Amazing Grace


View from Baha'u'llah's cell window

A couple of months ago, I went to see the movie Amazing Grace and loved it. I was inspired to write a pamphlet telling people about how Baha'u'llah praised Queen Victoria for abolishing the slave trade. Here's what I wrote and distributed.

Amazing Grace

"Lay aside thy desire, and set then thine heart towards thy Lord, the Ancient of Days. We make mention of thee for the sake of God, and desire that thy name may be exalted through thy remembrance of God, the Creator of earth and heaven. He, verily, is witness unto that which I say. We have been informed that thou hast forbidden the trading in slaves, both men and women. This, verily, is what God hath enjoined in this wondrous Revelation. God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee, because of this. He, verily, will pay the doer of good his due recompense, wert thou to follow what hath been sent unto thee by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed."

Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i religion, in a letter to Queen Victoria, circa 1868

A prisoner’s letter to a queen

In the mid-to-late 1860s, an Iranian nobleman known as 'Baha'u'llah' (Glory of God) paced up and down a stone-walled cell on the upper floor of an ancient citadel. The cell's glassless windows offered views out over the Mediterranean Sea and down into the little port-city of Akka. But Akka wasn't any old port-city in the Ottoman Empire; it was also a prison-city - the place to which the Ottomans banished their most notorious criminals and their most pressing political and religious threats.

In claiming to be the founder a new religion, beyond Islam, Baha'u'llah was without doubt a serious religious threat. In 1868, he and his family were suddenly rounded up at their home in Edirne, Turkey, and transported by sea to Akka. To prevent Baha'u'llah from having any further influence in Ottoman territory, the authorities kept him in near solitary confinement for two years. He was allowed to see only his family, who occupied cells next to his.

But the aim of eliminating Baha'u'llah's influence altogether was not successful. Baha'u'llah's letters were smuggled out to correspondents all over the Middle East and to world leaders in both the East and West. Among them was a letter for the powerful British monarch - Queen Victoria.

Why did Baha'u'llah write to Queen Victoria?

Baha'u'llah wrote to tell Queen Victoria that he was the Promised One foretold in the Gospels. "He, in truth, hath come unto the world in His most great glory, and all that hath been mentioned in the Gospel hath been fulfilled."

He asked her to put aside self-interest, examine his claim with an open mind, and turn her heart toward him so that she might "become acquainted with that which hath been revealed in the Books and Tablets by the Creator of all mankind."

The slave trade and democracy

In the letter, Baha'u'llah took the opportunity to praise Queen Victoria for two of her country’s achievements: firstly, abolishing the slave trade and, secondly, establishing parliamentary democracy.

"We have been informed that thou hast forbidden the trading in slaves, both men and women… God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee, because of this." Baha’u’llah pointed out to her that this law was consistent with the laws he had instituted for his new religion: "It is forbidden you to trade in slaves, be they men or women. It is not for him who is himself a servant to buy another of God’s servants."

He also praised her for "entrust[ing] the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people." He went on to say that she had done well for "thereby the foundations of the edifice of thine affairs will be strengthened, and the hearts of all that are beneath thy shadow, whether high or low, will be tranquillized." He counselled the representatives to be trustworthy and just and to consider themselves representatives of "all that dwell on earth".

{amazon id='0231110812'}

Queen Victoria’s response

It is reported that Queen Victoria’s response was: "If this is of God, it will endure."

To learn more

To learn more about Baha'u'llah and his teachings, see www.whoisbahaullah.com.

To read the full text of Baha'u'llah’s letter to Queen Victoria, see: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/SLH/slh-8.html.

For an academic treatment of Baha'u'llah's views on democracy, separation of church and state, collective security and the like, see Juan Cole: Modernity and the Millennium. The Genesis of the Baha'i Faith in Nineteenth-Century Middle East. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Go to the original blog entry...