Bahá'u'lláh: Founder of the Bahá'í Faith
Mírzá Husayn-'Alí (Persian: میرزا حسینعلی ) (1817-1892), who later took the title of Bahá'u'lláh ("The Glory of God" in Arabic) was the founder-prophet of the Bahá'í Faith.
Bahá'u'lláh claimed to fulfill the Bábí prophecy of "He whom God shall make manifest", but in a broader sense he also claimed to be the Messenger of God prophesized in all great religious traditions.
He said that his day "is the king of days," for which "the soul of every Prophet of God, of every Divine Messenger, hath thirsted," and that "in this most mighty Revelation, all the Dispensations of the past have attained their highest, their final consummation."
Bahá'u'lláh's authored many religious works, most notably the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Book of Certitude. He died in Bahji, Palestine, present day Israel, and is buried there.
Sources of Information
The primary source for historical information regarding Bahá'u'lláh comes from Bahá'í historical texts, most notably Shoghi Effendi's God Passes By, Nabil's Narrative of The Dawnbreakers, and E.G. Browne's A Traveller's Narrative.
While Bahá'í sources would be inclined to favor the historical picture of Bahá'u'lláh, the other sources of information are very few, and equally inclined to attack the historical picture of him. Unless otherwise stated, this article is based from Bahá'í sources, and should be read as such.
Bahá'u'lláh was born on 12 November 1817 in Tehran, Persia, now a part of Iran. His father was Mirza Buzurg of Nur (in the province of Mazandaran), a distinguished nobleman from the court of Fath Ali Shah, the king of Persia.
As a young child, Bahá'u'lláh was privately tutored and was known for his intelligence. He was a devout Muslim, and by the age of 13 or 14 he was known to discuss intricate religious matters with leading clergy.
Bahá'u'lláh's father, Mirza Buzurg served as vizier to Imam-Virdi Mirza, the twelfth son of Fath-'Ali Shah of the Qajar tribe. Mirza Burzurg was later appointed governor of Burujird and Lorestan. (Balyuzi) He was stripped of those positions during a government purge when Muhammad Shah came to power. After his father died, Bahá'u'lláh was asked to take a government post by the new vizier Haji Mirza Aqasi, but declined.
Bahá'u'lláh had three concurrent wives by the names of Asiyih (Navváb), Fatimih (Mahd-i-'Ulya) and Gawhar. His third wife Gawhar was a maid of his first wife Asiyih, and some sources report him as only having two wives. In all Bahá'u'lláh had fourteen children of which only seven lived to adulthood.
Bahá'u'lláh and his first wife Navváb were known as the Father of the Poor and the Mother of Consolation for their extraordinary generosity and regard for the impoverished. (Blomfield)
Involvement in the Bábí Movement
At the age of 28, Bahá'u'lláh received a messenger telling him of the Báb, which he accepted, becoming a Bábí. Bahá'u'lláh began to spread the new cause, especially in his native province of Nur, becoming recognized as one of its most influential believers. (Dawnbreakers)
The accompanying government suppression of the Báb's religion brought imprisonment twice to Bahá'u'lláh, and bastinado torture once.
The Báb was martyred in 1850 by a firing squad in Tabriz, which caused two years later a handful of angry Bábís to attempt an assassination of the King of Persia, Nasser-al-Din Shah. Although the assassins claimed to be working alone, the entire Bábí community was blamed, and a slaughter of several thousand Bábís followed.
An Austrian officer, Captain Von Goumoens, working in the court of the Shah at the time, gave the following account after signing his resignation:
[I saw] ones who, with gouged-out eyes, must eat, on the scene of the deed, their own amputated ears; or whose teeth are torn out with inhuman violence by the hand of the executioner; or whose bare skulls are simply crushed by blows from a hammer... As for the end itself, they hang the scorched and perforated bodies by their hands and feet to a tree head downwards, and now every Persian may try his marksmanship to his heart’s content...
When I read over again, what I have written, I am overcome by the thought that those who are with you in our dearly beloved Austria may doubt the full truth of the picture, and accuse me of exaggeration. Would to God that I had not lived to see it!... At present I never leave my house, in order not to meet with fresh scenes of horror... I will no longer maintain my connection with the scene of such crimes.” (quoted in God Passes By, 65)
Revelation in the Síyáh-Chál
Many of the Bábís who were not killed, including Bahá'u'lláh, were imprisoned in the Síyáh-Chál (the Black Pit), an underground dungeon of Tehran.
According to Bahá'u'lláh, it was during his imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál that he received a vision of a Maiden from God, through whom he received his mission as a Messenger of God and as the One whose coming the Báb had prophesized. After four months in the Síyáh-Chál, and after the person who tried to kill the Shah confessed and exonerated the Bábi leaders, the authorities banished Bahá'u'lláh from Persia.
Bahá'u'lláh chose to go to Baghdad, then a city in the Ottoman Empire. Bahá'ís believe that he was "banished" or "exiled" out of Persia whilst some sources believe that Bahá'u'lláh fled for fear of more persecution [Maulana, 1933]. Bahá'u'lláh's passport shows that he had permission to travel to the Shi'a holy shrines in Iraq.
In 1853, with limited supplies and food, and through the cold of winter, Bahá'u'lláh and his family travelled from Persia to Baghdad.
Mirza Yahya had been appointed by the Báb to lead the Bábí community, and had been travelling around Persia in disguise. He decided to go to Baghdad and join the group using funds given to him by Bahá'u'lláh.
An increasing number of Bábí's considered Baghdad the new center for leadership of the Bábí Faith, and a flow of pilgrims started coming there from Persia. However, as time went on people began less and less to search out Mirza Yahya for leadership, and began to recognize Bahá'u'lláh as their leader.
Mirza Yahya, as the appointed leader of the Bábís, started to sow doubt about Bahá'u'lláh's intentions and further divided the community. The actions of Mirza Yahya drove many people away from the Faith, and gave its enemies confidence to continue their campaigns. The Báb's religion was declining towards extinction.
On April 10, 1854 Bahá'u'lláh, without telling anyone his purpose or destination, left to the mountains of Kurdistan, northeast of Baghdad, near the city Sulaymaniyah. He later wrote that he left so as to avoid becoming the source of disagreement within the Bábí community.
For two years Bahá'u'lláh lived alone in the mountains of Kurdistan. At one point, as the story goes, someone noticed his remarkable penmanship, which brought the curiosity of the instructors of the local Sufi orders. As he began to take guests, he became noted for his learning and wisdom. Shaykh 'Uthmán, Shaykh 'Abdu'r-Rahmán, and Shaykh Ismá'íl, undisputed leaders of the Naqshbandíyyih, Qádiríyyih, and Khálidíyyih Orders respectively, began to seek his advice and admire him. It was to the second of these that the Four Valleys was written. Several other notable books were also written during this time.
News of a wise man living in the mountains under the name of Darvish Muhammad spread to neighbouring areas. When the news of such a man reached Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh's family realized who the man was and pleaded with him to come back to Baghdad, which he did.
Return to Baghdad
When Bahá'u'lláh returned to Baghdad he saw that the Bábí community had become disheartened and divided. According to `Abdu'l-Bahá, 25 people had claimed to be the One promised by the Báb during Bahá'u'lláh's absence and beforehand.
In the time of Bahá'u'lláh's absence, and in the coming years, Mirza Yahya had ordered the murder of some of his Bábí opponents, including Dayyán, and a cousin of the Báb himself, proceeded to marry the widowed wife of the Báb against the clear instructions left by him, and dispatched followers to the province of Nur with the mission of assassinating the Shah.
Bahá'u'lláh remained in Baghdád for seven more years. During this time, while keeping his perceived station as the Manifestation of God hidden, he taught the Báb's teachings. He published many books and verses, which he called revelations, including the Book of Certitude and the Hidden Words.
Bahá'u'lláh's rising prestige in the city, and the revival of the Persian Bábí community gained the attention of his enemies in Islamic clergy and the Persian government. They were eventually successful in having the Ottoman government exile Bahá'u'lláh from Baghdad to Constantinople.
Declaration in the Garden of Ridvan
On April 22, 1863, Bahá'u'lláh left Baghdad and entered the Garden of Ridván near Baghdad. Bahá'u'lláh and those accompanying him would stay in the garden for twelve days before departing for Constantinople. It was during his time in the Garden of Ridván that Bahá'u'lláh declared to his companions his perceived mission and station as a Messenger of God. Today Bahá'ís celebrate the twelve days that Bahá'u'lláh in the Garden of Ridván as the festival of Ridván.
The eleven years of messianic secrecy that passed between when Bahá'u'lláh claimed to have seen the Maiden of Heaven in the Síyáh-Chál and this declaration are referred to by Bahá'í chroniclers and by Bahá'u'lláh himself as ayyam-i butun ("Days of Concealment"). Bahá'u'lláh stated that this period was a "set time of concealment". It was during this period that Bahá'u'lláh wrote his primary eschatological work the Kitab-i-Iqan. (Buck, 1998)
As mentioned previously, Bahá'u'lláh was given an order to relocate to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. Although not a formal prisoner yet, the forced exile from Baghdad was the beginning of a long process which would gradually move him into further exiles and eventually the penal colony of Akka.
Bahá'u'lláh and his family, along with a small group of Bábís, stayed in Constantinople for only four months. During this time the Persian Ambassador in the court of the Sultan mounted a systematic campaign against Bahá'u'lláh. He was thus exiled to Adrianople, but before leaving he wrote a Tablet to the Sultan, the contents of which are unknown, but Shamsi Big, who delivered the letter, gave the following report:
I know not what that letter contained, for no sooner had the Grand Vizir perused it than he turned the color of a corpse, and remarked: ‘It is as if the King of Kings were issuing his behest to his humblest vassal king and regulating his conduct.’ (quoted in God Passes By, 160)
During the month of December, Bahá'u'lláh and his family embarked on a twelve-day journey to Adrianople. Bahá'u'lláh stayed in Adrianople for four and a half years. Mirza Yahya, upon hearing Bahá'u'lláh's words in a Tablet read to him, challenging him to accept Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, offered a counter-claim that he was the one whom the Báb had prophesized about. This caused a break within the Bábí community, and the followers of Bahá'u'lláh became known as Bahá'ís, while the followers of Mirza Yahha became known as Azalís. See Bahá'í/Bábí split. At one point, Mirza Yahya tried to poison Bahá'u'lláh. While Bahá'u'lláh recovered, his hand was left shaking until the end of his life.
Also, while in Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed the Bahá'í Faith further by addressing Tablets to the kings and rulers of the world including:
- Pope Pius IX
- Emperor Napoleon III of France
- Czar Alexander II of Russia
- King Wilhelm I of Prussia
- Queen Victoria of England
- Emperor Franz Joseph of the Habsburg Dynasty
- Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz of the Ottoman Empire
- Nasser-al-Din Shah of the Persian Empire
Akka (Akko, Acre)
The disagreements between the Bahá'ís and the Azalís allowed the Ottoman and Persian authorities to exile Bahá'u'lláh once again. One morning, without any notice, soldiers surrounded Bahá'u'lláh's house and told everyone to get ready to depart to the prison-city of Akka, Palestine. Bahá'u'lláh and his family left Adrianople on August 12, 1868 and after a journey by land and sea arrived in Akka on August 31. The inhabitants of Akka were told that the new prisoners were enemies of the state, of God and his religion, and that association with them was strictly forbidden.
The first years in Akka had very harsh conditions for Bahá'u'lláh; Mirzá Mihdí, Bahá'u'lláh's son, was suddenly killed at the age of twenty-two when he fell through a skylight while pacing back and forth in prayer and meditation. After some time, the people and officials began to trust and respect Bahá'u'lláh's, and thus the conditions of the imprisonment were eased and eventually, after the Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz's death, he was allowed to leave the city and visit nearby places.
The final years of Bahá'u'lláh's life were spent in the Mansion of Bahji, just outside Akka, even though he was still formally a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire. During his years in Akka and Bahji, Bahá'u'lláh produced many volumes of work including the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. On May 9, 1892 Bahá'u'lláh contracted a slight fever which grew steadily over the following days, abated, and then finally took his life on May 29, 1892.
When Bahá'u'lláh passed away, he left a Will and Testament, which stated the following in regard to succession:
The Will of the divine Testator is this: It is incumbent upon the Aghsan, the Afnan and My Kindred to turn, one and all, their faces towards the Most Mighty Branch... Verily God hath ordained the station of the Greater Branch [Muhammad Ali] to be beneath that of the Most Great Branch [Abdu’l-Bahá]. He is in truth the Ordainer, the All-Wise. We have chosen ‘the Greater’ after ‘the Most Great’, as decreed by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, 221)
The favor given to `Abdu'l-Bahá was a cause of jealousy within Bahá'u'lláh's family. Muhammad Ali immediately began to claim that the Will was forged, and insisted that he should be the one to lead the Bahá'í community. This period is considered by Bahá'ís as one of the most difficult tests of the early years of the Faith.
Due to the conflict with his half brother, `Abdu'l-Bahá ex-communicated him as a Covenant-breaker. The division was not long lived. After being alienated by the Bahá'í community, Muhammad Ali died in 1937 with only a handful of followers.