THE PASSING OF THE PUREST BRANCH
(147th Anniversary on 23 June 2017)
- This remarkable account of the sacrifice of the youngest son of Bahá’u’lláh
- is shared as we remember the anniversary of this event,
- which took place in the prison city of Akka in 1870
“It is not possible for anyone to visualize the measure of humility and self-effacement and the intensity of devotion and meekness which the Purest Branch evinced in his life.
He was a few years younger than the Master, but slightly taller than him. He used to act as Bahá’u’lláh’s amanuensis and was engaged in transcribing the Writings… When he had finished writing he was in the habit of going on to the roof of the barracks for prayers. There was a skylight, an opening in the middle of the roof near where the kitchen was situated. As he was pacing in a state of prayer, attracted to the Kingdom of Abha, with his head turned upwards, he fell through the skylight down on some hard objects. The terrific loud sound of the impact made us all run to the scene of the tragedy where we beheld in astonishment what had happened as decreed by God, and were so shocked as to beat upon our heads. Then the Ancient Beauty came out of his room and asked what he had done which caused his fall. The Purest Branch said that he knew the whereabouts of the skylight and in the past had been careful not to come near it, but this time it was his fate to forget about it.
We carried his precious person to his room and called a doctor who was an Italian, but he could not help… In spite of much pain and agony, and being weak, he warmly greeted those who came to his bedside, showered an abundance of love and favours upon them and apologized to everyone, saying he was ashamed that while they were all sitting, he had to lie down in their presence…(1)
Members of the Holy Family and some of the companions gathered around him and all were so distressed and grief-stricken that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with tearful eyes entered the presence of Bahá’u’lláh, prostrated Himself at His feet and begged for healing. Bahá’u’lláh is reported to have said ‘O my Greatest Branch, leave him in the hands of his God.’ He then proceeded to the bedside of his injured son, dismissed everyone from His presence and stayed beside him for some time. Although no one knows what took place in that precious hour between the lover and the Beloved, we can be sure that this son of Bahá’u’lláh, whose devotion and love for the Cause of His Father knew no bounds, must have been exhilarated by the outpouring of bounties and love from his Lord.
It must be remembered that the relationship of Bahá’u’lláh and the members of His family who remained faithful to the Cause was not identical to the relationship which exists between members of other families. Normally, a father and a son at home have a very intimate and informal attitude towards each other. But in the case of Bahá’u’lláh and His faithful children, it was very different indeed, although that intimate relationship of father and son did indeed exist. However, the station of Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God completely overshadowed His position as a physical father. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Greatest Holy Leaf and the Purest Branch looked upon Bahá’u’lláh not merely as their father, but as their Lord. And because they had truly recognized His station, they acted at all times as most humble servants at His threshold. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always entered the presence of Bahá’u’lláh with such genuine humbleness and reverence that no one among His followers could manifest the spirit of lowliness and utter self-effacement as He did. The humility of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as He bowed before His Father, or prostrated Himself at His feet or dismounted His steed when He approached the Mansion in which Bahá’u’lláh resided, demonstrates this unique relationship which existed between this Father and His faithful sons and daughter.
In the light of all this we can appreciate how the Purest Branch must have felt when his Father went to his bedside. What expressions of devotion, love and thanksgiving must have passed through his lips on that occasion, we cannot imagine. All we know is that Bahá’u’lláh, having the power of life and death in His hands, asked His dying son whether he wished to live. He assured him that if this was his wish God would enable him to recover and grant him good health. But the Purest Branch begged Bahá’u’lláh to accept his life as a ransom for the opening of the gates of the prison to the face of the many believers who were longing to come and enter the presence of their Lord. Bahá’u’lláh accepted his sacrifice and he died on 23 June 1870, twenty-two hours after his fall.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 207)
With permission from Claire McGrath, an outstanding song was written and produced by her.
A chosen sacrifice of one so very young
The son of The Ancient Beauty, prince of meekness
He chose to give his life after a tragic fall
On the wings of detachment it was his fate that day
The tears from his mother were streaming constantly
His family beat their heads to see such tragedy
“Oh please will you heal him?” was his brothers plea
“O my Greatest Branch, leave him in the hands of his God”
His father went to his bedside and asked him of his wish
How such love and meekness did flow from his child’s heart
He asked his Lord to please accept his very life
As a ransom for the believers to see their Beloved’s face
So on that sacred evening, ‘crimson vesture of sacrifice’
When Mirza Mihdi chose to give his life
The cries rose up to the heavens, the casket was carried high
For such a holy being ‘the earth itself trembled in it’s longing to meet thee’ Oh Purest Branch, Mirza Mihdi
‘Blessed art thou and blessed he…that turneth unto thee…’
‘Were we to recount the mysteries of thine ascension,
they that are asleep would waken, and all beings would
be set ablaze with the fire of the remembrance of My Name,
the Mighty, the Loving.’
- “BLESSED ART THOU AND BLESSED BE HE THAT
- TURNETH UNTO THEE AND VISITETH THY GRAVE.”
“The death of the Purest Branch within the confines of the prison created a bitter commotion among the companions who lamented the loss of one of the most illustrious among the family of Bahá’u’lláh. The following is a summary of Husayn-i-Ashchi’s notes:
When the Purest Branch passed away, Shaykh Mahmud begged the Master to allow him to have the honour of washing the body and not to let anyone from the city of ‘Akká perform this service. The Master gave permission. A tent was pitched in the middle of the barracks. We placed his blessed body upon a table in the middle of the tent and Shaykh Mahmud began the task of washing it. The loved ones of God were wailing and lamenting with tearful eyes and, like unto moths, were circling around that candle which the hands of God had lighted. I brought water in and was involved in washing the body. The Master was pacing up and down outside the tent. His face betrayed signs of deep sorrow…
[1 See pp. 65-7.]
[2 In Islamic countries the body of the dead is washed before being wrapped in a shroud. There are men in every city whose profession is to wash the dead. (A.T.)]
[3 Another person who took part in washing the body was Mirza Hasan-i-Mazindarani, Bahá’u’lláh’s cousin. See p. 216.]
The body after being washed and shrouded was placed inside a new casket. At this moment the cry of weeping and mourning and sore lamentation rose up to the heavens. The casket was carried high on the shoulders of men out of the barracks with utmost serenity and majesty. It was laid to rest outside ‘Akká in the graveyard of Nabi Salih… At the time of returning to the barracks an earth tremor shook the area and we all knew that it was the effect of the interment of that holy being.
Nabil-i-A’zam has said that he, Siyyid Mihdiy-i-Dahaji and Nabil-i-Qa’ini were in Nazareth when the earth tremor occurred. It lasted for about three minutes and people were frightened. Later when they heard the news of the death of the Purest Branch they realized that it coincided with the timing of his burial and then they knew the reason for it. Bahá’u’lláh, in one of His Tablets referring to the Purest Branch, confirms the cause of the earth tremor in these words:
[1 See vol. 2.]
[2 See pp. 57-8.]
Blessed art thou and blessed he that turneth unto thee, and visiteth thy grave, and draweth nigh, through thee, unto God, the Lord of all that was and shall be… I testify that thou didst return in meekness unto thine abode. Great is thy blessedness and the blessedness of them that hold fast unto the hem of thy outspread robe… Thou art, verily, the trust of God and His treasure in this land. Erelong will God reveal through thee that which He hath desired. He, verily, is the Truth, the Knower of things unseen. When thou wast laid to rest in the earth, the earth itself trembled in its longing to meet thee. Thus hath it been decreed, and yet the people perceive not… Were We to recount the mysteries of thine ascension, they that are asleep would waken, and all beings would be set ablaze with the fire of the remembrance of My Name, the Mighty, the Loving.(3)
After his tragic death the saintly mother of the Purest Branch mourned the passing of her beloved son and wept almost incessantly. When Bahá’u’lláh assured her that God had accepted her son as a ransom, that the believers might attain the presence of their Beloved and that mankind as a whole be quickened, that noble mother was consoled and her weeping ceased.
The blood-stained clothes of the Purest Branch are among the precious relics gathered by the hands of his devoted sister, the Greatest Holy Leaf, and left to posterity as a silent witness to this great sacrifice.
Soon after the martyrdom of the Purest Branch many restrictions in the barracks were relaxed and several believers who were longing to attain the presence of Bahá’u’lláh did so. And about four months after this tragic event, Bahá’u’lláh and His companions left the prison barracks altogether. As we shall see later, Bahá’u’lláh resided in a house in ‘Akká, and soon many pilgrims from Persia came and attained His presence.
In December 1939 Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, in the face of great dangers and difficulties and in the company of a few friends, with great care and with his own hands, removed the remains of the Purest Branch, together with those of his illustrious mother, from two different cemeteries in ‘Akká, and at a profoundly moving ceremony on Christmas Day in the presence of a few believers, carried the caskets on his own shoulders and buried those sacred remains on the slope of Mount Carmel, adjacent to the resting place of the Greatest Holy Leaf and in the vicinity of the Shrine of the Báb.
[1 See Appendix III. ]
The death of the Purest Branch must be viewed as Bahá’u’lláh’s own sacrifice, a sacrifice on the same level as the crucifixion of Christ and the martyrdom of the Báb. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, states that Bahá’u’lláh has exalted the death of the Purest Branch 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…'(4) In another instance, Shoghi Effendi states(5) that in the Bábí Dispensation, it was the Báb himself who sacrificed His life for the redemption and purification of mankind. In the Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh, it was the Purest Branch who gave his life releasing thereby all the forces necessary for bringing about the unity of mankind.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 210)
“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.”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 188)