It is clear from the foregoing that the history of Bahá’u’lláh’s family has two contrasting features: one, glory and faithfulness; the other, dishonour and treachery. Navvab, her two sons ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Purest Branch, and her daughter the Greatest Holy Leaf, shine brilliantly above the horizon of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation and occupy immeasurably exalted positions within His Cause. The rest of the family including Mahd-i-‘Ulya, Gawhar Khanum and their sons and daughters, all became darkened and perished spiritually, sinking miserably into ignominy and oblivion. This contrast of light and darkness, of good and evil in Bahá’u’lláh’s own family is one of the most thought-provoking and mysterious features of His ministry. His eldest Son was the perfect mirror reflecting His light and the Centre of His mighty Covenant while another son turned into the ‘centre of sedition’ and the arch-breaker of that same Covenant.
Many people are puzzled by the fact that almost the entire family of Bahá’u’lláh defected. Why is it that those who were nearest to Him, who were members of His household, His sons and daughters, should be foremost among the violators of His Covenant? In normal circumstances, when a person attains a prominent position in the community, it is often the family members who rally around him and lend their whole-hearted support. But in the case of Bahá’u’lláh it was the reverse and a similar situation was created within the family of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after His passing. To appreciate the reasons for this, we observe once again that the proper attitude of a believer towards the Manifestation of God should be a true demonstration of servitude, self-effacement and complete obedience. Whenever these qualities are absent, a barrier will be created between man and God. In such a case the believer may be associating with the Manifestation of God in person, yet because of this barrier he will not be able to appreciate His glory or become enchanted with His Revelation.
One might, by way of analogy, compare such believers to those who, with no knowledge of mathematics, hear an eminent mathematician expound his theories. They can see him in no other light than that of an ordinary human being whose words are incomprehensible to them. They judge the scientist by their own standards and consequently remain unmoved by his intellectual powers. The closer they are to him, the better they can see his human nature, which acts as a barrier and hides his greatness from them. Only those who understand mathematics can appreciate the real genius of the scientist. In their view, his scientific knowledge outweighs his human characteristics and therefore they do not focus their attention on his outward appearance and human limitations.
This analogy sheds light on the Covenant-breaking by most of the members of Bahá’u’lláh’s family and on the reasons for their unfaithfulness to Him. Mirza Muhammad-‘Ali and his kinsfolk who followed him did not possess that spiritual quality which makes a man humble and enables him to recognize the splendours of God’s Revelation in this day. Because of their ambitious nature and their lack of spirituality and self-effacement, their inner eyes were blinded—unable to discern Bahá’u’lláh’s spiritual powers. They could see Him only with their outward eyes, and because they were closest to Him they saw Him as an ordinary human being. They found Him to be, in their estimation, just a great man and nothing more. In reality, they had not recognized Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God. As long as Bahá’u’lláh was among them, they were subdued by His authority, basked in the light of His favours and were accorded honours and privileges by His followers. But after His ascension, these same family members turned their backs on Him and broke the Covenant.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 26-27)
The three wives of Bahá’u’lláh were:
Nawab (Asiyih Khanum): married some time between 24 September and 22 October 1835; died 1886; seven children.
Mahd-i-‘Ulya (Fatimih Khanum): born 1828; married 1849; died 1904; six children. She broke the Covenant after the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh as did all her children. See God Passes By (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1987), chapter 15.
Gawhar Khanum: married in Baghdad; died during the Ministry of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; one child. She and her daughter both broke the Covenant after the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh. See God Passes By, chapter 15.
(The Universal House of Justice, 1995 Oct 23, Wives of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 3)