April 15, 2011

Baha’u’llah’s Departure from Baghdád

Bahá’u’lláh was well aware of the Persian Consul's plans to get Him out of Baghdád. He knew that the Persian Government might decide to have all the Persian Bábís brought back into Persia, and perhaps put to death. Because of this, He arranged for the Persian believers to get Ottoman nationality, so that they would be protected by the Ottoman Government. The Ottoman Empire was a large portion of the Middle East and was ruled by the Turks. The Persian Consul was very angry when he found out that this had been done.

But the Ambassador in Constantinople kept on and on at the Grand Vizier, because Násir’d-Din Sháh was insisting that Bahá’u’lláh had to be taken away from his border. He wanted Bahá'u'lláh to be sent somewhere where He would not meet so many highly placed people. He was really afraid that if Bahá’u’lláh kept on teaching such people, the Bábí Faith would spread back into Persia, stronger than ever before. He thought that sending Bahá'u'lláh further away would stop that from happening.

Now the Ambassador in Constantinople had tried everything, but the Grand Vizier still wouldn't listen to him. At last he was so frustrated that he went into a furious sulk. He locked himself in his house for seven days, and said that he would not be friends with any of the officials he knew any more, and would not speak to any of the Sultán’s ministers. Finally the Grand Vizier, who was a very good friend of his, couldn't stand it any more, and gave in. You can see why Bahá'u'lláh later said that He found no one among the government officials of Constantinople who was grown-up enough to understand His teaching. He remarked that they were like children playing with clay.

The order was given for Bahá'u'lláh to leave Baghdád - but instead of being sent somewhere far, far away He was 'invited' to Constantinople itself. This was not what the Persian Ambassador had wanted! Now Bahá'u'lláh would be in the capital city itself, where He could have a great effect.

The Governor of Baghdád gave Bahá'u'lláh a purse of money to use for the expenses of the journey. He did this out of his love for Bahá'u'lláh, so the gift was accepted - and handed out to the poor that same day.

Mirzá Yahyá [Bahá'u'lláh’s unfaithful half-brother] was still very afraid. He began to think that the invitation to Constantinople might be a trick. Perhaps they were really going to be handed over to the Persian Government after all! What if they were all killed? He decided to leave Baghdád secretly and travel ahead by himself. 'Then if everyone else is killed, at least I shall be safe!' he thought to himself. He didn't even tell Siyyid Muhammad [A Bábí of unsavory character who became a companion of Mirza Yahya, inducing him to oppose Baha’u’llah and to claim prophethood for himself.] his plan, but simply disappeared one night. Because of this he didn't travel with Bahá'u'lláh and His companions at first, but met up with them later when he was sure it was safe.

Not all the Bábís were allowed to go with Bahá'u'lláh. Only His family and twenty other believers were to go with Him. The others would have to stay behind and go on with the teaching work in Baghdád. They could hardly bear to lose Him. How would they be able to continue without His wisdom to guide them?

When Bahá’u’lláh came out into the courtyard of His house, the Bábís gathered around Him, weeping aloud. A little boy only three or four years old ran to Him in tears and clung to His robe with both hands begging, 'Oh dearest Master, do not go away and leave us all behind!' Bahá’u’lláh gently stroked his hair, and told the believers that He must go, in obedience to the invitation of the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Government. He promised that He would not leave straight away. He was going to a garden just outside Baghdád, and would stay there for twelve days. They would all be able to visit Him there and make a proper farewell.

Not only the Bábís grieved. The streets were crowded with His friends and well-wishers who had come to see Him for the last time. Some threw themselves on the gound at His feet, while others waited to hear a few words from Him. Some just gazed at His face, trying to memorize that last tear-blurred glimpse. The poor were losing their kind Father and the nobles their wise Counsellor. Who would they turn to now, in all their troubles?

Bahá’u’lláh, His sons and His chosen companions were ferried across the river Tigris to the garden. Heavy-laden rose bushes clustered along the paths and tall palm trees swayed overhead. The day was nearly ended and the sun glowed golden behind the latticed trees.

There, in that garden, Bahá’u’lláh made a great announcement. He told those chosen companions the secret He had kept for so long, that He was indeed the Messenger they had been waiting for, the One Whom the Báb had promised them. Now all their grief at leaving Baghdád melted away as snow melts in spring. Now they understood that Bahá’u’lláh would still be able to give strength to the believers wherever they were, for He was the Manifestation of God. They knew that those left behind in Baghdád would be able to pray to Bahá’u’lláh for help, and that He would always hear them.

The days spent in the garden with Bahá’u’lláh were the happiest days the believers had ever known. Bahá’u’lláh named that garden the Ridván Garden, The Garden of Paradise. Every day He revealed more of His teachings to those who were with Him. The Bábís visiting Him from the city felt strength and knowledge pouring into them as He spoke. Now they knew how they would be able to go on - by obeying His teachings and praying for help.

Only the chosen companions stayed overnight at the garden. Before the dawn of each new day the gardeners would come and pick armfuls of roses from the bushes lining the paths. They would pile these roses in the middle of Bahá’u’lláh's tent in a great mound. Their perfume would fill the room, and when the believers came in to drink their morning tea with Him, they would not be able to see each other over the top of the scented pile. All these roses would be gathered into bunches, and sent to Bahá’u’lláh 's sorrowing friends in the city.

Each night some of the companions would stay awake to keep watch by His tent. One night, Nabil [the great Baháí historian] was keeping watch when he saw Bahá’u’lláh leave the tent and walk quietly past the sleeping believers. He paced along the paths, among roses frosted silver with moonlight. Palm trees sighed overhead and the river murmured in the dark. The song of nightingales bubbled out into the night, rising clear and sweet on every side.

Bahá’u’lláh saw Nabil, and paused a moment to remark that the nightingales stayed awake all night out of pure love for the roses - yet His companions chose to sleep.

Nabil stayed awake for three nights in a row after that, watching and circling around Bahá’u’lláh's tent. Every time he passed by Bahá’u’lláh's couch he saw that He was still awake. Yet each morning at sunrise He would appear, refreshed and alert, ready to spend the whole day speaking with the stream of visitors flowing in from Baghdád.

All too soon the twelfth day came, and it was time to leave. The mules were loaded and the ladies settled with their children in the howdahs. 'Abbás Effendi [‘Abdu’l-Baha], who was now eighteen years old, helped the believers make ready for departure. It was nearly sunset when Bahá’u’lláh mounted a red roan stallion and trotted out through the gate. The crowd who had come to see Him off saw that He was indeed leaving, and cried out as one in their dismay.

One of the believers, a man called Mirzá Asadu'lláh, ran after the caravan for three hours, although Bahá’u’lláh had forbidden the Bábís of Baghdádd to follow them. At last Bahá’u’lláh saw him panting along behind and got down from His horse to wait for him. He looked lovingly at the heartbroken man and took his hand saying, 'Do not be overcome with sorrow - I am leaving friends I love in Baghdád. You can be sure that I will send news to you all of how we are. Be, steadfast in your service to God, and live in such peace as will be permitted to you.'

Then He mounted His horse once again, and Mirzá Asadu'lláh stood watching, his chest heaving with sobs and the fight for breath. Bahá’u’lláh rode steadily off into the darkness. His enemies were powerful and cruel, and no one knew what might happen to Him next. (Shirin Sabri, ‘The Incomparable Friend, The Life of Baha’u’llah Told in Stories’)