Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Defending the Rights of Baha'u'llah

Most Canadians still know our most famous photographer, Joseph Karsh. He is the guy who took the definitive portrait of Churchill during WWII.

According to the Wikipedia article on Karsh, "The image of Churchill brought Karsh international prominence, and is claimed to be the most reproduced photographic portrait in history." It tells the story of how this famous shot, featured on postage stamps around the world, came into existence.

"Churchill, the British prime minister, had just addressed the Canadian Parliament and Karsh was there to record one of the century's great leaders. `He was in no mood for portraiture and two minutes were all that he would allow me as he passed from the House of Commons chamber to an anteroom,' Karsh wrote in Faces of Our Time. `Two niggardly minutes in which I must try to put on film a man who had already written or inspired a library of books, baffled all his biographers, filled the world with his fame, and me, on this occasion, with dread.' Churchill marched into the room scowling, `regarding my camera as he might regard the German enemy.' His expression suited Karsh perfectly, but the cigar stuck between his teeth seemed incompatible with such a solemn and formal occasion. `Instinctively, I removed the cigar. At this the Churchillian scowl deepened, the head was thrust forward belligerently, and the hand placed on the hip in an attitude of anger.' The image captured Churchill and the Britain of the time perfectly — defiant and unconquerable. Churchill later said to him, `You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.' As such, Karsh titled the photograph, The Roaring Lion."

Now the reason I bring all this up, is that this book by Karsh that the Wiki article mentions, Faces of our Time, is old enough to be remaindered in our Haldimand library's annual book sale, and this summer I picked up a copy. At the time I thought to myself, `Everybody thinks of this angry photo of the great leader as symbolic of his dislike of Nazi injustice, but all it was was childish petulance that somebody had dared take his cigar away.'

I thought nothing more of it until I came across a mention of a photo of the Master with prayer beads in an old Star of the West. The results of that little investigation I blogged yesterday, at:

This includes a large reprint of the photo, as printed in Star of the West in 1919; the shot is more impressive than I expected. It is the only one I know of where the photographer stamped his mark right on the face of the picture, and who asserts his copyright with a ferocity that is almost modern -- fortunately, it is expired by now. Anyway, if you look at the Master's expression, it reminds one of the Churchill picture taken by Karsh. Not that the Master looks angry in the same way, but there is definitely a touch of aggrieved indignation there. Considering that the Master was just leaving America, it is not the expression one would expect on a formal photo. You would think that he would look sad, or compassionate, or nostalgic, but not this. Did He just receive some bad news? Were the frequent betrayals by friends and enemies weighing upon Him?

I got some explanation when I picked up Mahmud's diary and read the entry for that day. The subject of His talk is "defending the rights of Baha'u'llah. Considering the increase of persecution in Iran of the Baha'is, that is a very pressing current issue for Baha'is right now. They just made it legal to murder apostates. Some may wish to retaliate at this injustice. If so, they would do well to read what the Master said on the day of this portrait. I therefore include the entire text of Mahmud's report.

from Mahmud's Diary, pp. 418-420:

Monday, December 2, 1912 

[New York] 

After the Master had finished His morning prayers, the friends began to come to visit Him such that by midday the Master’s residence was filled with people. He went downstairs and spoke to them: 

I have stayed a long time with you in New York. My stay in other towns has not been a tenth as long. I have met with you day and night, individually and collectively; conveyed to you the admonitions of Baha’u’lláh; delivered to you the heavenly glad tidings; and explained the means of human progress. I have elucidated the harmful effects of prejudices and imitations and the impurity of selfish desires, expounded the teachings of Bahá’u’llah and clarified the meanings of the divine proofs and questions.

The time for my departure is near and I am making arrangements for the voyage. Therefore I shall not be able to attend every meeting, so I shall bid you farewell. I am pleased with you and grateful for your services. Truly, you have shown great kindness and extended to me the utmost hospitality. I supplicate to the Kingdom of Baha’u’llah to shower upon you His assistance and confirmations so that day by day you may be more assisted to defend the rights of Baha’u’lláh, that your hearts may become mote enlightened your morals heavenly, your souls transported with joy and your conduct proof of your faith and certitude. May you be in the utmost sanctity, be completely attracted and turned to the Abha Kingdom and become like brilliant lights. May you become evident signs of the Blessed Beauty and proofs of the reality of Bahá’u’lláh so that you may illuminate the world.

And when people look at your deeds and conduct they will see the traces of holiness and severance and will behold heavenly brightness in you and all will testify that ‘these people are truly proofs of the reality of Baha’u’llah’, and that ‘Baha’u’llah is undoubtedly I the Sun of Truth who has educated these people through) His power’. May they see divine lights in your behavior, find the signs of the love of God, observe praiseworthy conduct in you and seek the virtues of the world of man within you. You must each become the proclaimer of truth and shine from the horizon of the world of humanity like brilliant stars.

This is what is meant by defending the rights of Baha’u’lláh; this is the purpose of the Blessed Beauty in suffering afflictions and accepting confinement in the Most Great Prison, He bore all afflictions and difficulties and ascended to the Kingdom of God a prisoner so that we would act according to His teachings and arise and carry out that which is consistent with faithfulness; that we may act upon His exhortation and raise the call of the Abhá Kingdom and proclaim the light of the bounties of truth, so that the waves of the Most Great Ocean may surge high, this world may become the mirror of the world above, this bed of thorns may turn into a flower garden and this region of dust may reflect the All-Glorious Paradise. 

In the afternoon He said: 

We have sown some seeds and hope that the sun of favor will shine upon them, the rain of mercy will pour down, and the breezes of generosity will waft over them, because America has receptivity.

In the evening, He spoke to a gathering of the friends and said:

I supplicate and implore that the clouds of mercy may shower upon you and the Sun of Truth may shine upon you so that you may attain to the purpose of the holy Manifestations of God. This is my supplication because you are the beloved ones of the Blessed Beauty and the servants of the Greatest Name. I undertook this voyage in order to see you and, God willing, you will come to the Holy Land and we shall meet there in that land which was trodden by the sacred feet of the Prophets of God.

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