the havoc which the rising tide of nationalism and skepticism has wrought in the adamantine traditions of his country. Well might he recollect the halcyon days when, seated on a donkey, and parading through the bázárs and maydáns of his native town, an eager but deluded multitude would rush to kiss with fervor not only his hands, but also the tail of the animal on which he rode. Well might he remember the blind zeal with which they acclaimed his acts, and the prodigies and miracles they ascribed to their performance.
He might indeed look back further, and call to mind the reign of those pious Safaví monarchs, who delighted to call themselves “dogs of the threshold of the Immaculate Imáms,” how one of those kings was induced to go on foot before the mujtahid as he rode through the maydán-i-Sháh, the main square of Iṣfahán, as a mark of royal subservience to the favorite minister of the Hidden Imám, a minister who, as distinct from the Sháh’s title, styled himself “the servant of the Lord of Saintship (Imám ‘Alí).”
Was it not, he might well ponder, this same Sháh Abbás the Great who had been arrogantly addressed by another mujtahid as “the founder of a borrowed empire,” implying that the kingdom of the “king of kings” really belonged to the expected Imám, and was held by the Sháh solely in the capacity of a temporary trustee? Was it not this same Sháh who walked the entire distance of eight hundred miles from Iṣfahán to Mashhad, the “special glory of the Shí’ih world,” to offer his prayers, in the only way that befitted the sháhansháh, at the shrine of the Imám Riḍá, and who trimmed the thousand candles which adorned its courts? Had not Sháh Tahmásp, on receiving an epistle, penned by yet another mujtahid, sprung to his feet, placed it on his eyes, kissed it with rapture, 95 and, because he had been addressed as “brother,” ordered it to be placed within his winding-sheet and buried with him?
Might not that same mullá ponder the torrents of blood which, during the long years when he enjoyed impunity of conduct, flowed at his behest, the flamboyant anathemas he pronounced, and the great army of orphans and widows, of the disinherited, the dishonored, the destitute, and the homeless which, on the Day of Reckoning, were, with one accord, to cry out for vengeance, and invoke the malediction of God upon him?
That infamous crew had indeed merited the degradation in which it had sunk. Persistently ignoring the sentence of doom which the finger of Bahá’u’lláh had traced upon the wall, it pursued, for well nigh a hundred years, its fatal course, until, at the appointed hour, its death knell was sounded by those spiritual, revolutionary forces which, synchronizing with the first dawnings of the World Order of His Faith, are upsetting the equilibrium, and throwing into such confusion, the ancient institutions of mankind.