Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hakím Masíh, the First Jewish Believer


The first believer converted to the Faith from the Jewish
community of Persia

The first of the Jewish community to recognize the truth of the Mission of Bahá'u'lláh in Persia was a notable physician named Masíh (Messiah) referred to as Hakím Masíh.* Being highly skilled in his profession, he was appointed as a physician to the court of Muhammad Sháh, and when the Sháh made a journey to 'Iráq, Hakím Masíh accompanied him. When in Baghdád, he learnt that Táhirih was staying in the home of one of the early believers, and was holding discussions with the divines in the city. He went there to see what was being said. No sooner


* The title of Hakím was given to people who were skilled physicians and were endowed with wisdom and divine knowledge.

had he heard the utterances of Táhirih addressed to the company of divines, and witnessed their helplessness to refute her proofs in support of her newly found Faith, than he was captivated by her powerful arguments and sheer personality. Although he was not allowed to enter into any discussions, Hakím Masíh was very curious to find out how Táhirih had acquired such eloquence and powers which bordered on the supernatural.

Shaykh Kázim-i-Samandar* has recorded the following in his memoirs:

I met Hakím Masíh who was of Jewish descent. He was the first among the Jews to enter the community of the friends (i.e. Bahá'ís). It surprised me when I discovered that he was friendly, faithful, full of enthusiasm and love; and so said to him, 'There is a large gap between the Faith of Moses and this great Cause, how did you make this long and glorious journey and arrive at this abode?' He said, 'My visit to Baghdád coincided with the time that Táhirih was in that city. Through some circumstances I was present at some of the meetings where she conversed with the divines. I was astonished and awestruck by the way she talked, by the manner in which she conducted her conversations, and by the power of her utterances. I became attracted and began to meditate and decided to investigate this Cause and deepen my knowledge of it. I made some enquiries in Baghdád and later in other places, until I attained my heart's desire.7

Some years after meeting Táhirih in Baghdád, Hakím Masíh met Ismu'lláhu'l-Asdaq, a meeting brought about by Providence. The Ismu'lláh had been arrested because of his allegiance to the Faith, put in chains and brought to Tihrán under escort. This cruel act was carried out by order of the Governor of Khurásán who was enforcing an edict issued by no less than eighteen divines of Islám in that province. The Ismu'lláh was forced to take with him his youngest son, Ibn-i-Asdaq, who was a mere child at the time. Two other believers


* see pp. 88, 257.
7. Táríkh-i-Samandar, p. 348.

were also chained and taken to Tihrán with him.

The intention was to execute them in the capital city. Instead, the Government ordered that they be imprisoned in the Síyáh-Chál. Father and child were chained together and kept in that terrible dungeon for about two years and four months.

The hardships of prison life took their toll and the young child became seriously ill. The chief gaoler, a certain Mashhadí 'Alí, was a kind person and he sent for a physician. But no physician could be found who would be willing to treat a patient who was a Bábí. In desperation he called on Hakím Masíh who was Jewish. He accepted and immediately went to the prison.

For a period of two months he regularly attended the child until he recovered from his illness. At the same time, having been so deeply impressed by Táhirih, this gave him the opportunity to learn about the Faith from an illustrious believer. Even after his patient had fully recovered he used to spend hours in the prison, sitting at the Ismu'lláh's feet and learning about the Faith. Soon after, he became a believer fully aware that the Promised One of the Old Testament, the 'Everlasting Father', the Lord of Hosts, had manifested Himself. When Bahá'u'lláh was informed of His conversion, He revealed an exalted Tablet in his honour. He has revealed other Tablets for him too, but unfortunately most of these were destroyed. This is because in those days the believers used to protect their Bahá'í materials by hiding them underground or inside the walls, so that they might not fall into the hands of the enemy. Sadly, when unearthed, the Tablets of Hakím Masíh were found to have been destroyed by moisture.

In one of these Tablets,8 Bahá'u'lláh urges Hakím Masíh to be steadfast in the Cause of God so that he may not be shaken by the winds of opposition which were blowing from the direction of the enemies. He states that the people were following the dictates of their passions and corrupt desires,


8. Unpublished.

and directs him to counsel such people to abandon their evil ways and turn to their God. Bahá'u'lláh, in this Tablet, showers His favours upon Hakím Masíh and affirms that He has bestowed upon him a great station. Hakím Masíh taught the Faith to his family who became ardent believers. Notable among his descendants was Dr Lutfu'lláh Hakím, his youngest grandson, who served the Master and Shoghi Effendi with exemplary devotion and was elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1963 when that Supreme Body of the Faith came into being for the first time.

The light of the new Faith of God which shone forth in the heart of Hakím Masíh illumined many more among his coreligionists in Persia. At first, a few embraced the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh in Hamadán and Káshán and soon great numbers from the Jewish community joined the Faith and swelled the ranks of the believers in Persia. There are many Tablets revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in honour of the believers of Jewish background.

Baha'u'llah's proclamation to the Jewish Leadership

From Revelation of Baha'u'llah, Vol 3
By Adib Taherzadeh

A Bahá'í of Jewish origin who was directed by Bahá'u'lláh to proclaim the Faith to Baron Rothschild
A survey of Baha'u'llah's letters to the leaders of the world indicates that all the nations and major religions of the world were given the opportunity to hear of His coming. Probably one exception was the Jewish people as they did not belong to a particular state at the time. One year before His passing, Baha'u'llah had made a remark concerning His proclamation to the rulers of the world. He is reported to have said that by then He had fully proclaimed His Mission to the crowned heads of the world, but He desired to convey the Message of God to Baron Rothschild[1] who could be considered as the leader of the Jewish people at the time. This remark was addressed to a believer of Jewish descent, Mirza 'Azizu'llah-i-Jadhdhab who had gone to 'Akka to attain the presence of Baha'u'llah for the third time in the year AH 1308 (AD 1891). Baha'u'llah directed him to write to Baron Rothschild and proclaim the Faith to him and if possible pay him a visit.

[1 Probably Baron Nathaniel Mayer, Lord Rothschild of London (1840-1915), then considered the lay head of world Jewry; or else Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Paris (1845-1934), the great benefactor of thousands of Jews then settling in Palestine.] 

The story of the life of Mirza 'Azizu'llah and his services to the Cause of God are interesting and inspiring indeed. He was of Jewish descent. His father, living in the city of Mashhad, was a learned man and well versed in the Old Testament and other religious books. He used to teach the Old Testament to the Jewish youth. Pure-hearted and with great insight into religious matters, he recognized the truth of the Faith of Islam and secretly declared his conversion to the Muslim authorities. With the exception of his wife, no other members of the Jewish community, not even his own children, were aware of his conversion to Islam. This was about sixteen years before the birth of the Babi Faith. In particular, he advised his family to watch for the coming of the Lord of Hosts, as he had discovered according to the Holy Books that His advent was at hand.

A few years later, in 1838, some tragic incident resulted in the massacre of about thirty-five Jews in the city of Mashhad by the Muslims. All the surviving Jews took refuge in the homes of Muslim clergy and in order to save their lives, agreed to accept the Faith of Islam. They were officially converted by the clergy, but, of course, in secret they practised the Jewish Faith. Although their lives had been saved, the Jews newly converted to Islam continued to live in a separate quarter of the city and were not fully integrated with the Muslim community. They were referred to as the 'newcomers' and were still persecuted by the Muslims.

Mirza 'Azizu'llah lived in this community. He went to a Muslim school as a child, but soon left it. Instead, he learnt the Old Testament, became fully acquainted with the Jewish Faith, and practised it in secret. Although his education was elementary, he became a successful merchant and emerged as a man of ability and enterprise.

The first time he heard the word 'Baha'u'llah' was when one of his brothers, who had become a Baha'i, mentioned the story of the martyrdom of Badi' to him. But Mirza 'Azizu'llah, being very staunch in the Jewish Faith, did not show any interest, and the brother did not pursue the matter any further.

Some time passed and the two brothers had to undertake a series of journeys together on business. In the course of these journeys Mirza 'Azizu'llah decided to polish up his elementary knowledge of reading and writing Persian. Being a talented man, it did not take him very long to become proficient as a reader.

One day when his brother was out he took a Baha'i book and began to read it. He was moved by what he read, but discounted the whole idea of a new Faith. Then one night he had a dream, of which he has written this account in his memoirs:

In my dream, I heard the announcement that the Lord of Hosts, the Promised One of all ages, had appeared, and that He was inspecting the company of the Prophets and all their followers. I went along immediately to the appointed place. I saw a vast place on which multitudes of people were assembled in lines. Each prophet along with his followers was seated facing the Qiblih.[1] I was surprised by the extraordinary light and vision which was given to my eyes, as I could easily see all the people lined up in that vast area.

[1 Literally: point of adoration. A point to which the faithful turn at the time of prayer.]

Opposite the multitudes and facing them, a venerable figure was seated upon a chair uttering some words. I was standing at the end of a line. His blessed Person was over fifty years of age, had a long black beard and was wearing a green Taj[1] sewn with green silk thread. With His blessed hand He signalled me to go to Him. With my hands I gesticulated to say, how can I come with all these crowds in front of me? He waved His hands to the multitudes and they all prostrated themselves on the ground. He then beckoned me to go forward. I was not sure at this point whether it was to me or someone else that He was signalling. He then repeated His command. This time I went forward immediately, stepping on the backs of people who lay prostrate in front of me, until I reached Him. I prostrated myself at His feet and kissed them. He then helped me up to my feet with His hand and recited the verse of the Qur'an: 'Blessed be God, the most excellent Creator.(23)
[1 Head-dress similar to the one that Baha'u'llah used to wear.]

Although this dream made a great impression on Mirza 'Azizu'llah, he still remained steadfast in his Jewish faith until some time later when he was converted to the Faith of Baha'u'llah by Haji 'Abdu'l-Majid, the father of Badi'. Soon after embracing the Faith, Mirza 'Azizu'llah and his brother journeyed to 'Akka to attain the presence of Baha'u'llah. This was in the year 1876, his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When the appointed time arrived, Mirza 'Azizu'llah was ushered into the room of Baha'u'llah in 'Akka. As soon as his eyes saw the person of Baha'u'llah he was awestruck to find himself in the presence of the One whom he had seen some years before in that memorable dream, wearing the same clothes and the same green head-dress. With all the devotion and love in his heart Mirza 'Azizu'llah promptly prostrated himself at the feet of his Lord. Baha'u'llah bent down, helped him up to his feet and recited the verse of the Qur'an: 'Blessed be God, the most excellent Creator!'

During his stay in 'Akka, Mirza 'Azizu'llah attained the presence of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha many times. As a result, he became endowed with a new spirit of faith and assurance. The first time that he attained the presence of Baha'u'llah, he witnessed the revelation of Baha'u'llah's Tablets and heard His voice as He revealed them. This experience left an abiding impression upon him. The only regret he had was that he could not read Arabic and hence was unable to fully appreciate the Holy Writings. This was because he had left school so young and had missed the opportunity to learn Arabic. He felt remorseful over this. Someone in 'Akka volunteered to teach him Arabic, but he declined the offer as he had no time or patience to learn a language so vast in vocabulary and so complex in grammar.

The next day when he attained the presence of Baha'u'llah, he approached Him by way of the heart and begged that through His bountiful favours, He might enable him to understand Arabic without going through the usual method of learning the language. His wish was granted, and Mirza 'Azizu'llah one day became very excited when he found himself reading and understanding the Qur'an and the Tablets of Baha'u'llah in Arabic.

Many early believers were uneducated but they were endowed by Baha'u'llah with a knowledge which men of learning but devoid of faith did not possess. Earlier on[1] we have described this form of knowledge, a knowledge which wells out of the heart and is not dependent on learning. [1 pp. 94-5.] Concerning the special mission given him during his last pilgrimage to 'Akka, to proclaim the Faith to Baron Rothschild, Mirza 'Azizu'llah has recorded the following in his memoirs:

After leaving the Holy Land,[1] I arrived in Istanbul. There I knew a certain broker who had the knowledge of the French language. I asked him if he would teach me a little French every day, so that on my journey to meet Rothschild I would be able to converse a little in that language. In the meantime, I composed a letter to Rothschild which was rendered into French. In this communication I informed him of the coming of Baha'u'llah and of the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the advent of the Lord of Hosts who had revealed Himself on Mount Carmel at this time. I explained that the followers of Baha'u'llah were inviting us to embrace His Cause, adducing proofs and demonstrating that prophecies have been fulfilled. I reminded him that he was considered as the head of the Jewish People. Therefore, I asked him to refer this matter to the Jewish divines in Jerusalem so that they might respond to this question. I explained further that either one had to nullify the proofs and the prophecies of the Old Testament or to accept this blessed Cause. After sending this communication I began to learn French. In those days, Aqa Siyyid Ahmad-i-Afnan[2] was in Istanbul. He was very curious to find out the reason for my learning French at this time in my life, and for what purpose I was thinking of going to Paris and London. But since the visit to Rothschild was a confidential matter I did not disclose it...(24)

[1 This was in 1891. (A.T.)]
[2 A member of the Afnan family who ran a business in Istanbul.]

Unfortunately the memoirs of Mirza 'Azizu'llah are not conclusive in that there is no mention of whether he succeeded in meeting the Baron or not.

Another interesting mission which Mirza 'Azizu'llah undertook during 'Abdu'l-Baha's ministry was to visit Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian philosopher and writer. Tolstoy was already informed of the Revelations of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, and had praised Their teachings. Mirza 'Azizu'llah succeeded in meeting him in September 1902 and in the course of an interview spoke to him at length on the history and the teachings of the Faith and explained the station of Baha'u'llah as the Promised One of all ages. The detailed discussions, questions and answers in this interview and the favourable response of Tolstoy, who believed that the Cause of Baha'u'llah would spread throughout the world are all recorded in his memoirs.