How a Baha'i missionary converted a "significantly large number" of al-Azhar students in Egypt?

Mirza Abul Fadl and Ali Kuli Khan

Mirza Abul Fadl was called by `Abdu'l-Bahá to the Holy Land in 1894. His spirit was galvanized. He was launched on the most productive and significant labors of his life. The twenty years that were left to him until his death in 1914 were filled with teaching, traveling and writing — always at the direction of his beloved Master. His first assignment was to proceed to Egypt.

At the turn of the century, Egypt was the hub of what was left of a once dynamic Muslim civilization. Centuries-long traditions of religious scholarship, represented by the venerable institution of al-Azhar, the school of higher Islamic learning, were being animated by the winds of "reform" and "modernism." `Abdu'l-Bahá wanted to inject the relevance of the Bahá'í Faith into that atmosphere, and Mirza Abu'l-Fadl was His chosen instrument. He wisely advised him to adopt an indirect approach. For had Abu'l-Fadl attempted to talk openly about the Faith from the outset, he would never have received a respectful hearing in the intellectual circles of Cairo. In the eyes of conservative Sunni scholars, a Persian "apostate" from Shi'i Islam would have had a double mark against him. Instead, he gained his entry into those circles by the judicious demonstration of his remarkable intellect and his brilliant grasp of comparative religious history and thought. He was particularly noted for his original turn of mind in interpretation of religious scriptures. Soon he had a large and avid circle of al-Azhar students and other devotees who were gradually introduced to the Faith. A significantly large number of them ultimately became Bahá'ís.

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