The Station of Ghusn-i-Akbar Mohammed Ali Bahai -By Shua Ullah Behai

Ghusn e Akbar

Tablet of Baha’u’Ilah which praises his son Mohammed Ali, entitled
Ghusn-i-Akbar. Image from Behai Quarterly magazine.

 

This is the first part of a chapter of Shua Ullah Behai’s book manuscript in which he introduces his father and reproduces several of his writings in English translation. It includes Mr. Behai’s translation of a tablet written by Baha’u’llah in which he praises Mohammed Ali Effendi, who was entitled Ghusn-i-Akbar (the Greatest or Mightiest Branch).
The word akbar means “Greatest” in Arabic, being the superlative of kabir, “great,” and in a religious context it can be taken as a reference to the almighty greatness of God (e.g. the Islamic affirmation Allahu Akbar, meaning that God is the Most Great or the Almighty). However, Baha’u’llah called Abbas Effendi by the title Ghusn-i-A‘zam, which also means the Greatest Branch. To avoid confusion, Unitarian Baha’is usually translated Mohammed Ali Effendi’s title as “the Mightiest Branch,” reserving the title “the Greatest Branch” for ‘Abdu’l-Baha, acknowledging the fact that Abbas Effendi was given the first position of leadership according to Baha’u’llah’s will. 238

The meaning and significance of the tablet of Baha’u’llah reproduced in this chapter was a matter of dispute between the followers of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Mohammed Ali Bahai. Mr. Bahai and his supporters sometimes called it the “Holy Tablet” or “Sacred Tablet” and considered it an important proof text for the station of the younger son of Baha’u’llah as one of the Baha’i prophet’s intended successors. They believed that the entire tablet was about him, Ghusn-i-Akbar, who is mentioned by name in the document. Abdu’l-Baha, on the other hand, reportedly argued that the first part of the tablet was about him, not Mr. Bahai, or that both brothers shared in that part of the tablet. One prominent Unitarian Baha’i accused ‘Abdu’l-Baha of rejecting the tablet completely 239—perhaps because it had become a source of sectarian tension—and in fact, it is generally unknown among Baha’is today.

In this editor’s opinion, ‘Abdu’l-Baha was likely correct in his belief that the tablet was about Baha’u’llah’s successorship as a whole, beginning with Abbas Effendi and then continuing to Mohammed Ali Effendi, rather than referring only to the latter individual. The arrangement of the verses in the illuminated manuscript shown on page 146 is suggestive of two successors being identified and praised by Baha’u’llah. Most of the verses in the tablet would logically be applicable to any chosen “branch” appointed by Baha’u’llah to succeed him—and he is known to have appointed his two eldest sons in his will, first Ghusn-i- A’zam, then Ghusn-i-Akbar, rather than only one or the other. The tab¬let’s ambiguity about the identity of the “branch” being referred to, in all but a few verses, is problematic. However, both the Unitarian Baha’is and the mainstream Baha’is have taken extreme positions in response to this confusion: the former insisting, despite some reasonable arguments to the contrary, that the tablet referred only to their own preferred leader; and the latter allowing this significant tablet to fade away into obscurity, having largely forgotten about its existence, presumably because some verses clearly praise and honor a man whom they consider the worst of heretics.
—The Editor

Ghusn-i-Akbar, the Mightiest Branch, Mohammed Ali Effendi— The second son of Baha’u’llah, who was appointed in his Will entitled Kitab-i-‘Ahdi, i.e. The Book of My Covenant, successor to Ghusn-i- A’zam, Abbas Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha. 240

Baha’u’llah says, “Verily God hath ordained the station of the Mightiest Branch (Ghusn-i-Akbar) after the station of the former [Ghusn-i-A‘zam]; verily He is the Ordainer, the Wise. We have surely chosen the Mightiest (Alcbar) after the Greatest (A’zam), as a Command from the All-Knowing, the Omniscient.” 241

This venerable son of Baha’u’llah was grossly misjudged, wronged, abused, and falsely accused by the so-called Baha’is—those who satisfied themselves with hearsay and passed judgment without investigation. His message to mankind, his will and autobiography which follow, explain the events, and no one could be a better defender of his case than himself.

He was born in Baghdad, Iraq, December 16,1853, and passed unto Eternity at Haifa, Palestine, December 10,1937.

He was a chosen branch and was favored with numerous tablets by the Supreme Pen of Baha’u’llah.

The following is a translation of one of them:

THE GREATEST, THE MOST GLORIOUS.
O my God! Verily this is a Branch who hath branched from the lofty tree of Thy Singleness and the Sadra (Lote Tree) of Thy Oneness. Thou seest him, O my God, looking unto Thee and holding fast to the rope of Thy benevolence. Therefore keep him in the vicinity of Thy mercy. Thou knowest, O my God, that I desire him not save because Thou hast desired him; and I have chosen him not save because Thou hast chosen him. Assist him with the hosts of Thy earth and heaven, and help, O my God, whosoever helpeth him, then choose Thou whosoever chooseth him, and forsake whosoever denieth him and desireth him not. O my Lord! Thou seest that at the time of elucidation my pen moveth and my limbs tremble. I ask Thee by my perplexity in Thy Love and my longing to reveal Thy Cause, to ordain for him whatsoever Thou hast des¬tined for Thy Messengers and the faithful to Thy divine inspirations; verily Thou art God, the Almighty, the All-Powerful.

HE IS THE GREATEST:
O my God! Assist Thou Ghusn al-Akbar (the Mightiest Branch) to Thy remembrance and Thy praise, then cause to flow from his pen the marvels of Thy sciences and secrets. My Lord! Verily he hath hastened unto Thy pleasure and hath fasted for the love of Thyself, and in obedience to Thine order. Destine for him every good revealed in Thy Book; verily Thou art the All-Powerful, the Omnipotent.
Blessed is he who hath rested in the shelter of the Branch of God, his Lord, Lord of the Throne and Lord of the Worlds.
O My Branch! Be thou the cloud of the Spring of My Generosity; then rain upon the things in My Name, the New.
O My Branch! We have chosen thee because the Chosen One hath chosen thee; say: praise be unto Thee, O God of all the worlds.
O Ghusn-i-Akbar! (Mightiest Branch) Verily We have chosen thee for the help of My Cause; rise thou in a marvelous assistance.
Conquer thou the cities (strongholds) of the names in My Name, the Ruler over all that He wisheth.
O Sea! wave in My Name, the Rising, the Great!
Verily every action dependeth on thy love; blessed is he that winneth that which hath been desired by his Lord, the All-Know¬ing.
Blessed is he that hath heard thy call and hath come forward unto thee for the love of God, the Lord of the worlds.

Footnotes : Ghusn e Akbar

238. In the mainstream Baha’i tradition, ‘Abdu’l-Baha is called either the “Most Great Branch” or “Most Mighty Branch,” while Mohammed Ali Bahai is called the “Greater Branch.” Both traditions thus indicate the primacy of the first son over the second son, though using a different nomenclature.

239. See Chapter 22.

240. Baha’u’llah’s second-born son was actually Mirza Mihdi, a full-brother of ‘Ab-du’l-Baha who died in his youth and predeceased Baha’u’llah, and therefore Mohammed Ali Effendi has often been referred to as the second son, especially in the Unitarian Baha’i tradition.

241. The word translated here twice by Shua Ullah Behai as “after” is ba’da in the original Arabic text of Baha’u’llah’s will. This word can mean either “after” in time or after (beneath) in status. The official Baha’i translation is “beneath” in both places where the word appears—overemphasizing the other meaning of ba’da which Mr. Behai omits completely. An objective reading of the text would capture both meanings that Baha’u’llah seems to have intended: that (1) Mo-hammed Ali Effendi, his second son, should occupy a lesser status under the leadership of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, his first son; and (2) after the death of the eldest, the primary leadership position should pass to the younger son.

A Tribute to ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Doubts About His Will – By Kamar Bahai

Mousa and Kamar Bahai

This short essay is a circular letter or pamphlet that Kamar Bahai wrote in early 1953 called “Abdul Baha Abbas.” Section headings have been added.

Mrs. Bahai praises ‘Abdu’l-Baha effusively and does not mention his long-term unresolved feud with Mohammed Ali Effendi. She alleges that the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha was forged and expresses concern that the content of the will, if accepted as his own, would undermine his reputation. In light of the conflict between her uncles which she ignores in this essay, her rejection of the purported testamentary document seems motivated in part by a desire to protect ‘Abdu’l Baha’s image and that of the Baha’i faith, since he was a much- admired public figure who spoke for the new religion.

Kamar Bahai claims that “certain persons looking after their own private material benefit” wrote the will attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, but she does not identify these persons. According to her daughter Negar Bahai Emsallem, the story passed down in their family is that the appointment of Shoghi Effendi Rabbani to a position of “Guardianship” was the idea of his grandmother, Munirih Khanum, the wife of ‘Abdu’l- Baha. It is conceivable that she, perhaps along with her daughter Zia’ iyya Khanum (the mother of Shoghi Effendi) or other close relatives, could have forged all or part of the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha with the intention to become powers behind the throne in Shoghi Effendi’s ministry, since as Kamar Bahai points out, he was just a boy when the will was written.

However appealing this possibility may be for those who have dis-agreed with the institution of Guardianship of the Baha’i faith or Mr. Rabbani’s exercise thereof—or who would prefer to purge Abdu’l- Baha’s harsh and combative last words from the historical record—the forgery theory remains mostly conjecture, unsupported by any con¬vincing evidence.
—The Editor

The Life of Abbas Effendi

‘Abdu’l-Baha Abbas was born at midnight on the 23rd of May, 1844, in Tehran, the same year that “The Bab” proclaimed his mission to the world. 233

When Abbas Effendi was scarcely nine years old, his father was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran. The mob attacked his house and looted it; the family was stripped of its property and left to suffer the sting of hardship and poverty.

Abdu’l-Baha Abbas was so attached to his father that he almost appeared to act as his bodyguard. Being constantly around him, his father educated him as he wished and brought him up as he saw fit, sowed in him the seeds of his principles, built in him a strong personality, imbibed him with the spirit of humanitarianism, and taught him that those who serve humanity achieve victory in the end. He told him that to be a good Baha’i, he should love the world and humanity in general and try to serve it and labor for universal peace and brotherhood.

Abdu’l-Baha Abbas graduated from his father’s school a strong spiritual personality; he was wise and generous, a father to the needy and a guide to those who went astray. He drew his sublime principles and humanitarian ideals from the school of life and the hardships of experience.

The despotic rule of Abdul Hamid having terminated in 1908 and the then young Turkey having extended a general amnesty for all prisoners, ‘Abdu’l-Baha Abbas was released [in his mid or late 60s] from the prison which he had entered as a boy.  234

At that age Abbas Effendi took upon himself the responsibility to propagate his father’s mission, proceeded to Egypt, Switzerland, France, Germany, Hungary, Great Britain, the United States of America, and Canada, and there preached his father’s principles and. humanitarian ideals which were deeply rooted in him. In the course of his visits to those countries, thousands of people heard him preach the principles of his father, in churches and in every type of religious institution, and millions of people read about the teachings of Baha’u’llah in the local newspapers; and so in virtue of his magnetic personality he was able to attract men and women of every belief and religion.

His followers loved him greatly and he reciprocated their love, he lifted their standards morally, spiritually, and materially to the limit of his capacities, and he endeavored with all his might to come to the rescue of those who were materially in need as well as to those who sought moral assistance.

Allegation of Forgery of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Will

This beloved religious leader who called himself ‘Abdu’l-Baha— meaning the servant of Baha’u’llah, his father—who was led by his father’s personality in darkness and guided in solving problems; this leader who carried out his father’s teachings almost literally without originating anything new himself or misconstruing; do you believe, dear reader, that this servant of Baha’u’llah, this honest and good man could in any way deviate from the path his master drew for him for the advancement and leadership of the Baha’i movement?

Certain persons looking after their own private material benefit originated what they called a will and attributed its issue to Abbas Effendi, in which he was supposed to have nominated his grandson [Shoghi Effendi Rabbani] to the spiritual leadership of the movement. This grandson who was at that time a young boy 235 and therefore unable to realize the extent of the great responsibility that was being entrusted to him by those persons, is, in my opinion—and I have undeniable evidence to this effect—unable to realize it up to the present moment.

Those persons, whether they intended or not, have certainly committed an unforgivable sin against Abbas Effendi. A will contradicting his father’s Will! This is to Shame, Shame itself, especially as the sacred nature of a will is respected not only by the Easterners but also by the nations of the world. Moreover is it believable that Abbas Effendi should have tampered with [i.e. contradicted] his father’s Will so long as he knew that he had no right whatever to change any-thing in it, especially as his father had limited the succession, in case of death, to his brother, Mohammed Ali Effendi?

Those persons who originated the will and pretended to venerate Abbas Effendi attached to him a disgrace which the commonest of people would have resented; so how much more with him, the great religious leader, for they have pictured him as a disobedient boy violating his father’s Will, the same Will which gave him the right to the leadership. His brothers respected the holiness of their father’s Will and accepted it and extended their help in the struggle for the propagation of the movement.

On Friday the 25th of November, 1921, Abdu’l-Baha Abbas as usual attended Friday prayers 236 and personally distributed alms to the poor and needy and returned to his residence. Three days later, on the 28th of November, he died, leaving according to his father’s Will the spiritual leadership of the movement to his brother, Mohammed Ali Effendi. 237

Footnotes : 

233. See Chapter 8, note 9.

234. The Young Turk Revolution overthrew Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who had imprisoned many people in the Ottoman Empire who were regarded as political and social reformists. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, along with the rest of Baha’u’llah’s family, had been confined for decades to the vicinity of Acre in present-day Israel (then under Ottoman control), and at times in the prison-fortress in that city. The age of ‘Abdu’l-Baha when he was released is either 64 or anywhere from 67 to 69, depending on which of several purported years of birth is accurate.

235. Part One of the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha—in which the author appoints Shoghi Effendi to the position of “Guardian of the Cause of God”—is generally believed to have been written sometime between 1904 and 1907, when he was anywhere from seven to ten years old.

236.‘Abdu’l-Baha attended weekly Islamic worship services throughout his life.

237. ‘Abdu’l-Baha certainly did not do so—the brothers had been feuding for years—although in the absence of an authentic will contradicting the Will and Testament of Baha’u’llah, the leadership of the Baha’i faith would have passed to the younger brother automatically according to Baha’u’llah’s instructions.