The Great Sacrifice

To the galling weight of these tribulations was now added the bitter grief of a sudden tragedy ― the premature loss of the noble, the pious Mirza Mihdi, the Purest Branch, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s twenty-two year old brother, an amanuensis of Bahá’u’lláh and a companion of His exile from the days when, as a child, he was brought from Tihran to Baghdad to join his Father after His return from Sulaymaniyyih. He was pacing the roof of the barracks in the twilight, one evening, wrapped in his customary devotions, when he fell through the unguarded skylight onto a wooden crate, standing on the floor beneath, which pierced his ribs, and caused, twenty-two hours later, his death, on the 23rd of Rabi’u’l-Avval 1287 A.H. (June 23, 1870). His dying supplication to a grieving Father was that his life might be accepted as a ransom for those who were prevented from attaining the presence of their Beloved.

 

In a highly significant prayer, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in memory of His son a prayer that exalts his death to the rank of those great acts of atonement associated with Abraham’s intended sacrifice of His son, with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn we read the following: I have, O my Lord, offered up that which Thou hast given Me, that Thy servants may be quickened, and all that dwell on earth be united. And, likewise, these prophetic words, addressed to His martyred son: Thou art the Trust of God and His Treasure in this Land. Erelong will God reveal through thee that which He hath desired.

 

After he had been washed in the presence of Bahá’u’lláh, he “that was created of the light of Baha,” to whose “meekness” the Supreme Pen had testified, and of the “mysteries” of whose ascension that same Pen had made mention, was borne forth, escorted by the fortress guards, and laid to rest, beyond the city walls, in a spot adjacent to the shrine of Nabi Salih, from whence, seventy years later, his remains, simultaneously with those of his illustrious mother, were to be translated to the slopes of Mt. Carmel, in the precincts of the grave of his sister, and under the shadow of the Báb’s holy sepulcher.

 

(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 188)

 

 

Now occurred a tragedy which brought grief to the heart of Bahá’u’lláh and to His companions. Mírzá Mihdí, Abdu’l-Bahá’s younger brother, a youth of twenty-two, while pacing the roof of the barracks during his evening devotions, fell through a skylight onto a wooden crate which pierced his ribs. Twenty-two hours later he died, supplicating his beloved Father to accept his life as a ransom for all those believers who were prevented from attaining His presence. He was an example of nobility and piety and meekness, and is known as the Purest Branch. Bahá’u’lláh revealed a prayer in his memory in which he wrote:

I have, O my Lord, offered up that which Thou hast given Me, that Thy servants may be quickened and all that dwell on earth be united.

And He addressed His son:

 

Thou art the trust of God and His treasure in this land. Erelong will God reveal through thee that which He hath desired.

The death of the Purest Branch occurred on June 23rd, 1870, one year and ten months after the exiles entered the prison. The change in circumstances of the prisoners during this time was evident from the manner of his funeral. A tent was pitched in the middle of the barracks and on a table within it the body was washed and shrouded and placed in a new casket by members of the community, while Abdu’l-Bahá, in deep sorrow, paced outside the tent. The coffin was borne outside the city walls, escorted by fourteen guards and laid to rest next to the Shrine of Sálih, a Prophet mentioned in the Genesis and the Qur’án. Seventy years later, the Guardian of the Faith would reinter the remains of the Purest Branch and his Saintly mother Navváb in the Monument Gardens on Mount Carmel, within the Shadow of the Shrine of the Báb.

(David Hofman, Bahá’u’lláh The Prince of Peace, A Portrait, p. 156)

 

Conditions of life in the cheerless barracks of ‘Akká taxed the strength of its inmates to the utmost. The guards were cruel and avaricious and offensive. The townsmen from whom, after a lapse of time, the prisoners were allowed to make some of their necessary purchases, under strict surveillance, were unrelenting in their hatred and contempt. But over and above all afflictions and privations the behaviour of Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahani and his associate daily added to their wounds. Their taunts and maligning, their constant spying and ceaseless tortuous denunciations before the authorities made the rigours of incarceration harder to bear. Their odious deeds continued unabated, even after the release of the exiles from the barracks.

Sorrows abounded. But the most poignant was the death of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s brother, Mírzá Mihdí, entitled Ghusn-i-Athar the Purest Branch. He was no more than twenty-two years of age, and served as an amanuensis to his Father. One evening in the gathering dusk, as he paced the roof, occupied with his devotions, he fell through a gap to the level below. The fall, although causing severe internal injuries, did not kill him outright. He begged his Father to accept his life as a ransom for the Bahá’ís who were not allowed to come into the Most Great Prison to meet their Lord. His wish was granted by a Father heavily weighed down by the sorrows of this world. The Purest Branch died on June 23rd 1870, twenty-two hours after receiving his fatal injuries. Within four months, incarceration in the citadel came to an end.

(H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 27)

Throughout His sojourn in the prison city we have seen Bahá’u’lláh surmount the appalling conditions of His captivity, become the comforter of a hapless and helpless yet blessed company, the focal point of the hopes and longings of thousands left in those countries through which He had passed, revealing in increasing measure the power and majesty of His station. Even the members of His family knew Him first as their Lord and were reverent and submissive before Him.

 

When He sat by the death bed of the Purest Branch, that saintly youth was beatified and exalted beyond any condition which an earthly father could induce. Navváb was so overwhelmed with grief at the loss of her second son amidst such tragic circumstances that she wept unconditionally and could not be consoled. Bahá’u’lláh assured her that God had accepted the sacrifice of her son as a ransom for the opening of the doors of pilgrimage and the quickening of all mankind. Navváb’s grief was assuaged and she became content with the will of God.

 

(David Hofman, Bahá’u’lláh The Prince of Peace, A Portrait, p. 156)