The Story Behind 'The Followers'

Over the years many Bahá’ís have had the privilege of Pilgrimage to the Mansion of Bahjí and the adjacent building housing the resting place of Bahá'u'lláh, the most recent Prophet of God. Also, a few Bahá’ís have had the bounty of serving at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel.  Even fewer have had the honor and privilege of managing and undertaking maintenance work and repairs at The Mansion of Bahjí and Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and in doing so developing an intimate personal relationship with the most Holy Spot for all Baha’is.  My turn to immerse myself in this privilege came during the 1990s when I served at the Holy Threshold for 6.5 years.

When I read the story about two Bahá’ís who followed Bahá'u'lláh from Akko to Bahjí the night He took up residence in the Mansion I felt compelled to honor these first Bahá’í pilgrims by writing a poem about the event.  My daughter Shadi has put the poem to music in her recently recorded album, Daughters of the Kingdom.    

The Story

The Holy Land was part of the Turkish Empire in September 1878 when Bahá'u'lláh, its noble and illustrious prisoner, took up residence in the Mansion of Bahjí for the remainder of His days on this earthly plane. He was buried there upon His passing in 1892. Bahá'u'lláh stated that Bahjí is the most sublime vision for all mankind. Today Bahjí, its magnificent gardens and Bahá'u'lláh's Shrine, adjacent the Mansion, is the point of adoration and pilgrimage for all Bahá’ís.   

Bahá'u'lláh had been living in another Mansion called Mazareh about 10 kilometres north of Akko. His beloved son and successor, Abdu’l-Bahá was living in Akko. Abdu’l-Bahá rented, and then later purchased the Mansion of Bahjí which is closer and more convenient to Akko. Also, the Mansion’s scale and dimensions were more befitting of Bahá'u'lláh's station.    

As September in the Holy Land is hot and humid any travel movement is best in the early morning or evening. So it was 2 hours after sunset that Bahá'u'lláh and His secretary rode their donkeys through Akko's streets through the land gate of the ancient fortress and on to the Mansion of Bahjí about 4 kilometres away to take up residence.

The story of the events described in the song are to be found in Adib Taherzadeh's 4th volume of his books titled The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. The two Followers, the poet, Nabil-Azam and the historian Haji Muhammad-Tahir-i-Malmiri (who is Adib Taherzadeh's father) were two people enraptured by the sight and presence of Bahá'u'lláh, typical of his followers they were the planets to His sun, captivated in His orbit. They waited by their window overlooking the street near the Akko Land Gate to see him ride by, on the spur of the moment, and without His permission they followed Bahá'u'lláh from Akko to Bahjí keeping a respectful distance.

When he arrived in the Holy Land, Haji Muhammad-Tahir and a fellow pilgrim had delivered a gift from devoted Bahá’ís. It was a special oil lantern with 3 wicks which was placed in the Mansion’s window as a beacon to follow that night. Upon arrival Bahá'u'lláh entered the mansion, so Haji Muhammad-Tahir and Nabil decided to prayerfully circumambulate the mansion. As they proceeded, they realised that “the walls of the Mansion were packed with people” devoted prayerful souls had assembled against the four walls of the Mansion of Bahjí. They heard their murmuring so they moved about 30 paces away and continued to circumambulate in prayer. Since they knew no others would be in their position they concluded that the souls they saw that night were the souls of all the previous Prophets of the past and the Concourse on High whom were also circumambulating the Throne of their Lord. 

They returned home spiritually ablaze, unable to sleep, keeping vigil through the night.  Nabil writing poems about the sights they had witnessed that night and about other events in the life of Bahá'u'lláh. Muhammad-Tahir spent the night in discussion with Nabil about what they had witnessed and making tea to keep them awake. In the morning they sent the poetry and a gift of cones of sugar to Bahá'u'lláh and a message describing the mysterious events they’d witnessed.

My parents in-law, Zoghieh and Yaghoub Toloui (left and middle), visiting the Mansion of Bahjí on Pilgrimage in 1954

When Bahá'u'lláh received the note, poems, and the sugar cones, He revealed a Tablet in their honor and conferred the title of Bulbul (Nightingale) on Nabil and Bahhaj (Blissful) on Muhammad-Tahir. He graciously accepted their Pilgrimage to the mansion.

reasons I wrote the poem 'The Followers'.

  1. I believe it is important to honor the devotion of the Bahá’ís who had the bounty of being in His presence and developed an all-consuming passion towards Bahá'u'lláh.
  2. These two followers were privileged to be the first Bahá’í pilgrims to the most holy spot in our Faith.
  3. Bahá’ís, such as Nabil and Muhammad-Tahir, who gained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh sometimes recounted events which would be regarded as supernatural, paradoxically in a Faith that argues that religion and science must agree. However, there are occasions when exceptions arise and apparently inexplicable, irrational events occur.    
“The early believers who had the inestimable bounty of attaining His presence sometimes witnessed supernatural events at one time or another through His special favours, events which completely overwhelmed their souls and which they recorded in their memoirs. But these may be considered as personal experiences only; they are not valid for others.  
The story of Haji Muhammad-Tahir and Nabil falls into this category. They had the vision in which they saw the souls of the Prophets and the company of the Concourse on High circling around the mansion at the time that Bahá'u'lláh ascended the throne of His sovereignty in that hallowed spot. But such a soul stirring experience is valid for those two privileged souls only. It can never be adduced as conclusive proof of the station of Bahá'u'lláh… If miracles take place they are proof only for those who witness them.  
Those who attained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh with pure hearts and spiritual vision had the bounty of being able to recognize Him through ‘His own Self’.  As a result a result of coming into contact with His Person these believers became a new creation completely detached from the things of this world, intoxicated by the wine of His presence and carried away into new realms of the spirit. They enjoyed such nearness to the Blessed Beauty that they became intimates of His mysteries. Some of them saw glimpses of His hidden glory and power and were awestruck at the revelation of His supreme station.” 
- Adib Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Volume 4, Chapter 7, Page 113.

Bahá’ís believe we are not spiritually equipped to understand the spiritual world our souls enter after we die, nor do we understand the progress of souls in the spiritual afterlife. So we attach the imagery of this world to assist us to appreciate the afterlife. A Bahá’í principle is the divine mystical linkage that exists between all God’s Prophets and other Holy Souls who have progressed to the spiritual world. Bahá’ís accept this principle through their faith in Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá’ís name this collection of Prophets and Holy Souls in the next world the “Concourse on High”.

Written by Paul Toloui-Wallace

Click Here for Lyrics, to Listen and Download 'The Followers'

The Story Behind 'YARAN'

“O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbour. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.” –Baha'u'llah

The lyrics of the song, Yaran, are inspired by the above Hidden Word of Baha'u'llah. The Hidden Words are verses of divine guidance to cause us to reflect on our personal behaviour and treatment of others.  Baha’is worldwide are saddened by the injustice inflicted on the Baha'i's of Iran by the misguided theocracy that governs Iran.  Iran is a nation beloved by all Baha’is and Iranian Baha’is are devoted loyal citizens.

Since the Baha’i Faith was founded in the mid 1800s in Persia (now Iran), Baha’i's have been persecuted for their Faith. However, since the revolution of 1979 persecuting Baha’i's was formally adopted as government policy and Iranian citizens are encouraged to participate. Attacks on Iran’s 300,000 Baha’is go un-prosecuted and unpunished, emboldening the perpetrators.

Below is a list of some of the injustices faced by the Iranian Baha’is, as taken from a report prepared in September 2014 by the Baha'i International Community, United Nations Office titled the “Situation of Baha’is in Iran”

·      Since 1979 more than 200 Baha’is have been killed or executed for their Faith;

·      Since 2005, 710 Baha’is have been arrested and over 100 remain in prison on false charges;

·      This number includes seven Baha’is known as the Yaran;

·      Since 2005, there have been 49 arson incidents on Baha’i owned property;

·      Since 2005, there have been 42 incidents of vandalism at Baha’i cemeteries, including the complete destruction of historic cemeteries in Yazd and Shiraz;

·      Baha’i Holy Places throughout the country have been confiscated and demolished and other Baha’i owned property has been unlawfully appropriated;

·      Baha’is have been murdered and subjected to knife and club attacks in cities and villages;

·      Baha’is in detention have endured torture and beatings;

·      Application for business licenses and jobs are routinely denied to Baha’is;

·      Businesses owned by Baha’is have been forcibly closed and sealed by authorities, including all Baha’i owned businesses in the Provence of Hamadan; 

·      Baha’i owned bank accounts are monitored and reported to the authorities;

·      Baha’i citizens are denied rights to pensions and lawful inheritance;

·      Muslims who associate with Baha’is are intimidated; and

·      There is a complex, systematic assault on young Baha’is in the national education system:

o   All Baha’i schools have been closed;

o   Baha’i children at school are monitored and slandered by teachers;

o   Baha’is in secondary school are pressured and harassed and threatened with expulsion, and expelled for being Baha’i.

o   Religious studies school teachers are known to insult and ridicule Baha’is and their beliefs in front of other students;

o   It is official policy to deny access to Baha’is to public and private colleges and universities;

o   There are Baha’is who become enrolled in universities who were required under this policy to be expelled and arrested;  meanwhile

o   Baha’is continue to peacefully assert their rights to obtain an education.

In Tehran, during March and May 2008, seven Baha’is were arrested at their homes. The five men and two women continue to be held in prison.  The Yaran, as they are now known, served on a voluntary committee known as the “Friends in Iran”. This committee was brought together to coordinate the affairs of the Iranian Baha’i community after the elected Baha’i national body was disbanded by the Government over 30 years ago.  “Yaran” is Farsi and its translation into English means “friends”.  In 2010 the seven were unjustly sentenced to 20 years in prison after a trial that was internationally condemned as flawed.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been routinely shamed by the United Nations and numerous governments, including my own Australian Government. Human rights organisations have prepared reports about Baha’i persecution in Iran and have met with Iranian officials who promise change, statements of which the world is yet to see in practice. 

Baha’is are not alone in this persecution however, other Iranian communities are subjected to the government’s shameless bigotry and also have had their human rights denied. Among these are the Jews, Christians and Sunni Muslims.

In their empathy and concerted belief, Baha’is around the world would gladly swap places with the Yaran. There is an international outcry and support of justice for the Iranian Baha’i Community. All Baha’is pray for the immediate release and swift return of all Baha’i prisoners, including the Yaran, to their families.

The people of Iran deserve better, and I believe the country will, in time, become a beacon of justice for the world.

Written by Paul Toloui-Wallace 

Click Here to Download 'Yaran'