December 14, 2013

Mirza 'Ali-Muhammad (Ibn-i-Asdaq) – Apostle of Baha’u’llah and Hand of the Cause; in a Tablet in his honor Baha’u’llah mentions for the first time the concept of the 'Hand of the Cause'

Mirza 'Ali-Muhammad was born in Mashhad in circa 1850. He was the youngest son of the Hand of the Cause Mulla Sadiq-i-Muqaddas-i-Khurasani, who fought at Shaykh Tabarsi and was tortured with Quddus in Shiraz. Mulla Sadiq-i-Muqaddas was given the title Ismu’llah’u’l-Asdaq by Baha'u’llah, and as his son showed many of his outstanding qualities, Mirza 'Ali-Muhammad became known as Ibn-i-Asdaq, son of Asdaq.

In 1861, while Ibn-i-Asdaq was still a young boy, he was taken by his father to Baghdad to see Baha'u'llah. The visit lasted two years and made a made a deep impression on him. During their stay in Baghdad Baha'u'llah revealed a prayer for Ibn-i-Asdaq:

'I ask Thee, O my God! to give him to drink of the milk of Thy bounty so that he may raise the standards of victory through Me, -a victory which is Thine - and arise to serve Thy Cause, when he groweth up, just as, when a youth, he hath arisen at Thy Command'. [1]

On his return to Iran Ibn-i-Asdaq and his father were arrested on the orders of the governor of Khurasan. They and two other Babis were chained and taken to Tihran. The intention was to execute them but the government ordered instead that they be imprisoned in the Siyah-Chal. Here they remained, chained together, for 28 months.

Ibn-i-Asdaq fell ill whilst in prison but no doctor would treat a Babi. Eventually the gaoler asked a Jewish doctor, Hakim Masih, to tend to the boy. Hakim Masih attended him for about two months, soon afterwards becoming a believer.

When Ibn-i-Asdaq and his father were released from the Siyiha-Chal they returned to Mashhad. As he grew up Ibn-i-Asdaq often accompanied his father on teaching trips throughout Iran. While still a young man he married the niece of Mulla Husayn Bushru'i, the first to believe in the Bab, but she passed away without having any children. His second marriage was to a Qajar princess, a great granddaughter of Fath-'Ali Shah, ‘Udhra Khanum Diya'u'l-Hajiyyih, called by her family Aqha Jan. Already a Baha'i, she was educated and talented and well versed in Persian poetry and literature. The couple had four daughters.

When he was about 30 years old Ibn-i-Asdaq sent a letter to Baha'u'llah, asking Him to grant him the station of 'utter self-sacrifice', martyrdom. [2] In January 1880 Baha'u'llah replied to him through his amanuensis, Mirza Aqa Jan:

Thou didst beg the Supreme Lord . . . to bestow upon thee a station whereat in the path of His love thou wouldst give up everything: thy life, thy spirit, thy reputation, thine existence, all in all. All of these behests were submitted in the most sanctified, most exalted Presence of the Abha Beauty. Thus did the Tongue of the Merciful speak in the Kingdom of Utterance: ‘God willing, he shall be seen in utmost purity and saintliness, as befitteth the Day of God, and attain the station of the most great martyrdom. Today, the greatest of all deeds is service to the Cause. Souls that are well assured should with utmost discretion teach the Faith, so that the sweet fragrances of the Divine Garment will waft from all directions. This martyrdom is not confined to the destruction of life and the shedding of blood. A person enjoying the bounty of life may yet be recorded a martyr in the Book of the Sovereign Lord. Well is it with thee that thou hast wished to offer whatsoever is thine, and all that is of thee and with thee in My path.’ [3]

Two years later, in 1882, Ibn-i-Asdaq again wrote to Baha'u'llah asking for martyrdom. This time Baha'u'llah, addressing him as Shahid Ibn-i-Shahid (martyr, son of the martyr) replied:

We, verily, have ordained for him this exalted station, this high designation. Well it is with him that he attained this station prior to its appearance, and We accepted from him that which he intended in the path of God, the One, the Single, the All-Knowing, the All-Informed.' [4]

On receiving this reply Ibn-i-Asdaq devoted his entire life to teaching the Bahai'i Faith and encouraging the Bahai'is. He travelled extensively, visiting Baha’i communities the length and breadth of the country, his wife's royal connections enabling him to teach the Baha'i Faith among the members of the Iranian nobility as well as royalty. Ibn-i-Asdaq many times referred to 'hunting the lion rather than the fox’ [5] and his wife moved from Mashhad to Tihran, where a house was provided for them in one the best quarters of the city.

Baha'u'llah encouraged Ibn-i-Adaq in his travels for the promotion of the Word and revealed in his honour a Tablet containing this well-known verse: “The movement itself from place to place, when undertaken for the sake of God, hath always exerted, and can now exert, its influence in the world.” [6]

It was in a Tablet revealed by Baha'u'llah in April 1887 through His amanuensis in honour of Ibn-i-Asdaq that the concept of 'Hand of the Cause' was first mentioned. [7] He calls upon His amanuensis, Mira Aqa Jan, to beseech “the All-Abiding Lord to confirm the chosen ones, that is those souls who are Hands of the Cause, who are adorned with the robe of teaching, and have arisen to serve the Cause, to be enabled to exalt the Word of God”. [8]

In another Tablet written to Ibn-i-Asdaq, Baha'u'llah, having been informed by him that the Baha'is of Tihran had arranged to observe the Mahriqu'l-Aadhar, wrote the prayer:

Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified. [9]

After the passing of Baha'u'llah in 1892 'Abdu'l-Baha encouraged Ibn-i-Asdaq to continue teaching prominent people. In addition to teaching them in Tihran, he extended the range of his travels, visiting India, Burma and Russian Turkistan, always seeking out the notables of every city. In Marv he began preliminary work on the construction of a Mashriqu’l-Adhkar and founded a hospice and junior school. At home he initiated the establishment of teacher-training classes for Baha'i women.

The early years of the ministry of 'Abdu'l-Baha were plagued by the machinations of the Covenant-breakers. 'Abdu'l-Baha called upon the Hands of the Cause to counter their activities. Ibn-i-Asdaq and the other Hands travelled throughout Iran explaining to the Baha'is the nature and power of the Covenant and confirming them in it. In 1899 'Abdu'l-Baha also called upon the Hands to establish an elected Spiritual Assembly in Tihran to administer the Faith. From this body evolved the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran.

In 1919 'Abdu'l-Baha asked Ibn-i-Asdaq and Ahmad Yazdani personally to deliver a Tablet to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace at the Hague. In the same year Ibn-i-Asdaq and other Hands of the Cause wrote a refutation of some of the statements made by Professor E. G. Browne about the Baha'i Faith. Ibn-i-Asdaq also delivered to the Shah the Risaliy-i-Siyasiyyih (Treatise on Politics) written by 'Abdu'l-Bahii during the lifetime of Baha'u'llah.

Ibn-i-Asdaq lived well into the 20th century, thus serving not only Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha but Shoghi Effendi as well. He outlived his fellow Hands, passing away in Tihran in 1928. Shoghi Effendi named him an Apostle of Baha'u'llah.

[1] Provisional translation by Hand of the Cause Balyuzi, approved at the Baha’i World Center and included in ‘Eminent Baha'is In the time of Baha’u’llah’, p. 171.
[2] Taherzadeh, Revelation of Baha'u'llah, vol. 4, p. 302.
[3] Provisional translation by Hand of the Cause Balyuzi, approved at the Baha’i World Center and included in ‘Eminent Baha'is In the time of Baha’u’llah’, p. 172.
[4] Provisional translation by Hand of the Cause Balyuzi, approved at the Baha’i World Center and included in ‘Eminent Baha'is In the time of Baha’u’llah’, p. 173
[5] Provisional translation by Hand of the Cause Balyuzi, approved at the Baha’i World Center and included in ‘Eminent Baha'is In the time of Baha’u’llah’, p. 174
[6] Baha'u'llah, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent, p. of Divine Justice, p. 84.
[7] Baha'u'llah had occasionally used the term 'Hands' in His earlier Tablets (e.g. Suriy-i-Haykal) but no particular individual had been so designated.
[8] Provisional translation by Hand of the Cause Balyuzi, approved at the Baha’i World Center and included in ‘Eminent Baha'is In the time of Baha’u’llah’, p. 173
[9] Baha'u'llah, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 83-84.

(Adapted from ‘Lights of Fortitude’, by Barron Harper)