Although condemned for life to the penal colony of Akka Sultan Abdu’l-Aziz of the Ottoman Empire, Baha’u’llah wrote to His captor advising:
Hearken, O King, to the speech of Him that speaketh the truth, Him that doth not ask thee to recompense Him with the things God hath chosen to bestow upon thee, Him Who unerringly treadeth the straight Path. He it is Who summoneth thee unto God, thy Lord, Who showeth thee the right course, the way that leadeth to true felicity, that haply thou mayest be of them with whom it shall be well … Observe, O King, with thine inmost heart and with thy whole being, the precepts of God, and walk not in the paths of the oppressor … Shouldst thou cause rivers of justice to spread their waters amongst thy subjects, God would surely aid thee with the hosts of the unseen and of the seen, and would strengthen thee in thine affairs … Overstep not the bounds of moderation, and deal justly with them that serve thee. – Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 47.
Sultan Abdu’l-Aziz was deposed after a palace revolution and assassinated in 1876. Forty-two years later, the First World War saw the final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the sultanate which had endured for more than six centuries.
Baha’u’llah then turned his attention to Francis Joseph, the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, whom He counselled thus:
O Emperor of Austria! … We have been with thee at all times, and found thee clinging unto the Branch and heedless of the Root … We grieve to see thee circle round Our Name, whilst unaware of Us, though We were before thy face. – Ibid., p. 43.
Francis Joseph made no response to Baha’u’llah, and soon found himself engulfed by an ocean of misfortune and tragedy. After a brief and precarious existence the shrunken republic which had been built on the ruins of his vanished Holy Roman Empire was blotted out from the political map of Europe.
Baha’u’llah then wrote to Nasiri’d-Din Shah of Persia, the very king who had imprisoned and exiled Him thirteen years earlier:
O King! … Look upon this Youth, O King, with the eyes of justice; judge thou, then, with truth concerning what hath befallen Him … They that surround thee love thee for their own sakes, whereas this Youth loveth thee for thine own sake, and hath had no desire except to draw thee nigh unto the seat of grace, and to turn thee toward the right-hand of justice. – Ibid., p. 58.
Even the forgiving nature of Baha’u’llah’s words, however, could not persuade Nasiri’d-Din Shah to change his ways and be wary of those who surrounded him. The Persian King was dramatically assassinated while at prayer on the eve of a jubilee celebration designed to go down in history as the greatest day in the annals of the Persian nation. The fortunes of his dynastic house steadily declined with the scandalous and irresponsible misconduct of his successor, which rapidly led to the disappearance of Nasiri’d-Din Shah’s corrupt Qájár dynasty.
To Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, known as Pope Pius IX, Baha’u’llah openly declared that the long-awaited return of Christ had taken place:
O Pope! Rend the veils asunder. He Who is the Lord of Lords is come overshadowed with clouds … this is the day whereon the Rock (Peter) crieth out and shouteth … saying: “Lo, the Father is come, and that which ye were promised in the Kingdom is fulfilled.” – Ibid., p. 8.
Pope Pius IX paid no attention to this announcement of the event for which he and all the 290 Popes before him had fervently prayed for the last 1,870 years. Busy with the internal politics of the Church, he had called the cardinals to Rome for the First Vatican Council to lobby their support for his doctrine of Papal infallibility.
Just as the Judaic Patriarchs and the Jewish population of old failed to recognize their Messiah the first time Christ had appeared, so Pope Pius IX and the largest church in Christendom failed to notice his return.
They had forgotten the prophecy of the thief in the night, whose visit would not be noticed until after he had departed. During his long occupancy of the Holy See, Pope Pius IX experienced the virtual extinction of the Pope’s temporal sovereignty and power. The Papacy was changed forever. He saw the dispossession of the Papal States and of Rome itself, over which the Papal flag had flown for a thousand years.
Baha’u’llah also addressed one of his tablets to Alexandrina Victoria, known as Queen Victoria of the British Empire:
O Queen in London! Incline thine ear unto the voice of thy Lord, the Lord of all mankind… God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee … He, verily, will pay the doer of good his due recompense … thou hast entrusted the reins of council into the hands of the representatives of the people. Thou, indeed, hast done well, for thereby the foundations of the edifice of thine affairs will be strengthened, and the hearts of all that are beneath thy shadow, whether high or low, will be tranquilized. – Ibid, p. 33.
Queen Victoria was the only monarch who responded without arrogance, conceit or silence. She is reported to have commented upon reading Baha’u’llah’s letter: “If this is of God, it will endure; if it is not, it can do no harm.” Queen Victoria became the longest-reigning monarch in her country’s history, and of all the kings and queens Baha’u’llah wrote to, it is perhaps more than a coincidence that her throne is the only one still occupied.
One by one the others either refused or ignored Baha’u’llah’s call. They saw Baha’u’llah as a lowly and presumptuous prisoner of the Ottoman Empire who dared to give counsel to kings. Baha’u’llah offered them the opportunity to achieve what he called the “Most Great Peace,” a condition of permanent peace and world unity to be founded on the Baha’i principles and teachings. The Most Great Peace would signal the coming of age and maturity of humankind, but the kings and rulers failed to gather together to resolve their differences. Had they begun the process of disarmament then in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the world would have been spared all the death and destruction of the wars of the twentieth century.
After the kings and rulers had failed to respond to His call, Baha’u’llah, in place of the Most Great Peace, offered them instead a ‘Lesser Peace’:
O Kings of the earth! We see you increasing every year your expenditures, and laying the burden thereof on your subjects. This, verily, is wholly and grossly unjust. Fear the sighs and tears of this Wronged One, and lay not excessive burdens on your peoples. Do not rob them to rear palaces for yourselves; nay rather choose for them that which ye choose for yourselves. Thus We unfold to your eyes that which profiteth you, if ye but perceive. Your people are your treasures. Beware lest your rule violate the commandments of God, and ye deliver your wards to the hands of the robber. By them ye rule, by their means ye subsist, by their aid ye conquer. Yet, how disdainfully ye look upon them! How strange, how very strange! Now that ye have refused the Most Great Peace, hold ye fast unto this, the Lesser Peace, that haply ye may in some degree better your own condition and that of your dependants. O rulers of the earth! Be reconciled among yourselves, that ye may need no more armaments save in a measure to safeguard your territories and dominions. Beware lest ye disregard the counsel of the All-Knowing, the Faithful. Be united, O kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your people find rest, if ye be of them that comprehend. – Ibid., p. 12.
We can now witness in the world around us the process towards that Lesser Peace. Although a step in the right direction, the Lesser Peace still represents just a political truce, in which the nations of the world try to bring about an end to war and open conflict without substantially changing their basic self-serving mentality. Little by little we can dismantle the nuclear weapons and reduce our strategic armaments, but this does not solve the underlying problem. If the bombs are taken away but the people’s hearts are not changed, they will still think in terms of weapons. Anything can be used as a weapon: finance, technology, information, international trade, natural resources, even food. Until the root causes of war are eradicated, we will always be potentially at war, even though we are not fighting.
Baha’is believe we must strive for the equality of gender and races, and work to reduce the disparate extremes between rich and poor. Only when we have eliminated the prejudice and avarice we hold within us, will the Lesser Peace evolve into the Most Great Peace.
In the following words, Baha’u’llah described the station of any monarch who ultimately heeds his call: “How great is the blessedness that awaiteth the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My Kingdom, who will detach himself from all else but Me!” – Ibid., p. 6.
Nearly seventy years after Queen Victoria received the letter from Baha’u’llah, one of her granddaughters, Dowager Queen Marie of Romania, accepted the Baha’i Faith in the latter part of her life and became a supporter of its aims. It is interesting to note that Queen Marie was also the granddaughter of Tzar Nikolaevich Alexander II of Russia, another of the monarchs addressed by Baha’u’llah.
Exactly one hundred years after Baha’u’llah’s proclamation to the kings and rulers of the world, the first reigning monarch embraced the Baha’i Faith. Then, in 1968, after many months of investigating the teachings of Baha’u’llah, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II of the Pacific island nation of Samoa became a Baha’i. These two monarchs responded to the call of Baha’u’llah, setting the example of what future world leaders can do to bring about peace and justice.
This series of essays is adapted from Joseph Roy Sheppherd’s book The Elements of the Baha’i Faith, with permission from his widow Jan Sheppherd.