Former-Baha'i writes about the persecution of Baha'i ladies.

Baha'u'llah with his wives and children

House of Abbud

On pilgrimage in April 2006:

… Our guide recounted how Abdu’l Baha, upon Baha’u’llah’s mention of not having seen a green blade of grass for such a long time procured the mansion of Mazraeh and Baha’u’llah moved there together with his second and third wife and their children.

Navvab and her children stayed in Akka until her death. Thereafter Baha’u’llah gave her the title of his eternal companion in all the worlds of God, whereas the other two women and their children ended as covenant breakers at a later date.

I think this constitutes grave injustice.

Prior to pilgrimage I had known about the second wife and I had heard a hint about the third one. I knew of the official excuse that the second wife was the widow of a martyr and Baha’u’llah was obliged, due to family ties, to protect her according to Islamic Law.

I learned that apparently the situation with the third wife was similar. She was needed to help in the household in Baghdad and it was deemed socially impossible to have her in the house as a helper without marrying her. She had a child with Baha’u’llah, stayed behind in Baghdad at first and only later came to the Holy Land.

Many years later Shoghi Effendi (Baha’u’llah’s great-grandson) tenaciously contradicted rumors of her having been a mistress and confirmed his grandfather had had three equal and legal wives. Nevertheless, virtually nothing is known of her. I also had heard about the children from those unions and their later break with the community.

In Akka however I was struck with the reality of the facts.

The Bab had already proclaimed the equality between women and men. Baha’u’llah was a Babi. It would have to be expected that he would follow Babi Law. The conference of Badasht (when Babi law was set in force) preceded the second marriage. This is to say that the will of God with regards to the equality between men and women was known by then.

Conference of Badasht: One Islamic law was abrogated during each day of the conference
After the Báb's arrest in 1848, Bahá'u'lláh made arrangements for Táhirih to leave Tehran and attend a conference of Bábí leaders in Badasht. She is perhaps best remembered for appearing in public without her veil in the course of this conference signaling that the Islamic Sharia law was abrogated and superseded by Bábí law. It was at the Badasht conference that she was given the title Táhirih which means "the Pure One".

Furthermore it seems evident that especially polygamy is profoundly incongruent with equality between the sexes. A man can protect a woman, even in the eyes of the world integrate her as a wife into his household without consummating the marriage and making her pregnant.

Perhaps she would have had a chance to find another man at a later date and most importantly, she would not have been likely to be declared a covenant breaker.

Here the question must be raised what the woman should have been protected from. – Yes, perhaps her life would have been harder, poverty, prostitution, bondage – but what is worse than being declared an enemy of God? – Perhaps she would have preferred even the most miserable fate to this condemnation. I at least would have felt like that.

How can a living human being be an antagonist to God? This is impossible. I can't see it that a living human being with body, beating heart, hunger, thirst and need for comfort can ever fit this description, not even if she or he would exhibit the most sinful, reckless, irresponsible, malevolent etc. attributes. A human being doesn't have the stature nor the nature to do that. The simplest proof is that a human being will die, cannot and will not continue to live against the will of God. A human being is a talisman for creation and in his or her entirety a reflection of God. To judge a single human to be an antithesis to God equals calling creation evil.

What was the situation that Baha’u’llah put the second and third wife into by the consummation of their marriage? – They had to experience him from an angle different from everyone else. For everyone else he was revered prophet who taught about righteousness and how to live a good life, but for them he was the perpetrator against the very law he proclaimed.

I feel that with these consummated marriages Baha’u’llah broke the trust with all of us women. But I feel betrayed not only as a woman but as a human being, not only because he consummated those marriages but because his action led to such strife that the women and the children were later ostracized as covenant breakers.

By definition he was to be regarded as a manifestation of God, infallible in all his words and actions. I felt as if he had destroyed my trust and my love for God.

We must assume, since Tahirih had been an avid teacher, all women associated with the new teachings would have been aware of the new law of equality between women and men. They must have felt the impact, especially the ones in direct contact with the Babi movement. Their spirits would have been raised the first time for centuries. What relief for the souls trapped in women’s bodies after the long centuries of injustice and suppression.

And then Baha’u’llah humiliated them again, again pushed them back into the old dark abyss. He didn't take equality seriously. He didn't enact it, wasn't a shining example. Was there outrage? Probably not. Not for a long time. Most likely it was just a silent collapse, a shadow cast over the radiance of the face, a dimming of the brightness in the eyes. But who would have noticed? – Perhaps not even the women themselves. It was safer not to notice, what good would it have been to become aware. The centuries-old conditioning would have set in and any potential outrage was suppressed.

The result, as with all suppression, is emotional imbalance, aggression and discontent as we know it from the second and the third wife.

Or else, suppression can lead to saintly renunciation, self-denial and asceticism as is known from Navvab and the Greatest Holy Leaf .

The denial of the women’s truth is still happening today. I also succumbed to it in the beginning of my Baha’i life. Most Baha’i I know, don’t look behind the story. – Those women and children are effectively excluded from our awareness, they don’t belong to us, we think we are different, we think they are “the others” and we have no compassion for them.

The women's hurt feelings must have transferred to the children. The children originated in unlawful unions, they were not responsible for the situation they were born into. They were innocent of the family atmosphere of injustice, jealousy and hostility. But as a consequence they were burdened with the terrible weight of breaking the Covenant of God. It’s the heaviest load I can imagine for a human soul. It’s incomprehensible. A religion, proclaiming to bring unity to mankind, creates within its own central family scores of covenant breakers. And the cause for such conflict is Baha’u’llah’s own disregard for the new law and Abdu’l Baha’s subsequent judgment, which heavily condemned the victims of the injustice for their opposition and lack of co-operation.

It is like adding injury to insult. Imagine you are being attacked and hurt and when you scream in protest you are judged and sentenced for rebellion. Instead of receiving an apology you receive exclusion from the community and a label that says you are the antithesis of God.

This is madness.

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