H-BahaiTranslations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 7, no. 1 (March, 2003)

A Sermon on the Art of Governance

(Resāle-ye Sīyasīyyah)



Translated by Sen McGlinn

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Translator’s foreword

This translation was prepared under the supervision of Professor J. ter Haar, and with the assistance of Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, both of the Department of Persian at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. I have drawn heavily on an English translation by Juan Cole that has been published electronically in Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 2, no. 2 (May, 1998) and on an unpublished translation into French by H. Dreyfus. The present provisional translation is intended for general use in the Bahā’ī community. The Persian source used is the typeset Persian text printed in Tehran by Muhammad Labīb in 1935. This has been checked against the 1893 Bombay lithograph edition in the hand of Mushkin-Qalam. Both published versions are divided into sections, which have been indicated in the translation.

Cole’s English title for the work is `Abdu'l-Bahā's “Treatise on Leadership,” while Dreyfus has chosen La Politique. I have chosen the title A Sermon on the Art of Governance, where ‘governance’ is in the first place God’s leading and guiding of the human race, the Divine governance, which operates through two ‘powers’, the religious and the political. But it is also governance in the conventional sense, since much of the book is devoted to the relations between the government and the people.

The Persian original is certainly best appreciated when read out loud. Many sections of the Resāle-ye Sīyasīyyah are written in exhortatory style, in rhyming Persian prose with a declamatory rhythm. Sections with a strong cadence and rhyme alternate with prose, while analysis and scriptural quotations alternate with historical illustrations. The overall effect of the original is of a persuasive Persian sermon in high rhetorical style.

Two sentence structures dominate the more rhetorical sections. The first is a simple pair of rhymed phrases, the rhyme usually falling on the verbs which typically come at the end of each phrase:

            chūn be-maqsūd-e khīsh muvafaq shodand

                        rasm-e degar pīsh gereftand 

            And when their strategy was succeeding

                        they presented another plan.

The second consists of two phrases which share a single simple verb, placed between them rather than in its usual place at the end of the sentence. The verb has to be read implicitly in the second phrase, and so links the two elements:


ma`amūra-ye īrān vīrān        shod       wa dīhīm-e jahānbānī maqar o sirīr-e dīvān

            The cultivated lands of Persia were laid to waste:

                        demons reclined on the throne of the kings.

The structure of the language, with the sustained use of two-part sentences and the frequent use of paired synonyms, reflects `Abdu’l-Bahā’s theme: that God’s guidance for the world acts through a two-fold order, religious and political. In his words, “This prohibition and prevention, rules and restraints, leading and impelling, is divided into two types.”

In the hope of giving the reader at least an impression of the literary quality of the original, parts of the translation have been presented as free verse, usually in pairs of short lines. This is not to say that the verse sections of the translation correspond exactly to those in the original: at some points where `Abdu’l-Bahā continues in high poetry, his translator has been obliged to descend into prose. I have not found any way of reflecting the alternation of Arabic and Persian terms, with some sections drawing on the Persian ideal of kingship, and others drawing their terminology from Islamic thought on governance.

`Abdu’l-Bahā employs many quotations and allusions from the Qur`ān and Islamic traditions, and from Persian and Arabic poetry. Some of these have been identified, with the aid of many friends, and further assistance with this would be greatly appreciated.

The background and audience of the Sermon on the Art of Governance

‘Abdu=l-Bahā wrote his Sermon on the Art of Governance in 1892, had it copied in a fine hand by Mushkin-Qalam, and sent it to Bombay where it was published in 1893.[1] This is just after the period of the >Tobacco Protest=, which had demonstrated the political power of the ‘ulamā. From a tablet which is included below as a preface to the main text, it is evident that ‘Abdu=l-Bahā sought to have it published again in 1907, when Iran was again in political chaos as the period of constitutional government came to an end. However the Sermon on the Art of Governance does not contain specific references to the events or personalities of the time. ‘Abdu=l-Bahā seeks rather “to briefly clarify the most basic fundamentals of the divine teachings,” setting out the principles underlying the relationship between religion and politics (in the broad sense) and between the government and the people. These teachings are as relevant today as they were when the text was written, certainly in Iran, but also elsewhere.

            It is not necessary to consider the history of the Tobacco Protest extensively here: the details are available for example in Nikki Keddie’s Religion and Rebellion in Iran: The tobacco Protest of 1891 – 1892.[2]  They will be outlined only so far as they help to explain the audience for whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahā  wrote. The reader will note that ‘Abdu’l-Bahā  addresses his treatise to ‘the Friends of God’, and cites texts from Bahā’u’llāh as evidence that religious leaders should not be directly involved in politics, but also that his argument draws on texts from the Qur‘ān and from Islamic traditions, and much of it seems to be addressed also to the ‘ulamā of Iran and the court. So the question of audience needs to be addressed.

The background to the Tobacco Protest was an Iranian state which suffered from chronic disorganisation, a shortage of funds, and inflation due to financial mismanagement. In 1890 the Mullahs in Tehran had begun to preach publicly against the Shāh. At the same time, reformers in Iran and in exile were publishing newspapers and distributing pamphlets calling for the end of the absolute monarchy. The immediate cause of unrest was a concession, which Nāsiru’d‑Din Shāh granted to a British entrepreneur, Major Talbot in March 1890, in return for royalties to be paid to the Shāh. This was only one of many such concessions granted mainly to Russian and British interests, including one to run the state bank. The tobacco concession gave Major Talbot a complete monopoly over the production, sale and export of tobacco. As the details of the agreement became public, and particularly as the company’s agents began their work in Iran the Spring of 1891, a storm of protest arose. One centre of opposition was Shiraz, where a leading Mullah, Sayyid Ali Akbar, preached against the sale of the tobacco monopoly to foreigners. He was expelled from Iran and went to Iraq to see a prominent reformer, Jamāl al-Dīn Afghāni. Sayyid Ali Akbar was a close relative of the most prominent Shi‘ah cleric of the time, Mirza Muhammad Hasan Shīrāzī, the sole marja‘ at-taqlīd, or exemplary guide in matters of practice, for all of twelver Shi‘ism.[3] At Sayyid Ali Akbar’s urging, Afghāni wrote a long letter to Shīrāzī[4] condemning the Shāh in the most biting terms, and saying that the Persians were being made desperate by oppression but lacked a leader. He tells Shīrāzī that the people and ‘ulamā of Iran were waiting only for a word from him to act:

God hath set thee apart for this supreme vice-gerency, to represent the Most Great Proof, and hath chosen thee out of the true communion, and hath committed to thy hands the reins to control the people conformable to the most luminous Law .. He hath entrusted to thee the care of those weighty interests whereby the people shall prosper in this world and attain happiness hereafter. ... He hath assigned to thee the throne of authority ...” “How then can it beseem one on whom God hath bestowed such power as this to be so chary of using it ...

In this letter, Shirāzī is addressed in the most laudatory terms, as the “most mighty Pontiff.” Afghānī also wrote a similar letter addressed to the ‘ulamā of Iran, and both letters were printed and distributed from London.[5] Another letter in Arabic, in which he asks Shīrāzī to order the Iranian people to depose the Shāh, was published in Istanbul.[6]

There appears to have been a decided policy among the reformers to seek the involvement of the ‘ulamā in order to mobilise popular support for their programme. Another of the reformers, Mīrzā Malkum Khān, wrote in the newspaper Qānūn “Why should the spiritual leader of sixty million Shi‘is [i.e., Shirāzī] sit trembling and hidden in the corner of some outlandish village? Why should not the legitimate head of the community of God be superior to all worldly princes?”[7]  In Tabriz, wall-posters made threats against any of the ‘ulamā who might refuse to cooperate with the protest against the tobacco concession, and also threatened Europeans and Iran’s Armenian Christian minority with death. The Mujtahid of Tabriz is said to have threatened to launch a jihād.[8] At the same time, the Tobacco Corporation was giving large bribes to some of the leading ‘ulamā to persuade them not to join the protest.[9]

            At this point, a telegram was received in Irān, purportedly from Shīrāzī, which condemned the interference of foreigners, concessions such as the bank, tobacco and railroad concessions, and the expulsion of Sayyid Ali Akbar.[10] In Isfahan, two of the leading Mullahs organised demonstrations, and preached that all tobacco was religiously unclean. One of these Mullahs was Āqā Muhammad Taqi Najafi Isfahānī, whom Bahā’u’llāh had addressed in a book called “The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.” With a fine irony, ‘Abdu’l-Bahā quotes from this book in section 9 of the Sermon on the Art of Governance, without saying to whom it was addressed. At one of the demonstrations in Isfahān, those present swore that they would stop smoking. The Isfahān ‘ulamā apparently wrote to Shīrāzī for support, and rumours spread that he had ordered a consumer boycott. In December 1891 a fatwa or legal opinion, purportedly from Shīrāzī, was circulated. It directed all believers to abstain from smoking. As a result, the tobacco boycott quickly spread from Isfahan to the rest of the country. Doubts have been expressed about the authenticity of this fatwa: the evidence appears to be conflicting. Keddie suggests that it may have been written by Mīrzā Hasan Āshtiyānī, the leader of the ‘ulamā in Tehran.[11] A later fatwa in Shīrāzī’s name, calling for a jihād, was certainly fraudulent, but some people responded by arming themselves.[12] At the end of December, the Shah gave in, and cancelled the tobacco concession.

            Afghānī’s machination did not stop, however. In 1892 he addressed appeals to the ‘ulamā, calling on them to depose the Shāh, as a means of annulling all of the agreements that the Shāh had made with foreign companies. “If you protectors of the faith oppose him with righteousness, and men know that to obey this (wicked man) is unlawful according to the religion of God ... they will all hasten and upset the throne of his deceit .... You are the protectors of the Nation and the supporters of the Faith ... to War! ... to War!” [13] It is hard not to see a reference to this appeal to the ‘ulamā in section 19 of the Sermon on the Art of Governance. Afghānī was assisted in his attempts to mobilise the ‘ulamā to depose the Shāh by Mīrzā Āqa Khān Kirmānī, a politically active Azali Bābī, and by Mīrzā Malkum Khan, a complex figure known both as a moderniser and as one of the leading advocates and beneficiaries of granting concessions to foreign investors.[14]

The Sermon on the Art of Governance may in part be read as an address by ‘Abdu’l-Bahā  to the Bahā’īs and Bābīs, warning them not to become involved in the continuing efforts of these figures to mount a revolution against the Shāh. But it is also in part addressed to the `ulamā, and particularly to Shīrāzī, arguing that they should not accept the authority to direct the worldly affairs of the nation, which the ‘reformers’ were endeavouring to thrust upon them. Where Afghānī had asked Shīrāzī to adopt a position analogous to the Pope, to become a prince of this world, ‘Abdu’l-Bahā  presents an ideal model of the `ulamā as humble, disdainful of worldly pomp, and devoted to the spiritual welfare of the people. But this requires some further explanation, since ‘Abdu’l-Bahā  rests his argument not only on the Qur`ān and Islamic traditions, but also on Bahā’u’llāh’s Kitāb-i `Ahd and Treatise to the Son of the Wolf. One might well think that the use of texts by Bahā’u’llāh would rule out an audience among the Shī`ah `ulamā.

            We have seen above that the efforts by reformers to enlist the `ulamā in a struggle against the concessions, and later against the Shāh, focussed particularly on Muhammad Hasan Shīrāzī (1815-1895), known as Mīrzāy-i Shīrāzī, who as the sole marja‘ at-taqlīd of the time, and bearing also the titles of Āyatu’llāh and Hujjatu’l-Islām, was the leading Shi‘ah cleric of his day. Shīrāzī, however, was a secret Bābī and later Bahā’ī. He was a second cousin of the Bāb, and was converted to the new Faith in his youth, when he met the Bāb in the house of Manūchihr Khān in Isfahan.[15] Thus the man whom the reformers were prompting to assume the position and political powers of the pope and leader of  the Shi‘ah community, was a secret Bābī, and by this time apparently also a Bahā’ī.[16]

The situation facing Shīrāzī was even more complicated than this, for it will be recalled that the Bāb had made tobacco and all instruments connected with it haram, forbidden.[17] Implicitly, this means that the trade in tobacco was already “forbidden to believers” – to Bābī’s that is. On the other hand, Bābī and Bahā’ī teachings endorsed free trade, and the tobacco monopoly and other monopolies granted to European investors were restraints on free trade. Moreover, the boycott was at least a peaceful way of opposing the monopolies, and in a climate in which violence against Europeans and jihād were being threatened, it may have appeared the lesser evil.

            On the side of the ‘reformers’, while Afghānī was certainly not a Bābī, some of his followers were. In Nikkie Keddie’s words:

An interesting, if obscure, footnote to the story of the tobacco protest is the role played by the Azali branch of the Bābī sect, many of whose members engaged in oppositional political activity in this period and through the time of the Constitutional Revolution. Azali Bābīs were among the editors of Akhtar and among Sayyed Jamāl ad-Dīn al-Afghānī’s followers, and there were also Bābīs among the group arrested for sedition in Tehran in the spring of 1891, though some at least of these were of the Bahā’ī branch. Already at this time there was a decisive political split between the oppositional Azalis and the quietist Bahā’ī branch of the Bābīs, which continued through the Constitutional Revolution. The concern of the Bahā’īs to dissociate themselves from the opposition is indicated by a report from Lascelles in February, 1892, saying that the Amin os-Soltān had stressed that:

... all the enemies of the Persian Government had taken the opportunity of the opposition to the Tobacco Corporation to join together in an attempt to overthrow the Government of the Shah. Among these enemies of the Government the sect of the Babis is not the least influential element.

The Amin-es-Sultan has been careful to explain to me that the Babis are divided into two branches, one of which, the Bahais, are inoffensive, and abstain from any interference in the affairs of State; whereas the other branch, known as the Azelis, seek for the destruction of all existing institutions, and are similar to the Nihilists in Russia.

His Highness has communicated to me a letter addressed to him by the exiled Babis belonging to the Baha branch, who are living at Bombay, expressing their loyalty to the Shah, and pointing to the Sayyid Jmal-ud-Din (sic) and his followers as the fomenters of trouble and disaffection.[18]

From the above we can see that Shirāzī, and other leading `ulamā, reformers and journalists who were Bābīs, Azalīs or Bahā’īs, found themselves in a complex web, in which various actors would be pulled in different directions by their attitudes to the Shāh and political reform, to tobacco itself, free trade, and European dominance, to Azal and Bahā’u’llāh, and by their shared desire for progress and modernisation (however differently they may have conceived that).

Finally, the Sermon on the Art of Governance is in part addressed to the Shāh and his ministers, and was in fact presented to the Shāh and leading notables.[19] An anonymous researcher has pointed out that Mirza badi` Bashrü’ī, who visited Haifa in November 1915, records in his notes that Häjī Mirza Haydar `Alī told him that the book was revealed in response to a question addressed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahā by Mirza `Alī Asghar Khān, who was serving as the chancellor in 1893. The chancellor wanted to know “to what extent the interference of the `ulamā in politics is permitted and reasonable.”[20] There is no reason to doubt that the chancellor did ask ‘Abdu’l-Bahā for his opinion, given the publication of the letters from Afghānī to Shīrāzī which were mentioned above. But from the contents of his reply, it is clear that this was not the primary audience ‘Abdu’l-Bahā had in mind.

In addressing the audience at court, ‘Abdu’l-Bahā’s purpose was on the one hand to make it clear that the Bahā’īs had nothing to do with those Azalī’s who were involved in attempts to mount a revolution, and on the other hand to point out that, although the `ulamā had for a generation been telling the Shāh that the new religion was a threat and should be suppressed, it was actually other ‘parties’ that threatened the throne – implicitly referring not only to the reformers, but to some leading anti-Bahā’ī `ulamā such as Âqā Muhammad Najafi.

The complexity of the audience explains why ‘Abdu’l-Bahā sometimes addresses himself to the ‘Friends of God’ with references to Bahā’u’llāh’s writings, and sometimes uses Qur`ān and hadīth references, and employs a style that would be not be out of place if read from the pulpit of the mosque on a Friday. We can also see why he is careful to distinguish the principle of the institutional separation of the religious and political spheres from anti-clericalism.

                                                                        Leiden, March 2003


[On a page preceding the main text in the 1935 (Tehran) edition, we find the following:]

In one of `Abdu'l-Bahā’s tablets he states:

The Sermon on the Art of Governance was completed fourteen years ago, copied in the hand of Mushkīn-Qalam, and printed and distributed in India. This treatise is sure to be available in Tehran, but I am sending one copy. You may show it to the people at large, because the treatise describes the present widespread damage, corruption and discord in the clearest terms. The treatise outlines the sacred rights of government, and the rights of the people that are to be respected, as well as the relationship between the shepherd and the flock, the ties between the governor and the governed, and the necessary relations between the leader and the led. This is the method and course of these exiles, the path of these innocent victims. Peace be on those who have followed the right path.[21]

`Abdu'l-Bahā Abbas, 11 Jumādī ul-awwal, 1325 [22 June 1907]

[The following publication details are given by Muhammad Labīb, in part below this tablet, in part at the bottom of the last page:]

In accordance with the permission of the Central Spiritual Assembly, on the basis of an authentic copy printed in India.

BE 91 [1935].

Published (by Muhammad Labīb) in Tehran.

*** 1 ***

He is God.

All praise and thanksgiving be to God, who has made the appearance of the sacred perfections of the human realm the foundation of his creation, so that the hidden Godhead may be manifested on the plane of perception, in the form of distinctions and signs, Decrees and Acts, essences and secrets. Thus the rays of the reality of the saying, I was a hidden treasure and desired to be known[22] may dawn on the horizon of the visible world.

And all praise and glorification are due to that exalted reality of grandeur who is the sun of truth in the divine world, the most great luminary of the human realm, the seat of the manifestation of the Merciful, and the dawning‑place for the signs shining from the presence of the One Being. Through his appearance, the secret of I created the creation, so that I might be known has been confirmed on the plain of Witness.

You see the earth lifeless: when we let rain descend upon it, it stirs and swells, and produces plants from all the pairs, causing rejoicing.[23]

*** 2 ***

In these days and times, certain events that are contrary to all religious laws, things that destroy human institutions and undermine the divine edifice,[24] have been brought about by some ignorant, foolish people and by rebels and those who love discord. They have taken God's clear Faith as a pretext and have stirred up a seditious commotion. They have dishonoured the people of Iran in the eyes of all the nations of the world.

Gracious God! They claim to be shepherds, but have the characters of wolves; they recite the Qur'ãn, and wish to behave like wild animals. They have a human form, but they prefer the manners of beasts. And when it is said to them, “Do no mischief on the earth” they say, “We only want to make peace”  Truly, they are the ones who make mischief, but they do not realise it.[25] Therefore it has become necessary to briefly clarify the most basic fundamentals of the divine teachings to remind the friends to be alert and watchful.

*** 3 ***

It is evident, and indisputable, that all beings, in their inherent disposition and natural created form, possess the power and capacity to manifest two kinds of perfections. One is inborn perfections: these are solely the divine creation, without any intermediary. The other kind is acquired perfections, which are dependant on the education of a true Master. Consider the things that exist in this world: the trees, flowers and fruits contain an inherent freshness and delicacy which is solely the gift of God. In addition to this, there is a vigour in growth and an indescribable sweetness of flavour that become evident through the attentions of a careful gardener. For, if left to itself, the garden would turn into jungle and undergrowth. The flowers and blossoms would not open, the tree would give no fruit and would be fit for burning. But when it comes under the training and care of a master, it becomes a garden, a rose‑bower, or an orchard. Blossoms and fruit appear, and the face of the earth is adorned with flowers and fragrant herbs. It is the same with human societies and social structures: if left in their natural condition, people would swarm like vermin, and would be considered as beasts and predators. They would learn ferocity, cruelty and bloodthirstiness, and be consumed in the flames of disobedience and forbidden things.

*** 4 ***

Human beings are children, studying in the school of the world, but they fall ill and are enfeebled because of chronic defects. Those great and holy figures, the prophets and holy ones, are the professors in the academy of God and the doctors in the hospital of the Lord. They are messengers of grace, and suns in the highest sphere of guidance. Through them, the radiant flame of spiritual and outward perfection, that has cooled and died within the lamp of human reality, may be reignited from the blazing fire of God.[26] Chronic diseases become as nothing through the over-flowing grace of the All‑Merciful and the spirit of the Messiah.

Thus it has been demonstrated with the clearest of proofs that human society requires the training and cultivation of a true master, and that human souls need a governor, one who binds and restrains, prohibits and encourages, one who impels and leads. For the garden of his creation cannot attain beauty, delicacy and plenty except through the training of the kindly gardener, the overflowing bounty from the realm of unicity, and the just governance provided by the government. 

*** 5 ***

Now this prohibition and prevention, rules and restraints, leading and impelling, is divided into two types. The first protector and restrainer is the power of governance that is related to the physical world, a power that guarantees happiness in the external aspects of human existence. It safeguards human life, property and honour, and the exalted quality and refined virtues of the social life of this illustrious race. Just monarchs, accomplished representatives, wise ministers, and intrepid military leaders constitute the executive centre in this power of governance, the axis of the wheel of these divine favours.

*** 6 ***

The second type of educator and governor of the human world is sacred and spiritual power: the heavenly Books that have been sent down, the prophets of God, and spiritual souls and devout religious leaders. For those in whom revelation descends and divine inspiration arises are the educators of hearts and minds, the correctors of morals. they beautify conduct and encourage the faithful. That is, these holy souls are like spiritual powers. They have freed human souls from the odours[27] of an ignoble character, the darkness of wicked qualities, and the coarseness of the worlds of being. They illuminate the realities of human nature with the lights of the virtues of the human world, with divine distinctions and the virtues and excellencies of the Kingdom, so that the radiant reality of Blessed be God, the best of creators,[28] and the virtue of We have created man according to the best pattern[29] might be realised in the hallowed human person. thus, through the glorious effulgences of these dawning‑places of the divine verses, the pure and subtle reality of humanity becomes a focus for manifestations of the holiness of the world of God.

These sacred duties are rooted in spiritual, divine matters, and in ethical considerations. They have not been linked with material honours, political affairs or worldly matters. On the contrary, the sacred power of these pure and excellent persons is at work within the reality of the soul and conscience, in the inner heart and spirit, and not in water and clay. The banners of the signs of these pure realities are raised in the open spaces of the soul, where the spirit takes wing, not in this world of dust. they have never had any role to play in questions of the government and the governed, of ruling and being ruled. They are ones chosen by the sweet-scented breezes of God, the ones closest to the overflowing waters of the spirit of eternity. They do not seek any role in other matters, and they do not urge the steed of ambition in the arena of greed and power. For matters of politics and government, of the kingdom and of subjects have a specified source and a respected place to which they refer, while guidance, religion, insight, education, and the promotion of the morals and virtues of humanity have a sacred centre and designated spring. These souls have nothing to do with political affairs, nor do they seek any involvement.

Now, in this most great cycle, when the world has reached the age of discretion and maturity, this matter has been made indisputable in the book of God: it is like a firm foundation. According to this incontrovertible text and this brilliant proof, all must be humble and submit to the commands of the government, all should be compliant and obedient before the throne of sovereignty. That is, in their obedience and servitude to rulers, they should be sincere subjects and willing servants. This is what the Beauty of God, whose decree is decisive, whose dawn is clear, and whose morn is true and shining, has commanded in the book of the covenant and the pledge, the eternal pact. The indisputable command is this:

*** 7 ***

O ye the loved ones and the trustees of God! Kings are the manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and riches, of God. Pray ye on their behalf. He hath invested them with the rulership of the earth and hath singled out the hearts of men as His Own domain. Conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book. This is a decree of God in this Most Great Revelation. It is divinely preserved from annulment and is invested by Him with the splendour of His confirmation. Verily He is the All‑Knowing, the All‑Wise. It is incumbent upon everyone to aid those daysprings of authority and sources of command who are adorned with the ornament of equity and justice.[30]

*** 8 ***

The same is found in an unambiguous treatise that he addressed to one of the religious leaders. One choice citation from that blessed treatise is this:

*** 9 ***

It is now incumbent upon His Majesty the Shah -- may God, exalted be He, protect him -- to deal with this people with loving-kindness and mercy. This Wronged One pledgeth Himself, before the Divine Kaaba, that, apart from truthfulness and trustworthiness, this people will show forth nothing that can in any way conflict with the world-adorning views of His Majesty. Every nation must have a high regard for the position of its sovereign, must be submissive unto him, must carry out his behests, and hold fast his authority. The sovereigns of the earth have been and are the manifestations of the power, the grandeur and the majesty of God. This Wronged One hath at no time dealt deceitfully with anyone. Every one is well aware of this, and beareth witness unto it. Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen ones. He Who is the Spirit (Jesus) -- may peace be upon Him -- was asked: "O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?" And He made reply: "Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.”[31] He forbade it not. These two sayings are, in the estimation of men of insight, one and the same, for if that which belonged to Caesar had not come from God, He would have forbidden it. And likewise in the sacred verse: "Obey God and obey the Apostle, and those among you invested with authority.”[32]  By "those invested with authority" is meant primarily and more especially the Imams --  the blessings of God rest upon them! They, verily, are the manifestations of the power of God, and the sources of His authority, and the repositories of His knowledge, and the daysprings of His commandments. Secondarily these words refer unto the kings and rulers -- those through the brightness of whose justice the horizons of the world are resplendent and luminous. We fain would hope that His Majesty the Shah will shine forth with a light of justice whose radiance will envelop all the kindreds of the earth. It is incumbent upon every one to beseech the one true God on his behalf for that which is meet and seemly in this day.

O God, my God, and my Master, and my Mainstay, and my Desire, and my Beloved! I ask Thee by the mysteries which were hid in Thy knowledge, and by the signs which have diffused the fragrance of Thy loving-kindness, and by the billows of the ocean of Thy bounty, and by the heaven of Thy grace and generosity, and by the blood spilt in Thy path, and by the hearts consumed in their love for Thee, to assist His Majesty the Shah with Thy power and Thy sovereignty, that from him may be manifested that which will everlastingly endure in Thy Books, and Thy Scriptures, and Thy Tablets. Hold Thou his hand, O my Lord, with the hand of Thine omnipotence, and illuminate him with the light of Thy knowledge, and adorn him with the adornment of Thy virtues. Potent art Thou to do what pleaseth Thee, and in Thy grasp are the reins of all created things. No God is there but Thee, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Bounteous.


In the Epistle to the Romans Saint Paul hath written: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be  are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." And further: "For he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."[33] He saith that the appearance of the kings, and their majesty and power are of God.

Moreover, in the traditions of old, references have been made which the divines have seen and heard. We beseech God – blessed and glorified be He – to aid thee, O Shaykh, to lay fast hold on that which hath been sent down from the heaven of the bounty of God, the Lord of the worlds.[34]            

*** 10 ***

Therefore, O friends of God, strive with heart and soul. Show to the world the miraculous power of your pure and genuine intentions, in good will to the government and obedience to the state. This command is the most important of the duties of the manifest religion and the decisive texts of the Heavenly Book.

            It is evident that the government, by nature, desires the security and ease of the subjects, and seeks the prosperity and happiness of the people. It is ready and willing to safeguard the just rights of the citizens and of subjects, it attempts by every means to repel the wicked intruder. For the honour and prosperity of the subjects is the dignity, grandeur and power of the glorious monarchy and the triumphant state, the success and happiness of the people is the object of the attention of their royal highnesses. This is so, according to the nature of things.

When, on the contrary, the outcome is a decline in the security of the people or a deficiency in the prosperity and happiness of high and low, the cause is a lack of ability on the part of functionaries, or the extreme despotism and barbarity of ill-willed people, who appear in the robes of learning and are experts in the arts of ignorance, and from first to last are instigators of disorder. Disorder was sleeping, may God curse the one who woke it.

*** 11 ***

For fifty years, in the streets and from pulpits, and in councils and gatherings in the presence of government officials, this gaggle of imbeciles ‑‑ that is, the clerical leaders ‑‑ has been accusing this oppressed community of rebellion. They go so far as to falsely accuse them of revolt. They say,

“This community are destroyers of the world,

            they are debasing the morals of the children of Adam.

they entice the regions to be disloyal

            and are pernicious in every respect.

They are the flag of rebellion,

            and the standard of insurgency,

Adversaries to religion and government,

            and enemies of the souls of the subjects.”


God's justice demands that the truth about every community and group should become manifest and clear, so that it may be evident in the councils of the world who acts in the best interests of the people, and who is the corrupter. who is stirring up sedition, and which group are the mischief makers? And God distinguishes the corruptor from the one who acts in the best interests of the people.[35]

How good it would be if a touchstone were found

that would blacken the face of every dissembler.[36]

Now, O friends of God, give thanks for His providence, because the true Just One has lifted the veil from the activities of every religious group, and the hidden secrets of souls have become as manifest as the gleaming star. Praise be to God! and again, thanks be to God!

*** 12 ***

The fact is, that the functions of the religious leaders and the duties of experts in religious law are to keep watch over spiritual matters and to spread abroad the virtues of the Merciful. Whenever the leaders of the manifest religion, the pillars of religious law, have sought a role in the political sphere, have issued opinions and taken control, the unity of the believers in the one true God has been dissolved, and schisms have encompassed the community of the faithful.

The flames of sedition flare up,

            the fires of revolt burn the world.

The kingdom is plundered and pillaged,

            the people are as vassals, in bondage to the oppressors.

At the time of the last Safavid kings[37] (may the Lord of Creation have mercy on them), the religious leaders sought to participate in Iranian politics. They raised a flag and devised a plan, they showed the way and opened the door. The unfortunate outcome of that movement became the occasion of harm and the cause of ruin. The land of Iran became a jousting field for the Turkoman tribes and the arena for Afghan raiding and conquest.


The blessed earth of Irān was exploited by neighbouring peoples,

            the lands of glory were fallen into the hands of strangers.

The triumphant state was erased,

            a brilliant dynasty passed into oblivion.

Oppressors extended their tyrannous hands,

            malevolent people plotted, against property, honour and life itself.

People were killed,

            properties plundered.

Great men were seized by force,

            and great estates were stolen.

The cultivated lands of Persia were laid to waste:

            demons reclined on the throne of the kings.

The reins of government held in the talons of beasts,

            and the royal family enchained,

            or under the sword of bloodthirsty nomads,

            and the little children as captives.

These were the fruits, when the divines and experts in religious law became involved in political matters.

*** 13 ***

On another occasion, at the beginning of the reign of Aqa Muhammad Khan,[38] the religious leaders of the people again made a move in political matters, and scattered the ashes of humiliation over the heads of Iranians.

They issued opinions regarding the succession to the throne,

            they sang a siren song that confused the minds of the people.

They incited turmoil and commotion,

            they raised the flag of revolt.

A hurricane wind of rebellion sprang up,

            the customs of sedition and discord gained the upper hand.

Anarchy and chaos ensued,

            a wave of unrest reached to the highest heavens.

The chiefs of the tribes pretended to be kings,

            sowing the seeds of enmity in the rich soil of the kingdom,

            and one sought to kill another.

Peace and security were forgotten,

            covenant and treaty had no effect.

Neither lifelife nor property remained,

            there was no security, and no tranquillity.

At last, the decisive events at Kirman took place.[39] The dust of disorder and rebellion settled, and for the people of sin there was cutting off at the root,[40] that is, the root of the corruptors was pulled out.

*** 14 ***

A third such incident occurred during the reign of Fath‑`Alī Shāh:[41]

The leaders of religion once more stirred up a commotion.

They hoisted an ill-fated standard aloft,

They made ready for jihād, fighting the Russians.[42]

They set out on the roads,

            with their drums and their tabors,

            and thus they arrived at the border.

When they began their attack,

            they fled from a hostile reception.[43]

at a single volley of muskets,

            they left their honour on the field of battle,

            and chose to flee with disgrace.

Like the locusts scattered abroad[44] and the palm trunks rooted out,[45]

            they were confounded and strewn on the banks of the Aras,

            and the desert plain of Mughān.[46]

Half of the province of Azerbaijan,

            and three and a half million tumāns were lost,

            along with the Caspian Sea.[47]

*** 15 ***

The best example of all is the sad case of the last days of the late Sultan Abdulazīz[48] (may his soul rest in peace), as follows:

The spiritual leaders of the Ottoman people began a rebellion,

            they raised the banner of enmity.

In their madness, they started a movement

            they wanted a role and a share in running affairs.

They stirred up unrest, and provoked a dispute with government officials.

They took for their pretext the manifest Faith and the God-given Law,

            they spoke of "the good of the nation,"

            and demanded the dismissal of Ministers.

They destroyed the foundations of fairness and chivalry.

People of good will were sent into exile

            while they made the malicious ones happy.

They made trustworthy people the object of public anger,

            and turned traitors into popular favourites.

And when their strategy was succeeding

            they presented another plan.

They challenged the throne of the sultanate,

            belittled the ruler and government.

They issued a fatwa that spoke of ‘depose’,

            and sought to ‘extirpate’ and ‘suppress’.

They disgraced the name of chivalry,

            and raised up the dust of tyranny.

They approved of a violent deed that disgraced the perspicuous faith and the law of the Lord of the Messengers. Because of this movement, regret and sorrow burned in the breasts of the world's inhabitants, and the hearts of the world and its peoples were seared, for the wrong done to that great ruler.

In the end, they insisted on combat,

            and practiced with talon and claw.

They strapped on their battle-gear,

            and war was declared.

They persuaded the common people to say,

"Russia is a state beyond hope, 

its armies and troops are a form without spirit,

its commanders are cowardly, its men are as weaklings,

its dynasty has no ferocity left,

its government has neither power nor dignity.

But we are the conquering nation, the glorious people: 

Let us wage jihad, and crush the roots of rebellion.[49]

So will we win renown around the world,

and the absolute leadership[50] of peoples and nations."

When the results of this movement were out in the open,

and the fruits of these notions were seen,

they were vengeance incarnate and poison distilled,

retribution personified, and the humiliation of the government and the people.

The earth was stained with the blood of the innocent,

the bodies of the dead made the field of battle a landscape of horror.

The people as a whole tasted the cup of affliction,

three hundred thousand young men of the nation,

three hundred thousand youth of the empire,

tasted the poison of death.

How many great monuments were razed to the ground,

how many old families faced extinction or poverty!

Of thousands of well‑ordered villages, nothing remained but the cellars,

the crop-growing regions were turned into wastelands. 

The contents of treasuries thrown to the winds,

the wealth of the state and the people, plundered and gone.

A million subjects were forced into exile, leaving the lands that they knew.

A multitude of the chief men of the kingdom, the notables of these provinces, having been deprived of everything, fled the nest. Children of tender years and old men bearing the weight of the years wandered in the wilderness and the desert, completely destitute. At the first setback, the quarrelsome religious leaders who had raised the cry of "War, to war!" and "Come to the holy war!" began to whimper "Where can we hide, where can we flee?" At the smallest encounter they forgot about great rewards and glorious recompense: they turned and fled, and they harvested this colossal catastrophe.[51]

Gracious God! Shall a people who are not able to manage their own little nests, or to instruct their own households, who are unaware of domestic and foreign affairs, shall these interfere in the weighty affairs of the kingdom and its subjects, and raise opposition in the complexities of political matters? If you refer to history, you would find countless examples of this sort, all based on the involvement of religious leaders in political matters. These souls are the fountainhead of the interpretation of God’s commandments, not of implementation. That is, when the government requests an explanation concerning the requirements of the Law of God and the realities of the divine ordinances, in principle or in a specific case, they must explain what they have deduced from the commands of God and what is in accordance with the law of God. Apart from this, what awareness do they have of questions of leadership and social development, the administration and control of weighty matters, the welfare and prosperity of the kingdom, the improvement of procedures and codes of law, or foreign affairs and domestic policy?

            Likewise, in all previous ages and eras, the sources of opposition to the friends of God, and of disputation with those who believed in the divine verses, have been certain individuals who have been outwardly graced with the jewel of knowledge, but piety and the fear[52] of God have faded from their hearts. They are learned in form, and ignorant in truth, devout of speech but deniers at heart, devotees in the flesh, but lifeless in spirit.

            For example, in the days when the One who bestowed the spirit, the Messiah, was giving life to the body of the world, when the holy and fragrant Christ-spirit was granting the contingent world a soul, the religious leaders of the children of Israel such as Anas and Caiaphas voiced their opposition to that jewel of existence, that evident beauty and praiseworthy spirit. They turned their backs on him, declaring him to be no true believer, seeking to destroy him, and they persecuted him and issued a licence to harm him. They punished the apostles and inflicted the most severe punishment and vengeance. They issued fatwas of death, and imprisoned and exiled them. They used torture and pain, they martyred them with the worst afflictions and caused their pure blood to flow in the path of God. This opposition, harshness, punishment and torment were all due to the religious leaders of the community.

*** 16 ***

Similarly, consider the days of that mystery of existence, the promised beauty who has been confirmed in the dignity of ‘the praised one’, Muhammad, the Messenger of God, peace be upon him. Those argumentative and proud people who opposed and rejected him were the learned among the Jews, intransigent Christian divines, and ignorant and envious soothsayers such as Abu `Âmir Rāhib, Ka`b ibn ’Ashraf, Nadr ibn Hārith, `Âs ibn Wā'il, Hay ibn ’Akhtab, and ’Umayyah ibn Hilāl.[53] These leaders of the community engaged in anathematising and reviling, striking and killing, that rising[54] sun of prophethood. They were so fanatical in injuring the one who was the lamp in the assembly of humanity that he voiced a complaint, saying, "No prophet has been persecuted as I have been persecuted."

            Consider, then, that in every dispensation and age, the injustice, persecution and restrictions, the most severe cruelty and unprecedented oppression, have come from some faithless divines. Moreover, whenever the government has offered opposition or[55] has been biased, it has all been as a result of the defamatory innuendos, signs and winks of these rebellious individuals. Likewise, in these days, if you look carefully, the things that have occurred have been due to the opposition of unjust religious leaders, who are shut out from the fear of God, and are far from the Law of God, and who seethe with the fire of envy and jealousy.

*** 17 ***

But as for the learned who are pure of heart and soul,

            each one is a mercy from the Lord and a gift of God.

They are a candle for guidance and a lantern of God’s grace,

            the lightning bolt of truth and the guardians of the law.

They are the scales of justice and the sovereigns of trustworthiness.

They are the true dawn and the towering palm,

            the bright star, and a planet clearly seen.

They are the fountainhead of mystical insight,

            the spreading of the sweet waters of life.

They are the educators of souls

            they bring glad tidings to the hearts.

They are a guide to the nations,

            the heralds of God among the children of Adam.

They are the greatest sign and the loftiest banner,

            the jewels of being and the Graces of existence.

They are the manifestations of detachment,

            the dawning place of the sun of sanctity.

This ephemeral mortal existence has no attractions for them,

they hold themselves apart from the lusts and passion of the human world.

In the meetings of the enraptured ones,[56]

            they are drunk with the virtues and praises of their beloved Lord,

but in that court where God is manifest and seen,

            they are performing the rites of prayer.

They are firm pillars of the divine edifice,

            an impregnable fortress for the manifest religion.

They are the sweet waters of the Euphrates for the thirsty,

            and the path of salvation for those who have lost the way.

They are birds giving thanks in the gardens of “God is One”,

            and candles giving light in the councils of “I renounce all else.”

They are God's scholars,[57] and the heirs of the prophets,[58]

            the initiates of mysteries, and the commanders of the company of the pious.

They turn the private chapel, where dhikr is chanted,

            into a cloister in the Kingdom of heaven (malakūt).

They consider the surrender of all that is other,

            as attainment to the threshold of divinity (lāhūt).

If they are not like this, they are as lifeless bodies and images on walls. As it is written in the authoritative text of the Qur'ān, “And God has led him astray by means of some knowledge.[59]

*** 18 ***

Human collective life naturally entails a need for binding rules and relationships, for without these ties, no protection or security can be attained,[60] there can be no sociability[61] or happiness. The sacred dignity of human beings would not be unveiled, the face of the desire of all hearts would remain concealed. The country and regions would not be cultivated, there could be no structure[62] and system in cities and villages. The world could not be set in order, and the human race would not be able to wax and mature. Repose for the soul and tranquillity of conscience would not be possible. The distinctive human attributes would not shine, and the candle of God's bestowals would give no light. The human essence would not discover the reality of the contingent world, or become aware of God’s universal wisdom. The glorious arts would not be spread abroad, and great discoveries would not yield their benefits. This house of clay would not be the observatory of the heavens, and industry and inventions would not amaze the mind. The east and west of the world could not be drawn together, and the power of steam could not connect the continents.

These rules and relationships that comprise the foundation for the edifice of happiness, and are the medium of grace, are the religious law and a social system. These are the guardian of prosperity, the guarantor of good repute, the preserver of the humane quality of life. If you study the matter in detail, and look with a keen eye, it will be evident that the religious law and social system are necessary relationships that derive from the realities of things. If it was not so, there could be no order in collective life, no reason for tranquillity, and no happiness for human society. For the collective condition is analogous to a human person. Because it has been composed from individual substances and diverse opposing and contradictory elements, it is inevitably subject to accidents and illnesses. Whenever it is thrown into disorder because of deficiencies, a skilful doctor and superior physician must diagnose the disease, and then explain its cause. The doctor must consider the essentials and the details of the illness and the requirements of Nature, giving attention to causes and consequences, and to the means and necessities, and distinguishing between particulars and universals. Then the doctor considers what the exigencies and requirements of this disease are, and he begins treatment and effects a cure.

From this it is clear that the effective treatment and medication comes from the real essence of Nature, of the patient's constitution and of the illness. In the same way, social life and the body of the world are subject to systemic disorders, and are under the sway of various illnesses. The religious law, the social order, and commandments are like a powerful remedy and a cure for the creatures.

            Could any knowledgeable person imagine that he, by himself, has discovered the chronic diseases of the world and is aware of the various disorders and accidents of contingent existence, that he can diagnose the infirmities of the people of the earth and can explain the painful condition of human society, or that he can uncover the hidden secrets of the ages, to such an extent that he penetrates to the necessary connections originating in the realities of things,[63] and so establish that system and those regulations that constitute a swift remedy and a complete cure? There is no doubt that this is absurd and impossible. Now, it is evident and proven that the founder of the commandments, system, religious law and regulations among humans is God, the Mighty, the Knowing. For none but the exalted Lord is aware and informed of the realities of existence, the particularities of every being, and the hidden mysteries and guarded enigmas of ages and centuries. This is why the laws of European countries, which are in fact the product of several thousand years of thought on the part of experts in administration and law, nevertheless remain incomplete and imperfect, and subject to change, repeal and correction, because the learned men of the past had not discovered the unsuitability of some regulations, whereas later scholars became aware of it. Therefore, they have corrected some laws, reaffirmed some, and replaced a few, and this continues.

Let us return to the main topic:

the religious law is like the spirit of life,

            the government is the locus of the force of deliverance.

The religious law is the shining sun,

            and government is the clouds of April.

These two bright stars are like twin lights in the heavens of the contingent world,

            they have cast their rays upon the people of the world.

One has illuminated the world of the soul,

            the other caused the earth to flower.

One sowed pearls in the oceans of conscience,

            while the other made the surface of the earth a garden of paradise.

It has turned this mound of dust into the envy of the heavens,

            and made this dark house of shadows the cynosure of the world of lights.

The cloud of mercy rose, the gentle rain of benevolence came down,

            the fragrant breeze of grace diffused musk and ambergris.

The dawn breeze blows, wafting the perfume that quickens the soul. 

The face of the earth has become like heaven on high,

            the agreeable season of spring has arrived.

The showers of the heavenly spring have conferred

            a wondrous freshness on the garden of the world.

the sun of ancient grandeur has lavished new radiance

            on the horizon of the contingent world.

The tawny dust has been turned into sandalwood and ambergris.

the blackened furnace has become

            the rose arbour of the Merciful,

            the flowering garden of illumination.

The point is this, that each of these two signs of grandeur is the aid and assistant of the other, like milk and honey, or the twins of Gemini in the sky. Thus, contempt for one is betrayal of the other, and any negligence in obedience to one is sinful rebellion against the other.

*** 19 ***

The divine Law (which is the life of existence, the light of the visible world, and is consistent with the purpose of creation) needs an effective power and decisive means. A clearly identifiable champion is required, a resolute propagator is needed. There is no doubt that the institutions of government and the sword of sovereignty are the source of this mighty power. When the one has been strong and victorious, the other was manifest and refulgent. Whenever the first is elevated and radiant, the second has been resplendent and widely diffused. Thus, a just government is government in accordance with the divine law, and a well‑ordered realm is a universal blessing. The royal throne is encompassed with divine confirmations, and the royal crown is adorned with the gems of heavenly bounty. In the Qur`ān it is clearly written, “Say: O God, Lord of sovereignty, you grant sovereignty to whoever you will, and you take it from whoever you please.[64] Therefore, it is clear and evident that this bestowal is a divine gift and a favour from the Lord. Likewise, it is clearly said in an authentic tradition that “The king is the shadow of God on earth.[65] Given the existence of these texts, which are like a solid foundation, any other talk, of the king being “an usurper who imposes” is evidently futile speculation and sheer imagination without argument or proof.

            Note that in the scriptural verse and the clear tradition, the statements are absolute and not bounded: it is a general reference and not a specific matter.

            However, the dignity of the Imams of guidance, the station of those close to the court of grandeur, is the honour and respect due to holiness.

Their prerogative is the patronage of the All‑Merciful,

            their garland of glory is the dust in the path of the Merciful,

            their gleaming crown is the lights of the bounty of God.

Their seat of justice is the throne-room of the hearts,

            their sublime and glorious throne is this,

            that they are faithful to the world of the Kingdom.

They are lords of the worlds of life and soul,

            and not of water and clay.

They are kings of the realms of immeasurable space,

            not of the straight places of this contingent world.

No-one can usurp or plunder

            this glorious station, this ancient honour.

Yet in the human world their throne is the mat, their seat of high honour is the row of shoes.[66] The pinnacle of prestige for them is the lowest rank of servitude, and the court of their sovereignty is some secluded corner. They see well-furnished palaces as graves underground, and worldly pomp as an intolerable nuisance. They know that wealth and riches are toil and sorrow, and a great entourage is a burden to the soul. Like grateful birds in this house of vanity, they are satisfied with a few grains. In the arbour of "God is One", at the tip of the branch of detachment, they busy themselves with singing the virtues and praises of the Ancient and the Living in an eloquent tongue.

            In short, the point of that which has been expressed in the clear verse and sound tradition is that kingship is the gift of the Lord of grandeur, and government is a mercy from the Lord of divinity.[67] The object of such gradations is that[68] perfect rulers and just kings, out of gratitude for this gift of God and these glorious marks of favour, should be justice incarnate and wisdom personified. They should be bounty unalloyed and the very picture of generosity, the sun of loving kindness and the clouds of compassion, the banner of the Lord, and the sign of the All‑Merciful.

*** 20 ***

[69] The government, the defender of the people, is worthy of obedience, and obedience to it leads to nearness to God.[70] The justice of God requires the observation of mutual rights, and the divine law is the preservation of distinct ranks. The governed have the right to protection and consideration from the governor, the ruled have a right to security and kind treatment from the ruler. Subjects are under the protective guardianship of kings, and the common folk are under the protective shadow of the monarch, who dispenses justice. Every shepherd is responsible for his flock.[71] This, so that government might be a sure fortress for the people, and a cave of assurance, an inviolable sanctuary and a refuge in a high place, preserving and protecting the rights of subjects and of all creatures with all its powers, observing and promoting the dignity and happiness of subjects and subordinates, for the people are a trust from God, and the poor are a charge from the Lord of unicity.

*** 21 ***

In the same way, obedience and loyalty have been decreed for subjects. They must be upright in their duties as subordinates, and sincere in their service. Good intentions and gratitude are obligatory, to the extent that they pay their property taxes with unmixed gratitude, and bear the annual levies willingly. They must exert themselves to increase the loftiness of the dignity of kings, and give generously of their wealth and lives in support of the power of government and to increase the glory of the royal throne.

For the benefit from this bargain, the fruits of this obedience

            are enjoyed by every citizen.

All are partners and equals in the profits from this great boon,

            and the benefits of this noble station.

Rights are mutual, dignities are reciprocal,

            and all are under the protection of the just Lord.[72]

            *** 22 ***

The state and the government are like the head and the brain. The people and subjects are like limbs, hands and feet, the pillars and parts of the body. When the head and the brain (which are the centre of the senses and faculties, the managers of the whole body and all of its limbs), when these have effective power and complete authority, they make guardianship their motto and provide for the means of security. They organise the necessary pre-requisites and ensure the desired results and consequences. All the organs and limbs enjoy complete well-being, resting in the bed of ease and in the greatest peace.


But if there is any slackening in their effective control,

            any deficiency in their power,

the kingdom of the body becomes a wasteland

            the corporeal realm knows neither safety nor security.

A thousand ills of various sorts gain the ascendant,

            the well-being and repose of all its parts are broken.

Likewise, when the government’s power is effective and its orders prevail,

            the kingdom will be embellished, the people will be at peace.

But if its power slackens, an earthquake shakes

            the structures of the people’s well-being and comfort,

            and down they come.

For the required constraint and restraint, the harness and reins,

            the night watchman and sentinel, is government.

When the government is a shepherd to the people,

            and the people take on the duties of citizens,

the ties that bind them are put in order,

            the links of solidarity are strengthened.

The powers of one kingdom and the capacities of all of the people are brought together and anchored in one point, one eminent individual, and there is no doubt that it attains the greatest possible potency. When the rays of the sun fall on the surface of a curved magnifying[73] glass, all the heat is concentrated at the focal point of that glass, and such efficacy, penetration and combustive power result that any obdurately solid body placed before this point must melt, even if it can endure fire.

Consider: the subjects of every resplendent government and victorious empire enjoy the utmost honour and well-being. The dependents and ordinary folk in every great and respected country are extremely well treated. They advance rapidly in every respect, they progress steadily in learning and wealth, in commerce and in industry. This is evident and accepted, beyond any doubt or ambiguity, among all the wise and learned.

O friends of God! Open the ears of wisdom, shun those who love discord. If you detect the odour of villainy from any person, even from an outwardly important person or a peerless scholar, know that he sets out to deceive powerful men, and opposes the order of the possessor of Majesty. He is an enemy of God, a destroyer of foundations, a breaker of the covenant and treaty, an outcast from the court of the Merciful.

A person who is knowledgeable and intelligent is like a radiant lamp, a cause of happiness and virtue in the greater and lesser world. Such a person works for the well-being and peace of the people of the world, in accordance with the doctrine and covenant.

O Friends of God, the divine order is in the epoch of youth,

            the wondrous Cause in the season of spring.

The modern age is the first sign of growth.

This age is the chosen age of the one true God.

The horizons of the contingent world are radiant, resplendent,

            lit by the sun of mystical knowledge.

The east and the west of the world,

            in the fragrant breezes of holiness,

            are as attar and ambergris.

The face of the new creation is most comely and fair,

            the body of the wonderful Cause is flexible and strong.

Listen with understanding to the counsels and precepts of God, and then, in all sincerity, demonstrate your high calling through a natural[74] genuineness, an upright disposition, and good will to the authorities.[75] In this way it will become clear and established in world society and in the council of nations that you are[76] the shining candle of the world of humanity and the rose in the garden of the divine realm. Mere speech yields no harvest, and the sapling of hope has no fruit. It is necessary to arise and set to work. Potentially, all things are laid ready, all things are completed. Some are easy to accomplish and others are difficult. But what is this worth? The human person must, in actuality, become the sign of the All‑Merciful and the banner of generosity[77] of the Lord.

Peace be on those who have followed the right path.[78]



[1] See `Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari, Baha’i Encyclopaedia (available on-line at http:// www2.h-net.msu.edu/ ~bahai/ abtext.htm), under "Risalih." A more extensive introduction to The Sermon on Art of Governance by Juan Cole has been published in Translations of Shaykhī, Bābī and Bahā'ī Texts, vol. 2, no. 2 (May, 1998), which is available from the same web site.

[2] London, Frank Cass & Co., 1966.

[3] Keddie, Religion and Rebellion, page 73. Abdul-Hadi Hairi, Shī`īsm and Constitutionalism in Iran: A study of the role played by the Persian residents of Iraq in Iranian politics, Leiden, Brill, 1977, page 64.

[4] Partial translation by E.G. Brown in  The Persian Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 1910), pages 15 – 21.

[5] See Hamid Algar, Mīrzā Malkum Khān: a study in the history of Iranian Modernism, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1973, page 211.

[6] Hairi, Shī`īsm and Constitutionalism, page 80.

[7] Qānūn, no. 29, page 3, translated in Hamid Algar, op cit., page 212.

[8] Keddie, Religion and Rebellion, pages 75, 76.

[9] Keddie, Religion and Revolution, page 79.

[10] Translated in Keddie, Religion and Revolution, page 89.

[11] Keddie, Religion and Revolution, pages 95 – 96.

[12] Keddie, Religion and Revolution, pages 101 – 102.

[13] Keddie, Religion and Revolution, pages 148 – 151. Afghani is said to have made an earlier call for the deposition of the Shāh, in a newspaper called Dhiyyā al-Khāfiqaīn that he published in London: see A.M. Goichon’s preface to his translation of Afghani’s Réfutation des Matérialistes, page 10n. In 1896, one of his followers was to assassinate the Shah.

[14] For more details see Keddie, Religion and Revolution, page 132.

[15] See H. M. Balyuzi, Eminent Bahā’īs in the time of Bahā’u’llāh, chapter 19.

[16]  Afghānī himself was accused in Iran of being a Bābī (Hairi, Shī`īsm and Constitutionalism, page 77) and he complains of this accusation in his letter to Shīrāzī! (Browne, The Persian Revolution, page 21) Shirāzī however knew that Afghānī  had previously sought to establish his own orthodox credentials and discredit the Bahā’īs by interpolating iconoclastic and anti-Muslim sentiments into a Turkish translation of the Kitāb-i Aqdas, but Afghānī did not know that Shirāzī knew this. (Balyuzi, Eminent Bahā’īs, page 259. In his Refutation of the Materialists, Afghānī adopts a similar tactic: he presents himself as the orthodox Muslim and progressive Muslim thinkers as apostates.) In the circumstances, there was not the slightest possibility that Shirāzī would cooperate with the revolutionary plans of Afghānī and Mīrzā Malkum Khān.

[17]  Le Béyan Persan, traduit du Persan, A.-L.-M. Nicolas, vol. 4, Paris. Librairie Paul Geuthner, 1914, page 161.

[18] Keddie, Religion and Revolution, pages 107 108.

[19] Balyuzi, Eminent Bahā’īs, p. 176.

[20] Piyām-i Bahā’ī, No. 275, October 2002, page 22 and page 27 note 2. The article supposes that ‘Abdu’l-Bahā’s tablet of  1912 which is printed as a preface in the Tehran edition is also addressed to Mirza `Alī Asghar Khān, but this cannot be correct: it is addressed to Muhammad Labīb himself or at any rate to a Bahā’ī in or near Tehran who has asked permission to publish the Sermon on Art of Governance.

[21] Qur`ān 20:47.

[22] Passages in italics are citations translated from the Arabic. Here `Abdu'l-Bahā cites a well-known hadith qudsi, an Islamic tradition in which the words are supposed to be spoken by God. In B. Furūzānfar, Ahādith-i Mathnavī, Tehran, 1335 AH (1955), this is tradition 70.

[23]  Qur’ān 22:5.

[24]  The Bombay printing is unclear here: the reading bunyān in the Tehran printing seem most likely.

[25]      Qur’ān 2:11-12.

[26]   cf. Qur’ān 104:6.

[27]  The Tehran printing has sha’mat, the Bombay edition shama’mat. The former is used by `Abdu’l-Bahā, in the sense of ill-fortunes (Tehran edition page 21), but in this case I believe the Bombay edition is closer to the truth.

[28]      Qur’ān 23:14

[29]      Qur’ān 95:4.

[30]  The citation is from Bahā'u'llāh’s Kitāb-i `Ahd (The Book of the Covenant): the authorised translation quoted here is published in Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 220-221.

[31]  See Matt 22: 15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20: 20-26.

[32]  Qur’ān, 4: 62.

[33] See Romans 13:1-7.

[34] `Abdu'l-Bahā cites Baha'u'llāh's Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. The authorised translation used here is by Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahā'ī Publishing Trust, 1971), in which this passage appears at pp. 8991.

[35] Qur`ān 2:220.

[36] From a ghazal by Hāfez concerning a hypocritical sufi. 'Black-faced' is an idiom for infamy. The ghazal begins Nāqd-i sūfī na hame sāfī bāshad.

[37] The Safavid period extends from 1501 to 1722. Under Sultān-Husayn  (r. 1694 – 1722) the Shi`ih `ulamā, led by Majlisi the younger (Muhammad Bāqir Majlisi) had an unprecedented role in public life. They were able to enlist state support for action against Sunnis, Sufis and other religious minorities. One history writes that "the repression he [Majlisi] instituted can be counted as an important cause of the Afghan invasion and the overthrow of the Safavid dynasty." (S.A. Arjomand., The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam, 191)

[38] The first Qājār king, reigned 1785‑1797.

[39] In 1794 the last Zand ruler, holding out in Kirman, was defeated. The 'decisive events' included betrayal, the slaughter of male Zand prisoners, and the killing of rivals to the Qajar throne.

[40] Qur`ān 6:45

[41] Reigned 1797‑1834.

[42] The war of 1826-8.

[43]  The Tehran edition has be-rajūmī, at a hail of stones, but the Bombay edition reads bar jauhī.

[44] Qur`ān 54:7, “The day that the Caller will call to a terrible affair, they will come out, their eyes humbled, from (graves), like locusts scattered abroad.”

[45] Qur`ān 54:20, “We sent against them a furious wind, on a day of violent disaster, uprooting men as if they were the stumps of uprooted palm trees.”

[46] Now in Azerbaijan, at that time on the Perso-Russian border.

[47] The 'sea' was surrendered in the sense that the Persians were not permitted to station warships on it.

[48] Reigned 1861‑1876.

[49] The reference may well be to the brutal suppression of a rising in Bulgaria.

[50]  Cole reads surūr, the delight of nations, Dreyfus reads sarvar, leadership. Both are possible, but the latter is in accordance with the preceding lines which refer to the belief that God has destined the Muslims to rule over other peoples. The position of ‘ila itlāq at the end of the sentence could mean that it modifies the whole preceding phrase: ‘over the peoples and nations, without exception’, but its position is determined by the demands of the rhyme. I have read it as applying particularly to sarvar.

[51]  The reference was so recent that `Abdu’l-Bahā’s readers would have required no further explanation. The ‘Eastern Crisis’ of 1875-8 began with the revolt of Christian peasants in Bosnia-Hercegovina, followed by a rising in Bulgaria which was suppressed with great cruelty. Serbia entered the war with Russian backing. Initial Ottoman victories and a settlement under the auspices of the European powers was unsatisfactory to Russia, and in 1877 Russia launched a war on her own account. The war in fact lasted some ten months, ending with the Ottomans forced to accept terms dictated by the Russians, which involved the loss of four provinces to the Russians and the independence of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. This is the ‘catastrophe’ to which `Abdu’l-Baha refers.

[52] The Bombay edition has hashīya, which must be a copyist’s error for khashīya, as found in the Tehran edition.

[53] Abu `Âmir Rāhib fought against the prophet, and became a ‘hypocrite’, a believer of dubious sincerity. He is known for founding a mosque which seems to have been intended to be in competition with that of Muhammad (Surah 9:108-9).

            Ka`b ibn ’Ashraf, a Jewish opponent of Muhammad at Medina. A poem quoted by Ibn Hishām implies he was a scholar, and he is known to have been a poet.

            Nadr ibn Hārith was a rich Meccan merchant, who is said to have brought back books from Persia and to have been an admirer of the Persian dynasty. He accused Muhammad of merely repeating stories he had heard from others. See Surahs 8:31 and 83:13.

[54]  The text can be read mashriq, rising, or mushriq, shining.

[55]  The Tehrān edition inserts a wa before the yā, for no apparent reason (cf. Bombay edition, page 24 line 1).

[56] Wajūd means existence, presence or essence, but wajūd is also the plural of wajd, ecstasy, and I have taken it in this sense.

[57]  The Bombay edition has rabbāyand: the Tehrān edition rabbānīand, which seems more likely.

[58] A famous Islamic tradition: “The ‘ulamā are the heirs to the prophets.”

[59]   Qur’ān 45:23.

[60]  The Tehrān edition’s niyābad appears to be a simple error: the Bombay edition has niyāyad, rhyming thus with the following nanemāyad.

[61] The Tehrān edition has ’amniyyat (security), which would be a plausible word in the context. The Bombay edition is unclear, but appears to read ’unsiyyat, which alliterates with sa`ādat which follows.

[62] The Bombay edition is unclear: the last letter bears both the double points of  the ‘t’ and the single point of the ‘b’. The reading of tartīb, in the Tehrān edition, seems as probable as any other. 

[63]  The Tehrān edition has a printing fault here: the Bombay edition clearly has  ’ashyā pey bord.

[64] Qur`ān 3:26.

[65] The saying is old and well known: it is cited for instance by Najm al Dīn Rāzī, in the second chapter of his Mersād al -`ebād men al mabdā’ elā’lma`ād, in 1221, and by Badr al-din ibn Jama’a (1241 B 1333) in Tahrīr al ahkam fī tadbīr ahl al-Islām, (ed. Kofler)  in Islamica vi (1934)  p. 355. Al-Beyhaqī, in his Sho`ab al-īmān, says that the tradition is weak. The title was used by Persian kings in pre-Islamic times.

[66] That is, the seat nearest to the door, the seat furthest from the door being the seat of honour.

[67]  The Tehran edition has this in bold text, as if it were a citation.

[68]  My copy of the Bombay edition is unclear here, due to a printing fault: it may read marātibāt ast. The Tehrān edition reads marātib īn ast. The meaning is not affected.

[69] The following section has a parallel in the Nahj al-Balaghah, sermon 215.

[70] “Obedience to it leads to nearness” (implicitly, ‘to God’) is a quotation from the opening lines of Sa`dī’s Gulistān.

[71]  A well-know Islamic tradition (`Ale’ Al Muttaq, Kanz al-ummal, Hyderabad, 1958, vol. 6 no. 88).

[72] The Bombay edition reads parvardegār wa `ādel: I have followed the Tehrān edition in reading parvardegār-e `ādel.

[73] The Bombay editions reads mu`aqqir or mu`aqqar, the Tehran edition has muqa``ar, concave, which is also possible, if the ‘glass’ here is a mirror.


[74] The Tehrān edition has ikhlūs, the Bombay edition ikhlās here.

[75] The Bombay edition reads khayr-khwah-ye daulat, the Tehrān edition has just khayr-ye daulat.

[76] The Tehran edition incorrectly has hastand, the Bombay edition reads hastīd.

[77] The Tehran edition omits mauhibat.

[78] Qur`ān 20:47.

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