Baha'u'llah's activities in the Ottoman Empire and the Political conditions during that period.

Mehmed Emin Ali Pasha

On September 7, 1871, Mehmed Emin Ali Pasha, the Ottoman Grand Vizier, died. He was the recipient of three Tablets from Bahá'u'lláh, including "Lawh-i-Ra'ís" (not to be confused with "Súriy-i-Ra'ís").
Juan Cole describes some of the political atmosphere in the Ottoman Empire in his "Lawh-i-Fu'ád: notes by Juan Cole".
Of note,
The Tablet of Fuad was written to commemorate the death of Kecicizade Fuad Páshá in Nice of heart trouble, in February, 1869. Therefore it was presumably penned in late winter or early spring of that year, during Bahá'u'lláh's close confinement in the fortress of Acre (Akká). Fuad Páshá was the son of a famed poet, and he himself studied medicine. Although Fuad Páshá is presented in this tablet as a despot, he is remembered in Turkish historiography rather as a reformer. Born in Istanbul in 1815, he was among the foremost planners and implementers of the Tanzimat or reorganization of the Ottoman administration in the nineteenth century so as to bring it closer to modern Western standards. Because of his fluent French, he was able to enter and rise high in the foreign ministry. In 1840 he was first secretary of the Ottoman Embassy in England.
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Fuad Páshá was intimately involved in decisions affecting Bahá'u'lláh. He was grand vizier in 1863 when Bahá'u'lláh was brought from Baghdad to Istanbul, presumably to remove him from close proximity to his followers in Iran and also to investigate whether Babism under his leadership might be politically useful to the Ottomans in the relations with Iran. (In this regard the summoning of Bahá'u'lláh to Istanbul prefigures Abdulhamid II's attempt to use Iranians such as Sayyid Jamálu'd-Din al-Afghani and Mírzá Áqá Khán Kirmani for political purposes vis-a-vis Iran during his campaign for pan-Islam during the 1880s and 1890s). Fuad Páshá must certainly have taken the decision to rusticate Bahá'u'lláh to Edirne (Adrianople) in November of 1863. He was also involved, as grand vizier and then foreign minister, in making the decision to send Bahá'u'lláh to Acre nearly five years later. As a defender of the more secular values of the Tanzimat reforms, Fuad Páshá was probably suspicious (as we know his colleague Mehmet Emin Alí Páshá was) of Babism as an old-style theocratic Mahdist movement that attacked modernity. In 1866 Alí Páshá told the Austrian ambassador in Istanbul that Bahá'u'lláh, then in exile in Edirne, was "a man of great distinction, exemplary conduct, great moderation, and a most dignified figure" and spoke of Babism as "a doctrine which is worthy of high esteem." He went on to say, however, that he still found the religion politically unacceptable because it refused to recognize a separation of religious and temporal authority. From the reformers' point of view a messianic movement such as Babism, whatever its virtues, threatened the achievements of the Tanzimat by seeking to put all authority, religious and secular, back in the hands of a charismatic spiritual leader. I would argue that, ironically, Bahá'u'lláh was moving away from a theocratic model toward one that acknowledged the autonomy of the civil state, and that there was a convergence between his thought and the Tanzimat that, tragically, the Ottoman state was unable to grasp because of Babism's previous reputation as a vehicle for radical theocracy.
Around the fall of 1867, Bahá'u'lláh in Edirne wrote a letter (The Tablet of the Kings or Súrat al-Mulúk) apostrophizing the world's rulers, in which he addressed Ottoman cabinet officials and to Sultan Abdulaziz. Bahá'u'lláh therein disavows any theocratic or mahdist pretensions, denying that he wishes to lay hold on the worldly possessions of these high officials, and insisting that he is not in rebellion against the Ottoman Sultán. He does say that Sultán AbdulAzíz should be grateful to God for having made him "Sultán of the Muslims," and calls him the "shadow of God on earth." He thus underlines that the civil state derives its ultimate authority from God, but that Bahá'u'lláh's coming does not challenge in any way its authority, since he wishes only to give ethical and spiritual counsel.
We do not know if the Tablet to the Kings actually was sent to the Sublime Porte, though that seems likely. Its attempt at conciliation, in any case, failed. By spring of 1868 Sultan Abdulaziz and his cabinet, in reaction to AzAlí complaints and the importuning of the Iranian ambassador, had decided to exile Bahá'u'lláh and his companions from Edirne to Acre. Grand Vizier or First Minister Alí Páshá and Foreign Minister Fuad Páshá were intimately involved in this decision, which had implications for the Ottoman Empire's relations with Iran and also had the potential to raise protests from the European ambassadors concerned about freedom of conscience. But the motives for taking this step among the high Ottoman elite probably differed. Fuad and Alí could have cared less about Islamic orthodoxy, but they wanted to please Iran for reasons of Realpolitik. Ironically, they may also have worried about the Bábís as Muslim critics of their autocracy. The Islamic backlash against the secularizing Tanzimat reforms had taken two forms. One was the reactionary critique by the conservative Ottoman Muslim clergy (ulema), which had been implicated in the 1858 Kuleli revolt against the Westernizing government. Many of Bahá'u'lláh's statements in his letters to the Ottoman state, calling it back to God, and critiquing its secularizing principles, could have been read as belonging in this reactionary tradition. The other Islamic response was that of the Young Ottomans, a society founded in 1865, who combined an interest in Islamic mysticism and culture with an Ottoman nationalism and a commitment to parliamentary governance and civil rights. Many of these individuals were government translators and had a good knowledge of European languages and of the Enlightenment tradition of thinking about government and rights. One of these was named Sadik [Sadiq] Effendi, and he almost certainly met Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá in the fortress of Acre (Akká).
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This fascinating glimpse into the cultural and political situation of the Ottoman empire in 1868 provides obvious further context to Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of Fuad. It suggests, for one thing, that predictions of the Sultán's downfall, such as Bahá'u'lláh made in that Tablet, were not unusual but rather were commonplaces of the religious discourse of the time. Second, it shows how a mosque preacher at the time might get enough Western education to be considered a member of the effendi (Westernized secretary) class, and how such men were mixing an Islamic critique of what they saw as Fuad and Ali's extreme Westernization with an Enlightenment critique of their top-down, highly authoritarian approach to government. I suppose there is a parallel between the `republicanism' of these Muslim Young Ottomans and the similar pro-republican stance that the American Baptists took during the 1776 revolution. Third, and most suggestive of all, the French periodical describing Sadik Effendi's exile to the Fortress of Akká is dated Feb. 28, 1869!! It seems to me almost certain that he interacted with the Bahá'ís also imprisoned in the fortress, and while Bahá'u'lláh had his own reasons to condemn Fuad Páshá, his likely dialogue with Young Ottoman thought of the time is probably part of the picture. Note that at that moment, Young Ottomans like Namik Kemal were in exile in London, calling for British-style parliamentary governance in the Ottoman empire, and that Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet to Queen Victoria, written in Akká sometime 1868-1869 also did. It is not impossible, in fact, that Sadik Effendi was able surreptitiously to correspond with other Young Ottomans who reported developments to him.
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Now Bahá'u'lláh turns to a prophecy similar to but more specific than his jeremiads in the Tablet of the Premier (Súrat ar-Ra'ís) addressed to Alí Páshá. Speaking with the voice of God (using the royal "we"), Bahá'u'lláh predicts that Alí Páshá, then grand vizier, will be deposed (the verb is 'azala, which is used of deposing kings). He says, too, that God will "lay hold" (the verb is akhadha, to take, seize) of Sultán AbdulAzíz (he is called amiruhum, literally, "their prince" or "their commander"). Although Bahá'u'lláh was correct that neither of these powerful men had long at the top in 1869, his prophecy, if taken literally, actually reverses their true fates. Alí Páshá was never deposed, but rather died in office in 1871. It was Sultán AbdulAzíz who was deposed, in the Constitutional Revolution of spring, 1876, shortly after which he committed suicide. Obviously, if Bahá'u'lláh had merely meant to predict that eventually these two men would die, then the prophecy was not very remarkable. Rather, he seems to have believed that Alí Páshá would fall from the Sultán's favor, and that some dramatic event would overtake the Sultán. Even contemporaries such as Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, who became a Bahá'í in 1876 on hearing of the Sultán's fall, had demanded that the latter meet some extraordinary fate before he would accept that the prophecy in the Tablet of Fuad had been fulfilled. Taken together with Bahá'u'lláh's prediction in the Tablet of the Premier that turmoil would overtake the Ottoman empire and his advocacy from his early Acre years of parliamentary democracy, he does seem to have been prescient about the imminence of the First Constitutional Revolution). Indeed, the matter of Alí Páshá never being deposed seems minor in comparison.
It is important to note how political Bahá'u'lláh's statements in this tablet are, and how candidly seditious. Any published or openly circulated criticism of the Sultán and his ministers, who still presided over an absolute monarchy despite their moves toward cabinet government, was strictly forbidden and punishable by death. Had the Tablet of Fuad fallen into Ottoman hands, it could well have led to Bahá'u'lláh's summary execution. As noted above, the only other group that engaged in a similar critique of Fuad Páshá and Alí Páshá, charging them with being overly authoritarian and arguing that the Tanzimat abandonment of spirituality had gone too far, while working for British-style parliamentary governance, was the Young Ottomans (as noted above). This group of intellectuals, many of whom had a Western education and who were well aware of the U.S. Bill of Rights and the French Rights of Man, had a more mainstream political style than did Bahá'u'lláh. But despite his Miltonian imagery, his prophetic rhetorical style, and his Bábí passion, by 1869 Bahá'u'lláh was advocating a political program in the Ottoman Empire and Iran that differed very little from that of Young Ottomans such as Namik Kemal. (In his Tablet to Queen Victoria of 1868 or 1869, he advocated parliamentary rule, another value that was strictly prohibited in Ottoman political discourse). The stark Bahá'í turn to political quietism from the 1930s has resulted in a view of Bahá'u'lláh that reads back into his period the later skittishness about politics, a view made possible only by ignorance of Ottoman imperial policy of the time with regard to politics and censorship. The Tablet of Fuad is as radical a document in its own time as Tom Paine's revolutionary pamphlets were.
The last part of the Tablet of Fuad appears to contain a condemnation of Mírzá Yahyá Subh-i Azal (d. 1912), Bahá'u'lláh's half-brother and a widely recognized leader of the Bábís, with whom Bahá'u'lláh was in competition for the leadership of the Bábí community. Despite the disadvantages of his confinement in the fortress of Acre, Bahá'u'lláh appears to have been already well on the way to winning over most of the Bábís by his assertion that he was the promised one of the Báb. Finally, there is a passage about God having seized or taken "al-Mahdi." The Mahdi is, of course, the Islamic promised one who is expected to fill the world with justice after it had been filled with injustice. I am not sure whether this is an ironic way of referring one last time to Fuad Páshá, or whether it is the name of an enemy of Bahá'u'lláh's who had recently died. "Mihdí" is a common Iranian personal name. Khazeh Fananapazir has wrote to me that this Mahdi was in fact an Azali, and was the recipient of the Kitáb-i Badí` (The Book of Wonder), Bahá'u'lláh's major apologia to the Bábís. This Mihdí was in the circle of Sayyid Muhammad Isfahani, and had written a fierce denunciation of Bahá'u'lláh.
The Tablet of Fuad was called by Baron Rosen a "victory hymn" in celebration of an enemy's death. This is an apt description, but this short piece is much more than that. It condemns the autocratic leadership style of the Tanzimat men, with their vision of modernization dictated from above. It playfully pokes fun at their increasing secularization by depicting one of them at the gates of hell surrounded by vengeful angels, who strike him down for his impudence, taunt him for his unbelief and his despotic deeds, and unceremoniously dump him into the inferno. Fuad Páshá is lambasted as more of a tyrant than Pharaoh, and the entire Ottoman state is thus painted with the same brush. The issues of rights and due process are also key to this tablet. Fuad's crime is to condemn the Bahá'ís to imprisonment without proof of any wrongdoing on their part. Because of their iniquity and despotism, the top three officers of the Ottoman state are here consigned to unpleasant ends. Fuad Páshá suddenly dies at a relatively young 53 or 54, far from home and from his loved ones. The deposition of Alí Páshá is predicted. And it is said that God would lay hold upon the Sultán. The correspondence between their mistreatment of Bahá'u'lláh and his companions and their actual or predicted fates posited in this tablet recalls the conviction among Sufi leaders that the fates of kings and dynasties depend upon how well they treat the mystic masters, and, of course, it echoes the sermons and newspaper articles of progressive Muslim Ottoman dissidents who also predicted an early end to the reign of Sultán AbdulAzíz. But in going on to specify actual mechanisms for the redress of such injustices, such as adoption of a rule of law, the safeguarding of individual rights, and parliamentary governance, Bahá'u'lláh makes his jeremiads against the Ottoman pharaohs much more than mere theological gloating, imbuing them instead with importance for the history of thinking about human rights and democracy in the modern Middle East.

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