Mírzá Ḥusayn ‘Alí, Who afterwards assumed the title of Bahá’u’lláh (i.e., Glory of God), was the eldest son of Mírzá ‘Abbás of Núr, a Vazír or Minister of State. His family was wealthy and distinguished, many of its members having occupied important positions in the Government and in the Civil and Military Services of Persia. He was born in Ṭihrán (Teheran), the capital city of Persia, between dawn and sunrise on the 12th of November, 1817.2 He never attended school or college, and what little teaching He received was given at home. Nevertheless, even as a child He showed wonderful wisdom and knowledge. While He was still a youth His father died, leaving Him responsible for the care of His younger brothers and sisters, and for the management of the extensive family estates.
From childhood He was extremely kind and generous. He was a great lover of outdoor life, most of His time being spent in the garden or the fields. He had an extraordinary power of attraction, which was felt by all. People always crowded around Him. Ministers and people of the Court would surround Him, and the children also were devoted to Him. When He was only thirteen or fourteen years old He became renowned for His learning. He would converse on any subject and solve any problem presented to Him. In large gatherings He would discuss matters with the ‘Ulamá (leading mullás) and would explain intricate religious questions. All of them used to listen to Him with the greatest interest.
When Bahá’u’lláh was twenty-two years old, His father died, and the Government wished Him to succeed to His father’s position in the Ministry, as was customary in Persia, but Bahá’u’lláh did not accept the offer. Then the Prime Minister said: “Leave him to himself. Such a position is unworthy of him. He has some higher aim in view. I cannot understand him, but I am convinced that he is destined for some lofty career. His thoughts are not like ours. Let him alone.”
When the Báb declared His mission in 1844, Bahá’u’lláh, Who was then in His twenty-seventh year, boldly espoused the Cause of the new Faith, of which He soon became recognized as one of the most powerful and fearless exponents.
He had already twice suffered imprisonment for the Cause, and on one occasion had undergone the torture of the bastinado, when in August 1852, an event occurred fraught with terrible consequences for the Bábís. One of the Báb’s followers, a youth named Ṣádiq, had been so affected by the martyrdom of his beloved Master, of which he was an eyewitness, that his mind became deranged, and, in revenge, he waylaid the Sháh and fired a pistol at him. Instead of using a bullet, however, he charged his weapon with small shot, and although a few pellets struck the Sháh, no serious harm was done. The youth dragged the Sháh from his horse, but was promptly seized by the attendants of his Majesty and put to death on the spot. The whole body of Bábís was unjustly held responsible for the deed, and frightful massacres ensued. Eighty of them were forthwith put to death in Ṭihrán with the most revolting tortures. Many others were seized and put into prisons, among them being Bahá’u’lláh. He afterwards wrote:—
By the righteousness of God! We were in no wise connected with that evil deed, and Our innocence was indisputably established by the tribunals. Nevertheless, they apprehended Us, and from Níyávarán, which was then the residence of His Majesty, conducted Us, on foot and in chains, with bared head and bare feet, to the dungeon of Ṭihrán. A brutal man, accompanying Us on horseback, snatched off Our hat, whilst We were being hurried along by a troop of executioners and officials. We were consigned for four months to a place foul beyond comparison. As to the dungeon in which this Wronged One and others similarly wronged were confined, a dark and narrow pit were preferable. Upon Our arrival We were first conducted along a pitch-black corridor, from whence We descended three steep flights of stairs to the place of confinement assigned to Us. The dungeon was wrapped in thick darkness, and Our fellow-prisoners numbered nearly a hundred and fifty souls: thieves, assassins and highwaymen. Though crowded, it had no other outlet than the passage by which We entered. No pen can depict that place, nor any tongue describe its loathsome smell. Most of these men had neither clothes nor bedding to lie on. God alone knoweth what befell Us in that most foul-smelling and gloomy place!
Day and night, while confined in that dungeon, We meditated upon the deeds, the condition, and the conduct of the Bábís, wondering what could have led a people so high-minded, so noble, and of such intelligence, to perpetrate such an audacious and outrageous act against the person of His Majesty. This Wronged One, thereupon, decided to arise, after His release from prison, and undertake, with the utmost vigor, the task of regenerating this people.
One night, in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every side: “Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy Pen. Grieve Thou not for that which hath befallen Thee, neither be Thou afraid, for Thou art in safety. Erelong will God raise up the treasures of the earth—men who will aid Thee through Thyself and through Thy Name, wherewith God hath revived the hearts of such as have recognized Him.”—Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.
This terrible imprisonment lasted four months, but Bahá’u’lláh and His companions remained zealous and enthusiastic, in the greatest of happiness. Almost every day one or more of them was tortured or put to death and the others reminded that their turn might come next. When the executioners came to fetch one of the friends, the one whose name was called would literally dance with joy, kiss the hands of Bahá’u’lláh, embrace the rest of his fellow believers and then hasten with glad eagerness to the place of martyrdom.
It was conclusively proved that Bahá’u’lláh had no share in the plot against the Sháh, and the Russian Minister testified to the purity of His character. He was, moreover, so ill that it was thought He would die. Instead, therefore, of sentencing Him to death, the Sháh ordered that He should be exiled to ‘Iráq-i-‘Arab, in Mesopotamia; and thither, a fortnight later, Bahá’u’lláh set out, accompanied by His family and a number of other believers. They suffered terribly from cold and other hardships on the long winter journey, and arrived in Baghdád in a state of almost utter destitution.
As soon as His health permitted, Bahá’u’lláh began to teach inquirers and to encourage and exhort the believers, and soon peace and happiness reigned among the Bábís.3 This, however, was short-lived. Bahá’u’lláh’s half brother, Mírzá Yaḥyá, also known as Ṣubḥ-i-Azal, arrived in Baghdád, and soon afterwards differences, secretly instigated by him, began to grow, just as similar divisions had arisen among the disciples of Christ. These differences (which later, in Adrianople, became open and violent) were very painful to Bahá’u’lláh, Whose whole aim in life was the promotion of unity among the people of the world.
About a year after coming to Baghdád, He departed alone into the wilderness of Sulaymáníyyih, taking with Him nothing but a change of clothes. Regarding this period He writes in the Book of Íqán4 as follows:—
In the early days of Our arrival in this land, when We discerned the signs of impending events, We decided, ere they happened, to retire. We betook Ourselves to the wilderness, and there, separated and alone, led for two years a life of complete solitude. From Our eyes there rained tears of anguish, and in Our bleeding heart there surged an ocean of agonizing pain. Many a night We had no food for sustenance, and many a day Our body found no rest. By Him Who hath My being between His hands! notwithstanding these showers of afflictions and unceasing calamities, Our soul was wrapt in blissful joy, and Our whole being evinced an ineffable gladness. For in Our solitude We were unaware of the harm or benefit, the health or ailment, of any soul. Alone, We communed with Our spirit, oblivious of the world and all that is therein. We knew not, however, that the mesh of divine destiny exceedeth the vastest of mortal conceptions, and the dart of His decree transcendeth the boldest of human designs. None can escape the snares He setteth, and no soul can find release except through submission to His will. By the righteousness of God! Our withdrawal contemplated no return, and Our separation hoped for no reunion. The one object of Our retirement was to avoid becoming a subject of discord among the faithful, a source of disturbance unto Our companions, the means of injury to any soul, or the cause of sorrow to any heart. Beyond these, We cherished no other intention, and apart from them, We had no end in view. And yet, each person schemed after his own desire, and pursued his own idle fancy, until the hour when, from the Mystic Source, there came the summons bidding Us return whence We came. Surrendering Our will to His, We submitted to His injunction.
What pen can recount the things We beheld upon Our return! Two years have elapsed during which Our enemies have ceaselessly and assiduously contrived to exterminate Us, whereunto all witness.—Kitáb-i-Íqán.
After His return from this retirement, His fame became greater than ever and people flocked to Baghdád from far and near to see Him and hear His teachings. Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, as well as Muḥammadans, became interested in the new message. The Mullás (Muḥammadan doctors), however, took up a hostile attitude and persistently plotted to effect His overthrow. On a certain occasion they sent one of their number to interview Him and submit to Him certain questions. The envoy found the answers of Bahá’u’lláh so convincing and His wisdom so amazing, although evidently not acquired by study, that he was obliged to confess that in knowledge and understanding Bahá’u’lláh was peerless. In order, however, that the Mullás who had sent him should be satisfied as to the reality of Bahá’u’lláh’s Prophethood, he asked that some miracle should be produced as a proof. Bahá’u’lláh expressed His willingness to accept the suggestion on certain conditions, declaring that if the Mullás would agree regarding some miracle to be performed, and would sign and seal a document to the effect that on performance of this miracle they would confess the validity of His mission and cease to oppose Him, He would furnish the desired proof or else stand convicted of imposture. Had the aim of the Mullás been to get at the truth, surely here was their opportunity; but their intention was far otherwise. Rightly or wrongly, they meant to secure a decision in their own favor. They feared the truth and fled from the daring challenge. This discomfiture, however, only spurred them on to devise fresh plots for the eradication of the oppressed sect. The Consul General of Persia in Baghdád came to their assistance and sent repeated messages to the Sháh to the effect that Bahá’u’lláh was injuring the Muḥammadan religion more than ever, still exerting a malign influence in Persia, and that He ought therefore to be banished to some more distant place.
It was characteristic of Bahá’u’lláh that, at this crisis, when at the instigation of the Muḥammadan Mullás the Persian and Turkish Governments were combining their efforts to eradicate the Movement, He remained calm and serene, encouraging and inspiring His followers and writing imperishable words of consolation and guidance. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá related how the Hidden Words were written at this time. Bahá’u’lláh would often go for a walk along the bank of the Tigris. He would come back looking very happy and write down those lyric gems of wise counsel which have brought help and healing to thousands of aching and troubled hearts. For years, only a few manuscript copies of the Hidden Words were in existence, and these had to be carefully concealed lest they should fall into the hands of the enemies that abounded, but now this little volume is probably the best known of all Bahá’u’lláh’s works, and is read in every quarter of the globe. The Book of Íqán is another well-known work of Bahá’u’lláh’s written about the same period, towards the end of His sojourn at Baghdád (1862–1863 A.D.)
After much negotiation, at the request of the Persian Government, an order was issued by the Turkish Government summoning Bahá’u’lláh to Constantinople. On receipt of this news His followers were in consternation. They besieged the house of their beloved Leader to such an extent that the family encamped in the Garden of Najíb Páshá outside the town for twelve days, while the caravan was being prepared for the long journey. It was on the first of these twelve days (April 22 to May 3, 1863, i.e., nineteen years after the Báb’s Declaration) that Bahá’u’lláh announced to several of His followers the glad tidings that He was the One Whose coming had been foretold by the Báb—the Chosen of God, the Promised One of all the Prophets. The Garden where this memorable Declaration took place has become known to Bahá’ís as the “Garden of Riḍván,” and the days Bahá’u’lláh spent there are commemorated in the “Feast of Riḍván,” which is held annually on the anniversary of those twelve days. During those days Bahá’u’lláh, instead of being sad or depressed, showed the greatest joy, dignity and power. His followers became happy and enthusiastic, and great crowds came to pay their respects to Him. All the notables of Baghdád, even the Governor himself, came to honor the departing prisoner.
The journey to Constantinople lasted between three and four months, the party consisting of Bahá’u’lláh with members of His family and twenty-six disciples. Arrived in Constantinople they found themselves prisoners in a small house in which they were very much overcrowded. Later they got somewhat better quarters, but after four months they were again moved on, this time to Adrianople. The journey to Adrianople, although it lasted but a few days, was the most terrible they had yet undertaken. Snow fell heavily most of the time, and as they were destitute of proper clothing and food, their sufferings were extreme. For the first winter in Adrianople, Bahá’u’lláh and His family, numbering twelve persons, were accommodated in a small house of three rooms, comfortless and vermin infested. In the spring they were given a more comfortable abode. They remained in Adrianople for four and a half years. Here Bahá’u’lláh resumed His teaching and gathered about Him a large following. He publicly announced His mission and was enthusiastically accepted by the majority of the Bábís, who were known thereafter as Bahá’ís. A minority, however, under the leadership of Bahá’u’lláh’s half brother, Mírzá Yaḥyá, became violently opposed to Him and joined with their former enemies, the Shí‘ihs, in plotting for His overthrow. Great troubles ensued, and at last the Turkish Government banished both Bábís and Bahá’ís from Adrianople, exiling Bahá’u’lláh and His followers to ‘Akká, in Palestine, where they arrived (according to Nabíl)6 on August 31, 1868, while Mírzá Yaḥyá and his party were sent to Cyprus.
About this time Bahá’u’lláh wrote His famous letter to the Sulṭán of Turkey, many of the crowned heads of Europe, the Pope, and the Sháh of Persia. Later, in His Kitáb-i-Aqdas7 He addressed other sovereigns, the rulers and Presidents of America, the leaders of religion in general and the generality of mankind. To all, He announced His mission and called upon them to bend their energies to the establishment of true religion, just government and international peace. In His letter to the Sháh He powerfully pleaded the cause of the oppressed Bábís and asked to be brought face to face with those who had instigated their persecution. Needless to say, this request was not complied with; Badí‘, the young and devoted Bahá’í who delivered the letter of Bahá’u’lláh, was seized and martyred with fearful tortures, hot bricks being pressed on his flesh!
O King, I have seen in the way of God what no eye hath seen and no ear hath heard. Friends have disclaimed me; ways are straitened unto me; the pool of safety is dried up; the plain of ease is [scorched] yellow. How many calamities have descended, and how many will descend! I walk advancing toward the Mighty, the Bounteous, while behind me glides the serpent. My eyes rain down tears until my bed is drenched; but my sorrow is not for myself. By God, my head longeth for the spears for the love of its Lord, and I never pass by a tree but my heart addresseth it [saying], “O would that thou wert cut down in my name and my body were crucified upon thee in the way of my Lord;” yea, because I see mankind going astray in their intoxication, and they know it not: they have exalted their lusts, and put aside their God, as though they took the command of God for a mockery, a sport, and a plaything; and they think that they do well, and that they are harbored in the citadel of security. The matter is not as they suppose: tomorrow they shall see what they [now] deny.
We are about to shift from this most remote place of banishment [Adrianople] unto the prison of Acre. And, according to what they say, it is assuredly the most desolate of the cities of the world, the most unsightly of them in appearance, the most detestable in climate, and the foulest in water; it is as though it were the metropolis of the owl; there is not heard from its regions aught save the sound of its hooting. And in it they intend to imprison the servant, and to shut in our faces the doors of leniency and take away from us the good things of the life of the world during what remaineth of our days. By God, though weariness should weaken me, and hunger should destroy me, though my couch should be made of the hard rock and my associates of the beasts of the desert, I will not blench, but will be patient, as the resolute and determined are patient, in the strength of God, the King of Preexistence, the Creator of the nations; and under all circumstances I give thanks unto God. And we hope of His graciousness (exalted is He) … that He will render [all men’s] faces sincere toward Him, the Mighty, the Bounteous. Verily He answereth him who prayeth unto Him, and is near unto him who calleth on Him. And we ask Him to make this dark calamity a buckler for the body of His saints, and to protect them thereby from sharp swords and piercing blades. Through affliction hath His light shone and His praise been bright unceasingly: this hath been His method through past ages and bygone times.—A Traveler’s Narrative (Episode of the Báb).
At that time ‘Akká (Acre) was a prison city to which the worst criminals were sent from all parts of the Turkish Empire. On arriving there, after a miserable sea journey, Bahá’u’lláh and His followers, about eighty to eighty-four in number, including men, women and children, were imprisoned in the army barracks. The place was dirty and cheerless in the extreme. There were no beds or comforts of any sort. The food supplied was wretched and inadequate, so much so that after a time the prisoners begged to be allowed to buy their food for themselves. During the first few days the children were crying continually, and sleep was almost impossible. Malaria, dysentery and other diseases soon broke out, and everyone in the company fell sick, with the exception of two. Three succumbed to their sickness, and the sufferings of the survivors were indescribable.8
During the imprisonment in the barracks, visitors were rigidly excluded. Several of the Bahá’ís of Persia came all the way on foot for the purpose of seeing their beloved Leader, but were refused admittance within the city walls. They used to go to a place on the plain outside the third moat, from which they could see the windows of Bahá’u’lláh’s quarters. He would show Himself to them at one of the windows and after gazing on Him from afar, they would weep and return to their homes, fired with new zeal for sacrifice and service.
At last the imprisonment was mitigated. A mobilization of Turkish troops occurred and the barracks were required for soldiers. Bahá’u’lláh and His family were transferred to a house by themselves and the rest of the party were accommodated in a caravanserai in the town. Bahá’u’lláh was confined for seven more years in this house. In a small room near that in which He was imprisoned, thirteen of His household, including both sexes, had to accommodate themselves as best they could! In the earlier part of their stay in this house they suffered greatly from insufficiency of accommodation, inadequate food supply and a lack of the ordinary conveniences of life. After a time, however, a few additional rooms were placed at their disposal and they were able to live in comparative comfort. From the time Bahá’u’lláh and His companions left the barracks, visitors were allowed to see them, and gradually the severe restrictions imposed by the Imperial firmans were more and more left in abeyance, although now and then reimposed for a time.
Even when the imprisonment was at its worst, the Bahá’ís were not dismayed, and their serene confidence was never shaken. While in the barracks at ‘Akká, Bahá’u’lláh wrote to some friends, “Fear not. These doors shall be opened. My tent shall be pitched on Mount Carmel, and the utmost joy shall be realized.” This declaration was a great source of consolation to His followers, and in due course it was literally fulfilled. The story of how the prison doors were opened had best be told in the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as translated by His grandson, Shoghi Effendi:—
Bahá’u’lláh loved the beauty and verdure of the country. One day He passed the remark: “I have not gazed on verdure for nine years. The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies.” When I heard indirectly of this saying I realized that He was longing for the country, and I was sure that whatever I could do towards the carrying out of His wish would be successful. There was in ‘Akká at that time a man called Muḥammad Páshá Ṣafwat, who was very much opposed to us. He had a palace called Mazra’ih, about four miles north of the city, a lovely place, surrounded by gardens and with a stream of running water. I went and called on this Páshá at his home. I said: “Páshá, you have left the palace empty, and are living in ‘Akká.” He replied “I am an invalid and cannot leave the city. If I go there it is lonely and I am cut off from my friends.” I said: “While you are not living there and the place is empty, let it to us.” He was amazed at the proposal, but soon consented. I got the house at a very low rent, about five pounds per annum, paid him for five years and made a contract. I sent laborers to repair the place and put the garden in order and had a bath built. I also had a carriage prepared for the use of the Blessed Beauty.9 One day I determined to go and see the place for myself. Notwithstanding the repeated injunctions given in successive firmans that we were on no account to pass the limits of the city walls, I walked out through the City Gate. Gendarmes were on guard, but they made no objection, so I proceeded straight to the palace. The next day I again went out, with some friends and officials, unmolested and unopposed, although the guards and sentinels stood on both sides of the city gates. Another day I arranged a banquet, spread a table under the pine trees of Bahjí, and gathered round it the notables and officials of the town. In the evening we all returned to the town together.
One day I went to the Holy Presence of the Blessed Beauty and said: “the palace at Mazra’ih is ready for You, and a carriage to drive You there.” (At that time there were no carriages in ‘Akká or Haifa.) He refused to go, saying: “I am a prisoner.” Later I requested Him again, but got the same answer. I went so far as to ask Him a third time, but He still said “No!” and I did not dare to insist further. There was, however, in ‘Akká a certain Muḥammadan Shaykh, a well-known man with considerable influence, who loved Bahá’u’lláh and was greatly favored by Him. I called this Shaykh and explained the position to him. I said, “You are daring. Go tonight to His Holy Presence, fall on your knees before Him, take hold of His hands and do not let go until He promises to leave the city!” He was an ‘Arab.… He went directly to Bahá’u’lláh and sat down close to His knees. He took hold of the hands of the Blessed Beauty and kissed them and asked: “Why do you not leave the city?” He said: “I am a prisoner.” The Shaykh replied: “God forbid! Who has the power to make you a prisoner? You have kept yourself in prison. It was your own will to be imprisoned, and now I beg you to come out and go to the palace. It is beautiful and verdant. The trees are lovely, and the oranges like balls of fire!” As often as the Blessed Beauty said: “I am a prisoner, it cannot be,” the Shaykh took His hands and kissed them. For a whole hour he kept on pleading. At last Bahá’u’lláh said, “Khaylí khub (very good)” and the Shaykh’s patience and persistence were rewarded. He came to me with great joy to give the glad news of His holiness’s consent. In spite of the strict firman of ‘Abdu’l-’Azíz which prohibited my meeting or having any intercourse with the Blessed Perfection, I took the carriage the next day and drove with Him to the palace. No one made any objection. I left Him there and returned myself to the city.
For two years He remained in that charming and lovely spot. Then it was decided to remove to another place, at Bahjí. It so happened that an epidemic disease had broken out at Bahjí, and the proprietor of the house fled away in distress, with all his family, ready to offer the house free of charge to any applicant. We took the house at a very low rent, and there the doors of majesty and true sovereignty were flung wide open. Bahá’u’lláh was nominally a prisoner (for the drastic firmans of Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz were never repealed), yet in reality He showed forth such nobility and dignity in His life and bearing that He was reverenced by all, and the Rulers of Palestine envied His influence and power. Governors and Mutaṣarrifs, generals and local officials, would humbly request the honor of attaining His presence—a request to which He seldom acceded.
On one occasion a Governor of the city implored this favor on the ground of his being ordered by higher authorities to visit, with a certain general, the Blessed Perfection. The request being granted, the general, who was a very corpulent individual, a European, was so impressed by the majestic presence of Bahá’u’lláh that he remained kneeling on the ground near the door. Such was the diffidence of both visitors that it was only after repeated invitations from Bahá’u’lláh that they were induced to smoke the nargileh (hubble-bubble pipe) offered to them. Even then they only touched it with their lips, and then, putting it aside, folded their arms and sat in an attitude of such humility and respect as to astonish all those who were present.
The loving reverence of friends, the consideration and respect that were shown by all officials and notables, the inflow of pilgrims and seekers after truth, the spirit of devotion and service that was manifest all around, the majestic and kingly countenance of the Blessed Perfection, the effectiveness of His command, the number of His zealous devotees—all bore witness to the fact that Bahá’u’lláh was in reality no prisoner, but a King of Kings. Two despotic sovereigns were against Him, two powerful autocratic rulers, yet, even when confined in their own prisons, He addressed them in very austere terms, like a king addressing his subjects. Afterwards, in spite of severe firmans, He lived at Bahjí like a prince. Often He would say: “Verily, verily, the most wretched prison has been converted into a Paradise of Eden.”
Having in His earlier years of hardship shown how to glorify God in a state of poverty and ignominy, Bahá’u’lláh in His later years at Bahjí showed how to glorify God in a state of honor and affluence. The offering of hundreds of thousands of devoted followers placed at His disposal large funds which He was called upon to administer. Although His life at Bahjí has been described as truly regal, in the highest sense of the word, yet it must not be imagined that it was characterized by material splendor or extravagance. The Blessed Perfection and His family lived in very simple and modest fashion, and expenditure on selfish luxury was a thing unknown in that household. Near His home the believers prepared a beautiful garden called Riḍván, in which He often spent many consecutive days or even weeks, sleeping at night in a little cottage in the garden. Occasionally He went further afield. He made several visits to ‘Akká and Haifa, and on more than one occasion pitched His tent on Mount Carmel, as He had predicted when imprisoned in the barracks at ‘Akká. The time of Bahá’u’lláh was spent for the most part in prayer and meditation, in writing the Sacred Books, revealing Tablets, and in spiritual education of the friends. In order to give Him entire freedom for this great work, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá undertook the arrangement of all other affairs, even meeting the Mullás, poets, and members of the Government. All of these were delighted and happy through meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and entirely satisfied with His explanation and talks, and although they had not met Bahá’u’lláh Himself, they became full of friendly feeling towards Him, through their acquaintanceship with His son, for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s attitude caused them to understand the station of His father.
… my conductor paused for a moment while I removed my shoes. Then, with a quick movement of the hand, he withdrew, and, as I passed, replaced the curtain; and I found myself in a large apartment, along the upper end of which ran a low divan, while on the side opposite to the door were placed two or three chairs. Though I dimly suspected whither I was going and whom I was to behold (for no distinct intimation had been given to me), a second or two elapsed ere, with a throb of wonder and awe, I became definitely conscious that the room was not untenanted. In the corner where the divan met the wall sat a wondrous and venerable figure, crowned with a felt head-dress of the kind called taj by dervishes (but of unusual height and make), round the base of which was wound a small white turban. The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow; while the deep lines on the forehead and face implied an age which the jet-black hair and beard flowing down in indistinguishable luxuriance almost to the waist seemed to belie. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!
A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued:—“Praise be to God that thou has attained! … Thou has come to see a prisoner and an exile.… We desire but the good of the world and happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment.… That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled—what harm is there in this? … Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come.… Do not you in Europe need this also? Is not this that which Christ foretold? … Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind.… These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family.… Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.…”
Such, so far as I can recall them, were the words which, besides many others, I heard from Behá. Let those who read them consider well with themselves whether such doctrines merit death and bonds, and whether the world is more likely gain or lose by their diffusion.—Introduction to A Traveler’s Narrative (Episode of the Báb).
Thus simply and serenely did Bahá’u’lláh pass the evening of His life on earth until, after an attack of fever, He passed away on the 29th of May, 1892, at the age of seventy-five. Among the last Tablets He revealed was His Will and Testament, which He wrote with His own hand and duly signed and sealed. Nine days after His death the seals were broken by His eldest son, in the presence of members of the family and a few friends, and the contents of the short but remarkable document were made known. By this will ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was constituted His father’s representative and the expounder of His teachings, and the family and relatives of Bahá’u’lláh and all believers were instructed to turn to Him and obey Him. By this arrangement sectarianism and division were provided against and the unity of the Cause assured.
It is important to have clear ideas of Bahá’u’lláh’s Prophethood. His utterances, like those of other divine “Manifestations,” may be divided into two classes, in one of which He writes or speaks simply as a man who has been charged by God with a message to His fellows, while in the other class the words purport to be the direct utterance of God Himself.
We have already in the foregoing pages assigned two stations unto each of the Luminaries arising from the Daysprings of eternal holiness. One of these stations, the station of essential unity, We have already explained. “No distinction do We make between any of them.” [Qur’án 2:136] The other is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation and to be the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined Revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation. Even as He saith: “Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the others. To some God hath spoken, some He hath raise and exalted. And to Jesus, Son of Mary, We gave manifest signs, and We strengthen Him with the Holy Spirit.” [Qur’án 2:253] …
Thus, viewed from the standpoint of their oneness and sublime detachment, the attributes of Godhead, Divinity, Supreme Singleness, and Inmost Essence, have been and are applicable to those Essences of being, inasmuch as they all abide on the throne of divine Revelation, and are established upon the seat of divine Concealment. Through their appearance the Revelation of God is made manifest, and by their countenance the Beauty of God is revealed. Thus it is that the accents of God Himself have been heard uttered by these Manifestations of the divine Being.
Viewed in the light of their second station—the station of distinction, differentiation, temporal limitations, characteristics and standards,—they manifest absolute servitude, utter destitution and complete self-effacement. Even as He saith: “I am the servant of God. I am but a man like you.” …
Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: “I am God!” He verily speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto. For it hath been repeatedly demonstrated that through their Revelation, their attributes and names, the Revelation of God, His name and His attributes, are made manifest in the world. Thus, He hath revealed: “Those shafts were God’s, not Thine!” [Qur’án 8:17] And also He saith: “In truth, they who plighted fealty unto thee, really plighted that fealty unto God.” [Qur’án 48:10] And were any of them to voice the utterance: “I am the Messenger of God,” He also speaketh the truth, the indubitable truth. Even as He saith: “Muḥammad is not the father of any man among you, but He is the Messenger of God.” Viewed in this light, they are all but Messengers of that ideal King, that unchangeable Essence. And were they all to proclaim: “I am the Seal of Prophets,” they verily utter but the truth, beyond the faintest shadow of doubt. For they are all but one person, one soul, one spirit, one being, one revelation. They are all the manifestation of the “Beginning” and the “End,” the “First” and the “Last,” the “Seen” and “Hidden”—all of which pertain to Him Who is the innermost Spirit of Spirits and eternal Essence of Essences. And were they to say: “We are the servants of God,” [Qur’án 33:40] this also is a manifest and indisputable fact. For they have been made manifest in the uttermost state of servitude, a servitude the like of which no man can possibly attain. Thus in moments in which these Essences of being were deeply immersed beneath the oceans of ancient and everlasting holiness, or when they soared to the loftiest summits of divine mysteries, they claimed their utterance to be the Voice of divinity, the Call of God Himself. Were the eye of discernment to be opened, it would recognize that in this very state, they have considered themselves utterly effaced and nonexistent in the face of Him Whom is the All-Pervading, the incorruptible. Methinks, they have regarded themselves as utter nothingness, and deemed their mention in that Court an act of blasphemy. For the slightest whisperings of self, within such a Court, is an evidence of self-assertion and independent existence. In the eyes of them that have attained unto that Court, such a suggestion is itself a grievous transgression. How much more grievous would it be, were aught else to be mentioned in that Presence, were man’s heart, his tongue, his mind, or his soul, to be busied with anyone but the Well-Beloved, were his eyes to behold any countenance other than His beauty, were his ear to be inclined to any melody but His voice, and were his feet to tread any way but His way.
By virtue of this station, they have claimed for themselves the Voice of Divinity and the like, whilst by virtue of their station of Messengership, they have declared themselves the Messengers of God. In every instance they have voiced an utterance that would conform to the requirements of the occasion, and have ascribed all these declarations to Themselves, declarations ranging from the divine Revelation to the realm of creation, and from the domain of Divinity even unto the domain of earthly existence. Thus it is that whatsoever be their utterance, whether it pertain to the realm of Divinity, Lordship, Prophethood, Messengership, Guardianship, Apostleship or Servitude, all is true, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Therefore, these sayings which We have quoted in support of Our argument must be attentively considered, that the divergent utterances of the Manifestations of the Unseen and Daysprings of Holiness may cease to agitate the soul and perplex the mind.—Kitáb-i-Íqán.
When Bahá’u’lláh speaks as a man, the station He claims for Himself is that of utter humility, of “annihilation in God.” What distinguishes the Manifestation, in His human personality, from other men is the completeness of His self-abnegation as well as the perfection of His powers. Under all circumstances He is able to say, as did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Thus in His epistle to the Sháh, Bahá’u’lláh says:—
O king! I was but a man like others, asleep upon My couch, when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven, and for this there befell Me what hath caused the tears of every man of understanding to flow. The learning current amongst men I studied not; their schools I entered not.… This is but a leaf which the winds of the will of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Praised have stirred. Can it be still when the tempestuous winds are blowing? Nay, by Him Who is the Lord of all Names and Attributes! They move it as they list. The evanescent is as nothing before Him Who is the Ever-Abiding. His all-compelling summons hath reached Me, and caused Me to speak His praise amidst all people. I was indeed as one dead when His behest was uttered. The hand of the will of thy Lord, the Compassionate, the Merciful, transformed Me. Can any one speak forth of his own accord that for which all men, both high and low, will protest against him? Nay, by Him Who taught the Pen the eternal mysteries, save him whom the grace of the Almighty, the All-Powerful, hath strengthened.—The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, Lawḥ-i-Sulṭán (Tablet to the King of Persia).
As Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, so Bahá’u’lláh used sometimes to cook food and perform other lowly offices for His followers. He was a servant of the servants, and gloried only in servitude, content to sleep on a bare floor if need be, to live on bread and water, or even, at times, on what He called “the divine nourishment, that is to say, hunger!” His perfect humility was seen in His profound reverence for nature, for human nature, and especially for the saints, prophets and martyrs. To Him, all things spoke of God, from the meanest to the greatest.
His human personality had been chosen by God to become the Divine Mouthpiece and Pen. It was not of His own will that He had assumed this position of unparalleled difficulty and hardship. As Jesus said: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” so Bahá’u’lláh said: “had there been any expounder or speaker discernible, We would not have made Ourself the object of the censure, ridicule and slander of the people.” (Tablet of Ishráqát). But the divine call was clear and imperative and He obeyed. God’s will became His will, and God’s pleasure, His pleasure; and with “radiant acquiescence” He declared:—“Verily I say: Whatever befalleth in the path of God is the beloved of the soul and the desire of the heart. Deadly poison in His path is pure honey, and every tribulation a draught of crystal water.”—Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.
At other times, as we have mentioned, Bahá’u’lláh speaks “from the station of Deity.” In these utterances His human personality is so completely subservient that it is left out of account altogether. Through Him God addresses His creatures proclaiming His love for them, teaching them His attributes, making known His will, announcing His laws for their guidance and pleading for their love, their allegiance and service.
In the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the utterance frequently changes from one of these forms to another. Sometimes it is evidently the man who is discoursing, then without a break the writing continues as if God were speaking in the first person. Even when speaking as a man, however, Bahá’u’lláh speaks as God’s messenger, as a living example of entire devotion to God’s will. His whole life is actuated by the Holy Spirit. Hence no hard and fast line can be drawn between the human and divine elements in His life or teachings. God tells Him:—
Naught is seen in My temple but the Temple of God, and in My beauty but His Beauty, and in My being but His Being, and in My self but His Self, and in My movement but His Movement, and in My acquiescence but His Acquiescence, and in My pen but His Pen, the Mighty, the All-Praised. There hath not been in My soul but the Truth, and in Myself naught could be seen but God.—The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, Súriy-i-Haykal.
Bahá’u’lláh’s mission in the world is to bring about Unity—Unity of all mankind in and through God. He says:—“Of the Tree of Knowledge the All-glorious fruit is this exalted word: Of one Tree are all ye the fruits and of one Bough the leaves. Let not man glory in this that he loves his country, but let him rather glory in this that he loves his kind.”
Previous Prophets have heralded an age of peace on earth, goodwill among men, and have given Their lives to hasten its advent, but each and all of Them have plainly declared that this blessed consummation would be reached only after the “Coming of the Lord” in the latter days, when the wicked would be judged and righteous rewarded.
Zoroaster foretold three thousand years of conflict before the advent of Sháh Bahrám, the world-savior, Who would overcome Ahríman the spirit of evil, and establish a reign of righteousness and peace.
Moses foretold a long period of exile, persecution and oppression for the children of Israel, before the Lord of Hosts would appear to gather them from all the nations, to destroy the oppressors and establish His Kingdom upon earth.
Christ said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. x, 34), and He predicted a period of wars and rumors of wars, of tribulations and afflictions that would continue till the coming of the Son of Man “in the glory of the Father.”
Muḥammad declared that, because of their wrongdoings, Alláh had put enmity and hatred among both Jews and Christians that would last until the Day of Resurrection, when He would appear to judge them all.10
Bahá’u’lláh, on the other hand, announces that He is the Promised One of all these Prophets—the Divine Manifestation in Whose era the reign of peace will actually be established. This statement is unprecedented and unique, yet it fits in wonderfully with the signs of the times, and with the prophecies of all the great Prophets. Bahá’u’lláh revealed with incomparable clearness and comprehensiveness the means for bringing about peace and unity amongst mankind.
It is true that, since the advent of Bahá’u’lláh, there have been, until now, war and destruction on an unprecedented scale, but this is just what all the prophets have said would happen at the dawn of the “great and terrible Day of the Lord,” and is, therefore, but a confirmation of the view that the “Coming of the Lord” is not only at hand, but is already an accomplished fact. According to the parable of Christ, the Lord of the Vineyard must miserably destroy the wicked husbandmen before He gives the Vineyard to others who will render Him the fruits in their seasons. Does not this mean that at the coming of the Lord dire destruction awaits those despotic governments, avaricious and intolerant priests, mullás, or tyrannical leaders who through the centuries have, like wicked husbandmen, misruled the earth and misappropriated its fruits?
There may be terrible events, and unparalleled calamities yet awhile on the earth, but Bahá’u’lláh assures us that erelong, “these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come.” War and strife have become so intolerable in their destructiveness that mankind must find deliverance from them or perish.
The Writings of Bahá’u’lláh are most comprehensive in their range, dealing with every phase of human life, individual and social, with things material and things spiritual, with the interpretation of ancient and modern scriptures, and with prophetic anticipations of both the near and distant future.
The range and accuracy of His knowledge was amazing. He could quote and expound the Scriptures of the various religions with which His correspondents or questions were familiar, in convincing the authoritative manner, although apparently He had never had the ordinary means of access to many of the books referred to. He declares, in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, that He had never read the Bayán, although in His own Writings He shows the most perfect knowledge and understanding of the Báb’s Revelation. (The Báb, as we have seen, declared that His Revelation, the Bayán, was inspired by and emanated from “Him Whom God shall make Manifest”!) With the single exception of a visit from Professor Edward Granville Browne, to whom in the year 1890 He accorded four interviews, each lasting twenty to thirty minutes, He had no opportunities of intercourse with enlightened Western thinkers, yet His Writings show a complete grasp of the social, political and religious problems of the Western World, and even His enemies had to admit that His wisdom and knowledge were incomparable. The well-known circumstances of His long imprisonment render it impossible to doubt that the wealth of knowledge shown in His Writings must have been acquired from some spiritual source, quite independent of the usual means of study or instruction and the help of books or teachers.11
Sometimes He wrote in modern Persian, the ordinary language of His fellow countrymen, which is largely admixed with Arabic. At other times, as when addressing learned Zoroastrians, He wrote in the purest classical Persian. He also wrote with equal fluency in Arabic, sometimes in very simple language, sometimes in classical style somewhat similar to that of the Qur’án. His perfect mastery of these different languages and styles was remarkable because of His entire lack of literary education.
In some of His Writings the way of holiness is pointed out in such simple terms that “the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein” (Isaiah xxxv, 8). In others there is a wealth of poetic imagery, profound philosophy and allusions to Muḥammadan, Zoroastrian and other scriptures, or to Persian and Arabic literature and legends, such as only the poet, the philosopher or the scholar can adequately appreciate. Still others deal with advanced stages of the spiritual life and are to be understood only by those who have already passed through the earlier stages. His works are like a bountiful table provided with foods and delicacies suited to the needs and tastes of all who are genuine truth seekers.
It is because of this that His Cause had effect among the learned and cultured, spiritual poets and well-known writers. Even some of the leaders of the Ṣúfís and of other sets, and some of the political ministers who were writers, were attracted by His words, for they exceeded those of all other writers in sweetness and depth of spiritual meaning.
From His place of confinement in distant ‘Akká, Bahá’u’lláh stirred His native land of Persia to its depths; and not only Persia; He stirred and is stirring the world. The spirit that animated Him and His followers was unfailingly gentle, courteous and patient, yet it was a force of astonishing vitality and transcendent power. It achieved the seemingly impossible. It changed human nature. Men who yielded to its influence became new creatures. They were filled with a love, a faith, and enthusiasm, compared with which earthly joys and sorrows were but as dust in the balance. They were ready to face lifelong suffering or violent death with perfect equanimity, nay, with radiant joy, in the strength of fearless dependence on God.
Most wonderful of all, their hearts were so brimming over with the joy of a new life as to leave no room for thoughts of bitterness or vindictiveness against their oppressors. They entirely abandoned the use of violence in self-defense, and instead of bemoaning their fate, they considered themselves the most fortunate of men in being privileged to receive this new and glorious Revelation and to spend their lives or shed their blood testifying to its truth. Well might their hearts sing with joy, for they believed that God, the Supreme, the Eternal, the Beloved, had spoken to them through human lips, had called them to be His servants and friends, had come to establish His Kingdom upon earth and to bring the priceless boon of Peace to a warworn, strife-stricken world.
Such was the faith inspired by Bahá’u’lláh. He announced His own mission, as the Báb had foretold that He would, and, thanks to the devoted labors of His great Forerunner, there were thousands ready to acclaim His Advent—thousands who had shaken off superstitions and prejudices, and were waiting with pure hearts and open minds for the Manifestation of God’s Promised Glory. Poverty and chains, sordid circumstances and outward ignominy could not hide from them the Spiritual Glory of their Lord—nay, these dark earthly surroundings only served to enhance the brilliance of His real Splendor.