Memories of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá By Mírzá Habíbu’lláh Afnán Translated and Annotated by Ahang Rabbani An Electronic-Publication of Kalimat Press January 2005

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Memories of the Báb,

Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá


By

Mírzá Habíbu’lláh Afnán

Translated and Annotated by

Ahang Rabbani

An Electronic-Publication of

Kalimat Press

January 2005

All Rights Reserved

O God, my God! Graciously look upon Thy Afnán with the glances of the eye of Thy mercy and favor. Ordain for them that which will enable them to attain unto Thy praise and to the praise of Thy people. O Lord! Thou seest them striving to attain unto Thee and clinging to the cord of Thy grace and benevolence. I beseech Thee, by the ocean of Thy signs and the effulgence of Thy knowledge, to protect them from the tyranny of the oppressor, and from those who cause separation from Thy horizon and commit that which prompts the denizens of the Supreme Concourse and the dwellers of the Exalted Paradise to shed tears of anguish. Send down upon them Thy blessings, O Lord, for they have not refused to attain unto Thy Book and have remained oriented towards the radiance of Thy Countenance. Verily, Thou art omnipotent over all things. There is no God save Thee, the Sovereign of the earth and heavens. Praise be unto Thee, the Desire of the world and the Beloved of the near-ones.

Bahá’u’lláh1


Contents

Preface ……………………………………………………….. 4

Acknowledgments …………………………………………… 11

Dedication …………………………………………………… 12


Memoirs

Prologue by the Author ……………………………….……. 14

1. Childhood and Early Life in Shiraz ……………………… 15

2. First Pilgrimage: In the Presence of Bahá’u’lláh ………… 26

3. Education and Commerce in Egypt …………………….… 50

4. Second Pilgrimage: In the Presence of `Abdu’l-Bahá ……. 67

5. Back in Egypt …………………………………………….. 94

6. Siyyid `Alíy-i-Afnán ……………………………………… 102

7. Third Pilgrimage: 1898 …………………………………… 123

8. Fourth Pilgrimage: 1898 ………………………………….. 135

9. Final Years in Egypt ……………………………………… 144

10. Fifth Pilgrimage: 1901 …………………………………… 154

11. Restoration of the House of the Báb …………………..… 161


Appendices


1. Bahá’í Historical Places in Shiraz ……………………….. 186

2. Afnán Family Genealogy …………………………………. 197

3. Pages From Houshmand Fatheazam’s Diary …………….. 203
Bibliography ………………………………………………… 223

Preface

What we do in life echoes in eternity.”



Gaius Traianus Marcius Flavianus


Background to the Memoirs
In the latter part of 1924, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, began the process of recording the recollection of the believers who had witnessed the early years of the Bábí and Bahá’í Dispensations. Knowing that these memoirs would have a profound effect on the understanding of future believers about the genesis of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi called for a systematic campaign to assemble such narratives. In the Holy Land, companions of Bahá’u’lláh such as Áqá Husayn-i-Áshchí were interviewed for what they remembered of the days of Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá. Sometimes, as in the case of Áshchí, this happened literally on the person’s deathbed. In addition, during the next two decades, the Guardian wrote to the Bahá’ís of Iran urging them to prepare detailed histories of each local community. He further called upon believers who had witnessed the unfolding of the Heroic Age to commit their experiences to writing. Obeying his Guardian’s wishes, Mírzá Habíb Afnán was one such believer who wrote what he had witnessed – and what a remarkable story he had to tell!

Mírzá Habíb Afnán (1875-1951) was born in the House of the Báb and raised by none other than Khadíjih Bagum, the widow of the Primal Point. He heard from her the bittersweet stories of the love-intoxicated heroes who circled around the Báb in Shiraz and, at His bidding, proclaimed to every town and hamlet the glad-tidings of the nearness of God. Khadíjih Bagum had a particular affinity for the young boy’s father, Áqá Mírzá Áqáy-i-Núri’d-Dín. At a time when tribulations had most fiercely beset Khadíjih Bagum, the Báb had promised her that it would be Núri’d-Dín the family member who would protect and support her. Khadíjih Bagum’s particular affection also extended to Núri’d-Dín’s children, and Mírzá Habíb basked in the brilliancy of her attention and love.

As if that blessing was not enough, God showered Mírzá Habíb with an even greater measure of His munificence. As a young man, he was called to the Holy Land, where he spent nine months living in close proximity to Bahá’u’lláh and drank his fill from the Fountainhead of the Faith. For the next decade, from Egypt he remained in constant communication with `Abdu’l-Bahá and periodically visited Him in `Akká. While there, he was privy to some of the most heart-wrenching scenes of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s ministry and had a glimpse into the private inner workings of the Cause. He witnessed the defection of the Aghsán, their corrupt ways, the anguish of the Master, His efforts to conceal their perversion and violation, and the transmission of this news to the Bahá’í community.
At the turn of the century, Mírzá Habíb, together with his family, was called to the hallmark service of his life. For the next half century, he served with the greatest distinction as the hereditary custodian of the House of the Báb in Shiraz. Consequently, he was uniquely qualified to tell the story of the Bábí and Bahá’í movements in Shiraz and to describe the days of Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá in the Holy Land.

Mírzá Habíb’s Two Narratives

Mírzá Habíb penned two histories. The first, entitled Khátirát-i-Hayát, is the account of Mírzá Habíb’s pilgrimages to the Holy Land and his decade-long stay in Egypt. The exact date of its composition is not known, but the author’s sons, Abú’l-Qásim and Hasan Afnán, indicate that Mírzá Habíb wrote his first notes shortly after he returned to Iran. The notes themselves and family records show that this first draft was recopied and reorganized in the middle of the 1940s.2 The most important part of the narrative is Chapter 2. The author recounts being near Bahá’u’lláh from the middle of July 1891 until shortly after Naw-Rúz 1892; that is, a little over two months before Bahá’u’lláh’s ascension. The remaining sections are singularly important because they clarify many aspects of the first decade of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s ministry, when the storm of Covenant-breaking was raging mercilessly in the Holy Land.

The following table shows the dates of Mírzá Habíb’s pilgrimages, which are discussed in this narrative:
Pilgrimage Date Duration

1 16 July 1891-late March 1892 9 months

2 Spring 1897 a few months

3 Summer 1898 2 weeks

4 September 1898 1 month

5 1901 40 days


While translating the narrative, the two oldest sons of Mírzá Habíb, who had preserved the original document, noted that their father had intended to supplement it with additional materials. They kindly supplied the text of these materials to me.
The second history is entitled Tárí
kh-i-Amri Fárs va Shíráz (History of the Cause in Fárs and Shiraz). The exact date of its composition is not known, but is estimated to be in the early-to-mid 1930s. The original version was handwritten by Mírzá Habíb, and this was used by Mírzá Abu’l-Hasan-i-Ansif-i-Nayrizi to produce a final draft. This draft was then edited by Mírzá Habíb, whose remarks are found along various margins and lines throughout the manuscript. This edited version has been used for my translation that will appear shortly as In the Land of Refuge by Kalimat Press.

Mírzá Habíb was a well-educated man. He attended the same school that the Báb had attended and was tutored by one of the ablest educators of the city. During his youth, Bahá’u’lláh arranged for him to study with the Aghsán in the Mansion of Bahjí. Subsequently, he spent many years receiving daily instructions from the celebrated Mírzá Abú’l-Fadl, one of the most erudite believers of his generation. Therefore, the style of his composition is very learned and represents an important literary achievement in its own right. It is hoped that the original Persian of these two narratives will be published, so that students of the Faith will become better acquainted with his exquisite style.


Notes on the Present Translation
This volume contains a translation of the first narrative, Khátirát-i-Hayát, into English. For this rendering, every effort has been made to stay as close as possible to the original text, to the extent that a literal rendering has often been preferred to a more stylistic one. Annotations in form of footnotes have been included to add information, clarify points, and provide a more detailed perspective.
Typically, Mírzá Habíb referred to the Central Figures using honorific titles such as “His blessed Person” or “that Sacred Being”. Wherever possible, these have been replaced with actual names. Also, it is customary in Eastern Bahá’í historiography for the name of a Central Figure or prominent believer to be followed by laudatory expressions such as “may the souls of all be offered as a ransom for Him.” Because such formulations are awkward in English, they have been omitted for the most part.
Occasionally, I have added comments to improve the clarity or continuity of the material. These have been placed between square brackets; that is, [ ]. All comments in parentheses are by the author. The numbers in pointed brackets, < >, correspond to the Afnán family genealogy in Appendix 2. The system of transliteration will be apparent to those who have an interest in such matters.

By the time Mírzá Habíb had penned these narratives, many of the principal people featured had passed away. Therefore, the original text often refers to them as “the late” or “the deceased.” These descriptions have been kept to help future researchers to identify various dates.

It should be emphasized that the spoken words of the Central Figures quoted in these pages do not have the scriptural authority of Their Writings. No one took notes at the time the words were uttered. However, it cannot be ruled out that some words quoted may be the very ones that were spoken.

All renderings of the Sacred Writings from Persian and Arabic are by the present translator unless stated otherwise. At the present, they fall in the class of provisional translations.
Three major compilations have been immensely helpful in locating the original Tablets quoted by Mírzá Habíb in his narrative:
1. “Núri’d-Dín’s Compilation”, which has some 161 densely handwritten pages of Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablets to Mírzá Habíb’s father.3 This unpublished compilation was prepared at `Abdu’l-Bahá’s request and I am grateful to Abú’l-Qásim Afnán for making his copy available.
2. Iranian National Bahá’í Manuscript Collection (INBMC) volumes 51 and 52 contain many Tablets addressed to believers in Fárs. These have been assembled and compared with the original texts. Volume 51 (633 pages), titled Majmú`ih Áthár Qalim A`lá, (Tehran; Mu’asssih-‘i Milli-yi Matbú’at-i Amrí, [c 1977]), contains the Writings of the Supreme Pen, while volume 52 (683 pages) contains Tablets of the Master. These are valuable mines of information for future researchers. Wherever possible, Tablets quoted by Mírzá Habíb have been located in these volumes and a reference provided in form of “INBMC x:y”, where x is the volume and y is the page number. I am indebted to the staff of the Persian-American Affairs Office of the National Spiritual Assembly of Bahá’ís of the United States for granting my request for a copy of these two volumes.
3. A number of the Tablets quoted by Mírzá Habíb have been published in Khándán-i-Afnán. These quotes have also been identified and footnoted. However, for the purpose of this translation, I have relied principally on the INBMC volumes to determine their accuracy.

Typically, any single Islamic year (noted as A.H.) overlaps with two Christian years. Where only the year of the event is known, the first equivalent Georgian date only is given.


Comment on Appendices
The three appendices provide further historical perspective on certain details given by Mírzá Habíb. These appendices are:


  1. An outline of the Bábí and Bahá’í holy places in Shiraz and the histories associated with them.

  2. Genealogy table of the Afnán family members, many of whom were referred to by Mírzá Habíb.

  3. Pages of Hushmand Fatheazam’s diary recorded during his many daily visits with Mírzá Habíb.

Ahang Rabbani



Houston, Texas

March 1999
Acknowledgments

This effort would not have been possible without the loving kindness of the following people. The translator owes an immense debt of gratitude for their help with this enterprise.


Abú’l-Qásim Afnán kindly encouraged me to translate these remarkable narratives of his father. He also provided other valuable information, which appears throughout the book in footnotes and under his name.
Houshmand Fatheazam who, over the years, has encouraged the Afnán family to organize and publish Mírzá Habíb’s narratives. He magnanimously shared some pages of his personal diary for this purpose.
The Bahá’í World Centre kindly reviewed this project and offered beneficial guidance.
The Review Committee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom graciously reviewed and approved this manuscript (along with the forthcoming In the Land
of Refuge) on 20 February 1999.
Dr. Iraj Rabbani, Jan Jasion, Anthony Lee, Maryam Rabbani, Dr. Moojan Momen, and Brent Poirier offered several valuable suggestions.

With great care and efficiency, Alison Marshall read through the entire manuscript and offered many critical improvements. Without her help, this project would have never been completed and she has my eternal gratitude.


Dedication

I beseech Thee, O Thou Who art My Governor and the Possessor of all names, to protect the Afnán, whom Thou hast caused to be related to Thyself, and to whom Thou hast, in this Revelation, shown Thy special favor, and whom Thou hast summoned to draw nigh unto Thee and to turn towards the horizon of Thy Revelation. Withhold not from them, O my Lord, the outpourings of Thy mercy or the effulgence of the Day-Star of Thy grace. Enable them to distinguish themselves amongst Thy people, that they may exalt Thy Word and promote Thy Cause. Aid them, O my God, to do Thy will and pleasure.

Bahá’u’lláh


As a token of gratitude for their resolute labor of love,

this translation is loving dedicated to

the custodians of the House of God in Shiraz:
Khadíjih Bagum

Zahrá Bagum

Áqá Mírzá Áqáy-i-Núri’d-Dín

Mírzá Habíbu’lláh Afnán

Abú’l-Qásim Afnán

In the Name of the One ordained by God as His Proof

amongst those who dwell on earth and in heaven.
O son of My Afnán! Thou art the one who soared in My atmosphere, came before My Countenance, drank the choice wine of My utterance, and attained his true station under My canopy. Verily, I testify that thou hast attained unto the Perspicuous Book. There hath been ordained for thee that with which neither the riches of the world nor the sovereignty of the kings and rulers can compare.

Say: Sanctified art Thou, O my God! I beseech Thee by Thy Name, the Most Glorious - a Name which profoundly frightens those who dispute with Thee - to enable me to attain unto that which hath been revealed by Thy Exalted Pen. I also ask Thee to sustain me in all the worlds of Thy Kingdom and to protect me from the darts of Thy enemies. Thou art the Almighty, the Incomparable, and the All-Bountiful.
Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet

to Mírzá Habíb4



Khátirát-i-Hayát

(Memories of My Life)
By

Mírzá Habíbu’lláh Afnán



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