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.
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.
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.