H-BahaiTranslations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 8, no. 1 (October, 2004)

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Translator’s Introduction

Juan R. I. Cole

Although it has long been known that a network of Azali Babis played a key role in Iran’s Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911, almost nothing has been written about the ideas on revolution of the movement’s leader, Mirza Yahya Subh-i Azal Nuri.  Azal left behind numerous manuscripts, some of which are held in the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, and Princeton University Special Collections.  These have not been studied, and most are recondite works of esoteric spirituality. 

In 1999, as I was going through the microfilm copies at the University of Michigan from the Browne Collection at Cambridge, I came upon an extremely important treatise by  Subh-i Azal.  It is described only obliquely in the printed handlist.  It was written in August, 1895, for the French scholar of Babism, A. L. M. Nicolas.  The treatise combines esoteric (batini) thought on political leadership with modern ideas.  Subh-i Azal says he thinks any leader whose power derives from popular selection or election should rule collectively.  He praises the French republican leader, Leon Gambetta (1838-1882), who distinguished himself during the Franco-Prussian War and devoted himself to helping create the Third Republic in the 1870s.  Gambetta served as prime minister in 1881-1882, just before his death.  

In this manuscript, Subh-i Azal says that it is permissible for the people to remove a tyrannical king, though he urges that it be done without bloodshed if possible.  He goes so far as to say that where a king has lost popular support and therefore becomes especially brutal in his tactics of rule, it is an obligation for the people to remove him.  Azal thus establishes a mandate for republican revolution in the face of despotism, which recalls that of Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine as much as Gambetta.  It surely is this sort of thinking that attracted to him reformist intellectuals such as Jahangir Khan, Malik al-Mutakallimin, Sayyid Jamal-i Isfahani, and other Babi supporters of the Constitutional Revolution in the early twentieth century. 

It is important to note, however, that Subh-i Azal does not support republican government under all circumstances.  Where a king has a divine mandate and is not dependent on public opinion, he seems to say, absolute monarchy becomes a possibility, though it also requires just rule.  He also seems to imply that the best leader would combine in himself both temporal and spiritual leadership, such that he is an Imam.  This may be evidence of his own ambitions.  During the Constitutional Revolution, some Babis wanted to bring Azal to Tehran and make him king.  We are left with a strange amalgam of Isma`ili-like esotericism, approval of monarchy, and radical republicanism.  The treatise may be more consistent than it appears in my reading, however.  So as to begin the process of gaining a better understanding of it, I offer here my translation of the text.

In 2000, I published the manuscript in facsimile at the H-Bahai web site.  Risalih-'i Muluk ("Treatise on Kingship"). University of Michigan, British Manuscript Project, 749 (1) #1. Digitally reprinted. (East Lansing, Mi.: H-Bahai, 2001).  Thereafter, the Bayani community kindly typed it up and donated a pdf file of the work to H-Bahai, where it was also published.  Both are at:

http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/areprint/azal/M-R/M/muluk/muluk.htm

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Treatise on Kingship for A.L.M. Nicolas

 

Mirza YahyaSubh-i AzalNuri

 

trans. Juan R. I. Cole

 

He is the Knowing, the Wise

 

Praise be to God, as He deserves, and blessings and peace be upon those who return peace to him.  And praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds. 

A king is a person who has outward leadership of the people, if he is among the people of external phenomena.  If he is from among the people of hidden realities, then he possesses both the inner and the outer, whenever he is so destined.  At every level, all the servants—even human bodies--need a leader.  Look at human beings.  If they lacked a head, they would lack everything.  Rather, they only exist because they have a head.  Since they have a head, it requires that they have other organs, just as in the limbs of the body.  In their outer being [i.e. society,], command rests with ministers and a vizier, which are analogous to the inner heart and breast, and other organs.  This saying involves a number of sublime matters, but this one is sufficient.

          As for the king in the hidden realm, by this is meant the Lord, the essence of whom creatures can never attain.  Rather, because of the sanctity of his essence, he is purified above being mentioned through this sort of expression.  He ordained this station of [relative] non-existence for his creatures.  Insofar as he enjoys that reality, he is free from these sorts of expressions.

          On another level, by the king is intended the prophets.  Look at the first creation or the first Adam, or those infinite Adams from the beginning that has no beginning.  On every plane, he was a creature, and this first person, by whatever name he is called, is the first king to come into being.  When God created multiplicity, Adam’s “members” and the “body” of his ministers, who are his helpers or children, were brought into being.  From this point of view, he was chosen to be the first soul, the first person, the first one to be a king.  For each person is, in his own world, and in his own house, a leader.  Every human being is, for as long as he is alive, the monarch of his own soul.  Since the king does not subsist by virtue of his own self [i.e. is not divine], for this reason death can conquer him.  When his time expires, he is cut off from his crown and throne and hastens to another world.  But this is another matter, with numerous implications.  Let us leave it to its own heading.

          Yes, that king, on no matter what plane he exists, is first ordained by God, or is the first creature, or is of the infinite creation, which continues to this day.  After the establishment of this sort of kingship, both in negation and in affirmation, both are realized.  In some stations it is passed on from father to son.  On other planes, everyone who is able to do so exercises leadership and conquers by virtue of temporal power.  Look at the human soul.  Sometimes intellect triumphs over the base self, and sometimes the carnal self and its appetites prevail over the human being.   This is the conquest of one soul over another.  Whenever one looks with inner vision, one sees clearly all these matters. 

          In other situations, the people choose the king, just as occurred in the time of Samuel.  The Jewish people chose Saul by their own strenuous efforts.  They wanted a king for themselves, even though that prophet counseled and advised them against it.  They did not listen.  In the end, Saul was ordained for them by the decree of God.  This was from their own struggles, and given their wish, the divine command bestowed on them Saul, who was known as Talut [1 Samuel 10:1,24-25; Qur’an: 2:246-248].  Because his kingship did not derive from his own power, after he rejected the divine decree and grew haughty, it was withdrawn from him and his kingship was negated.   David [was chosen for kingship], and it passed from David to his progeny.  After Solomon, it was devolved on two dynasties, until they died out.  This was also dependent upon the divine command and decree.

          Whenever the power of the king derives from his own self, he becomes a single monarch ruling over the land.  Rather, the approval and consensus of the people gather around him.  After the subjects come to a consensus that he is from God in his external manifestation, they all circle around him, fear him, attend on him under all conditions, and obey him.  If the consensus of the people is lacking, then every royal decree of his shall be broken as can be seen in the kings of this world.  For some subjects deposed their king and formed a republic.  But where the power of that person is unitary, he will never have to step down. 

But true kingship, which pertains to the divine essence, is still and always shall be in its own station.  On the outward plane, the prophets are constant in their sovereignty.  They continue until such time as God changes his sacred law.  At that time, their dispensations are dissipated.  Nevertheless, the sovereignty of the prophets and their religions is everlastingly present in every religion, indeed, in every person who claims to follow those prophets.  In sum, such a one has attained leadership, and passes a few days of his life, according to his belief, being a sovereign, until such time as God raises him up to him.

          Thus, it is established that Adam is the human race, by whatever names he was called.  Since it is clear that he became manifest in the form of a man, naturally on every plane he is fallible.  But God is not his partner in any errors. For, he taught him beauty and ugliness and truth and falsehood, and he learned good and evil.  But his kingship is a result of the divine decree.  And if he remains continually in his position or steps down, or is deposed from it, in each case it is the result of the divine decree.  His cause is exalted with God.  Whenever he is a temporal ruler, his leadership is like that of any other.  If he is among the prophets, his commands and prohibitions are from God, and his kingship is by God’s command, and he is the leader of the people as long as he lives.  After their deaths, some hold that they must continue to be obeyed, and others mention them with their lips, and love for them is continual.

          But the temporal leaders who derive their mandate from popular election, such as the president of a republic, or an emir are chosen as leader from among their fellows—this rank does not exist in the realm of ultimate Reality.  Outwardly, some consider themselves leaders of the people, but in reality they are not.  They do not intrinsically merit it.  Rather, it is merely customary among the people that they are their presidents and they consider them their leaders.

          The power of that [true] sovereign derives from the divine decree and the gathering of the people around him.  God only, however, selects a tyrant for a people that deserves to be oppressed.  At that time, the Lord of the world establishes over them a tyrant who will avenge those who had been oppressed and brutalized.  Such have been some among the temporal rulers.  At that time, the Lord of the world places over such a people a tyrant. so that they might avenge those wronged.--in such a way that the despot does not realize that he is aiding his Lord and avenging the blood of the oppressed upon those who had tormented them.  This is apparent today, and in some stations it is being implemented.  Know for a certainty that the Lord of the world without any doubt knows the tyrant from the good monarch.  Rather, everything he does is for the sake of some wisdom, and he knows more about the final outcome of such matters.

          A king who is from the Eternal Truth is a unified, single essence.  But he does not rule without supporters and generals.  Thus was it in the time of Moses.  One day he gathered the people and issued a decree, and put himself to great trouble that day, and the people proved unable to comply.  “They are scattering my counsel,” he said.  [God]  ordered that chiefs be set over the people.  Matters that were not difficult would be assigned to them, whereas he would deal with grave affairs himself.  Moses accepted that decision and was pleased with it.  For this reason, chiefs and judges were established among the people and continue to this day.

          Where the power of leadership derives from the people, however, it is incumbent that it not be invested in a single individual.   Rather, several persons of distinction who will safeguard the people and the weak must circle around the cause of that sovereign, inform him of the good and the bad, and implement the Quranic verse, “And the affair among them is consultation” (42:38).  For whenever a single person is in power, he drinks wine and engages in drunken brawls, killing subjects--and for the most part rules unjustly.  This same thing occurred among the children of Israel with regard to the king.  His mother forbade him to drink, since if he drank he would not be able to rule properly.  That king complied with his mother’s counsel.

          It is better that there should be a republic, and the elected leader should at least be a person of perfection, devoted to his religion and his nation, as was the case among you with Gambetta, the president of the republic.  Everyone spoke in praise of him.  Whenever such a universally popular person is in power, naturally the people and the state will be as one essence.  Or, if he should have ministers around him, naturally he will be better than others.  When such a person is selected by God, he is, of course, the temporal [pishva] leader and spiritual guide [Imam] of the people.  If he derives his power from the people alone, then he is their chief, but he is not in truth a spiritual leader [Imam] of any people over which he rules.

Or, let us say the people, as a result of their power, elect a person and they show obedience to him, just as they arrogantly made an idol of wood, stone, gold and silver and kissed its hooves, and said, “You created us.” They use the rest of the wood from which they artificially created a god, or from its base, they created "food" and ate of it.  Or he says, “out of half of it I made a god, and from the other half I made food and ate it.”  He would not, however, realize that he had created this god himself and that it only moves when he carries it.  He says, “You created me and you are my Lord.”  Something very like this is [?] recorded in the words of Isaiah.

 

            Whether this king is a child or an old man, and whether he is the choice of the nation or not, in any case he requires ministers.  For, in their absence the order of the realm will be destroyed and all rights will be trampled under foot.  [People] look at the outer reality of a human being and they believe that he is an individual.  But how can a person with no eyes, ears, tongue, arm or leg be a human being?  Even if such a one appeared to be human, what share in life could he have?  Like the rest of the people, he goes through life unseeing and dead, having no share in life, which is true perception.

            Of course, in all these matters insight and awareness are necessary, and much can be said about them.  This discourse is not finished, and God is all-knowing about justice.

            The king may or may not be an oppressor.  If he is not an oppressor, then no matter.  If he is a tyrant, it is necessary to give him advice and counsel.  It is incumbent to avoid him.  It is not permitted to harm him, except at that time when all the people have turned against him and he has no way to flee.  At that time, that leader is like a rapacious beast that will rend human beings limb from limb and crush their bones.  Naturally, expelling him from his position is necessary, but without harming him.

            It is not necessary to kill that person, nor to harm him unjustly in removing him from his position. In the time of David, after the septs of the Jews selected him as king, a person came and affirmed, “I have killed Saul." [2 Samuel 1.]   He briefly summarized, saying that Saul had been wounded and was tired of living.  “He pleaded that I should separate his head from his body.”  Thus did he kill him. “And I give news of it.”  David gave the command that that person be executed.  In accordance with the commandments of honor, he fasted.  He recited elegies in mourning for [Saul] and made mention of him.  He said, he killed the messiah of God.  Even though Saul had ruined conditions for him and inflicted who knows how much harm on him, he nevertheless expressed regret that he had been killed, and executed his assassin.

          The king must deal with his nation and subjects only with goodness, justice, and equity, just as Anushirvan was known for precisely these attributes.  He committed no sort of tyranny. He has some witty sayings.  Know their value and do not commit oppression.  His vizier asked, “Of these, which is the greatest defect?”  He replied, “The first act of tyranny was a small step, but now, look at how widespread it is.”  Whenever a king commits injustice, his followers destroy the entire country.  This was visible in some realms where, after the death of their leader, they looted the kingdom, spreading chaos, and wise counsel was absent.. 

Obviously, the king needs justice and equity so that all the people may find repose under his shadow.  For in ancient times a king  said to his son, “Now I have chosen you, and entrusted the people to you.  Protect them with goodness.  Do not tolerate oppression, and do not depart from what is right.”  His advice and sayings are recorded in the books of history.  Whenever a king is a perfect seeker of justice, the subjects rest in his shadow and God is pleased.  And God knows best concerning those who do good.

          Naturally, subjects must comport themselves toward the king with obedience, sincere intentions, good wishes, and must fulfill their duties toward him.  Thus, in ancient times Abraham gave a tenth of his wealth to the king reigning at that time.  In the Gospel, he (Jesus) said to render unto God what is God’s and unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.  In the Qur’an it was revealed, “Obey God, and obey the messenger and those in authority  (Q. 4:49).  In the Bayan, as well, it is commanded in the same way that one deal with the king of the time in an upright manner.  For a world that lacks a leader will be unstable, just as a person who lacks a head would be unable to live.  Naturally, one must observe obedience to him.

          But when he commits tyranny and transgression one must reply with advice, counsel and admonition, or the ministers must be true and sound.  It should not be as we see today, when our great ones are unjust and our leaders lack grace and nobility.  If they possessed these qualities, God’s poor would not be living  in ruins or risk being tossed out of their homes and houses into the street.    Their heads would nott, for no fault of their own, be targeted by spears, their wives and children would not be taken prisoner, their homes would not be plundered.  God is enough for us, and the best of advocates.

          Land taxes should be collected just as they were in the olden days, not despotically.  It should be as in the West, where the ruler spends a small amount of the proceeds, and the rest is spent on the nation.  This is the correct way, and in Islam, as well, it used to be done this way.  But now things have changed.

          That monarch does not have the right to commit wrongdoing, not even one ounce of it.  He only has the right to lead and to the basic necessities of life, or a little more, not to do whatever he pleases or to tyrannize the people.  I have heard orally from Europeans that if a person forsakes two things, he will attain self-knowledge.  One is not to cut off the heads of the people for no reason.   The second is not to give a thousand golden voices for just one voice.  If he avoids these two action, he will know how to accomplish the rest of his affairs.  Of course, it is obvious that justice and equity are the best attributes.  How many dependents a king has depends on his zeal, but moderation is best.  
          It is obvious that whenever he treats the nation harshly, it is ruined, just as despotic monarchs have formerly done in the world, and they destroyed themselves and their nation.  In ancient times, Nuzar the king sat upon the throne.  He was avaricious and mercurial.  He destroyed his own kingship and Afrasiyab forsook him, and ruled Iran for twelve years.  Then Kayqubad came to the throne with the assistance of Zal.  Afrasiyab fled, and Iran had another turn at independence.  It lasted until the time of Dara, who is called Darius by some authors.  After Darius II the Achaemenid state collapsed.  Thereafter another period of independence ensued, until the time of Yazdigird.  After him turmoil broke out, until a subsequent age.  Its current situation is obvious, and no trace remains of its ancient independence and sovereignty.

          When, in a nation, a despotic ruler grows powerful and the pillars of oppression are erected, it is necessary to effect changes.  Whenever possible, they should employ good counsel and perfect advice to repel oppression.  If they can, they should change the pillars of tyranny and install reformers in the place of the corrupt.  If the despotic king declines to halt the oppression and to change his ministers, then naturally those who are able have the obligation to stop the oppression themselves.  They should not, however, senselessly shed blood or slaughter individuals.  Rather, they should employ advice and divine counsel to defeat those criminals and to change conditions.  For, the power of those tyrants derives from the mob.  Whenever these throngs are scattered, the despot’s power is weakened.  Naturally, in this situation this course of action is more insightful and more prudent.

          For, whenever the world is somewhat oriented toward the truth, God would not delegate sovereignty to a tyrant.  If such a delegation occurs as a result of his foreordaining it, it is not by an irrevocable decree.  For, such a situation has been foreordained, but sometimes such tyrants do not exist.  Consider how the Jews were destroyed at the time of Nebuchadnezzar.  Even though the temple was destroyed, God aided it, as a way of awakening the Jews, just as it is recorded in the words of Jeremiah.  This was also for a solid reason and for the good.  Seventy years after the destruction, by the help of Cyrus the Persian (Kaykhusraw, the descendant of the aforementioned Kayqubad), the temple was rebuilt.  In the course of several reigns, it was completed.  Naturally, every [divine] action has some benefit, and every occurrence is for some improvement.  These souls were sitting, secluded, in a corner.  Whatever God desired, took place.  He knows the tyranny of the tyrant and sees human beings.  It is not that he does not know—even though some might deny God and others affirm his existence. 

We are servants, who have believed in him and his signs, and we do nothing save with his permission.  We depend on him, and his believing servants lean on him.  God, our Lord, is enough for us, and we worship him.  Light be upon those who are patient, and praised be to God, Lord of the worlds.

 

Day of Jalal

3 Rahmat 48